How does the Duke University Foam Project work?

Any US resident can submit a sample of polyurethane foam (PUF) from furniture, child car seats, or any other product containing PUF using the submission form on our website. After completing the form, samples can be mailed to us at Duke University, along with the unique ID number generated from the submission form.  Individuals are notified by email upon receipt of their foam sample in the laboratory. Our laboratory will analyze the sample for the presence or absence of 7 common flame retardant chemicals. Approximately 6-8 weeks later, we will mail back a report detailing our findings, along with a fact sheet about the 7 common flame retardants. We can answer any additional questions you may have after receiving your results.

Flame Retardant Foam Testing Service Update

Thank you for your interest in our flame retardant foam testing service. Beginning on May 1, 2022 we will no longer be accepting new foam sample submissions on our website. If you submit a sample before May 1 and the sample arrives at Duke before June 1, we will be able to process the sample and send you test results when they are available. Any samples that arrive after June 1 will not be tested.

Why are we ending the foam testing project?

The use of additive flame retardants in furniture has changed significantly in the last 20 years. After the European Union banned the use of pentaBDE (one of the most toxic flame retardants) in 2004 and the U.S. phased out its use a year later, we saw a shift to the use of organophosphate-based flame retardants. However, the percentage of samples containing flame retardants remained quite high. Then, in 2013, California amended their residential flammability standard (Technical Bulletin 117; TB117) to allow most furniture manufacturers to meet this flammability standards without the need for chemical flame retardants, and our data reflects this change. For example, our research has found that close to 80% of furniture built between 2000 - 2012 contained an additive flame retardant chemical. This began to decrease in 2014 after TB 117 was amended. Today, less than 10% of the samples we test contain an additive chemical flame retardant.

This trend has continued, and while some newer furniture may still contain flame retardants, most manufacturers are reducing their use of these harmful chemicals. This is a win for public health, and we are so appreciative of your willingness to participate in our research project.

You have helped shed light on this issue and bring about positive change. If you have questions about the foam testing service, please email us at: foam@duke.edu

Who can send in samples?

Currently, we are only able to test foam sent to us from US residents. We are not aware of another testing service outside of the United States.

Why should I test my sofa?

In the US, flame retardant chemicals are sometimes intentionally added to the foam filling present in many types of furniture (including some baby furniture and other products such as child car seats) to meet a California state flammability standard commonly known as Technical Bulletin 117 (TB 117). While only residential furniture sold in the state of California is required to meet this standard, manufacturers often make all their furniture to meet this standard [1]. The state of California has revised TB 117, and a new standard, referred to as TB 117-2013, went into effect starting in January 2014. This new standard led to a significant reduction  in the use of flame retardants in furniture products and child car seats (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27552529), but it is still too early to tell how the standard will ultimately affect flame retardant use overall.

How does this issue affect me, a member of the public?

Over the past 10-15 years, scientific evidence has demonstrated that some of these flame retardants are released from products and accumulate in indoor environments. People can be exposed to these chemicals indoors through inhalation and unintentional ingestion of dust particles [2,3,4]. The use of one flame retardant known as PentaBDE was phased out in 2004 due to concerns about the chemical’s persistence, its tendency to concentrate in human tissues, and potential human health effects.

The phase-out of PentaBDE means that other chemicals are currently used to meet flammability standards, but limited information is available on how we are exposed to these new flame retardants, or if there are potential health effects, though research is ongoing. Because manufacturers are not required to label products with the specific flame retardant applications used, consumers cannot determine if flame retardants are in their products without laboratory testing.

How does this project help our participants?

We at the Duke Superfund Research Center can help you find out what chemicals may be present in the furniture or other products in your home.  This information can be used by individuals to make more informed decisions about product use in the home.

If you are interested in sending us a sample of your foam for analysis, please complete the sample submission process.

How does this help the Duke Superfund Research Center?

Data collected from this testing helps us to understand which flame retarding chemicals are currently being used in furniture. As we gain a better understanding of what chemicals are being used, we'll be able to investigate how people are exposed to these chemicals in their homes and understand if the chemicals may impact human health.