Thursday, October 20, 2011

Let’s Talk Mattress Pads

WBCN used to have a radio show called The Big Mattress. I was on that show once. The topic was recent immigration to Boston. Charles Laquidara asked me to do a simultaneous translation so any French-speaking immigrants listening would understand. Today I run B&B Chez Sven with three big mattresses and, by the end of the season, they all need mattress pads. A cinch to find, you say? Not anymore. Good mattress pads have become as rare as Democrats pleased with Obama’s first term.

Did you know that mattress pads may contain flame-retardants, a family of POPs (Persistent Organic Pollutants) called PBDEs? Indeed, now we have to worry about chemicals in mattress pads as well as in the mattresses themselves. Cynthia Gaw, a University of California student working on a senior thesis project about flame retardants in foam, discovered half of the mattress pads she had examined contained flame retardants, despite the fact there’s no flammability standard that requires manufacturers make them that way. (Read about PBDEs on this EPA information page, as well as in the great chapter that summarizes the topic in Slow Death by Rubber Duck.)

The laws to prevent bedroom fires were written back when no one knew better. For one thing, many people still smoked, which is why flame retardants seemed to make sense. No one realized these chemicals in themselves would prove harmful. Unfortunately the molecules make their way out of furniture into household dust.

Body burden analyses have shown flame retardants can accumulate in our bodies and cause health problems, ranging from hormonal changes to disruption of the reproductive system. The thyroid can be affected, as can the neurological development of infants and children. Flame retardants are a four-million dollar industry, so this dreadful situation is not going to change any time soon if the chemical companies have their way. (Have you already told your senators to support the Safe Chemicals Act of 2011?)

Do you know the composition of your mattress pads? If foam, they may be harming your health. I was going to take part in Cynthia’s study, but my mattress pads do not contain foam, which is the good news. (If you want to participate, email foamstudy AT gmail DOT com for instructions.) The bad news is I have not found a satisfactory mattress pad for 2012.

Here’s what I want in a mattress pad:
1.) No synthetic fiber.
2.) Doesn’t bunch up overnight.
3.) All cotton on top.
4.) Easily washable.
5.) No flame retardants.
6.) Made in the USA.

(Read how to avoid toxic chemicals in your home here.)

Do any innkeeper-readers have mattress pads to recommend? Do you worry about flame retardants in the home environment? Do you have friends who have had reproductive problems or testicular cancer?