by Dr. Sharleen Hawco ND September 11, 2014

Most upholstered furniture, including couches, chairs, mattresses contain polyurethane foam that has been treated with a variety of chemical flame retardants.


Flame retardants are added to products to reduce the flammability to an open flame, however the benefit of chemical flame retardants does not justify the known and unknown harm caused to our children. According to the Green Science Policy Institute, Flame retardants have been linked with: 

  • Reduced IQ
  • Learning Disorders
  • Reduced Fertility
  • Thyroid disruption
  • Cancer
  • Antisocial behavior
  • Autism
  • Decreased birth weight
  • Type 2 Diabetes
  • Memory Loss
  • Undescended testicles
  • Lowered levels of male hormone

Dr.Arlene Blum is on a crusade to educate and remove dangerous flame retardants out of everyday p roducts. The New York Times  article  How Dangerous is your Couch?  really put the flame retardant problem into perspective. 

“When it was baby pajamas, you could toss them out and get cotton pajamas,” Blum says. “But what can you do about your couch? How do you replace it?”

Heather Stapleton, a Duke University chemist who conducted many of the best-known studies of flame retardants, notes that foam is full of air. “So every time somebody sits on it,” she says, “all the air that’s in the foam gets expelled into the environment.” Studies have found that young children, who often play on the floor and put toys in their mouths, can have three times the levels of flame retardants in their blood as their parents. Flame retardants can also pass from mother to child through the placenta and through breast milk.

Is your couch killing you?


The various chemical flame retardants would not be a problem if they stayed IN the upholstered fu rniture. The flame retardants end up migrating out of the furniture as dust, this dust then easily makes it into our bodies and our children's bodies. 

High concentrations have been found in the bodies of creatures as geographically diverse as salmon, peregrine falcons, cats, whales, polar bears and Tasmanian devils. 

EWG... conducted the first investigation of toxic fire retardants in  parents and their children , showing that toddlers and preschoolers typically had three times as much of these hormone-disrupting chemicals in their blood as their mothers. In all, the study found 11 flame retardants in the children tested.

Dr. Arlene Blum and the Green Science Policy Institute  recommends:

  1. Keep dust levels down by wet mopping and vacuuming with a HEPA filter.
  2. Wash your hands and those of your children often, as handto mouth contact exposes us to flame retardants in dust.
  3. Purchase baby products and furniture filled with cotton, polyester, or wool instead of polyurethane foam.
  4. Avoid products that use polyurethane foam and have a TB117 label which likely contain chemical flame retardants.
  5. Contact manufacturers to inquire whether retardants were added to products.

6. In my opinion (which I also have in my house) using a good quality air filter will also reduce dust.  IQ Air or a Blu Air filters are great investments in your health. We have 2 IQ Air Multi gas filters in our house one in our bedroom, and one in our main living space.

Additionally in t he  EWG's  guide on  Reducing Your Exposure to PBDE's* in Your Home : they also recommend:

  • Be careful when removing old carpet.  (The underpadding may contain flame retardants)
  • Inspect foam items.  Replace anything with a ripped cover or foam that is misshapen and breaking down.
  • Do not reupholster foam furniture.  

Dr. Sharleen Hawco ND
Dr. Sharleen Hawco ND


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