There are no industry or government standards regarding the chemicals that companies pump into mattresses. WPBF-TV in West Palm Beach reported. The only government requirement is that mattresses must be flame retardant, which means many mattresses are packed with irritating chemicals like pesticides and formaldehyde. "Formaldehyde, unless they've changed it recently, is the major component in embalming fluid," said allergist Dr. Dan Tucker. "It kills things. It kills bacteria fungi -- and enough of it kills people." Tucker said researchers don't know how chemicals in mattresses could affect humans. But studies have shown the body stores many of the chemicals found in mattresses in fatty tissue, including the brain. "We don't honestly know what the long-term effects (of the chemicals) are," Tucker said. "And (there is) a considerable suspicion that they do contribute to the chronic brain disorders as people get older. The less we are exposed to this, the better." Tucker said he is disturbed
with new research out of England that explores whether these mattress chemicals could have a link to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
Research done over the past 13 years in Great Britain and New Zealand indicates that Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is an environmental poisoning in the crib. In 1988, Barry Richardson, a British chemist specializing in deterioration and preservation of materials, and Peter Mitchell, a marquee specialist, were working on Mitchell's deteriorating marquee, awnings and party tents. Mitchell's marquee supplier told him that the chemicals in awnings and tents were the same chemicals that had been approved for use in baby mattresses. Mitchell also learned from Richardson that these same chemicals could be converted into nerve gas. Mitchell and Richardson decided maybe there was a connection here to SIDS. The research by Richardson began immediately.
The three chemicals of concern are phosphorus used in the baby mattress cover, and arsenic and antimony added as preservatives and fire retardants. Richardson has determined that a common household fungus, Scopulariopsis brevicaulis, gets established in the mattress from the baby's sweating, spitting up and so on. Once established, the fungus begins to consume these three chemicals in the mattress. This results in the production of three nerve gasses: phosphine, arsine and stibine, all of which can be very deadly, especially to infants.
In late 1988 Richardson asked local coroners to cooperate by releasing mattresses on which SIDS babies had died. He received 200 mattresses of all varieties: foam, plastic, fabric and netted. By June 1989 all mattresses had been tested with the following results:
- Every mattress was infected with the S. Brevicaulis fungus as an organism and spores.
- All mattresses had one or more of the chemicals phosphorus, arsenic or antimony.
- Each mattress generated one or more of the nerve gasses (phosphine, arsine or stibine) when brought to blood/body temperature.
At this time, Richardson analyzed six blood samples of the SIDS babies who died on mattresses with antimony and found high levels of antimony in each sample. In addition, Richardson learned that 95 percent of mattresses tested had been used by a previous baby.
Meanwhile, a New Zealand chemist, T.J. Sprott, was questioning the role of chemicals in the baby's environment. He learned of Richardson's research and concurred that nerve gas could also be poisoning babies in New Zealand. He established the guidelines for wrapping mattresses, known as the Cotlife 2000 Specifications. These specifications involved wrapping the baby's mattress with a gas impermeable plastic to keep the gasses from contaminating the sleeping area and, in addition, using cotton bedding. since 1996, New Zealand has wrapped 100,000 baby mattresses to these specifications. There have been no reported deaths to date on these wrapped mattresses.
SIDS is called the "mystery disease." Understanding the gas theory explains away the mystery by answering all of the following perplexing questions:
Q: Why do SIDS babies show no symptoms?
A: The lethal dose of nerve gas doesn't make them "ill." It acts by shutting down the nervous system, stopping heart function and breathing. Research has shown neurochemical deficits in SIDS babies that are consistent with poisoning by nerve gas.
Q: Why are babies at higher risk after illness or vaccination?
A: The fever that results increases the temperature in the crib environment. This stimulates fungus activity and nerve gas production tenfold or more.
Q: why does the rate of crib death rise from one sibling to the next?
A: In a reused mattress, fungus established in prior use cause toxic gas generation to commence sooner and in greater volume.
Q: Why are babies at higher risk in families where births are close together?
