Polyurethane Foam: A Toxic Option
In the mattress business, flexible polyurethane foam – sometimes known as plain old foam (including memory foam) – is widely used. Even if you sleep on a wonderful old-fashioned coil-spring mattress, polyurethane foam is very always there.
Add to it the fact that there’s probably foam in pretty much every other room in your house.
Polyurethane foam is omnipresent in our lives, transporting us from birth to adulthood in a cost-effective and comfortable manner. It’s reasonable to believe that such a commonly used product is free of health risks.
Regrettably, research indicates that this is not the case. In reality, when sleeping, babies are exposed to chemical emissions from crib mattresses, with polyurethane foam emitting a wider spectrum of volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) than polyester foam.
Consumers are beginning to worry if the foam is safe as more study is done.
We go into the science and manufacturing of polyurethane foam in this article to find out if your baby’s foam mattress is hazardous.
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What Is Polyurethane Foam
Polyurethanes, like all plastics, are polymers made by reacting diisocyanates (MDI and/or TDI) with a range of polyols. Depending on the desired end product, chemical formulations may contain other ingredients such as catalysts, blowing agents and possibly flame retardants.Polyurethanes.org
Polyurethane foam has been used in mattress manufacturing since the 1960s.
Its history, on the other hand, dates back far further.
Dr. Otto Bayer invented polyurethanes in the 1930s, and they were widely employed throughout WWII. Initially employed as a rubber replacement, polyurethane’s uses grew substantially during this time.
Polyurethane was utilized as an adhesive, coating, clothing, and hard and flexible foams in the decades after WWII.
Polyurethane, like many other goods that gained popularity in the postwar years, appeared to be a wonder product at first.
However, as time has passed, we’ve gained a better knowledge of some of the possible risks associated with the production and usage of polyurethane foam.
Role Of Diisocyanates
Diisocyanates (methylene diphenyl diisocyanate [MDI] and/or toluene diisocyanate [TDI]) react with a variety of polyols to produce polyurethanes.
Exposure to some of the major components in polyurethane foam – isocyanates – can produce a variety of severe health consequences, including asthma, lung damage and respiratory difficulties, as well as skin and eye irritation, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA).
During the production of polyurethane, both MDI and TDI must be handled with caution. However, as a possible carcinogen and toxin, TDI is particularly hazardous.
While these compounds are deemed harmless in the finished product, the production process can be troublesome, exposing employees and communities around polyurethane manufacturing facilities to hazardous substances.
Polyurethane Foam Filled With Flame Retardants
Polyurethane foam is very flammable, which is why it is usually treated with flame retardant chemicals in addition to diisocyanates.
Americans are often exposed to flame retardant chemicals in their daily lives. The chemicals are widely used in products such as household furniture, textiles, and electronic equipment. Many flame retardant chemicals can persist in the environment, and studies have shown that some may be hazardous to people and animals.United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA)
If you decide that a polyurethane foam product is suitable for your family, choose CertiPUR-US® certified foam that has been independently certified to be TDCPP-free. The Colgate Eco Classica III, Nook Pebble Air, and Nook Pebble Lite are some of the baby mattresses that use this certified foam.
It’s difficult to say how prevalent the flame retardant issue is. It’s even more difficult to define how you, as a parent, should use this information to make purchasing decisions.
Is Polyurethane Foam A Big Problem?
The findings of Duke University’s Foam Project may support cautious optimism.
The initiative is a shining example of how to combat hazardous chemicals in foam. Consumers can send up to five foam samples per household to the lab using it. After that, the lab looks for seven of the most prevalent chemical flame retardants in the samples that have been sent in.
More than 200 mattress samples have been examined since the research began, with more than 40 containing flame retardants.
They looked at 2215 foam samples in all (at last update).
“Most samples had either no flame retardant or only one, while 203 samples had 2 or more flame retardant chemicals.”Foam Project
While this may not seem like a big deal, it’s worth noting that the majority of the car seat foam they tested did include fire retardants.
Furthermore, fire retardant chemicals appear to be so pervasive in our surroundings that they may be found in supermarket food, our urine, our breast milk, and so on.
Why Regulations On Polyurethane Foam Matter
Some of the powers of the updated legislation have been enhanced. For example, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is now obligated by law to initiate safety evaluations of 10 high-priority substances on the current list within 180 days of the bill’s enactment. The EPA is scheduled to begin reviewing 20 more compounds within three to five years. Despite the fact that this is a positive beginning, with so many new chemicals on the market, it may be too little, too late.
If the EPA has specific concerns about a new chemical, the new law makes it easier for the agency to request testing. However, unless outside pressure is applied, the EPA may not begin the process because it is not required to do so.
