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The Campaign To End Toxic Couches

Bay Area residents concerned about the health risks from flame retardant chemicals in their furniture can now swap out the foam in their couch cushions for flame retardant-free replacement foam. It's part of the new Safer Sofa Foam Exchange program, which launched at the Foam Order showroom at 1325 Howard (pictured). Most upholstery fabrics are fire-safe on their own, says Foam Order prez Michael Gorham. For those that may not be, like cottons, his company adds a polyester barrier between the foam and fabric. The four other Bay Area biz on board the pilot program include Kay Chesterfield in Oakland, The Foam Store of Marin, Foam and Cushion in Concord, and Michael's Custom Built in San Rafael.

The retardants spark various health problems and occur at high levels in the dust of California homes, with infants and children especially vulnerable. As are firefighters; Tony Stefani, founder of the S.F. Firefighters Canter Prevention Foundation (and cancer survivor) says when firefighters enter a home it's a toxic chemical cocktail environment. Chemicals that do nothing to protect them from a fire need to be eliminated, he says, and the only reason they are there is to make the chemical industry wealthier than it is. If the American Chemical Council thinks "we will sit back and do nothing," they are sadly mistaken, he says. Firefighters across the US are really pissed off at the high rates of cancer and death.

The story has also made its way to Hollywood. James Redford (pictured) is co-producer of the 2013 HBO documentary Toxic Hot Seat, which details the policy struggles that made the sale of flame retardant-free furniture in California possible. California couches have had flame retardants added to their foam since 1975, due to a previous state flammability regulation. Under the leadership of Governor Jerry Brown, the standard was updated last year. The new flammability test for furniture more accurately simulates real-world fire scenarios, and can be passed without the use of harmful flame retardant chemicals. State Senator Mark Leno (D-11th district) was a major proponent of the update.

Related Topics: San Rafael, James Redford