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ENVIRONMENT

Furniture a chemical hazard, Greenpeace warns

Greenpeace urges manufacturers to come clean on compounds after samples of household dust show traces of dangerous toxins

PUBLISHED : Friday, 31 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 31 August, 2012, 3:19am
 

A green group is calling on manufacturers to fully disclose the chemicals they use in making furniture after dust samples from households had traces of harmful chemicals.

Greenpeace sent surveys to the branches of furniture manufacturers in Hong Kong from June to August. Only five of the 70 polled replied, and only one of those - a Danish maker of children's furniture - had a comprehensive policy and limits on chemicals used in its product.

"Furniture at home is one of the things we have close contact with every day," Greenpeace campaigner Ada Kong Cheuk-san said. "We hope manufacturers will disclose the list of toxic chemicals that they don't use to assure us."

The group took dust samples from three homes in July and sent them to an independent laboratory in the Netherlands for analysis. The lab found that all contained toxic chemicals - plasticisers, PFCs and toxic flame retardants. The amounts were similar to the average detected in samples from five mainland cities, including Beijing and Shanghai.

Plasticisers are used in artificial leather, while PFCs can be found in water-, oil- and dirt-proof surfaces and non-stick coatings for pans. Flame retardants are common in electronic appliances and in the stuffing for sofas and cushions.

Kong said the dust tests did not directly prove the source of the toxins. But the public could avoid them by carefully choosing products.

"We should try to pick furniture that is more natural, which means less artificial content and fewer toxins," said Kong, adding that more frequent cleaning to remove dust would also help.

But there is no international standard establishing how much exposure to these toxic chemicals in homes causes harm to humans.

"Whether it is harmful to us depends on factors such as how long we are exposed and how much we take into our bodies," Kong said. "But of course the less we are exposed to them, the less likely we will take them into our bodies."

She said authorities in Europe and North America had already banned the chemicals from children's products and restricted use of some. She hoped the Hong Kong government would push ahead with standards.

"Hong Kong should consider setting up a universal standard for all products … as you won't know which products at home are suitable for kids and which are not," Kong said.

To avoid plasticisers, consumers should not use products made of PVC material and use less artificial leather.

To lessen the exposure to toxic flame retardants, people should choose natural less-flammable materials such as cotton and wool. When buying electronic appliances, consumers should look for the label "RoHS", which states that the product does not contain toxic flame retardant and some other heavy metals.

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