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Phasing out toxic flame retardants

November 2, 2015

TCE Blog
Zac Trahan, Statewide Program Director

Q: Why are there toxic flame retardants in my sofa?
A: Big tobacco!

The use of toxic flame retardant chemicals in everyday products throughout our homes is a cautionary tale, a perfect example of what happens when industry and corporate lobbyists get to decide our public policy. The current movement to eliminate these chemicals from consumer products is an inspirational case study in persistent, effective advocacy for the public good. That’s why we say: Don’t get mad – get organized.

Toxic flame retardants are a class of chemicals that have been added to products all around us, such as furniture, carpets, insulation, fabrics and electronics. As the name suggests, they are supposed to protect us from fire. Here’s the thing – they don’t work. The evidence shows they provide no significant protection from fire, and they make fires even more deadly by making smoke more hazardous. Worse still, these chemicals are escaping into household dust and accumulating in our bodies, and they have been linked to cancer, reduced IQ, infertility and other reproductive disorders.


So why do we even use them? Well…. because big tobacco lobbied for this “solution” for furniture instead of making fire-safe cigarettes. That’s right, when public pressure was mounting to have tobacco companies create self-extinguishing cigarettes to reduce the risk of fire, they responded by convincing elected officials to require furniture companies to start using flame retardant chemicals instead. They used made-up testimony and lied about how well these chemicals work. They even tricked fire marshals and fire department leaders into supporting their solution. Leave it to politicians to trust the tobacco industry with our health and safety!

So what’s a concerned citizen to do? This is where the story is starting to get better. There are hundreds of public health and environmental organizations working to snuff out toxic flame retardants once and for all – and we’re winning. The law that required furniture companies to use these chemicals has been reversed. Major retailers like IKEA, Ashley Furniture and Macy’s have vowed to eliminate toxic flame retardants. Activists are turning the tide, and all we need to phase these chemicals out completely is more public pressure.


Our current target for that pressure is Pier 1 Imports, based in Fort Worth, Texas! Pier 1 needs to join other furniture retailers in phasing out toxic flame retardants in its products. But so far, company officials have dismissed this concern and refused to make a commitment. You can send a message to Pier 1 today. Go ahead.

Now that we know these chemicals don’t keep us safe from fire – just the opposite actually – we need we need to end this toxic mistake. Public pressure and grassroots organizing works; the entire industry is responding to this effort. You can add your voice today by telling Pier 1 Imports to work with its suppliers and manufacturers to eliminate toxic flame retardants in its products. If smart shopping is also on your to-do list, you can learn how to choose flame-retardant free furniture here.

[UPDATE: After we held a demonstration at their Fort Worth headquarters and delivered hundreds of letters to CEO Alex Smith, Pier 1 has agreed to phase out toxic flame retardants by Jan. 1, 2016! Read more about our victory here.]

Thanks to your support and thousands of other voices across Texas and the country, we are helping win the fight to have retailers phase toxic chemicals out of the products they sell. Let’s keep going.


Zac Trahan
Statewide Program Director

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