Modern Bedding: A Toxic Nightmare
Flame retardant chemicals are in almost everything: Not only in our TV’s, clothing, furniture, carpets and electronic equipment; they are also in our air, water, food and our own bodies. Their levels are especially high in our babies and children, because children eat, drink and breathe more than adults. These chemicals disrupt our thyroid function, immune systems, brain development and can possibly cause cancers. Human blood and tissue levels of these toxins have been doubling every two and a half years in the USA.
What are these chemicals and what can you do to protect yourself and your family from their effects?The manufacturers aren’t required to put the fire retardant chemicals on the label. The most commonly used chemicals, and their health hazards are:
* Boric acid – Inhaling the dust can cause headaches, coughing, dizziness or difficulty breathing. Prolong contact may cause skin sensitization.
* PBDE’s – are prohibited in the European Union after high levels were found in breast milk. California has decided to phase out the use of two of these, penta and octa PBDE by 2008. PBDEs accumulate in the body tissues and cause thyroid hormone disruption, permanent learning and memory impairment, decreased sperm count, fetal malformations, behavioral changes, hearing deficiencies and possibly cancer. U.S. women have levels in their body tissues 50 times more than European women. (For more eye-opening information, click on the link at the end of this report to “Our Stolen Future” Website containing results of a study of PBDEs).
* Formaldehyde – the U.S. Consumer Product and Safety Commission states in a report on urethane insulation, “Many health complaints, including irritation of the eyes, nose, throat, and skin, headaches and shortness of breath, have been reported to CPSC over the last several years by consumers who have had UFFI in their homes. Less frequently reported symptoms include chest pain, diarrhea, nausea, fatigue, and sleep disturbance. Studies have shown that formaldehyde in liquid solution (and possibly formaldehyde gas) can, through repeated exposure, cause sensitization in certain individuals. When exposed to formaldehyde gas, sensitized individuals may exhibit allergic dermatitis or mild-to-severe asthmatic reactions.” This was talking about formaldehyde outgassing from insulation. The same effects would occur from exposure to formaldehyde outgassing while you are sleeping in your bed. CPSC considers formaldehyde to be a potential human carcinogen.
* Decabromodipheyl Oxide – is a developmental toxicant. Exposing mothers to it during pregnancy can cause the death of or disrupt the development of the fetus. It causes birth defects and low birth weight. Behavioral or psychological problems can appear as the child grows.
* Melamine – is a reproductive toxicant, which can cause premature menopause, decreases in male and female fertility, onset of puberty, and changes in menstruation, gestation time, and lactation. It is a development toxicant with all of the hazards of Decabromodiphyl Oxide mentioned above. It is a cardiovascular and blood toxicant. This affects the ability of red blood cells to carry oxygen, white blood cells to fight disease, abnormal heartbeat, decreased blood flow, and elevated blood pressure.
* Antimony – The Australian Government Department of Environment and Heritage says of antimony,” Antimony compounds show toxic properties similar to those of arsenic. This depends on how much antimony a person has been exposed to, for how long, and current state of health. Exposure to high levels of antimony can result in a variety of adverse health effects. Breathing high levels for a long time can irritate eyes and lungs and can cause heart and lung problems, stomach pain, diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach ulcers. Ingesting large doses of antimony can cause vomiting. When eaten by mold or mildew, antimony releases a poisonous gas called stibine. This gas has caused epidemics of deaths in the past.
These are a few of the chemicals used as fire retardants. Polyols, toluene diisocyante, amines, siloxanes, styrene, limonene, benzene and many others are also used. If you find any chemicals listed on your mattress label, you can search the web for more information. Write the chemical in the search box adding a comma, then write “health hazard.” But you can’t trust the label, because by law therre is no requirement to list any or all of the ingredients.
