Flame-Retardant Fears Stoke Office Furniture Policies

By Judy Levin

Last month, TriplePundit reported on policies adopted by numerous sustainable businesses to purchase furniture made without toxic flame retardant chemicals. Now a new effort  by leading businesses, governments and universities is pushing for even safer furniture made without another set of chemicals dangerous to our health.

The market demand for safer furniture has already created a seismic shift throughout the industry. Prior to 2013, most furniture companies nationwide used flame retardant chemicals in their products. But regulatory changes and consumer demand influenced furniture companies to offer fire-safe products made without flame retardant chemical additives. Our surveys of residential and office furniture makers show that many major suppliers are now offering such products, in some cases for their full line of furniture.

Now companies that that represent more than $92 million of furniture purchasing annually, including Kaiser Permanente, LinkedIn Corporation, San Francisco Department of the Environment and the University of California, Santa Cruz have pledged to prefer furniture made without the “Hazardous Handful” of toxic chemicals. In addition to flame retardants, these companies are urging their furniture suppliers to avoid fluorinated chemicals used for water and stain resistance, antimicrobials, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Government buyers are also taking action; earlier this month, New York became the first state in the country to adopt strict restrictions on furniture purchased to avoid the “Hazardous Handful” of toxic chemicals.

These chemicals pose health threats to employees, customers and the community. Studies have linked exposures to these chemicals with serious health problems, including cancer, birth defects, thyroid disorders, delayed puberty, obesity, asthma, and other serious illnesses. Exposures to these chemicals cause problems throughout the life-cycle of the product, posing threats to furniture factory workers, consumers, office workers, and communities where furniture is disposed.  

This healthy competition for healthier products ultimately means safer workplaces for employees, safer homes for our children and families, and safer communities for us all. Responsible businesses who wish to join the sustainability leaders seeking safer furniture can take the pledge for safer furniture today.

Judy Levin is the Pollution Prevention Director at the Center for Environmental Health

Corporate Responsibility

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