Home Furnishings and Materials


Home furnishings and materials are frequently made with toxic chemicals, toxic glues, plastic fabrics (e.g., polyester, nylon), and unsustainably harvested wood. For example, formaldehyde, a known carcinogen that enters the body through inhalation,[1] is used in adhesives for furniture and cabinetry, particularly pressed wood products (e.g., particleboard). It is also used in some clothing and drapes for a permanent press effect.[2]

Also notable, manufacturers have added toxic chemical fire retardants to products containing polyurethane foam, such as couches, padded chairs, certain pillows, carpet padding, child carseats, baby changing table pads, child nap mats, and crib mattresses.[3] Fire retardants are also present in curtains and building insulation as well as plastic that is in contact with electrical components. The problem is that chemical fire retardants, such as polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) and chlorinated Tris, do not remain in products once they are added.[4] These chemicals leach into the environment over time and adhere to dust.[5] The fire retardants then enter the body primarily by breathing contaminated dust or touching your mouth or food after accumulating contaminated dust on your hands.[6] PBDE’s are bio-accumulative (builds up in the body over time), and exposure has been associated with diabetes and neurodevelopmental problems (e.g., lower IQ); it is also suspected to cause cancer.[7] The real irony is that chemical fire retardants are notoriously ineffective in improving fire safety, and once flame retardant furniture is on fire, the resulting smoke is severely toxic. After over 30 years of use, chemical manufacturers agreed to phase out PBDEs by 2013.[8] But they began producing alternative chemicals, such as chlorinated tris, and proprietary “mystery” concoctions, including Firemaster®550.

In addition to considering product toxicity, the source of wood is a crucial environmental concern when purchasing many types of furniture and home materials, such as flooring. Forests play a crucial role in mitigating climate change through carbon sequestration. You may recall that trees use photosynthesis to convert carbon dioxide into energy that allows them to grow, a process that stores carbon in the tree’s trunk and branches. The Amazon rainforest alone has locked up nearly 100 billion tons of carbon that otherwise would have contributed to global warming.[9] The Amazon is also the habitat for nearly 40,000 plant species, many of which hold unique medicinal properties (though only 1 percent of known species have been tested). In fact, among all plants deemed useful for treating cancer, 70 percent only grow in rainforests.[10] Despite the importance of forests, the world suffered a net loss of five million hectares per year between 2000 and 2010.[11] Commercial logging without sustainable forest management and deforestation or clearing for agricultural use are significant causes of global forest net loss.[12][13]


Take Action

1. Watch the documentary, Toxic Hot Seat, to learn more about the dangers of chemical fire retardants.

2. Dispose of any foam-containing furniture purchased from mainstream furniture manufacturers, especially furniture made before 2013 (prior to the total phase out of PBDEs) and 2014 (when manufacturers are permitted under California law to make furniture without fire retardants).

3. Use non-toxic, eco-friendly home furnishings and materials:

–  Sofas, Chairs, and Ottomans

–  Flooring

–  Mattresses