Respiratory Toxicity of Mattress Emissions in Mice
SOURCE: Archives of Environmental Health, 55(1):38-43, 2000
“Groups of male Swiss-Webster mice breathed emissions of several brands of crib mattresses for two 1-hr periods. The authors used a computerized version of ASTM-E-981 test method to monitor respiratory frequncy, pattern, and airflow velocity and to diagnose abnormalities when statistically significant changes appeared. The emissions of four mattresses caused various combinations of upper-airways irritation (i.e., sensory irritation, lower-airways irritation (pulmonary irritation), and decreases in mid-expiratory airflow velocity. At the peak effect, a traditional mattress (wire springs with fiber padding) caused sensory irritation in 57% of breaths, pulmonary irritation in 23% of breaths, and airflow decrease in 11% of breaths. All mattresses caused pulmonary irritation, as shown by 17-23% of breaths at peak. The largest airflow decrease (i.e., affecting 26% of the breaths occurred with a polyurethane foam pad covered with vinyl. Sham exposures produced less than 6% sensory irritation, pulmonary irritation, or airflow limitation. Organic cotton padding caused very different effects, evidenced by increases in both respiratory rate and tidal volume. The authors used gas chromatography/mass spectrometry to identify respiratory irritants (e.g. styrene, isopropylbenzene, limonene) in the emissions of one of the polyurethane foam mattresses. Some mattresses emitted mixtures of volatile chemicals that had the potential to cause respiratory-tract irritation and decrease airflow velocity in mice.
Kapok (Ceiba pentandra) is a tropical tree of the order Malvales and the family Malvaceae (previously separated in the family Bombacaceae), native to Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, northern South America, and (as the variety C. pentandra var. guineensis) to tropical west Africa. The word is also used for the fibre obtained from its seed pods. The tree is also known as the Java cotton, Java kapok, or ceiba. It is a sacred symbol in Maya mythology.
The tree grows to 60-70 m (200-230 ft) tall and has a very substantial trunk up to 3 m (10 ft) in diameter with buttresses. The trunk and many of the larger branches are densely crowded with very large, robust simple thorns. The leaves are compound of 5 to 9 leaflets, each up to 20 cm (8 in) and palm like. Adult trees produce several hundred 15 cm (6 in) seed pods. The pods contain seeds surrounded by a fluffy, yellowish fiber that is a mix of lignin and cellulose.
We have completely eliminated COTTON BATTING from our cushions. Cotton batting is one of the most chemically laden crops. 25% of all pesticides used in the world are on the cotton crop alone. Since the advent of synthetic fibers, kapok has virtually been eliminated as a mattress stuffing material, although this was traditionally the practice in Asia. For more info on the damaging effects of cotton, scroll down.
Conventional Cotton Statistics
Of all insecticides used globally each year, the estimated amount used on traditional cotton: 25%.
Five of the top nine pesticides used on cotton in the U.S. (cyanide, dicofol, naled, propargite, and trifluralin) are KNOWN cancer-causing chemicals. All nine are classified by the U.S. EPA as Category I and II— the most dangerous chemicals.
In the U.S. today, it takes approximately 8-10 years, and $100 million to develop a new pesticide for use on cotton. It takes approximately 5-6 years for weevils and other pests to develop an immunity to a new pesticide.
600,408 tons of herbicides, insecticides, fertilizers, fungicides, and other chemicals were used to produce cotton in 1992 in the 6 largest cotton producing states. (Agricultural Chemical Usage, 1992 Field Crops Summary, USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service)
Number of pesticides presently on the market that were registered before being tested to determine if they caused cancer, birth defects or wildlife toxicity: 400. (US EPA Pesticide Registration Progress Report, 1/93)
Amount of time it takes to ban a pesticide in the U.S. using present procedures: 10 years. (US EPA Pesticide Registration Progress Report, 1/93)
Number of active ingredients in pesticides found to cause cancer in animals or humans: 107.(After Silent Spring, NRDC, 6/93)
Of those active ingredients, the number still in use today: 83.(After Silent Spring, NRDC, 6/93)
Number of pesticides that are reproductive toxins according to the California E.P.A.: 15. (After Silent Spring, NRDC, 6/93)
Most acutely toxic pesticide registered by the E.P.A.: aldicarb (frequently used on cotton). (After Silent Spring, NRDC, 6/93)
Number of states in which aldicarb has been detected in the groundwater: 16. (After Silent Spring, NRDC, 6/93)
Percentage of all U.S. counties containing groundwater susceptible to contamination from agricultural pesticides and fertilizers: 46%. (After Silent Spring, NRDC, 6/93)
The Sustainable Cotton Project estimates that the average acre of California cotton grown in 1995 received some 300 pounds of synthetic fertilizers or 1/3 pound of fertilizer to raise every pound of cotton. Synthetic fertilizers have been found to contaminate drinking wells in farm communities and pose other long-term threats to farm land.
