between this and the article about brain parasites in california, HN is scaring the crap out of me
And I guess that's why my all-time favorite external link to share here on Hacker News is "Warning Signs in Experimental Design and Interpretation"
by Peter Norvig, Google's director of research. To resolve the issue of the safety trade-offs of not treating furniture with flame-retardant chemicals (the status quo when I was a child) and treating it (the status quo for quite a while now in the United States) will take careful examination of the actual risk ratios of any disease said to be correlated with the chemicals, the risk ratios of injuries and deaths from fires, the cost of other preventive measures for each kind of harm, and so on. Public policy is not easy. The best public policies have to be carefully examined in light of verifiable facts.
I see from user danso's profile
that he has a professional role in investigative journalism, and indeed I have enjoyed reading (and of course have upvoted) many of his comments here on HN over the past year. The piece submitted here mentions about its author that "Dashka Slater is the author of six books for children and adults. Her latest children’s book, 'Dangerously Ever After,' is out this month," which prompted me to look up other information about the author. Her personal website
declares that she has written pieces for a variety of publications, many in the "alternative" market for periodical articles, and her LinkedIn profile
declares her educational background. There is some interesting reporting here, but as a regular reader of Mother Jones (one of the publications that most often publishes her work) and of other "alternative" publications, I would like to see more follow-up on this issue before writing to my elected representatives, as I sometimes do, asking for a change in current law. I do remember when newspaper and magazine articles in my childhood were all about the fearsome dangers of fires killing little children.
A recent submission to HN based on very reliable statistics pointed out that life expectancy in the United States at birth, at age 40, at age 60, at age 65, and even at age 80 has been steadily RISING
since 1960, so new regulations introduced since then so far don't seem to have net harm for the population in balance with all other social and environmental changes since then. Perhaps the purported flame-retardant chemicals don't prevent as many fires as people suppose. But perhaps they also don't cause any serious human illness in actual use. Let's not rush to judgment on this issue, but let's do actual, verifiable science that with sound economic and policy analysis can help guide lawmakers to the best currently available trade-off in regulation.
I'm hard put to believe I could be that careless even if I were a smoker, but apparently some people are.
Anyway, as a matter of policy, maybe as smoking continues to become less popular (here's hoping) it will seem less like a good trade to provide some very slight protection against smokers setting their furniture on fire at the cost of exposing all of us to carcinogens.
Irresponsible, absolutely, for not supervising the kid, but it is possible.
The closest the author comes to accusing a specific flame retarded is chlorinated trisphosphates. You can go to the EPA and look up the safety record of these chemicals; long story short, you can give rats reproductive and kidney cancer if you feed them chlorinated tris every day for 2 years.
The article suggests that flame retardants do not slow down furniture fires in real world scenarios. The problem is that they are used in only the foam padding. The couch fabric is not treated. The foam itself appears to offer little resistance to fire if it is already covered in flames (like if fabric is on fire). This is where more research is needed.
If the chemicals don't slow down furniture fires and save lives, then there is no value to having them inside foam.
TDCPP might actually be on balance worth using; similarly, I think DDT probably is on balance worthwhile for some applications, and asbestos is still used for some purposes. It's all about tradeoffs, but it is easier to justify a tradeoff when the people paying the costs and receiving the benefits are the same. I get close to zero benefit from fire retardant foam in my couch, probably less than the financial cost of the chemicals.
(I am generally anti whacko unsubstantiated environmentalist/save-the-children activists, but I have some personal experience with PCB contaminated transformers; bleh.)
2. "Flame retardant" vs. "specific chemical": the article specifically cited recent research regarding PBDEs, why did you not consider this valid evidence?
"Researchers from the Center for Children’s Environmental Health, at Columbia University, measured a class of flame retardants known as polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs, in the umbilical-cord blood of 210 New York women and then followed their children’s neurological development over time. They found that those with the highest levels of prenatal exposure to flame retardants scored an average of five points lower on I.Q. tests than the children with lower exposures, an impact similar to the effect of lead exposure in early life."
