Organizers of the American Home Furnishings Alliance (AHFA) invited NIEHS and National Toxicology Program (NTP) Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., to speak at its annual regulatory summit Sept. 15 in Hickory, North Carolina. Birnbaum’s involvement in the sold-out event provided a chance to connect with an important industry in North Carolina, which is home to NIEHS.
Birnbaum gave the lunchtime presentation during a meeting packed with sessions on regulatory requirements, product liability, and textile treatments. In her talk, “Health Effects of Textile Treatments and the Science of Finding Alternatives,” Birnbaum discussed the long-term effects of certain chemicals and the issues to consider when looking for safer alternatives.
“We know that chemicals used to add stain resistance, water repellency, and antimicrobial attributes to certain consumer products have drawn the attention of some environmental and health groups, and the summit was an ideal forum for Dr. Birnbaum to introduce our industry to this discussion,” said AHFA Vice President of Regulatory Affairs, Bill Perdue.
Growing concerns lead to search for alternatives
“It was great to spend time with folks who can take action and make a difference,” Birnbaum said afterwards, referring to her discussions with manufacturers about chemicals such as flame retardants and perfluorinated compounds (PFCs), especially two that have recently received a lot of attention (see story) — perfluorooctane sulfate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA).
“AHFA’s Regulatory Summit programs are designed to provide home furnishings companies with guidance on complying with key regulatory issues, but we also strive to offer early insights to potential new issues on the horizon,” Perdue said.
Birnbaum shared NTP studies that examined health effects and the likelihood of exposures. The evidence led NTP to propose that PFOA and PFOS should be presumed to be immune hazards. “Perfluorinated chemicals have been used since the 1950s as fire suppressants. Greater than 98 percent of the [human blood] serum samples collected by CDC [U.S. Centers for Disease Control] in 2007 had measurable levels of PFCs,” she said.
Birnbaum cautioned that the search for safe alternatives means evaluating the safety of alternative chemicals and determining whether other approaches may serve the same goals.
For example, PFOAs have friction-reducing properties, so they help make fabrics more durable. There may be other approaches to ensuring the final product has all the needed characteristics.
“Are there safer alternatives? This is the charge to the furniture industry,” Birnbaum said, encouraging the participants to pursue innovation. “There is a market waiting to be tapped!”