Posts Tagged ‘polyurethane foam’

Flame Retardants, Polyurethane Foam and Flashover

Thursday, May 1st, 2014

The Risks

There’s a lot of discussion over health concerns associated with chemical flame retardants, particularly those found in mattresses and furniture. One of the most common classes of flame retardants, polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), which was widely used for decades before the environmental community focused attention on it, and pressured manufacturers to stop, has been linked to an unsettling smorgasbord of issues including thyroid disruption, developmental issues in children, memory and cognitive problems, lower IQ and reduced fertility.

Studies of other flame retardants are seeing links to cancer. Groups representing firefighters in various states are raising concerns about the toxicity of flame retardants, arguing they increase the risks for cancer in first responders while doing little to retard fires.

So with these types of risks, why in the world are chemical flame retardants so prevalent?

The question lies less with the flame retardants themselves and more with the polyurethane foam in the furniture and mattresses.

Then vs. Now

Travel in time to a living room in 1940s America. The cushioning materials in the furniture include natural materials ranging from cotton, excelsior (wood shavings), down and horse hair.

Image from a magazine ad from 1955 - things were a little bit different

Image from a magazine ad from 1955 – things were a little bit different

Now today. Couches, chairs, crib mattresses, changing pads, and adult mattresses (including memory foam ones), are often filled with polyurethane foam, an intensely flammable material.

Flame retardants are used in an attempt to offset the stored energy in polyurethane foam, although their effectiveness is questionable, as you’ll see

Flashover

A “flashover” is the point in a house fire when an entire room self-ignites as a result of the heat caused by a fire.

Watch the eye-opening video above made by the National Institute of Standards and Testing. A room furnished with the typical synthetic fabrics and polyurethane foam cushioning of today reaches flashover in an astonishing three minutes and forty seconds!  Comparatively, a room furnished with items as would be found in a 1950s or so house takes almost a half hour.

The vintage materials burn, but without the rapid heat release of the polyurethane foam, which has been called “solid gasoline” by the National Association of State Fire Marshals. In fact, burning untreated polyurethane foam can reach temperatures of 1,400 degrees Fahrenheit in only minutes! That incredible heat release leads to an incredibly rapid flashover.

While other materials in the room contributed, the immense impact of polyurethane foam can’t be overstated.

Where There Is Smoke

You probably also notice the billowing black smoke from the fire. As mentioned earlier, firefighters have become increasingly concerned about the inhalation of carcinogenic flame retardants found in the smoke and increased cancer rates in firefighters.

Beyond the risk of flame retardants, though, is the risk of the deadly and debilitating hydrogen cyanide gas released from burning polyurethane foam. Inhaled hydrogen cyanide quickly leads to confusion, unconsciousness and death. Hydrogen cyanide is the gas used in the 1995 Tokyo subway attack and was implicated in the deadly concert fire in Rhode Island in 2003.

Highly Flammable Materials Require Flame Retardant Chemicals

When looking at the materials in your next mattress for you or your children, consider not only the materials in the mattress, but the flame retardant chemicals those materials demand. When buying a mattress, remember the 3 minute 40 second marker on the video.

Naturepedic Mattresses Contain No Flame Retardant Chemicals

Naturepedic organic mattresses do not require flame retardant chemicals to pass government flammability standards. We begin by using less flammable materials in the first place. Simply put: polyurethane foam requires chemical flame retardants, and we never use polyurethane foam.

 

 

When Does “No Flame Retardants” NOT Actually Mean “No Flame Retardants”?

Tuesday, April 1st, 2014

 

Many commonly used flame retardant chemicals are being connected to health and developmental issues.  Want a mattress without flame retardant chemicals?  Get a certified organic mattress.  Otherwise, flame retardants will probably be in that mattress, even if greenwashing marketing suggests otherwise, and you’re going to need to guess what they are.

It's not easy to find out what flame retardants are in your mattress

It’s not easy to find out what flame retardants are in your mattress

Let me explain with a little compare and contrast.

We say “Naturepedic mattresses meet all government flammability standards without flame barriers and other flame retardant chemicals.”

