Does “soy based foam” deliver on its promise?

27 01 2010

In last week’s post I explained that polyurethane foam (polyfoam) has a plethora of problems associated with it:

  • The chemicals used to manufacture the foam have been formally identified as carcinogens; and the flame retardant chemicals added to almost all foams increase the chemical toxicity.  These chemicals evaporate (VOCs)  and pollute our indoor air and dust;
  • It does not decompose in the landfill; the recycling claim only perpetuates the continued use of hazardous chemicals;
  • It is dependent on a non-renewable resource: crude oil.

When untreated foam is ignited, it burns extremely fast. Ignited polyurethane foam sofas can reach temperatures over 1400 degrees Fahrenheit within minutes. Making it even more deadly is the toxic gas produced by burning polyurethane foam – hydrogen cyanide gas.  Hydrogen cyanide itself is so toxic that it was used by the Aum Shinrikyo terrorists who attacked Tokyo’s subway system in 1995, and in Nazi death camps during World War II. The gas was also implicated in the 2003 Rhode Island nightclub fire that killed 100 people, including Great White guitarist Ty Longley, and injured more than 200 others. Tellingly, a witness to that fire, television news cameraman Brian Butler, told interviewers that “It had to be two minutes, tops, before the whole place was black smoke.”   Just one breath of superheated toxic gas can incapacitate a person, preventing escape from a burning structure.

Polyfoam is so flammable (called “solid gasoline” by fire experts) – burning  so hot and emitting such toxic fumes while burning -  that even the National Association of State Fire Marshals (NASFM) recommends that it be placed within Class 9 (an unusual but clearly hazardous material) because they are concerned about the safety of firemen and other first responders.

According to the federal government’s National Institute of Standards and Technology, polyurethane foam in furniture is responsible for 30 percent of U.S. deaths from fires each year.

Polyurethane foam was introduced as a cushion component in furniture in 1957 -  only a bit more than 50 years ago – and quickly replaced latex, excelsior, cotton batting, horsehair and wool because it was CHEAP!  Imagine – polyfoam cushions at $2 vs. natural latex at $7 or $8.  Price made all the difference.

But today – not long after jumping on the bandwagon -  we have concerns about polyurethane:  in addition to all the problems mentioned above there is concern about its carbon footprint.  So now we see ads for a  new miracle product: a bio based foam made from soybeans, which is highly touted as “A leap forward in foam technology, conserving increasingly scarce oil resources while substituting more sustainable options,” as one product brochure describes it. Companies and media releases claim that using soy in polyurethane foam production results in fewer greenhouse gas emissions, requires less energy, and could significantly reduce reliance on petroleum. Many companies are jumping on the bandwagon, advertising their green program of using foam cushions with “20% bio based foam” (everybody knows we have to start somewhere and that’s a start, right?).  As Len Laycock, CEO of Upholstery Arts,  says  – who wouldn’t sleep sounder with such promising news?   I have again leaned heavily on Mr. Laycock’s articles on poly and soy foam, “Killing You Softly”, for this post.

As with so many over hyped ‘green’ claims, it’s the things they don’t say that matter most.  While these claims contain grains of truth, they are a far cry from the whole truth. So called ‘soy foam’ is hardly the dreamy green product that manufacturers and suppliers want people to believe.

To begin, let’s look at why they claim soy foam is green:

  1. it’s made from soybeans, a renewable resource
  2. it reduces our dependence on fossil fuels  by  both reducing the amount of fossil fuel needed for the feedstock  and  by reducing the energy requirements needed to produce the foam.

Are these viable claims?

It’s made from soybeans, a renewable resource:  This claim is undeniably true.   But what they don’t tell you is that this product, marketed as soy or bio-based,  contains very little soy. In fact, it is more accurate to call it ‘polyurethane based foam with a touch of soy added for marketing purposes’. For example, a product marketed as “20% soy based” may sound impressive, but what this typically means is that only 20 % of the polyol portion of the foam is derived from soy. Given that polyurethane foam is made by combining two main ingredients—a polyol and an isocyanate—in approximately equal parts, “20% soy based” translates to a mere 10% of the foam’s total volume. In this example the product remains 90% polyurethane foam and by any reasonable measure cannot legitimately be described as ‘based’ on soy. If you go to Starbucks and buy a 20 oz coffee and add 2-3 soy milk/creamers to it, does it become “soy-based” coffee?

