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Green Living Tips: Could your sofa be hazardous to your health?

We’re not talking about the dangers of being a couch potato. Sofa cushions and many other household products often contain potentially toxic chemicals that can affect your family’s health. A coalition of health and environmental groups have dubbed these chemicals The Hazardous 100+ [] because they’ve been linked to cancer, asthma, hormone disruption, developmental disabilities and other health problems. They include formaldehyde, flame retardants, parabens and phthalates.

In the absence of government regulation, the coalition this month launched a national campaign called Mind the Store, urging major retailers to ban more than 100 chemicals used in sofa cushions, vinyl flooring, wrinkle-free clothing and food packaging from their shelves. []

The coalition, which includes the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Breast Cancer Fund and Safer Chemicals, Safer Families, sent a letter to the nation’s top 10 major retailers—including Walmart, Target, Costco, Home Depot and Lowes—requesting a phase-out of products containing the unregulated chemicals within a year. Noting that many major retailers have already banned polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and biphenol-A (BPA), Safer Chemicals, Safer Families director Andy Ingrejas said, “The federal government isn’t ‘minding the store’ when it comes to chemicals, so retailers have to. They can protect their customers and move the marketplace toward safer products at the same time.” []

Most of the chemicals that end up in consumer products used in our homes and workplaces are not tested or regulated. Manufacturers are not required to submit health and safety studies, and the Environmental Protection Agency doesn’t have the authority to limit even chemicals that are known to be hazardous. For example, the toxic flame retardant chlorinated tris, a known carcinogen, was removed from children’s pajamas in the 1970s but found in a 2012 study to be widespread in crib mattresses and blankets.

“We’re confident that consumers can enlist their favorite retailers in confronting this problem,” Ingrejas says. “The links between many common chemicals and the chronic diseases that burden millions of families give this issue a great moral urgency that motivates people from all walks of life.”

The coalition states that it will continue to press for government reforms such as the Safe Chemicals Act [] and urges consumers—particularly moms looking out for their families—to use their buying power to demand change at the retail level. Already, Kroger has listed 101 chemicals that are not allowed in its Simple Truth brand products and Walmart has banned products containing several flame retardants from its shelves.

“We want to make it easy for retailers by giving them a starter list of chemicals that are cause for concern,” the coalition says in a statement. “We are looking for partners in improving public health and safety, rather than a one-day news story.”