Body heat appeared to increase each mattress’ release of VOCs, compared with the levels released when the mattresses were not in use, researchers found.
Estimated exposures remained below the “No Significant Risk Levels” (NSRL) set under strict California environmental laws, researchers noted.
However, if the exposure levels took into account a child’s age, the picture took on more concern. For example, compounds linked to cancer such as acetaldehyde, formaldehyde and benzene approached or exceeded age-adjusted levels, researchers said.
The new study was published July 10 in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.
Experts are generally more concerned about children’s exposure to VOCs, said Dr. Kenneth Spaeth, chief of occupational and environmental medicine at Northwell Health in Great Neck, N.Y.
Babies in particular spend a lot of time in their crib, lying on foam mattresses that produce these gases, said Spaeth, who had no part in the study.
“By virtue of their age and size, they have heightened vulnerability to potential toxic effects,” he said.
Even if these chemicals don’t do immediate harm, there is concern that exposure will increase their lifelong risk of cancer, Evans and Spaeth said.
The best way to protect against VOCs is to maintain good ventilation inside your home, by opening windows and using fans, they said.
“Indoor air can have as much as 10 times higher VOCs than outdoor air,” Evans said. “Getting fresh air in can really help reduce those exposures.”
Consumers also can choose mattresses made of materials other than polyurethane foam, Evans said. Mattresses containing cotton, wool and natural latex will all produce lower levels of gases.
Unfortunately, it can be very difficult for consumers to suss out what’s in a mattress and what sort of VOCs those materials might produce, Spaeth said.
“Consumers are in a very difficult position,” Spaeth said. “It’s very hard to get good information about what a mattress contains, and even if you know that, unless you have a good understanding of the different materials it’s hard to know what chemicals might be emitted from those materials.
“The chemicals that are being emitted are not going to be listed in a label that indicates what the mattress is made of,” Spaeth said. “These are byproducts of the materials.”