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3 Healthy Things to Look for When Shopping for a New Couch

Couches can have a surprisingly big effect on your health

Whether you're settling down for a cozy night of Netflix with a glass of wine or you're building a cushion fort with your kids, we all want our couches to be comfortable and made of healthy and safe materials. Couches are usually the largest piece of furniture in a living space and thus can have a big effect on how healthy our homes are. But couches can be loaded with flame retardants, forever chemicals, and VOCs, all of which can negatively impact your health. There's already such a dizzying array of fabrics, styles, and other choices you already have to make when shopping for a couch, you shouldn't have to also worry about harmful chemicals! That's why we're making it simple for you to find a healthy one. Whether you're buying a couch online that gets delivered in a box or creating a custom designed one made just to your liking, we have a list of 3 things that you should look for in a healthy couch.

1. Chemical Flame Retardant Free

Chemical flame-retardants used to be added to the foam in sofas because they were thought to prevent fires. But it turns out they don't really help stop fires, and the chemicals actually do more harm than good. Flame retardants are linked to negative health impacts like cancer, lowered brain function, and irregularities with the immune system. Basically some yucky unnecessary stuff. Even firefighters agree flame retardants are no good, so you definitely want a couch without any chemical flame retardants.

Couches made after 2015 have a label underneath the cushions that will let you know if they have added chemical flame retardants. These disclosure labels are required by law in California, but the label is commonly found even outside of California. Another way to find a flame retardant-free couch is to simply ask the retailer or manufacturer. Most big brands don't use chemical flame retardants anymore, but it's a good idea to double check. If they say something like, we don't use bad flame retardants, then just steer clear, because there are none that have been proven safe and there is no reason for the addition of any chemical flame retardants to any upholstery furniture items.

If you're buying a used couch, it's not as easy to tell whether or not it contains flame retardants. If the couch was made before 2015, it more than likely contains chemical flame retardants. If the couch has a label under the cushions that says TB 117-2003, the only way to know is to ask the manufacturer, which could be kind of hard to do since they might not have information on older couch models. If you see a label that says TB 117 then the couch was made with flame retardants, which means you should keep looking. If you're looking to reupholster a couch, make sure all of the foam and padding will be taken out and replaced with flame retardant free foam.

2. A Fabric Without Stain Resistant Treatment or Coating

Many furniture companies now advertise their stain-resistant fabric that will let you spill coffee, have kids eat spaghetti on a couch, and will resist muddy paw prints. But to achieve this magic, fabric companies have to treat or coat the fabric with a chemical that's similar to Teflon. These chemicals are called highly fluorinated chemicals, some of which have been linked to kidney and testicular cancer, elevated cholesterol, decreased fertility, thyroid problems, and decreased immune response in children.

Over time, these chemicals come off the fabric and end up around your house. And these highly fluorinated chemicals never break down, never leave the environment, and can accumulate in your body for many years. Not good! While stain resistance is so tempting, we suggest getting an untreated fabric. Avoid fabric that has a description that includes words like "performance finish" or "stain repellent." From a health perspective, even a synthetic fabric like polyester or acrylic that is inherently stain resistant and durable is a better option than one that is treated for stain resistance with forever chemicals. Textured or dark color fabric can also hide stains. If your heart is set on a light colored fabric and you, look for couches with washable covers.

3. Low VOCs

Your couch can greatly affect the air quality in your home! Furniture, including couches, can emit formaldehyde and other VOCs (volatile organic compounds) that negatively affect indoor air quality. VOCs can cause acute health problems like headaches, eye and throat irritation, dizziness and are associated with long term health effects like cancers and damage to the liver, kidneys, and central nervous system. Look for couches with solid wood frames or engineered hardwood with zero or low VOC resins. Particleboard has much more glue which means higher VOC levels, so you should avoid particleboard when possible. Plus, particleboard is less strong than solid wood or engineered hardwood, so it won't last as long.

Another way to know that the furniture you're buying doesn't off-gas is by looking for Greenguard or Greenguard Gold certified furniture, which limits the emissions of VOCs. CertiPUR-US is another standard that certifies that the foam used in the furniture meets VOC emissions limits, but doesn't test the entire finished product. You can read more about other furniture certifications to help you determine what's in your furniture.

With these 3 tips in mind, you should have a couch that is not only stylish, but also healthy. The good news is that many retailers in the furniture industry are moving in this direction, so there are lots of healthy options. Hope this list is helpful and that you find something super comfortable that is perfect for your space. Happy furniture shopping!

List of Brands With No Chemical Flame Retardants

These brands state they do not add flame retardants, compiled from our own research, CEH, and Green Science Policy Institute. For other retailers, make sure to ask about the specific couch you're interested in.

