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Proposed legislation aims to expand state ban on furniture flame retardants

Researchers conduct flame retardant tests

Many fire retardant chemicals in furniture cushions and cushioned kids products release invisible toxins into indoor dust. Those toxins are linked to the increased risk of hormonal defects and sometimes cancers -- especially in children. In an effort to address the problem, state lawmakers passed a law that prohibits the use of certain fire retardants in childrens products and residential furniture. But scientists say the substitute chemicals being used are just as bad.

"We were concerned that with the replacement flame retardants, that they might also be in our air as well as in our house dust," said Washington Toxics Coalition Science Director Erika Schreder. "So we wanted to look at that other exposure route."

In its latest study, the Washington Toxics Coalition had local volunteers wear personal air samplers for 24 hours- to sample their environments. Schreder's newly-published analysis of the results reveals the fire retardants our state phased out starting in 2011 have been replaced with chemicals that pose an even higher health threat.

"Even though these chemicals are used in the same ways that the phased out flame retardants were, and they're in our house dust at about the same level, they're in our air at much higher levels," Schreder explained.

The Toxics Coalition and concerned parents are amplifying their annual campaign to get all toxic flame retardant chemicals out of furniture and children's products- with passage of House Bill 2545 the "Toxic-Free Kids and Families Act". The proposed legislation would ban 5 specific flame retardants and give the state Department of Health the authority to ban additional flame retardant chemicals in kids products and residential furniture. Under current law, any changes must go through the state legislature.

As for how to protect families from furniture fires danger without chemical flame retardants, Schreder says the real issue is upholstery fabrics, and using fabrics that are naturally woven to retard flame, rather than fabrics that easily burn into treated cushions which release toxic fumes.

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