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Be Careful with Cushions

Be Careful with Cushions

January 7, 2013

Polyurethane foam used in many types of furniture cushions currently contains toxic chemicals, which are added to meet flammability standards. These chemicals migrate from the cushions and are found in dust and people. In animal research, these flame retardants are associated with numerous health problems in children, including cancer, birth defects, thyroid disruption, as well as reproductive and neurological disorders such as hyperactivity and mental retardation.

Ask the retailer or manufacturer of your new furniture if any flame retardant chemicals were used (and if so, which ones?). Sometime this is easy to figure out by looking at the labels underneath. If the label mentions flammability standards, chances are that toxic chemicals were used.

Follow these steps to reduce your exposure to toxic flame retardants:

1. Vacuum often with a HEPA filter and mop with a wet mop to keep the dust level down.  Flame retardant chemicals can migrate out of furniture foam and into household dust.

2. Wash your hands frequently.  The chemicals in dust are picked up by our hands and hand to mouth contact is believed to be a major path for exposure.

3. Buy wooden furniture or cushions filled with polyester, down, wool, or cotton as they are unlikely to contain added flame retardant chemicals. When you buy upholstered furniture containing polyurethane foam, look for models where the foam is thickly covered or wrapped inside the cushion so the chemicals in it are less likely to escape. Furniture constructed before 1980 and some “organic” furniture do not contain added chemicals.