In the 1980's, there was a lot of concern about house fires. Cigarettes were often the cause. Rather that re-design the cigarette to make it more safe, the tobacco industry instead said that the problem was that furniture was too flammable. Flame retardants were deemed to be the answer. Based on an obscure, poorly translated, and inconclusive study, California issued a technical bulletin requiring that bedding and furniture be treated with flame retardants. Flame retardants are brominated compounds. Furniture manufacturers did not want 2 lines of furniture, one with flame retardants, one without, so they put flame retardants in everything they made. Many years ago, firefighters noticed that they and many of their colleagues were getting cancer. The movie Toxic Hot Seat chronicles their efforts to identify the cause and find a solution. As it turns out, there is no evidence that flame retardants actually reduce the flammability of anything. The article that is cited to support the original regulation has only been published in Swedish and those who can read it say that it does not support a finding that flame retardants slow the spread of a fire.
Flame retardants are incorporated as a powder and a powder they remain. The flame retardant is emitted as dust every time someone sits or lays on a piece of furniture containing it. These emissions go on for years, probably decades. In the discussion that followed the film (at the Environmental Film Festival earlier this year), a physician in the audience pointed out that the things that reduce sudden infant death syndrome (a fan to ventilate the space and putting the baby on his or her back instead of his or her stomach) would also reduce the inhalation of such dust by a baby.
After many years of working to get government to pay attention, meticulously researched reporting at the Chicago Tribune finally resulted in political action by then Governor Jerry Brown of California. The technical bulletin that started this nightmare was withdrawn and so the companies who are loosing this billion dollar business are spending money trying to convince people that their safety is being compromised through advertising and a law suit.
It is still a good time to postpone furniture purchases.