Utne Blogs > Environment

Counting My Chemical Sheep to Sleep

by Staff

Tags: environment, mattresses, chemicals, Mother Jones, Toxic Bedrooms,

There’s nothing like frightening news to ruin a good night’s sleep, especially if the news in question concerns the chemical components used in mattress production. You can’t count sheep if they’ve been vaporized in a cloud of carcinogenic fumes. And carcinogens, such as formaldehyde, are just one of the lovely chemicals that make up the beds we lie down in, according to a recent piece in Mother Jones (subscription required).

While long-term data about the general health risks of mattresses is lacking and difficult to acquire, a few particular brands seem notably questionable. For instance, Walter Bader, author of the book Toxic Bedrooms, had an Atlanta lab test a memory-foam mattress, which conforms to your resting position, and the results sniffed out 61 chemical emissions, including the “carcinogens benzene and naphthalene,” according to MoJo. Moreover, the chemicals, such as antimony oxide and, again, formaldehyde, used to ensure that mattresses are flame-retardant—federal regulations (pdf) require that mattresses resist catching fire from an open flame for 30 minutes—may pose, beyond cancer risks, allergic discomfort to those sensitive to chemicals.

Given the void of data, we should take this news with a measured acceptance. Still, some reliably harmless alternatives, produced with natural latex, organic cotton batting, and organic wool, exist for those seeking a safe mattress. If only beds could be made with the incredibly soft, imaginary wool from the sheep who lull you to sleep. But then the question becomes: Could you fall asleep to shorn sheep? That’d be weird. Forget I brought it up.

Michael Rowe