Kaiser Permanente to Stop Buying Flame Retardant Furniture

Kaiser Permanente has announced that the healthcare organization will no longer purchase furniture made with flame retardants, following recent studies that suggest the chemicals may pose potential health risks.

In a move against toxic fire resistant chemicals, Kaiser issued a press release on June 3, pledging that the organization is committed to stopping the purchase of any furniture treated with the controversial chemicals.

Kaiser is the first healthcare organization in the country to make such a commitment. The healthcare giant cited increasing concerns that the chemicals may cause damage to the environment and effect the health of workers and patients.

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“Where there is credible evidence that a material might result in harm to the environment or public health, we work to replace it with safer alternatives,” said Kathy Gerwig, vice president of employee safety, health and wellness, and Kaiser Permanente’s environmental stewardship officer.

The new furniture standards will affect more than 38 hospitals and 600 medical offices in eight states and the District of Columbia. The standards require upholstered furniture in new or remodeled buildings to be free of added flame retardant chemicals.

Kaiser officials indicates that they plan to work with furniture manufacturers to meet the new standard. The healthcare system spends approximately $30 million each year to furnish hospitals, medical offices and other buildings with sofas, chairs, benches and other upholstered furniture.

The healthcare system plans to have the flame retardant free furniture in facilities within the next one to three years.

Kaiser has taken recent steps as an organization to be at the forefront of health and environmental concerns. Recently, the organization encouraged manufacturers to produce PVC-free carpets by developing fabrics which eliminate chemicals of concern, including vinyl, heavy metals and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). More than 50% of Kaiser’s overall spending on cleaning products is spent on Green Seal-certified products. In 2010, the company began the sustainability scorecard program to provide preference to eco-friendly suppliers and products.

“At Kaiser Permanente, we believe through our practices we can help promote the creation and adoption of safer chemicals and sustainable materials in a way that supports a healthy economy, healthy environment and healthy people,” Gerwig said.

Some observers indicate that Kaiser’s decision may prompt other healthcare organizations to follow suit.

“We will utilize this broad hospital network to drive toxic flame retardants out of health care and create the demand for their phase-out from our schools and homes as well,” said Gary Cohen in the press release. Cohen is the President and founder of Health Care Without Harm and the Healthier Hospitals Initiative.

Study Raises Concerns About Health Effects of Flame Retardants

The announcement comes only days after a new study suggested that side effects of exposure to flame retardants during pregnancy may result in lower IQ scores and hyperactivity among children, specifically involving exposure to a group of chemicals known as polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs).

In a study published in the medical journal Environmental Health Perspectives, researchers found fetuses exposed to the chemicals during the early weeks of pregnancy were more likely to have a lowered IQ by the age of 5. The chemical was also found to affect hyperactivity in children.

The toxic chemicals have also been implicated in other health problems in the past, including reproductive issues, developmental delays and cancer.

Earlier this year California updated flammability laws for furniture which were enacted in the 1970s. The updated laws offer manufacturers the ability to meet flammability standards without the use of chemical retardants, which some studies have found to offer no significant benefit in fire safety performance, but does not ban their use.

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