Your old couch may be polluting your home with cancer

Because the Nineteen Seventies, chemical flame retardants have been added to the cushions of upholstered furnishings, reminiscent of couches. It’s lengthy been understood that these chemicals are bad for humans, having been linked to delivery defects and cancer.

In response to new analysis printed in Environmental International, old couches are shedding these harmful dusts onto your flooring, and in concentrations that would have an effect on your well being.

“These are actual dangers. If you have a look at a few of these values, you say, that’s just a bit little bit of mud. A drop within the bucket,” says Kathryn Rodgers, a researcher on the breast cancer analysis group Silent Spring Institute and the lead creator of the paper. “However for individuals’s exposures after they’re of their houses many hours a day . . . these exposures add up. They’re day in, day trip. And they’re actual.”

The excellent news is that by changing the couch—and even simply its inner cushioning—it’s potential to scale back harmful dusts in your home to negligible ranges.


Wait—why is my couch stuffed with cancer?

OK, let’s rewind. Why are these horrible chemical compounds in our couches to start with?

As Rodgers explains, all of it started in 1975, when a brand new California legislation required upholstered furnishings to be made flame-retardant in an try and curb home fires. Whereas the legislation wasn’t nationwide, California is a big market that additionally handles a majority of U.S. furnishings imports, and so producers constructing furnishings for North America defaulted to this customary.

As a part of the usual, the cushioning inside upholstered furnishings needed to face up to being held as much as an open flame for 12 seconds with out catching fireplace.

“That didn’t make sense from a fireplace security perspective, as a result of fires don’t begin from the center of your couch,” says Rodgers. However to move this check, a collection of chemical compounds dubbed FRs (or flame retardants) have been blended into the foams in excessive ranges. They’ll be answerable for 5% of the froth’s general weight.

Over the many years since, furnishings has develop into higher made. Its textiles function a tighter weave, which blocks oxygen stream to potential sparks and delays the potential unfold of a fireplace. “It was a design change, not a chemical change, that’s led to elevated fireplace security for furnishings,” says Rodgers.

So in 2013, California, a state that’s now extra aggressive in limiting and disclosing harmful chemical compounds in shopper merchandise, revised its customary. The state stated FRs have been not mandated in furnishings, however they weren’t banned outright, both.


Then in late 2020, the federal authorities determined to show California’s FR-optional stance into the primary nationwide security customary on furnishings. Which means throughout America, FRs can nonetheless be added to furnishings, however it’s develop into more and more probably which you can purchase objects with out FRs altogether. (Extra on that beneath.)

[Image: ESh/iStock]

What did the research uncover?

The explanation that we’re speaking about any of this in any respect is because of the current research in Environmental Worldwide, which proved that old furnishings will shed FR-laden mud into your home, however that changing stated furnishings can measurably assist.

To conduct the research, researchers reached out to households in Northern California, on the lookout for individuals who have been planning on, or open to, changing an old couch. They discovered 42 households prepared to take part.

Researchers visited whereas the old couch was nonetheless sitting there, they usually collected mud samples from across the home. These samples tended to search out harmful concentrations of many FR chemical compounds, which leech out of the froth whenever you sit on the couch. Then the researchers visited once more after the couch was changed or the cushions contained in the couch have been changed.

Six months after both substitute possibility, researchers collected and scanned family mud once more. FR concentrations plunged; areas have been safer. The identical held true in follow-ups a 12 months and 18 months later. It proved that changing an old couch, or the cushions inside it, might successfully clear these FRs from your residing area.

So what ought to I do with my couch?

In case you’re something like me, you then purchased a couch prior to now few years, and you continue to have zero clues as as to if it has FRs inside or not. And even should you plan to switch it, what’s the assure that your new couch received’t have FRs too? In any case, they nonetheless aren’t banned within the U.S.

The excellent news is that, whereas Rodgers hasn’t sampled each couch in the marketplace, from what she’s seen, she believes that producers are utilizing FRs in far decrease concentrations than earlier than 2014, as a normal rule of thumb. If your couch is older than 2014, it probably has FRs. If your couch is newer, otherwise you suppose it’d be newer, she advises to verify for tags.

One tag can learn “TB117-2013″—which signifies it was made after California’s new laws, and the couch is extra more likely to be away from FRs or to make use of them in restricted quantities.

The second tag is extra definitive, however it’s solely mandated for the state of California, so it may or may not be on your furnishings. It reads one thing like “this materials accommodates flame retardants” and might have a “sure” or “no” field checked.

In case you do have a couch (or any upholstered chair) with FRs, Rodgers suggests you exchange it or the cushioning inside. She additionally factors out that when individuals exchange their couch, they have an inclination to hoover round and beneath it with much more zealousness. A vacuum with a HEPA filter inside can seize these harmful mud particles.

However as a bigger development, these obscure legal guidelines level out one thing that’s develop into more and more clear. We want extra federal oversight about not simply environmental considerations in nature, however the chemical compounds that we’re bringing into our personal houses. For example, merely utilizing a gasoline oven can pollute indoor air high quality to ranges exceeding the dirtiest cities on earth. Our houses are our sanctuaries. They should be secure.