It reduces our dependence on fossil fuels: According to Cargill, a multi-national producer of agricultural and industrial products, including BiOH polyol (the “soy” portion of “soy foam”), the soy based portion of so called ‘soy foam’ ranges from  5% up to a theoretical 40% of polyurethane foam formulations. This means that while suppliers may claim that ‘bio foams’ are based on renewable materials such as soy, in reality a whopping 90 to 95%, and sometimes more of the product consists of the same old petro-chemical based brew of toxic chemicals. This is no ‘leap forward in foam technology’.

It is true that the energy needed to produce soy-based foam is, according to Cargill, who manufactures the soy polyol,  less that that needed to produce the polyurethane foam.  But the way they report the difference is certainly difficult to decipher:  soy based polyols use 23% less energy to produce than petroleum based polyols, according to Cargill’s LCA.   But the formula for the foam uses only 20% soy based  polyols, so by my crude calculations (20% of 50%…) the energy savings of 20% soy based foam would require only 4.6%  less energy than that used to make the petroleum based foam.  But hey, that’s still a savings and every little bit helps get us closer to a self sustaining economy and is friendlier to the planet.

But the real problem with advertising soy based foam as a new, miracle green product is that the foam, whether soy based or not, remains a “greenhouse gas spewing pretroleum product and a witches brew of carcinogenic and neurotoxic chemicals”, according to Len Laycock.

My concern with the use of soy is not its carbon footprint but rather the introduction of a whole new universe of concerns such as pesticide use, genetically modifed crops, appropriation of food stocks and deforestation.  Most soy crops are now GMO:  according to the USDA, over 91% of all soy crops in the US are now GMO; in 2007, 58.6% of all soybeans worldwide were GMO.  If you don’t think that’s a big deal, please read our posts on these issues (9.23.09 and 9.29.09).  The debate still rages today.  Greenpeace did an expose (“Eating Up The Amazon”) on what they consider to be a driving force behind Amazon rainforest destruction – Cargill’s race to establish soy plantations in Brazil.  You can read the Greenpeace report here, and Cargill’s rejoinder here.

An interesting aside:  There is an article featured on CNNMoney.com about the rise of what they call Soylandia – the enormous swath of soy producing lands in Brazil (almost unknown to Americans) which dominates the global soy trade.  Sure opened my eyes to some associated soy issues.

In “Killing You Softly“, another sinister side of  soy based foam marketing is brought to light:

“Pretending to offer a ‘soy based’ foam allows these corporations to cloak themselves in a green blanket and masquerade as environmentally responsible corporations when in practice they are not. By highlighting small petroleum savings, they conveniently distract the public from the fact that this product’s manufacture and use continues to threaten human health and poses serious disposal problems. Aside from replacing a small portion of petroleum polyols, the production of polyurethane based foams with soy added continues to rely heavily on ‘the workhorse of the polyurethane foam industry’, cancer causing toluene diisocyanate (TDI). So it remains ‘business as usual ‘ for polyurethane manufacturers.

Despite what polyurethane foam and furniture companies imply , soy foam is not biodegradable either. Buried in the footnotes on their website, Cargill quietly acknowledges that, “foams made with BiOH polyols are not more biodegradable than traditional petroleum-based cushioning”. Those ever so carefully phrased words are an admission that all polyurethane foams, with or without soy added, simply cannot biodegrade. And so they will languish in our garbage dumps, leach into our water, and find their way into the soft tissue of young children, contaminating and compromising life long after their intended use.

The current marketing of polyurethane foam and furniture made with ‘soy foam’ is merely a page out the tobacco industry’s current ‘greenwashing’ play book. Like a subliminal message, the polyurethane foam and furniture industries are using the soothing words and images of the environmental movement to distract people from the known negative health and environmental impacts of polyurethane foam manufacture, use and disposal.

Cigarettes that are organic (pesticide-free), completely biodegradable, and manufactured using renewable tobacco, still cause cancer and countless deaths. Polyurethane foam made with small amounts of soy derived materials still exposes human beings to toxic, carcinogenic materials, still relies on oil production, and still poisons life.

