Is your mattress a toxic time bomb? Unfortunately, that can be the case with conventional mattresses. We’ve found an affordable solution to this dilemma!
Making sure our many sleeping hours are spent in close contact with a truly non-toxic mattress is a huge priority for many of us who are trying to reduce our risk of developing cancer through exposure to innumerable toxic chemicals present in everyday products. But shopping for a new mattress can be an intimidating experience. It seems like there are so many mattress brands to choose from, and it can be dizzying to find the one that's right for you.
Before you head out the door to start your shopping adventure, let's talk about why most mattresses on the market these days are toxic. Did you know that most mattresses are full of lots of toxic chemicals?
6 Toxic Chemicals You Won't Find in an Organic Mattress
1) Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
Many mattresses – even some that are labeled as “green” or “natural” – are made from high-density polyurethane foam.
Polyurethane foam is petroleum-based and contains toxic VOCs like toluene diisocyanate, formaldehyde and benzene that can enter the body through inhalation. The Minnesota Department of Health describes the side effects of exposure to these volatile organic compounds as including headaches, nausea and worsening of asthma symptoms, as well as damage to the liver, kidneys and central nervous system. VOCs are also carcinogenic in nature.
According to Harvard’s Fact Sheet, polystyrene contains the bio-accumulative chemicals styrene and benzene which are both suspected carcinogens and neurotoxins. When exposed to styrene, people can experience symptoms including irritation of the eyes, nose and throat, fatigue and irritation and even cancer.
Popular memory foam beds, like the Tempur-Pedic brand, often cause mold issues. Read Happy Mothering's experience with mold and a Tempur-Pedic mattress.
Formaldehyde is often found in the the adhesives that holds mattresses together. Formaldehyde has been linked to asthma, allergies, and lung, nose and throat cancers, and can also cause fatigue, skin rashes and severe allergic reactions.
4) Flame Retardants
To meet a Federal Law that requires mattresses to put themselves out after having 39 lit cigarettes and blow torches held to the top and side for 30 seconds, many mattress makers use chemical flame retardants. Flame retardants have been linked to cancer, reproductive problems and impaired fetal brain development.
5) Boric Acid
Many mattress manufacturers use boric acid – a pesticide often used as a roach killer – in the lining of their mattresses. Acute boric acid exposure can lead to skin blistering, convulsions and even coma. Long-term exposure has been linked to neurological and developmental problems, and inhalation could cause upper respiratory tract damage.
According to the Organic Consumers Association, 25% of all the pesticides used in the US are used to grow cotton. Many of these pesticides are known to be carcinogenic and cause reproductive problems in animals. Residues from these pesticides remain in your mattress and other bedding after they're made and delivered to your home.
Fortunately, there are ways you can avoid all of these toxic chemicals in your bedroom.
Why You Should Choose a Naturepedic EOS Organic Mattress
If you're looking for a new mattress, consider the Naturepedic EOS organic mattress line. Naturepedic mattresses don't contain any of the harmful ingredients found in conventional mattresses.
It's not only non-toxic, but organic too. Unlike other companies who may use some organic ingredients, the entire EOS mattress is certified organic to the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS). Additionally, all latex is certified to the Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS).
Naturally Flame Retardant
In addition, the Naturepedic EOS organic mattress doesn't contain any toxic flame retardant chemicals or flame retardant barriers. That doesn’t mean it’s flammable though! It naturally meets and exceeds all federal and state flammability standards. Naturepedic does this by using a design that does not use any petrochemical foams.
One of the unique qualities of the Naturepedic EOS organic mattress series is that it's customizable. You get to choose the firmness level for each side of the bed. There are four levels of firmness: plush, cushion firm, firm and extra firm. Cushion firm is the most popular level.
If you choose the wrong level, you have 90 days to exchange the comfort inserts for free (and only pay for shipping). Even if you change your mind after 90 days, you can still order new layers and change the support or comfort of your mattress without having to replace the entire mattress.
Shipped to Your Home
The mattress will arrive packed in boxes – the California King, for example, comes in four boxes. It's so much easier than going store to store, shopping for a mattress, then trying to get it home. Now you can go on the Naturepedic website and order your mattress, and it will come right to your door.
Physical harm such as choking on decorations or playing with the outlet where Christmas lights are plugged in are not the only concerns. Surprisingly, toxic chemicals like lead in PVC trees and lights also play a big role in creating an unsafe environment too.
Most artificial trees are made from PVC plastic. Not only is PVC loaded with toxic chemicals, its production also results in emission of dioxin and ethylene dichloride. And to top it off, lead is often used as a stabilizer in PVC to make artificial trees more resistant to light and weathering. Lead has been linked to kidney, liver, neurological and reproductive system damage.
You may not believe it, but some Christmas trees are even required to carry warning labels because they shed lead-laden dust, exposing children to the toxic chemical! Many artificial trees are also treated with flame retardants. But that’s necessary for our safety you say, right? Well not always – even the treated trees can still catch fire.
Real trees make the perfect substitute for a PVC tree. Worried about allergies? Go with fir and spruce varieties – they do not contain irritating resins and can be tolerated by many with sensitivities to pine trees. Fresh trees are a also natural, renewable, reusable, recyclable source, and just think – you’re supporting US farmers and local businesses when you buy live Christmas trees.
If you still prefer to go with an artificial tree, be sure to choose one made from polyethylene (often labeled with “PE”) that hasn’t been treated with flame retardants. If you find a PE tree you like and it has been treated, confirm with the manufacturer if the flame retardants non-halogenated. Check out our PVC-free Christmas Tree Guide for a few options.
