Many building materials and products used in interiors, including the foams used in furniture construction, are required by the building code to be treated with fire retardant chemicals – even those products used in the residential environment. In addition, many fabrics are required to be treated with these chemicals, including clothing and bed linens, and all textiles used in the commercial environment.
There is a tremendous and growing body of evidence that these chemicals accumulate in the body and cause a number of major medical problems including cancers and neurological, reproductive, thyroid, and developmental problems, as well as genetic mutations. Studies have shown that many marine mammals and household pets are dying as a result of the accumulation of these chemicals, and children in particular are becoming seriously ill as a result – many more than would likely die in the fires these products are intended to mitigate. It is inevitable that many of the increasing medical problems that we are all experiencing in this day and age are a result of these widespread practices as well.
Obviously, this is a major public health issue of incalculable proportions that affects not only people living today, but will affect future generations because of the genetic mutations and impossibility of getting rid of these chemicals. And yet, because these products are actually required by the building codes, we either cannot buy products for buildings or interiors without these chemicals already impregnated, or we as designers and architects must actually actively and deliberately specify them separately.
Yes, we are actually required by law to use products in your homes and businesses that are known to put the health and safety of every person who ever enters a building at clear and obvious risk every single day.
This is particularly ironic in light of the arguments that ASID and other pro-legislation groups are putting forth about how designers who go through their mandated educational, experience, and testing pathway are specially trained to protect the health and safety of the public, how this particular training pathway is necessary for us to know how to do that, and how no one who doesn’t have this particular cocktail of experiences could possibly know anything about protecting the public. This is one of their primary arguments for why interior designers should be licensed – but they are obviously basing the requirements on “knowledge” and codes that actually cause considerably more harm to people and the environment than it could ever prevent!
And what’s more, the harm resulting from these chemicals is happening even without them burning. Once they do ignite in a fire (and eventually, they will still burn), then even more toxic chemicals are released into the environment. All burning materials do this, but when you burn nasties like these compounds, you get even more and nastier gasses released into the air.
I wonder how many interior designers actually know anything at all about these issues, especially those who do have professional training? I know that I was certainly never taught about them in design school at either of the two prominent schools that I attended. Sure, they taught us about the codes requiring these chemicals and testing procedures, but definitely not about the hazards inherent in them (or how the tests for flammability don’t actually translate to real life conditions and are therefore themselves invalid as predictors of safety, but that’s a topic for a separate post).
And needless to say, this sure as heck isn’t a very green practice, either – and yet we are required to even apply these toxic chemicals to the most green of materials.
Please read the article below from the Green Science Policy Institute website for more details. (more…)