Soon after bean bags burst onto the scene in the late 1960s, they could be found in homes around the world, but in the 1990s, concerns began to surface as to their safety. It seems a shame that such a comfortable, ergonomic type of furniture would pose any risk. But as it turns out, shoddily made bean bags may pose some threats, especially when safety standards are ignored by unscrupulous manufacturers. Even though bean bag chairs have been targeted by some groups over safety concerns, doctors continue to recommend them for helping keep proper posture and for therapeutic use in some situations.
California Proposition 65
The safety risks of bean bags have always revolved around small children climbing inside them and having their airways obstructed by the beads, but new manufacturing standards in the U.S. and Australia have successfully mitigated this risk. Recently, however, new concerns over the safety of bean bags have surfaced, and most them are due to California’s stringent law known as Proposition 65.
Proposition 65 is officially titled The Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986. The Act requires that all products made of materials that may pose a risk of cancer or birth defects carry a warning label before they can be sold in the state. The list of substances and materials that require the label is maintained by the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA). The list must include items that are believed to cause cancer in at least one in every 100,000 people.
The risk of bean bags causing cancer has become a growing concern in the United States ever since national, and international bean bag manufacturers have included the Proposition 65 label on all of their products. The label must be attached regardless of which state or country they are being distributed for sale. The two particular concerns of possible carcinogens in bean bags are the vinyl used for some of the cheaper covers and the polystyrene beads used to fill them.
Warnings for Vinyl Bean Bag Covers
In California, all products made of vinyl are required to have a warning label affixed stating the following: “WARNING: This product contains chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm.”
The primary reason vinyl is considered a health hazard by many is that one of the components used to make it and the popular plastic polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is vinyl chloride. Vinyl chloride is a colorless gas, and large quantities are used in facilities that manufacture vinyl and PVC, including materials used for furniture and automobile upholstery.
Concentrations of ambient vinyl chloride are minuscule, and most cases of exposure occur from manufacturing plant discharges and the evaporation of chemical waste. However, elevated levels of vinyl chloride have also been found in the interiors of new cars as it outgases from all the new vinyl and PVC parts. This substance is partially to blame for the famous new-car smell, which is familiar to most people.
Vinyl chloride has been found to be a health hazard by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). When inhaled or orally introduced, it can cause some effects that range from mild to severe:
- Acute effects include dizziness, drowsiness, headaches and irritation of the eyes, respiratory tract, lungs, and kidneys.
- Chronic effects from consuming or breathing vinyl chloride are disturbances in the central and peripheral nervous systems, liver disease, kidney disease and changes in the bones, joints and skin of the fingers.
- Reproductive and developmental effects include a decrease in male sexual performance, increased incidences of birth defects, increased risk of miscarriage, decrease in male fertility and reduced fetal weight in newborns.
- When inhaled, vinyl chloride increases the risk of liver cancer, and it is classified as a Group A human carcinogen by the EPA.
The good news about vinyl chloride is that the levels present in most consumer products are too low to cause lasting harm unless exposure is significantly elevated. However, new data released in 2014 shows that vinyl products carry another hazard that may be more serious.
Other chemicals are often added to the vinyl to make it more pliable and flexible and to prevent cracking, and one of these chemicals, diisononyl phthalate (DINP), is also thought to be a carcinogen. DINP is used to treat nearly 90 percent of all consumer products made of vinyl, including vinyl flooring, gloves, cables and the covers used for bean bags. DINP has been linked to the following types of cancer: liver, bone, blood, kidney, uterus and pancreas.
Avoid Vinyl Bean Bag Covers
Bean bags with vinyl covers are extremely inexpensive, which makes them popular among low-income individuals and families. However, these bean bags are also considered to be of exceptionally low quality. For only a few dollars more, you can enjoy a completely safe bean bag cover made of polyester or nylon. Polyester & Nylon are considered ideal because they can be used indoors or outdoors, and they are extremely easy to clean. Neither nylon nor polyester is made of hazardous materials, and they are not known to cause cancer or birth defects. That is only one of the many reasons why Bean Bags R Us does not sell bean bags with vinyl covers.
Cancer and Bean Bag Filling
Another reason some people are concerned about bean bags causing cancer is that most of them are filled with beads made of expanded polystyrene (EPS), which is often referred to by the trademarked name Styrofoam. Virgin EPS beads are an exceptional filler for bean bags because they are strong, durable and resilient. However, two types of EPS are commonly used for consumer products: foamed and rigid. Foamed EPS is the kind used to make soft and cushiony bean bag beads while rigid EPS is used for product packaging, food containers, and insulated drinking cups.
EPS is composed of several different materials, including pentane isomers and styrene. Pentane isomers are extremely flammable and emitted as a gas from newly manufactured EPS, but nearly all of it is discharged within the first week after it is produced, long before it reaches consumers.
Styrene, on the other hand, may comprise about 0.2 percent of EPS, and it is present when it reaches the hands of consumers. Studies suggest that styrene may be carcinogenic when orally ingested, but the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies the compound as Group 2B, which is reserved for possible human carcinogens with inadequate supporting evidence.
As styrene continues to be studied, it has become evident that if it has any carcinogenic properties, it is only if it is ingested, and this is extremely difficult to do when it is in the form of EPS unless it is directly eaten. Some studies have shown that styrene may leech into hot foods and beverages in Styrofoam containers, and this may be of concern, but when it is used as a filling for bean bags, the risk is negligible. Any risk of cancer from EPS occurs only when workers in manufacturing plants are exposed to large quantities of polystyrene, and even these risks are mitigated by personal protection equipment, such as respirators and protective clothing.
Bean Bags From Bean Bags R Us
When you purchase a quality bean bag chair from Bean Bags R Us, we assure you that our bean bags do not cause cancer in any form because we use only the highest quality materials. We do not sell a single bean bag cover made of vinyl, and our virgin EPS beads are safely locked inside each bean bag. We use these bean bags ourselves and give them as gifts to friends and family because we know they are safe and among the most beneficial types of furniture on the market today.