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Toxic Chemicals in California Couches

Two new studies by Duke University and UC Berkeley have put into question the very laws that are supposed to keep us safe from harm.

Under California law, companies that make foam cushions must use fire retardant chemicals. Yet, nearly 85 percent of foam cushions use a fire retardant chemical that has been shown to cause cancer, nervous system damage or hormone disruption in lab animals.

These chemicals are the same chemicals that have been removed from children's pajamas in order to prevent cancer. "Hard to believe," one of the study's co-authors, Dr. Arlene Blum said, "35 years after our research contributed to removing chlorinated Tris from children's sleepwear, our current study suggests that more than a third of American couches contain the same toxic flame retardant."

There are so many chemicals in our environment that it is difficult to tell what is safe and what causes cancer or other illnesses. Most chemical companies do not know whether their chemicals are harmful or are unclear about the extent of the harm. While "not knowing" is not enough to prevent a lawsuit, it can be challenging to hold a company liable without a clearer link between a company's actions and an illness. It is even more difficult to hold the government liable for laws that require the use of toxins.

Yet, in some cases, big companies act deliberately to increase their profits while ignoring consumer or worker safety. In those cases, companies can and must be held responsible for their actions through toxic tort lawsuits.

Learn more by visiting our page on California toxic torts.

Source: Consumer Affairs, "Fire safety laws lead to toxic chemical exposure," Truman Lewis, Nov. 30, 2012

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