UT Engineers Caution Parents About Chemicals in Crib Mattresses


As if being a new parent isn’t stressful enough, studies and trends often have cautious parents running out to get the latest and greatest baby buys. Sifting through all of the available information can be frustrating, when many parents just want to know what is cause for legitimate concern. The latest dispatch in this barrage of data: a UT study showing that crib mattresses expose infants to high levels of potentially harmful chemicals.

In a first-of-its-kind study published in Environmental Science & Technology, researchers Brandon Boor, Ying Xu, and Atila Novoselac found that potentially harmful chemicals are emitted from mattress materials, particularly the foam padding and plastic cover. These chemicals, called VOCs, can also be found in household cleaning products. Infants are at higher risk of being exposed to these chemicals—about 10 times more than adults—not only because they sleep longer, but also because they inhale more air per body weight.

“Exposing a newborn to mixes of any kinds of chemicals, especially when their mouth is close to the source for a large portion of a day, is an environment that you would like to avoid if you can,” says Richard Corsi, chair of the Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering.

The team found that newer mattresses tend to emit higher levels of chemicals, particularly when combined with body heat.

So does this mean that parents should look for used crib mattresses instead? Not exactly. If a mattress is too old, it might contain harmful materials, such as flame retardants, that have since been banned in some countries.

“There’s no perfect solution,” says assistant professor Ying Xu. “That’s why we’re going to keep working on this topic.”

The researchers say that being educated on the issue helps, but more importantly, parents should ask questions. Shop around when looking for a mattress, and ask companies what kind of materials—particularly if they use flame-retardants—are in their products.

Corsi adds that it’s exciting to be a part of a program at UT with some of the best engineers focused on working toward a solution to reduce exposure to chemicals that may pose health risks we don’t yet fully understand.

“Nobody else in the world is doing that,” he says.

Photo by Valentina Powers on Flickr.


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