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Kaiser Permanente won't buy furniture with flame retardants

Kaiser Permanente won't buy furniture with flame retardants

By Jaimy Lee
Posted: June 3, 2014 - 3:30 pm ET

Kaiser Permanente, which owns 32 hospitals in three states, plans to use its purchasing power to sway furniture manufacturers to stop putting flame retardants into upholstered couches and chairs.

Kaiser spends about $30 million annually on furniture, including upholstered items.

Effective immediately, the Oakland, Calif.-based health system will require that upholstered furniture installed in new or remodeled buildings will not contain added fire-retardant chemicals. The new policy does not apply to medical furniture such as bed mattresses and exam tables.

The new standard comes several months after a California law went into effect that no longer requires furniture makers to put flame retardants into upholstered furniture. A state law implemented in the 1970s required the inclusion of the chemicals to stop cigarette fires and became a voluntary standard for national manufacturers for decades. But recent studies have tied the chemicals to reproductive issues, development delays in children and cancer.

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“We're committed to finding safer alternatives,” said Kathy Gerwig, vice president of employee safety, health and wellness for Kaiser. “That won't happen without marketplace pressure.”

The new policy is part of a broader effort underway at Kaiser to assess how it purchases and sources supplies and equipment and their effects on public health.

The health system is a member of Health Care Without Harm and the Healthier Hospitals Initiative, organizations seeking to improve sustainability in the U.S. healthcare system through developing healthier food and waste-reduction programs.

Kaiser switched to carpets free of polyvinyl chloride, which environmental groups consider dangerous to human health. More than half of its spending on cleaning products goes toward those certified by Green Seal, a sustainability standards organization.

Kaiser spends about $30 million each year on upholstered furniture for its hospitals and medical and corporate offices. Furniture in high traffic areas, such as pediatric offices and pharmacy waiting rooms, is usually replaced every five years. New furniture in rooms with less traffic is often purchased every 10 years, according to John Kouletsis, Kaiser's vice president for facilities planning and design.

The organization buys furniture through MedAssets, its group purchasing organization. It gets most of its upholstered furniture from Steelcase, a Grand Rapids, Mich.-based manufacturer of office equipment and furniture.

Both companies have been “very responsive” to Kaiser's new policy, Kouletsis said.

Follow Jaimy Lee on Twitter: @MHjlee

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