The journey started after I read Are You Safe on That Sofa? by Nicholas Kristof. I’d long been aware of flame retardants – we researched and reported on them in The Other Baby Book. But other detox activities had taken precedence – finding a nontoxic mattress for us, then for Dalia, getting rid first of BPA, then of kitchen plastic altogether (well, almost), non-stick pans, processed foods, and body-care products with triclosan, phthalates, parabens, formaldehyde derivatives and other nasties. So we’d let this one wait awhile.
Truly, it gets to the point where a mom can start to feel a bit nuts. I mean, the FDA is approving these things, right? Well, no, not really. It just doesn’t disapprove of them – it leaves the safety testing up to the companies that are profiting from them. And it’s like in the court of law – our products are innocent until proven guilty – which may be nice for an innocent man, but not for all the innocent families who are so excited about furnishing their home with the very best furniture, body care products and sippy cups, having no idea about what chemicals are lurking within them.
So anyway, Kristof’s piece served as a wake-up call. Our family spends most of our waking hours in the playroom – when we’re home, that is. So the fact that there was a 30-year old synthetic carpet and a 10-year old sectional couch in it were concerning.
Having been through several of my purging cycles before, Misha was a good sport when I listed our sectional on Craigslist and began calling furniture stores to find a non-toxic couch. We got rid of the couch quickly, thanks to an aggressive price. I have to admit feeling bad about selling our couch to another family given that we were just moving those flame retardants to another home. But, as I soon learned, there really aren’t any clear and cheap alternatives.
Due to California laws (which are hopefully about to change!), most furniture companies pump about 2 pounds of flame retardants into each couch. I won’t go too deeply into the reasoning – you can get that in the article above – but it arose thanks to the cigarette companies ditching responsibility for starting most house fires, and enlisting an eager partner – the chemical company. Not only are flame retardants unnecessary toxic travelers in our furniture, they’ve also been shown to have the opposite of the desired effect, making fires deadlier.
I found several beautiful, healthy couches thanks to this blog post, but I just wasn’t able to stomach a $6500+ price tag on a sectional destined to be destroyed by dogs and small children. I called some local furniture stores, like Jordan’s and Boston Interiors, and began to get the sense I was living on another planet. “If I’m not mistaken,” said the sales rep at Jordan’s, “flame retardants are in furniture to protect our health and safety.” I couldn’t resist. “Actually,” I said, “you are.”
Long story short, no one had any idea what I was talking about, and those mainstream companies who made affordable “eco” products still used flame retardants with questionable ingredients like boric acid. I finally ended up posting my project through an innovative company co-founded by a friend called Custommade.com. There I placed one failed bid for a non-toxic sectional couch (actually, EcoSelect Furniture was willing to make one, but with a soy-polyfoam blend that isn’t quite nontoxic according to this researcher). So we custom-ordered two daybeds with all nontoxic materials (and our talented carpenter now plans to focus on nontoxic products to safeguard her health and that of her clients), bought two organic futon mattresses (we chose a blend of cotton and wool to add a little bounce), and are busy furnishing it moroccan-style with tons of colorful throw pillows.
Whew! All this time and I haven’t yet discussed our search for a flame-retardant free carpet. I’ll follow up to share our research in part II of this article. Leave a comment if you find these topics helpful – I can also detail our greening projects in the bedroom, kitchen and bathroom. Here’s to a healthier future for all of our children!