The Richmond Register

Local News

December 3, 2012

Toxic chemicals linked to cancer found in most sofas

Richmond and Berea residents’ couches tested in study

RICHMOND — A peer-reviewed study published last week in Environmental Science and Technology shows a carcinogen used as a replacement chemical for banned toxic flame retardants was found in the majority of samples from couches sent in from all over the United States, according to a release from the Berea-based Kentucky Environmental Foundation.

At least two of the samples came from homes in Madison County.

“Chlorinated Tris, removed from children’s pajamas in the 1970s due to links to genetic impacts, is being promoted and used by the flame retardant industry to replace other banned toxic chemical flame retardants,” explains a study co-author, Arlene Blum, PhD, from the Green Science Policy Institute. The samples were tested by Heather Stapleton at Duke University.

“Tris increases cancer risk,” explains Kathy Curtis, LPN, from the Alliance for Toxic-Free Fire Safety. “It is alarming to know that the couch we’ve owned for seven years, that our children and grandchild have sat on, played on and grown up with, is shedding harmful toxic chemicals.”

People are primarily exposed to the toxic chemicals when they migrate from furniture and other products, through household dust and into our bodies, according to the KEF release. Toddlers can have up to three times the body level of flame retardant chemicals than their mothers. Scientific studies show that exposure to flame retardants is linked to neurological, reproductive and hormonal health effects and cancer.

Richmond resident Jamie Austad decided to have her couch tested due to her concern for the health of her four children, who range in age from 6 to 17.

“I was horrified when the results came back from the study. To discover that I had purchased a brand new couch with carcinogenic chemicals was disturbing; especially since I take great care to make sure other items I purchase are safe for my family,” she said. “I expect better from industry and government leaders who think it’s okay that my couch contains the same chemicals that were banned from children’s pajamas nearly 40 years ago.”

Elizabeth Crowe, KEF executive director and a Berea resident, also sent in a sample from her couch.

“What’s especially frustrating is that these so-called flame retardant chemicals have been proven to not reduce the risk of fire danger as they were originally intended,” she said “They are useless, yet our families are the ones who are paying the price with health problems.”

Dr. David A. Atwood, a chemist at the University of Kentucky, said he believes a systematic shift in chemical regulation is necessary in order to protect public health.

“We have made an enormous mistake assuming that a chemical should be used freely until it is determined to have adverse health effects, rather than taking the position that all chemicals should be avoided unless it is absolutely certain that the chemical is safe. Products should be designed so that extraneous components like flame retardants are not necessary.”

Policy momentum is shaping up in states across the country to require only the least-toxic fire safety, Crowe said. In New York, legislation is in the works that would ban chlorinated Tris. At least a dozen other states, including Kentucky, plan to launch efforts in 2013 to restrict the toxic chemical. In addition, the Consumer Product Safety Commission has drafted flammability standards that can be met without the use of toxic chemicals.

In 2012, the U.S. Senate passed a comprehensive chemical reform bill, the Safe Chemicals Act, out of the Environment and Public Works Committee. If approved by Congress, Crowe said the SCA would ultimately stop the use of toxic flame retardant chemicals in products. 

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