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The irony of the whole thing is that the flame retardants don't even make furniture any less flammable:

"The problem, [the fire expert] argues, is that the standard is based on applying a small flame to a bare piece of foam - a situation unlikely to happen in real life. ... In real life, before the flame gets to the foam, it has to ignite the fabric. Once the fabric catches fire, it becomes a sheet of flame that can easily overwhelm the fire-suppression properties of treated foam. In tests, TB 117 compliant chairs catch fire just as easily as ones that aren't compliant - and they burn just as hot."

So the entire country is now exposed to the dangers of these chemicals because in 1975 some bureaucrats at an obscure government agency in California came up with an arbitrary standard that was not based in reality.




Thanks for digging that up, I was wondering about that.

The article cites a retardant advocate as saying "Deaths caused by furniture fires dropped from 1,400 in 1980 to 600 in 2004; a 57 percent reduction."

We know that almost all of these couch fires are caused by people falling asleep while smoking cigarettes.

According to the CDC, in the same period, cigarette consumption in the US adult population has fallen from 33.2% in 1980 to 20.9% in 2004. (http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0762370.html)

So a certain portion of the decline is due to the reduction in cigarette use.

Also, 43 out of 50 states now mandate "fire safe" cigarettes which contain substances such as ethylene vinyl acetate which increase the chance an unsmoked but lit cigarette will stop burning. The presence of these cigarettes has also certainly led to fewer couch fires.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fire_safe_cigarette

It is unlikely that the entire 57 percent reduction in couch fires over 24 years is entirely due to the use of carcinogenic flame retardants.


"According to the CDC, in the same period, cigarette consumption in the US adult population has fallen from 33.2% in 1980 to 20.9% in 2004."

Those who smoke cigarettes also smoke a lot less than they used to, so total cigarette consumption is maybe only half as much or less compared to what it once was.


Also, it seems that smokers (at least in the US) are much more likely to go outside to smoke now, even when at their own home. Sorry, no data just personal recollections from childhood in the '80s.


This seems correct anecdotally. At some point they figured out that smoking is somewhat less bad for you if you smoke outside, so maybe this had some effect.


  At some point they figured out that smoking is somewhat less bad for you if you smoke outside
Smoking is in no way less bad for you if done out of doors. It's because no one, not even a smoker, wants their domicile to smell like an ash tray...and when selling a house, you don't want to cut out that large swath of the population that doesn't smoke from your buyer pool.


"Smoking is in no way less bad for you if done out of doors."

That's not true. If you live in the house of someone who was formerly a heavy smoker then you have a higher cancer risk yourself, because the radiation from the cigarrettes gets into the walls and carpet. Which means that smokers themselves also have a lower cancer risk if they smoke outside for the same reason. I'd imagine it also somewhat reduces their risk for heart attack, since second hand smoke increases your risk of heart attack, although I haven't seen any stats on that.


It's certainly much less bad for the other people around you, like your children.


Everyone commenting on this thread seems to make the assumption that all smokers in fact smoke cigarettes inside their residence. As a 26 year-old semi-heavy smoker, I've never once even considered smoking inside my apartment, nor do I know any smokers who do so. This may be dismissed as anecdotal by the type of vehement anti-smoking zealot you seem to be,But I believe it's an accurate depiction of smokers at large.


> nor do I know any smokers who do so.

I've known several.

> This may be dismissed as anecdotal by the type of vehement anti-smoking zealot you seem to be

I guess your anecdotal evidence trumps my anecdotal evidence. Carry on.


The decline in deaths could also have been caused by laws that require the installation of smoke detectors.


Very good point. Given that the person who authored the most frequently cited study advocating retardants has gone on record saying his study has been mis-cited and they actually provide absolutely no benefit at all, it seems fairly likely that the entire 57% decrease is due to these other factors and not related at all to treating the foam with carcinogens.


A perfect example of, in the absence of data, just doing what we wish would work in order to be doing something.


an arbitrary standard that was not based in reality.

Also see the horrific "food pyramid" (or, if we named it properly, the "morbid obesity and recipe for metabolic syndrome pyramid").


This reminds me of the ban on regular light bulbs in the EU. People are basically forced now to install so called energy saving lamps, which contain and emit highly toxic mercury and phenol. Most people even don't know about the risks and would let their children sleep in a room with a broken lamp.


> emit highly toxic mercury

Do you have a source for energy efficient CFLs "emitting mercury"?


They certainly emit mercury when they're broken, and the instructions for cleaning up broken CFLs call for several hours of ventilation, which implies that the mercury vapor escapes into the atmosphere. (See, for example, the cleanup instructions at the bottom of this page: http://www.epa.state.il.us/mercury/compact-fluorescent.html)

I'd guess that a large percentage of people who buy CFLs are totally unaware of how to deal with these hazards (or are even unaware that the bulbs contain poisonous material).

Also, the rise in the use of CFLs means that more people will be exposed to mercury while mining it and while assembling the lamps (probably in places like China, where occupational health laws are fairly lax).


On the other hand though, CFLs, with a current energy production mix of sources, cause, even if broken, less mercury to be emitted into the atmosphere than the extra power required to light an equivalent incandescent would cause to be emitted during generation (coal is mostly to blame for this). They also cause far fewer greenhouse gasses to be emitted.

Also consider that in today's litigious world, no one wants to say "don't worry if you break a bulb, there's not really enough mercury to be dangerous in one" lest someone starts breaking bulbs with wild abandon and then suing the authority that told them they 'weren't dangerous'.

There's some interesting discussion on this topic here: http://skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/297/how-dangerou...


Pity about the unhealthy color temperature.

People that support these things are not really all that clued in.

There are many levels of fail.


These things also are not supposed to be used covered by a bulb or upside down. (link I found the quickest http://www.apartmenttherapy.com/when-you-shoudnt-use-cfl-bul... )

I've seen local ordinances that in effect mandate the incorrect usage of CFLs. As such, a fixture at my mom's house results in a burned out (due to overheating) CFL about once every 6 months.


DanBC, take a look at the packaging for any CFL. They describe in great detail the procedure for cleaning up a broken bulb.


"They describe in great detail the procedure for cleaning up a broken bulb."

Are you talking about packaging in the US? The packaging in the EU, I saw so far, don't even mention the mercury, not to mention cleaning instructions.


Packaging in New York state to be specific. (I think a lot of these consumer warnings are mandated at the state level. )


Sure, a broken bulb will release an amount of the 5 mg of mercury that a CFL contains. But it's not harmful unless you breath it, which is why you ventilate the room.

Lignuist's comment made me think they were talking about intact lamps.


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8n_FIOqi5DU&sns=em German documentary. At 09:10 the guy detects emissions.


Yes.

Recently mercury-free LED light bulbs are getting more popular.

And you can still buy 100W incandescent light bulbs everywhere. The workaround is that they are marketed as for special use (shock-resistant).




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