The biggest problem with conventional mattresses, including those for newborn babies and children, is that these mattresses are made of synthetic petrochemical based materials, some of which are hazardous to your health and health of your family. Components of these synthetic mattresses can off-gas into the air that you and your children breathe while you are sleeping or in the bedroom. Your permeable skin layer is your largest breathable organ, that is susceptible to absorbing nasty chemicals with which it is in contact This is the place where you spend one-third of your time; your children even more. Consider memory foam, for example. What is the smell? It is the off-gassing of toxic 28 chemicals (link to article about Memory foam – history, production, composition and health hazards) which is noticeably strong for weeks to months. This has been reported to cause headaches and other noticeable / significant health reactions in people who sleep on them.
The foam in most conventional mattresses is polyurethane foam which is a petroleum based chemical compound combined with an array of additional chemical ingredients used such as stabilizers, catalysts, surfactants, and blowing agents. Each of these chemicals is associated with a host of environmental issues as well as numerous health hazards such as respiratory problems and skin irritation.
Polyurethane foam is extremely flammable. To combat this hazard, toxic industrial fire retardants are added and those standards were set up in 70th when people smoked cigarettes in their beds. The most common chemical fire retardant used to treat polyurethane foam has been pentaBDE, a toxin associated with hyperactivity and neurobehavioral alterations in children. PentaBDE is not bound to the foam, so it leaches out into the surrounding air. PentaBDE has been banned in Europe and by the State of California.
Another prevalent fire retardant is Boric acid: this chemical is also toxic; in fact it is used as a roach killer. The EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) and CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) warn of reproductive, developmental, and neurological damage. Boric acid is known for many health risks associated to inflammation of the upper respiratory tract (including dry throat and cough), eye irritation, and reproductive damage in men (including low sperm count).
Polyvinyl chloride (PVC), the surface material used in nearly all baby mattresses, is widely considered to be one of the most toxic and environmentally unfriendly plastics in use today. 30% by weight of the PVC surface of a typical baby mattress is made up of phthalates, which are associated with asthma, reproductive effects, and cancer. The FDA and Consumer Product Safety Commission have issued general warnings regarding the use of phthalates. PVC is also treated with toxic fire-retardant chemicals such as antimony, arsenic and phosphorus. Various biocides are often added as well.