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As of July 1, 2007, all U.S. mattresses are required to be highly flame retardant, to the extent that they won’t catch on fire if you take a blow torch to them. This means that the manufacturers are loading them with highly toxic flame-retardant chemicals like polybrominated diphenyl ether, better known as PBDE, which do NOT have to be disclosed in any way.

PBDEs, which have been banned in Canada, Europe and several states, build up in your body over time, and what you absorb or inhale accumulates in tissues, especially lungs, sinuses, brain, thyroid and liver. This is concerning not only because of the health problems PBDE have been known to cause, like brain and reproductive damage, decreased sperm quality, thyroid problems and even cancer at high levels, but also because of how pervasive these chemicals have become in our environment.

PBDEs are not only in mattresses, they’re also in furniture and numerous other household products. Not surprisingly, the chemicals are now showing up in breast milk, blood tests and even umbilical-cord blood and livers of babies.

Other flame-retardant chemicals currently approved for use in mattresses include:

• Antimony, a metal that may be more toxic than mercury
• Formaldehyde, which causes cancer

Mattress manufacturers have a cup and a half or two cups of this material on their mattress. They sprinkle it over the top or they put it into some kind of a coating on the mattress. And this can make people very, very ill.    Think about it.   Most of us spend from six to nine hours every night with our face in close proximity to our mattress, breathing in these hazardous chemicals. And if your children jump on the bed, or you bounce on your mattress, even more of these toxins can be released into the air.

What are the Risks of Sleeping on a Chemically Treated Mattress?

The Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) has tested the fire-retardant chemicals currently used in mattresses and found the risks to be “insignificant.”   However, they aslo found that, despite manufacturers claims to the contrary,  the chemicals do, in fact, leach from the mattress. They found that a person sleeping on a chemically treated mattress will absorb .8 mg of antimony every night, an amount that is 27 times more than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says is safe.

Young children were found to absorb .5 mg of antimony every night, according to CPSC, which is 63 times over the EPA’s safety limit!

Given the fact that antimony accumulates in your body over time, this could clearly present a significant health risk over time.
The CPSC study did not include children under 5 in their study because crib mattresses are usually covered in vinyl. So it  was assumed the chemicals would not pass through vinyl. However, European scientists have found that antimony leaches through vinyl on crib mattresses and can be absorbed by infants. And this is not even including the toxic impact other toxic chemicals in mattresses, like formaldehyde.

Latex Allergy

The Mayo Clinic reports that latex allergies are on the rise.  Most beds contain various forms of latex foam and can trigger allergic reactions.  Latex allergy is a reaction to certain proteins found in latex, a product manufactured from a milky fluid derived from the rubber tree found in Africa and Southeast Asia. If you have a latex allergy, your body mistakes latex for a harmful substance. Exposure to airborne latex particles, often sent into the air when removing latex gloves or by compressing and releasing the foam in a bed, or even stretching a latex rubber band, can cause signs and symptoms similar to those of hay fever or asthma such as:  stuffy nose, cough, hives or rash, itchy and watery eyes, difficulty breathing and chest pressure.  More serious reactions such as anaphylactic shock, can be life threatening. Repeated exposure to latex proteins increases the severity of the symptoms for most people.

Shopping for a Safe Mattress

This is not an easy task. Mattress manufacturers are not required to label or disclose which chemicals their mattresses contain. Further, many state that their mattresses are chemical-free, when in reality they are not.

Fortunately, we have an excellent option for organic, all natural beds, right here in Harbor Springs. 
Beds by Design offers a variety of options at very reasonable prices.  The owner, Rory Karpathian, is warm and friendly, in addition to being a wealth of knowledge about bedding. He will gladly explain all the options, show you the construction process and will even take the bed back and readjust it if you need him to… free. All the beds in our home are from Rory. We can’t begin to say good enough things about them.

If cost is a concern, you can try making your own mattress. Simply buy 100% organic cotton or flannel blankets. Sew them together at the end and put them in cotton berry or cloth cover and you’ll have a mattress that’s relatively inexpensive.  But we would recommend talking to Rory first. We were amazed at how affordable a custom bed from Beds by Design actually is!


You can find Rory and  Beds by Design at 8643 M-119  (by the airport) or call him at (231) 347-0696



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