Home Decor Goes Green

Maybe you'd pay 25 cents more for an organic apple. But would you shell out an extra $500 for an organic couch?

Few people realize that chemicals used in manufacturing furniture can cause allergies or make them ill, says Richard Jackson, former director of the National Center for Environmental Health for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Organic furnishings, however, are free of pesticides and man-made chemicals.

Synthetic furniture and mattresses can leave irritating residues on the skin or emit toxins into the air. Studies show polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE), a flame retardant widely used on fabric, causes birth defects, cancer and memory trouble. It has been banned in Europe and California.

Like the organic food movement, chemical-free home design looks to be more than a fad. Natural furnishings are for sale at major retailers including Crate & Barrel, Ikea and Home Depot.

Going Natural

DON'T buy "knock down" furniture made of particle-board. It contains chemicals like formaldehyde, which can cause breathing problems and allergies.

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DO buy pesticide-free wood with the label "FSC" (Forest Steward Council).

DON'T buy upholstery with PBDE, a flame retardant linked to birth defects and cancer.

DO buy wool mattresses, which are naturally fire resistant.

DON'T purchase vinyl flooring, blinds or upholstery with polyvinyl chloride plastic (PVC). They may contain phthalates that have been linked to birth defects and early puberty.

DO buy furniture that is PVC-free.

Sources: Consumer Product Safety Commission; Environmental Protection Agency

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