New law requires dangerous chemicals in mattresses—part 1

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Thinking of buying a new mattress? You’d better watch out! As of July 1, a new regulation of the Consumer Product Safety Commission took effect, requiring that certain flame-retardant substances be used to treat all mattresses. But, as a concerned businessman who’s been researching the requirements found out, the chemicals used to comply with that law are deadly and might even kill you!

A few stories have surfaced about the looming danger. The Washington Post reported: “Serta, the second-largest U.S. manufacturer, has been using a fire-blocking system on all its products since January [2005] that uses a blend of natural and synthetic fibers as well as chemicals. Al Klancnik, Serta group vice president, vouched for the safety of the chemicals…

“‘There is an infinitesimal level of boric acid [roach killer] available on the surface of mattresses,’ he said.

“Whitney Davis, an attorney who used to sue manufacturers over injuries to children from mattress fires, petitioned the CPSC for the rule and pushed for the California standard. He said he would like the final rule to require labels disclosing the content of the fire-resistant material because he thinks some manufacturers, and importers, may use unsafe chemical treatments.”

On his own, Davis bought mattresses from all the major brands and paid a laboratory to analyze the chemicals used for flameproofing. The results scared him so that he staged an event called the “Sacramento Tea Party” on the steps of the California capitol. In the press release he sent announcing the event, he stated: “The Problem: the only chemicals they can use to achieve compliance are listed as toxic to humans by the EPA.” In a San Francisco Chronicle article on the issue, Whitney Davis is quoted as saying, “You don’t know until 10 years down the road and there’s a problem,” he said. “We feel responsible.”

One manufacturer was concerned enough to attend the event. Mark Strobel, president of Strobel Manufacturing, reported, “… no journalists cared. The only one that showed up was a local TV station who ran a short clip on the local evening news… [Mr. Davis] said he did not design the severe open flame test, and he does not like boric acid [roach killer] either.”

CPSC study claims no safety risk

Although the CPSC and the mattress industry claim this chemical use is safe (“insignificant risk” or “not an appreciable risk”), results indicate just the opposite. Children younger than 5 years were not part of the study. Chemicals used to flameproof mattresses include: boric acid (roach killer), antimony (arsenic), silicon, fiberglass, decabromodiphenyl oxide (DBDPO), ammonium polyphosphate, melamine and formaldehyde.

Government documents state: “CPSC staff has chosen to examine older children (5-year-olds) because younger children’s mattresses are more likely to be waterproofed due to their higher likelihood of bedwetting. This waterproofing… is expected to reduce contact with FR chemicals.”

Strobel refutes this argument, saying, “Only 20 percent of young children have bedwetting problems… a proper risk assessment must consider young children. It is outrageous they excluded them, especially when crib mattresses must also be flameproof and contain boric acid and antimony, and we know European scientists proved antimony leaches through vinyl on crib mattresses and linked it to SIDS.”

The CPSC studied only three of the eight chemicals used to flameproof mattresses. But of those, Strobel notes that the CPSC predicts we will absorb .802 mg antimony, .081 mg boric acid, and .073 mg DBDPO from flameproof mattresses every night. (Even .8 mg of antimony is 27 times more than the EPA says is safe.)

Referring to the study, the CPSC stated, “As with any risk assessment, there are assumptions, limitations and sources of uncertainty… Risk assessment is an iterative process. Data on carcinogenicity, developmental and reproductive toxicity, or neurotoxicity were not available for all chemicals. Furthermore, it should be noted that percutaneous [skin] absorption data were not available for antimony.” Strobel’s comment: “They are guessing with the safety of 300 million people.”

Quotes from the comments of the independent reviewer and the CPSC answers: (ADI is Acceptable Daily Intake.)

“Comment 12a. Derivation of the ADI for decabromodiphenyl oxide (DBDPO) should consider new studies. [CPSC assumption of ADI is 320 times more than the EPA.]

“Comment 12b. The possible carcinogenicity of DBDPO should be discussed. Answer: CPSC staff previously determined that DBDPO is a possible carcinogen.” (DBDPO was recently banned in two states, and Illinois is considering it.)

When the independent reviewer pressed them on the cancer risks of antimony, the CPSC admitted: “The cancer effects are cumulative. Every exposure contributes to the overall lifetime risk of developing cancer.”

To be continued

from the Oct. 3, 2007, issue

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