We spend about 25% of our lives sleeping, but how safe are the mattresses that we sleep on? Most Americans do not realize how quickly their mattress can go up in flames.
A five-year study from 2005-2009 by the National Fire Protection Association found that mattresses or bedding were the first item to ignite in about 10,260 home fires each year. These fires led to 371 deaths, 1,340 injuries, and cost $382 million in property damage. Typically there are about 50,000 home fires each year, making mattresses and bedding responsible for about 20% of these fires.
Smoking materials are the primary cause of mattress and bedding fires. Heat sources, candles, and lighters also caused a large portion of the fires.
About 85% of all fires in the bedroom result in death. These fires often begin small, but grow quickly. Deadly gases and carbon monoxide released into the air can kill more quickly than the fire itself.
The basic components of our mattresses are the best fuel for these fires. Polyurethane foam and memory foam, common mattress components, are derived from petroleum (used for gasoline) and are just as combustible. When ignited, polyurethane foam and memory foam can reach 1400 degrees within minutes.
Currently about 1.1billion pounds of flame-retardants are used every year on products for the United States. Flame-retardants are used on bedding, furniture, children’s toy sets, insulation, and on mattresses. But these chemicals themselves my pose more risk to people than the fires they are supposed to prevent. The Chicago Tribune investigated the effectiveness of flame-retardants and the composition of the chemicals used in these products.
The Tribune found that not only are flame-retardants are full of toxic chemicals that can cause serious lifelong injuries, but the chemicals do not offer the fire-protection manufacturers boast. Scare tactics and false anecdotal stories have allowed the flame-retardant industry to thrive.
Chemicals in flame-retardants can be inhaled as gas from some mattresses that “offgas”, be absorbed through the skin from direct contact, or inhaled from dust that has picked up traces of the chemicals.
We know that flame retardants are linked to health effects like memory and learning problems, thyroid disruption, headaches, delayed mental and physical development, reduced fertility, and cancer. But these chemicals have become so pervasive that they have reached every corner of the earth; a study of tree bark (tree bark is known to absorb chemicals in the atmosphere) of very remote trees in Tasmania found evidence of flame-retardants in every sample.
Chemicals from flame-retardants are also showing up in human fat, seminal fluid, and breast milk. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found that 97% of Americans had flame-retardants in their blood.
Recent studies of flame-retardants continue to find that they lack effectiveness.
Many consumers are not aware of the presence of flame-retardants in their mattresses. Mattress manufacturers regularly use “no flame retardants added” signs on their products, even though chemicals from flame-retardants are an integral part of the product. If the manufacturer received materials already doused in flame-retardants but didn’t add any more, they can claim, “none added”!
If mattresses are flammable and flame-retardants toxic, how do you stay safe? Most mattress-related fires can be prevented by using precaution and by keeping heated items, including cigarettes, vapes, candles, and heating units away from the bed. Buy natural mattresses without chemicals, and research the materials used to make a mattress before you consider buying it.