CHICAGO, IL - Four more major U.S. health systems - Advocate Health Care, Beaumont Health System, Hackensack University Medical Center, and University Hospitals - say they will stop buying furniture treated with toxic flame retardant chemicals. Combined, the four health systems represent 7,000 patient beds throughout Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, and Ohio.

Each of the systems will specify with their suppliers that upholstered furniture should not contain flame retardant chemicals where code permits. The five health systems spend nearly $50 million a year on furniture for their facilities.

Commonly used flame retardant chemicals can pose a threat to human health and the environment according to researchers. Depending on the flame retardant, effects include reproductive, neurocognitive, and immune system impacts, among others.

"Demand from these health systems will drive the production of furniture that does not include toxic flame retardant chemicals," Gary Cohen, president and founder of Health Care Without Harm and the Healthier Hospitals Initiative. "Because the health care sector is such a large part of the economy, hospitals can help shift the entire marketplace, which will benefit public health and make products safer for all consumers.

In June, Kaiser Permanente said it would stop buying furniture treated with flame retardants, the first health system in the country to do so. It impacted more than 38 hospitals and 600 medical offices in eight states and the District of Columbia.

This move is driven by a new California flammability standard - allowing furniture manufacturers to meet the standard without the addition of hazardous flame retardant chemicals - that is changing the national furnishings market. Moreover, the presence of automatic sprinkler systems and prohibition on indoor smoking significantly reduces concerns about fires in hospital facilities.

The movement could grow. The four health systems phasing out the purchasing of furniture with flame retardant chemicals are enrolled in the Healthier Hospitals Initiative, a national campaign to  improve environmental health in the health care sector representing more than 1,100 hospitals across the country. HHI challenges hospitals to reduce the use of hazardous flame retardant chemicals as part of its agenda.

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