Toxic Emissions From Crib Matresses May Be Harming Infants
April 2, 2014

Toxic Emissions From Crib Matresses May Be Harming Infants

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

A new study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology has revealed that parents may be unknowingly exposing their infant children to toxic chemicals being emitted from the foam padding in crib mattresses.

Conducted by a team of researchers from Texas and Finland, the new study said crib mattresses release noteworthy amounts of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), potentially unsafe chemicals also found in household cleaners and scented sprays.

Study author Brandon Boor said he wanted to investigate crib mattresses after finding out that infants spend 50 to 60 percent of their day sleeping. He noted that infants are more susceptible to the adverse impacts of exposure to airborne indoor chemicals.

"I wanted to know more about the chemicals they may inhale as they sleep during their early stages of development," said Boor, a graduate student in civil engineering at the University of Texas at Austin. "This research also helps to raise awareness about the various chemicals that may be found in crib mattresses, which are not typically listed by manufacturers."

The study team tested 20 mattress samples from 10 manufacturers. Identifying over 30 VOCs in the mattresses, the researchers discovered that newer mattresses give off the most chemicals. The team also found that body heat increases emissions and the emissions are strongest in the sleeping infant's direct breathing area.

The new mattresses were found to emit VOCs at a rate of 87.1 micrograms per square meter per hour, while older mattresses released VOCs at a rate of 22.1 micrograms per square meter per hour. These rates are comparable to those from other consumer products and indoor materials, such as laminate flooring and wall covering.

Charles J. Weschler, chemistry professor at Rutgers University who was not directly involved in the study, said the research was valuable – but noted that the emission levels recorded are not considered alarming.

"It's good to be alerted to the fact that crib mattresses are a significant source of chemicals in an infant's environment," he said.

The researchers noted that that the VOC levels seen in the study were significantly higher near a sleeping infant's mouth and nose. Compared with room air, this means that the mattresses are exposing infants to about twice the amount of VOC levels. They also pointed out that infants breathe a considerably higher air volume per body weight than adults and sleep a longer time – adding up to about 10 times as much inhalation as adults when exposed to the same amount of airborne VOCs.

"Our findings suggest the reuse of an older crib or an extended airing-out period may help reduce infant VOC exposures," said study author Ying Xu, a professor of engineering at UT Austin.

Richard Corsi, chair of the Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering at UT Austin, said more research should focus on the immediate sleeping environment of both infants and adults.

"We need to better understand the complex sleep microenvironment to improve it and reduce the harmful effects of related pollutants on infants," Corsi said.