12. Don’t Regulators Know About All These? What are they doing?
Yes, They do. They know well flame retardants are toxic and sleepers get a heavy dose of those everyday from sleeping on their mattresses. What they do is downplaying the risk and mandating more flame retardant be added. Consumer Product Safety Commission(CPSC) did a study in 2006 to quantify the amount of commonly available flame retardants absorbed by average sleeper on a mattress during its life time. CPSC did not attempt to be comprehensive and only studies a few which they feel were likely to be used by manufacturers to meet the 2007 mattress flammability standard. In that report, CPSC used Federal Hazardous Substance Act(FHSA) as guideline and found antimony, deca-PBDEs and boric acid to be toxic under the definition of FHSA.
CPSC performed a series of test on commercially available flame retardant barriers(which met the old flammability standards) to determine under normal condition, how much of each flame retardant would be absorbed by a sleeper. The following highlights what they found as well as the assumptions they made to reach those conclusions.
A. Higher moisture facilities the release of boric acid from the mattress to the skin.
Not surprising. Boric acid is water soluble.
B. Ticking and sheet serve as a barrier against boric acid.
Not surprising too.
C. Antimony is release from barrier upon wet contact.
D. Sexual activities on mattress is not considered.
It is likely to meaningfully increase the intake of flame retardant through inhalation and skin. But the frequency is highly variable and result is hard to quantify.
E. The tighter the contact between the skin and the mattress, the more absorption.
Quantitatively, they have the following estimates, under simulated use for one layer of barrier. Please note that simulated use is head falling to the mattress. No jumping or kicking etc.
F. Airborne antimony concentration after simulated use was below detection limit. But inhalation of antimony on mattress surface is not considered.
G. Total antimony absorbed into skin is about 800 µg per day for average adult.
Consider antimony is similar to arsenic and arsenic’s daily limit is only 147 µg per day.
H. Large amount of Boric Acid gets in contact with skin of a sleeper. However, because boric acid is very poorly absorbed through the skin, on the order of 0.01% in a day, the amount getting into body through contact is relatively small, at only 56 µg per day.
It is completely absorbed through oral route. So, do not put your mattress beddings into your mouth if you do not wish have a heavy dose of boric acid.
I. The amount of deca-PBDEs absorbed from mattress is at 73 µg per day or 1 ppb for an average adult.
That is equivalent to eating 1 lb of very PBDE contaminated fish. deca-PBDE itself has a half life in human body of about 15 days, shortest among PBDEs. However, it may be decomposed into other PBDEs with less bromine atoms which have substantially longer half life(2~7 years). As a reference, PCBs’ half life is on the order of 10 years. At this rate of absorption, it came no surprise that the average concentration of all PBDEs is around 80 ppb among American woman and still rising.
In the end, CPSC compared all these numbers to a safe level, which is derived from various animal testing and arbitrary safety factor. They feel it is not enough to do much damage.
All the test were performed before the introduction of the 2007 new open flame standard based on then available flame retardant barriers. No mattress sold in store in compliance with this new standard have been tested by CPSC.
To answer the question in the title of these four posts, Yes. Your mattress is likely to be soaked in one or more of those stuff, especially for memory foam one.
Federal regulators accept that there will be meaningful amount of those things getting into your body everyday from your mattress and they are toxic and known to cause harm. But they do not feel it is a big deal based on some arbitrarily determined “safe” limit. In addition, they do not want the consumers to raise questions so no label indicating the presence of flame retardant is on a mattress.
They also felt that the amount of stuff inside could be more, to further reduce fire hazard. They mandated it and the mattress industry complied.
As a result, people are unknowingly exposed to those flame retardant on daily basis.
What can you do, as a consumer?
One thing you can do is to call your congressman and senator’s office and demand mattress manufacturers label what they use in the mattress as flame retardant. Enough of us do it will make it happen, sooner or later.
Beside that, please visit the next post on “How to Reduce Your Exposure to Toxic Flame Retardant in Your Mattress” to find some suggestions on how to minimize flame retardant exposure with budget from zero to as much as it takes.
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