Foam Mattresses Were Making People Sick: How A Company Called Certipur
Almost all online mattress options as well as most beds sold in retail mattress stores are made using polyurethane foam in one form or another. Largely unregulated, and never really policed, even by the mattress industry itself, these foams were at one time notorious for their fumes and chemical smells, often enough to make a small group of these mattress owners sick and give them severe headaches, hives, rashes, and dizzy spells.
I can remember years ago, as a mattress manufacturer, having to carefully choose the components used in my own mattress designs, careful to avoid certain brands or sources that produced foams that simply reaked of benzene, toluene, and other toxic volatile organic compounds.
We would tell our fabricating facilities to open up all of the incoming sealed bags of our polyurethane foam buns and air them out for at least a week before building a run of mattresses.
Frankly, I would be mortified when I got a call from an upset customer complaining of headaches and hives, and wed often have to refund our customers because of the side effects. Turned out that a lot of my competitors online were having the same issue. But why do these foam materials smell and off-gas these gaseous fumes?
Is Tempurpedic Memory Foam Toxic
Some Tempurpedic mattresses are Certipur-US certified, which means that the levels of toxic chemicals used are very low and these mattresses are safe. As long as you buy one of those mattresses, youve got the guarantee that you wont be exposed to toxic chemicals that could affect your health. The only way to know your mattress is toxin-free is to buy a natural, certified non-toxic type.
How Was Memory Foam Invented
The nature of the process of using compounds to make memory foam is troublesome. We can hardly say that it is meant for use as a mattress. Or any type of product where humans would be longer exposed to it, for that matter. This material was first designed for NASA space program.
Its primary function was to keep astronauts safe during missions in space. As it is, memory foam is an excellent shock absorbing material. It offers safety in helmets, pads and plenty of other equipment. This is because of its design to prevent serious injury to humans.
The structure of this material displaces under pressure or applied force. The small cavities inside of it compress and change shape. This works great for spreading the force throughout its surface area.
This fact is often used for marketing purposes. Mattress companies advertise foam mattresses as being great for pain relief. We agree that it does work wonders for those that experience pain. This ability to spread pressure over entire its surface helps people with back pain.
It also helps people with injury to sleep with great comfort.
But, this doesnt change the fact that it contains compounds which are unfit for human use. Let alone long exposure over time.
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Memory Foam & Polyurethane Foam Components
- Polyols the binder/bulk ingredient. Usually composed of petroleum oil-derived ingredients, but may also include botanical sources like soy or castor beans.
- Diisocyanates the reactive ingredient. Reacts with the polyols and blowing agent to produce a flexible polyurethane foam. The most commonly used sources are MDI and TDI, which alone in raw forms can cause respiratory and dermal sensitization and may be carcinogenic. MDI is regarded as the safer and less toxic option, and is known to be the least hazardous organic isocyanate. The primary hazard with these compounds is during manufacturing after reacting they are inert but can offgas.
- Blowing Agents introduces carbon to create the foam. Used to use CFCs, though today manufacturers may use water, HFC or other agents.
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Possible Ingredients/Byproducts of Concern
Which ingredients are causing all the trouble? There are some other chemicals that can be in memory foam, however the ingredients used in a specific brands memory foam are considered trade secret and are not required to be released. Often, pinpointing the components is impossible.
The good thing is that US laws and voluntary restrictions have phased out most of the more concerning chemicals that could be present in memory foam, though these would not necessarily apply to imports.
Rarely Used or Banned:
Why We Are Concerned About Polyurethane Mattresses
Why am I so against polyurethane mattresses? For a number of reasons. First, polyurethane foam is produced through the same energy-hungry process used to make petroleum from crude oil. This process involves two main ingredients: polyols and diisocyanates, which are reacted together using a variety of catalysts, including dibutylin .
Polyols themselves are substances created through a chemical reaction using propylene oxide . As for diisocyanates, toluene diisocyanate is the most common isocyanate involved in the manufacture of polyurethane.