While bio-based technologies may offer promise for creating greener, cradle-to-cradle materials, tonight the only people sitting pretty or sleeping well on polyurethane foam that contains soy are the senior executives and shareholders of the companies benefiting from its sale. As for the rest of humankind and all the living things over which we have stewardship, we’ve been soy scammed!”

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37 responses

27 01 2010
Tom Griggs

I would go even further and say that the soy content is even less. In sprayable urethane foams the polyol content is approximately 50% of the B side the other 50% being composed of flame retardants, surfacts and catalyst. so in reality the Polyol is 25% of the entire foam content. So if the Soy content is 20% it is 20% of 25% which is about 5% of the total foam system. Clearly not Soy based and a clear case of green washing.
The other issue to consider is that Soy is an edible food product. By using Soy in this manner the manufacturer’s are driving the price of global food production upward and creating hardship for 3rd world countries.

28 01 2010
Foam Man

Tom, I agree with several comments made in your post, as well as, the original post, but let’s not forget that everyone has an agenda. Bottom line is we need polyurethane foam in our lives. It’s not going anywhere, anytime soon. It does much more than provide comfort to our bodies while we sit or sleep. It provides the best source of insulation currently available for commercial building structures, residential homes, coolers, freezers, water heaters, refrigerators,… and the list goes on an on. Urethane foams save energy. They do use some nasty chemicals and they are based on petroleum, which is bad, but let’s not forget all the good they bring to our environment. Some of the comments made in the original post are pulled out of context. The writer of the post (O Ecotextiles) claims they are still on a journey, which began six years ago. They claim they are striving to get more eco-friendly. That is exactly what the foam industry is trying to do. Soy polyols have really only been on the market for about 4-5 years. They started out at about 1% of the foam, now many foam producers can produce foams with more than 20% renewable content in the final foams. I don’t mean in the polyol side, I am talking weight % of the final foam. That is a significant stride. In spray systems, the same trend can be seen. System manufacturers have continued to increase their renewable contents in the systems. The industry is reducing their dependency on foreign petroleum, but it takes time. Your comments on increasing global food pricing are totally unfounded. If you compare renewable polyol potential use, with the global production of soybeans or castor plants, you will find that the urethane portion does not even show up. It is way less than 1%. Yes soy is a food crop being used for industrial purposes, but castor is also used as a renewable polyol. Castor is not a food crop. So, I guess it could be argued that everywhere castor is being grown (mostly India) that is also taking food off people’s table. The real driver of food price increases is government subsidies. Due to the ethanol push, corn went through the roof, everyone planted corn and nothing else. So that created shortages of other crops. As I said at the beginning, everyone one has an agenda. I hope one day we can have 100% renewable foam, but I hope it won’t biodegrade when my grandson pees on his natural mattress!!!

29 01 2010
oecotextiles

HI Foam Man: I don’t understand why you say we need polyurethane foam in our lives. It’s a really comfortable product of course, and it’s a fabulous insulator. The great insulation values are what enables us to save energy by using it. But it’s made from isocyanates and polyols in about equal portions. Isocyanate is so dangerous and complex that only a few companies in the world make it. One of them, Union Carbide, released isocyanate gas in Bhopal, India, killing thousands of people. A chemist in charge of making isocyanate described its complexity. He said that each time a new batch is made approximately 50 new chemicals, never identified or seen before, are created. (from The Polyurethame Foam Book by David Smith, http://www.monolithic.com/stories/foam-chapter-07.) When burning, the foam releases hydrogen cyanide, which is so lethal that the burning smoke would incapacitate somebody before they could flee a burning room. Even the application of the foam can be hazardous: please see teacher Nancy Swan’s story of the serious injuries she suffered, including permanent eye, respiratory, and neurological damage, after spray-on polyurethane foam roofing was applied during the school day. (https://sites.google.com/site/nancyswan/toxic-justice-a-true-story). In any event, polyfoam is a product I’d rather not have in my life, and I’d like to see research into alternatives!

I just read about a new insulation product which is made of water, mineral particles, starch and hydrogen peroxide which is poured into molds and then injected with living mushroom cells. The cells grow and within weeks a 1″ thick panel of insulation is fully grown. It is then dried to prevent fungal growth. It has a competitive R-factor and also acts as a firewall. Who knew? Why can’t we begin to explore some of these alternative technologies rather than depend on the same old polyfoam base?

