Babies and toddlers spend 10-14 hours a day sleeping and playing on a baby mattress. Furthermore, a child’s every breath inhales |
no more than six inches away from these chemicals. As such, for the first few years of a child’s life, the mattress is the single most prominent
object in the child’s environment.
Problem #1: The Vinyl/PVC surface of a typical baby mattress consists
of 30% phthalates that can leach out into your child's crib
The vinyl surface of a typical baby mattress, which is actually polyvinyl chloride (PVC), is originally a hard plastic. In order to make |
it soft and flexible, DEHP phthalate
plasticizers are added. This provides an inexpensive and flexible baby mattress cover material. Phthalate plasticizers typically account for 30% by weight of the
vinyl surface of a typical baby mattress.
“Phthalates are animal carcinogens and can cause fetal death, malformations, and reproductive toxicity in laboratory animals...
children may be at higher risk of adverse effects of phthalates because of anticipated higher exposures during a time of developmental and physiologic immaturity...
Phthalates are not covalently bound to the plastic matrix and leach out of PVC...”
(Shea, Katherine M. MD MPH and the Committee on Environmental Health. “Pediatric Exposure and Potential Toxicity
of Phthalate Plasticizers.” American Academy of Pediatrics.
Pediatrics Volume 111 No. 6. June 2003. Pg. 1467.
“Although DEHP plasticizes numerous products, roughly 95% of the current production is used in polyvinyl chloride (PVC) (National Toxicology Program 2003), where it
typically constitutes 30% of PVC by weight... phthalate (DEHP) was associated with asthma. This study shows that phthalates, within the range of what
is normally found in indoor environments, are associated with allergic symptoms in children.”
(Bornehag, Carl-Gustaf, et al. “The Association Between Asthma and Allergic Symptoms in Children and Phthalates
in House Dusts.”
National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Environmental Health Perspectives. Oct. 2004.
A study of phthalates in hospital settings revealed the following:
“Other potential respiratory exposures to DEHP in the NICU include off-gassing from... mattress covers... DEHP exposures continue when the neonate arrives
at home... off-gassing of indoor vinyl products.”
(Brody, Charlotte. “Neonatal Exposure to DEHP and Opportunites for Prevention.”
Health Care Without Harm. July 13, 2000.
“The CDC report provides definitive evidence that phthalates in soft PVC plastic are getting into virtually all of our bodies.”
(Brody, Charlotte. “New CDC Report Finds Phthalates and Other Chemicals Commonly Used in Hospitals at Highest Levels in Children.”
Health Care Without Harm. February 5, 2005.
In 1998, the National Environmental Trust, together with other environmental groups, asked the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to ban the use of polyvinyl chloride (PVC)
in products intended for children under age five. While the CPSC could not entirely ban PVC, they recently asked manufacturers of baby products to voluntarily discontinue
the use of phthalate plasticizers. Most manufacturers are removing phthalates from toys (now generally made only with hard PVC plastic). However, phthalates
are not currently being removed from baby mattresses (as this would turn the mattress surface into hard plastic and make it unusable).
Problem #2: The Vinyl/PVC surface of a typical baby mattress
presents unusually high health risks
All plastics are not created equal. PVC is made from vinyl chloride, which is a combination of petroleum
(ethylene) and chlorine. |
This particular plastic is far more toxic than the plastic bag you might use to pack your lunch.
“The chemical composition of PVC includes two features. First, PVC is the only plastic that contains chlorine... Second, plasticizers, i.e., additives,
are used in PVC, mostly diethyl hexyl phthalate (DEHP), from 0 to almost 50% of the weight... In conclusion, in our case-control study of testicular cancer,
a somewhat surprisingly high risk was observed for exposure to PVC plastics.”
(Hardell, Lennart, et al. “Occupational Exposure to Polyvinyl Chloride as a Risk Factor for Testicular Cancer Evaluated
in a Case-Control Study.”
International Journal of Cancer. 73, 828-830 1997.
www.mindfully.org/Pesticide/Occupational-Exposure-PVC.htm See also
National Library of Medicine)
In a study that made the front page of USA today, phthalates were linked to reproductive effects:
“Consistent toxicologic evidence indicates association between several of these phthalate esters and reproductive effects... DEHP has been shown to... reduce testosterone...
commonly used phthalates may undervirilize humans.”
(Swan, et al, “Decrease in Anogenital Distance Among Male Infants with Prenatal Phthalate Exposure.” University of Rochester School of Medicine,
National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Environmental Health Perspectives, June, 2005.
Some of the chemicals frequently added to the PVC surface of a typical baby mattress can include lead, cadmium, phosphorus,
and others. In particular, antimony,
the primary fire retardant used on the vinyl plastic surface of most baby mattresses, can be
quite harmful even at low levels.
“... animals that breathed very low levels of antimony had eye irritation, hair loss, lung damage and heart problems. Problems with fertility were also noted...
Where is antimony found?... Most antimony oxide produced is added to textiles and plastics as fire retardant... ”
(“Antimony and Antimony Compounds.” Pollution Prevention Factsheet. Ohio EPA. Number 102. September 2002.
According to Health Care Without Harm, "many hospitals are reconsidering their use of polyvinyl chloride (PVC or vinyl) medical products. Their concerns with PVC products
relate to patient safety or potential environmental health effects."
(http://noharm.org/details.cfm?type=document&id=741). DEHP, the most common phthalate used in vinyl
baby mattress covers,
has already been banned in Europe for many children’s products.
