Many of our appliances and furniture are made up of materials with toxic chemicals. This fact is not surprising as even the food we eat, especially the processed ones, contains harmful substances that threaten our health. Inhaling or ingesting dangerous chemicals are linked to damages to the heart, kidney, and lung; reproductive and developmental issues; as well as cancer. Among the chemicals that can lead to major diseases are fire retardants.
Fires place people and properties serious risk. According to the data released by the U.S. Fire Administration there were 1.39 million fire incidents in 2011, up from 1.33 million in 2010, yet over a ten-year period, the trend is downward.
An average of 10,260 reported home structure fires per year was first ignited by a mattress or bedding, according to an estimate by the National Fire Prevention Association from 2005 to 2009. These amounted to an estimated annual average of 371 deaths, 1,340 injuries, and $382 million in direct property damage.
These figures show how fires result in massive damages in our lives, prompting the authorities to impose rules to minimize fire incidents that started from mattresses. In response, mattress manufacturers add fire retardants.
Memory foam toxicity
While fire retardants—also known as PBDE—keep us safe from flames, they are hazardous to health. Several consumer safety and environmental organizations have been raising flags on the dangers of flame retardants and other toxic substances in your mattress. A study by the University of California, Berkeley researchers showed exposure to flame-retardant chemicals by infants and children are connected to poorer attention, cognition, and fine motor coordination. Besides these health issues, PBDEs have been found to bring about cancer, hormonal imbalances, immune dysfunction, reproductive disorders, and suppressed thyroid function.
Memory foam mattress gives users the most comfort among all mattress types. This mattress category is known for its capacity to contour to sleepers’ body, relief in their pressure points and adequate support for the natural body and spine alignment. Memory foams typically have two core layers—the polyurethane memory foam and the polyurethane foam core. These layers also have flame-retardant substances to comply with federal safety laws.
Fire-resistant yet safe for health
The U.S. government, to make consumer products fire-proof, has been imposing the 16 CFR 1633 standard. This measure aims to lower the number of deaths and injuries associated with mattress fires. So once a mattress meets this federal standard, it contains materials that suppress the start of fires.
To pass the 16 CFR 1633 standard, mattress producers might include fire-retardant materials to their products. This compliance may mean that manufacturers will add PCDEs to mattresses.
But after keenly aware of PBDE’s dangers, the mattress industry started to stop using flame retardants in their foam. To meet the 16 CFR 1633 standard, they wrap barrier materials like fire-resistant fiber batting or boric-acid-treated cotton fiber around the mattress foam. These materials are safer to our health than the flame retardants used in foams. Hence, it is advisable to replace mattresses manufactured before 2007, as it may contain harmful flame retardant chemicals.
Mattress makers also further ensure the safety of their consumers’ health by acquiring a CertiPUR-US® certification. This not-for-profit certification makes sure that accredited and independent laboratories have analyzed the foam used in the mattress for consumer protection against health and environmental hazards. Customers buying a mattress having this seal can be sure that it is produced without chemicals that destroy the ozone; PBDEs; mercury, lead and other heavy metals; as well as other hazardous substances.