Fire Retardant Chemicals- The Real Monster Under The Bed

The Dangers of Fire Retardant Chemicals

A few months ago I wrote a post about my experience shopping for a new mattress. In it, I talked about wanting a non-toxic mattress; one that was free of chemicals and off-gassing. Today I want to talk more specifically about what those chemicals are and why we should want to avoid them where we can.

Back in the day (i.e. the early part of the 20th century) mattresses and cushions were made with cotton for comfort and steel springs for support. However, over the last 30 years cotton has been almost completely replaced by synthetic foams. In 2007, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission required all mattresses to meet strict flame resistant standards (strict doesn’t really even begin to cover it, think taking a blow torch to your mattress for over a minute kind of strict). Unfortunately, for us (the consumer) the government did not set any parameters for companies around how to meet these standards so it quickly became common practice to drench both the outside and the inside of all mattresses with a cocktail of chemicals. There are also no regulations requiring mattress manufacturers to list what chemicals they use. Here are a few we know about though:

  • PCDS’s (polybrominated diphenyl ethers)- these were used in mattresses before 2004, when they were found to be toxic to the liver, thyroid and nervous system. As a result they have now been mostly phased out of use.
  • Boric Acid: Studies have found that boric acid has the potential to be a carcinogen.
  • Melamine resin: Contains formaldehyde

The reason these chemicals are of primary concern when it comes to health is that they do not break down into safer chemicals over time and they are bio- accumulative meaning that they build up in the human body and the bodies of animals over time leading to toxicity and chronic health problems. Their persistent nature also makes them a concern for the environment because they don’t break down and decompose and they can be easily transported far from their original source and be spread across the world.

Unfortunately, there is little we can do to avoid flame retardant chemical completely since they can be found in everything from car upholstery to couches to baby crib mattresses and nursing pillows. However, we can work to limit our exposure during times when we are most vulnerable to their effects. Many groups recommend not eating on your couch to help you avoid ingesting these chemicals ( I am totally guilty of this), wash your hands before eating, use a HEPPA air filter, and regularly clean your car upholstery. However, one of the most important areas to avoid exposure is in your bed. We spend about 1/3 of our lives sleeping! This time is when our body needs to be under the least amount of stress possible so that it can work to restore our health. Having to combat the onslaught of toxins in your mattress is counterproductive to restorative sleep. The problem is that, as we stated above, ALL mattresses have to meet these flame resistant standards one way or another. So, even if you buy an organic mattress made with wool and the website says that it is flame resistant all that means is that they probably used LESS chemicals to meet the standards but wool alone is not resistant enough to meet the federal regulations. So you may have gotten a perfectly organic cotton and latex mattress, but it still have flame retardant chemicals on it. This was my dilemma until I found Intellibed.

If you are interested in my full review of intellibed you can read my post HERE, but suffice it to say I am totally in love with my bed. Rather than using chemicals as a fire blocker, Intellibed uses a completely safe silca thread throughout its mattresses that acts as a natural, chemical free alternative to meeting the federal regulations. On top of that it is also an incredibly comfortable bed!

In today’s climate we cannot run in fear of every environmental toxin or else we would end up as hermits living in the woods, but we should strive to limit our exposure and create the healthiest environments possible for ourselves within our homes.

The Dangers of Fire Resistant Chemicals

What are your thoughts?