Monday, February 13, 2012



A little over 2 years ago when I was pregnant I purchased a great book (which I highly recommend if you are or are thinking of becoming pregnant!):  The Complete Organic Pregnancy.  It was somewhat overwhelming to read about all the changes that I should make in order to have a truly healthier pregnancy, however,  few things overwhelmed me more than reading about what lies inside of our mattresses.    Even worse?  Trying to figure out what mattress was the safest.  In an ironic twist I, literally, lost sleep over the issue.  

I am going to TRY to make this easier for you by briefly explaining the problem with conventional mattresses and what to look for (and avoid) when buying a new mattress, especially a crib mattress!  But do beware:   I have found the mattress industry to be very sneaky:  it is hard to find out what is inside mattresses and there are a lot of companies using terms like ‘organic’ and ‘natural’ very very loosely.   Close to 40% of mattress companies refuse to fully disclose all materials used in their mattresses, failing mostly to provide information on how they make their mattresses flame resistant, waterproof or antimicrobial.  It is the chemicals used to achieve these three properties that you mostly should be worried about.

Babies sleep a lot.   Even the fussiest of infants will spend  the greater part of the day sleeping.   Children and adults sleep on our mattresses anywhere from  6- 12 hours (or more!) a night.   I think we can all agree that its not ideal to spend over half of our life in close proximity to potentially harmful chemicals.  The problem with sleeping on a mattress that could be off-gassing toxic stuff is that your head is  really close to your mattress for hours at a time, breathing in any toxic chemical that could be released...

As with all chemical exposure our children are most vulnerable.  The EPA and the Agency of Toxic Substances and disease registry have said that, “ children do differ from adults in their susceptibility to hazardous chemicals, including carcinogens and neuro-developmental effects of the fire retardants commonly used in baby mattresses.”

So what chemicals of concern can currently  found in a your average crib mattress? 
1. Polyurethane Foam
Polyurethane foam is the number one ingredient in traditional mattresses today.  It can also be labeled as ‘memory foam’ or ‘soy foam’. Off gassing from polyurethane foam releases many harmful petroleum chemicals and volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) which have been associated with eye, nose and throat irritation, headaches and even cancer.

2. Fire-retardant chemicals (PBDEs and others)
In the US it is mandatory that all mattresses must contain enough flame retardant to withstand a 2 foot wide blowtorch open flame for 70 seconds. These flame retardants are usually not in your best interest healthwise, with up to 90% of the those in mattresses containing highly toxic chemicals.

The Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC - the body that made fire retardants mandatory in mattresses)  conducted a study  in 2006 to assess if we absorb any of the fire retardants in our mattresses and what the potential health risks that might result from this exposure are.  They found that  the average adult will absor, on a nightly basis, a daily dose of :
  • .802 mg of Antimony (Arsenic - the inhalation of Antimony causes lung tumors in animals and is considered a probably human carcinogen)
  • .081 mg Boric Acid (Roach Killer- a probable reproductive and developmental toxin in humans)
  • .073 mg DBDPO (Deca- considered toxic based on liver and thyroid effects in rodent studies, it is also a possible human carcinogen) from flame proof mattresses.

This particular study concluded that these amounts are too small for "probable lifetime risk" in adults, however other agencies disagree, including the ATSDR, CDC, and EPA.  In fact if you use the EPA number these results would show that these mattresses exceed toxic levels by 27.5 times. In any case, what all agencies can agree on is that there have not been studies conducted on babies.   The study did find that five year old children will absorb .5 mg Antimony every night, this is 63 times more poison than the EPA says is safe.  The natural deduction is that the levels of these chemicals absorbed by an infant could potentially be harmful.

3. Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC).
Vinyl, used as a waterproof layer in many baby mattresses, is made up of a cocktail of toxic chemicals that have been linked to cancer, asthma and developmental toxins and may interfere with testosterone and can cause abnormalities in male reproductive development.


When looking for a safer mattress look for:
  • Ideally an untreated cotton mattress (organic if you can afford it)
  • If you can not afford this, try to find a NATURAL latex one
  • Plan ‘c’ is a combination of the two

 Natural materials like latex, cotton and wool are less flammable to begin with, so it is easier for them to meet CSPC standards without toxic chemical treatments.

The core of the mattress:
  •  Natural latex or a mix of natural and synthetic latex is better than a polyurethane foam core.
  • Mattresses with an innerspring system tend to be firmer and are a safe alternative.

  • Because of the Consumer Product Safety Commission's requirement that all mattresses be flameproof, even some ‘natural’ cotton  or latex  mattresses, or even those marketed as organic  can and do often contain chemical flame retardants.  In order for a mattress not to be treated with chemicals it must have a layer of WOOL (which is a natural flame retardant).  Otherwise you must have a prescription from a doctor stating that you are intolerant to chemicals. No organic wool or prescription?  Chances are it has been treated with chemical fire retardants
  • A new trend in the mattress industry is the addition of ‘green’ components being added to a conventional mattress that really make very little difference in terms of potential toxicity.  They will contain, for example, a thin layer of organic cotton or use of soybean oil as part of the polyurethane foam, and market the mattress as ‘green’ or ‘natural’ , when in fact they are not.
  • Crib and toddler water proof mattress pads can contain polyvinyl chloride (PVC). PVC waterproofs fabrics, but has petroleum chlorine,  a known carcinogen.  Your best bet is purchasing an organic wool mattress pad which is naturally bacterial resistant.  When your baby wakes up wet you just have to be wash the wool mattress pad (so buy 2!)

According to a recent study “Mattress Matters” the mattress marketplace is “shifting towards less toxic materials in response to consumer demand” resulting in safer products for babies.

The really good news?  According to the study, 20% of crib mattresses that can be found in the marketplace avoid ALL chemicals of concerns:  so there are options!


According to the Mattress Matter’s report , only three companies offer crib mattresses without any chemicals of concern or allergens:

  • Vivetique (require a doctor’s prescription stating that your baby or you are sensitive to chemicals and allergens)
  • White lotus (require a doctor’s prescription stating that your baby or you are sensitive to chemicals and allergens)
  • Naturepedic

( also produce chemical free mattresses)

These  additional companies make crib mattress models without chemicals of concern, but may use allergenic materials:

  • Land and Sky
  • Natural Mat
  • Organic Mattresses Inc
  • Pure Rest
  • Savvy Rest
  • Shephard’s Dream
  • Sleeptek
  • Suite Sleep
  • Vivetique (models available without doctor prescription)
  • White Lotus (models available without doctor’s prescription)

The report also goes on to describe what chemicals of concern can be found in ‘mainstream’ brands like  Sealy Naturalis, DaVinci Decor, Kolcraft, Ikea, Serta and Simmons Kids.


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