Press Release: Health Care Sector Moves Away from Flame Retardants in Upholstered Furniture

Major U.S. health systems commit to purchasing furniture without toxic flame retardants; building sector-wide momentum to eliminate unnecessary health threat

Advocate Health Care, Beaumont Health System, Hackensack University Medical Center, and University Hospitals announced today that they will stop purchasing furniture treated with toxic flame retardant chemicals. Combined, these four health systems represent 7,000 patient beds throughout Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, and Ohio.

Each of the systems will specify with their suppliers that upholstered furniture should not contain flame retardant chemicals where code permits. Together with Kaiser Permanente’s similar announcement in June, these health systems are leading a movement within the health care sector—and the broader market—to transition away from toxic chemicals commonly found in furniture. The five health systems spend nearly $50 million a year on furniture for their facilities.

Commonly used flame retardant chemicals can pose a threat to human health and the environment. Depending on the flame retardant, effects include reproductive, neurocognitive, and immune system impacts, among others. Safety data on newer flame retardants are still emerging and often not complete.

“Hospitals take very seriously the links between chemicals in the environment and rising rates of disease,” said Gary Cohen, president and founder of Health Care Without Harm and the Healthier Hospitals Initiative. “They are committed to creating healing environments, free from products containing chemicals linked to chronic diseases.”

This move is driven by a new California flammability standard – allowing furniture manufacturers to meet the standard without the addition of hazardous flame retardant chemicals – that is changing the national furnishings market. Moreover, the presence of automatic sprinkler systems and prohibition on indoor smoking significantly reduces concerns about fires in hospital facilities.

The four health systems phasing out the purchasing of furniture with flame retardant chemicals are enrolled in the Healthier Hospitals Initiative (HHI), a national campaign to implement a new approach to improving environmental health and sustainability in the health care sector. Representing more than 1,100 hospitals across the country, HHI challenges hospitals to green operations in six challenge areas, including reducing the use of hazardous flame retardant chemicals.

On September 8, Health Care Without Harm and HHI brought together major health systems and leading institutional furniture manufacturers to discuss opportunities to accelerate the development of furniture without flame retardant chemicals.

“Demand from these health systems will drive the production of furniture that does not include toxic flame retardant chemicals,” said Mr. Cohen. “Because the health care sector is such a large part of the economy, hospitals can help shift the entire marketplace, which will benefit public health and make products safer for all consumers.”

About their announcement, the health systems had this to say:

Advocate Health Care: “Across our system, we are deeply committed to ensuring a healthy environment for our patients, staff, and surrounding communities,” said Albert L. Manshum, Vice President, Facilities & Construction, Advocate Health Care. “Achieving fire safety without the use of toxic flame retardants is of paramount importance to us.”

Beaumont Health System: “We are continuously looking for better ways to improve the quality of the environment for the patients, visitors and the community we serve, “said Kay Winokur, vice president, Quality & Professional Services and Green Team Administrator, Beaumont Health System. “With the leadership and support of Beaumont’s more than 700 person Green Team, we are able to provide a healthy and comfortable setting by supporting and implementing flame retardant-free furniture in our hospitals and outpatient centers.”

Hackensack University Medical Center: “As a member of the Healthier Hospitals Initiative, we look to provide meaningful change that will inspire others in the healthcare industry to value sustainability,” said Robert C. Garrett, president and CEO, Hackensack University Health Network. “This commitment to providing a safe environment for the hundreds of thousands of patients that we see annually is what motivates our organization to continue being a part of this important national health care initiative.”

University Hospitals: “Through our purchasing and operating practices, we at University Hospitals believe we can help to promote the development of safer chemicals and more sustainable materials for use in healthcare and beyond, fostering a healthier environment for all,” said Aparna Bole, MD, manager of sustainability, University Hospitals, and pediatrician at UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital. “We are proud to join Health Care Without Harm and other hospitals systems around the country in taking an important step toward this goal, by committing to purchase furniture free of flame retardant chemicals as our regulations and statutes allow.”

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