AICO, American Furniture Manufacturing, American Seating Company, Article, Ashley Furniture, Best Home Furnishings, Bernhardt, Benchmade Modern, Bradington Young, Broyhill, Burrow, California Sofa, C.R. Laine, Century, Cisco Home, Coco-Mat, Comfort Design, Compendium, Corinthian, Craftmaster, CB2, Crate & Barrel, Dania, David Edward, Drexel Heritage, Dwell Studio, EcoBalanza, EcoSelect, Eco-Terric, Ekla Home, Endicott Home Furnishings, Eco-Luxury, EQ3, Fairfield Chair, Flexsteel Inds, Furniture, GreenSofas, Gus Design Group, Henredon, Hickory Chair, Hickory White, Highland House, Homeware, Hooker Case Goods, Hooker Upholstery, IKEA, Interior Define, Kevin Charles Fine Upholstery, Kincaid Furniture, Klaussner, Kristin Drohan Collection, Land of Nod, Lane, La-Z-Boy, Lee Industries, Lillian August, Maitland Smith, McCreary Modern, Michael Weiss, Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams, Monarch Sofas, MotionCraft, Mr. and Mrs. Howard for Sherrill Furniture, Pacific West Furniture, Palliser Furniture, Pearson, Plummers, Precedent, Restoration Hardware, Roger + Chris, Room & Board, Sam Moore, Scandinavian Designs, Sherrill Furniture, Soma Ergonomics, Southern Furniture, Southern Motion, Staples, Taylor King, Thom Filicia, Thomasville, The Futon Shop, United Furniture Industries, Vanguard Furniture, Viesso, Whittemore Sherrill Ltd.

Family

5 Everyday Objects You Shouldn't Let Your Teething Baby Play With

And why we recommend always having a safe teether on hand

We're all guilty of just letting our teething baby chew anything they can get their hands on. What's the harm as long as it's not a choking hazard? A little dirt is good right? Turns out, there are some common household items that you definitely don't want your kids to chew on because they contain toxic chemicals or substances like lead and flame retardants. We recommend always having a safe teether on hand, whether you're at home or on the go. Even though common everyday items may look harmless, there can be unsafe substances that your little one can ingest if they're chewing on them.

Wondering what household items could be harmful to chew on? Here are some common items that you shouldn't let your little one chew on, even though it's so tempting to let them gnaw.

1. Keys

Keys are always in our purses or pockets and babies are fascinated with them. Sometimes they're the perfect distraction to avoiding a meltdown in the grocery story line. But it's actually not a good idea to let your little ones chew on keys or even play with them. The metals used to make keys vary greatly, but many brass keys can contain up to 2.5% lead (1,2). Even keys that don't look like brass might be plated in another metal, which can wear off over time. Not all keys contain lead, but it's impossible to know for sure which ones do and don't. So pick one of our safe teethers, including these Kleynimal Stainless Steel Keys, and make sure to pack it for your next grocery run.

2. Remote Controls

Remotes have colorful buttons and fit perfectly in little hands, so it's no wonder you always see babies chewing on the ends. But remotes contain batteries, which are not safe anywhere near your child's mouth. Additionally, household electronics like remotes contain flame retardants, which can come off into mouths and on hands. Try to limit contact with remotes and definitely don't let them become toys! We like to keep them out of reach on a shelf.

3. Cell Phones

It seems like all babies become obsessed with cell phones... probably because they see us constantly looking at them! But is it safe to let your baby chew or mouth your phone? Definitely not. Cell phones are covered in germs, including some pretty nasty pathogens like E. Coli (3). They also contain a lot of chemicals and substances, like batteries, heavy metals, flame retardants, and plasticizers, which are all toxic. Plus, if your baby is teething or has teeth, they could chip the phone and little pieces could come off that can be a choking hazard. Because of all these hazards, teething babies and cell phones are not a good match. But if your child is old enough to play games on your phone, wash their (and your!) hands after they use it, especially before snacks and meals.

4. Jewelry

Jewelry is sparkly, shiny, and colorful, which basically just screams "please put me in your mouth!" to babies. Unfortunately, metal jewelry can contain toxic heavy metals like lead and cadmium while plastic jewelry can contain bisphenols or plasticizers. Lead is a dangerous neurotoxin at any dose, and cadmium can cause kidney, bone, and lung damage. Brass is also a common component in jewelry, which can contain up to 3% lead. And just because it's expensive doesn't mean it's safer; jewelry at all sorts of price points have been found to contain these heavy metals. Research has found that the amount of heavy metals that get ingested while chewing or mouthing jewelry can be dangerous (4). Even jewelry that seems completely harmless, like Mardi Gras beads, has been found to contain toxic substances. So let jewelry be just something nice to look at and let kids chew on a set of silicone teething beads instead.

5. Sunglasses

Sunglasses come in all sorts of sizes and shapes nowadays, but most sunglasses are made of a polycarbonate plastic that contains BPA. While it may not be a big exposure risk for adults who wear them, letting your little one chew on them or suck the ends is not the best idea. BPA is a hormone disruptor and kids are especially vulnerable as they are in a sensitive growth period. Yet another reason to always pack a safe teether in your bag if your little one is an especially mouthy one!

References
  1. https://cchp.ucsf.edu/sites/g/files/tkssra181/f/leadinkeysen011804.pdf
  2. Kondrashov, Vladislav, et al. "Assessment of lead exposure risk in locksmiths." International journal of environmental research and public health 2.1 (2005): 164-169.
  3. Pal, Shekhar, et al. "Mobile phones: Reservoirs for the transmission of nosocomial pathogens." Advanced biomedical research 4 (2015).
  4. Weidenhamer, Jeffrey D., et al. "Bioavailability of cadmium in inexpensive jewelry." Environmental health perspectives 119.7 (2011): 1029-1033.
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Life

Flame Retardants in TVs Need a Commercial Break

Watching your favorite shows doesn't have to involve harmful chemicals

Beth Kemler is the Mobilization Director for Safer Chemicals Healthy Families

The holiday season always feels like a great time to buy a TV- think of the Black Friday sales! Plus, watching holiday movies is always better in HD. But did you know that the plastic casings of many TVs on the market contain hazardous chemicals called organohalogen flame retardants. Of course, you don't want your TV to catch fire during a binge-watching session, but there are better ways to protect ourselves rather than flame retardants.

What's the problem with flame retardants?

While they may seem like a good idea, flame retardants actually do more harm than good. These chemicals have been linked to cancer, neurological disorders, impaired fertility, and developmental problems. They also don't stay in your TV (or other products where they're found)—they leach into the air and stick to household dust. Children and adults alike breathe them in, eat them when they touch surfaces coated with them and then handle food and even absorb them through their skin.

Studies have found them in the bodies of adults, children, and fetuses in the womb. They've even been found in breast milk and scientists suspect that the rise in flame retardants in our homes is linked to a rise in thyroid disease they've seen in indoor cats.

And when products containing flame retardant chemicals burn, the chemicals can make the smoke even more hazardous for firefighters. They can also be especially dangerous to workers and children who recycle the plastics from TVs and other electronics in facilities around the world. And these chemicals make it much harder to recycle the plastic—adding to our global plastic waste crisis. There's basically nothing good about flame retardants.



Toxic TV Binge: hazardous flame retardant chemicals uncovered in Best Buy, Amazon TVs

Despite the hazards, it's almost impossible to find a TV in the US that doesn't contain flame retardants. A recent investigation by Safer Chemicals Healthy Families, where I work, and our partner organization Toxic-Free Future found flame retardants in every TV tested. Every single TV contained organohalogens, the worst class of flame retardants. One TV even contained deca-BDE, an organohalogen flame retardant that is banned in five states.

There are other ways manufacturers can reduce fire risk without relying on these harmful chemicals. Apple, for example, has replaced brominated flame retardants with safer alternatives and, in some cases, the company "eliminated [them] altogether through the use of naturally flame retardant materials such as aluminum." Remember when your Macbook used to be made out of plastic? That's a key reason they switched from plastic to aluminum — so they didn't need toxic flame retardants.

Let manufacturers know you're ready for a change!

Here's the good news: electronics companies can replace these harmful chemicals with safer alternatives. Some companies are already using alternative chemicals or innovating to avoid these chemicals altogether. Some electronics brands, like Apple, have done this for computers, and TV brands can innovate too!

In fact, the European Union recently voted to ban these chemicals in TV plastic casings starting April 2021. If the European Union can do it, so can the US!

That's why we started a petition to Best Buy, North America's #1 electronics retailer. We're asking the company to use its power to get toxic chemicals out of the TVs it sells. If European families will be getting TVs without these toxic chemicals, American families deserve the same. And Best Buy has the power to make it happen!

In the meantime, how can you reduce your family's exposure?

Unfortunately, it's nearly impossible to avoid all organohalgen flame retardants. Since manufacturers and retailers aren't required to disclose their use of chemicals in most products, we can't recommend any alternative TVs. But research has shown that you may be able to reduce your family's exposure with frequent cleaning. Dust, vacuum and wash everyone's hands often, especially before eating. Because flame retardants end up in household dust, reducing exposure to dust can help. Use a vacuum with a HEPA filter and regularly wet dust and wet mop.

