Does the Risk outweigh the benefit?

July 1, 2007 it the final deadline for compliance with the new national fireproof mattress regulation. While the regulation has good intentions it creates a new health risk.

The Risk: It requires known acutely toxic and cancer causing chemicals in to be used in the surface of new mattresses to pass the two-foot wide blowtorch open flame test, and it is proven we will absorb theses toxins, to avoid a one in 1.111 million mattress fire risk.

We have made toxic mistakes in the past. In 1973 we banned PCB flame retardants after finding harm, then we banned TRIS flame retardants, then we found Asbestos, primarily used for its fireproof properties, had done great human damage, and in 2003 we banned PBDE flame retardants. Initially we thought all these flame retardant chemicals were nontoxic only to years later find great human harm.

In 2003 several independent studies found PBDE flame retardants in American women’s breast milk in growing and alarming quantities, at levels 10 to 20 times those found in European women. It is not known exactly how these chemicals enter the body. It is known they have been widely used in mattresses for many years and some suspect this is a probable source. But "this is another wake-up call," says Linda Birnbaum, director of the Environmental Protection Agency's experimental toxicology lab. Levels of PBDEs in humans are doubling every two to five years, she says. One of the studies authors, Arnold Schecter, professor of environmental sciences, says "These are our babies. Do we want them to be dumber than we are because their brains are being attacked by these toxic chemicals?"

Unlike the flame retardant chemicals now banned that we initially thought were non toxic, we already know the chemicals used to make mattresses flame proof are acutely toxic and cancer causing.

“Though the USA has the world's toughest flame retardancy standards, 3,000 people die in fires each year. The Chemical Manufacturers Association estimates the number would be up to 960 higher without such flame retardants.” The USA currently uses 1.2 Billion pounds of flame retardant chemicals each year. This is four pounds of chemical every year for every man, woman, and child in the USA. Some say greater use of smoke detectors would save half of all fire deaths.

For comparison to other American risks the National Safety Council says, 6,091 die as pedestrians, 16,337 die as car occupants, and 17,550 die from “Accidental poisoning by and exposure to noxious substances.”

Many doctors say there is insufficient science to justify this use of toxic flame retardant chemicals in mattresses, and that their use is unsafe in this application.

Dr Lawrence A. Plumlee, MD of the Chemical Sensitivity Disorders Association in Dallas says “The benefits do not outweigh the risks. I know many chemically sensitive people who do not tolerate treated mattresses. And how many are intolerant who don't know why they can't sleep or feel bad?


Dr. Alan D. Liberman, M.D., F.A.A.E.M., says: “We live in a very technologically advanced world, which advocates the advantages of these technologies but rarely ever considers the disadvantages or potential harm. It seems ill advised to expose hundreds of millions of people to a potential health hazard in order to protect a very few. …. I am absolutely opposed to adding the proposed toxic chemicals to mattresses.

Dr. Margo Mayer-Proschel, a professor and researcher at the University of Rochester School of Medicine, says, “After doing my own literature research it is quite incredible that law makers are willing to risk the health of millions of people. According to available scientific data it is NOT clear whether the levels of chemicals one is exposed to on a chronic basis by sleeping on treated mattresses is safe, especially for children and pregnant women. I have yet to find a single scientific study that supports the use of these chemical in mattresses and labels them as "safe". It is another example of ignorance beyond reason and one begins to questions the true motivation of the individuals pushing for a national law to include these chemical in all mattresses. Maybe one should start to ask who would financially benefit from such a law to get the true motivation?

The innerspring mattress manufacturer’s association, International Sleep Products Association (ISPA) supported both the California fireproof bed law that became effective on January 1, 2005, and the new national fireproof mattress regulation passed by the US Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) by a 3-0 vote of the commissioners in February 2006.

Mark Strobel, President and owner of Strobel Technologies, a specialty mattress manufacturer says he called the president of the mattress manufacturers association and asked what ISPA was doing to fight the pending California law? The ISPA president replied, “Nothing, the members support the new law, and in fact ISPA went to the CPSC and asked for the same regulation nationwide. Strobel says he was shocked, why would an industry ask for more regulation? In an effort to get Strobel on his side ISPA told him “It would help keep the imports out.” While Strobel is no fan of imports either, he says he quickly realized it had many more benefits for the large mattress manufacturers and was not about fire safety.

Strobel says it becomes clear that all the manufacturers costs would go up equally since they all had to comply, and that they would simply raise prices and make more money on the same number of units sold, and the testing and compliance costs would drive most of the small competitors out of business, plus help keep imports out. There are about 550 mattress manufacturers in the US and the top 15 control about 85% of the market. The new fireproof bed regulation would help the big boys get rid of many small pesky competitors, most of whom are small factory directs who make mattresses out of the back room and sell wholesale to the public through a storefront. Thus it would be a Win-Win-Win for the big manufacturers, and not at all about caring for people with fire safety.

After the conversation with ISPA and not being able to find a nontoxic system to fire proof his mattresses, Strobel says he decided to fight the new regulation. He put up the website and generated 800 doctor and public comments against the new regulation, when the CPSC only gets about 20 on most new rules. Strobel got news in many newspapers across the country from the San Francisco Chronicle to the Washington Post, and some radio and TV coverage. But it was not enough and the regulation still passed.