One of the commonly used pesticides on cotton throughout the world, endosulfan, leached from cotton fields into a creek in Lawrence County, Alabama during heavy rains in 1995. Within days 245,000 fish were killed over 16 mile stretch. 142,000 pounds of endosulfan were used in California in 1994.
In California’s San Joaquin Valley, estimates are that less than 25% of a pesticide sprayed from a crop duster ever hits the crop. The remainder can drift for several miles, coming to rest on fruit and vegetable crops, and farm- workers. One year more than one hundred workers fell ill after a single incident of such drift onto an adjacent vineyard.
In California, it has become illegal to feed the leaves, stems, and short fibers of cotton known as ‘gin trash’ to livestock, because of the concentrated levels of pesticide residue. Instead, this gin trash is used to make furniture, mattresses, tampons, swabs, and cotton balls. The average American woman will use 11,000 tampons or sanitary pads during her lifetime.
The problems with clothing production don’t stop in the field. During the conversion of conventional cotton into clothing, numerous toxic chemicals are added at each stage— silicone waxes, harsh petroleum scours, softeners, heavy metals, flame and soil retardants, ammonia, and formaldehyde— to name just a few.
The search for nontoxic cotton –
includes related article on minimizing textile toxicity
The process of manufacturing cotton clothing often includes the use of chemicals that can affect not only the environment, but the consumer as well.
Nylon, the first manufactured fiber to be sold commercially, made its debut in the form of stockings at the 1939 World’s Fair. Now, 53 years later, manufactured fibers–most notably, polyester, acrylic, and nylon–account for well over half of all textile fibers purchased in the United States.
Before the introduction of synthetics, people all over the world had dressed in, slept under, and eaten off of textiles made from natural fibers –primarily cotton, wool, silk, and linen. Globally, cotton remains the most utilized fiber. And despite the relatively recent popularity of synthetic-fiber textiles, which are actually plastics derived from petrochemicals, United States consumers desiring purity in a natural fiber continue to seek out cotton.
How Pure Is “100% Pure”?
Conventional cotton cultivation and manufacturing are very unnatural processes. Conventionally grown cotton sprouts from seeds that are routinely treated with one or more fungicides to forestall seedling rotting; at planting time, additional fungicides are often applied to the soil. To control weeds, cotton farmers use preemergent herbicides at or before planting time, and postemergent herbicides while the plants are growing. Crop dusters spray chemical defoliants on cotton fields prior to harvest so that the leaves will not stain the white fibers during the mechanical picking process. If a second growth appears before the harvest, farmers use chemical dessicants to kill the plants. Some cotton farmers spray their crops with chemical insecticides as a matter of course; others use pesticides only when insects multiply into numbers they consider dangerous.
All over the world, cotton is one of the crops most heavily treated by chemicals. And whereas many of the “heavy” pesticides–such as DDT –have been banned in the United States, they are still used in other countries, and they are used on cotton crops. Other pesticides used in cotton growing both here and abroad are also considered highly toxic. Moreover, as pests become resistant to these chemicals, greater quantities and more powerful varieties are used.
Cotton-growing practices in Third World countries have been implicated in ecological destruction as well as unjust treatment of laborers. Furthermore, conventional cotton farming worldwide, aside from using huge amounts of chemicals, requires vast quantities of fossil fuels to produce the chemicals and, particularly in the United States, consumes vast amounts of topsoil and water in irrigating the fields.
If all this isn’t enough to make you sweat and squirm in your 100 percent cotton duds, consider what happens to cotton after it’s picked and ginned to remove the seeds: the fiber is washed in various detergents, bleached, dyed, then treated with any number of chemicals, including those used in lye baths, sizing, and formaldehyde finishes.
What Are the Dangers of Wearing Cotton?
