Healthcare Sector Moves Away from Flame Retardants in Upholstered Furniture

Chicago, Ill. — Advocate Health Care, Beaumont Health System, Hackensack University Medical Center and University Hospitals recently announced they will stop purchasing furniture treated with toxic flame-retardant chemicals. Combined, these four health systems represent 7,000 patient beds throughout Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey and Ohio.

Each of the systems will specify with their suppliers that upholstered furniture should not contain flame-retardant chemicals where code permits. Together with Kaiser Permanente’s similar announcement in June, these health systems are leading a movement within the healthcare sector—and the broader market—to transition away from toxic chemicals commonly found in furniture. The five health systems spend nearly $50 million a year on furniture for their facilities.

Commonly used flame-retardant chemicals can pose a threat to human health and the environment. Depending on the flame retardant, effects include reproductive, neurocognitive and immune system impacts, among others. Safety data on newer flame retardants are still emerging and often not complete.

“Hospitals take very seriously the links between chemicals in the environment and rising rates of disease,” said Gary Cohen, president and founder of Health Care Without Harm and the Healthier Hospitals Initiative. “They are committed to creating healing environments, free from products containing chemicals linked to chronic diseases.”

This move is driven by a new California flammability standard, allowing furniture manufacturers to meet the standard without the addition of hazardous flame-retardant chemicals, which is changing the national furnishings market. Moreover, the presence of automatic sprinkler systems and prohibition on indoor smoking significantly reduces concerns about fires in hospital facilities.

The four health systems phasing out the purchasing of furniture with flame-retardant chemicals are enrolled in the HHI, a national campaign to implement a new approach to improving environmental health and sustainability in the healthcare sector. Representing more than 1,100 hospitals across the country, HHI challenges hospitals to green operations in six challenge areas, including reducing the use of hazardous flame-retardant chemicals.

On Sept. 8, Health Care Without Harm and HHI brought together major health systems and leading institutional furniture manufacturers to discuss opportunities to accelerate the development of furniture without flame-retardant chemicals.

“Demand from these health systems will drive the production of furniture that does not include toxic flame-retardant chemicals,” said Mr. Cohen. “Because the healthcare sector is such a large part of the economy, hospitals can help shift the entire marketplace, which will benefit public health and make products safer for all consumers.”

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Posted September 16, 2014

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