Federal law FR1633 requires that all mattresses sold in the U.S. include flame retardants. Most companies use Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) as the flame retardant in their mattresses.
According to the Environmental Working Group, PBDE exposure through inhalation/ingestion of fumes and small particles is linked to numerous health problems: decreased development of reproductive systems in children, deficits in motor skills, learning, memory and hearing, as well as changes in behavior. A few states like California have banned some of the worst brominated fire retardants, but most have been replaced by other PBDEs or other chemicals that haven’t been thoroughly tested. Manufacturers are not required by law to test chemicals for the effects on health.
The average mattress (including crib mattresses!) also contains Polyurethane foam (linked to respiratory problems), and polyvinyl chloride that contains phthalates (endocrine disruptors that disrupt reproductive development).
You spend about eight hours a day on your mattress, while a baby can spend up to 14 hours a day lying on their crib mattresses at a time when their brains are developing more rapidly than at any time in their lives.
That’s why I hope that you’ll tell everyone that you know that there’s an alternative for them and their babies! The first option is to purchase a mattress made from wool – wool is a natural flame retardant. The only problem is that wool mattresses are expensive – a small crib mattress costs $450. If this is out of your price range, the next option is to purchase a chemical-free cotton mattress. This can only be done with a doctor’s prescription! Your prescription must be written on a prescription pad and say, “This patient (or patient’s baby, to be delivered <date>), requires a mattress free of chemicals and chemical fire retardants.”
We purchased our chemical-free cotton mattress from White Lotus Home:
If this is still out of your price range, there are other options that contain chemicals that have been shown to be less toxic, for example Boric Powder. A number of alternatives are discussed in this blog:
Of course, if you do buy a chemical-free mattress, make sure you have working smoke alarms with fresh batteries in every area of your house!
If you aren’t already a subscriber (and donor!) to the Environmental Working Group, go check it out now: http://www.ewg.org
Dori Merifield is an environmentalist, recent mother of twins and former teacher of the Green Living Workshops at Sustainable Works.