Your Mattress' Flame Retardant Might Be Making You Sick

Your Mattress' Flame Retardant Might Be Making You Sick
Your Mattress' Flame Retardant Might Be Making You Sick

Your Mattress' Flame Retardant Might Be Making You Sick

Your mattress is one of the most commonly-used objects in your home and serves as the only piece that has direct skin contact with you.

Flame retardant chemicals used on mattresses are frequently toxic, such as boric acid, formaldehyde and antimony trioxide. Luckily, there are nontoxic alternatives.

Boric Acid

Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) mandates that all mattresses sold must pass flammability standards set forth, prompting many major mattress brands to treat their sleep products with flame retardant chemicals in order to pass this test.

Problematic chemical flame retardants off-gas into your environment and become air pollutants, potentially harming both human health and indoor air pollution. They have also been linked to cancer, endocrine disruption and reproductive toxicity; as well as collecting in dust particles which contributes to indoor air pollution.

There are healthy, nontoxic options for mattresses available without hazardous flame retardants that offer great night's rest for those trying to reduce toxic exposure while remaining chemical-free. Organic mattresses provide great organic mattress options as a great way to avoid toxic chemicals while getting restful slumber.

Boric Acid, more commonly referred to as borax, is a colorless, odorless and tasteless solid that is used widely across various household products - from cleaning supplies and detergents to fertilizers. Boric Acid often enhances other products' effectiveness or is even used in ophthalmic irrigation solutions in order to wash, cleanse and soothe irritated eyes.

However, ingestion of boric acid may produce unwanted side effects, including nausea, diarrhea, stomach pain and vomiting. Over time it could even result in reduced red blood cell count, liver and kidney damage as well as even death.

Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers

Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs), one of the most widely used bromine-containing flame retardants in the US, are an emerging threat as persistent organic pollutants (POPs). Found in many building materials, electrical equipment, coatings textiles and polyurethane foam (furniture padding). Like PCBs they resist degradation but remain highly mobile accumulating in living organisms and human breast milk as well as animal models.

PBDEs have been shown to disrupt the body's normal endocrine system and have been linked with reduced cognitive function, learning disabilities, and altered behavior. Furthermore, these chemicals have also been known to cause various forms of cancer as well as interfere with hormones and reduce fertility both human and animal.

Studies have reported that PBDEs alter gene expression in both the brain and liver, likely as a result of their ability to inhibit cell differentiation, induce cell proliferation and apoptosis, alter genetic stability through DNA methylation or histone modification and non-coding RNA expression.

California recently passed legislation banning deca-BDEs and other PBDEs used in mattresses, televisions, computers and residential upholstered furniture. But it is essential to double check all materials and labels of any mattress you buy before buying it - even those marked "organic" or "certified organic" are likely to contain polyurethane memory foam and toxic chemicals that are hard to rid yourself of.

Organophosphate Flame Retardants

Since the ban of polybrominated diphenyl ethers, consumption of flame retardants has increasingly turned towards organophosphate flame retardants (OPFRs). These organic esters of phosphoric acid contain either alkyl chains or aryl groups with either halogenated or non-halogenated groups and may contain either halogenated groups - although either type may also contain other additives which act as flame retardants and plasticizers in consumer products, textiles, construction materials or polyurethane foams - yet these chemicals have proven themselves as highly toxic bioaccumulative and persistent pollutants which act as endocrine disruptors over time.

OPFRs are released into the environment during production, use, and disposal; they have been found in human blood, breast milk, tissues, food and water sources. Their impact includes exposure via inhalation or skin absorption, metabolic effects such as biomagnification and bioaccumulation as well as aquatic organism toxicity which has reproductive and developmental ramifications as well as effects on reproductive processes.

Studies of OPFRs in the environment have been ongoing for over 15 years, and more than 20 publications on indoor air. These investigations utilize various methodologies - liquid chromatography-tandem quadrupole mass spectrometry (LC-QMS/MS), microwave extraction combined with gel permeation chromatography and silica gel cleanup followed by gas chromatography mass spectrometry-mass spectrometry analysis, and ion pair liquid chromatography-ESI/MS/MS are among others - to conduct these investigations.

Research has also identified biological effects associated with OPFRs in addition to environmental concerns. One study demonstrated this by showing how primary metabolites from OPFRs possess both agonistic and antagonistic activities against transcriptional activity via human nuclear receptors such as those responsible for estrogen, testosterone, glucocorticoids, and pregnane X receptors.


Polyurethane is an adaptable manufactured material used in thousands of applications ranging from protective varnishes and hard fiberglass coatings, upholstery foam encasement or protective molding linings.

Polyurethane when applied releases volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air that may irritate people with sensitive immune systems as well as those suffering from existing respiratory ailments. Furthermore, these volatile organic compounds (VOCs) may trigger allergies as well as cause throat and eye irritation.

These volatile compounds pose a danger for homeowners because they're detrimental to the environment and health. Furthermore, they can produce unpleasant odors that make indoor spaces hard to breathe in, disperse smoke that's difficult to clear away, and produce smoke that's difficult to clear away completely.

Polyurethane contains toxic isocyanates that can lead to respiratory issues, throat irritation and skin rashes. Extended exposure may also lead to headaches, dizziness and nausea - symptoms more likely to appear among those suffering from asthma or other respiratory illnesses.

When applying a polyurethane floor finish, it's vitally important to take appropriate ventilation measures, including opening windows and using fans. Children and pets should be kept out of the room during and immediately following application; you should also cover furniture to protect it from overspray.

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