Is Your Mattress Making You Sick?

Dr. Doris J. Rapp, MD, board-certified as both an environmental medical specialist and pediatric allergist, discusses the dangerous chemicals that may be lurking inside your mattress.

Dr. Rapp is a homeopath and the author of the bestselling books Is This Your Child? and Is This Your Child’s World?. She has published 29 medical articles, eight chapters in medical texts, and 11 other books about allergy.

Dr. Rapp has also produced a number of educational videotapes that vividly demonstrate the dramatic physical and behavioral changes in children and adults that can be achieved using her method of allergy testing called Provocation/Neutralization.

To hear the entire expert interview, please join the Mercola Inner Circle.
Dr. Mercola's Comments:
As of July 1, 2007, all U.S. mattresses are required to be highly flame retardant, to the extent that they won’t catch on fire if exposed to a blow torch. This means that the manufacturers are dousing them with highly toxic flame-retardant chemicals like polybrominated diphenyl ether, better known as PBDE, which do NOT have to be disclosed in any way.

PBDEs, which have been banned in Canada, Europe and several states, build up in your body over time, and what you absorb or inhale does not go away. This is concerning not only because of the health problems PBDE is associated with (brain and reproductive damage, decreased sperm quality, thyroid problems and even cancer at high levels), but also because of how pervasive these chemicals have become.

PBDEs are not only in mattresses, they’re also in furniture and countless other household products. Not surprisingly, the chemicals are now showing up in breast milk, blood tests and even umbilical-cord blood and livers of fetuses.

Other flame-retardant chemicals currently approved for use in mattresses include:

• Boric acid, a toxic respiratory irritant used to kill roaches
• Antimony, a metal that may be more toxic than mercury
• Formaldehyde, which causes cancer

“They have maybe a cup and a half or two cups of this material on the mattress. They sprinkle it over the top or they put it into some kind of a coating on the mattress. And this can make people very, very ill,” Dr. Rapp says.

Think about it.

You spend from six to nine hours every night with your face in close proximity to your mattress, breathing in these chemicals. And if your children jump on the bed, or you bounce on your mattress, even more of these toxins can be released into the air.

What are the Risks of Sleeping on a Chemically Treated Mattress?

The Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) has tested the fire-retardant chemicals currently used in mattresses and found the risks to be “insignificant.”

However, they also found that the chemicals do, in fact, leach from the mattresses. A person sleeping on a chemically treated mattress will absorb .8 mg of antimony every night, an amount that is 27 times more than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says is safe.

Five-year-old children, meanwhile, will absorb .5 mg of antimony every night, according to CPSC, which is 63 times more than the EPA’s safety limit!

Given the fact that antimony accumulates in your body over time, this could clearly present a significant risk over time.

Meanwhile, the CPSC study did not include children under 5 in their study because crib mattresses are usually covered in vinyl, and it was assumed the chemicals would not pass through this material. European scientists, however, have found that antimony leaches through vinyl on crib mattresses and can be absorbed by infants. And this is not even including the toxic impact other toxic chemicals in mattresses, like boric acid and formaldehyde.

Aside from the chemical composition, you may also want to consider electromagnetics before you buy your mattress.

Is Your Mattress Magnetized?

The springs used to support your mattress can be magnetized, but sleeping on a mattress that has magnetized springs is not a good idea for your health. A simple way to confirm that the mattress you’re purchasing isn’t magnetized is to take a liquid-filled compass and move it over the entire surface of the mattress.

If the compass reading for the north pole is not deflected more than 10 degrees, then the likelihood of the springs being magnetized is pretty low.

Shopping for a Safe Mattress

This is not an easy task. Mattress manufacturers are not required to label or disclose which chemicals their mattresses contain. Further many state that their mattresses are free of toxic material, when in reality they are not.

One way to find a safe mattress is to have a doctor or chiropractor write you a prescription, and then find a manufacturer to make one for you. You can also search for 100% wool, toxin-free mattresses.

A second option that seems reliable is finding a mattress that uses a Kevlar, bullet-proof type of material in lieu of chemicals for fire-proofing. These are available in most big stores, and will help you to avoid some of the toxicity.

If cost is a concern, Dr. Rapp also suggests making your own mattress.

“You buy 100% organic cotton or flannel blankets. Sew them together at the end, just put them in cotton berry or cloth cover and you’ll have a mattress that’s relatively inexpensive,” she says.

If you already have a mattress at home, putting it into a waterproof mattress cover may also help to reduce your exposure to toxins.

Finally, if you would like to voice your opinion you can sign a petition from that is trying to get the laws allowing flame-retardant chemicals in mattresses overturned.

I recently needed to purchase a mattress and selected a Stearns and Foster mattress as when I discussed this issue with their chief engineer and requested to order a mattress produced without antimony or PBDEs, he explained to me that none of their mattresses had it.

Apparently they have developed a patented process that actually weaves Kevlar fibers (the material they make bullet-proof vests out of) into the mattress covering and this is sufficient to pass the fire safety standards. I am very happy with this mattress as it is FAR more comfortable than a number of the organic mattresses I had purchased in the past.

Interested in Provocation Neutralization Therapy?

We have been doing the provocation neutralization therapy that Dr. Rapp describes in our office for the last fifteen years and have had very good results with it.  You can contact our office for further information.