Duke University Superfund Research Program (SRP) grantee Heather Stapleton, Ph.D., led a team of researchers to test polyurethane foam from residential U.S. couches to identify the type and amount of flame retardants they contained. Theinvestigation revealed that 85% of the 102 couches tested contained flame retardants, one of which – tris(1,3-dichloroisopropyl) phosphate (TDCPP) – is a suspected human carcinogen.
Although flame retardants are widely used to meet the California flammability standard, it is often difficult to determine which are present in a product because of the proprietary nature of some flame retardant manufacturers and the lack of a labeling requirement. This lack of clarity makes research into sources of human exposure complicated.
To address this knowledge gap, the team examined 102 polyurethane foam samples from couches purchased between 1985 and 2010 submitted from volunteers across the United States.
TDCPP was the most frequently detected flame retardant, present in over 40% of all the samples and in 52% of the couches purchased in 2005 or later. The flame retardant pentabromodiphenyl ether (PentaBDE), which was phased out in 2005 due to its potential to negatively affect thyroid hormone regulation and neurodevelopment, was detected in 39% of the couches purchased before 2005. The samples from couches purchased between 2005 and 2010 had a larger variety and concentration of flame retardants.
The results of this study point toward the need for more health studies of these flame retardants.
The research team’s study was published in Environmental Science & Technology on November 28, 2012.