We spend about 1/3 of our life sleeping, so what could be more important than knowing you and your loved ones aren’t sleeping on a toxic mattress?
Are you concerned about the bed you are sleeping on? What about the beds your kids are sleeping on? Your infant children? We all try to be as safety-conscious as possible, particularly when it comes to our children. This is why parents are usually surprised to discover that there are very real dangers associated with sleeping on conventional mattresses and bedding: toxic chemicals, man-made petroleum byproducts, carcinogenic flame retardants; conventional beds are packed full of the kind of bad stuff that you wouldn’t let your children get near if they found it in a toxic landfill. Yet, here it is, right in your bed. Safety concerns aside, what about comfort? Sleep quality? Customizability? Durability? These are all important reasons why your decisions about your mattress and bedding purchases are more than just budgeting issues.
We typically spend about one-third of our lives sleeping, usually on whatever conventional bed happened to be on sale on the day we were buying. Do you really want to spend one-third of your life on a pile of chemicals? Kids sleep even more than adults do. Do want your kids exposed to these types of toxic chemicals for over a third of their childhood?
The Types of Conventional Mattresses
If you are in the U.S., you are most likely sleeping on one of several types of “conventional” mattresses: innerspring, polyurethane foam (“memory foam” or “gel”), synthetic latex, or some combination of these (e.g., coil springs covered with memory foam). All of these types of mattresses present, to varying degrees, potentially serious health risks.
Innerspring mattresses (i.e., “spring” or “coil” mattresses) utilize a steel coil support system. Among the several types of spring systems are those with springs connected into a single component, and units with individually wrapped pocketed coils. The spring shapes, designs, coil gauge and number of coils can vary within any single mattress. The main advantage of spring mattresses is that they appear to be cheaper. They are cheaper because you are paying mostly for air.
Stay away from pocketed coil mattresses. Pocketed coil mattresses allow the coils to get hung up on each other, creating divot’s in your mattress. Add that to the body impressions you will get using a polyurethane foam mattress, and you could quickly regret that purchase.
Aside from the conventional problems with “spring” mattresses, such as pressure points, lack of durability, weight, motion transfer, and susceptibility to dust mites, what makes spring mattresses dangerous is that they are always covered by padding and/or upholstery materials, most likely including polyurethane foam or synthetic latex, as discussed below.
Technically speaking, polyurethane foam is a polymer composed of crude oil, joined by carbamate (urethane) links. When a viscoelastic polymer is added during the manufacturing process, the result is commonly known as “memory foam.” By modifying that viscoelastic polymer, you can produce what is commonly known as “gel.” Generally, speaking, memory foam is designed to “remember” the sleeper’s contour, while gel is used to sleep cooler (at least when compared to memory foam). Again, the main reason so many foam mattresses are sold is because they are cheap. They are also relatively lightweight, and quickly add body impressions as cells are broken open releasing toxic gases.
“Gelfoam” or other foams that use similar terms, are nothing more than synthetic polyurethane\memory foam treated with Phase Changing Material (PCM). Phase Changing Materials are highly toxic.
GEL FOAMs are an attempt to make a product, more appealing. Gel foam merely adds Phase Change Material (PCM) to an already, highly toxic, synthetic material to overcome the unquestioned heat issue with memory foam.
Claims of being a superior product to organic when they are nothing more than a gel foam mattress. Again, gel foam producers claims it uses “baby oil” as its source — baby oil is mineral oil — mineral oil is petroleum PERIOD. Mineral oil produces a film on skin, so your body cannot cleanse itself of toxins through through your skin. (read the label on any bottle of baby oil) Using the term “baby oil” to mask the fact that their bed is nothing more than petroleum based polyurethane with PBDE, Isocyanates, formaldehyde, fire retardants AND phase change material. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polyurethane)
Phase change material does not cure the problems with memory foam, it merely hides them temporarily. Gel foam merely diverts heat temporarily, giving the illusion of coolness. Because of the nature of gel foam, it must retain, and reflect body heat., this is unavoidable. As the mattress heats up it releases more chemicals. PCM masks this by converting a solid into a liquid. YOU STILL WAKE UP HOT, UNCOMFORTABLE & IN A POOL OF TOXIC CHEMICALS.
“The World Health Organization classifies untreated or mildly treated mineral oils as Group 1 carcinogens to humans; highly refined oils are classified as Group 3, meaning they are not suspected to be carcinogenic but available information is not sufficient to classify them as harmless.
