My Couch is Toxic, Now What?
Duke University found potentially toxic flame retardants in my couch!!
I mailed a sample cut out from my the foam in my couch cushions to Duke University’s Superfund Research Center. They analyzed this for the presence of flame retardants.
If you haven’t read our first article on flame retardants in furniture, go here.
As biohackers, we attempt to change the environment around us to work better with our biology. Part of that is ensuring the places we live, work and play do not contain toxic emissions and dust that harms our health and performance.
Testing is one of the best ways to determine where sources of kryptonite may be present in our lives.
I chose to test my furniture to determine if it had substances in it that could harm my health or the health of my family.
These are my results:
The Research Center results showed that our couch has flame retardants in it. The flame retardants they found are halogenated flame retardants, in particular PBDE (Penta brominated-diphenyl Ether).
They also mailed me another document about flame retardants. This is what the other document Duke sent to me about flame retardants read:
“PentaBDE is a commercial flame retardant mixture containing brominated chemicals called PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers). PentaBDE has been used for decades in residential furniture, but due to concerns over their persistence, ability to accumulate in humans, as well as their potential toxicity, the US began a phase-out of pentaBDE in 2005.
For more information on PBDEs, including pentaBDE, read the ToxFAQs summary created by the US Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.”
I expected to find flame retardants. I was hoping that the flame retardants would not be halogenated. PBDEs are one of the flame retardants I was hoping not to find in my couch at all. The form of PBDEs in my couch was PentaPBDE.
Penta PBDEs have not been used as flame retardants in the US since 2004. They were BANNED from use and production.
Now that I have confirmed there are potentially toxic flame retardants in my couch, I have to consider what to do with it.
After some research I found the following options
- I could keep the couch and not worry about any of the above. However, I don’t like this option because part of my life philosophy is to do everything I can to optimize the environment I live in for the best possible health for myself and my family.
- I could go the route of people of a certain vintage and cover the entire couch with plastic. Using Polyethylene plastic I can wrap the couch so no dust can come out of the foam. This may stop any of the flame retardants from releasing from the couch as the flame retardants are classified as semi-volatiles and come off the couch in dust particles. This option would likely lead to no one actually using the couch.
- I can replace the cushions by contacting a local foam manufacturer or distributor who could cut the right density foam to the right size for my couch. However, there is foam in other places on the couch than just in the seat cushions. The seat cushions are accessible via a zipper on the back. Easy enough to replace. The foam wrapped around the back frame, sides and base of the couch is not easy to replace and requires much more skill and time than I am willing to put into the project. If you live in California, there may be a program that will replace your cushions.
- Sell or give the couch away. I could buy a new couch that is made without the use of flame retardants. Starting in January 2015, most manufacturers will be selling couches without flame retardants, though it will likely take a few months to another full year for the inventory of flame retardant foam to be used up and for couches to appear on store shelves with no flame retardants. The downside of this is that new couches are expensive, and I couldn’t buy a used one because it would likely contain flame retardants. In addition, this would just transfer the flame retardants from my house to someone else’s. While someone will get a great new couch that’s hardly been used, they will also take on the burden of the flame retardants.
- Send the couch to the landfill. I don’t like this option because no one else gets to use a perfectly good piece of furniture and the foam and fabric will take a long time to break down in the landfill as well as allowing the flame retardants to enter the ground and possible the groundwater at some future date.
- Burn the couch. I asked around for what other people in the furniture industry suggested and the consensus was that burning the couch was a better solution because the fire would transform the flame retardants into some other compound, although my research also showed that the compound created when flame retardants are burned is pretty toxic too. The flame retardants would not be available any longer to impact other people or the environment. Burning the couch in my backyard would not be ideal for a number of reasons. However, Xcel Energy provides the electricity and gas to our home and they run a waste to energy facility in the State not far from where we live. I could find a way to get the couch to Xcel and have it burned in a controlled environment where it would be winked out of existence into carbon vapor and water. This would be safely done in a way to keep any pollutants out of the air in a state of the art facility.
Nearly all the options require me to buy a new couch and this is a large expense. Luckily, I do work for a furniture company and we just started producing a residential line of couches that are both comfortable and look good and are far less expensive than the high design commercial couches we make.
If you have a Sofa manufactured before 2016 or after 2015 and has a label on the bottom or under the cushion with the following box checked that it DOES contain flame retardants, then you should be protecting yourself from this dust. Really, if you have any electronics in your home, because they do and will continue to contain these flame retardants
While I have the couch and am deciding what I shall do with it, I will follow these guidelines for keeping down the dust and thus the flame retardants.
- Stop the kids from jumping on the couch and stirring up the dust (which contains flame retardants).
- Vacuum with a water based vacuum like a Rainbow or use a HEPA filtered vacuum, like Dyson.
- Wet dust the house regularly.
- I could wrap my couch cushions and bed in polyethylene plastic to keep the flame retardants from coming out, but I don’t know that I’ll get around to this, at least for the couch.
What are you going to do with you couch? What should I do with mine?