Ride the Lightning in a TDCPP Chair?
October 3, 2013 7:01 PM   Subscribe

So this Office Chair I bought has the flame retardant Tris(1,3-dichloro-2-propyl)phosphate (TDCPP) in the cushion. Which appears to have cancer implications. Should I keep the chair? Wait, wait, hear me out.

Upon delivery from that online jungle store, I see the chair's box has that yellow State of California warning label saying it was made with chemicals known to cause cancer or birth defects or reproductive harm. I learn that TDCPP is the chemical in the cushion. It is used as a flame retardant.

I looked for months for a decent chair, even buying and returning other chairs, before finally going with an online purchase. I need an office chair badly. There was no hint on the page that the product was made with TDCPP, so I could buy another chair and it have the same sticker upon delivery. Or this chemical could be in 99% of office chairs.

For other products with this chemical, there are often suggestions about making sure to wash your hands, or not to put your hands in your mouth after touching the item. From what I could tell, the chemical can become airborne and then be ingested somehow. Specifically with TDCPP, the issue is it being a neurotoxin and causing cancer.

The person I know who has the chair laughed off getting rid of theirs when I told them about the chemical. I'd hate to die of cancer of course, but I am wondering if anybody out there has experience beyond just casual suggestions of what to do. Perhaps you are familiar with research on this chemical or with ordering office furniture. If you work for the flame retardant industry, please do not answer this question.

There will be no kids or anyone pregnant around the chair. Is this dangerous and I should immediately ship it back? Or is the danger comparable to a normal day in life?
posted by rakim to Shopping (10 answers total)
FWIW, that law is so broad that nearly everything is "known to the state of CA to cause cancer."
posted by mollymayhem at 7:12 PM on October 3, 2013 [4 favorites]

Don't smoke, eat, or otherwise ingest the chemicals in the chair.If you want to be super safe, wear some clothes while sitting in it.

Otherwise like mollymayhem says, almost every commercially available office chair will probably come with the same warning.
posted by TheAdamist at 7:18 PM on October 3, 2013 [3 favorites]

I know nothing about that chemical but agree with mollymayhem that the "known to the state of CA to cause cancer" sign is everywhere. On every supermarket, every liquor store, every dry cleaners, etc.
posted by BlahLaLa at 7:40 PM on October 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

but agree with mollymayhem that the "known to the state of CA to cause cancer" sign is everywhere. On every supermarket, every liquor store, every dry cleaners, etc.

It's not so much that it's broad, but when sellers are unsure, they err on the side of a label. I've seen plenty of things that contain none of the chemicals, but marked that they do, because the seller (and/or manufacturer) doesn't know either way and it's not worth their time to find out, and/or it's difficult for them to find out. It's prudent to comply by over-reporting rather than flout by under-reporting.

Or this chemical could be in 99% of office chairs.

40ish years ago, the chemical industry in CA wrote new laws requiring furniture manufacturers to use their flame retardants. It's since come to light that these chemicals aren't very effective, and aren't all that healthy. CA is currently in the process of rolling back these laws, but the basic situation at the moment as I understand it is:
1. Pretty much all furniture in the USA is made to meet CA requirements. So all furniture has the flame retardants. (Not necessarily all using the same chemicals)
2. There will come a time in the near future when you have more choice about this, but that time is probably not now.

A quick google brings up this page which answers all the questions you'll have, but standard internet rules apply - I have no idea how trustworthy those answers are, as I'm not familiar with the site, but it appears to also have info on getting furniture without the retardants.
posted by anonymisc at 8:00 PM on October 3, 2013

Home Depot in California has a sign in the lumber section about sawdust being known to the state of California to cause cancer. I have a picture of it somewhere. That sign is literally in *every* business in the state.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 8:20 PM on October 3, 2013 [3 favorites]

Yep. Everything is "known to the state of CA to cause cancer." There are potential big bad consequences for failing to give such a warning (random people can sue you, and a bunch of law firms have made a cottage industry out of shaking down businesses over this, though there have been more recent moves to roll back the craziness), but there's nothing illegal about attaching the warning to perfectly safe and harmless items. It got to the point where people were going after banks because people might smoke on the street near ATMs and secondhand smoke is bad for you, so they argued the banks should be responsible for warning people about this danger on the sidewalk.

So relax. Do not eat your new office chair. Do not shut yourself into a hermetically sealed chamber with the chair. Do not attempt to manufacture prenatal vitamins out of the cushion. Your new chair is probably less toxic as many of the substances we come in contact with on a daily basis. Happy sitting.
posted by zachlipton at 8:27 PM on October 3, 2013 [5 favorites]

What you need to do here is carefully balance your risk of acquiring cancer from this chair against the reduction it offers in your risk of spontaneous combustion vs. a chair without flame retardant.

While you're doing that, try not to worry. Stress is known to increase your risk of cancer.
posted by flabdablet at 9:46 PM on October 3, 2013

Let's face it, that's shit's nasty. Who wants to live with it? But whatcha gonna do?

You're worse off if you smoke, though.

You could air it outside and let it offgas in the sun for 48 hours.

Then I'd put a blanket over the chair just to be safe. It will also help keep the chair seat from getting dirty when you spill coffee or drip jelly out of your sammich.

And if you do smoke, take consolation from the fact that it won't be the chair that kills ya.
posted by BlueHorse at 10:16 PM on October 3, 2013

A bag of sandbox sand and my bronze hand planes also get a "Known to the state of California" warning, so using that to judge by is pretty much pointless. (That's not to say it's not on some fairly nasty stuff too, just that on it's own, it's not very useful.)

Here's an actual toxicity study: "The no-observed-adverse-effect level (NOAEL) for chronic toxicity and neoplastic activity was the dietary dose of 5 mg/kg/day." Basically, they were feeding rat this stuff at doses ranging from ≈1 to 15-325 mg aspirin a day, and saw no observable adverse effcts at the 1 aspirin a day level and still weren't killing things at the 15 a day level for two years. (If you tried that with actual aspirin, I think you'd have an issue in pretty short order.) There are a lot of other things you probably deal with pretty regularly that have fat uglier toxicity reports.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 10:37 PM on October 3, 2013

As long as you don't sit on the chair with a bare bottom, you're fine, I would guess.
The chemical compounds aren't going to leapfrog over layers of fabric just to "get" you.
posted by BostonTerrier at 6:18 AM on October 4, 2013

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