For nearly 40 years, flame retardant chemicals were used in the manufacture of furniture cushion foam throughout California and beyond. This practice was necessitated by the 1975 California flammability standard TB117, which was revised in 2013 to support better fire safety without the need for flame retardant chemicals.
The Problem: What becomes of today’s flame retardant-treated furniture?
Even as sales of new flame retardant-free furniture grow, today’s existing furniture will be a source of continued exposure to flame retardants. Industry sources estimate an average of 3 owners during the lifetime of a typical couch, sometimes with 10-15 years per owner.
Resale of used furniture that contains flame retardants may result in continued exposures, especially for low-income and student communities.
The Safer Sofa Foam Exchange
Furniture without flame retardants is now widely available in the US. If you still love the couch you have, another option is to swap out the foam filling for new filling without flame retardants. Visit the program’s page to learn how.
Science: Researching Responsible Disposal Methods
The recycling and disposal of foams and plastics containing flame retardants results in ongoing hazards for human and ecological health: there are occupational exposures to and environmental releases of flame retardants throughout the waste management process. Flame retardants used in foams and plastics may be persistent, bioaccumulative, and/or toxic. Exposure to certain flame retardants has been associated with endocrine disruption, neurological and reproductive harm, and/or cancer.
We have hosted three workshops (in April and October 2016, and February 2017) with participation from interdisciplinary stakeholders to identify research and policy priorities that could advance more responsible management of end-of-life foams and plastics mixed with flame retardants. We compiled a report1 that can help inform scientific research, funding, and policy decisions.
Our two-part review discusses a wide range of issues associated with the use and responsible disposal of plastics and foams containing toxic and potentially toxic chemical flame retardants. We identified basic and applied research needs in the areas of responsible collection, pre-treatment, processing, and management of these wastes. These papers appear in Environmental Engineering Science, a peer-reviewed journal.