Children’s mattresses could be a health hazard after research found they emit dangerous pollutants which have been linked to cancer.
Exposure to volatile organic compounds (VOCs) can be toxic and has been associated with headaches, feeling sick, liver and kidney damage, nerve problems and cancer.
The tiny particles can cloud the home when released by hundreds of household items, including furniture, candles, incense and carpets.
Researchers found the materials used to make mattresses release higher amounts of VOC when heated to body temperature.
And they said people may breathe in ‘concerning’ levels of the chemicals when they sleep because their faces are right next to the fabric.
Children’s mattresses could be a health hazard after being found to emit dangerous pollutants (VOCs) by Isreali researchers (stock image)
The study did not look at the possible adverse health outcomes of VOCs from mattresses.
But previously, they have been blamed in numerous studies for triggering asthma in children and worsening it in adults.
Breathing VOCs can be an irritant to the eyes, nose and throat, and cause difficulty breathing.
Researchers at the Civil and Environmental Engineering, Technion, Israel Institute of Technology, used eight different child mattresses in their study.
They measured how temperature, humidity and carbon dioxide concentration – all of which rise when people lie on a mattress for a few hours – could affect the levels of several VOCs given off by the mattresses.
The team, led by Dr Yael Dubowski, reported in the journal Environmental Science and Technology that children spend up to half their lives in this sleep environment.
They did their experiment by placing pieces of the mattresses in a chamber that they were able to take samples of air from.
The eight mattresses released quite similar amounts of 18 studied VOCs, except for a flame retardant compound emitted only by an infant mattress.
Temperatures matching body heat were a major contributor to a higher level of VOCs released compared to humidity and carbon dioxide.
Infants and young children inhaling some compounds, for example, acetaldehyde, formaldehyde and benzene, could reach levels of concern, the researchers said.
Another compound of potential health concern was butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), detected with great variability between mattresses.
In recent years, there has been a growing concern that the wide usage of BHT, including in food and cosmetic products, has carcinogenic potential, on the back of some studies.
However, the findings of this study were well below the cancer and non-cancer risk reference levels.
Exposure to VOCs are unavoidable because of the vast number of emission sources, including vinyl flooring, cleaning products, cosmetics, hairsprays, aerosols, heating and cooking fuel.
VOCs are built into products and are slowly released over months or even years, an example being paint which has a strong odour initially which evaporates over time.
Professor Alastair Lewis, from the National Centre for Atmospheric Science, University of York, who was not involved in the research, said most VOCs are harmless.
However, there is some evidence VOCs are increasing in the home because air tight homes are trapping them through lack of ventilation.
He told MailOnline: ‘If air gets trapped in a home, then there is some potential for even safe VOCs to be oxidised to more harmful products.
‘Furnishings, such as sofas, carpets, beds and so on, can take longer to outgas, since VOCs are buried deeper in the product.
‘In this study, a thick polyurethane mattress is probably a worst case example of something that is made with VOCs, because it acts like a big sponge and is slow to release its VOCs. But even these over time will lose their VOCs.’
Professor Lewis said the health risks of VOCs from mattresses were small, but if a parent was worried, they could choose a cotton, wool or spring based mattress instead, which would be made with less VCOs.
The researchers said further studies on possible health effects of low-level exposure to VOCs was needed. Their study was published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.
WHAT ARE VOLATILE ORGANIC COMPOUNDS AND WHAT ARE THEIR EFFECTS ON HEALTH?
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are emitted as gases from certain solids or liquids.
VOCs include a variety of chemicals, some of which may have short- and long-term adverse health effects.
Concentrations of many VOCs are consistently higher indoors, up to ten times higher, than outdoors.
VOCs are emitted by a wide array of products numbering in the thousands.
Organic chemicals are widely used as ingredients in household products.
Paints, varnishes and wax all contain organic solvents, as do many cleaning, disinfecting, cosmetic, degreasing and hobby products.
Fuels are made up of organic chemicals.
All of these products can release organic compounds while you are using them, and, to some degree, when they are stored.
The ability of organic chemicals to cause health effects varies greatly from those that are highly toxic, to those with no known health effect.
As with other pollutants, the extent and nature of the health effect will depend on many factors including level of exposure and length of time exposed.
Health effects may include include: Eye, nose and throat irritation; headaches, loss of coordination and nausea; damage to the liver, kidney and central nervous system.
Some organics can also cause cancer in animals and some are suspected or known to cause cancer in humans.