Kaiser Permanente has announced that it will stop purchasing furniture treated with flame retardants. Its new standard specifies that upholstered furniture in new or remodeled buildings should not contain added fire-retardant chemicals.
The medical group says it spends roughly $30 million a year to furnish its hospitals, medical offices and other buildings. It is the first health system in the country to make this commitment; the decision could impact more than 38 hospitals and 600 medical offices in eight states and the District of Columbia.
Flame-retardant chemicals have been linked to reproductive problems, developmental delays and cancer, among other health problems. “Where there is credible evidence that a material might result in harm to the environment or public health, we work to replace it with safer alternatives,” said Kathy Gerwig, Kaiser Permanente’s Vice President of Employee safety, health and wellness, and Environmental Stewardship Officer.
Working with furniture manufacturers to meet this revised standard, Kaiser expects to see safer furnishings in its hospitals within the next one to three years.
"Kaiser Permanente is creating national momentum in the health care sector for abandoning flame-retardant chemicals in exchange for safer alternatives," said Gary Cohen, president and founder of Health Care Without Harm and the Healthier Hospitals Initiative. "The Healthier Hospitals Initiative is working with 1,000 hospitals across the country to protect public health and prevent disease through implementing sustainability strategies. We will utilize this broad hospital network to drive toxic flame retardants out of healthcare and create the demand for their phase out from our schools and homes as well.”
Public concern and awareness over the health risks of flame retardants have been increasing. Kaiser's decision follows California's move to update its flammability standard for upholstered furniture stating that furniture manufacturers can meet standards without the use of fire-retardant chemicals.
Andy Igrejas, Director of Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, said: “Kaiser continues to lead the way in putting its money behind its commitments to provide a safe environment for its customers and workers. This policy is broad enough, and Kaiser is big enough, that this decision will have a positive impact on public health and the marketplace.”
In 2012, Kaiser has announced its move to safer alternatives in other aspects of operation such as PVC- and DEHP-free IV equipment. PVC and DEHP have been shown to harm both human and environmental health. This week’s announcement also stated that the healthcare provider is encouraging manufacturers to produce PVC-free carpets and to develop fabrics that eliminate chemicals of concern including vinyl, heavy metals and volatile organic compounds.