29 01 2010
Foam Man

I bet more people die of heat stroke farming your products “naturally” on foreign farms, than die from spray foam. You are taking one-off scenarios and applying it to the whole industry.
Every year strides are made and legislation is passed to make polyfoams burn less and emit less harmful gases. The industry is getting better and they are making changes. Do you actually think your mushroom panels are practical? And even if they are, I am sure once they were in production some lobbyist group would find a problem with them. Less food crops, or a problem with the H2O2 waste stream. Maybe a change to the ecosystem. Or maybe people would start eating the mushroom boards to get high. I think you have gone way over the edge on this one. I unerstand tree-hugging, but let’s get real.

By the way, do your homework on the UC cyanide poisoning debacle. It was actually caused by a degruntled employee who purposely caused the incident. It was extremely sad and catastrophic. But, you using this to sell your story is like someone saying we should close all post offices because a postal employee went crazy and shot-up the place. And your comment “each time a new batch is made approximately 50 new chemicals, never identified or seen before, are created”, that is ridiculous. So isocyanate has been produced for 50 years, at several plants, producing several batches every year, and you are trying to tell me they produce 50 new and unknown chemicals every batch. That is lunacy. I guess I need to start finding these unknown chemicals and see if there is an outlet for them, I might have a new business.

30 01 2010
oecotextiles

Hi Foam Man: I used the example of the mushroom based panel to show the kind of outside the box thinking that I think we need. I don’t have any idea whether the panels are practical but they might prove to be, who knows? Or they might be a disastrous choice for some yet unknown reason. But just because it sounds so far out is that a reason not to continue the research? I think our future is going to depend on biotechnology as a way to feed the growing population, but I want to make sure the research is comprehensive and that we don’t dream up something that proves to be worse than what we’re doing now.

Currently, we seem to be of different opinions – you think the polyfoam is a safe, practical solution to a problem. I think it is a solution which is unsafe, given the chemicals used to make it. ( And by the way, I don’t care how the Union Carbide leak occurred – sabotage or negligence – the fact that the chemicals can be so toxic as to kill thousands of people and also be used in products we live with makes me uneasy.) You want to be able to use the polyfoam (and I agree it’s a great problem solver) yet I don’t want to live with the chemicals they use to make it. I see no other option than to look for alternatives which can satisfy us both. Even if we were able to use 100% soy based polyol, and all my concerns with the use of soy as the feedstock for the polyol were addressed, given the current recipe for foam we’d still have to use isocyanate.

29 01 2010
Jessica Koster

I am currently the marketing manager for Cargill’s BiOH polyols business – makers of soy ingredients used in polyurethane foams. I wanted to make a few corrections on information in the post and provide some additional resources for readers.

1) Claims around renewable content – It is absolutely true that soy foams are made in part with soy… with the majority still being petroleum-based. You can see my blog post trying to educate on this point. http://bit.ly/yKeMT. As you note, polyol is only part of the foam formulation (roughly 2/3 in flexible foams) and the iso is the remaining 1/3. Soy polyols can replace a portion of the petroleum polyols resulting in foam products with up to 25% total renewable content in the finished foam product (not just the polyol side.) Considering that this is complex chemistry and new technology, I would consider this a significant technical step forward. However, we aren’t satisfied with current levels and are continuously working to develop new products that will replace a greater portion of the petroleum chemicals with renewable materials. For more background on how foam is made, please see our fact sheet here: http://bit.ly/7FPAm1.

2) It is true that the life cycle data for BiOH polyols indicates 23% less total energy demand. However, I believe a more relevant data point is the 61% less non-renewable energy demand for BiOH polyols compared to the petroleum polyols they replace. This is because a large portion of energy in our supply chain comes from solar energy used to grow crops. You do correctly note that these improvements are specific to the BiOH polyol in the formulation – not the entire foam product. However, if soy polyol is 20% of the foam formulation using 61% less non renewable energy… the total nonrenewable energy svgs for the foam product could be ~20%… which adds up across a large industry!

