Mattresses

by Ms. S on December 10, 2009

Please note that this section contains my personal notes from my readings on this topic.

Below are notes that I took when trying to decide how important the purity of my daughter’s mattress is.

From GreenCradle.com:

  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has concluded that much of our exposure to toxic chemicals actually occurs from inside our own homes, even if we live in cities with highly polluted outdoor environments. Conventional mattresses are a cocktail of highly toxic chemicals, including VOCs, which are volatile chemicals that emit as gasses from the mattress surface. When these gases are inhaled they pose serious health risks. In fact, studies abroad have implicated mattress chemicals in SIDS deaths in infants.
**Tests on Memory Foam Reveal Highest Amount of Toxic Chemicals: Laboratory tests have found that conventional memory foam mattresses emit on average of 61 toxic VOCs, including benzene, propane, styrene and naphthalene, recognized as carcinogens by the EPA, as well as numerous other health organizations. Memory foam mattresses, which are often the most expensive mattresses, also turn out to be the most toxic mattresses in terms of VOC content. For example, exposure to Benzene has been linked with Leukemia, as well as other abnormalities of the blood and bone marrow. The foul smell many people report as emanating from these types of mattresses is made up of these VOCs.
**Tests on Conventional Innerspring Mattresses: Tests have revealed that conventional innerspring mattresses emit an average of 39 toxic VOCs, including Tetrachloryethylene, listed as a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer.
  • The government requires that all mattresses meet flame retardancy laws – no mattress can be exempted from this law without a doctor’s prescription. Conventional mattresses are known to use various flame retardant chemicals to meet government flame retardancy laws. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has reported that these flame retardant chemicals are, in turn, inhaled, ingested, and absorbed through the skin by both children and adults alike from simply sleeping on such conventional mattresses.
    • Some of the toxic fire retardants used in conventional mattresses include boric acid (roach poison), antimony (a heavy metal linked with inflammation of lungs and developmental/reproductive problems) and DBDPO (childhood developmental toxins found in growing amounts in breast milk).
    • Silica is used by some companies making “organic” mattresses, because silica is considerably cheaper than wool. However, Silica is listed under California Prop 65 as a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer if inhaled.
    • It should be noted that mattress companies trying to sell you silica-filled mattresses always make a big deal about the fact that they are wool-free, claiming they are sparing the consumer the risk of wool allergies. In reality, wool allergies are extremely rare, and largely consists of reports by people that they find wool itchy, thus, making it questionable whether such reports are even true allergies. Wool is a more coarse fiber than cotton which is why people perceive it as itchy, but this coarseness and durability is exactly what makes wool a natural fire retardant that can pass open flame burn tests. For a fact, the wool in an organic mattress never comes in contact with the skin, thus, any concern about skin sensitivities are simply not relevant when the wool is used in the inner-core of the mattress and never comes in contact with anyone’s skin.
    • Also, it should be noted that organic wool is not like the conventional wool that people ordinarily come in contact with. Conventional wool is sheered from sheep that have been dipped alive in pesticides that include known carcinogens and skin/eye/respiratory irritants. Organic wool does not have any such chemicals applied to it, and thus, retains a purity that few people have experienced. If an organic mattress does not have wool in it, it has to use synthetics or silica. Replacing wool with silica, a known carcinogen when inhaled, is hardly doing someone a favor. It’s like saying, wool can give you allergies, so we’ve replaced it with something that can give you cancer.

Tricks of the Trade:

  • Manufacturer parts abroad, which then gets fummegated with chemicals while in transport
    • Products imported pre-made from Asia, England or elsewhere abroad are subject to fumigation with toxic chemicals at North American ports. Many companies claiming to make organic rubber mattresses actually import the rubber pre-manufactured, and thus the rubber is commonly exposed to hazardous fumigation chemicals. Natural rubber absorbs what it comes in contact with, so it is important not to expose it to strong pollutants. Sometimes entire mattresses are imported abroad from England and elsewhere to be sold in the U.S. under private labels or directly through retail stores, including children’s stores, again exposing the entire product to fumigation contaminants.
  • Some “organic” mattresses contain blue plastic mesh, including in baby mattresses
  • Blending 100% natural rubber with synthetic rubber, another trick used in so-called organic mattresses to make them cheaper.