A: Once again, the fungus in the mattress from the previous use will be quickly activated, producing gas sooner.
Q: Why are SIDS rates higher in the winter?
A: Windows are kept shut, creating poor ventilation around the crib. Gasses are less likely to dissipate. Babies are often bundled in blankets during the winter, trapping gasses close to their bodies.
Q: Why are babies sleeping face down at higher risk?
A: Stibine gas is formed from the interaction of the S. Brevicaulis fungus and the antimony in the mattress. This gas is very heavy and hangs right on the surface of the mattress. A baby sleeping face down will breathe this gas directly and is more likely to inhale a lethal dose.
Q: Why are boy babies at higher risk for SIDS?
A: Most boys have a higher metabolic rate than girls, thus their body temperature can be somewhat higher than girls. The rate of gas generation increases rapidly with increasing temperature.
Q: Why does SIDS sometimes occur during bed-sharing on an adult mattress?
A: Phosphorus, arsenic or antimony can be found in most mattresses, allowing the generation of the nerve gasses. Adults are not as susceptible to gas poisoning as infants.
Q: Why was SIDS rare before 1950?
A: Prior to 1950, harmful chemicals were not added to mattresses. It was postwar technology that prompted the common use of phosphorus as a plasticizer, arsenic as a preservative and antimony as a fire retardant. In England and Wales the SIDS statistics from 1953 onward increased in parallel with the increasing concentration of antimony in mattress covers. In addition, prior to 1950 people commonly used soap for baby laundry, whereas now detergent and fabric softeners are commonplace. Detergent contains nitrogen and phosphorus compounds on which the fungus feeds.
Q: Why does SIDS generally occur between the ages of 2 months and 1 year?
A: It takes time for the fungus in the mattress to flourish and start generating gas. However, younger babies can die if they are sleeping on a mattress that has recently been used by an older sibling and has established, flourishing fungus. As babies get older, the gas exposure gives them a headache causing them to move around, wake their parents and stand up in their cribs.
Q: Why is SIDS non-existent in some other countries?
A: There used to be virtually no crib deaths in Japan. Japanese traditionally used untreated cotton futons for babies. Recently, Japan has started to adopt Western baby care practices, mattresses, etc., and the crib death rate has begun to rise. SIDS is practically non-existent in Russia, as well. There, it is common place to cover the mattress with rubber sheeting. This rubber is gas impermeable, inhibits fungal growth and is free of phosphorus, arsenic and antimony.
Q: Why have SIDS rates fallen over the past five years, but are now leveling out?
A: Five years ago the Back to Sleep campaign was introduced encouraging parents to position their babies on their backs. This has likely saved many babies from stibine (the gas from antimony) poisoning. As was said earlier, this gas is heavy and hangs right on the surface of the mattress where face-down babies breathe it directly. However, babies sleeping on their backs are still exposed to the lighter nerve gasses: arsine and phosphine. In a warm environment phosphine can be similar to the density of air, and easily inhaled by a baby sleeping on its back. In addition, face-up sleeping is not as effective in a cot or bassinet with enclosed sides, because the gasses cannot flow away.
To prevent these nerve gasses from reaching the baby, New Zealand CotLife2000 Specifications recommend doing all of the following:
- Cover the top, all sides and most of the underside of the mattress with a polyethylene sheeting that is at least 5 mil thick and free of phosphorus, arsenic and antimony. Leave several venting holes on the underside of the mattress cover so that the gas can escape.
- Use fleecy pure cotton mattress cover over the polyethylene sheeting and tuck it in securely.
- Make the bed using pure cotton sheets and blankets.
- Do not use any of the following as baby bedding: sheepskin, moisture-resistant mattress protector, acrylic under blanket, sleeping bag or duvet.
- Clean mattress covers by wiping with pure soap and water. Do not use chemical bleaches or sterilizers.
Author: Joanne B. Quinn, RMA, PhD
Joanne Quinn is a registered medical assistant with a PhD in holistic nutrition. She is the Executive Director of the Educational Learning Strategies Foundation and field advisor for the National Foundation for Alternative Medicine.