The bottom line is that buying a TV shouldn't pollute your home with toxic chemicals—or exacerbate the plastic waste crisis. If you agree, please sign the petition to Best Buy!

Family

Protect Your Crawling Baby From Chemicals With These 3 Tips

Have your baby safely explore their surroundings!

Once a baby starts to crawl, they're always on the move! After you've baby-proofed your outlets and stairs, it's worth considering how to keep your little one safe from harmful chemicals as well. Since babies are low to the ground when moving about and are constantly putting their hands in their mouth, they're especially at risk of exposure. Check out our top three tips on how to keep your baby safe while they're crawling and exploring!


1. Leave Shoes at the Door

Wearing shoes around the house can bring in a lot of nasty chemicals and other contaminants from the outdoors. Picture where you walk in a typical day: busy city streets, public restrooms, the back of a ride share car. Do you really want whatever is on the bottom of your shoes ending up on your carpets? As soon as you get home, take your shoes off at the door! You can even have a cute shoe storage container in your foyer so you don't forget to take them off. Leaving your shoes at the door is also a great excuse to invest in a pair of cute new slippers.


2. Vacuum More Frequently

Household dust can contain all sorts of things. Along with the usual suspects of pet hair and crumbs from breakfast, dust can contain harmful chemicals like flame retardants. Flame retardants are serious chemicals that can cause cancer and mess with our immune system. These toxic chemicals migrate out of electronics and furniture and end up around your house. Vacuuming more frequently will keep your baby safe from dust accumulating on the floor. If you're in the market for a new vacuum, we have some recommendations!


3. More Hand Washing

Washing your hands and your baby's hands is super important, even if neither of you have left the house! Babies put their hands in their mouth a LOT, especially when they're eating. And as we mentioned above, there could be a lot of gross stuff on your floor you weren't aware of. Before each meal and snack, make sure to make a pitstop at the sink to wash hands! We recommend washing hands for at least 20 seconds. Or, if you're on the go and the nearest bathroom is miles away, we have some awesome hand sanitizer recs.

Unless you live in a big city and can walk everywhere (lucky you), you use a car seat. Car seats are an absolute necessity for keeping your little one safe while you're on the road. Unfortunately, most car seats contain flame retardants. Starting in the 1970s, flame retardants begun to be added to products because they were thought to help reduce flammability. But in recent years, we've figured out that flame retardants don't work in the way we thought they did and they're also bad for our health.

That's why the Ecology Center periodically tests car seat brands to test for hazardous chemicals. Their report titled, Hidden Hazards: Flame Retardants & PFAS in Children's Car Seats, helps educate consumers on the safest car seats available on the market. Below are the brands that carry car seats without flame retardants:


a) UPPAbaby

b) Clek

c) Nuna

d) Maxi Cosi

Food

Stop Eating Lunch at Your Desk

Seriously, here are 5 reasons why

Work can be crazy, and working through lunch almost feels expected at many offices. But, if you can actually take a break, even just a few times a week, it can make a big difference for your physical, mental, and social well-being. Here are some of the top benefits of not eating at your desk.

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Family

Environmental Factors May Have a Bigger Impact on Fertility than You Think

Breaking Down the Science and Ways to Limit Harmful Exposures

Trying to get pregnant should be an exciting time of planning for the next stage of your life, not one full of doctors visits, constant testing, and worrying about body temperatures. But, if you and your partner are struggling with infertility, you are not alone. According to the CDC about 12% of women have impaired fecundity, which is another way of saying that they are having difficulty getting or staying pregnant (1) [there are no statistics on infertility in men, but there is science showing that overall sperm count is decreasing(14)]. And, the science is clear, environmental factors definitely impact reproductive health - for both men and women. Some of the biggest impacts come from air pollution, pesticides, and endocrine disrupting chemicals (2), which are in all sorts of products and affect the way hormones interact with your body.

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Science

Having Trouble Keeping a Healthy Weight?

Here's why chemicals might be keeping you from shedding those last few pounds

If you're eating healthy, getting lots of sleep, but just can't seem to hit a healthy weight, it might be something you've never thought about. Obesogens, a term coined in 2006 to refer to chemicals that cause us to gain and hold on to weight, and can influence weight loss. Now, we know that maintaining a healthy weight and lifestyle is influenced by what seems like a bajillion factors, and is a complicated issue with no easy solution. But, it looks like obesogens are a piece of the puzzle and definitely something you want to be aware about. Data shows that obesity is an increasing problem. Over one-third of both adults and children in the U.S. are obese or overweight (1, 5). Even for people who regularly work out or have superhuman strength to say no to desserts, obesogens are having an impact. Unfortunately, as obesogen research is in its early stages, we still don't know everything about these chemicals and how they affect weight gain, but as of now, here's what we do know.

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