Crib mattresses release potentially harmful chemicals, study finds

During sleep, infants are exposed to high levels of chemicals emitted by their crib mattresses, a new study has found.

In an analysis of 20 new and old crib mattresses containing polyurethane foam and polyester foam padding, a team of environmental engineers from the University of Texas at Austin found that the mattresses release significant amounts of volatile organic compounds (VOCs)— potentially harmful chemicals also found in household cleaning and consumer products.

Infants are considered to be highly susceptible to the effects of these indoor air pollutants.

“I wanted to know more about the chemicals they may inhale as they sleep during their early stages of development,” study author Brandon Boor, a graduate student in the school’s department of civil, architectural and environmental engineering, said in a press release. “This research also helps to raise awareness about the various chemicals that may be found in crib mattresses, which are not typically listed by manufacturers.”

Researchers identified more than 30 VOCs in the mattresses and found that new crib mattresses release about four times as many VOCs as old mattresses. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, there is currently little known about the health effects of VOCs found in homes.

Among the findings, VOC levels were significantly higher in a sleeping infant’s breathing zone when compared with air in the room – meaning infants were exposed to twice as many VOC levels in their cribs as people standing in the same room. Additionally, infants inhale significantly higher air volume per body weight than adults and sleep approximately 50 to 60 percent of their day, so they experience about 10 times as much VOC inhalation exposure as adults who are exposed to the same levels.
“Our findings suggest the re-use of an older crib or an extended airing-out period may help reduce infant VOC exposures,” said study supervisor and assistant professor Ying Xu. However, researchers pointed out that older mattresses may contain other harmful chemicals now banned in mattress foams, such as flame retardants.

Given the results of their research, the study authors argued that a better understanding of an individual’s sleeping environment can be beneficial for the health of infants and adults alike.

“We need to better understand the complex sleep microenvironment to improve it and reduce the harmful effects of related pollutants on infants,” said Richard Corsi, chair of the department of civil, architectural and environmental engineering.

The research was published in the February issue of Environmental Science & Technology.

Click for more from The University of Texas at Austin.