There is an exception in the law that allows Physicians including Osteopaths and Chiropractors that allows them to prescribe clean mattresses free of the toxins required by the regulation. Strobel says all he can do now is offer prescription beds free of toxic chemicals, which he does through Chiropractors, dealers, and

The CPSC worked on this regulation for more than eight years and had good intentions. They hope to save up to 270 people from fire annually after all existing mattresses are replaced. They are also proud of the new regulation as it is the first major rule ever passed in the small agency’s history. A major rule is one that will cost consumers more than 100 million dollars annually. The CPSC says it will cost 1.11 Billion. The regulation also limits liability for mattress manufacturers and requires the full name and address of the foreign manufacturer to be placed on the mattress for imported mattresses. The official statements from the CPSC say there are numerous choices available to mattress manufactures to meet the regulation that do not pose an appreciable health risk to consumers. There are no labeling requirements for the chemicals used to flame proof mattresses and manufacturers are free to choose any untested chemicals they wish to pass the open flame test of the regulation.

The CPSC did internal tests to measure the chemicals contained in fire proof mattresses, and they measured the amounts of Toxic chemicals that leach from mattresses and contact our bodies. Then two CPSC employees generated an internal risk assessment to determine the amounts of toxic chemicals we are likely to absorb nightly. The CPSC report predicts the average person will absorb .081 mg Boric Acid, .073 mg DBDPO, and .802 mg Antimony, every night. Their report concludes this amount of poison absorption is safe for everyone, except children under age five who they excluded from their analysis. They excluded these young children by assuming all these children will sleep on vinyl sheets due to bed wetting problems, and that this will protect them from the toxic chemicals in their mattress.

Strobel says a short review of the short CPSC risk assessment shows a number of problem, errors and omission, and that it seems clear the risk assessment was agenda driven to reach a preexisting conclusion.

First, he says, they underestimated the amount of toxic chemicals we will absorb, and overestimated the amount that is safe to absorb. Quoting the CPSC risk assessment: “As with any risk assessment, there are assumptions, limitations, and sources of uncertainty. … Data on carcinogenicity, developmental and reproductive toxicity, or neurotoxicity were not available for all chemicals. Furthermore, it should be noted that percutaneous [skin] absorption data were not available for antimony.” Without comparable skin absorption data they assumed we will absorb only 1/10,000’s of the Boric Acid, 1/1,000’s of the DBDPO (Deca), and 2/1,000’s of the Antimony, that contacts our bodies. We know from other research that one to four skin applications of Antimony Trioxide, the exact form used in mattresses, kills rabbits. And we know small patches are used to give medications through our skin. Thus, it seems likely we will actually absorb much more poison than they predict.

An independent review of the CPSC risk assessment is required by law and the reviewer complained about many things being wrong with the risk assessment. The CPSC simply rebutted the reviewers’ recommendations and made no changes. Two of the reviewers’ strongest complaints were that the CPSC assumptions of safe levels of toxin absorption do not agree with other government agencies, and that they changed the rules of the National Academes of Sciences “Child Sucking Test” and then did not even apply it to one year old children that the test was designed to protect.

For instance, for Antimony the CPSC assumed it is safe to absorb 166 mg per day. We know Antimony is an ancient poison as potent as Arsenic. A college chemistry textbook will tell you Antimony is a heavy metal similar to mercury and lead, and that Antimony is almost identical to Arsenic, with the only difference in its behavior being accounted for by the fact that Antimony is slightly more metallic than Arsenic. We know Antimony accumulates in the body and also causes cancer.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, a division of our Center for Disease Control, says they can not determine a safe level for Antimony absorption because even at the lowest levels tested there were serious harmful health effects.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says it is safe to absorb only .03 mg of Antimony per day. The CPSC says we will absorb .8 mg every day from our flameproof mattresses even with their low skin absorption assumptions. This shows mattresses are toxic by 27 times the safe level, and we will likely absorb much more than they predict.

The CPSC changed the rules of the “Child Sucking Test” and then did not even apply it to young children. Strobel says his calculations show Boric Acid mattresses would clearly fail this test.

There are many other errors and omissions in the CPSC risk assessment. A notable one is that they did not test for formaldehyde content or release. In the CPSC table 1 that shows the percentage of toxic chemicals in fireproof mattresses they show Melamine Resin systems and test for Melamine release. In a 2004 CPSC document the same authors of the 2006 risk assessment talk about formaldehyde. They say Melamine Resin systems are made from the reaction of Melamine and Formaldehyde and know these systems contain Formaldehyde. They also know Formaldehyde causes cancer. These same authors say “Data are needed to determine the conditions for, and potential releases of, formaldehyde from barriers made with melamine/formaldehyde resin fibers.” Yet these same authors do not test for or even mention Formaldehyde in their 2006 risk assessment.

