flame retardant free furnitureFrighteningly, there are chemicals that can make you gain weight even though you don’t eat them at all!  Flame retardant chemicals are a good example.  Many mattresses and couches, along with other common household items (carpet padding, foam cushions, polyester bedding and clothing, wallpaper, plastic housings for computers, faxes and other electronics, couches, chairs, etc) are treated with flame retardant.

What are Flame Retardants?

Flame retardants are chemical variations of a substance known as PBDE (polybrominated diphenyl ether), and off-gassing (from, for example, sofa cushions) can lead to elevated insulin, causing the same dire health consequences mentioned above.  There is a lot of controversy around whether flame retardant even reduces fires or save any lives to begin with, and there are a lot of good arguments being made that these chemicals cause a lot of serious health problems, including cancer, that actually take lives.  Because firefighters are repeatedly exposed to the toxic chemicals produced by these products, even they are starting to speak out against their use.

The best advice I can give you is to limit or stop all purchases of any furniture, carpet padding or any other interior items made from polyurethane foam and Dacron (an “extruded” polyurethane foam). Instead “go green” and choose organic alternatives when possible.  Manufacturers are not required to disclose the chemicals that are used to make their products, but the ones who are doing it right will tell you their product is organic or “green.”  Choose items that are naturally less flammable such as leather, wool, or cotton, instead of foam.

If you’re wondering whether a piece of furniture or other foam item might contain flame retardants, scientists at Duke University’s Superfund Research Center will test them, free of charge.  Only polyurethane foam can be tested, but this is commonly used in upholstered furniture, padded chairs, car seats, and more.  For more information, see http://foam.pratt.duke.edu/

In summary, flame retardant chemicals are linked to a number of serious health problems including diabetes and obesity, so do your health and your waistline a favor and limit your exposure!  Don’t feel like you have to throw out all of your furniture and clothing – just make better choices as it is time to replace things.