Synthetic latex mattresses use man-made latex foam in the product’s support system, upholstery layer or both. Synthetic latex is an artificially-created compound designed to emulate the properties of natural latex. However, unlike natural latex, which is collected from rubber trees, synthetic latex is derived from petrochemicals. Synthetic latex usually has more of a stiff feel compared to natural latex, is less durable than natural latex, and generally has a harsher and stronger odor “off-gassing” of VOCs. Its main advantage is, you guessed it, price. Synthetic latex is far cheaper to manufacture than natural latex. However, you don’t have to have much natural in anything to call it “Natural.” Durability is a issue, it is no value when it breaks down in one to two years.
Memory foam is simply poly foam with a gel treatment, memory foam mattresses are a petroleum by-product enhanced with a visco-elastic polymer to give the foam a gel-like feel and memory. It is a chemical production process that requires further treatment with known carcinogenic compounds to make a memory foam mattress “safe” to sleep on. Please note: 20% of these chemicals listed on the next page are known to cause cancer.
Natural Memory Foam Scam
The creator of “Natural Memory Foam” would like you to believe memory foam is now natural. It is however, polyurethane foam with a layer of latex, and essential oils sprinkled in to try to make it more natural. You can not put more than 30% oils in polyurethane foam and it hold together. There is no such thing as “Natural Memory Foam” Memory foam does not come from a tree, plant or animal, and latex is not memory foam. Never will be, because they are two different things, like apples compared to oranges. Throw a organic cover over it, and say it’s organic is beyond snake oil sales tactics.
The Dangers (and Disadvantages) of Conventional Mattresses
All of the conventional mattresses listed above come with real health risks ranging from concerning to dangerous, as well as user-related concerns.
Dangers Inherent in Polyurethane Foam
Polyurethane Foam is actually a by-product of the refinement of crude oil into various types of petroleum products, such as gasoline and motor oil. When polyurethane foam mattresses were independently tested, a memory foam mattress was shown to emit 61 different chemicals, including naphthalene, linked to the development of hemolytic anemia, kidney and liver damage, (“Naphthalene” 2010), and benzene, classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as a “carcinogenic to humans.” (“Benzene” 2016).
Other chemicals inherent in polyurethane foam may include:
- Formaldehyde – often found in the adhesives used to bind mattresses together, this chemical is a known human carcinogen and has been linked to ALS, headaches, depression, mood changes, insomnia, irritability, attention deficit, and impairment of dexterity, memory, and equilibrium. (Imus 2015)
- Propylene Oxide – studies of this chemical in animals has fulfilled the criteria in the OSHA Cancer Policy for classifying substances as potential occupational carcinogens. (Miller 2014); (“Carcinogenic Effects” 2014).
– A neurotoxin solvent that has effects on your nervous system both temporarily, such as headaches, dizziness, or unconsciousness, as well as permanently, such as incoordination, cognitive impairment, and vision and hearing loss. (“Toxicological Profile” 2015).
– Repeated exposure during pregnancy may lead to developmental effects, such as retardation of mental abilities and growth in children. (“Toxicological Profile” 2015).
– Other health effects of potential concern may include immune system, kidney, liver, and reproductive effects. (“Toxicological Profile” 2015).
Disadvantages of Polyurethane Foam
As if these chemicals weren’t enough, there are several other disadvantages to polyurethane foam mattresses:
- Poor body/spine support
- Uncomfortable (obviously a subjective judgment, but foam mattresses tend to be “bouncy”)
- Poorly ventilated
- Not durable
- Highly flammable
Dangers Inherent in Synthetic Latex
Most often, synthetic latex contains two very troublesome chemicals:
- Butadiene: Even low exposure may cause irritation to the eyes, throat, nose, and lungs. (UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF LABOR 2018).
– Higher exposure may cause damage to the central nervous system or cause symptoms such as distorted blurred vision, vertigo, general tiredness, decreased blood pressure, headache, nausea, decreased pulse rate, and fainting. (UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF LABOR 2018).
– Chronic effects may cause an increase in cardiovascular diseases and cancer; animal experiments have shown a strong causal relationship between butadiene exposure and cancer, as well as reproductive and developmental problems. (UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF LABOR 2018).
