I came across your [blog] while scouring the web for a healthy mattress. Our main problem is that we live in Canada, I love Canada, don't get me wrong, but everything organic here costs a fortune! Purchasing from the US means shipping, and customs fees, never mind if there is a problem with the product! I need to figure out what a healthy mattress is, and where I can get 2 twin mattresses for a reasonable price (really, I can't pay $800 for a mattress!) and hopefully in Canada or at least from somewhere where shipping won't cost a small fortune! I thought I found my answer with the Northern Naturals futon. It's a middle of the road mattress with "green" cotton, and boric acid. Then I found out boric acid is used as a bug poison... ewww! Besides, they don't ship mattresses to Canada. So I'm stuck. Baby #2 is on the way, and I need to get at least 1 mattress pronto! Any advice would be SO appreciated!
Mei Ling, Canada
I agree that the price of an organic mattress is tough to handle. But it's also sometimes easier to swallow the price up front, rather than try to wrap an existing mattress in barriers (these are also expensive and might not do the trick), or to try to "guess" which cheaper, non-organic mattresses might be healthy. Sadly this is a very gray area, and one I haven't quite cracked myself. Still, it's a worthwhile topic for all parents to consider as we all spend many hours a day pressed up against our mattresses, breathing in their contents.
I know you're in the market for a twin, but I'd like to use this opportunity to point out that organic crib mattresses cost in the $300 range, not $800. It makes so much more sense to drop money on one of these rather than all of the plastic gunk like diaper genies, baby swings, and electronic mobiles many parents-to-be think they need when expecting. Babies have very small lungs and are still developing so are more susceptible to toxins than adults. They also spend sometimes 15 or even 18 hours a day sleeping.
Back to your quest: A number of people looking for less-toxic but still inexpensive mattresses, especially in Canada, buy ones from IKEA's Sultan line of products. It is my understanding that IKEA prohibits the use of brominated flame retardants in all their furniture and mattresses. (This doesn't mean no flame retardants, just not brominated ones which is what you're probably looking to avoid.) In the United States (and, apparently, in the U.K.) there are laws requiring flame retardants in mattresses (and other upholstered furniture), so in these countries IKEA must comply.
As there are no standard labels on mattresses listing flame retardant chemicals, this information isn't easy to double check. It's not even readily available on IKEA's website. That said, if you call or email their customer service, they get back to you with this information directly. (I recently emailed them about glues in their particleboard and they got back to me in less than 4 hours).
You're not alone in your search. Several people are having this IKEA mattress discussion over at Debra Lynn Dadd's excellent site, www.dld123.com. A few of her readers have posted emails they received from IKEA on this subject. Here's one:
This email goes on to report that IKEA's permitted VOC emissions are based on (strict) German guidelines, arlyamines are banned, and phthalate plasticizers are banned from their mattress-foams. In addition, their mattress covering textiles are biocide-free (pentachlorophenol a.k.a. PCP, lindane, and tinorganic/organotin compounds are banned), and there are limits on formaldehyde.
"IKEA International made a voluntary decision to abstain from the use of brominated flame retardants and antimony-compounds in 1998. The phase-out of these chemicals was completed in 2002. Today, all textiles, mattresses and upholstered furniture sold by IKEA stores world-wide are free of PBDE and antimony compounds. In Canada, the SULTAN mattress series has not been treated with flame retardants. Only mattresses sold in countries where there is strict fire legislation, at this time, the United States and the United Kingdom, have been treated with organic phosphor or nitrogen-based flame retardants. In countries without fire safety regulations, IKEA's requirements are based on the Swedish, Norwegian and Finnish standards. IKEA ensures that these standards are met by choosing the right material for the product, by the design of the product, by good production control and by product testing."
Makes you want to run right out and get one, right? Not so fast.
Some of Dadd's other readers have attempted to find out exactly how Sultan beds meet Canada's own flammability standards for mattresses and have gotten no straight answer. As one pointed out, the inner liner of the Sultan mattress is supposedly 100 percent cotton and fire retardant. It's unclear how IKEA makes that happen. One email from IKEA even stated: "The IKEA product range is subjected to comprehensive tests and complies with the strictest applicable laws and safety standards, and we have detailed regulations on the use of chemicals and other substances in the manufacturing process. If one country tightens its rules, we introduce these new regulations on all IKEA markets, whenever possible."
As I said, the U.S. has very strict standards and I had thought our regulations weren't being imposed on all IKEA markets. I'd absolutely double check with IKEA before purchasing from them because their inventory does change frequently and there could be new lines that are now flame retardant free or others that now have something in them you might want to know about.
Meanwhile, about boric acid: this is another gray area. Yes, it is used as roach poison but mainly by people looking for natural pesticides. There are some out there that say it's highly toxic and others who deem it safe, or at least safer than other government-required flame retardants. A study done by Seattle, WA based Intertox, Inc. states that boric acid (aka Boron#10) is not toxic.
The lovely people over at HealthyChild.org say borate powder has "questionable toxicity" and recommend borate-free mattresses (i.e. organic ones). They also go on to point out, "By all means, borate powder is certainly less toxic than the typical chemical fire retardants added to ordinary mattresses." They've compiled a lot of information on boric acid, though all of it refers to its toxicity when used as a pesticide. I haven't yet figured out a way to link this info to the amount used or exposure level in mattresses. Has anyone else? Email me, I'd love to know.
A few highlights from Healthy Child I felt were worth sharing:
"Boron is a naturally-occurring element in the earth's crust and background levels even circulate in the human bloodstream. The EPA considers boric acid as a moderately acutely toxic due to acute effects including oral and dermal toxicity, and eye and skin irritation. The EPA has classified boric acid as a 'Group E' carcinogen, indicating that it shows 'evidence of noncarcinogenicity' for humans. In reproductive and developmental toxicity studies using rats, mice and rabbits, maternal liver and kidney effects and decreased weight gain as well as decreased fetal body weights were observed. In two studies, at the highest dose levels, no litters were produced. Prenatal mortality occurred at the highest dose levels in the rabbit study. Boric acid does not cause mutagenicity. Boric acid is practically nontoxic to birds, fish, aquatic invertebrates, and relatively nontoxic to beneficial insects. It's noncrop herbicidal use may harm endangered or threatened plants, and therefore EPA is requiring three phytotoxicity studies to assess these risks."
White Lotus Home is one company offering green (not organic) cotton futons that don't contain boric powder. In the U.S., you currently need a doctor's note to buy borate-free versions. They're not cheap. Check with them about Canada? While you're at it, another thing to think about is the layer of bedding that will be closest to the kids. Avoid permanent press sheets and go for organic cotton versions. Look into pure pillows and buy wool puddle pads instead of plastic or vinyl sheeting. All of these can be found at www.daxstores.com.
I wish I had a more black and white answer. All of this said, buying from America is probably less expensive now that our dollar is shot, no?
Hope this helps. Congrats on #2.
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