Posts Tagged ‘safety’

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.

 

 

Flame Retardant Soup

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014

Do you like soup?

I do. You can put all kinds of vegetable and spices into soup.

When I make soup my kids ask, “What’s in it?” to find out if I’ve added a veggie they’ve identified as one they don’t want.  My youngest has dug in his heels against broccoli and the older one against mushrooms.

They ask because they can’t tell if the offending food is in there.  Do I always tell? No. I sometimes sneak those veggies past them.

Synthetic mattress fabrics can be a toxic soup

Synthetic fabrics can sometimes be a toxic soup

Not too many parents will fault me for my sneakiness. If, however, I was intentionally sneaking really, really unhealthy, even dangerous, ingredients in that soup, opinions would be different.

Synthetic fibers are in one way a lot like soup. A manufacturer can put all types of different ingredients in there and the consumer is probably not going to know.

Take polyester. There are different formulations for polyester just like there are different ways to make vegetable soup. When polyester is being mixed, the manufacturer can add chemicals to change the texture or chemicals to change the sheen.

They can even add flame retardant chemicals implicated as potential causes of cancer / other health problems or learning disabilities.  Flame retardants like chlorinated tris, banned from children’s pajamas in the 1970s due to concerns about genetic mutations but still in many products today.

Even if an added chemical would be restricted (out of more than 80,000 chemicals, the EPA has only restricted six in the past 35 years, and of those a ban on asbestos was overturned!), manufacturers can tweak the formula to form a new, although not necessarily safer, chemical, and again, in it can go. The vast majority of chemicals used in fabrics are untested regarding health.

I’m not picking on polyester. Any synthetic fabric mixed in batches can have undesirable chemicals in the mix.  These chemicals for the most part do not need to be disclosed to a consumer and are virtually unregulated. In fact, if a flame retardant chemical was added to a synthetic fiber as it was being manufactured, a furniture or mattress maker using that fabric can claim NO FLAME RETARDANTS ADDED.  I’m not kidding.

While California is pushing forward with stronger chemical regulations, even if select chemicals do get banned, it will be years before they realistically are out of products, and, as mentioned earlier, other types of similar chemicals not banned could then be legally used.

The bottom line is how much do you want to risk? Because chemicals in fabrics are undisclosed, a consumer has little choice to pick and choose what chemicals are okay and what are not.

At least in mattresses there is a way of avoiding them altogether. A natural fabric like cotton is not a synthetic mix but grown, so it cannot have chemicals added during a manufacturing process. By selecting certified organic mattresses like we sell you can avoid unwanted chemicals being topically added to a fabric. (Unfortunately, non-certified organic products can still sometimes have those chemicals added.)

When Naturepedic formed eleven years ago, we began making organic mattresses not simply to be organic, but because organic was one of the best, most effective vehicles to get to healthier products. By using certified organic materials, we were able let the consumer know what is in their product, without guesswork or games.

Unless you can truly know the chemicals used in synthetic fabrics, the most effective way to avoid them is to select certified organic products.

Otherwise, you just don’t know what chemicals are being added to the “soup.”

 

Naturepedic Goes to Washington for TSCA Reform

Thursday, March 20th, 2014

 

The energy is building to remove harmful chemicals from everyday products, and last week you showed your enthusiasm.

On Wednesday, March 12, Naturepedic founder Barry A. Cik testified before a Congressional subcommittee in Washington, D.C. The hearing concerned potential reform to the outdated and ineffective Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA), originally created to regulate chemicals for consumer products.

At the hearing were key House representatives making up the Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy. This was a powerful audience who can seriously promote, or hinder, needed chemical reform. The hearing specifically examined Chairman John Shimkus’ proposed Chemicals in Commerce Act (CICA).

Barry spoke ardently on behalf of Naturepedic as well as the American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC) and its advocacy campaign the Companies for Safer Chemicals coalition. Urging greater transparency for chemical use and the ability for government to actually remove toxic chemicals from products, Barry told how chemicals are largely unregulated today. His testimony asked lawmakers to particularly consider implications for children.

Throughout the hearing, you lit up the social media world with your comments and support, with many of you retweeting our updates with hashtags #KickTSCA and #RealReform. We could feel the momentum!

We know Barry made a positive impact and were proud to watch him vocally stand behind our beliefs in front of key legislators. We hope legislators will move forward and do the right thing in better protecting the health of our families.

The discussion and dynamism from you, however, shows you are ready for change and transparency regarding chemicals.

Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who wished us support and encouragement! We appreciate it deeply, and promise to continue working to earn and keep your trust.

 

See Barry Cik, founder of Naturepedic, passionately fight for you and your family: mins. 29:20 – 35:50

Don’t let the momentum stop now! Tell your congressperson you demand real TSCA reform.     Click here to sign an online letter from Safer Chemicals Healthy Families.