New Study Finds 85% of American Sofas Tested Contain Toxic Chemicals, News Release 11/28/2012

Alaska Community Action on Toxics

505 W. Northern Lights; Suite 205, Anchorage, AK 99503
Phone: (907) 222-7714; Fax: (907) 222-7715
[email protected];

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: November 28, 2012                                                                 

New Study Finds 85% of American Sofas Tested Contain Toxic Chemicals

Cancer Causing Chemicals Found in Couches, Homes

November 28th, 2012 – Anchorage, AK

A new peer-reviewed study released today tested over 100 couch samples from across the U.S. and found that 85% contained toxic or untested flame retardant chemicals. This includes 41% of the couches testing positive for the cancer-causing chlorinated Tris, which was banned from children’s pajamas decades ago.

The study, published in Environmental Science and Technology, emphasizes the failures of inadequate federal laws on toxic chemicals. Weak federal laws have allowed toxic chemicals like flame retardants on to the market with limited health and safety information required. The study also shows an increase in the use of flame retardants in newer couches, despite no data demonstrating fire safety benefit from the use of such chemicals.

Lead scientist Heather Stapleton, PhD, from Duke University found that even though other toxic flame retardant chemicals containing polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) are banned, that the flame retardant chemical industry is marketing a chemical linked to cancer as a replacement. Stapleton conducted an earlier study that revealed that African American and Latino toddlers have higher levels of the banned flame retardant chemicals PBDEs in dust on their hands than white toddlers.

“We know that persistent banned flame retardant chemicals drift North on wind and water because we find them in our traditional foods and even in our own bodies,” says Vi Waghiyi, a Yupik mother and grandmother from St. Lawrence Island in Arctic Alaska. Vi works on international treaties to halt toxic exposure. “Now, we have another study telling us what we already know: rising rates of cancer and other illness in our communities are linked to chemical exposure from products in our homes as well as other sources. The suffering is preventable, and we need to urgently stop toxic chemical exposure.”

“Many couches end up in landfills, which are usually placed in or near historic communities of color,” explains Michele Roberts from the Environmental Health & Justice Alliance. “The banned flame retardant chemicals leach into the soil, air, and water of those communities and contribute to the higher impact of chemical exposures on people of color. The new flame retardant chemicals may also be dangerous to health. We need overarching federal reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act to prevent these exposures.”

In response to concerns about health effects of flame retardant chemicals, more than a dozen states have passed or pending laws on restricting the use of these chemicals.

The Safe Chemicals Act, a law championed by Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), passed the Environment and Public Works Committee this summer, has 29 co-sponsors and awaits a vote on the full Senate floor.

Available for Interviews

Vi Waghiyi, Environmental Health and Justice Program Director, vi @, Alaska Community Action on Toxics. 907.222.7714, Vi can speak to the shocking chemical test results of the St. Lawrence Island, Alaska traditional foods and human health bio-monitoring results of Alaska native people.

Sarah Doll, SAFER National Director, [email protected], 503-522-6110,

Scientific Resources

Article in Environmental Science & Technology: Novel and High Volume Use Flame Retardants in US Couches Reflective of the 2005 PentaBDE Phase Out

Article in Environmental Science & Technology: After the PBDE Phase-out: A Broad Suite of Flame Retardants in Repeat House Dust Samples from California

Related News Articles

Hawthorne, Michael. “Dangerous for kids’ pajamas, safe for sofas? Flame retardant removed from sleepwear amid health concerns is increasingly used in furniture.” Chicago Tribune News, November 27, 2012.

Israel, Brett. “Toxic couches? Flame retardants on the rise in furniture, study finds.” Environmental Health News, Nov. 28, 2012

Lee, Stephanie. “Chemicals in furniture hard to avoid.” San Francisco Chronicle, November 28, 2012

Listen to the story on KNOM 12/3/12 Toxic chemicals in couches may be causing health problems on St. Lawrence Island, starts at 3:10.

Alaska Environmental Justice & Scientific Resources


11/28/12 Press Release Toxic Couches


Questions? Contact us any time.