By Kim Robson:
One of the most important aspects to maintaining good health is to get plenty of sleep. A good night’s sleep is critical for people of all ages to rejuvenate the mind and body. Sleep deprivation not only inhibits productivity and the ability to remember and store information, but also leads to serious health consequences and can jeopardize your and others’ safety.
When it comes to choosing the environment where we’ll be spending approximately one-third of our lives, many of us give it little to no thought. What we rarely consider is the fact that mattresses, mattress toppers, couches and many forms of bedding may be treated with toxic chemicals linked to respiratory and fertility issues, as well as endocrine disruption and cancer. The crib mattresses and car seats our babies spend so much time exposed to may be laced with toxic chemical flame retardants.
Let’s focus on mattresses and bedding for both adults and babies because that’s the single largest source of potential exposure. According to a report by MADE SAFE, a nonprofit certifier of nontoxic products, most mattresses are made with polyurethane foam, which is highly flammable, so adding flame retardant chemicals is required to meet federal flammability standards. These chemicals are linked to endocrine disruption, lower IQ, hyperactivity, altered sexual development, fertility issues, thyroid dysfunction and cancer.
The report called Detox Your Sleep found that, in addition to flame retardants, most mattresses also contain these components:
- Isocyanates— lead to respiratory disease including asthma attacks, as well as mucous membrane irritation, skin rashes, chemical sensitization and cancer.
- Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)— includes phosgene, a poisonous gas once used as a chemical weapon in WWI.
- Methylene chloride (urethane grade)— easily absorbed through the lungs; leads to skin and eye irritation.
- Acetone— another skin and eye irritant linked to respiratory irritation, dizziness and weakness.
Waterproof baby mattresses covered in vinyl can off-gas the following:
- Phthalates — lead to significant reproductive harm, including (in boys) decreased testis weight, reduced anogenital distance, reduced accessory sex organ weights, modifications in sex organs and cells, and reduced fertility; and (in girls) endocrine-disrupting effects like uterine abnormalities, reduced fertility, and problems with thyroid function.
- VOCs— lead to respiratory conditions such as the development or worsening of asthma and increased risk of pulmonary infections.
Other bedding products included are as follows:
- Synthetic foam pillows— can be made with flame retardant chemicals, phthalates or other chemical plasticizers.
- Sheets— cotton sheets touted to be “wrinkle-free,” “no wrinkle,” “no iron” (and similar terms) can contain a formaldehyde finish. Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen.
- Mattress toppers— may contain added antibacterial and antimicrobial compounds including silver nanoparticles (which require more study) and triclosan, a known endocrine-disrupting chemical.
Household products like mattresses and furniture have to pass federal flammability standards. While there are many states with bans on flame retardants or legislation in place to mitigate our exposure to these chemicals, unfortunately manufacturers can easily switch to flame retardant materials that are just as toxic but not included in the ban. Or they may use outside materials that are pretreated with flame retardant chemicals so they can legally claim they don’t addany flame retardants to the finished product — even though it still contains them. Finally, non-U.S. manufacturers (and most of these products are made in China, where regulations are lax) are not even required to disclose that they use flame retardant chemicals.
Newer models are better, and here’s why: There’s a California law, TB 117-2013, that requires manufacturers to label products that contain flame-retardant chemicals. Seeing TB 117-2013 labeling means the furniture was manufactured after flame retardants were no longer required (in 2013). Products manufactured after the passage of California’s 2014 Toxic Furniture Right-to-Know Bill will be required to disclose also whether they contain added flame-retardant chemicals.
Your best bet always is to look for natural materials such as organic cotton and wool, which are far less flammable than polyurethane foam and don’t require flame retardant chemicals. For more options, check out MADE SAFE’s certified bedding alternatives.