Formaldehyde concentrations of 10 to 15 parts per million have been found to cause nasal cancer in rats, and in June 2004 the International Agency for Research on Cancer reclassified formaldehyde as a known human carcinogen. The limit of detection of other chemicals with CPSC test equipment is 30 parts per million, but they did not even test for Formaldehyde release. 10 to 15 parts per million is a very small number and causes cancer. How much Formaldehyde will our fireproof mattresses really release? Formaldehyde is a simple poison that causes blindness and death. Will millions of Americans die or develop cancer from lifetime close chronic exposure?

Chemical fire proofing treatments are applied to the surface of the mattress, sometimes applied as a back coating to the ticking fabric of Boric Acid and Antimony, and in the case of treated cotton batting is directly under the ticking or with no more than a thin 1/8 inch layer of porous breathable polyester or foam between the ticking and the cotton batting. Modacrylic fibers contain Antimony and are often mixed with polyester fibers and used as the fill directly below the ticking. Melamine/Formaldehyde resin fibers are also placed directly below the ticking. Kevlar is only used it the thread to hold the mattress and fire barrier system together. The chemical treatment needs to be at the surface to protect the inner components from fire.

There are no labeling requirements for the flame retardant chemicals in mattresses. It is typical for mattress manufacturers to deny using chemicals. Strobel says he has seen one of the two top brands admit using Boric Acid and other chemicals to the Washington Post, only to deny using chemicals when customers have gotten sick from their mattress.

Strobel says there are no natural or nontoxic systems to flameproof mattresses and that you can see the proof in CPSC documents and in their table 1, of the most commonly used chemicals and their percentages in mattresses. If chemical free or natural systems exist, why doesn’t the CPSC point them out?

Manufacturers often try to say Boric Acid is safe and boron is found in fruits and vegetables. Even if it were safe, which Strobel disagrees with, it is not just Boric Acid, there are also many other chemicals. The CPSC’s table 1 shows all the Boric Acid systems also contain Antimony.

Even if safe systems exist, what happens to the unfortunate millions of people who sleep in an unsafe system?

Boric Acid is mixed as loose dust in the cotton batting in mattresses. The NIST has a shaking machine they use on mattresses before they fire test it to shake out loose boric acid. People do breath it from mattresses and many Asthma suffers can not tolerate it. There is at least one unsubstantiated case of a person dying from an Asthma attack from Boric Acid.

A study of Boric Acid miners showed reduced sperm counts and reduced sexual activity.

Borates are Boron. Boron is an element found in nature primarily in compounds; Boric Acid is a concentrated form of boron made from the reaction of Sulfuric Acid and Borax. It occurs in nature in only one place in the world, a sulfur spring in Italy.

There can be .5 pounds of Boric Acid in a crib mattress, and 1.5 pounds in a queen size mattress, plus other flame retardant chemicals such as Antimony.

Many humans have actually died from Boric Acid poisoning. Experience has shown a dose as small as 2g has killed children, and 5g has killed adults.

There are 6,463 cases of Boric Acid poisoning in the US each year, with 200 from topical preparations. (8)

Boric Acid is Roach Killer, simple acute poison, and a known reproductive and developmental toxin. "Demonstrated injury to the testes and the developing fetus." (7)

Antimony seems to be readily absorbed through our skin. Antimony is a heavy metal almost identical to Arsenic. Antimony is known to accumulate in our bodies. Antimony is an ancient poison they used to knock off rivals. Antimony MSDS: “Chronic Exposure: Prolonged or repeated exposure may damage the liver and the heart muscle. … May cause heart to beat irregularly or stop." (6) If the poison doesn't kill us first, Antimony Trioxide is also known to cause cancer and even the CPSC admits: “The cancer effects are cumulative. Every exposure contributes to the overall lifetime risk of developing cancer.” (1)

Many people have already reported getting sick from treated mattresses.

Here is a quote from the CPSC where they are responding to public comments against the regulation:

Some individuals commented that the "precautionary principle" should be applied to FR chemicals, that is, they should not be used until proven safe (7,26,44,47, and 51).

All of the statues that provide regulatory authority to the CPSC explicitly require risk-based decision making, thus precluding application of the "precautionary principle."”

The CPSC has already said it is up to other agencies to ban chemicals if they are found unsafe, and if human harm is found from this regulation that specific chemical could be banned.

Strobel says it will be a little late to ban a chemical after we find we have harmed or killed millions of people. And we may again find years later another chemical causes harm. Common sense should tell us, there are no safe chemicals, only safe use.

Some individuals who commented call the regulation “A human experiment without consent.”

According to the National Safety Council 17,550 Americans already die each year from “Accidental poisoning by and exposure to noxious substances,” this number now exceeds deaths in car accidents. (9)

Now, every American, all three hundred million of us will be eventually forced to unknowingly sleep in and absorb poisonous and cancer causing chemicals for the rest of our and our children’s lives. All to avoid a one in 1.111 million mattress fire risk.

July 1, 2007 is National Toxic Bed Day. This day may also go down in history as “National Toxic Day,” the day we crossed the line in poisoning our people.

You may agree the risk outweighs the benefit.

Fortunately, the law allows Physicians, including Osteopaths and Chiropractors, to prescribe toxin-free mattresses, to those lucky few who learn the truth.