Manufacturers may demand that the contents of their chemicals be kept secret in order to maintain their competitive edge under the previous TSCA, which was a contentious feature of the law. This lack of openness does little to assist consumers and scientists in determining which chemicals may be hazardous.
Many components can now be divulged to first responders, state and municipal governments, and health care professionals under the new rule. In principle, this should make deciding whether or not to push for testing easier. Manufacturers can still request confidentiality if the name of a chemical reveals how it is made to competitors.
While the new legislation improves certain parts of the TSCA, it is still insufficient to ensure that our homes and workplaces are free of hazardous chemicals. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, testing the 1000 most hazardous compounds on the EPA’s list would take roughly 50 years under the new regulations. The new law will also require significant more financing, although it is unclear where this would come from.
California recently changed TB117 to TB117-2013, in addition to the TSCA changes. The revised version eliminates the need for foam to pass an open flame test, instead of requiring simply that it pass a smoldering test. This adjustment was implemented in response to data indicating the majority of fires involving polyurethane foam furniture are caused by smoldering heat sources. Overkill was regarded as requiring foam to pass a rigorous open flame test, which was a potential factor to the number of hazardous flame retardants employed by producers.
Unfortunately, manufacturers do not appear to be reducing the number of flame retardants they use rapidly enough. After all, switching suppliers and production processes would be costly. One company even tried to sue the state of California to get the open flame test reinstated, claiming that “the new TB 117-2013 standard is a step backwards and would eventually adversely influence fire safety for the whole nation.”
Duke University is presently offering a free test to determine if flame retardants are present in your existing furniture. However, even if new furniture is branded as “fulfilling the standards of technical bulletin 117,” it may still contain hazardous flame retardants if just the smolder test has been performed. Consumers still have no easy means of knowing which chemicals are included in various items.
Baby Products That Don’t Use Polyurethane Foam
There are alternatives if you are disappointed by the usage of hazardous polyurethane foam in baby items or are unwilling to accept the risk. It’s no surprise that parents are looking for goods that don’t include polyurethane foam or contain harmful fire retardants. Many of these were created by companies that were concerned about both health and the environment. Non-toxic mattresses and crib mattresses are available; all you have to do is know what to search for.
Natural materials are frequently totally fire resistant, requiring no additions to meet safety standards. The time it takes for a product to burn is used to determine its fire resistance. Although very little is truly fireproof, a barrier to an item just exploding into flames is what is sought.
Animal wool is most likely the most flame-resistant natural material available. It’s just not very easy to light. Sheep’s fleeces are always growing, thus it’s a renewable resource. Wool breathes well and will not overheat a sleeping infant. With no additional chemicals, this soft and springy material provides a wonderful mattress filler.
Natural fire resistance may be found in organic cotton. However, double-check the label to be sure it hasn’t been contaminated with chemicals. A combination of wool and cotton increases the fire safety rating of various fillings without the use of chemicals. Look for GOTS-approved products.
Coconut coir is increasingly being utilized in infant crib mattresses. It doesn’t need fire retardant chemicals because it’s made of organic cotton.
There are numerous fantastic alternatives to foam-filled mats for natural baby changing pads. Seagrass baskets come in a variety of designs and are available in a variety of sizes. When changing a diaper, the low sides prevent the baby from rolling away. If you like to think green, this carefully designed basket will serve you well after your child has grown. It’s usually a good idea to extend a product’s usable life.
Non-toxic mattresses also employ sugarcane fibres. It is, once again, a natural substance that is widely available. Because cane is a by-product of the sugar industry, it is environmentally beneficial.
Natural latex is generally chemical-free, but it’s still a good idea to read the labels. Because latex reflects body heat, some individuals, especially newborns, become hot when lying on it. It’s also worth noting that latex might cause allergic reactions in certain people.
Without the use of chemicals, natural wool or cotton coverings will give a degree of fire protection. Look for furniture with a top layer like this. Additional chemicals are used in certain infant products, but if they are kept to a minimum, the risk of harm is minimized, giving you another choice to consider. To decrease the harmful component in goods with additives, seek VOC-free and HAP-free labels, as well as Low-VOC.
Flame retardant chemicals are especially dangerous to babies and toddlers.
Children are most vulnerable because their bodies and brains are developing, and they are often more exposed to flame retardant-laden products, such as carpets, toys and other items. Generally, people are exposed to these chemicals through household dust, contaminated food, air or water.The Guardian
You can lower your child’s risk by doing the following:
Handwashing both yours and your child’s hands on a regular basis
Dust with a damp cloth.
Use a damp mop or a vacuum with a HEPA filter to clean the area.
Avoid allowing your baby to chew on any items that contain flame retardants.
Foam can be used to repair rips in upholstered furniture and other goods.