RICHMOND, VA/CLEVELAND, OH (WXIX/WWBT)- “Overwhelming odor has caused her to feel dizzy.”
“Eye irritation, throat burning.”
“Red swollen eyes, difficulty breathing."
“Furniture has a sulfur type odor."
Symptoms like this, from a bedroom set, a mattress and a desk? Complaints are piling up on saferproducts.gov. The culprit? Furniture releasing toxic chemicals into the air we breathe.
“I think that was a tipping point,” says Lauren Egger. She runs a blog called ‘Healthy Mom Project.’ The mom, of five young children, eats ‘gree’ and uses natural household cleaners. But when it comes to chemicals in furniture, Lauren had no idea.
“As a mom, do we have time to look into every single thing? It’s criminal. Honestly should we have to think about what is in our furniture? No!”
Environmental engineer and assistant professor Kurt Rhoades says what you’re experiencing is furniture off-gassing. Off-gassing occurs when new or manufactured items in our homes release volatile organic compounds.
“One example can be formaldehyde, this is a chemical that’s used in furniture polishes and stains. And it’s a known carcinogen.” Formaldehyde is just one of many Volatile Organic Compounds, known as VOCs that you can find on furniture.
Rhoades says you should also watch out for benzene and phthalates found in plastics. “They’ve been linked to hormonal issues, that can then be linked to things like obesity, cancer, behavioral problems.”
Off-gassing can last long after your furniture loses its ‘new’ shine. Heat and humidity can increase off-gassing.
“All of my tables are solid wood," says Ron Mandor. He owns several furniture stores. He says furniture manufacturers, many of them overseas, take real wood out to save a buck.
“It’s basically sawdust, basically parts of wood that’s mixed together with adhesives, and those adhesives contain some of the chemicals that we were talking about. The formaldehyde that is toxic in certain quantities," said Mandor.
Are there any regulations?
In 2010, Congress passed the Formaldehyde Emission Standards for Composite Wood Products Act.
In 2012, California put limits on formaldehyde in furniture, enforcing it before the federal government.
It took until 2018 June of this year for the federal act to go into effect, and that means you’ll see furniture labeled ‘compliant’ now.
More regulations go into effect in 2019. Lab testing will keep a check on formaldehyde emissions.
The American Home Furnishings Alliance says the original draft of the EPA rule would have “decimated the residential furniture industry, forcing plant closures and widespread job losses.”
"The industry-wide cost was estimated in the hundreds of millions of dollars, despite clear science showing that the new measures would not provide any increased health benefit to American consumers,” AHFA says on its website.
A spokesperson tells our sister station Cleveland19 the furniture industry began complying with formaldehyde emission limits in 2012, according to the California law.
AHFA says new ‘ultra-low’ emitting formaldehyde resins were developed at that time.
Ron Mandor says ask questions about the furniture you are interested in before you buy. "A crib absolutely you should know what’s in that and what the dangers are from off gassing of that material. "
Lauren’s family is moving next year and she’s considering buying new Amish-made furniture to replace some of what she has now. “I always say back to our roots. It just seems like everything we have to go back to the way it once was," added Lauren.
So, what can you do? Look for furniture that is green guard certified: which means it has to meet certain VOC standards.
If you are having problems with furniture off-gassing, you can file complaints with the furniture company, the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Virginia Attorney General’s Office.
You can read more about the dangers of chemicals like VOCs and other chemicals like benzene on cancer.org.
The Minnesota Department of Health has a comprehensive guide to VOCs in your home and how to reduce your levels.
Flame retardants on furniture are another concern. You can read more about that at the Green Science Policy Institute.
Find out how you can improve your air quality at home here.