GOOD NIGHT, DON'T LET THE CHEMICALS BITE
By: Emily Clifford,
For contact info for Emily or her father Bruce Clifford call 800-457-6442
Intro by Bruce Clifford, Emily's report below:
Emily Clifford has won the right to
represent her school at a Regional Science Fair. Emily chose to do her
science project on the use of toxic chemicals as a flame retardant in
When asked how she arrived at her
topic, Emily remarked, “I started out looking at common household fire
hazards, but, when I was researching mattresses and the use of toxic
chemicals to fire proof them, I knew I had found my subject”. After she
identified her topic, the next stage was to thoroughly research the issue.
She contacted mattress companies, chemical companies and regulatory
agencies; however, her greatest source of information came from the People
for Clean Beds website.
Once the research was complete, she
decided that her project would be a study on the public perception of this
issue. After surveying over 100 people, she was able to determine the some
interesting information. The highlights are as follows:
Approximately 2/3 of the public did not know that new mattresses had
to be flame proofed
Over 85% of the sample population were unaware that toxic chemicals,
such as boric acid and antimony (roach killer) were being used for
flame-retardants in mattresses.
After learning about the use of toxic chemicals in mattresses, over
90% of the people surveyed would be willing to pay more for a safer
The most startling result, from a statistical view point, was that
over 95% of the group would like their government to ban the practice of
using toxic chemicals in mattresses.
Only 50% of the people with children under 5 years-old knew that it
is common for a child to suck on a mattress, which is a more direct way to
ingest higher levels of toxic chemicals.
Emily asked many questions while
doing her research and requested that groups backup their statements with
independent testing reports. She even sent them a medical statement from a
chemical company for their comments. The statistical analysis of the public
awareness has not been done before and has yielded results very favourable
to the cause, which is to make mattresses safer for the public. This
project was an excellent scientific study done by a student well beyond hers
years, as she is only in Grade 8.
We are very pleased that Emily has
joined the fight. She is currently communicating provincial and federal
government departments to express her concerns and the views of her survey
subjects. If successful at the Regional Contest, her project would then
represent her province at the Nationals. We wish her best of luck!
Emily Clifford's Report:
Problem After a law was passed in 2006, all mattresses must be flame
proofed. In order to meet these requirements, mattress companies are
applying toxic chemicals such as boric acid and antimony. These chemicals
are known to cause cancer and have many other negative health effects.
Purpose The purpose of this study is to see how informed the public is
regarding mattress flame retardants. Also, after presenting them with the
information, how many of them would pay more for safer mattresses?
Hypothesis If the public were more aware of the toxic chemicals being
used in the flame proofing of mattresses, then they would start to pay more
for a safer and non-toxic solution.
Variables Independent Variable When Doing The Survey: • Informing the
public about the chemicals
Dependant Variable When Doing The Survey: • How much will be spent on a
Controlled Variables When Doing the Survey: • The subjects in the survey
had to be adults. • In the second part of the survey, only parents with
children under the age of 5 participated
Survey Data Analysis The majority of people are sleeping on mattresses
that are between 1 and 5 years old. This means that some of these mattresses
may contain boric acid and antimony. Any people who sleep on mattresses that
were purchased during the last year are most likely being exposed to these
chemicals every night.
After being introduced to the information concerning the chemicals in
newer mattresses, most people would pay 25% more for an organic mattress.
However, 29% of the people would pay up to 50% more and 10% would even pay
However, when looking at the average prices of mattresses, organic
mattresses are about 70% more than regular mattresses. When parents of young
children were surveyed, they were exposed to information regarding children
sucking on mattresses and how this could prove to be extremely toxic. After
reading this part of the survey, almost 50% of these parents then stated
that they would be willing to pay even more for an organic mattress. For the
subjects who stated that they would change their answers, the following
table explains the differences between their answers:
First Answer Second Answer Subject 1 50% More 100% More Subject 2 50%
More 100% More Subject 3 50% More 75% More Subject 4 25% More 50% More
Subject 5 25% More 50% More
Every night, many people are sleeping on potentially dangerous mattresses
without even knowing that their mattresses were flame proofed. Only about
36% of the people in this study were aware that their mattresses now need to
pass open flame tests in order to be sold.
Once people were aware that mattresses needed to be flame proofed, only
14% of them knew that chemicals such as boric acid and antimony are applied
to them. All of these people later went on to say that they would pay more
for safer mattresses.
After people became aware of the presence of toxic chemicals in
mattresses, only 17% of them would purchase a new mattress, which was
treated with boric acid and antimony. This means that people are concerned
about the chemicals and would like safer mattresses.
