Consumer Alert: Polyurethane foam inside sofa cushions fuels fire - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Consumer Alert: Polyurethane foam inside sofa cushions fuels fire

It's everywhere in your home. It's in your living room, bedroom, even under the carpet in your hallway.

It's polyurethane foam that cushions your most common household furniture, and one woman  says it killed her her son.

"My cousin met me at the road and told me my son hadn't made it. That none of them had made it," says Robbie Nunley.

Nunley soon found out her son and three others never had a chance.

Snapshots show the damage left behind from the 2002 fire that killed Nunley's son Jeremy. A dropped cigarette ignited his couch. The polyurethane foam inside the sofa then fueled the fire.

Nunley adds, "within 10 seconds the foam had started putting off cyanide and carbon monoxide and it took 10 to 15 seconds to kill the kids."

Furniture makers have been using polyurethane foam for decades.

It's cheap and comfortable, and as shown in this safety video, it can also be deadly.

In just seconds, an upholstery furniture fire can consume a room, fill it with thick, black, smoke and kill you.

Since most upholstery furniture fires start in the crevice of the couch, that's where we placed our flame.

It takes only 3 seconds for the couch to catch. The flame licks away, creeps upwards and spreads.

One minute later the coils of the couch are exposed, the springs are melting. Two minutes later, the cushions are charred, the couch an inferno, fire literally drips onto the ground.

Less than three minutes into the fire you can see the couch is almost gone.

"I need people to realize how quickly it can happen," says Attorney, Clay Martin.

Martin has tried case after case where people died in house fires ignited by upholstery furniture, including Robbie Nunley's case.

He says companies wouldn't have to pay much more to make a life-saving change.

"In some cases one to two dollars to have treated foam compared to non-treated foam," says Martin. "I still scratch my head today as to why there haven't been changes."

The Polyurethane Foam Association disputes those costs and says that fire retardant treatments don't make furniture fireproof.

"It was unnecessary for them to die. They could have gotten out if it hadn't been for the foam," says Nunley.

This mom hopes her son's death will bring change to the furniture industry.

The Polyurethane Foam Association says they favor a national flammability standard, but they say the chemicals it would take to make foam truly fire retardant may have some serious health risks.

If the foam in your furniture concerns you, there are two things you can look for.

*One is furniture approved by the Upholstery Furniture Action Council.

Furniture with a UFAC hangtag meets construction criteria designed to reduce the likelihood of upholstery fires.

*Also, you can look for furniture that has a tag called California Technical Bulletin 117.

California is the only state with a mandatory standard for home upholstery furniture.


Click here to email Ursula Madden.

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