The use of flame retardants in mattresses has been a controversial topic for many years. Some argue that the chemicals used are dangerous and can potentially cause health problems, while others argue that the benefits of using flame retardants outweigh the risks.
As of December 2020, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) had received 128 complaints of fiberglass exposure in mattresses of various brands. This may be just the beginning, as many people may not be aware that they have been exposed or may not experience any symptoms. News media have also been reporting on a growing number of relevant health complaints. In one case investigated by the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) in 2021, a 6-year-old child was found to have persistent skin and respiratory irritation linked to the suspected leakage of fiberglass from a mattress purchased in 2018. The resulting clean-up of the home included disposal of the mattress, carpet, and clothing items from which the fiberglass fibers could not be removed by cleaning.
In recent years, public complaints have raised concerns that some mattresses in the current marketplace may be potential sources of airborne fiberglass. Although mattress foam is often marketed as chemical-free, their cover compositions are not as well understood by the general public. In order to fill these basic information gaps, three researchers at the California Department of Public Health published their findings in International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. The aim of this research was to fill basic information gaps about the physical/chemical nature of fibers in new mattress covers by analyzing four mattresses.
Researchers sampled and analyzed the covers of four newly purchased mattresses using polarized light microscopy, SEM-EDS, and FTIR microspectroscopy.
The findings revealed that two of the mattress covers contained over 50% fiberglass in their inner sock layers. Up to 1% of the fiberglass had migrated to adjacent fabric layers, representing a potential risk of consumer exposure if the zipper on the outer cover is opened. The observed fiberglass fragments had calculated aerodynamic diameters ranging between 30 and 50 µm, suggesting they are potentially inhalable into the nose, mouth, and throat, but are likely too large to penetrate deeper into the lungs.
No fiberglass was observed on the brand-new mattresses’ outer surfaces. Synthetic fibers also present in the sock layers were consistent with flame resistant modacrylic containing vinyl chloride and antimony.
Fiberglass and other chemicals used in mattress covers pose a potential health risk if these materials are not adequately contained. The apparent non-inclusion of mattress covers in chemical-free certifications suggests that further improvements are needed in mattress labeling and education of consumers.
CertiPUR-US is an industry-based certification program that designates foam products to be free of heavy metals, PBDEs, TDCPP or TCEP (“Tris”) flame retardants, as well as numerous flame-retardant additives. Consumers are likely to believe CertiPUR-US certified mattresses have undergone rigorous testing and are free of hazardous substances. However, the certification and testing do not appear to include the mattress covers.
In light of the potential health hazards posed by fiberglass and flame retardant chemicals in mattresses, it is important for consumers to be aware of the potential risks when making a purchase. It is also important for manufacturers to be forthcoming about the presence of these materials in their products, and to provide guidance on how to reduce potential exposure risks. While it is still unclear what the long-term health effects of exposure to fiberglass and flame retardant chemicals may be, it is important to take precautions to reduce exposure, especially for children and infants. Avoiding sleeping on mattresses that are known to contain these materials and ensuring that homes are well-ventilated to reduce the concentration of these particles in the air, are two simple steps that can be taken to reduce exposure.
Source: Wagner, J.; Fowles, J.; Barreau, T. Fiberglass and Other Flame-Resistant Fibers in Mattress Covers. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health2022, 19, 1695. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph19031695