Parents and pediatric health practitioners need to be aware of the potential dangers of putting babies to sleep on a typical crib mattress. Nearly all baby mattresses today contain polyurethane foam, vinyl (PVC), phthalates, chemical fire retardants, and an extensive list of added industrial chemicals. Some of these chemicals have been shown to leach out into the surrounding air. Babies and toddlers spend 10-14 hours a day sleeping and playing on a baby mattress, and a child’s every breath inhales air no more than six inches away from these chemicals. Children are far more vulnerable to toxic chemicals than adults, especially during the neurological developmental period within their first few years of life.
Here is an overview of some specific concerns with baby mattresses:
- Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC), the surface material used in nearly all baby mattresses, is widely considered to be one of the most toxic and environmentally unfriendly plastics in use today.
- Phthalates, associated with asthma, reproductive effects, and cancer, make up 30% by weight of the PVC surface of a typical baby mattress. Phthalates are not bound to the plastic and leach out.
- The FDA and Consumer Product Safety Commission have issued general warnings regarding the use of phthalates, yet the PVC surfaces of baby mattresses still contain phthalates.
- DEHP (the most commonly used phthalate in baby mattresses), together with several other phthalates, have already been banned across Europe for use in many children’s products.
- The PVC surface of a typical baby mattress is also treated with toxic fire retardant chemicals such as antimony. Various biocides are often added as well.
- Polyurethane foam, the predominant filling material used in baby mattresses, typically contains various problematic ingredients including chemical catalysts, surfactants, emulsifiers, pigments, and other chemical additives. These frequently include formaldehyde, benzene, toluene, and other well established toxic chemicals such as organotin compounds.
- Polyurethane foam (essentially solid petroleum) is extremely flammable. To combat this hazard, industrial toxic fire retardants are added. The most common chemical fire retardant used to treat polyurethane foam has been pentaBDE, a toxin associated with hyperactivity and neuro-behavioral alterations. PentaBDE is not bound to the foam, and leaches out into the surrounding air.
- PentaBDE has recently been banned in Europe. It has also been banned by the State of California as of 2006. However, there is currently no planned government action to recall the millions of baby mattresses presently in use that contain pentaBDE.
- Antimony, arsenic, and phosphorous, chemicals commonly found in mattresses, have been linked to crib death (SIDS).
- Other common materials found in baby mattresses include “shoddy” pads made from scraps swept off the floor of textile mills or “hair” pads made from pig hair.
Fortunately, there are alternatives to the petroleum-based foam mattresses most babies are sleeping on. Organic cotton mattresses that do not contain any harmful chemicals are now available. For more information on toxic chemicals and gases in mattresses and to find the best alternatives, see the following links: