We think of our home a sanctuary. It’s a comfortable place where we are safe. But unfortunately toxins can lurk all around us in hidden places. Bedding, mattresses, sofas, and household cleaners and paints may be a hidden place for these chemicals. Here is a list of the chemicals that can be found in common mattresses like polyeurathane and memory foam.
We included a little bit of info about what these chemicals are and why they are toxic. And before we scare you, don’t worry, there are lots of healthy safe alternatives as well as informational links at the bottom of this post.
Boric Acid is the main ingredient in borax and is a common household cleaner but did you know it can also be found in your mattress? Boric acid can absorb into the body if ingested but is absorbed poorly by skin contact unless you have a cut or abrasion. Studies with rats showed that boric acid can be absorbed if inhaled too. Once inside, boric acid generally moves evenly throughout the body. However, it can be stored in bone and is generally found at lower levels in fatty tissues. There is no evidence that boric acid is broken down in the body entirely and can remain in the body but the majority of boric acid in the body is eliminated in the urine within four days.
Antimony is widely used and can be in all kinds of everyday items. Most commonly, the metal has been used as a flame retardant in products as diverse as toys, car seat covers, clothing for kids, and uniforms for fire fighters, as well as sofas, chairs, and mattresses. Beyond this, antimony is used to produce glass and ceramics, to make pigments, and in batteries.
“In general, how your body reacts to a toxic level of antimony will depend on how you were exposed. Those who breathed in the compound in large amounts, may suffer from symptoms like pneumoconiosis, gastrointestinal problems, antimony spots appearing on their skin, and respiratory irritation. However, if you come into contact with actual antimony dust, you can experience symptoms like depression, dizziness, headaches, vomiting, kidney damage, or liver damage. One compound—antimony trioxide—may be carcinogenic, and antimony poisoning has also been known to lead to Adams-Stokes syndrome.” Find out more at the National Institute of Health.
The primary filling material used in most conventional mattresses is polyurethane foam — a highly flammable petroleum-based material.
Formaldehyde, which is used to make one of the adhesives that combine mattress layers, has been linked to asthma, allergies, and lung, nose, and throat cancers. Formaldehyde is most commonly known as embalming fluid.
Volatile Organic Compounds
Volatile organic compounds are emitted while burning fuel, such as gasoline, wood, coal, and natural gas. They are also released by oil fields, gas fields, and diesel exhaust. Around the home you can find them in solvents, paints, glues, and other products that are used and stored at home and at work.
“Indoors, products that contain volatile organic compounds release emissions when you use them, and to a smaller degree, when they are stored. You can be exposed to volatile organic compounds at home if you use cleaning, painting, or hobby supplies that contain them. You can also be exposed if you dry clean your clothes with home dry-cleaning products; if you dry-clean your clothes at a professional dry-cleaners; or if you use graphics and crafts materials such as glues, permanent markers, and photographic solutions.” –from the National Institute of Health Website
There are many different types of VOC’s and many of them may be present in a common polyurethane or memory foam mattress.
“Benzene and formaldehyde are listed as human carcinogens in the Fourteenth Report on Carcinogens published by the National Toxicology Program; diesel exhaust particulates, perchloroethylene, and styrene are listed as “reasonably anticipated to be human carcinogens.” People at the highest risk of long-term exposure to these three volatile organic compounds are industrial workers who have prolonged exposure to the compounds in the workplace; cigarette smokers; and people who have prolonged exposure to emissions from heavy motor vehicle traffic.” NIH
Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (also known as flame retardants or PBDE’s)
One type of flame-retardant chemical, polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), has been banned in the U.S. since 2004 for it’s health consequences. If your mattress contains polyurethane foam and was manufactured before 2004, it might still contain them.
PBDEs are used as fire retardants in lots of different products, including plastics, furniture, upholstery, electrical equipment, electronic devices, textiles and other household products.
People can potentially be exposed to PBBs and PBDEs by ingestion, inhalation or skin contact.
“PBDEs and PBBs do not dissolve easily in water and bind strongly to soil or sediment particles, which reduces their mobility in soil, sediment and groundwater, but increases their mobility in the atmosphere, where they are attached to airborne particulate matter.”
PBDEs and PBBs have been detected in air, sediments, surface water, fish and other marine animals States (ATSDR 2004; DHHS 2011).
“…growing evidence shows that PBDE compounds are escaping from the products they protect and making their way into the products’ users. Moreover, the chemicals may disrupt human thyroid hormone functioning and cause other health effects, prompting many nations to ban or suspend their use in new consumer goods.” From the EPA
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