WBZ-TV's Bobby Sisk reports

BOSTON (CBS) – Is your couch a hazard to your family?

A Duke University-led study released today raises red flags about a flame retardant used to treat polyurethane foam cushions.

“I think it’s pretty hard for a consumer to tell,” said Elizabeth Saunders with Clean Water Action Massachusetts, located in Downtown Boston.

Saunders heard the study was being conducted and submitted a corner of her own couch cushion.

“We found that there were in fact toxic flame retardants of the variety Chlorinated Tris in that couch,” she said. “It was a couch that was purchased in 2009 or 2010 so that is the flame retardant that we’re seeing in most couches.”

Researchers list Chlorinated Tris as a possible carcinogen based on animal studies. It was banned, Saunders said, in children’s pajamas in 1977 because of health concerns then.

But it reemerged as a flame retardant in foam furniture cushions in 2005 when another chemical, PentaBDE, was deemed too dangerous. A California law aimed at making furniture less flammable, most believe, led to its widespread use.

This study looked at 102 sofas made between 1998 and 2010, and showed more than half contained potentially toxic or untested chemicals. 41% of the couch foam tested contained Chlorinated Tris.

“When you look at the couches after 2005 then you see more of the Chlorinated Tris,” Saunders said pointing to a graph from the study.

For her, the research proves there needs to be more government regulation.

“We have been working to support the “Safer Alternatives Bill” which would address multiple chemical exposures and would look to replace toxic chemicals with safer alternatives where that is feasible and require companies to do that when there is a safer alternative available,” she explained.

But if you ask Anne Kolton, with The American Chemistry Council, the exposure from furniture should not be a concern.

“First the public should know that TDCPP is in upholstered furniture and other products in their home because it slows the spread of fire, and in fire every second counts,” Kolton said.

“Second, they should know that TDCPP and other flame retardants have been reviewed by regulators and found to be safe at the levels people are typically exposed to them.”

That explanation doesn’t make Elizabeth Saunders feel any better. “I’m concerned about the cumulative exposure,” she said.

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