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HOME IS WHERE YOUR HEALTH IS: ​Mattress Malady -- Forget Your Foam

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Mattress Malady: Forget Your Foam

I don’t know about you, but I love to sleep. Back in my high school summer vacation days, I remember spending long hours of sleep, sometimes even extending until well after lunch time. That was how much I love to sleep. And my attraction to a warm, comfortable bed at the end of a long, tiring day has never wavered.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I read online that if there is anything you should upgrade first when detoxing your home, it has to be your mattress because you spend at least 25% of your time in bed. Maia, President of gimmethegoodstuff.org, adds that since our immune system works hardest at night, having a clean, sleep environment would only be logical to help with the process.

Immediately, my thoughts went to the two memory foam pillows my wife and I recently ordered online. I asked myself, “Is memory foam safe?” If not, what material foam should we have in our bedroom? And what about our ever reliable, 40-year-old, hand-me-down mattress? Yikes!

Perhaps it is commonly known that most mattresses in the market today are made from polyurethane foam. But what most people don’t know is what chemicals manufacturers subject these mattresses to in order to pass US safety standards for flammability.

You see, in order for a mattress to pass the safety standards, it must not become hotter than 200kW (or roughly 105°F) over the course of 30 minutes, which is theoretically enough time for the sleeper to notice that his bed is on fire. In addition, the mattress must withstand an open-flame test for 70 seconds. While we appreciate, of course, that our safety is these manufacturer’s top priority, we unfortunately cannot say the same about their concern for our health. The truth is, manufacturers drench their mattresses in an array of toxic chemicals just so they can pass US safety standards for flammability.

These toxins range from petrochemicals (check my past article about it here) and plastics to flame retardant chemicals. Chief among these is polyurethane which, as already mentioned, is what the common mattress is currently made of. Polyurethane in itself is already known to be a respiratory toxin that can cause asthma. According to SFGate, people exposed to polyurethane may “experience health problems including eye and throat irritation, headaches, nausea, vomiting, coughing and shortness of breath.” Moreover, polyurethane releases another toxic chemical called toluene diisocyanate, which can further cause bronchitis and pulmonary edema.

Other lethal chemicals that these mattresses are treated with are formaldehyde and antimony. The former, commonly used as a preserving agent in embalming, leads to asthma and allergies. In severe cases, formaldehyde also causes nervous system disorders and is linked to lung, nose, and throat cancer. On the other hand, antimony is a chemical that is found to be more toxic than mercury and formaldehyde.

Still, more chemicals are used to treat mattresses to pass flammability standards. Although some of these are used as common insecticides, i.e., naphthalene and boric acid, little do most people know that they are also natural respiratory irritants. Lastly, and perhaps quite expectedly, these mattresses are bombarded with brominated fire retardants such as PBDEs or polybrominated diphenyl ethers to literally pass its trial by fire. Unfortunately, these same PBDEs are known to cause hormone disruption, hyperactivity, and neurodevelopmental delays, including lowering IQ.

Now before you go on and dismiss these claims because, like me and my wife, you have an old mattress that has already “off-gassed,” that is, it has already given off most of, if not, all its harmful chemicals. Sorry to say this, but on the contrary, as the foam degrades, more PBDEs may actually be released.

What then are viable, healthier alternatives? The three most common ones are mattresses made from natural latex, organic cotton, and organic wool. Not only are these better for your health and the environment, they also provide better support and comfort when you sleep. Be warned though as mattresses of these kind tend to be pricy! (If you want a more extensive guide on how to choose the perfect mattress for you, VJ Pillow wrote an excellent article about it here.)

I know they usually say, “whatever helps you sleep at night.” But in this case, choosing the right mattress is definitely something worth losing sleep over because, in the long-run, lying on a bed of chemicals is essentially your own deathbed.








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