Posted: Feb 17, 2014 9:00 AM
 
They're in your couch. Your pillow. Your mattress and the one in your baby's crib. You bought it thinking, "Oh good, this is flame resistant. It will keep us safe." The reality will change the way you see your home.

There are few things in life more blissful than seeing your baby sound asleep in his crib. Or the bassinet. Or on the floor. OK, anywhere he'll fall asleep, you're cool with. But what if, by letting your baby spend time sleeping on his mattress or crawling on the floor, you're causing him to breathe in toxic dust… all day long?

The scary truth

Well, that's the scary truth. The Chicago Tribune published a series of investigative pieces on the chemical industry and its flame retardants, which are known to be toxic.

isolated fire extinguisher

"But what if there's a fire?" you might ask. "Won't I need the 'fire blocker' baby mattress? Won't I want a couch that takes longer to ignite?"

Well, if the chemicals actually retarded flames, yes. But the truth is, we are pumping pounds of chemicals into our furniture, our carpet padding, our insulation, our mattresses, that actually won't slow a fire. What will they do? We'll get to that.

First, let me tell you that I am not a conspiracy theorist. I regularly roll my eyes at "big brother" fears and accusations of government corruption. It might be naive, but I like to assume the best. So when I'm telling you that these chemical companies are crooked — that you really need to consider where and how the items in your house are made — I'm not crying wolf. This is for real.

An actual conspiracy

The tactics started with Big Tobacco, which wanted to shift focus away from cigarettes as the cause of fire deaths, and continued as chemical companies worked to preserve a lucrative market for their products.

The tobacco industry, believe it or not, has teamed up with the chemical industry to convince us we need flame retardants. "The tactics started with Big Tobacco, which wanted to shift focus away from cigarettes as the cause of fire deaths, and continued as chemical companies worked to preserve a lucrative market for their products," according to the Tribune. They call on one crooked surgeon over and over to scare lawmakers into upholding the legislation requiring these chemicals be present in our furniture. But the reality is, these chemicals don't stop or slow fires. They put money in the pockets of very powerful companies, and that is why we are required to have them.

"The chemical industry often points to a government study from the 1980s as proof that flame retardants save lives. But the study's lead author, Vytenis Babrauskas, said in an interview that the industry has grossly distorted his findings and that the amount of retardants used in household furniture doesn't work," reports the Tribune.

Read the Tribune's series, Playing with Fire, to get the whole story. There's also a video here that will give you an overview.

It's everywhere

So here we are, trusting consumers. Our houses are filled with these flame retardants, packed into the cushion under our feet, in our pillows, in the baby's mattress. The chemicals escape from these items and settle into the dust that we breathe. The dust that leaves a film on the TV. The dust your baby sucks in as she plays on the floor.

And if they aren't protecting us from fire, what are they doing?

Flame retardants are linked to cancer, hormone disruption and neurological deficits. These chemicals are leaching into the environment, and are now being found in wildlife across the globe.

Flame retardants are linked to cancer, hormone disruption and neurological deficits. These chemicals are leaching into the environment, and are now being found in wildlife across the globe. Even scarier is the fact that we're all breathing it in, day in and day out, and our babies have the highest levels of these "flame retardant" chemicals in their systems, since they spend most of their time lying on surfaces packed with the stuff.

So what now?

At the start of 2014, "California's new Technical Bulletin 117 removes a decades-old requirement that flame retardants be included in the filling of upholstered furniture," reports The Huffington Post.

So, now you have the perfect excuse to buy new furniture. As the year progresses, there will be more and more companies offering their products free of flame retardants.

What to do with the old furniture? That's a good question, to which there is no good answer. Sadly, there is no safe way to dispose of your toxic furniture. Any method of disposal will result in the chemicals leaching into the environment.

Toxic wording

As much as I love the environment, this is one circumstance where I'd say, "We'll figure it out later." Get this harmful stuff out of your home, ASAP. Don't give your furniture away… it is toxic. Throw it away. Far away from our innocent babies and expectant mothers.

Not sure where to look? Apartment Therapy has a good list of "green" furniture companies that sell chemical-free products. As the year progresses, prices will drop and availability will rise. But I'm not sure money is a good reason to continue breathing poison. Make the change.

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