Two new studies are fanning the flames of an ongoing debate over the use of fire-retardant chemicals in furniture. We’ll examine the new research and look at efforts in California to phase out use of the chemicals, which may pose health risks.

Arlene Blum, executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute, co-author of a UC Berkeley-Duke study on flame retardants and visiting scholar in chemistry at UC Berkeley

  • Guest

    I remember being told maybe 5 years ago by a small futon maker who’s not in California that after a new flame retardant was mandated, he personally didn’t want to sleep on his own futons. But he had no choice, the law’s the law, no matter if it’s written by chemical company lobbyists or whoever else. He knew of the risk but couldn’t just stop selling futons– it was his line of work. He even said that organic cotton futons had to be sprayed with the retardant.

  • Guest

    If I remember correctly, it is California that forced furniture makers to add flame retardants to furniture first.

    • Yep, and that’s the problem with making regulations before sufficient data and not changing them once the data come in.

  • Jennifer

    Most people are unaware that state law in California mandates all Christmas trees sold at lots be dipped in flame retardants. Hoping to get a fresh tree, with fewer carcinogens, this year!

  • jim

    I fully support the guest’s work re flame retardants, but her comment re the thousands and thousands of largely untested chemicals that manufacturers put into their products and our environment that “we know what the really bad ones are,” and thus that there’s only a little and short-term problem rather than a major and systemic one is flat out wrong and dangerouslyh misleading.

    • While it’s true that we need better screening methods and regulations for new chemicals, it’s also true that we DO generally know “what the really bad ones are.”

      A toxicologist can oftentimes simply look at the chemical structure of a molecule and judge base on the functional groups whether or not a given chemical is likely to be a problem. For instance, if we know a chemical with Chlorine is a problem and we make the exact same chemical except replacing the Chlorine with Bromine it’s likely to also be a problem (and generally for the same reason).

      More research is always needed, but toxicologists are hardly in the dark about what currently presents the greatest human health risk.

  • Guest

    Would it be wise for a woman who wants to have a child to get
    liposuction first to remove the reservoir of flame retardants in her
    adipose tissues?

    • I know that idea’s been proposed before, I don’t know if anyone’s studied it ^_^.

  • Can you have your guest comment on flame retardants in vintage furniture from the 60s and 70s? Is this a strategy to avoid flame retardants or are we exposing ourselves to more dangerous outdated chemicals?

  • There are flame retardants in mattresses. It is illegal right now to buy even an organic mattress without fire retardants. Unless you have a doctor’s prescription saying that you need a chemical-free mattress. But there are natural, non-toxic alternatives to chemical flame retardants that some organic mattress companies use to be compliant with the laws. At, we searched for non-toxic organic mattresses and provide a lot of information about alternatives.

  • Kristen

    She said adult mattresses don’t have flame retardants because they have an inner flame barrier, but what about “memory foam” mattresses and pillows?

    • Memory foam is made with polyurethane foam and it’s highly flammable. Yes it contains chemical fire retardants.

  • Flame retardants are not limited to couches. The same polyurethane foam that has flame retardant that is used in couches is also used in adult, children’s, and crib mattresses, which is of greater concern because we spend more time in bed than we do sitting on a couch. But there are ways to get around the toxic flame retardants. Manufacturers who make mattresses and furniture of natural materials can make fire retardant barriers out of natural materials and use those instead. But if you have a product made from polyurethane foam (and that includes memory foam too) you can be 99.9% sure it’s treated with a toxic fire retardant. You can find all kinds of products without fire retardants or other toxic chemicals at

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