I don’t claim that soy-based foams and BiOH® polyols are a perfect nor “green” solution… however, I do think that they can have a positive impact in the home furnishings industry as they are more widely adopted.

3 05 2012
Jody Harbour

I have a bra alternative that is presently a polyurithane foam covered with a cotton model. Is there a problem with anything seeping into the skin? I am very interested in using as much natural product as possible considering my product is encouraging healthy breasts. Any feed back is much appreciated.

17 05 2012
O Ecotextiles

Speaking completely as a non- chemist, I don’t think the danger in using a cotton covered polyurethane next to the skin is from skin absorption – but rather from the evaporation of the chemicals used to make the polyurethane. Another danger might be from the dyes used in your cotton fabric – if they’re not heavy metal free, you risk skin absorption of those chemicals too.

28 04 2010
Lucas Durand

Why do we need any of this stuff?
Humans have a track record that indicates an unwillingness to plan their futures for the long term. Planning the evolution of an unsustaianble insulation product into something more green does not qualify.
Even if a 100% Soybean based polyol is a possibility, so what? It still requires oil to harvest and ship the beans to market.
Has anybody invented the solar-power industrial tractor yet? What about the solar-powered transport truck? Our need to ditribute food should supercede our need to transport soybeans for sprayfoam.
As was stated before, the only way for us to achieve any semblance of a sustaiable future for ourselves is to forget about the technologies that are dead end roads and start thinking outside of the box for alternative long-term strategies.

24 05 2010
Erica

So would you say that the rubber tree natural latex is now the best alternative? I am actually trying to restuff my couch cushions diy style, and I am looking for the safest product I can find. Thanks.

24 05 2010
oecotextiles

As the pillow support, I’d vote for natural latex rubber as the best choice. To wrap the latex, I think kapok would be a good choice if you can find it – and maybe the cheapest. Otherwise wool is fabulous. But you might find some DIY blogs that suggest unusual components, like maybe re-purposed old wool sweaters or recycled cottons (warning: I’m guessing here!) Depends on how creative you have the time and energy to be.

1 06 2011
Rowena Finegan

Hello Erica:

Your best bet is pure latex foam wrapped in organic pure wool batting with a final layer of organic cotton or cotton/hemp blend for ease of use. On top of all that you would put your organic fabric of choice – preferably from Oecotextiles. As oeco suggests, you can also use kapok, which tends to keep its loft longer than wool. Whatever you chose, make sure it is the best and purest material you can find, otherwise there is no point to the whole endeavor. If you need help, I have quite a bit of experience in this respect and would be happy for you to contact me.
I am new to this Blog stuff and so don’t know the protocol; if it’s OK to put my contacting info here, let me know and I will be happy to do so. Otherwise you can reach me through the girls at Oecotextiles.

10 01 2012
Garry McDonald

I guess that makes me Satan incarnate – I make flexible Polyurethane foam here in the UK. The big difference between my foam and standard PU foam is that mine is loaded with Graphite (reducing the Polyol content). That means it doesn’t burn and, when forced to burn by incineration, it gives off very low amounts of toxic gases. It is used in aircraft and train seating and as such is heavily certificated for smoke propagation, toxicity, heat release and spread of flame. It is safe once made in to a foam. The Isocyanate element is only dangerous if it is not controlled – a bit like the petrol you put in your car. I have approached domestic furniture manufacturers but they are not prepared to consider the 40% price increase. This is a shame as I know it would save lives.

9 05 2012
RainDrops&SunBeams

What an Interesting and passionate article. It’s good to see so many people thinking along the lines of being more sustainable and organic.

I’m actually in the design phase of a plush toy and was planning on using PU stuffing. I’m researching safety standards to ensure my materials comply and I have been quite disheartened to find such negative hype on PU as well as cotton and toxic dyes. What is going on here! I’m surprised there are any of us left standing. It’s as though we’re entering the green era as well as coming out of a drunken stupor of irresponsible behavior. Anyways, I was nearly ready to quite when I realized that if I can comply with applicable safety standards then my product must be ‘safe’. Good enough right? …but why do I still feel queasy?

