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Couches sprayed with potentially dangerous chemicals

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TYLER (KYTX) - It's the place you relax, nap, or watch TV, but could chemicals in your couch cause serious health issues? A new Duke University study shows it's possible.

Manufacturers spray flame retardant chemicals on the foam in couches to prevent fires, but now some scientists worry that these chemicals may do more harm than good.

Tyler mom of three, Cindy Lancaster says, "I'm a little concerned because the couch is a focal point in our house. Everybody naps on it."

She doesn't like the findings of a new Duke study on couches made between 1998 and 2010.

It claims flame retardant chemicals were found foam cushioning in 85 percent of the couches, some of those chemicals are potentially toxic.

That concerns UTHCT Occupational and Environmental researcher, Dr. Debra Cherry.

"The shocking part was the volume of flame retardant and the type that they found, which have been banned in other settings," Cherry says.

41 percent of the couches contained a chloride chemical called Tris, or TDCPP. Federal regulators banned it in children's pajamas in 1977 for being hazardous to people's health. While it wasn't banned in couches, the study says it can still cause harm if people are exposed to it at unsafe levels.

"There's really not a good substitution chemical that's been well tested that can be used instead," Cherry says.

The study claims these chemicals could eventually cause cancer and other health problems.

Cherry confirms, "The most important health effect is probably the hormone disruption. It can cause thyroid problems and reproductive effects which include lower birth weight, decreased fertility and lower sperm count in men."

Ann Kolton who works for the American Chemistry Council, a trade organization representing flame retardant chemical makers says, if you have a couch, you have nothing to worry about.

"TDCPP and other flame retardants have been reviewed by regulators and found to be safe at the levels people are typically exposed to them," Kolton said.

Doctor cherry says since the chemicals are on foam in the interior of the couch, not the upholstery, keeping your furniture in good condition can't hurt.

"If the upholstery's torn, to fix it, and if the cushions are deteriorating or crumbling it's a good idea to get rid of them and replace them."

Lancaster says she'll try to avoid furniture containing these products, for the sake of her family.

"Soon, I might have grandchildren, that are in the home and on the couch."

She says she'd rather be safe than sorry.

WHAT OTHER Another chemical besides Tris that could be harmful in these couches is called PentaBDE.

You can look for that and Tris on your couch's label, or call the manufacturer if they're not listed.

Doctor Cherry mentions keeping furniture in good condition, but keeping house dust to a minimum is important as well - because that's how you eventually ingest these chemicals.

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