So why don’t we shorten that to “No flame retardants added” and call it a day?  That would mean the same thing, right?

Wrong.

Sure, when WE talk about not using flame retardants, we actually mean what we say.  We mean these chemicals are not in our mattress. Anywhere.

This straight-forward approach is not the case with most mattresses, however.  The loophole occurs with synthetic fabrics.

Now if a mattress maker would take a finished mattress and spray it with flame retardants, the mattress would have a flame retardant “added”.

If the mattress, however, includes synthetic fabrics originally manufactured with flame retardant chemicals, this is different.  Why?  Because the flame retardant chemicals are considered an integral or constituent part of the fabric.  These fabrics can be on the outside of the mattress or in flame barriers on the inside.  Regardless, the mattress maker can state, “No flame retardant chemicals added.”

But, you say, those chemicals are IN the mattress!

Yes, but the chemicals were integral to the flame barriers or fabric from the beginning. The greenwashing trick lies in the word added.  The chemicals weren’t added to the mattress!

Even worse?  These chemicals inserted into the fabric will likely not be disclosed to the consumer, so if you want to know the flame retardant used, you’ll probably need to guess.Flame retardants

Understand, this deceptive practice is not illegal.  I would argue immoral, but not illegal.

Who needs it?

But, you ask, why do manufacturers add (regardless of how it’s “added”) flame retardants into mattresses to begin with?  Who needs it?  Well, here is the bottom line – if you didn’t fill the mattress with highly flammable materials, then, in fact, you don’t need flame retardant chemicals!

But most mattresses are filled – to one degree or another – with polyurethane foam, which is a highly flammable material.  Some manufacturers add some soybean oil or castor oil and call the fill “soybean foam” or “eco-foam” or similar, but it’s still basically polyurethane foam.  And, when ignited, it can reach temperatures of 1400 degrees within minutes.

The only practical way to avoid flame retardant chemicals is to use certified organic products to ensure these chemicals have not been worked into fabrics and barriers.  Organic certification requires a level of disclosure that just doesn’t currently exist for fabrics.

Otherwise, you’re left guessing what flame retardants are in your mattress, and your health shouldn’t be left to guesswork.

 

 

Still Considering A Polyurethane Foam Crib Mattress? Here’s Dr. Greene’s Advice.

Thursday, December 16th, 2010


baby sleeping on chemicals?Unless we bury our head in research papers, it’s sometimes difficult to find the information we need on which chemicals are safe for our babies and which aren’t. So, we take the advice of experts. One such expert is Dr. Greene, a pediatrician who has had an online presence since 1995. His mission: “To improve children’s health by informing and inspiring those who care for them. By providing information, wisdom, and perspective, we strive to prepare parents to become knowledgeable partners who can work with their children’s physicians in a new and rich way.”

On June 1, 2010, Dr. Greene appeared on the ABC News Now Program, Parenting with Ann Pleshette Murphy. Here is Dr. Greene’s explanation of why polyurethane foam is not the best choice for a crib mattress or, for that matter, anyone’s mattress.

“Kids spend 93% of their childhood indoors these days, and indoor air is 2 to 5 times worse than outdoor air on average in terms of toxins. If I were to pick one green purchase to make, one big organic purchase to make, I would pick a mattress for your baby – because the conventional mattresses are often made with polyurethane foam, which is like frozen petroleum, solid petroleum. And you can smell the gasoline fumes right above it. Because of that they have to put all the chemical flame retardants on it otherwise it would be explosive. And there’s a little gas cloud of that on top. Then the whole thing is wrapped in vinyl with PVC and phthalates in there. So for about six inches or so above the mattresses there’s this cloud of chemicals. And babies are small. They’re right there 12 hours out of the day often. Naturepedic makes organic and all natural mattresses without all the chemicals that are there. It’s smart for all of us. None of these are things people should panic about but it’s just making smart choices. It tilts the odds in favor of health.”

That’s pretty clear.

In this TV interview, Dr. Greene also gives helpful information on other children’s products that contain toxic chemicals and which brands you can use to replace them.

Check it out!