I must say the Foam Man & Jessica have some good logic in that the industry is advancing in the right direction. Not sure if I buy the whole “it’s complicated” argument though. In this age of information and product choice, now more then ever industry is chartered through consumer purchasing decisions. I’m sure the existing PU industry could do a 180 over night if people started buying alternatives. They would start making PU from rain drops and sun beams if that’s what people wanted. With that said, maybe I’ll try sourcing Soy PU and promote the ‘healthier choice’. Soy PU, organic cotton, sustainable dyes… this is getting difficult!

9 05 2012
O Ecotextiles

Hi Jayenns: Thanks for your comments. I love the idea of rain drops and sun beams – and I agree that profit is a great motivator. You’re right to feel queasy about the safety standards in place to “protect” us (thanks to industry lobbying efforts -i.e., the chemical industry which requires FR chemicals in so many items – and to government inability to put in place standards with teeth, as in the attempts to update the Toxic Substances Control Act). Please read our post about soy foam too ( http://oecotextiles.wordpress.com/2010/01/27/does-soy-based-foam-deliver-on-its-promise/ AND http://oecotextiles.wordpress.com/2010/01/20/foam-for-upholstery-cushions/ ) – what about using kapok as a stuffing, or cotton or wool batting? As you say, what people buy is what gets produced, and if they keep buying products that devastate our environment and contain chemicals that can do us harm, then that’s what they’ll continue to get, while the planet becomes unliveable and our children are born with multiple health problems. The textile industry is not the only contributor to this sad situation, but it’s certainly one of the stressors and one we constantly try to point out as being overlooked. But remember, difficult is not impossible and we humans are a pretty canny bunch. I think we can do it!

24 05 2012
Will

If it wasn’t for the early discovery of petroleum products/crude oil, and the veracious appetite for money, we would all be using bio-based bio-renewable products such as bio-diesel. Now the petroleum companies are raking in huge profits, in the multi-billions. The tide was turned for us by greed.

If we re-considered our approach and got together as a country we could call this a war on petroleum, like the war on terrorism or drugs. Wow, how about a 3 trillion dollar budget to properly develop Eco-friendly materials and fuels. Never going to happen, but I have no doubt we could come up with solutions.

24 05 2012
Will

btw its reduce, reuse, and recycle for your naysayers. we need to start some ware and never look back.

22 07 2012
Dianne

Is the Soy Based Foam made from soybeans that are GMO-free?

22 07 2012
O Ecotextiles

Well, 91 – 93% of all soybeans are GMO. I wouldn’t bet that the soybeans used to make soy foam are organic – would you?

10 08 2012
Granbunny

It’s getting more difficult to find certified organic soy in the first place for food. Monsanto has trespassed on the farms of organic farmers across the USA and threatened litigation, which has driven most out of business. Monsanto, the chemical company that helped create Agent Orange, the Atomic Bomb, Polychlorinated Biphenyls, and other dangerous chemicals including Roundup and Rodeo, is now threatening our lives as they use the U.S. government to control our food supply for the world.
The 2012 farm bill has Monsanto’s food prints all over it. It stops certification of organic farms and expands genetically modified food. There is not enough organic soy, much less other crops to feed to USA thanks to corruption of our government. And, all GMO’s are herbicide resistant, meaning it’s dependent on fossil fuels!

7 08 2012
How I banned flame retardants from our playroom – Part I | the other baby blog

[...] was willing to make one, but with a soy-polyfoam blend that isn’t quite nontoxic according to this researcher). So we custom-ordered two daybeds with all nontoxic materials (and our talented carpenter now [...]

10 08 2012
Granbunny

Since 91 percent of soy is genetically engineered to withstand massive amounts of weed killers, which themselves are made from petrochemicals, dependent upon fossil fuels, I would not call soy based products green. Greenwashed is a better term to describe them.

Thanks for the excellent article. I’m looking instead into latex with natural fibers for my much needed mattress.

10 08 2012
Granbunny

I’ve been researching the health damaging effects of polyurethane foam at the National Library of Medicine since finding that soy was a small part of the soy based mattress I checked out yesterday. The foam was basically polyurenthane and the health damaging effects are some which I experienced with my upscale recliner, which is covered with leather. It’s a very comfortable recliner and the soy-based foam mattress was also very comfortable. But, I’m already chemically sensitive and not willing to buy into that comfort, which will destroy my health further.

