A recent study by the University of Texas, Austin, has found that infants are exposed to high levels of chemicals emitted by their crib mattresses while they sleep.
During the analysis of 20 new and used mattresses that contain polyurethane foam and polyester foam padding, it was found that the mattresses released high levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which can cause health and respiratory effects, such as asthma.

The study, which is the first of its kind, was conducted by a team of environmental engineers who were interested in finding out what chemicals infants could be exposed to since they spend so much of their day sleeping. The study reveals a few key findings:

• New crib mattresses release about four times as many VOCs as old crib mattresses.
• Body heat increases emissions.
• Chemical emissions are strongest in the sleeping infant’s immediate breathing zone.
• More than 30 VOCs in the mattresses, including phenol, neodecanoic acid and linalool were identified, in addition to limonene, a common VOC found in cleaning products

Researchers also found that the VOC levels were significantly higher in a sleeping infant’s breathing zone than elsewhere in the room, and that infants were exposed to about twice the VOC levels as people standing in the same room. Because infants and children breathe in a greater volume of air than adults relative to their body size, and sleep for a longer time, they experience about 10 times as much inhalation exposure as adults when exposed to the same level of VOCs, the researchers said.

One way to help ensure that infant mattresses emit lower levels of VOCs is to select mattresses that are certified to be low-emitting, such as GREENGUARD Certified products. Representative samples of GREENGUARD Certified products undergo rigorous testing for compliance with some of the world’s strictest chemical emission limits. You can search for GREENGUARD Certified crib mattresses at UL’s Sustainable Product Guide.

The research findings were published in the February issue of Environmental Science & Technology.