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Can Your Office Furniture Make You Sick?

June 24, 2019 / by Bill Miller

HIS-Chemicals-office-furnitureIs your office environment or office furniture making you sick? The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) and, increasingly, manufacturers of office products and equipment, are taking steps to reduce the likelihood that’s the case.

For example: the toxic chemical chromium trioxide (chromium VI).

The ECHA (the European Union’s version of the U.S. EPA) oversees a regulation called REACH – Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals. The goal of REACH is to identify, monitor, and ideally replace the use of chemicals proven to be damaging to health and the environment. One of those products, chromium trioxide (chromium VI), is commonly used in chrome plating on all kinds of materials, including office furniture. When faced with the decision to apply for a permit to continue using chromium VI in its electroplating operation, or to revamp its processes to eliminate the use of chromium VI, the German office furniture maker Sedus Stoll AG chose the latter option. Sedus was one of the first companies to phase out the use of chromium VI in its office furniture making processes. Fortunately, this pioneering move is representative of a changing mindset that values sustainability and healthy workplaces.

Chromium VI: One of Many Red-Listed Chemicals

Because it was the subject of the 2000 film Erin Brockovich, chromium VI is sometimes called the “Erin Brockovich chemical.” Chromium VI has been linked to lung cancer, liver damage, reproductive problems, and developmental delays in infants and children. According to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, individuals working directly with the chemical or who are exposed to the chemical as a result of it leaching into the drinking water supply are at greatest risk of developing these health complications. However, because chromium VI is absorbed through the skin, regular contact with office products manufactured with it can lead to skin ulceration and other conditions.

Chromium VI is just one of more than 20 chemicals or chemical categories listed on the “Red List” of the “worst-in-class materials prevalent in the building industry.” These chemicals pollute the environment, bio-accumulate up the food chain until they reach toxic concentrations, and harm construction and factory workers.

Responsible Corporate Citizens

Fortunately for employers and employees alike, companies are increasingly making it a priority to reduce harmful chemicals in their products. On its website, office carpet manufacturer Milliken notes that “as of January 1, 2018: All Milliken modular carpet products manufactured in North America are Red List Free, with third-party verification.” Also on its website, the company has posted a blog titled, “Why Being Red List Free is a Big Deal.” The conclusion? Avoiding or eliminating manufacturing materials that have been identified as dangerous to health and the environment yields myriad economic and social benefits.

Related Read: Finding Fabrics For Your Office Space

Fire-Retardant Chemicals Aren't Safe Either

Sedus and Milliken aren’t alone in their efforts to make the workplace safer. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, fire-retardant chemicals don’t significantly lower fire risks. However, they do significantly raise health-related risks. A report released by the Center for Environmental Health (CEH) explains that many flame-retardant chemicals are harmful to human health, and contribute to reproductive difficulties, cancer, lower IQ, developmental delays, and obesity. When these chemicals are used in the manufacturing process, they migrate into the air and dust and are inhaled and ingested by anyone in their proximity. According to the report, flame retardant chemicals have been detected in 97% of all Americans tested.

Safe, Non-Toxic Office Furniture Choices

Many office furniture manufacturers now offer products without flame-retardant chemicals. The following companies have removed toxic flame retardants from all of their products:

  • Andreu World
  • Arcadia Contract
  • DARRAN
  • David Edward Co.
  • Fresh Coast
  • Global/GLOBALcare
  • Haworth
  • Humanscale
  • Leland Intl.
  • Martin Brattrud
  • Neutral Posture
  • SitOnIt Seating
  • Wieland
  • 9 to 5 Seating

Employers are paying increasing attention to workplace health and wellness because they realize that healthy, happy employees are much more likely to be loyal, productive employees. In essence, manufacturers that strive to reduce their use of harmful chemicals aren’t just doing the right thing, they’re doing the right thing to attract and retain customers.

Here at Houston Installation Services, we are happy to answer any questions that you may have regarding your office furniture choices. For more than 35 years we’ve helped companies with their office designs, moves and renovations, and furniture installation. We are familiar with the world’s leading office furniture manufacturers, and we are happy to lend our expertise to your business. 

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Topics: Office Furniture, Designer

Written by Bill Miller

Bill Miller joined Houston Installation Services, Inc. as the Operations and Sales Manager in 1988 where he worked until he purchased the company in 1994. Under his leadership, Houston Installation has grown to a $4.5 million business with 50 employees all specialized in the best way to help companies move, remodel or add office space.