Chemical emissions from crib mattress may expose infants to high levels of harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs) as they sleep, according to new research by the Cockrell School of Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin.
By analyzing the foam padding in crib mattresses, a team of Cockrell environmental engineers found they release four times as many VOCs — potentially harmful chemicals found in household items such as cleaners and scented sprays — as old mattresses.
The study, published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, also found body heat increases emissions and levels of VOCs tend to be highest in infants' immediate breathing zones.
The researchers studied samples of polyurethane foam and polyester foam padding from 20 new and old crib mattresses. Graduate student Brandon Boor, in the Cockrell School's Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering, conducted the study under the supervision of assistant professor Ying Xu and associate professor Atila Novoselac. Boor also worked with senior researcher Helena Järnström from the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland. They reported their findings in the February issue of Environmental Science & Technology.
The researchers concluded that, on average, mattresses emitted VOCs at a rate of 87.1 micrograms per square meter per hour, while older mattresses emitted VOCs at a rate of 22.1 micrograms per square meter per hour. Overall, Boor said crib mattresses release VOCs at rates comparable to other consumer products and indoor materials, including laminate flooring (20 to 35 micrograms per square meter per hour) and wall covering (51 micrograms per square meter per hour).
Brandon Boor, who conducted the study under the supervision of assistant professor Ying Xu and associate professor Atila Novoselac, said he was prompted to look into the issue after learning that infants spend up to 60 percent of their day sleeping. Past research has shown infants are considered highly susceptible to the adverse health effects of exposure to indoor air pollutants.
"I wanted to know more about the chemicals they may inhale as they sleep during their early stages of development," Boor said. "This research also helps to raise awareness about the various chemicals that may be found in crib mattresses, which are not typically listed by manufacturers."
Boor and his team analyzed emissions from 20 mattress samples from 10 manufacturers. The researchers identified more than 30 VOCs in the mattresses, including phenol, neodecanoic acid, and linalool. VOC levels were significantly higher in a sleeping infant's breathing zone, exposing infants to about twice the VOC levels as people standing in the same room. Additionally, because infants inhale significantly more air per body weight than adults and sleep a longer time, they experience about 10 times as much inhalation exposure as adults, the researchers said.
"Our findings suggest the reuse of an older crib or an extended airing-out period may help reduce infant VOC exposures," said assistant professor Ying Xu.
Chemist and indoor air quality expert Charles J. Weschler, adjunct professor in environmental and occupational medicine at Rutgers University, said he does not think the levels of chemical concentration found in the mattresses are alarming, but called the study valuable.
"It's good to be alerted to the fact that crib mattresses are a significant source of chemicals in an infant's environment," said Weschler, who noted crib mattresses might one day be analyzed for noxious chemicals as a result of such research.
The study was funded, in part, by the National Science Foundation.
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