Both methyloxirane and TDI are recognized as carcinogens by the State of California and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Theyre known to cause tumors and are both listed on the List of Toxic Substances under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. Studies in animals have demonstrated that propylene oxide is a direct-acting carcinogen .
You know things are bad when even the somewhat beleaguered US Environmental Protection Agency whose inspections have fallen to an all-time low under the Trump presidency has issues with the chemicals used in polyurethane manufacture. Indeed, the EPA considers the manufacturing plants producing polyurethane foam to be major sources of myriad hazardous air pollutants. Such pollutants include:
- Methylene chloride
- Toluene diisocyanate itself
- Hydrogen cyanide
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The Consequences Of Flame Proofing
Many memory foam mattresses contain additives that are designed to slow or prevent the spread of flames. These substances are called flame retardants, and although they are meant to quell the danger of a fire, they can cause unwanted side effects and health issues.
Most retardant chemicals used in the manufacturing of commercial mattresses contain toxic chemicals. Since polyurethane foam is a flammable substance, US regulators require all memory foam mattresses to include flame retardants to resist the spread of a fire. Weve listed the most popular flame retardants used in memory foam mattresses below.
- Chlorinated tris : A common fire retardant banned in several European markets consider carcinogenic.
- Polybrominated diphenyl ethers : A known neurotoxin that can negatively impact the human bodys endocrine system.
- Modacrylic fiber: A carcinogenic substance that has caused sudden infant death syndrome in rare cases.
- Decabromodiphenyl oxide: A possibly carcinogenic material that may have negative neurological effects if consumed.
- Rayon and silica: Non-toxic substances derived from natural bamboo.
Today, public safety campaigns have pushed the negative consequences of flame retardants into the public consciousness. Consequently, scientific research is being undertaken to seek new ways to prevent the spread of fires in memory foam mattresses without exposing consumers to harmful chemicals.
Ways Memory Foam Mattresses Can Be Toxic
Memory foam mattresses are typically made from a range of synthetic chemicals that are toxic in their RAW form, but typically inert and less harmful in their final form inside the mattress.
And when the mattress is finalized, the quantities of the VOCs that are chiefly responsible for the transfer of toxic chemicals from the mattress to the ambient environment are typically lower when compared to the manufacturing process because the chemical reactions have already taken place .
This means that the issue of toxicity is most significant during the manufacturing process with the risk to the end-user being significantly lower by comparison making most memory foam mattresses safe when used by an adult.
Furthermore, memory foam mattresses that are CertiPUR-US®, OEKO-TEX®, and/or GreenGuard certified are free form certain toxic chemicals and have their VOC counts reduced to minimal amounts.
However, imported memory foam mattresses may not be made to such standards and may pose a greater toxicity risk.
And even with such certifications, memory foam mattresses are typically unsuitable for young children and babies due to the risk of suffocation.
Whilst adults with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity may not be able to sleep on any memory foam or polyfoam mattress without experiencing an allergic reaction.
See below for a more detailed answer that discusses the nuances of memory foam mattress toxicity and safety.
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What Are The Risks Of Vocs And Off
The most hyped danger surrounding mattresses made of memory foam remains VOCs and off-gassing. The two terms refer to the same phenomenon of chemicals breaking down and dispersing into the air, which some have attributed to allergic reactions, breathing issues and toxin buildup. Memory foam and all polyurethane-containing and otherwise manufactured products can have a new odor, usually most noticeable the first few weeks
The term VOCs is short for volatile organic compounds. VOCs are called such because they are unstable and break down or degrade at room temperature, releasing odors as they do. You are already familiar with VOCs and their odors if you have ever smelled fresh paint, new cars, new furniture, some new clothes, and hundreds of other household and industrial products.
Low-level VOCs are difficult for researchers to study and assess due to their ubiquity and the time frame that would be required to assess effects . Alone, their impact ranges from safe to toxic according to MSDS. Several are no more significant than an odor, and even humans and plants release types of VOCs as a part of biological processes.