Furthermore, the article made it clear that the ingredients of some flame retardants, such as Chemtura’s Firemaster 550 (apparently one of the most common flame retardants), are trade secrets. The study in (2) makes it clear it can take years to demonstrate an effect. So Chemtura can't even know if their product is safe but they're quite happy to sell it to you! Surely the logical conclusion is: beware.
3. Risk vs. Benefit.
Unfortunately, and this is the crux of the problem, it seems that unless one can afford to commission a couch and pay for laboratory analysis of the foam supplier's product, avoiding these substances is very difficult given the present legal situation. And that definitely seems a point worth fighting given the potential harm identified. If you want to risk poisoning your children for little apparent benefit, that's your choice, but it's unethical to make that choice for me.
The article mentions a letter from Chemtura saying that there were 1400 deaths from furniture fires in 1980 and only 600 in 2004.
So what that actually means is we've saved 800 or less lives a year for the past 3 decades while exposing basically the entire nation (and presumably a lot of non-nationals with exports) to a whole host of chemicals that we don't know the effect of because the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act declares that all substances are to be presumed safe.
I can't begin to understand how in the universe it is acceptable to subject everyone to "shit thrown together in a lab" and just assuming it's safe. It's unbelievable how often the USA makes laws like that. I presume because "regulation" is "bad for business"...regardless whether the products of business are killing people (albeit somewhat slowly in this case).
It just doesn't make sense.
PBDE's haven't been used for years.
The chronic carcinogenicity data for chlorinated tris is specific.
I know that this is hard, and it means effectively if there is such a burden of proof patents will expire long before it is met, but it's time to stop that cycle.
Unfortunately the bureaucratic process tends to lean towards spending enormous amounts of time and resources on issues that could be "hacked" fairly easily.
When we add a lot of variables to a problem we end up with solutions that not only are challenging to rationalize, but also tend to have ugly side effects. This is something I've learned from running my own business, and it seems to be reflected on a government level as well.
More comfy. Longer lasting.
Won't spontaneously cumbust! =D
Environmentally friendly, too
That's so 1930's.
[Used today for this very reason!]
Its very sustainable, in that regards. 
Edit: citation added.
 "Some 70 percent of the world's supply comes from China, typically from birds killed for their meat. Most of the rest comes from Europe and Canada, from birds harvested for meat or pâté.", http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Down_feather#cite_note-24
Caveat: I have no idea if there's some horrible mechanized way to shear sheep at greater scale. But on the smaller scale the most efficient way is to keep the sheep calm and cooperative. The cheapest way to keep large numbers of sheep also seems to be to let them wander over a large area of cheap land (rocky, steep, uneven, etc. -- unusable for cow grazing or farming is just fine). On the Isle of Skye in Scotland there are simply sheep wandering everywhere, often in the roads, as the sheep farmers don't always bother with much fencing.
I ended up staying with a friend. She has a roommate, and they both smoke. I ended up sleeping on a bed there. What I saw disturbed me greatly:
The pillow, sheet, and 2 blankets all had various amounts of burns from ashes and cigarettes. The sizes on some of the burns were so big I could fit my index finger through.
I have to wonder: how do they keep from catching their surroundings on fire?
Fire is dangerous, and we know it kills a bunch of people.
Fire retardants may be dangerous, they may harm a bunch of people, but we're not sure how many, nor how they are harmed. Research is sometimes conducted poorly, or good research is interpreted poorly by reporters.
We need to balance risk and cost. People dying in fires is bad. People getting a bunch of diseases is also bad. We need to find out which is more likely.
Perhaps my tone came across as snarky because the person providing the TL;DR actually "assailed" me for asking for a TL;DR. Sorry about that.
The reality is with this kind of thing we're really off into rounding errors. To the extent you can affect your odds of getting cancer, the extent to which you do the things your mother told you to do (don't smoke, don't drink, eat your vegetables, and don't get too fat) swamps your cancer risk from environmental sources.
I do think that regulations mandating the use of new chemicals without decades of health testing is pretty irresponsible though.