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From Chicago Tribune:

New flammability regulation for mattresses, renewed concerns about chemicals

By Karen Klages
Chicago Tribune staff reporter

July 1, 2007

Selected Quotes:


Where there is fire, though, there is haze.

The development is not without debate.

Some doctors, scientists and at least one mattress manufacturer see red flags in introducing to the home front yet another usage of flame-retardant chemicals, which already are in a range of consumer products, from electronics to paint and furniture.

Some of them believe it could be the tipping point for people who are chemically sensitive. Others think it's unfair to expose all Americans to these chemicals and materials when a small percentage of people actually die in fires that start with a mattress.

For its part, the mattress industry (which didn't fight the regulation; many manufacturers view the new flame retardancy as a major product improvement -- and as a significant bit of protection for themselves from liability suits) ...

Some troublesome FR chemicals have been identified as bioaccumulators, which means they persist in the environment. Or: suspected developmental toxicants, which means they could harm developing fetuses. And even: suspected carcinogens. ...

... this new regulation, which will affect all Americans buying mattresses, except those who get a doctor's prescription. With that, a consumer can have a one-of-a-kind mattress made, minus the flame retardants. ...


How mattress manufacturers achieve this feat of fire performance is largely left up to them. ...

"Nobody can really find out what's in their mattress. That's one of the big issues." For someone who is chemically sensitive, this is critical information, Heine says.

Trainer said some mattress-makers may be using antimony trioxide in their fire barriers ... (Antimony trioxide has been identified as a probable carcinogen.)

Representatives from Sealy, Serta, Simmons and Spring Air -- four of the five largest bedding makers in the country -- are tight-lipped about the exact nature of their fire barriers. (Tempur-Pedic, rounding out the Top 5, would not reveal any information about its flame-retardant program. Those five manufacturers represent about 60 percent of all mattresses sold in the U.S.) ...

Sealy, Serta and Spring Air (Simmons would not offer specifics) all are using one (or more) of three fire barrier technologies or some variation of them.

They involve: barriers made from mainly cotton that has been bonded with boric acid; barriers made of rayon that has been extruded with silica (tiny fragments of glass or clay); and barriers made from rayon that has been treated with ammonium polyphosphate.

Improvement is good, but it may be missing the point with chemically sensitive people. According to Dr. William Rea, a Dallas-based surgeon-turned-environmental medicine doctor, the concept of "total load" is key.

"Total load means that the body has a capacity to hold [only] so many incitants -- any substance that can cause disease," says Rea, who notes that the number of chemically sensitive people not just in the U.S., but around the world, is growing and attributes that to the rise of toxic chemicals in our air, food and water. "More and more people are getting overloaded."

He goes on: "Picture a barrel. Each person is a barrel. Once the barrel gets full, that's the essence of total load. One more drop [one more chemical exposure], and it spills over into trouble."

That trouble could be problems with the immune system, the non-immune enzyme detoxification system and the autonomic nervous system, says Rea, noting that he has not studied the new flame-retardant mattresses or what's in them.

But, Rea calls the home "probably the most contaminated of any place in our environment." He notes "gas stoves, pesticides, synthetic carpets, synthetic mattresses and cleaning products" -- and the fact that many homes are made to be so airtight that they don't breathe.

Rea sees several thousand patients from around the world annually at his Environmental Health Center in Dallas, where he puts chemically overloaded patients through a detox program that includes exercise, sauna, a special nutrition program and sleeping in "environmentally less polluted" rooms, which have ceramic tile floors and (sometimes) walls, organic cotton mattresses and organic cotton bed linens.

Chemically sensitive people aren't the only ones at risk from chemical overload, according to Dr. Doris Rapp, a pediatrician, allergist and environmental medicine doctor based in Arizona. Children, pregnant women and the elderly are other high-risk groups -- and product testing is rarely done on them, Rapp says.

What else can you do?

Consumers who want to purchase a mattress without the new flame retardants are left with few choices.

Mark Strobel, a small mattress-maker in southern Indiana who has launched an Internet campaign ( ) against the new federal regulation also has launched a new Internet-based business, . He will make consumers a bed without the new flame retardants, with a doctor's prescription, as the regulation allows. Consumers can purchase online or through a network of furniture and bedding stores around the country, as well as through chiropractors.

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