“Toluene 2,4-diisocyanate (TDI) is irritating to the eyes, skin, and mucous membranes. This chemical compound is used to manufacture polyurenthane and there are many more. I’ve experienced dry, burning eyes, skin and mucous membrane. Inhalation of the vapors can cause irritation of the nose, throat, and lungs; wheezing; cough; chemical pneumonitis; bronchospasm; bronchitis; insomnia.” Other symptoms include damage to the central nervous system. And the chemicals may cause cancer.

“Toluene 2,6-diisocyanate (2,6-TDI) is usually the minor component of a mixture. The main route of toxic exposure to 2,6-TDI is by inhalation. The most recognizable effect of overexposure is an asthma-like reaction. DRY COUGH IN THE EVENING, with retrosternal chest pain, difficulty breathing and distress; this worsens at night and is better in the morning.” I’ve had these symptoms when lying down as flat as possible on the recliner. And I could only imagine that they would be worse if they made up the entire mattress of a queen size bed.

We’ve been very careful about the products we’ve bought or inherited for the house. My old needed-to-be-replaced mattress was cotton filled and covered and very comfortable. However, I fractured my spine and the mattress was already 60 years old.

There is very little foam in our house and the only plastic is in the computer, TV, and other electronic equipment. I pride myself in using natural materials and my health had benefited because of it. I’m not willing to give up my health for a foam mattress. Hence, I’m still looking.

3 12 2012
Rikki

Hi there. I’m on the hunt for a safe alternative for a custom sized mattress for a cradle that my father built. I’m pregnant with my first baby that is due in January. I was considering the soy foam mattress from non-toxicbeds.com that I can cut to size after discovering all of the toxins in the Nu-foam I purchased from Jo-Ann’s. Now that I have read this article, I’m a bit freaked out… do you have any suggestions on what I can do to find a safer alternative foam that I can custom cut? I want to be able to use the cradle my dad built for me (especially since my dad has passed on and it has a lot of sentimental value) but I don’t want to expose my newborn to these horrible toxins while he is sleeping.

3 12 2012
O Ecotextiles

Hi Rikki: The trick is to find natural latex, rather than synthetic latex – because there are no regulations about what “latex” can be called so even synthetic latex could be advertised as “100% natural latex”! See our blog post http://oecotextiles.wordpress.com/2010/01/20/foam-for-upholstery-cushions/ and scroll to the bottom to see an explanation of the terms. There are many companies which manufacture mattresses and upholstered furniture using natural latex, perhaps they would be willing to sell you the latex. Some vendors offer certified natural latex (such as Oeko Tex). Good luck!

27 04 2013
beccadog10

Rikki, After intensive searching, I bought a natural latex mattress from Organic Mattress Inc. OMI mattresses are made of latex (from the tree), wool from sheep, and covered with certified organic cotton.

Instead of coughing all night from either the flame retardant or the foam, my sleep is far more restful. I highly recommend this mattress company.

The OMI Terra is made from Talalaya latex (from the tree) and is very plush. One sinks into the plushness. It’s also the most expensive of the lines. But, I’ve learned recently, that I can remove the pillow top and then instead of plush, the mattress is medium firm. The pillow top alike the lower (and very wide mattress) is latex (from the tree) covered by wool (which acts as a flame retardant, and organic cotton. Without the pillow top, the mattress is called the Flora and the price is less.

When I was shopping for a mattress, I had just fractured my spine and having already been chemically sensitive, I wanted to be certain that the mattress I purchased was made from healthy materials. OMI mattresses are made from healthy materials in Northern California and then shipped to the retail outlet.

I bought my mattress in Austin, Texas, but they are available in Florida, Connecticut, and several other places around the country. Contact OMI to find which store is closest to you. It is always a good idea to try out the mattress before purchase, no matter which mattress you choose.

I also bought an organic mattress, organic mattress puddle cloth, and organic sheets for my grandson’s crib mattress, which is also a convertible bed.

24 06 2013
beccadog10

The most sustainable and the healthiest bed by far for your baby, your child, yourself is a bed made from organic materials. I bought my daughter an organic mattress for her crib from Amazon, and myself an organic mattress from Organic Mattress Inc. But, OMI is not the only game in town. Savvy Rest also carried mattresses made from organic latex (from the tree, rather than the petrochemical manufacturer). Latex is a natural fiber and if you choose an organic company, it will not be genetically engineered.

