I recently joined Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, a coalition of 11 million individuals who are “fighting for reform of our outdated toxic chemical laws, working with retailers to phase out hazardous chemicals from the marketplace and educating the public about ways to protect one’s family from toxic chemicals.” Ashley Furniture has responded to the group, stating that it will be designing upholstered furniture without the use of flame retardant materials. While this is wonderful news to hear from such a leading company, they have not been forthcoming about their timeline and that has become the coalition’s new campaign. I signed off on a group email from SCHF’s website but felt that I had something more personal and specific to say so I also sent Ashley Furniture the letter included below. I did not refer explicitly to chemical sensitivity or detail the dangers of the toxic chemicals involved in traditional furniture materials. My goal was to remind them of the power of the average consumer when we have safer materials choices. Just trying to TILT their world a little bit!
I was so thankful to hear that your company has decided to eliminate fire retardant chemicals from your furniture line. I am glad to know that future customers will have safer choices and hopeful that other furniture companies will follow your excellent lead. But I would encourage you to be just as clear and decisive on your timeline for implementation. If I had know that you were making this change and knew the timeline for when it would happen, I might have made some very different decisions this past year.
With a husband and two kids, I represent a typical consumer. We have a home to furnish, Christmas and birthday toys to purchase, appliances to replace, bodies to clean and clothe. We are American in our expectation of easily acquiring and using products beyond our basic needs. But I also have an advanced science degree, a history of mercury toxicity with resulting chronic health issues, a husband with a history of cancer and a pre-pubescent daughter with auto-immune problems. Maybe we read more labels than most consumers.
My consumer choices are not necessarily fewer because of this approach but they are informed and thus selective. One of the biggest purchases we recently made was to replace our sofas. They were fifteen years old and had seen us through infancy, toddlers, and kid ages so they were pretty well beat up. I wanted the replacement pieces to be functional and beautiful. I needed them to be safe. This means no fire retardants or stain resistant treatments. We planned to spend a lot of time on these sofas without wallowing in organophosphate OPFRs, aromatic brominated compounds FM550, or perfluorinated compounds PFCs.
I started my search locally and with name brands. Like everyone, I’d like my consumer path to be easy. It wasn’t, I couldn’t meet the criteria. So, I talked to local carpenters and upholsters and then moved onto specialty online stores, looking for the magic green keywords. I eventually got what I wanted and needed, even though they had to be shipped across the country. I am very happy with the results. I wrote about the process in a three part series on my blog. I get compliments about them from every visitor to my home and then tell them the story too, spreading the word about material safety. I spent a year of my time and $7,528 to get it right.
But I did not intend for the process to be so effortful. I started with you and if I had known that in six months time I could have had a sofa that met my needs for safety I would have waited and spent my money with you. I would have preferred that; it certainly would have been easier. In the interest of other sofa shoppers out there, ready to spend their money on safer options, please let us know when we can count on you!