A Slate reporter was bowled over by the pungent chemical aroma her new IKEA sofa emitted after she took of the package. She carved off a little piece of the mattress foam and sent it to a lab, which found it contained a funky flame retardant called “chlorinated tris.” This is interesting as brominated tris was banned from children’s sleepwear in 1977 after studies showed it was a skin-absorbable carcinogenic.
When the Slate reporter contacted IKEA, they told her they’re phasing out all chlorinated tris flame retardants from their furniture by August 2010. IKEA said they will replace the tris with “an organo-phosphorous compound which gets incorporated into the polymer matrix of the foam filling,” and that it is, “a bit early to say if this solution will be the dominant one for our products.”
The smart folks at Consumer Reports tell me that chlorinated tris is geometrically similar to brominated tris, but the case for them being similar is not crystal clear, although it is a reasonable presumption. It’s not clear either how much tris exposure results from sitting on the sofa.
Later that year, the CPSC ban was extended to tris-treated fabric, yarn and fiber, but mattress foam was not mentioned. Also, the odor the reporter smelled doesn’t come from the flame retardants, but other parts of the foam manufacturing process.
It’s a touchy issue because you have to balance things not catching on fire vs not getting poisoned by your furniture. The real issue is the highly flammable polyurethane foam. So far a less-flammable alternative has not been found that’s suitable for cushioning your bum.