- Go with a real tree or a PVC-free artificial tree
- Keep live trees watered to prevent fire hazard
- Place breakable ornaments and string lights toward the top
- Use a baby gate around the tree if needed for crawling babies
- Stabilize the tree by using a large enough base for its size and installing a hook in the ceiling or wall and tying the treetop to the hook with twine or wire
Toxic chemicals are also found in Christmas lights. Most are made encased in PVC and lead is specifically chosen as the main stabilizer for the electrical wiring because of its flame retardant nature. Lead-safe lights can be found on rare occasions here in the U.S. and will be certified as RoHS compliant which monitors the levels of toxic chemicals allowed in electrical products. We found many options at Environmental Lights (look for their commercial strings that begin with the letter “C” or choose from their retail strings, icicle lights and nets).
Keep in mind that lead doesn’t like to stay bound in the PVC cord casing, so it sloughs off and ends up on hands and in little mouths. So if you’re unable to invest in RoHS lights this year, just be careful to keep Christmas lights out of reach of your little ones and use gloves while decorating your tree – especially if you’re pregnant. Also keeping dust around the tree cleaned up and off of presents will go a long way in protecting your family.
- Check light strands for frayed spots, broken sockets or loose connections
- Choose RoHS compliant lights for for lead safety
Most commercial candles and fragrance sprays are made with a dangerous cocktail of petroleum, phthalates and synthetic “ fragrances” – a term which can be legally used to hide over 3,000 chemicals!
- Skip commercial candles and fragrance sprays
- Use 100% essential oils with water in a spray bottle
- Try making your own potpourri with a mixture of your favorite herbs and spices gently simmering on the stove
- Purchase clean burning beeswax or soy candles made with essential oils
Christmas gatherings are full of fun and a hubbub of activity. So when visiting relatives in unfamiliar environments, take a few minutes to acquaint yourself with the baby's surroundings. Be sure to watch for the following hazards:
- Open stairs and fireplaces
- Large, unstable furniture and decorations
- Uncovered outlets and runaway electrical cords
- Hot pots cooking on front burners and unattended ovens
- Table runners and tablecloths loaded with decorations and hot food
- Unlocked cabinets containing medications and household cleaners
- Choking/suffocation hazards like wrapping paper, plastic bags, foam peanuts and hard candies
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There are a lot of opinions out there about whether Wal-mart's decision earlier this year to impose their own ban on polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) found in couches, computers and baby strollers was the right one. They basically circumvented the US regulatory system to impose what many refer to as “retailer regulation.”
But aren't PBDEs already banned, you ask? As I Am Not a Guinea Pig explains, the use of halogenated flame retardants, a broad family of compounds that includes PBDEs, has increased over the past several decades. As some are banned or restricted, others are introduced. They remain common in many consumer products from electronics, to furniture, to carpet padding, to clothing and children’s products.
Is it just a PR move, a stunt to garner attention?
Yes. I'm sure it is. But we've been doing the same thing in our retail store for five years now. In fact, our store was created around barring specific chemicals from products in response to concerns from parents and advocacy groups. Americans are up in arms about the absurd number of untested chemicals in unlabeled products. If you want to sell stuff, you have to listen to your customers. This is a great example of a grassroots movement that created a tangible change (BPA, anyone?). We vote for safer products with our dollars, and you can bet that a savvy – albeit not perfect – company like Wal-mart is listening closely with an ear to the ground.
Should they be imposing such a restriction when the EPA hasn't even banned these chemicals? Isn't this something the government should handle?
Yes, on both counts. The government should be handling it – BUT, as we've discussed over and over in the case of BPA, we can't expect that to happen anytime soon with our broken system. It leaves consumers to do the research and insist on safer products while continuing to work for change in the current system. The Washington Post said it well:
Last year, the Environmental Protection Agency cited PBDEs as “chemicals of concern” and said it intended to try to limit any new use of them. But that proposal has been stuck in bureaucratic review. The nation's chemical laws, created 35 years ago, make it extremely difficult for the federal government to ban or restrict a chemical's use. Regulators must prove a chemical poses a clear health risk, but the EPA has sufficient health and safety data for only about 200 of the 84,000 chemicals in commerce in the United States. The hurdles are so high that the agency has been unable to ban asbestos, widely acknowledged as a likely carcinogen and barred in more than 30 countries.
Is it really a worthwhile action, or will the PBDE's just be replaced with other toxic chemicals?
Yes, considering a recent study found that 80% of polyurethane foam found in baby gear tested positive for toxic flame retardants. It's worthwhile not only because the consumers demand it, but because other manufacturers will have to respond too. We benefit all the way around when they have to compete for our dollars, our votes. And even though it's not the complete solution (we all know that there are plenty of other toxic chemicals yet to contend with) it is a step toward our end goal of reducing overall exposure. We have to start somewhere – making progress where possible – picking out the most obvious offenders and removing them first.
And yes, there will probably be other toxic substitutions made in some situations, as in the case of Chlorinated Flame Retardants (CFR’s) which have begun to appear in furniture foam and electronics after some restrictions were placed on the use of PBDE's previously. CFR's are also of concern with links to cancer-causing and endocrine disrupting properties, so they're not the perfect replacement. Although we must stay knowledgeable about the substitutions being made, we also have to realize that this situation can't be remedied overnight.
When a retail giant like Wal-mart draws a line in the sand, it spurs all manufacturers to work harder to find safer flame retardants. And finally, awareness increases too, extending new information to those who didn't even know they should be concerned.
In the end, I believe it's a win-win. But that's just my two cents. What about you? Have you found safer alternatives? If so, help others save time by sharing your experience!
>>You can learn more in our Toxic Flame Retardant series.
Photo credit: Flickr by jamesgh5
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