What chemicals are hiding in your mattress?

ABC7 I-Team Investigation

ByJason Knowles and Ann Pistone via WLS logo
Monday, July 6, 2015
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The ABC7 I-Team looked into concerns about the chemicals in mattresses.

LaGRANGE, Ill. (WLS) -- Industry spokespeople say materials used in mattresses pose no risk to consumers, but the ABC7 I- Team found government agencies are re-evaluating the materials in your mattress.

You spend one-third of your life on your mattress. But federal law doesn't require manufacturers to list what chemicals may be in it, like boric acid, antimony and polyurethane foam. Some are used to hold the mattress together, others could be used to help repel fire.

Law does not require chemical flame retardants be used in mattresses, however, they must withstand rigorous, open flame testing. Most mattresses use a barrier of special fibers - some may be reinforced with chemicals.

"There are about 80,000 chemicals being used in products we use in chemicals every day," said Sen. Dick Durbin.

Durbin is studying a bill that could limit the chemicals used in furniture and mattresses - it's a revamp of a 1976 law critics call ineffective. Companies are currently not required to prove a chemical's safety or impact on health.

"Whether it is your pillow or mattress, there are some basic questions that should be answered - just how clean is it? How safe is it? And some of the chemicals that are supposed to keep us safe, in fact, just may do the opposite," Durbin said.

Spokespeople from the International Sleep Products Association say a 2006 analysis done by the Consumer Product Safety Commission found flame retardant barriers and chemicals used in mattresses were "...not expected to present any appreciable risk of health effects to consumers..."

"Our objective here is to produce a product that will give consumers a safe and restful night sleep and we want to work with the agency to make sure that happens," said Ryan Trainer, International Sleep Products Association.

The president of the ISPA says the industry supports "toxic reform" but also maintains that current materials are safe.

ABC7's Jason Knowles: "Are there too many chemicals in mattresses?"

"Well I am not in a position, I am not a chemist, but the world is full of chemicals, water is a chemical," Trainer said.

But the National Institutes of Health tells the I-Team it is doing research on chemicals in mattresses and furniture. The Consumer Product Safety Commission also says it's studying potential effects. Even now, the CPSC says it strongly discourages the use of all chemical flame retardants, which the organization says have been found to be ineffective.

The American Chemistry Council says all chemicals are safe - subject to review by the EPA and they "... are used in products that help make modern life possible... " and that they "...can stop or delay the spread of fire and help save lives..."

Tim Masters says his 8-year-old daughter Emily had eczema and allergies, so he started making organic mattresses at his mattress store in west suburban LaGrange.

"What we are building here is a pocketed-coil spring mattress with organic cotton," said Masters, of My Green Mattress.

"I really had a lot of allergies and I had a hard time but once I got the mattress, I felt a lot better," said Masters' daughter.

Masters says with the right type of stitching, he can create a naturally fire retardant mattress without any chemicals.

"Now we use a lot of natural wool in a lot of our products. Wool is a natural fire barrier. Years ago firemen's coats were made out of wool. It's a nice natural alternative," Masters said.

California leads the nation in laws that discourage manufacturers from using flame retardant chemicals and requiring manufacturers to include labels listing chemicals - but that does not include mattresses, only other furniture which uses a different flame retardant process.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission says it's currently is conducting a mattress-specific research project.