Feature Article

Finding Furniture Without Toxic Flame Retardants

Flame retardants in upholstered furniture are easier to avoid under new rules, but they’re not gone. Here’s how to navigate the changing landscape.

Advocate Health Care, which has operations throughout Illinois, has to comply with local fire codes as it eliminates the use of halogenated flame retardants from its furniture statewide.

Photo: Advocate Health Care
Upholstered furniture is a firefighter’s nightmare. Typically made with a wood frame and flammable, petroleum-based foam cushioning, when ignited this seating quickly becomes a raging inferno that gives off toxic fumes and is difficult to extinguish.

Because of this fire danger, strict flammability standards for furniture were put in place in the 1970s, which led to the ubiquitous use of chemical flame retardants. However, these chemicals have proven ineffective at doing their job, while their toxicity has left health-oriented designers with few upholstered furniture options.

But recent changes to California’s influential flammability standards have eliminated the need for flame retardants in most upholstered furniture. And as demand for chemical-free alternatives rises, the furniture industry is in the midst of rapid change.

Designers can now avoid flame retardants in some upholstered furniture, though there are still local codes and sourcing issues to navigate.

In this report, we’ll show you how specific companies are quickly changing their offerings in light of new opportunities. Then we’ll step back and discuss what has changed—and what hasn’t—in key regulations. Finally, we’ll review why avoiding toxic flame retardants is important and how we were swindled into dosing our buildings and our bodies with them in the first place.

Published April 6, 2015 Permalink