Ninety-five percent of the people would like to see the government take
action and ban the practice of flame proofing with these chemicals. This
should also include the fact that very few companies have chemical policies
with regard to brominated flame-retardants. The government and mattress
companies definitely need to look into this issue and find safer ways to
flame proof mattresses.
After being exposed to information regarding their new mattresses being
flame proofed with toxic chemicals, how many subjects regret their decision
to purchase a new mattress?
For the people who have a mattress that was purchased during the last
year, 70.4% would not buy a new mattress now.
The following questions were only asked to parents of children under the
age of 5:
Question Yes No
Are you aware that new mattresses sold today have to be flame proofed?
Are you aware that boric acid and antimony are being applied to most new
mattresses in order to flameproof them? 14.2% 85.8%
Would buy a new mattress treated with boric acid and/or antimony after
knowing this information? 17.3% 82.7%
Would you be willing to pay more for a mattress that is made of organic
cotton (non-toxic) and still is flame retardant? 91.1% 8.9%
Would you like your government to ban the practice of flame proofing
mattress with toxic chemicals? 95.5% 4.5%
Are you aware that children are known to suck on the surface of
mattresses? 53.3% 46.7%
After knowing this information would you change your response to how much
more would you be willing to pay for a safe mattress? 42.9% 57.1%
Conclusion To summarize this study, it is clear that people would be
willing to pay more for safer and non-toxic mattresses if they were aware of
the chemicals, which are applied to mattresses and their harmful effects on
Applications Many things learned from this project can help companies and
consumers in today’s market. First of all, the government needs to take
action with this ongoing issue. If they were concerned enough to make a law
to protect their citizens from fire hazards, they should care enough about
the health of the population as well. Secondly, the public is not very
interested in purchasing new mattresses now that they know about the
potential harm that boric acid and antimony possess. This should encourage
companies to investigate new solutions to use for flame proofing mattresses.
This should also encourage organic mattress companies to adjust their prices
because people are going to be more interested in organic mattresses after
learning about the chemicals, which exist in their current toxic mattresses.
As the demand for these safe products increases, organic companies should
consider lowering their prices. This study has proven to be useful as many
people and companies can benefit from the information gathered.
Future Research In the future, many investigations could be made
concerning the use of new flameretardants. There are many other fabrics,
materials, etc. that could possibly be used for future flameproofing. I plan
to continue my research into the toxicity of boric acid and antimony when
used in mattresses. I also hope to raise public awareness about the dangers
of these chemicals in beds and promote the idea of organic mattresses being
a safer alternative.
Sources of Error While Doing The Survey During the survey, it was clear
that a few people didn’t understand some questions or the topic in general,
so they just filled out the survey by using answers that didn’t completely
make sense. Although this data cannot be excluded from the survey, the
majority of the answers gave a clear indication of understanding. Any
questions that weren’t answered or that had written answers were excluded
from the rest of the data. Another thing that I noticed was that some people
were doing the survey with their kids and some even had their children
complete the survey.
Background Research Results
What Is A Brominated Flame-Retardant? Brominated Flame-Retardants (BFRs)
are any chemicals added to things in order to flame proof them.
What Is Boric Acid? Boric acid is used primarily for flameproofing and as
a roach killer. It is usually in the form of a powder or crystals, which
will be ground into a powder before being applied to mattresses. The powder
or crystals are produced from borate mineral and are then mixed with
sulfuric acid to produce boric acid. The largest source of borate minerals
is located in Boron, California.
What Is Antimony? Antimony is used in flameproofing but can also be found
in paints, rubber and ceramics. It is a blue-white or tin-white metal with a
hardness of 3 ½ (Mohs Hardness Scale).
Why Use These Chemicals? After a law in 2006 was passed that implied that
all mattresses must be flame proofed, boric acid was the quickest and
cheapest solution. All mattresses must now pass an open flame test for 70
seconds in order to be sold.
How Much Are We Absorbing and How Much Is Safe?
Boric Acid The government says that we will absorb 0.081 mg of boric acid
from mattresses every day. For children, 2 g of boric acid and for an adult,
5 g can prove to be fatal.
Antimony The government says that a human being will absorb approximately
0.8 mg of antimony from mattresses per day. The Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA) says that only 0.03 mg is safe to absorb. Therefore, antimony
in mattresses exceeds toxic levels by 27 times.
Why Is It Bad For You?
Boric Acid Inhalation could result in nausea, vomiting, diarrhea,
drowsiness, rash, headache, decrease in body temperature and/or low blood
pressure. More serious exposure could result in a coma or even death, but
this would be extremely unlikely for the amounts that are inhaled through
mattresses. Skin Contact could cause some traces of skin irritation. Eye
Contact could cause irritation, redness and pain.