“I have no reason to believe that there’s any direct danger from pesticide residue to the consumer who buys and wears cotton,” says Debra Lynn Dadd, author of Nontoxic, Natural & Earthwise. “However, I am concerned about the effect of pesticides on the environment. I am also concerned about the effects–on both consumers and the environment–of some of the chemicals used in manufacturing and processing cotton.”
Environmentally, chemical fertilizers and pesticides have great staying power and an unnerving tendency to travel long distances–at times showing up far from the origin of spraying. Pesticide residues have been found in coral reefs around the world, as a result of runoff into water systems. And drift (a process whereby chemicals, particularly those that are sprayed, travel by air) often causes pesticide residues to land on organically grown fruits and vegetables. “Unfortunately, because of drift, organic does not necessarily mean pesticide-free,” says Brian Baker, technical director of California Certified Organic Farmers in Santa Cruz, California.
Pesticides can affect human members of the ecosystem as well. Cotton farmers and their families–indeed, anyone living near a community where cotton is grown conventionally–experience concentrated exposure to all the chemicals used before and during the growing process. “Absences from school due to sickness and general reports of ill health go way up during cotton defoliation season in California’s San Joaquin Valley,” notes Baker.
Similarly, chemicals used in processing and manufacturing cotton can have determental effects on the environment. As the by-products of these procedures pass into the effluent, their chemical content, temperature, and pH can disrupt the ecosystems into which they flow. One particularly problematic example is the by-product dioxin, which results from the use of chlorine in the bleaching of cotton fibers. In response to this problem, many manufacturers have switched to hydrogen peroxide as a bleaching agent. The by-products of hydrogen peroxide bleaching–specifically, hydrogen and oxygen–are less toxic than dioxin; however, possible problems associated with temperature changes and altered pH, and the unknown impact of introducing anything foreign into a given ecosystem, have convinced some environmentally conscious producers of cotton clothing to abandon the bleaching process altogether.
All round insecticides with many side effects
Endosulfan was used as an active ingredient in many pesticides as early as 1956. It has a wide range of use as an insecticide and plays an especially important role in cotton cultivation, as cotton in conventional production is particularly susceptible to pests and disease. In particular, endosulfan is used against one of the main cotton pests, the boll weevil Helicoverpa armigera.
Endosulfan is introduced to the environment via many retail products, (Thiodan being the most well-known worldwide), which are used on farms and cultivation areas. Apart from the previously mentioned use in cotton cultivation, the active ingredient is also used on tea and coffee plantations or in vegetable cultivation, as well as in fruit growing and in forestry. It is also used as a wood preservative.
Due to its broad-band effectiveness against insects and mites it is universally used as a form of contact poison or stomach insecticide. In addition, as its patent has now run out it is cheaply available on the market.
Therefore, as it is less expensive endosulfan is still used, especially in poorer countries.
As endosulfan is not aimed at a particular type of insect, other non-target organisms are also endangered. However, endosulfan is mainly associated with the many cases of poisoning which occur every year, mainly in developing countries.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has classified endosulfan as moderately dangerous due to its poisonous effects (Danger Class II); the American Environmental Agency EPA classifies endosulfan as highly dangerous.
PAN Asia and PAN Africa have long been campaigning for a worldwide ban on endosulfan due to frequent cases of poisoning. The substance is too dangerous for people in developing countries who are frequently illiterate and often do not have protective clothing.
Variety of poisoning possibilities
Pesticides do not only enter the body by using them directly. Many cases of poisoning occur due to contaminated drinking water and food which contains residues of endosulfan. Even smoke from a cigarette, the tobacco of which contains residues of endosulfan, can lead to poisoning as can contact with contaminated ground.
Realities in developing countries ignored
Pesticide manufacturers recommend the use of gloves, glasses, long clothing and a breathing mask when handling pesticides. However, in developing countries reality is sometimes very different. Under conditions of poverty, pesticides are usually handled without any protective clothing whatsoever. The climatic conditions also make the wearing of protective clothing in high temperatures a torment. Recommendations given by manufacturers are not suited to the conditions in tropical countries and are therefore unrealistic for many of the countries affected. Moreover, many of the users who only speak the local language are usually not able to understand the handling instructions, which are usually written in a European language, or they cannot read them at all.
