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The truth about chemicals in furniture

In a report published by Norway’s Environmental Directorate, 40% of sports and leisure products that were recently tested contained harmful substances and materials which could directly affect people’s health. This isn't the first time this has happened, and it's not just in sports equipment, but everything from kids toys to furniture. So what products can we trust?

It seems quite incredible that in the 21st century we can still purchase products which unbeknown to us are harmful. Cigarettes, alcohol, even movies come with warnings if they are potentially detrimental, but many everyday items do not. Sometimes it’s through a lack of care from governing bodies, and sometimes it’s through a simple lack of understanding from consumers.

2b82ff225041bfd6f116bec95010745a.jpgSome of the products which contained hazardous substances not allowed in Norway. Photo: Elisabet Molander, Environmental Directorate

A 2017 report in Norway found that a fifth of the products tested were withdrawn from the market because their environmental toxicity levels were above the permitted limit value. Mathieu Veulemans, section head of the Environmental Directorate said “It’s worrying that popular sports and leisure products contain too much environmental toxins…In addition to being unhealthy, these substances break down slowly and are harmful to the environment. “

It’s not just in Norway that these issues have been found. In 2008, a similar report highlighted in the Toronto Star found dangerously high levels of toxic materials in children’s toys, with one item containing 27% lead, 445 times(!) the legal limit on lead in jewellery marketed to children.

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EU Law on Chemicals in Products

uaf-reach.jpgHaving said this there are strict controls on what any products made in and for the EU contain. There are currently 163 Candidate List substances, many of which still have a variety of consumer product applications. They include anthracene oil, acrylamide, and various lead, cadmium and cobalt compounds.

Producers of articles containing candidate list substances must notify the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) of their presence, if they are present above a concentration of 0.1% weight by weight (“w/w”) and if certain other criteria are met. They must also provide safe-use information to the recipient and (upon request) to consumers. If they are not (like the products examples from above) they are taken off the shelves and destroyed. 

Chemicals in furniture

A lot of furniture contains harmful chemicals. In the past ensuring your furniture was flame retardant was almost a necessity. In fact in 1975, the state of California enacted a law (tb 117, since updated) requiring all furniture manufacturers to coat their products with chemicals to protect against fires. Decades later, studies have shown that many of these chemicals are in fact very dangerous, with reports linking exposure to some flame retardants and poorer neurodevelopment in children, as well as links to cancer. Recent investigations have shown six different types of flame retardant chemicals actually in American citizens blood. The rest of the world might be very similar.

Luckily, thanks to much greater awareness, these specific chemicals are largely non-existent in furniture today, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are also many other toxins which are legally allowed to be used in furniture. Chemicals of concern most common in furniture include some volatile organic compounds (VOCs), fluorinated stain treatments in upholstery and carpeting, polyvinyl chloride (PVC), and antimicrobials that may be added to mattresses, finishes, glues and upholstery fabric.

Harmful Chemicals in Furniture.jpg

How To Avoid Chemicals

Luckily, many furniture manufacturers make it easy for consumers to avoid these chemicals if they desire. There are various marks of quality you can look out for which indicate that no chemicals were used during manufacture, as well as highlighting the overall impact of the process on the environment.

At Flokk we are proud of our commitment to sustainability, and our products pass some of the strictest tests when it comes to the impact on the environment and health.


GREENGUARD_Gold_Green.jpgGREENGUARD Certification

The GREENGUARD Certification Program (formerly known as GREENGUARD Indoor Air Quality Certification) certifies that a product meets strict chemical emissions limits, meaning that there are little to no VOC’s released from your product. This is a well-respected and global standard, and a simple mark to look out for on any item of furniture.

The innovative stitching and assembly techniques removed the need for toxic glues and with products manufactured without dangerous chemicals, the most important collections from HÅG, RH and RBM have been GREENGUARD approved and certified. Flokk has the goal to expand the certification scope to all our brands.®

OEKO-TEX® measures the chemical content of textiles and fabrics. The “Standard 100” certificate is a worldwide consistent, independent testing and certification system for raw, semi-finished, and finished textile products at all processing levels, as well as accessory materials used.

It has a strict test criteria and limit values for significant amounts of harmful chemicals, some banned and even those not legally regulated, insuring the consumer is safe from harm. It has taken on a pioneering role for many years in the realms of safe and environmentally friendly textile production. If your furniture has textiles, watch out for this mark.

Flokk only source fabrics and textiles which have received the Standard 100 certification, ensuring that no chemicals make it into the upholstery.

NordicSwanLabelOriginalVersionNordic Swan Ecolabel

The Nordic Swan Ecolabel for furniture is awarded to products that neet strict environmental, quality and health requirements. The use of harmful chemicals is strictly regulated and a high content of recycled materials is required. In 2010, HÅG Capisco became the first office chair in the world to qualify for the Nordic Swan Ecolabel.

usm-cradle-to-cradle.jpg.1024x1024_q90Cradle To CradleTM

The Cradle to Cradle Certified program is an eco-label that evaluates several properties and assesses a product's safety to humans and the environment and design for future life cycles. Designers and manufacturers are guided through a continual improvement process that looks at a product through five quality categories - material health, material reutilization, renewable energy and carbon management, water stewardship and social fairness.

You can find which certificates Flokk’s products are bearing on our product pages.

learn more about Flokk's sustainability practices


Posted by

Richard Ferris on 12-Feb-2019 12:06:55



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