Laying Down the Evidence: Toxic Flame Retardants in Mattress Pads

Flame retardant chemicals are a $4 billion a year industry, and the companies that produce these often harmful compounds want to keep it that way, regardless of the health and environmental consequences of their products. This makes it even more important to review Elizabeth Grossman’s roundup of evidence showing that flame retardants can accumulate in people and cause health problems like hormonal changes, reproductive harm, impacts on the thyroid and metabolic function, and hindering neurological development in infants and children.

What can you do about unnecessary uses of these toxic chemicals? Cynthia Gaw is a University of California student working on a senior thesis project about flame retardants in foam, and she needs your help to collect samples of foam for analysis. She is especially interested in samples from mattress pads, couches, or other foam products from nursery schools, hospitals, and offices.

Please email for instructions on how to submit a very small sample of foam from mattress pads, couches or other foam products from your home, school, office or hospital.

Although there is also no flammability standard requiring flame retardants in mattress pads, Cynthia has already found that about half of the mattress pads she has tested contained potentially harmful flame retardants. Sadly, these chemicals can migrate out of these products and expose children and families to harmful substances that do not appear to provide a fire safety benefit.

Please contact if you might like to contribute samples.

Comments Closed


  1. Katy
    Posted October 3, 2011 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

    Any ideas how to buy or make a mattress without flame retardants for bunk beds that doesn’t break the bank?

  2. Judy Levin
    Posted October 4, 2011 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    This is a tough issue. Foam mattress pads (e.g. the foam egg crate type of mattress pad) have been tested and those pads are very likely to contain flame retardants. We have not tested mattresses and we have heard some conflicting claims about whether they are likely to contain flame retardants or not. Dr. Arlene Blum of the Green Science Policy Institute has stated that the actual mattresses are unlikely to contain flame retardants (or at least not high levels) because mattresses must meet a stricter flammability standard that really could not be met with the use of anything but an unworkably large amount of flame retardants. Reportedly, most manufacturers instead use a fabric barrier that is heat and fire resistant. Still, Dr. Blum is collecting samples to test to see if this in fact true.

    I realize this puts you the consumer in a tough place and ultimately we believe manufacturers should be required to label their products if they contain flame retardants so consumers can make informed decisions.

    Judy Levin
    Pollution Prevention Coordinator