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However, some sources have been associated with respiratory irritation, throat irritation, forgetfulness, feeling dizzy or developing a headache, and repeated exposure can lead to sensitization or allergic reactions .
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Organic Cotton And Wool
One aspect you should look for is organic fibres. Make sure the product clearly states its use of organic cotton, with organic filling material, all-natural dyes, and unbleached material. This will be a healthy alternative to the chemical-soaked industrial cotton mattresses we discussed earlier in this article.
Organic wool is also a good option for a natural alternative to standard polyurethane mattresses. The wool comes from sheep, which do not need to be killed to harvest and is free from hormones, chemicals, and pesticides. Studies have shown that organic wool mattresses reduce back pain as well!
Another advantage of wool is that it is flame resistant. Wool is often used as a cover on mattresses to prevent burning, which can eliminate the need for those nasty flame retardants. Wool is flame resistant, but it is not flameproof. It will not be as effective as the chemicals used in polyurethane toxic mattresses, but it is still the healthier option overall.
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How Do They Test
All certified polyurethane foams go through two comprehensive tests during the first year and are reanalyzed annually afterward. The organization also conducts random on-site checks off all the foam production plants of participating foam manufacturers. Their certification and analysis methods are consistent with other third-party certifying bodies such as Oeko-Tex 100 EUI, Eco-label , Blue Angel , IKEA, LGA , BIFMA, and AQS Greenlabel criteria.
Are Memory Foam Mattresses Safe
First developed by NASA in the 1970s, viscoelastic, also known as memory foam, is a space-age technology now found in the best mattresses all over the world. The soft, plush material of memory foam lets sleepers enjoy a restful night while easing pressure points and achy joints.
However, some experts suggest that youre better off avoiding memory foam. For some, the chemicals and odors used in manufacturing memory foam is a non-starter. Today, many think pieces are floating around online discussing the potential harm from toxins and synthetic materials in memory foam.
To get to the bottom of this, weve put together an in-depth guide to memory foam. In this article, well finally answer the question on so many peoples minds: are memory foam mattresses safe?
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A Look Inside Memory Foam Mattresses
So, what are these things made of? Memory foam beds all have two core components: a polyurethane memory foam layer and a polyurethane foam core layer. These layers are wrapped in some type of fabric, and all mattresses must also have flameproofing of some sort to meet federal safety laws.
Some brands may include other materials as well such as gel or gel-infused foam, latex foam, or padding from polyester, wool or cotton. Most people are fairly familiar with these types of materials. The components people are usually concerned about are the memory foam itself and fire-proofing chemicals, which we will take a closer look at below.
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What Does It Mean To Be A Non
When you buy a natural mattress, you cant tell by its brand logos whether the certification standards are high. Memory foam mattresses that are backed by a CertiPUR-US Certification are held to stringent standards and go through tests that aim to minimize environmental impacts. That is because organic crib mattresses, innerspring mattresses, and other mattress options that have CertPUR-US logos do not contain toxic materials. These mattresses also test for formaldehyde.
Moreover, CertiPUR-US certified mattresses do not contain PBDEs or flame retardants, heavy metals, formaldehyde, ozone depleters, and phthalates. It also has low emissions of VOCs for the best indoor air quality.
If you are looking to buy a mattress, you may want to check out our mattress buying guide to make the smarter choice.
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Best Time Of Year To Buy A Mattress
Most mattress companies tend to release new models in June and in order to make room, they need to unload their current inventory, making May the best month to purchase a new mattress. But in general, if you need a new mattress, there is no better time than today. You can also score a great deal during certain holidays such as Memorial Day, Labor Day, President’s Day, Fourth of July, and Black Friday.
Polyfoam Mattresses And Mold
Polyfoam mattresses are also quite porous, meaning that they can accumulate moisture and tend to harbor mold and mildew. And, as polyurethane is highly flammable , safety regulations mean that mattresses are drenched in toxic flame retardants in order to make them safe.