– Exposure may affect the central nervous system, irritating the eyes, nose, throat, and respiratory system. (“Tox Town” 2018).
– Exposure may also cause headache, weakness, dizziness, confusion, drowsiness, fatigue, vertigo, lack of coordination, nausea, abdominal pain, skin sensitivity, dermatitis, asthma, stomach problems, depression, and problems with concentration and balance. (“Tox Town” 2018).
– Long-term exposure may cause brain disease, liver damage, nerve tissue damage, effects on kidney functions, asthma, damage to the central nervous system, impaired hearing, altered color vision, and reproductive effects. (“Tox Town” 2018).
– Styrene is listed as “reasonably anticipated to be a carcinogen” by the National Toxicology Program because it has been linked to leukemia, lymphoma, and other blood cell cancers. (“Tox Town” 2018).
– Styrene has also been linked to genetic damage and increased risk of cancer of the esophagus and pancreas. (“Tox Town” 2018).
Disadvantages of Synthetic Latex
Other disadvantages to synthetic latex include:
- Not durable – very short life span
- Off Gases smells of chemicals
- No visible difference between Synthetic and Natural Latex
Dangers of GelFoam
Besides the temporary benefit of “cooling” a plastic mattress, there are two hidden issues with phase change materials.
#1. Toxicity, According to Laurent Pilon’s Research Group,University of California, Los Angeles, has a list of chemicals used in the production of PCM’s.(http://www.seas.ucla.edu/~pilon/downloads.htm#section4)
#2. Safety There are however; Fire and Safety Issues, “PCMs must be selected and applied very carefully, in accordance with fire and building codes and sound engineering practices. Because of the increased fire risk, flame spread, smoke, potential for explosion when held in containers, and liability, it may be wise not to use flammable PCMs within residential or other regularly occupied buildings.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phase-change_material)
The polyurethane foam manufacturers are extremely protective of the ingredients and process of their product, they don’t want the public to know these formulas and processes. By contrast organic mattresses, are nothing more than rubber tree sap, and salt water.
There is no such thing as food grade mineral oil. It is physically impossible to make mineral oil humanly digestible. They used mineral oil in the 1800’s along with caster oil as a severe emetic to purge the digestive system of bacteria and parasites. It caused severe vomiting and diarrhea, thus purging the digestive tract of any material whatsoever. It’s use medically was highly controlled. Reference any medical books from 1860 to 1940 and this claim will be fully supported. It was used against dysentery.
Claims their gel product is made from “baby oil” …. no such thing exists, it is mineral oil, pure and simple …. a synthetic product derived from petroleum refinement.
From OSHA’s website ….
“Mineral oil”, sold widely and cheaply in the USA, is not sold as such in Britain. Instead British pharmacologists use the terms “Paraffinum perliquidum” for light mineral oil and “Paraffinum liquidum” or “Paraffinum subliquidum” for somewhat thicker (more viscous) varieties. The term “Paraffinum Liquidum” is often seen on the ingredient lists of baby oil and cosmetics. British aromatherapists commonly use the term “white mineral oil”.
“In lubricating oils mineral oil is termed from groups 1 to 2 worldwide and group 3 in certain regions. This is because the high end of group 3 mineral lubricating oils are so pure that they exhibit properties similar to polyalphaolefin – PAO oils (group 4 synthetics).”
THE SMOKING GUN ……
“The World Health Organization classifies untreated or mildly treated mineral oils as Group 1 carcinogens to humans; highly refined oils are classified as Group 3, meaning they are not suspected to be carcinogenic but available information is not sufficient to classify them as harmless.”
“People can be exposed to mineral oil mist in the workplace by breathing it in, skin contact, or eye contact. In the United States, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has set the legal limit for mineral oil mist exposure in the workplace as 5 mg/m3 over an 8-hour workday. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has set a recommended exposure limit of 5 mg/m3 over an 8-hour workday and 10 mg/m3 short-term exposure. At levels of 2500 mg/m3, mineral oil mist is immediately dangerous to life and health.”
Dangers of Flame Retardants
High body levels of flame retardants have been linked to rising rates of reproductive and endocrine problems, including reduced fertility and altered thyroid function; neuro-developmental problems in children, such as reduced IQ and potentially autism; and various types of cancer. (Daley 2011). It’s hard to say exactly which flame-retardant chemicals may be in your mattress, as the law does not require such disclosure and major manufacturers consider this information to be trade secrets. (Daley 2011).
