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New study suggests your furniture might be making your family sick

Published Feb 19th, 2019 5:02PM EST

You’d probably never think that something as innocent as a sofa could pose a risk to you or your family but a new study out of Duke University raises that very possibility. The research focused on children in homes with furnishings that contain specific compounds, and the findings are a bit unsettling.

The research, which was presented at this year’s annual American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Washington D.C., revealed that the potentially harmful compounds are found in elevated levels in the blood of children who live in homes with certain kinds of furniture and flooring.

The team tested blood samples from children living in homes with furniture that had been treated with polybrominated diphenyl ethers, a flame-retardant compound added to foam cushions in sofas and chairs. The scientists note that the compound has been linked to a variety of ailments and conditions including cancer and developmental delays in the brain.

The tests showed that the levels of the compound in the blood were six times higher in the children who live in homes with treated furniture compared to others without such furnishings. A similar but even more dramatic result was found when the team tested for the metabolite of benzyl butyl phthalate, found in vinyl flooring.

The substance was found in concentrations 15 times higher in children who live in homes with vinyl flooring versus those who do not. Benzyl butyl phthalate is associated with rashes, respiratory issues, and even reproductive disorders.

These semi-volatile organic compounds are all around us, and at this point it would be near impossible to rid ourselves of them completely. Just how much exposure poses a serious risk, and whether we should worry is something the researchers can’t really say at this point.

“SVOCs are widely used in electronics, furniture and building materials and can be detected in nearly all indoor environments,” Heather Stapleton, lead author of the research, said in a statement. “Human exposure to them is widespread, particularly for young children who spend most of their time indoors and have greater exposure to chemicals found in household dust.”

Tracking what products and household items are the greatest contributors to the levels of various potentially harmful compounds in our blood could help over the long term. It’s yet another reminder that we often don’t even realize what we’re adding to our bodies simply by following our daily routines.

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