Because of its health benefits, organic alternatives to food, clothing, and home products have become quite popular in recent years. Now consumers are becoming aware that organic mattresses are a healthier and safer alternative to chemically soaked mattresses. What are the differences between an organic mattress and a synthetic mattress, and why should you be concerned about what you are sleeping on? While they look similar, the differences lie in what they are made of. Synthetic mattresses contain hundreds of harmful chemicals including formaldehyde and polyurethane foam, both known carcinogens. Organic and natural latex (also known as natural rubber) mattresses are natural and safe as well as bio-degradable.
The Synthetic Problem
Synthetic mattresses contain harmful chemicals. Research has shown that prolonged exposure to these chemicals can cause serious illness or cancer. Consider this: if you were to sleep on a synthetic mattress for eight hours a night for five years, that would add up to over 14,600 hours of exposure time.
Below are some of the chemicals commonly used in synthetic mattresses, and the effects they can have.
Used in synthetic mattresses as an adhesive, formaldehyde has been linked to lung, throat, and nose cancers. Repeated exposure to formaldehyde can have serious effects on the respiratory system, cause asthma, and increase your likelihood of contracting bronchitis or pneumonia.
Also non-organic cotton sheets are often treated with a formaldehyde-based finish that reduces wrinkling. In addition, United States farmers applied nearly one-third of a pound of chemical fertilizers and pesticides for every pound of cotton harvested (these chemicals are the most toxic classified by the Environmental Protection Agency). This can account for 25% of all the pesticides used in the United States. The use of chemicals in producing cotton can lead to massive environmental and health problems.
The National Cancer Institute (NCA) has conducted studies to determine the link between formaldehyde and an increased risk in cancer. Several NCA studies have determined that anatomists and embalmers (who are regularly exposed to formaldehyde in their work) have an increased risk of leukemia and brain cancer.
A study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) looked at 11,039 textile workers, who had been exposed to formaldehyde. This study corresponded with the earlier NCA studies by finding a link between exposure to formaldehyde and leukemia.
This is a petroleum-based material, which can cause respiratory problems and skin irritation. Polyurethane foam is often used in mattresses for infant’s cribs, exposing babies to the harmful fumes they let off. Polyurethane foam constantly breaks down and releases chemicals, which is called off-gassing. An article in the Archives of Environmental Health expressed concern that the foam may be related to increasing incidents of childhood cancer.
A study on mice conducted at Anderson Laboratories in Vermont supported this theory. When the mice were exposed to the emissions from synthetic crib mattresses, their breathing was impeded. They experienced both heart and respiratory irritation, and some mice had severe, asthma-like reactions. The mice were only exposed to these fumes for two, one-hour periods. Imagine how sleeping every night on these mattresses affects children.
Manufacturers cover mattresses in fire retardants such as PBDE’s (polybrominated diphenyl ethers) or boric acid to counteract the flammability of their mattress chemicals. These fire retardant chemicals enter people’s systems, and as studies have shown, they can disrupt normal brain development in fetuses and infants. Flame retardants have been found in disturbingly high concentrations in people’s blood and breast milk. Mothers are passing these chemicals on to their children.
For example, CBS News reported on a woman whose blood test revealed that she had 19 different flame retardant chemicals in her body. The same CBS article quoted an Environmental Protection Agency toxicologist, who was concerned about the effects fire retardants have on developing children.
PBDE’s are so toxic that Europe is phasing out the use of them completely!
Boric acid is also quite toxic. The EPA and CDC warn of reproductive, developmental, and neurological damage. It has many known health risks just from inhalation, a few of which are: inflammation of the upper respiratory tract (including dry throat and cough), eye irritation, and reproductive damage in men (including low sperm count).
The Organic Solution
An organic mattress is safe, chemical free, and composed of all natural materials. Usually, an organic mattress is made of organic wool, organic cotton, or natural latex rubber. These are naturally flame resistant; there is no need to worry about them catching fire.
Aside from preventing exposure to harmful chemicals, organic mattresses also repel dust mites, resist mold and mildew buildup, and are hypoallergenic. Because these mattresses discourage mold and mildew, sleeping on an organic mattress can improve respiration, alleviate allergies, and provide a deeper, higher quality sleep. People tend to sleep more soundly on a mattress that uses natural fibers.
A sleep study conducted by Peter R. Dickson (1984) examined sleep quality of participants when sleeping on natural wool (participants slept on a wool pad that was placed under their sheet). He found that participants moved (tossed and turned) significantly less in the night. Additionally, participants in the study reported that they had slept better and that they felt better the next day when sleeping on the wool. The less a person tosses and turns is related to greater quality of sleep!
Wool is hypothesized to increase sleep quality and reduce tossing and turning because 1) it reduces pressure points; and 2) it regulates body temperature. Wool helps keep you warm when it is cold and cool when it is warm. Wool has a moisture-regulation quality. When you get too hot, you sweat. If you are sleeping with bedding that is not natural, the sweat will remain near your body and not evaporate, and not cool you down. You can wake up feeling sticky and clammy. However, if you are sleeping with natural fibers, which are breathable, the sweat can evaporate from your body and cool you down. Wool is able to wick water away from your body and is able to absorb up to 30% of its weight in moisture and still feel dry. Wool helps you stay warm when the air is cool because it is a natural insulator. There are air pockets in wool, which trap heat and let the air circulate near your body. In this way, your body heat stays regulated. If you have a consistent body temperature, you will toss and turn less and have a deep and restful sleep.
Organic wool is produced without the use of hormones or pesticides, both in the animal and in the animal’s food.
In order for wool to be certified as 'organic,' it must be produced in accordance with federal standards for organic livestock production, which state:
• Livestock feed and forage used from the last third of gestation on must be organic.
• Use of hormones or synthetic hormones and genetic engineering is prohibited.
• Use of synthetic pesticides (internal, external and on pastures) is prohibited.
• Producers must encourage livestock health through good cultural and management practices.
That means that sheep cannot be dipped in pesticides to control external parasites, and all pastures must have gone a minimum of three years since last being treated with synthetic chemicals. Producers must also ensure that they do not exceed the natural carrying capacity of the land on which their animals graze.
Natural rubber/latex is harvested by tapping the milk (sap) of Hevea brasiliensis (the common rubber tree), which grows within 10 degrees of the equator. The rubber tree sap is whipped up and turned into latex foam. Sap can be collected from the trees up to 180 days per year and the tree heals within an hour.
Note: All prices in US Dollars
FREE FREIGHT ON ORDERS OVER $200 IN THE CONTINENTAL UNITED STATES (except mattresses/foundations)
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