By now, you’ve seen the headlines warning that sitting is harmful to your health. I have no doubt that the couch-potato/cubicle lifestyle has numerous ill effects. But in reality your sofa has a far more sinister and dangerous nature, and it is not alone in its desire to do you harm. Yes, dear reader, your sofa has allies. It is just one of a group of household items that plots against you and your family!
My couch offers me a comfortable berth from which I can elevate “sloth” to an art form, but that is actually just the beginning of the damage this inanimate object causes. As it turns out sofas, beds and other furnishings are akin to the Venus Flytrap. Like the infamous carnivorous flower, our furniture offers us something attractive, something we want, but like the unwary fly, once we go there, we are subjected to a chemical dowsing that is unhealthy at best and even deadly! Unlike insects trapped in a fatal chemical bath, we are able to stand up and move away, but the invisible chemical mist our sofas dispense follows us throughout our home. The chemicals in question? Legally-mandated flame retardants.
Think that you can escape by retreating to the bedroom? Forget it…your mattress is in league with your couch, as are your curtains, and your carpet, and your electrical cords…and much more. Each of these items continuously sheds a variety of chemicals into the air and thus into the lungs of every breathing thing in your home.
Flame-retardants are, by law, applied to nearly every potentially flammable furnishing in your home. They include polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE’s), which have now been linked to cancer, reproductive problems and lower IQs in children.
Well, a little chemical exposure is better than burning up…right?
Maybe, except those chemical additives won’t actually prevent your furniture from burning. This, from an article in Scientific American…
Deception and intrigue led to a 1970s regulation that prompted the injection of chemicals into home furniture, stemming from a distortion of scientific findings that suggested flame-retardants would be more effective at reducing sofa fires than they really are. In reality, retardants provide no meaningful protection, a finding uncovered in a 2012 investigative series by The Chicago Tribune and highlighted in a recent documentary Toxic Hot Seat.
But there is good news!
The “Nanny State” is finally on the case! As of 2014, California has changed its laws concerning the use of flame-retardants in household items. This makes it possible to perhaps someday purchase furnishings that are free of PBDE’s (California is the state that mandated the use of such chemicals to begin with).
Unfortunately, analysts don’t foresee the problems with PBDE exposure going away any time soon. That’s because PBDE’s are so widely distributed that it will take decades before all those old furnishings to be replaced.
There are, however, important steps you can take to protect yourself and your family from excessive PBDE exposure.
- Don’t sweep. Vacuum daily, or use a wet mop.. Sweeping sends invisible plumes of accumulated PBDE’s back up into the air.
- Don’t bring more flame retardants in. While not everyone has the budget to replace all home furnishings at once, when it’s time to get something new, go for one of the few companies that make flame-retardant free upholstered items. We help clients do just that through our Healthy Home consults. If you have children, replace their mattresses first. Check out our Safe Mattress Guide to be sure you avoid the Sneaky Stuff.
- Eat more plants. PBDEs accumulate in fats–highest levels are found in poultry (even organic), and they are also present in cheese and beef. Eating less meat and dairy will cut your exposure.
The modern world presents us with a variety of health challenges that are of our own making. Luckily, if we stay aware and take action there is a lot we can do to stay healthy, happy, and mildly sane.