Problem #3: Typical baby mattresses use petroleum as filling
Nearly all baby mattresses today use polyurethane foam (also known as urethane foam or just “foam”) as internal filling. |
Polyurethane foam is a petroleum product,
and as such, is highly flammable. Furthermore, polyurethane foam contains various problematic ingredients associated with numerous health hazards.
It deteriorates over time, breaking up into small dust-like
particles that can easily become airborne.
“Avoid heavily chemically treated mattresses filled with polyurethane foam... Polyurethane foam offgasses VOCs, especially toluene... Formaldehyde and other VOC
offgassing is associated with... mattresses.”
(“Green Birthdays.” American College of Nurse-Midwives.
Some of the health hazards listed on manufacturer material safety data sheets (MSDS) for polyurethane foam include: possible cardiac arrhythmias, breathlessness,
chest discomfort, irritation of mucous membranes, headache, coughing, asthma-like allergic reaction, dizziness, weakness, fatigue, nausea, blurred vision, and reduced pulmonary function.
Polyurethane foam is produced by combining a polyol (petroleum based) with an isocyanate (usually toluene diisocyanate or TDI), which is a highly toxic substance.
The EPA has identified several chemicals used in the fabrication of polyurethane foam as hazardous air pollutants (hydrochloric acid, 2,4-toluene diisocyanate, and hydrogen cyanide).
“Exposure to these substances has been demonstrated to cause adverse health effects |
such as irritation of the lung, eye, and mucous membranes,
effects on the central nervous system,
(“National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants: Flexible Polyurethane Foam Fabrication Operations.” Environmental Protection Agency (EPA),
40 CFR Part 63, Final Rule, Federal Register/Volume 68, No. 71/Monday,
April 14, 2003/Rules and Regulations, Pg 18062)
In addition, polyurethane foam contains chemical catalysts, surfactants, emulsifiers, pigments, and other chemical additives.
These frequently include halogen compounds,
chlorofluoroalkanes, dichlorodifluoromethanes, formaldehyde, benzene, toluene,
and other well established toxic chemicals including organotin compounds.
“Organotin compounds – Found in... polyurethane foams... can disrupt the hormone, reproductive, |
and immune systems. Animal studies show that exposure early
in life can also have long-term effects on brain development.”
(“Hazardous Chemicals Found in Household Dust Across U.S.” Health Care Without Harm. March 24, 2005.
Problem #4: Polyurethane foam is highly flammable
The flammability of polyurethane foam poses a significant danger.
“If ignited, polyurethane foam can burn rapidly, releasing great heat
and consuming oxygen. |
In an enclosed space, the resulting deficiency of oxygen can
present a danger of suffocation
to the occupants. Smoke and gases released by
burning foam can be incapacitating to human
beings if inhaled in sufficient quantities.”
(Polyurethane Foam Industry-Wide Warning Label)
Polyurethane foam decomposes into deadly and hazardous gases when ignited.
“Thermal decomposition products from polyurethane foam consists mainly of carbon monoxide, benzene, toluene, oxides of nitrogen, hydrogen cyanide,
acetaldehyde, acetone, propene...”
(OSHA Hazard Information Bulletins. “The Fire Hazard of Polyurethane and Other Organic Foam Insulation Aboard Ships and In Construction.” U.S. Department
of Labor. Occupational Safety & Health Administration. www.osha.gov/dts/hib/hib_data/hib19890510.html)
According to Jonathan R. Barnett, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Fire Protection Engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, “polyurethane foam produces ten
times more carbon monoxide for each gram burned than does wood.” http://encarta.msn.com/text_761563809___13/Fire.html
Problem #5: Toxic fire-retardant chemicals are typically added
Due to the high flammability of polyurethane foam, industrial strength toxic chemical fire retardants are added to meet the minimum flammability standards set by government agencies.
While there are no laws or regulations regarding the materials or chemicals permitted to be used in baby mattresses (other than basic labeling requirements),
the government does mandate minimum flammability standards. The most common chemical fire retardants used to treat polyurethane foam for the past several decades |
polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), and in particular, pentaBDE.
“PentaBDE... is predominantly used as a flame retardant in polyurethane foam... exposure can damage the thyroid and liver and cause
hyperactivity, changes in motor behavior, and other brain functions... Because pentaBDE is not chemically bound to the polymer [foam],
pentaBDE particles can leach out into the air. People can be exposed to pentaBDE through inhalation... Polyurethane foam typically contains 10-30% pentaBDE by weight.”
(“Penta-Brominated Diphenyl Ether/PentaBDE.” University of Massachusetts. Lowell Center for Sustainable Production. Fact Sheet. March 2003)
“Thyroid and neurobehavioral alterations... are possible effects of concern in children exposed |
to PBBs or PBDEs.”
(“Public Health Statement: Polybrominated Biphenyls and Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBBs and PBDEs).”
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR),
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxprofiles/phs68.html#bookmark06)
PentaBDE has recently been banned in Europe and by the State of California (as of 2006). Some manufacturers are beginning
to replace PentaBDE with its
precursor, decaBDE, or other chemical based fire retardants or barriers (e.g. modacrylic, PAN,
other PBDEs, etc.). These replacements are arguably no better. Meanwhile,
there is currently no plan to recall the millions
of baby mattresses presently in use that contain the banned pentaBDE.