Crib mattresses: 72 percent of models use suspect chemicals, advocacy group says


The report focused on the crib mattresses because infants are especially vulnerable to chemical exposure.
November 2, 2011

Nearly three-quarters of crib mattresses in this country contained “suspect or dangerous” chemicals, underscoring the need to reform the federal laws that govern chemical use, according to a report scheduled to be released Thursday.

The report by Clean and Healthy New York, an environmental health advocacy group, surveyed 28 companies that make most of the standard-size crib mattresses and found that 72 percent of mattress models use one or more chemicals of concern, including certain flame retardants, antibacterials and waterproofing additives.

Only three firms — Vivetique, White Lotus and Naturepedic — make some or all of their crib mattresses without using risky chemicals or allergens, according to the group.

The results come as efforts aimed at better regulating chemicals in household products have gained traction. The Consumer Product Safety Commission banned the use of six types of chemicals called “phalates” in children’s products starting in 2009. The Food and Drug Administration is investing in research on the health impact of bisphenol A, a chemical widely used in plastics. And within a few weeks, the Senate plans to hold a hearing on a measure authored by Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.) that would for the first time require chemical makers to prove that their products are safe.

Consumer advocates are particularly enthusiastic about the Lautenberg legislation because it attempts to revamp the 35-year-old law that regulates chemicals instead of simply targeting one or two chemicals at a time, a tactic often adopted by federal regulators and various states or cities that have targeted potential toxins.

Even as a series of studies has linked various chemicals to serious health problems, the Environmental Protection Agency has tested for safety only 200 of the roughly 80,000 chemicals registered in this country and banned only five, according to federal data. That’s because federal regulators must overcome enormous legal burdens before they can test or restrict a chemical, consumer advocates said.

“It’s the Wild West in your home when it comes to chemicals,” said Andy Igrejas, director of Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, which reviewed the crib mattress report. “There are both known hazardous chemicals and chemicals whose health effects are still unknown that wind up in the products that come into our houses.”

Clean and Healthy New York focused on the crib mattresses because infants are especially vulnerable to chemical exposure, and they spend up to 16 hours a day with their faces pressed up within inches of chemicals their parents probably do not know about, said Bobbi Chase Wilding, lead author of the study.

The 28 companies surveyed by the group make 190 models of crib mattresses. Some — about 20 percent, or 39 models — made “small changes with big claims” by adding thin layers of organic cotton, for instance, and marketing those mattresses as “greener” even if other components contained risky chemicals, the report said.

An additional 22 percent refused to disclose the chemicals they used, making it impossible to figure out whether their products posed a hazard, the report said. The firms were most reluctant to answer questions about flame retardants.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission approved standards in 2007 to limit fires from spreading in mattresses. The rule did not require the use of chemical flame retardants, said Scott Wolfson, the agency’s spokesman. The report said that safer flame retardants include hydrated silica and wool.

Two of the companies with mattresses that contained at least one chemical of concern — Dream on Me and Foundations — offered no “green models” of mattresses and refused to provide some information about their products, the report said.

Officials at Foundations could not be reached for comment.

Joe Olds, a manager at Dream on Me, said he is satisfied that his mattresses are safe. Olds said the company buys pre-cut foam and mattress covers from other firms and sells good-quality, fire-retardant, waterproof, bedbug-proof mattresses. “I’ve never had any problems,” Olds said. “The only problem I had [is with consumers who] use the mattress for six kids and they call to say it’s worn out.”

Olds said his products are certified by the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association. But the association said it does not certify crib mattresses. The industry is working on voluntary rules for those products.

The report will be posted at cleanhealthyny.org.

Dina ElBoghdady covers housing policy for The Washington Post.
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