From HealthyChild.com:

Over the last 30+ years, baby mattress materials have been replaced with cheap petroleum-based synthetics. Recent studies have questioned the use of these materials.

Nearly all baby mattresses today contain polyurethane foam, polyvinyl chloride (PVC), chemical fire retardants (e.g. antimony, pentaBDE, modacrylic), plasticizers (e.g. phthalates), and an extensive list of added industrial chemicals. Some of these chemicals have been shown to leach out into the surrounding air.

“The results of the study demonstrated that some crib mattresses emitted mixtures of chemicals capable of causing respiratory-tract irritation and generating combinations of SI [sensory irritation], PI [pulminary irritation] and AFL [airflow limitation]… chemicals… involved in the manufacture of the mattress and cover… have toxic properties… to lung, liver, and brain… respiratory tract irritants… carcinogenic and neurotoxic…”
(Respiratory Toxicity of Mattress Emissions in Mice, Rosalind C. Anderson, Archives of Environmental Health, January 2000, www.andersonlaboratories.com)

There is growing concern among physicians, scientists, health professionals, public safety officials, environmental advocacy groups, and consumers regarding the possible effects of these chemicals on our children.

Babies and toddlers spend 50-70% of their time sleeping and playing on a baby mattress. Furthermore, a child’s every breath inhales air no more than six inches away from these chemicals. As such, for the first few years of a child’s life, the mattress is an especially important object in the child’s environment.

  • Conventional crib mattresses tend to be covered in kid-unfriendly vinyl, stuffed with polyurethane foam, and treated with flame retardants — emitting fumes known to affect brain and nervous system development. (No matter what kind of mattress you get, make sure it’s firm to protect against a heightened risk of SIDS, sudden infant death sydrome.) (Healthy Child Healthy World, p32)
    • List of harmful chemicals in crib mattresses from HealthyChild.com:
      • Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC), the surface material used in nearly all baby mattresses, is widely considered to be one of the most toxic and environmentally unfriendly plastics in use today.
      • The PVC surface of a typical baby mattress is also treated with toxic fire retardant chemicals such as antimony. Various biocides are often added as well.
      • Phthalates, associated with asthma, reproductive effects, and cancer, make up 30% by weight of the PVC surface of a typical baby mattress. Phthalates are not bound to the plastic and leach out.
        • DEHP (the most commonly used phthalate in baby mattresses), together with several other phthalates, have already been banned across Europe for use in many children’s products.
      • Polyurethane foam, the predominant filling material used in baby mattresses, typically contains various problematic ingredients including chemical catalysts, surfactants, emulsifiers, pigments, and other chemical additives. These frequently include formaldehyde, benzene, toluene, and other well established toxic chemicals such as organotin compounds.
        • Polyurethane foam (essentially solid petroleum) is extremely flammable. To combat this hazard, industrial toxic fire retardants are added. The most common chemical fire retardant used to treat polyurethane foam has been pentaBDE, a toxin associated with hyperactivity and neuro-behavioral alterations. PentaBDE is not bound to the foam, and leaches out into the surrounding air.
        • PentaBDE has recently been banned in Europe. It has also been banned by the State of California as of 2006. However, there is currently no planned government action to recall the millions of baby mattresses presently in use that contain pentaBDE.
  • Commonly found toxicants in the nursery include lead, pesticides tracked in on shoes, mold, pet dander and allergens. Also harmful are volatile organic compounds (VOCs), such as formaldehyde emitted by paint and many other building materials, and flame retardants on fabrics and mattresses known as PBDEs.

PBDEs are classified as semivolatile organic compounds (SVOCs), which are slowly emitted from products and adhere to dust that is inhaled. Laboratory tests have shown that PBDEs can cause nervous system and brain development problems even at low concentrations with long-term exposure.

“Most people think that if an environment is free of odors from VOCs, it’s chemical free, but many materials contain toxic SVOCs we can’t smell,” says Mary Cordaro, an environmental consultant and founder of H3 Environmental. “In the nursery, these include vinyl wallpaper and window treatments, foam carpet padding, upholstered items made with polyurethane foam and pesticide-treated wool carpeting. After these products stop outgassing VOCs, they continue to contaminate the nursery with SVOCs at higher and higher levels over time.”

(OrganicGrace.com)

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