Some furniture can pollute the air in our homes and be harmful to our health. What are the risks and what are the solutions?
The impact of our furniture on our health
Furniture made of wood, plastic or metal – The majority of furniture in our homes today is made of cheap and flimsy materials rather than sturdy, natural materials, which had been widely used up until a few years ago. Composite wood being one of these cheap materials. The wood is chopped up, glued together and protected against fire, insects or external aggressions. It’s then finished with products such as metals, varnishes, glues, paints and waxes. These can be dangerous for our health because they release particles into the air.
Several studies prove that some furniture can be toxic and harmful to our health. Endocrine disruptors, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), formaldehyde and many other dangerous substances are invading our homes today.
So what impact can our furniture have on our health? What are the results of the latest studies? And how do we choose healthy furniture, to reduce the level of pollution in our indoor air?
31 products already implicated by the National Agency of Sanitary Security
As reported by the Ministries of Health and Ecology in 2015, the National Health Security Agency was entrusted with the task of identifying and selecting a list of priority chemicals and products, within the framework of the future implementation of the labeling of furniture products.
At the end of this study, ANSES published a list of 31 priority products used in the manufacture of furniture. These substances were already recognized as carcinogenic, mutagenic or reprotoxic by the European Parliament and the International Center for Research on Cancer (IARC). These dangerous substances are present in certain pieces of furniture (tables, chairs, wardrobes, desks, chests of drawers, beds …) and in certain furniture products (foams, textiles, leathers …).
ANSES reminds us that these dangerous substances pose serious risks to our health and that “building materials, decorative products and furniture are regularly cited as sources of pollution because of their emissions as volatile pollutants, or even semi-volatile pollutants”.
Being found in most of the furniture that equip our interiors and public spaces, these substances can have an adverse impact on the health of the entire population. ANSES cautions most notably against phthalates, formaldehyde, styrene, dichloromethane and benzene.
To fight against these endocrine disruptors and dangerous volatile compounds (the infamous VOCs) and pending mandatory labeling (or even a total ban on the use of certain products), the health policeman has suggested improving the traceability of these substances (from the manufacturer to the distributor) and changing the methods of sampling and analysis. ANSES advises limiting the exposure of these dangerous furniture products, in particular to vulnerable populations such as children and seniors.
Formaldehyde: a substance that is particularly dangerous to our health
Many furniture products marketed by the furniture giants today are made from crushed wood chips mixed with glue and then polymerized. It is the “wood” that we know today under the name of chipboard, plywood, medium, melamine or OSB.
Less expensive, lighter, faster to process and easier to transport than solid wood, the manufacturing of this new raw material goes through several stages. However, during the transformation process, a gas evaporates: the famous formaldehyde. Formaldehyde is a volatile organic compound (VOC), already recognized as a carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a formaldehyde-derived product (a toxic and dangerous product for health, used mostly by embalmers).
When you open the box of a furniture kit, sold by a large manufacturer of furniture, one can sometimes smell the formaldehyde. This polluting substance can also be found in certain lacquers, glues, varnishes and new textiles.
Prolonged exposure to this type of toxic air can cause irritations, allergies and other serious respiratory diseases. Nurseries and nursery schools have therefore chosen to adopt strict regulations regarding furniture that may contain formaldehyde.
Emissions of hazardous substances are quantitatively and quantitatively variable; they depend on the materials used, storage conditions and manufacturing standards. Nevertheless, no regulations have been put in place concerning the composition of potentially toxic furniture. We expect regulations for labeling furniture emissions by 2020.
So in the meantime, how can we be sure to invest in healthy furniture which doesn’t pose a risk to our health?
Sustainable and eco-responsible furniture, an excellent alternative health
In addition to ventilating your interior spaces to the maximum to combat the harmful effects of furniture that is dangerous to your health, you can choose to invest in ethical and ecological furniture, made from sustainable and natural materials of a high quality. Made of solid and raw wood, our durable and eco-friendly furniture provides this type of guarantee.
Several brands of furniture (made for children or otherwise) are committed to an ecological approach. The brands presented on We Design Green (link to home page of the site) use natural materials, solid wood from sustainably managed forests (FSC or PEFC), solvent-free water-based paints, lime paint, natural varnishes, natural hard oils (based on linseed oil, vegetable wax or oleaginous derivatives) and ecological textiles.
Certain French standards and brands (NF furniture or NF environment) also make it possible to ensure that the chosen furniture does not contain any substances that are harmful to your health.