Fire safety researchers believe new regulations helped cut bedroom fires by two-thirds between 1980 and 1999. Mattress fires were last considered in 1973 when the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) passed the current Federal Flammability Regulation 16 CFR 1632 for mattresses requiring resistance to lit cigarettes.
Long before 2007, there were other standards to combat the main cause of bed fires caused by cigarettes. Still, they left the serious threat of ignition by sources such as lighters, matches, or burning furniture largely unresolved. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) Mattress Flammability Standard of 2007, known as 16 CFR Part 1633, was designed to reduce the risk of flame-induced bed fires that claimed the lives of approximately 95 people annually from 2002 to 2005.
To fill this gap, the International Sleep Products Association (ISPA), the trade association for mattress manufacturers, has asked NIST to lay the groundwork for a new mattress flammability standard that eliminates, or at least greatly reduces, the death toll from bed fires. Ongoing National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) research and steadily increasing residential fire statistics prompted mattress manufacturers to negotiate new flammability rule requirements with CPSC, eventually leading to the new federal flammability regulations for mattresses.
Safety Regulations around Mattresses
In accordance with US law, all mattresses manufactured since the second half of 2007, including memory foam varieties, must comply with safety regulations designed to reduce the potential fire hazard of the mattress. The new regulation does not require mattress manufacturers to specify which media and/or chemicals they or their suppliers use to make mattresses and/or fire barriers fire-resistant. After careful research, mattress manufacturers do not disclose which flame retardants they use unless they are chemically flammable. Ironically, the National Fire Retardant Mattress Regulations allow physicians, including chiropractors, to prescribe flame retardant-free mattresses to patients if they determine that the health risks associated with toxic flame retardants will interfere with patients’ well-being.
While the new regulations are intended to promote fire safety, they have created a new health risk due to the hazardous chemicals used in most fire retardants.
According to the National Institute of Environmental Sciences (NIEHS), fire retardant chemicals are applied to common materials such as furniture, electronics, building materials, and vehicles to prevent or slow the spread of a fire. However, most manufacturers rely on stronger chemical flame retardants to improve fire protection. Most of the flame retardants used in mattress manufacturing contain toxic chemicals. Mattresses must contain flame retardants, so they pass safety tests for flammability, but that doesn’t mean flame retardants used in beds have to be toxic chemicals.
However, there is controversy regarding the safety impact flame retardants can have on foam, especially for memory foam mattresses with flame retardant liners. Polyurethane memory foam is highly flammable unless coated with flame retardants (as are all memory foam mattresses).
The fire retardants found in mattress pads reduce the flammability of a mattress and give occupants more time to escape before a home fire gets out of control.
Flame Retardants in Mattresses
all mattresses must contain sufficient flame retardants to withstand a 2-foot open blowtorch flame for 70 seconds. Most major mattress brands treat their sleep products with hazardous flame retardants to give them the properties needed to withstand the test of a two-foot blowtorch flame. Manufacturers are advised and required not to use flame retardant chemicals in mattresses in accordance with government laws and standards. As mentioned earlier, every mattress must contain flame retardants to pass flammability tests for safety purposes, but this does not mean that these flame retardants must be chemicals that can be toxic.
The most important factors to consider include:
- The foam components.
- The type of flame retardant used to protect the material from burning.
- The amount of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emitted by the mattress.
Certain chemicals are banned and mattresses should be at least 95% organic to be certified. While organic materials are not required, this certification still helps ensure overall safety. However, this should be treated with some doubt: the creators of this certification are representatives of the foam industry.
If your mattress meets certain certifications, you can rest assured knowing your bed is free of toxins. If you are concerned about the effects of these or other harmful chemicals on the foam, purchase a mattress with environmental certification. To choose a safe flame retardant mattress, be sure to stay away from beds made with toxic chemicals like PBDE and look for certified mattresses that use materials like wool and rayon.