The year 1976 was the last time national legislation addressed chemical safety, requiring the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to prove a product is unsafe and prevent it from entering the marketplace, according to the National Resources Defense Council. Manufacturers can produce and release chemicals placed in products that make it into homes, even if they are unsafe.
We’ve come a long way with environmental issues, with many organizations encouraging a greener lifestyle, buying energy efficient products and using recycling waste centers to help keep landfills smaller. However, when it comes to chemical safety and disposal, we still have a long way to go.
In 2005, Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., introduced the Safety of Chemicals Act, which is designed to place the burden of proof about safety on manufacturers. The legislation is still pending but aims to catapult the U.S. in to a healthier future. Americans host far more chemical pollutants in their bodies than Europeans, according to a Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition (SCHF) publication released July 2012.
Many of the chemicals in everyday items around the home are not only dangerous, they are not recyclable or reusable. Tremendous amounts of materials and energy are wasted on items that are essentially disposable. Consumers who attempt to send these Items to recycling centers to try and help the environment and create less pollution might think they are being helpful but they are really just demanding more energy use as the items must be transported to a dump. Here are the five most common, dangerous chemicals found in home furnishings:
Formaldehyde is most often found in particle board, fiberboard, plywood and other pressed-wood products. It can also be found in adhesives. The International Agency for Research on Cancer classified it as a known human carcinogen. The EPA identified it as a probable human carcinogen. It is commonly linked to respiratory-system cancers and leukemia, the National Cancer Institute says on its website.
Toluene is found in some upholstery foams such as couch cushions, select mattress foams and some polyurethane based material. The EPA, in its 2005 carcinogen risk assessment, found “inadequate information to assess the carcinogenic potential of toluene.” Independent medical researchers at Viartis specializing in Parkinson’s Disease say toluene has been linked to Parkinson’s Disease.
PVC and Vinyl
Polyvinyl chloride is widely used in many varieties of home goods, despite containing carcinogens like dioxin, phthalates and other dangerous additives. A 2007 WTC study of phthalates in toys indicated that the additive is used to make PVC more pliable. Furthermore, phthalates are not listed on product labels, so they are a hidden-hazard. Avoid vinyl-based imitation leather, plastic stools and plastic chairs unless you know the origin of the materials. Bean-bag chairs and inflatable furniture are among the worst culprits. Bean-bag chairs can have vinyl and PVC components in the shell and filling.
The danger of lead paint on walls has been widely espoused across the nation. Of less note but equal concern are painted furniture pieces. The presence of furniture adorned with lead paint isn’t in and of itself dangerous. If, however, the paint is chipping at all or paint dust is created, danger exists. Lead poisoning can happen by ingesting or otherwise introducing lead into your body. A professional can test your furniture, and if there is lead, you have it refinished or varnish it to seal in the harmful paint.
Polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs, are used as flame retardants for upholstery fabrics and foams.
“PBDEs impair memory, learning and behavior in laboratory animals at very low levels,” according to the WTC. “They may also affect thyroid hormones and reproduction. Most at risk are developing fetuses, infants and young children.”
Nicholas Gibson Nick is a blogger and social media expert who is passionate about recycling and sustainable living. He reduces his carbon footprint by biking to work and shopping at consignment shops.