According to a study by the Fraunhofer Institute in 2002, between 10,000 and 50,000 tons of endosulfan are produced each year in the EU. In the year 2003, in Germany alone, between 250 and 1,000 tons of endosulfan were exported. European and German concerns must therefore also take responsibility for poisonings in Southern countries
What happens in the body?
The exact mechanism of endosulfan in the body has not been completely researched. However, various studies have shown it to be extremely toxic and that it has a direct effect on the central nervous system. Many investigations prove that Endosulfan has a damaging effect on the skin, as well as on the mucus membranes of the breathing tract and the eyes. Additional symptoms of poisoning in humans are vomiting, diarrhoea, headaches, dizziness and restlessness which can increase and lead to disorientation and end in cramping attacks. As well as hyperactivity and twitching, symptoms such as breathing difficulties, lack of coordination in movement and lack of balance were observed. For those with a low protein diet, the effects of endosulfan are even more drastic. This is especially the case in many of the poorer countries where many people have to deal with the problem of malnutrition and undernourishment.
Although acute poisoning is the main problem, there are also possibilities of chronic effects on people who were exposed to small doses of endosulfan over a long period of time. Animal studies show that it affects the liver and kidney, as well as unborn foetuses. The animals examined also showed lack of resistance to disease.
Small amounts with great effects
The WHO, in cooperation with the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations), lays down the ADI values (Acceptable Daily Intake) for dangerous substances. The ADIs define the maximum amount of a substance which a person could consume on a daily basis during the whole of their life, without it resulting in any damage to their health. For endosulfan the value is 0.006 mg/kg body weight. An adult weighing 65 kg could therefore consume 0.36 mg of endosulfan a day without endangering themselves. Such a dose, taken over a period of 50 years, would result in the low risk amount of 7.12 g. This is the equivalent of two lumps of sugar. An unbelievably small amount in comparison to the production figures of the active ingredient.
Endosulfan also has an immense effect on the environment. Just small concentrations of endosulfan in water can cause lasting damage to plant and animal life.
Bans and new approvals
Endosulfan is no longer approved as a pesticide due to its toxicity in only four countries worldwide. It is completely banned in Sri Lanka, Norway, Belize and the Netherlands. Another four countries have limited its use. This is also the case in the German Federal Republic. The registration of the active ingredient ran out in West Germany on 26.11.1991, and in the newly-formed German states it didn’t run out until 1994 because of an interim arrangement. At present, a revision of older pesticides is being carried out at EU level within the framework of the pesticides authorization Directive 91/414. Endosulfan is already undergoing the reviewing process.
While some countries are trying to get endosulfan banned and others have already succeeded, in other parts of the world it is still used. In some West African countries it was re-approved for the Endosulfan Pestizid Aktions-Netzwerk e.V. (PAN Germany) 1999/2000 season and marketed by Aventis, whose agricultural branch has since been taken over by Bayer. Previous to this, the cotton crop had seriously declined as some pests had developed resistance to other pesticide active ingredients. In Senegal, the crop yield fell from 50,576 tons in the 1991/1992 season to 11,623 tons in the years 1998/1999. In the 2000/2001 season altogether 29,331 litres of Endosulfan were sprayed. The re-utilization of endosulfan led to many deaths. OBEPAB (Organisation Béninoise pour la Promotion de l’Agriculture Biologique) registered 37 deaths in the Borgou area in Benin during the 1999/2000 season. Another 36 people suffered serious poisoning. The total number of pesticide accidents was probably much higher. These examples illustrate just how hazardous endosulfan is.
Endosulfan in West Africa
In January 2001 until July 2003, PAN UK investigated the effects of various pesticide products on humans, in cooperation with PAN Africa, OBEPAB and some smaller African NGOs. This study was carried out in Benin, Mali and in Cameroon. In all three countries most of the pesticides used contained endosulfan. Blood probes were taken from farmers and tested for traces of endosulfan. In the Koutiala region in Mali a total of 28 cases of poisoning were reported. In Fana, Mali, 78 farmers from six villages were questioned. Here there were 19 poisonings. Most of those poisoned were illiterate adults, of whom only a few allowed themselves to be treated in hospital.