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Mattresses emit higher levels of potentially dangerous chemicals while consumers sleep

The risk could be greater for young children, a study suggests

Photo (c) bukharova - Getty Images
Most consumers think of pesticides or cleaning products when it comes to household items that emit chemicals, and now a new study could have them looking at their mattresses differently. 

After a study that evaluated various household products that emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs), researchers from the American Chemical Society found that mattresses could contain chemicals that pose serious health risks, particularly for children. 

Knowing what you’re sleeping with 

To determine how VOCs are emitted from mattresses, the researchers analyzed eight different types that ranged in size to fit infants, toddlers, and children. 

The researchers determined that the gases emitted from mattresses affect the body differently because when sleeping, our faces are much closer to the material of the mattress, and we can breathe in more of the compounds. 

All of the mattresses used in the study were polyurethane, and the researchers put pieces of the test subjects into a flow chamber to measure the exact VOC levels being emitted during the night. 

The study revealed that when body heat increases, which is typical during sleep, higher levels of VOCs were emitted. However, of the eight mattresses tested, no one stood out as emitting any more than the others. 

Higher risk for children

VOCs are a risk to consumers because breathing them in can cause headaches, irritation of the skin, eyes, or throat, and sometimes cancer. 

After testing each of the mattresses, the researchers determined that consumers shouldn’t be concerned about their mattresses increasing their risk of developing cancer, as the VOC levels weren’t that high. However, the levels of the chemicals were high enough for parents to be concerned about their young children, as children can be affected by the emissions differently than adults. 

Though not an immediate hazard, the researchers hope to expand their research in this area to determine the long-lasting effects of inhaling VOCs. 

Steering clear of VOC emissions

Researchers recently determined that consumer products contribute nearly as much to air pollution as cars, with household cleaners, soaps, and cosmetics emitting high fume levels. 

Breathing in high amounts of VOCs can cause cancer, which is why nail salon workers -- who are frequently inhaling chemicals like formaldehyde, benzene, xylene, toluene, and ethylbenzene -- are at an increased risk of developing the disease.

“The study provides some of the first hard evidence that these environments are dangerous for workers and that better policies need to be enacted to protect them,” said researcher Lupita Montoya.

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