Editor's Note: Subsequent research has failed to establish the link between baby mattresses and SIDS that this article asserts.
Sleep replenishes the physical and psychological energy spent during the day. It helps mental and physical well being. Lose sleep and you're dull, depressed and irritated. Buying a mattress is a very important investment in your future health and happiness. But with all the different kinds of mattresses out there today, how do you know which one is right for you?
The two main things to consider when buying a mattress are support and comfort.
Your mattress needs to support the natural curve of your spine. Okay, but what does that mean? It means you need to maintain the same natural alignment whey you're laying down as when you're standing. If your mattress doesn't have enough support, it will sag, throwing your spine out of alignment. A mattress can also be too firm which tends to only support the heaviest parts of your body. It might help to try this: take a doll and lay it on the table. You can see there are spaces between the doll and the table. The table is only supporting the areas of the doll that are connecting with the table. Now put the doll on a pillow. The pillow comes into contact with the entire length of the doll with no spaces in between. This is what you need from your mattress. You want it to be firm enough to keep your spine in place, yet still conform to your body. Here is a general guideline to follow –
• Back or stomach sleepers generally do better with a firmer mattress because it will not allow them to sag into the surface at an unnatural angle. Air, water or foam mattresses are not generally recommended because they do not provide this level of support.
• Side Sleepers usually place the greatest amount of weight on the smallest areas of the body thereby creating pressure points. A side sleeper will probably want a softer mattress, especially if they have a very curved or rounded figure.
• A new mattress should always be placed on a firm base, never a saggy one. The box springs do much of the work for the mattress by absorbing stress and weight. The correct foundation can extend the life of the mattress, therefore you should try to purchase the box springs designed to go with your mattress.
• A crib mattress should be firm. Babies can't lift their heads out of soft mattresses if they get turned over. A firm mattress also helps the bedding to stay tight on the mattress which can help prevent bunching.
TIP – You can always soften up a firm mattress with pads and toppers.
There is no one-mattress-fits-all. We are all different and have different ideas as to what's comfortable or not. My best advice here is to go to a mattress store and try out the mattresses. Lay on them in the position you normally sleep in. Take your time. Laying on a mattress for a few seconds will not give you a good idea as to how it will feel after you've been there awhile.
Here are some different kinds of mattresses you might consider –
• Innerspring - There are springs in the mattress that help support the weight of your body. The higher the number of coils, the firmer the mattress.
• Pocketed Coil Innerspring - The coils work independently. On a regular innerspring, what effects one coil, effects several of the surrounding coils. With the pocketed coils, what effects one coil, only effects that coil. This system supports your overall body better than a regular innerspring. Also, if you wake up every time your partner moves, this type of mattress will help.
• Latex - It's impression resistant, conforms to the contour of your body while offering support, hypoallergenic, bacteria and mildew resistant. It also has great breath-ability, it will keep you cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Beware of latex allergies.
• Multi-Zoned Latex – Latex mattress cores are always made with holes in them. These holes soften the latex and make it comfortable. The larger the holes, the softer the latex core becomes. Most mattresses have the same size holes throughout the mattress giving it a uniform feel. The multi-zoned mattress has sections with different size holes. This gives the mattress different zones making it softer or firmer in different areas.
• Pillow Top – This is a mattress with an extra layer sewn to the top to create a pillow feel. It's great for support and comfort. You can get the same effect using a mattress pad or topper.
I would also suggest purchasing an organic mattress. Organic mattresses are made without the use of toxic chemicals which is better for the environment and better for your health.
So, try out some different types of mattresses keeping in mind how well they will support you. If you're sharing your bed with someone who has different requirements, you might consider using two twin beds side by side. You should also check to see if the store you're purchasing from has an exchange policy. This allows you to exchange your mattress for another if you find you purchased one that wasn't quite right for you.
Author: Shelly Platt
Natural and Organic Mattresses