Organic Everything: Mattress Edition

Organic, organic, organic. Everything has to be organic today. Promoters of all-things-organic will tell you that you’re a fool to be eating/wearing/carrying the yucky non-organic version of their product, and that the producers of those products are purveyors of poison. On the other hand, those who sell organic goods are (in most places, anyway) forbidden from making any particular claims about why organics are supposedly better — mostly because no proof for such claims exists. That leaves sellers of organic stuff with the option of saying nothing, or promoting their products via hints and innuendo. Ethical problems all around, it seems.

See this story from the NY Times: The Stuffing Dreams Are Made Of?

The question of what’s really in a mattress is important, at least as some people see it, because, they believe, any product made with synthetic materials carries potential health risks. “You spend a third of your life in bed,” said Debra Lynn Dadd, an author and blogger in Clearwater, Fla., who has been writing about toxic substances in household products for 25 years. “If you are interested in things like organic food and natural beauty products,” she added, “you should realize that you’re actually getting a greater exposure to toxic chemicals in your bed than anywhere else.”

One of the key health concerns is that many “standard” mattresses contain polyurethane, which is made from petroleum, and which can emit volatile organic compounds. That might just be bad for you. The polyurethane makers, of course, are skeptical:

Robert Luedeka, the executive director of the Polyurethane Foam Association, dismissed the idea that mattress foam is dangerous as a “scare tactic” to help hucksters sell products. “It’s on their shoe soles, it’s in their clothing, their car; their bra pads are made of it,” he said. “It’s a pervasive material in everything we do. It’s in hospitals and in wound dressings. We sell two billion pounds of it a year.”
“I wouldn’t eat it,” Mr. Luedeka added, “but I would do anything else with it. I think it’s extremely safe.”

The most interesting line from the story is actually about the ethics of selling organic mattresses, rather than the ethics of selling the traditional kind:

Even if consumer concerns about health risks are exaggerated or entirely misguided, though, the lack of clear standards for mattresses labeled as organic or natural — and in some cases, a lack of transparency about their contents — may risk feeding the kind of suspicions that Mr. Luedeka noted.

One stone that the Times story leaves unturned: are their health benefits to “standard” mattresses, or risks associated with organic ones? Off the top of my head, I’d want to ask questions about whether fungi (molds, etc.) are any more likely to grow on natural/organic fibres, and whether there’s any risk from inhaling cotton dust (which, in industrial settings, can cause a lung disease called byssinosis.) I’m no expert on such things…but then, neither are most mattress salespeople.
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Thanks to my friend Andrew Potter, who also blogged on this.

2 comments so far

  1. Anonymous on

    to quote an angry, angst-ridden teen in a popular movie (the title of which escapes me): “I don’t want that — organic food is for white people who hate themselves.”~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~I don’t believe the advertising claims of that organic manufacturer until it is proven to me. videre est credere: seeing is believing. If the FDA and Canadian health authorities have not declared polyurathane to be illegal for mattress manufacture then why should I buy an organic one? Let the organicists, organic-grinding monkeys (organicizers?) take up their challenge in writing to the federal health and saftey bureaus — then use an incomplete or unsatisfactory answer from the feds in their advertising, not just mere claims their mattress is “healthier.” There is probably polyurethane in all my ice hockey pads. Should I replace them with compressed hemp or granola? Also, we had a good family friend who, when he had cancer, became so obsessed with eating organic that he almost toyed with not going for chemotherapy. It is “the myth of purity” and the neo-puritans of today, the health-nazis and environiks are creating a climate of “purity at all costs” and the more humanist one is, the more one will let one’s ears be tickled by such modish cant.

  2. Anonymous on

    As an expert on organic mattresses I would say that many concerns about organic bedding are valid.The largest concern I personally have is that everyone has a different definition of organic.Most “organic” mattresses should actually be labelled as “natural.” – And just because something is natural doesn’t mean it’s healthy.That being said, a truly certified organic mattress can offer many excellent benefits from both a health and environmental standpoint.A properly educated consumer, along with a knowledgeable store – are a good combination that can help sort through the misinformation in the organic mattress realm.At the end of the day, consumers deserve to be given a choice, and many of our customers are extremely happy when they discover that there are alternatives to traditional mattresses.


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