Organic Mattresses Vs. Flame Retardant Synthetic Ones
It’s not illegal to add flame retardant chemicals to mattresses. However, it does seem odd to use them on something we spend a third of our lives sleeping on.
This is where organic mattresses come in handy. Since we spend so much time in bed, we come into direct contact with chemicals used in synthetic mattresses, including fire retardants which we may breathe in.
The worst part is that manufacturers aren’t always obliged to mention whether their polyurethane foam mattresses have been sprayed with flame retardant.
So, which fire retardants are used in mattresses and what are the rules in Canada?
Are Fire Retardants Used in Mattresses Sold in Canada?
In Canada, mattresses are covered under Hazardous Products Regulations. Most mattresses are either petroleum-based or sprayed with flame retardant products. Some even emit VOCs (volatile organic compounds).
Health Canada’s fire safety standards require that all mattresses and futons sold in Canada must resist catching fire from a smouldering cigarette. Because the vast majority of mattresses are made from petroleum-based materials, they’re not naturally fireproof. So, in order to make these potential fuel sources fireproof, manufacturers apply fire retardants.
This is where things start to get sticky.
Flame Retardant Laws
Laws surrounding flame retardants were initially established to protect those who fall asleep while smoking, an action that could potentially burn down their house. Luckily, awareness of this problem has reduced it happening. However, houses catching fire from candles, lighters or other open flames remains an issue.
Most Commonly Used Flame Retardants
Flame retardants are not a single product but a title given to a number of products used to reduce the burn rate of furniture. Since flame retardants are basically a cocktail of chemicals, it’s natural to be concerned about their long-term health effects.
The most common types of flame retardants used in polyurethane foams (PUR) are TCPP (Tris (1chloro-2-propyl) phosphate) and TDCPP (Tris(1,3-dichloro-2-propyl)phosphate). With a registered volume under REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals) of 10,000-100,000 tonnes/year, TCPP is considered an all-round flame retardant for every type of PUR foam.
According to the Government of Canada website, “…[T]he use of TCPP in these products may pose a danger to the health of Canadians.”
The most commonly used class of flame retardants were brominated flame retardants (BFRs). These contained PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers), a group of highly persistent chemicals that bio-accumulate in the environment and food chain. PBDEs have been detected in household dust, human blood and breast milk. They are suspected hormone disruptors and may cause cancer, as well as reproductive and developmental disorders. North Americans have higher levels of PBDEs in their bodies than their counterparts in Europe, where some PBDEs have been banned.
Some mattress manufacturers voluntarily phased these out as more and more people become increasingly concerned about the long-term health impacts of these and similar chemicals. Companies that voluntarily removed PBDEs from their mattresses then began using TCEPs (chlorinated phosphate esters). These, too, are facing restrictions in the European Union.
So, how do you find a mattress that resists bursting into flames but isn’t dipped in a bath of chemicals? That depends on what you’re willing to spend.
Dormio Organic Beds sells latex mattresses made with 97% pure rubber tree milk stabilized with zinc oxide as its bonding agent. It’s covered with 100% certified organic cotton, with wool batting added for moisture control and its natural flame retardant properties. These mattresses start around $1,500 for a queen.
Wool has a unique structure where the scales get tangled with each other. This composition makes it highly resistant to burning. However, the fabric is breathable to keep you cool while you sleep.
Another popular option is the natural latex mattress made from the sap of the rubber tree. Synthetic latex mattresses are available as well, so you need to read the label to make sure the one you’re getting is completely organic. Natural latex resists flame, so there is no need to apply chemicals to make it flame-retardant.
Organic mattresses are safer and more comfortable than ordinary mattresses. They may cost you more but will better protect your health in the long run.