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New Open-Flame Mattress Standard Under Fire
Consumers Offered an Alternative Through Chiropractic Prescription
By Victoria Houghton, Communications Manager
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has implemented a new federal standard, effective July 1, 2007, that requires all mattresses and mattress foundation sets sold in the United States to withstand a 2 ft.-wide, open-flame blowtorch test for 70 seconds.
Some consumer groups have expressed concern that chemicals manufacturers may use to meet the standard could be toxic to humans; however, a loophole in the regulation allows consumers to order untreated mattresses with a prescription from a medical doctor, osteopath or chiropractor.
CPSC proposed the “Standard for the Flammability (Open Flame) of Mattresses and Mattress/Foundation Sets” on Oct. 11, 2001, following its assessment of data on U.S. fires. According to findings, a burning mattress provides the greatest source of fuel in a typical bedroom fire, accelerating the spread of flames and making escape nearly impossible.
“There are hundreds of residential mattress fire deaths and thousands of injuries every year,” said Patty Davis, CPSC public affairs representative. “CPSC thought it could reduce these deaths and injuries by addressing the issue and implementing a national standard.”
In their National Fire Incident Reporting System, the U.S. Fire Administration and the National Fire Protection Administration estimate that mattresses were the first items to ignite in 19,400 residential fires from 1995 to 1999, resulting in 440 deaths, 2,230 injuries and $273.9 million in property loss each year.
CPSC has had a mattress flammability standard for 30 years for fires caused by cigarettes, but there was no regulation directly addressing open-flame ignition from lighters, candles and matches. “This addresses the other half of the equation,” Davis told ACA News.
The new regulation faces strong opposition from consumers and small-mattress retailers. According to Mark Strobel, president of Strobel Technologies, a specialty mattress company in Jeffersonville, Ind., and director of PeopleforCleanBeds.org, there is no nontoxic system available to make mattresses flame retardant to the extent that the new CPSC standard requires.
“Treating these mattresses to pass the blowtorch, open-flame test would require that mattresses be treated with known acutely toxic and cancer-causing chemicals—particularly boric acid, also known as roach killer, as well as antimony, which is a heavy metal almost identical to arsenic,” said Strobel.
According to Strobel, CPSC predicted that every night consumers would absorb .081 mg of boric acid and .802 mg of antimony, in addition to smaller amounts of several other potent chemicals. “This amount of antimony is 27 times more than the Environmental Protection Agency says is safe: .03 mg,” he said.
CPSC has stated that mattress manufacturers aren’t required to use these flame-retardant chemicals to meet the new standard. “Manufacturers can use any number of means, including natural fibers and treated fibers, which are inherently flame-resistant, high-performance, and rayon-based,” said Davis. “Our scientists at CPSC, as well as outside experts, evaluated and tested the chemicals currently used. We looked at all kinds of scenarios. In the end, the test proves that there is no appreciable risk to consumers.”
According to a Serta Mattress sales representative, Serta mattresses have met the requirement for the past three years. “We use a fiber-like material around the mattress as a barrier around the inside cover to keep the open flame from getting to the foam, which is the most flammable [part],” explained the rep. “We use no topical chemicals, but the fiber itself has dried chemicals in it from where it’s manufactured. Our factory workers haven’t had any problems.”
Strobel maintains, however, that mattress manufacturers will still use these toxic chemicals at dangerous levels, and that consumers won’t know because there are no chemical-labeling requirements for mattresses. “That’s a Federal Trade Commission issue,” said Davis. “There will, however, be a label on mattresses stating that they meet the new standard.”
Consumers may purchase untreated mattresses if they have a physician’s prescription. According to the Federal Register, “The term physician shall mean a physician, chiropractor or osteopath licensed or otherwise permitted to practice by any State of the United States.”
CPSC continues to urge consumers to never smoke in bed and to be careful with candles. “Keep working smoke alarms on each level of your home and one inside each bedroom,” advised Davis. “Change the battery at least once a year and test it monthly. It’s important to realize that increased fire resistance does not mean that there is no fire risk.”