Whether you’re a parent or not, keeping children safe is something you probably think about often. Keeping children safe from fires is just one of the many safety concerns that we all share. Decades ago, this concern led to a misguided effort to require the use of chemical flame retardants in common furniture items, including children’s products, made with polyurethane foam. Misguided, because these chemicals do not make children or families safer in case of fire. And further misguided, because exposure to chemical flame retardants has been linked to many serious health problems for children and
adults.

In July and August of this year, the Center for Environmental Health (CEH, with offices in New York and California) and organizations from 11 other states and Toronto, Canada, purchased a total of 42 children’s sofas, chairs, and other furniture products, many branded with characters from Disney, Marvel Comics, Sesame Street, and Nickelodeon. Products were purchased from Walmart, Target, Kmart, Babies “R” Us and Toys “R” Us, buybuy Baby, and other retailers.

CEH commissioned a Duke University researcher who is a leading national expert on testing products for flame retardant chemicals to conduct this testing. The testing found that all but four products (90% of the products) contain flame retardant chemicals that have been linked to serious health problems.

The flame retardant chemical that was found in the most products (22 of the 42 products) has recently been linked to harmful impacts on our bodies’ natural hormones. Other chemicals found in the products include a flame retardant known to cause cancer and chemicals linked to infertility, genetic damage, and developmental health problems. Children are more highly exposed to flame retardants and are more vulnerable to these health hazards than adults.

What’s especially troubling about our findings is that fire safety scientists say that these harmful, toxic flame retardant chemicals are not effective in reducing fire risks as they are used in children’s (or adult) furniture. In other words, children’s furniture with fire retardant chemicals is the worst of both worlds: the products are not safer in fires, but they threaten our children’s health.

When shopping for furniture, it is almost impossible to find out what flame retardant chemicals have been used in a particular piece of furniture. Parents and other consumers have a right to know about the chemicals used in products for their children and families.

CEH and the groups who have contributed to this report recommend that parents purchase furniture that is not likely to contain flame retardant chemicals – polyester filled furniture, canvas chairs, wood furniture, and other products that do not contain foam. We also advocate for laws and regulations at the state and federal level that will eliminate unnecessary and harmful uses of chemical flame retardants.

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