Antimony Antimony has been linked to respiratory and cardiovascular
problems. Also, it could cause eye irritation. Antimony has also been linked
to cancer, developmental defects and reproductive problems.
How Do They Apply It? Boric Acid is applied in a powder form and is mixed
with cotton fibers in a machine. Therefore, boric acid is loose powder
around the surface of mattresses. As the mattress gets older and the oils
begin to dry out, more powder is brought to the surface and this can
increase our daily exposure.
By The Numbers
Amount of Boric Acid in Mattresses Size Grams Pounds Ounces Twin 386 0.9
14 Full 553 1.2 20 Queen 659 1.5 23 King 824 1.8 29 Crib 202 0.5 7
Amount of Antimony in Mattresses Size Grams Pounds Ounces Twin 93 0.22 3
Full 133 0.29 5 Queen 158 0.36 6 King 198 0.43 7 Crib 67 0.2 2
Why Choose An Organic Mattress? Organic mattresses are completely
non-toxic because they use 100% natural cotton in order to flameproof them.
They do cost more, but you would be getting a cleaner and healthier sleep.
Is it worth the extra investment?
Cost Differences Note: All of the prices below are for the mattress only.
The price of the box spring is not included. Regular Mattresses Example
Price of a Twin Price of a Queen Price of a King 1 $800 $900 $1200 2 $550
$750 $900 3 $670 $800 $1000 Average $673.3 $816.67 $1033.3
Organic Mattresses Example Price of a Twin Price of a Queen Price of a
King 1 $1400 $1800 $2200 2 $700 $1050 $1250 3 $1300 $1500 $1700 Average
$1133.3 $1450 $1716.67
Table of Averages Price of a Twin Price of a Queen Price of a King
Regular $673.3 $816.67 $1033.3 Organic $1133.3 $1450 $1716.67 Difference in
Prices Organic: 68.3% More Organic: 77.6% More Organic: 66.1% More Overall
Difference 70.7% More
Mattress Company Chemical Policy Ikea does not use brominated
flame-retardants in their mattresses. Serta does not have a public chemical
policy to ensure that their mattresses are free of any chemicals that could
harm human health. In North America, Sealy does not have any chemical
policies to ensure the safety of their customers. However, in England Sealy
is trying to move away from these flame-retardants. Simmons does not appear
to have any policy that avoids the use of these chemicals. Sears does not
have any policy that bans the use of any chemicals that poise a risk to
This is where you will find boric acid in mattresses. The difference
between treated cotton (left) and organic cotton (right).
Appendix - The Survey Form
Mattress Flame Retardants Thank you for volunteering to answer some
questions for my Science Fair Project. Please circle the letter of THE BEST
ANSWER (1) for each question. Thank you.
1. How old is your current mattress? a) <1 year b) Between 1-5 years c)
Between 5-10 years d) >10 years
2. Are you aware that new mattresses sold today have to be flame proofed?
a) Yes b) No
3. Are you aware that boric acid is used as a roach killer? a) Yes b) No
4. Are you aware that boric acid and antimony are linked to skin and eye
irritation, stomach pains, reproductive problems, heart problems,
respiratory problems, and have ultimately been linked to cancer? a) Yes b)
5. Are you aware that boric acid and antimony are being applied to most
new Mattresses in order to flameproof them? a) Yes b) No
6. Do you know that when sleeping on a new flame proofed mattress you are
absorbing 0.802 mg of antimony and 0.081 mg of boric acid everyday? a) Yes
7. Would buy a new mattress treated with boric acid and/or antimony after
knowing this information? a) Yes b) No
8. Would you be willing to pay more for a mattress that is made of
organic cotton (nontoxic) and still is flame retardant? a) Yes b) No
9. Up to how much more would you be willing to pay? a) 25% more b) 50%
more c) 75% more d) 100% more
10.Would you like your government to ban the practice of flame proofing
mattress with toxic chemicals? a) Yes b) No
11. Do you have any children under the age of 5? a) Yes b) No
If you answered “Yes” to the above question (# 11) please respond to the
following questions, again, circling the letter of THE BEST ANSWER (1):
12. Are you aware that children are known to suck on the surface of
mattresses? a) Yes b) No
13. Are you aware that a child could possibly be sucking on an area of up
to 50cm² each hour and, depending on the weight of your child, this exposure
could exceed toxic levels up to 68 times? a) Yes b) No
14. After knowing this information would you change your response to
Question 9 (Up to how much more would you be willing to pay for a safe
mattress)? a) Yes b) No
15. If so, how much more? a) 25% more b) 50% more c) 75% more d) 100%
Thank you very much for your time. Your answers will definitely help me
in my Science Fair Project.