Still, the primary culprits include:
- Boric Acid – a primary ingredient of rat and cockroach poisons. (“Boric Acid” 2013).
- Antimony – a metal that, depending on exposure level, may cause symptoms like pneumoconiosis, gastrointestinal problems, antimony spots appearing on their skin, and respiratory irritation. (Dr. Edward Group 2013).
- Chlorinated Tris (TDCPP):- There is evidence showing that TDCPP may negatively impact hormone levels and semen quality in men. (Camp 2016).- According to animal studies, TDCPP is related to increased tumor rates in testes and kidneys, some of which were cancerous. (Camp 2016). – A recent study found that TDCPP is a neurotoxin to brain cells, and poses a threat to human health according to an assessment conducted by the Consumer Product and Safety Commission. (Camp 2016).
- Halogenated Flame Retardants (HFRs), most commonly Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs) – The primary malefactor; these nasty toxins are particularly troublesome for their developmental and reproductive effects, (Grossman 2012), but may also be responsible for:
– Changing thyroid function in pregnant women and children, (Zhou 2002); (Grossman 2012);
– Lowering birth weights, (Grossman 2012); and
– Interfering with neurological development. (U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES Public Health Service Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry 2004); (Grossman 2012).
– Other dangers include harm to sperm, (Beth-Hübner 1999), brain and nerve function, (Dishaw 2011), and even cancer. (Beth-Hübner 1999); (Grossman 2012).
– Perhaps most alarming, brominated HFRs (Janssen 2018) have even been linked to autism in developing fetuses. (Walia 2017).
Moreover, there is no evidence showing that the addition of these chemicals to our mattresses provides any fire safety benefit. In fact, flame retardants increase the amount of toxic gas produced in house fires, causing most of the deaths. (Israel 2012).
The Government Will Not Protect You
Because of the associated health risks, and in response to the pleas of more than 200 scientists and physicians from over 30 countries, (Daley 2011), governments have banned some of these toxins, some are restricted by the Stockholm Convention, and still others have been voluntarily curtailed. (Grossman 2012). So what’s the problem?
According to an article written by Elizabeth Grossman for the prestigious Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, the problem is that recent evidence has shown these efforts to restrict the use of the $4 billion-per-year industry flame retardants have been largely ineffective for a variety of reasons, including supply-chain flaws and the aforementioned lack of chemicals disclosure. (Grossman 2012). Even more disturbing is the “chemical shell-game” by which new HFRs using chemical compositions and structures that are similar to banned HFRs are entering the market even as their predecessors are discontinued. (Grossman 2012).
Exposure Levels and the Curious Case of Off-Gassing
Finally, you may have noticed a trend regarding exposure to toxins: the higher the level of exposure, the more dangerous these toxins become. Although comprehensive studies are only recently emerging, two factors are undeniably frightening for mattress purchasers:
1. Levels of Exposure – consider how much time you spend on your bed: roughly one-third of your life? Maybe more? Particularly concerning is the amount of exposure for children, who can’t choose their own mattresses and typically sleep up to 15 hours a day. According to Heather Stapleton, an environmental chemistry professor at Duke University, “My concern is the elevated exposure infants and toddlers are receiving,” Stapleton wrote. “A high proportion of infants are in physical contact with products treated with these chemicals almost 24 hours a day.” (Grossman 2012).
In a recent study at the University of California, Berkeley researchers found that for each ten-fold increase in levels of flame retardants in a mother’s blood, there was an approximately 115 gram decrease in her baby’s birth weight. There are 28.3495 grams in an ounce. This amounts to lower birth weights by an average of four ounces (a quarter of a pound). Researchers described this drop as “relatively large.” (Grossman 2012).
2. Off-Gassing – compounding the levels of exposure issue is the phenomenon known as “off-gassing.” This refers to the process of toxins “leaking” into the atmosphere in your home over time. (“Off-gassing” 2018). As these chemicals are emitted from your mattress, they settle onto floors, furniture, tables, etc. throughout your house, even mixing with dust to create “toxic dust-bunnies.” (“The Toxic Dangers” 2018). In other words, your exposure is not limited to the time you spend in bed, but to the time you spend anywhere in your house.