Its plain to see, then, that the smart move is to avoid polyurethane foam in our mattresses and in our homes as a whole.
Are there any good things to be said about polyurethane foam? Perhaps. At a stretch, you might say that polyurethane is recyclable, with manufacturing scraps often reused to create carpet backing. However, end user products, such as mattresses, are very difficult to recycle and mostly end up in landfill where they break down and release toxins into the ground, air, and water.
Some other things to consider about foam mattresses include, and Im not joking, the potential effects on your sex life, and the kind of climate where you live. Foam mattresses dont wick away moisture or do much for breathability, so youre liable to sweat a lot unless you use a mattress topper made with organic wool or cotton. The support many enjoy from a foam mattress, can also have unintended consequences if you rely on a little bounce in the bedroom. Consider yourself warned!
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Memory Foam Production Is Unsupervised
It is mind boggling how this law creates both ecological and health concerns. Given its purpose of increasing safety for citizens’ homes. We are facing a serious health threat, and it seems no one from the industry is taking notice. Some manufacturers opt for not using harmful compounds. No regulatory commission tracks the safety standards. Nor does it perform checkups of the manufacturers and their practices. Consumers are now on their own and what is even worse, most of the public are unaware.
Doctors are unable to diagnose people coming in with some of the symptoms. So most patients with these symptoms are ill without any solution in sight. The government even appears to turn a blind eye to the many studies.
These studies show the negative effects. They show harm in using industrial waste- grade chemicals for furniture and accessories. So, even the manufacturers do not pay attention to the long-term effects their products will have on their consumers. In a world where profit matters more than human health, this does not come as too surprising.
Toxic Chemicals In Memory Foam: The Old Days Before Foams Were Truly Scrutinized
Memory foam can be found in mattresses, toppers, pillows, and more. Its popular in the mattress industry due to its pressure-relieving qualities, and is widely used in about 75% of bed in a box mattress options, but when it first appeared in the bedding industry some 20 years ago, while it was popular, it also created controversy and plenty of lawsuits. Memory foam contains a myriad of additional chemicals beyond just polyurethane foam, including foaming agents, curing resins, expanding agents, benzene, toluene, and a witches brew of nasty stuff.
Just how bad are these chemicals? What do we really know about memory foam?
There have been legal consequences for memory foam companies which claimed their products are free of volatile organic compounds .
Some memory foam mattresses contain toxic chemicals such as formaldehyde, benzene, and naphthalene.
Memory foam may contain isocyanates, which, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, can cause irritation of the eyes, nose, throat, and skin. Exposure to isocyanates can also lead to chest tightness and asthma.
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Is Gel Foam Toxic
Toxic chemicalsmemory foammemory foamtoxic chemicalsMemory foamHealth
. Regarding this, can memory foam make you sick?
All memory foam comes from using various heavy industrial chemicals. Some of the isocyanates found in memory foam mattresses can cause harm to the skin. These can also cause respiration problems. Isocyanate compounds irritate skin and are harmful to human health.
Also, is polyurethane foam toxic? No. The US Environmental Protection Agency has determined that long-term exposure to polyurethane foam may cause Cancer, Infertility & Miscarriages, Autoimmune Issues, Neurological Disorders, Child Behavior Issues, Allergies, and Asthma.
Moreover, what is gel foam?
Memory foam is made from a material called viscoelastic. A gel foam mattress is also made from viscoelastic, but it has been infused with gel. Gel foam was introduced in mattresses to offer cooler sleep and assist with pressure relief.
Is the smell from memory foam toxic?
The short answer is no. While the odor from mattress off-gassing is unpleasant,for most people it’s not harmful. Also, despite the fact that some of the chemicals that cause mattress off-gassing odors are classified as carcinogens or potential carcinogens, no studies have shown memory foam is toxic or causes cancer.