Monthly Archives: December 2012

Toxic Flame Retardants in our Furniture

Casey Radford earned a B.S. in atmospheric sciences and meteorology at North Carolina State University. ESG is sad to see Casey go but we wish her well as she and her husband relocate to Asheville NC.

Could there be toxic chemicals in your living room furniture? Probably. A study published in the Environmental Science and Technology journal by Duke University and Boston University professionals last month investigated foam samples from 102 residential couches and found that most contained hazardous flame retardant chemicals.

The reason for the presence of these chemicals is understandable. Instituted by the state of California in 1975, Technical Bulletin 117 requires that any polyurethane foam in upholstered furniture be able to withstand flames at least 12 seconds without igniting. This was an important rule, implemented to prevent house fires that begin with small flames, such as candles and matches. We can all appreciate that standard, but not necessarily the way it has been met.

There are currently no regulations on how furniture manufacturers make their products flame-resistant. The unfortunate truth is that it’s good business to find the cheapest way possible, which in this case is to soak the foam in a flame retardant chemical before upholstering.

Out of these 102 couches, 85% contained toxic chemicals used as flame retardants. TDCPP, or chlorinated Tris, was detected the most. This chemical was banned in the 1970’s from being used in children’s pajamas after chlorinated Tris was found to be a carcinogen.

Another commonly found chemical was PentaBDE. The United States began phasing out PentaBDE in 2005 after studies showed this chemical affected human health by delaying physical development, causing poorer attention and lower IQ, and delaying pregnancy among other health effects.

Even though these chemicals are supposedly no longer in use, they are far from gone in our lives. By being used as a flame retardant material in our furniture, these chemicals are exposed to us by getting into house dust, direct contact, as well as hand-to-mouth contact. Another study by professionals of the Silent Spring Institute in Massachusetts and the Toxicological Centre in Belgium investigated the presence of flame retardants in house dust of California homes, and found more than 40 flame retardants in the samples taken. Again, TDCPP was found most frequently.

The risk of flame retardant chemicals is not only limited to the west coast. While TB 117 is only enforced in the state of California, it seems the goal of flame-resistant foam is used in most places. The study found that more than 90% of the couches bought in the past seven years outside of California still contained flame retardant chemicals. This was regardless of whether they had the TB117 label or not.

It is also important to note that while this study only focused on couches, the risk of chemicals being used to uphold the TB117 standard is present in all upholstered furniture, including chairs and car seats.

Fortunately, there is a brighter future for this issue. California is currently taking the steps necessary to update TB117. If everything goes according to plan, we can easily purchase furniture free of toxic chemicals by mid-2013.

Furniture isn’t something we turn over frequently, so it is beneficial to know ways of preventing overexposure to the chemicals that are already present in your home. You can reduce your exposure by frequent vacuuming and mopping to avoid too much dust build up. When you dust furnishings, use a wet cloth or one made of microfiber to prevent making the dust airborne. Also, since hand-to-mouth contact is an easy way to expose your body to the chemicals, wash your hands frequently.


For more information, you can read the study for the Environmental Science and Technology Journal at

Also read a Senior Health Scientist and mother Sarah Janssen’s blog post of her experience as her couch was used in the study and what the results meant for her


Pets and Indoor Air Quality

Casey's dog

Casey Radford’s sheltie named Zoey

Casey Radford earned a B.S. in atmospheric sciences and meteorology at North Carolina State University. Casey is the most recent addition to the ESG team.

We here at ESG love our pets. We know that they are much more than just animals – they are our constant companions and loving members of our families. Approximately one in three households in our country has at least one pet, so we know we are not the only ones who feel this way!

Unfortunately our “fur children” can affect the air quality in our homes. Allergic reactions from indoor pets such as cats, dogs, and rodents are a frequent health issue. According to the American Lung Association, cat allergies are most common. They are reported twice as often as dog allergies, with female cats more allergenic than males. The reason for this is still unknown.

A common misconception is that the animal fur itself triggers allergies, so it is often believed that a hairless or shorthaired pet will help avoid reactions. In actuality, allergic reactions are caused by the Can f I and Can f II proteins (found in dogs), as well as the Fel d I protein (found in cats). These proteins are present in the dried flakes of skin that form pet dander, the most typical allergen. Proteins are also present in pet saliva, feces and urine. Once the saliva or eliminations dry, they can form flakes that become airborne. These flakes trigger allergic reactions when inhaled, just like dander.

Effects of pet allergens include congestion, wheezing, runny nose, and sneezing. Rashes and itchy, watery eyes are also common allergic reactions. Asthmatic patients report respiratory symptoms as well when exposed to pet allergens. It is difficult to determine a limit threshold for allergens, as concentrations that cause reactions vary from person to person.

If you or a loved one has an animal allergy or asthma, don’t worry! This does not necessarily mean you need to get rid of your animals. For an animal lover, a newly discovered allergy from yourself or someone near to you may be heartbreaking. While the quickest, most effective (but not always easiest) way to combat the problem is to find another home for your animal, all hope is not lost. There are ways to combat these allergic reactions. The most obvious solution is keeping the home extremely clean. Frequent vacuuming and dusting are beneficial to your indoor air quality, regardless of the presence of a pet. However, don’t do this while the sensitive person is nearby since cleaning will temporarily make allergens airborne and easily inhaled.


Brad Fletcher’s pups

Another effective method that the EPA recommends is taking isolation measures, which involves trying to keep your pet away from allergen-trapping materials, such as upholstered furniture and carpets. It also helps to not allow your pet into the bedroom of the person who is allergic. If you have a species or breed that can thrive well outdoors, consider making it an outdoor pet if you have the resources and abilities to create a safe and happy environment for your pet outside.


Craig with his dog, Casey at the Christmas tree farm this year.