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I have a memory foam mattress and I've read studies** which have found flame retardants such as PBDEs (Polybrominated diphenyl ethers) and "chlorinated Tris" (TDCPP is one of number of chlorinated Tris) to be in 85% of cushions in furniture. The flame retardant treated furniture then release these chemicals which are found in the dust in our air and on the floors and surfaces in our homes at high levels. These chemicals have been shown to cause cancer, hormone disruption and nervous system damage.
I have not heard anything mentioned regarding memory foam. Does anyone know if there have been any distinction made in the products? Does a memory foam mattress carry the same risk?

**There have been numerous studies on the toxic flame retardant chemicals by Duke University, Cal-Berkeley and the Environmental Working Group (ewg.org) in addition to the ones linked below. It may sound like it's just a California problem, therefore I wanted to point out that CA is one of the more aggressive states when it comes to protecting air, water, food quality, etc. California phased out PBDEs in 2004 yet as one of the studies from the Silent Spring Institute shows seven years later high levels of PBDEs exist. The second link further supports that the toxic flame retardants as a source of indoor air pollution are not confined to the U.S.

  • 2
    My apologies for my error & thank all for help in correcting. Here are two links of describing what I had intended to state in the question & subsequent comments: pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es050759g (see abstract) and tinyurl.com/n3lepse – Charlie Brown Jun 12 '13 at 19:18
  • @CharlieBrown, perhaps you could append this to the question: "Also, are there any sustainable and safe flame retardants I could look out for when making future purchases?" although I have my doubts that one really even needs flame retardant at all if one is careful with electric blankets and smoke alarms, and doesn't smoke. – Highly Irregular Jun 13 '13 at 7:54
  • Yes, that's a really good edit, thank you! – EnergyNumbers Jun 16 '13 at 10:53
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I know that in the past PBDEs were used as flame retardant in all kinds of products like clothing, computer monitor casings, couches, but also in foam mattrasses, including memory foam. I suspect manufacturers stopped using them after it became known that PBDEs accumulate in human bodies and may cause cancer. Also, PBDEs have been banned in the EU in 2004 and most types are also banned in the USA (see also this article)

The Wikipedia article on memory foam also mentions:

PBDEs are no longer used in most bedding foams, especially in the European Union.

So it seems if your memory foam mattrass is not older than 8 or 9 years then it probably is PBDE free. If not chances are it contain PBDEs. If you want to be sure you should ask your supplier and/or manufacturer.

Note that from a sustainability point of view it's better to buy mattrasses made from (organic) cotton, wool or natural latex since those are biodegradable.

  • Also, it looks to be similar to asbestos, in that if PBDE is in place, and it's sealed, the best option is to keep it there and keep it sealed: the risk appears to be only when it leaks out from damage – EnergyNumbers Jun 12 '13 at 8:54
  • @EnergyNumbers I've heard that PBDE particles are also released by heat (televisions) and normal usage (couches and mattrasses) but I haven't been able to find any scientific backup for this. – THelper Jun 12 '13 at 12:29
  • Indeed, certain types of brominated flame retardants (the commercial PentaBDE and OctaBDE products) were discontinued voluntarily by the major global producers in 2004. You can find more information on brominated flame retardants on the website of the Bromine Science and Environmental Forum http://www.bsef.com. There is also a video on YouTube giving a basic overview of what brominated flame retardants are, how they are used and why they are important. Robert Campbell, Chairman of BSEF – user1649 Aug 21 '14 at 8:41

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