The Safety (and Advantages) of Organic Latex Mattresses
Let’s Get it Right
First, it is important to get the nomenclature correct. Numerous companies guarantee their items are “natural” or even “all natural.” This term implies practically nothing. Indeed, even the expression “organic” does not mean a given item is 100% free of chemicals. Nonetheless, “organic” should imply that what you are sleeping on is free of synthetic materials, and by augmentation, has not been treated with chemicals, and consents to organic guidelines. Luckily, there are different organic confirmations accessible to enable you to be guaranteed as to precisely what you are purchasing. The two most prominent are:
- Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS): At least 95 percent of the mattress materials must be certified organic. Certain substances, including flame retardants and polyurethane, are prohibited.
- Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS): Applies to latex mattress and ensures only organic latex is used.
So what’s in a GOTS/GOLS-certified Organic Latex Mattress? Organic latex tapped from rubber trees, and certified organic cotton. That’s all.
Advantages of Organic Latex
As if being free of dangerous toxins weren’t enough, there are numerous other advantages to Organic Latex Mattresses:
- Naturally cool-sleeping
- Dust mite-resistant
- Extremely durable
Don’t Forget the Bedding
Of course, a bed is not just a mattress. Mattress casings, blankets, pillows, toppers, and other types of bedding are just as important as mattresses; maybe even more important, as they represent the actual surface your body comes into contact with. Accordingly, there should be only two materials in your bedding: (1) sheep-sheared farmers who practice good husbandry as recommended by, The International Wool, and Textile Organization, and American Sheep Industry Association or organic wool (which is also an effective flame retardant), and (2) organic cotton.
How to Buy a Safe (and Comfortable) Bed
Buying the right bed, with safety and comfort as the primary concerns, is not that difficult. Just follow these simple steps:
- Look for the term “Certified Organic” and ask what certifications have been obtained. In particular, look for GOTS and GOLS certifications;
- Ask whether the mattress contains, or is treated with, any synthetic material. If so, it’s not your mattress;
- Ask whether the bedding is composed of anything other than sheep-sheared Eco wool or organic wool and/or organic cotton. If so, it’s not your bedding;
- Ask whether firmness can be customized to your taste, preferably adjustable per side.
- Beware of the terms “natural” (meaningless), “chemical-free” (impossible), and “non-toxic” (potentially misleading because everything has a toxic dose level, even water);
- Make sure the bed is comfortable to your taste when properly adjusted; and
- Consider asking about other potentially important factors, such as “Is the wool collected from farms that practice good husbandry?” Is the bed made in the U.S.A.?” “Is the company minority, female and/or veteran-owned?” “How customizable is the bed?” etc.
Remember: It’s up to you to protect yourself and your family. Ask the right questions. Buy the right bed!
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Benzene and Cancer Risk. (2016, January 5). Retrieved January 20, 2018, from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/benzene.html
Beth-Hübner, M. (1999, December). Toxicological Evaluation and Classification of the Genotoxic, Carcinogenic, Reprotoxic and Sensitising Potential of Tris (2-Chloroethyl) Phosphate. Retrieved January 12, 2018, from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/PL00014210
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Grossman, E. (2011, September 29). Are Flame Retardants Safe? Growing Evidence Says ‘No’. Retrieved January 12, 2018, from https://e360.yale.edu/features/pbdes_are_flame_retardants_safe_growing_evidence_says_no
Imus, D. (2015, July 27). Dangers of Formaldehyde Lurk in Everyday Products. Retrieved January 20, 2018, from http://www.foxnews.com/health/2015/07/27/dangers-formaldehyde-lurk-in-everyday-products.html
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The Toxic Dangers of Dust Bunnies. (n.d.). Retrieved January 21, 2018, from http://www.nontoxicforhealth.com/dust-bunnies.html
Tox Town – Styrene – Toxic chemicals and environmental health risks where you live and work – Text Version. (n.d.). Retrieved January 12, 2018, from https://toxtown.nlm.nih.gov/text_version/chemicals.php?id=87
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Walia, A. (2017, March 29). Scientists Link Autism To These Toxic Chemicals During Fetal Development. Retrieved January 21, 2018, from http://www.collective-evolution.com/2014/05/11/new-study-links-autism-to-toxin-exposure/
Zhou, T., Taylor, M. M., DeVito, M. J., & Crofton, K. M. (2002, March). Developmental Exposure to Brominated Diphenyl Ethers Results in Thyroid Hormone Disruption. Retrieved January 12, 2018, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11861977
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