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The Poison Crib

Baby in a crib

Salon.com, the fastest-growing online news magazine, has published an expose titled “The Poison Crib” about the dangers of chemicals in our environment, the politics involved, and how the “chemical system” works. 

The key point is that flame retardants (ubiquitous in conventional mattresses) are among the most toxic industrial chemicals, and are particularly harmful to children:

“…Chemicals designed to prevent fires are getting into your children’s blood and rewiring their brains, leading to attention deficit disorder, hyperactivity, hearing problems, slow mental development and, possibly, cancer. They’re not great for adults either — men with high blood levels of flame retardants had a decreased sperm count, and women took longer to conceive — but because children’s nervous systems are still developing, they are even more vulnerable.”

Yet, because there is such poor regulation, very few manufacturers include “flame retardants” on their lists of materials.

If it’s not on the label, how is a parent to know?

Politically, the consumer is stacked up against powerful lobbyists who work for the $4.1 billion chemical industry, which has a deep interest in introducing new chemicals and blocking proposed bans of existing ones.

One suspected carcinogen that has reached some public awareness, PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers), may have many cousins. Move a few molecules around and, presto! A slightly altered formula results in a different flame retardant that hasn’t yet been suspected of causing cancer or brain disorders. “Cousin chemicals” can be poured into new products for decades before the results from slow, epidemiological (large-group) medical studies have become overwhelming enough to prod the government to take any action. And the chemical industry has many paid consultants–doctors and scientists–who will defend the safety of profitable formulas.

So what are the choices?

A consumer can relax and trust that lobbyists have public health uppermost in their minds, and that the chemical industry’s public relations departments would never gloss over health risks. One can always wait, with fingers crossed…for flame-retardant-infused products to be proven harmless to touch, breathe near, or sleep on. Or, you might decide to buy products for your family that are made of safe, healthful materials in the first place.

Including organic mattresses.

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