However, more than 98 percent of Soy is genetically modified from another organism so that it will resist more toxic herbicides and the solvents from the weed killers may be in your mattress. That’s why I bought from OMI, but as mentioned, Savvy Rest is also a good company.

Nuturpedic is the name of the company from whom I bought my daughter’s infants’ mattress for his crib. http://www.naturepedic.com/

It is fortunate that this has worked out for my daughter and grandson because I could not try before I bought. But, ordered it online.

I am chemically sensitive having been accidentially poisoned with a flea fogger as well as volatile organic compounds in a chemical floor stripper. Some of the chemicals in the VOC’s were the same as what was in the flea fogger and they affected my brain and memory. One does not want to sleep on a fossil fuel chemical mattress as their life may be foreshortened.

We did drive several hundred miles to try out the OMI mattress, which it turned out was available in the town where our daughter now lives. With a fractured spine and my being chemically sensitive, the OMI (or the Savvy Rest) mattresses were the most comfortable from a sleeping and respirable view point that I could find. It’s important to take your time researching which is best for your situation, because these mattresses, organic bed pads, and organic sheets are expensive. Health also is expensive and using the Precautionary Principle is crucial when making a selection.

Good luck.

21 03 2013
Amy Smart

Is Soy polyols made from soyabeans. I have seen one more more site http://www.honeybee.cc/ which also gives some information about soy based polyols and biobased polyol.

24 03 2013
O Ecotextiles

Yep, soy polyols are made from soybeans.

27 04 2013
beccadog10

Herbicide resistant and intensive sprayed genetically engineered soy beans. It might as well be made from petrochemicals because of the amount of Roundup used on the crop to kill every last weed. So much has been sprayed that the weeds became immune to the Roundup, so now that are genetically engineering the soy bean seeds in triplicate to withstand or resist three different but very toxic herbicides. You may even have dioxin contaminated soy in the mix. Dioxin is the most toxic chemical ever unintentionally created by mankind but has been identified within the manufacture of 2,4-D made by Dow Agro-Sciences and is the 7th largest source of dioxin in the USA.

Monsanto made 2,4,5-T, which was banned during the 1970′s by the EPA and which was the other part of Agent Orange from the Vietnam war. Monsanto has also made PCBs, now banned, Lysol (which was/is contaminated with dioxin), Rodeo (now banned), and Roundup, one of the most widely used weed killers in the world which has a whole host of health and environmental problems associated with it wherever science is still used to test products.

In its history, Monsanto was one of the first manufacturers of the Atomic bomb. The company is in the killing business. They destroy life.

1 05 2013
Laura knapp

I just love your blog so much, I trust that you are providing honest, accurate info, and thank God someone is! I need to have some cushions made for a chair, I was going to use soy foam, thinking it was ecofriendly and nontoxic , but now I am not. Can you tell me the best, healthiest, most truly sustainable foam to use, and where I might find it for sale? Thank you so much.
Laura

1 05 2013
O Ecotextiles

Thanks so much for the hurrah! We’re so glad to hear from you, and to know that we’re not shouting into the wind. I think the best option for foam is the natural latex – but there are pitfalls to avoid (of course, eh?) Please see the end of our blog post http://oecotextiles.wordpress.com/2010/01/20/foam-for-upholstery-cushions/ which discusses how to search for natural latex, and what to avoid. There is now a new Global Organic Latex Standard for natural latex which is administered by Control Union; also some latex has the Oeko Tex certification.

24 06 2013
beccadog10

My Organic Mattress Inc. mattress is made from latex from the tree, wool from sheep, which acts as a natural flame retardant, and certified organic cotton.

The high end recliner, which was purchased for me after I fractured my spine, was made from polyurethane foam, which in turn are from polyols and diisocyanates.

I could not lie down on the recliner without severely coughing all night and hence did not get much sleep. I now understood the reason my husband coughed all night when he slept on our synthetic sofa. It also was made from the same toxic fibers, not to mention chemicals in the flame retardant because the polyurethane is so flammable. (He had no problem sleeping on the sofa I inherited from my mother, which was basically organic cotton and down feathers. Circ 1950.) My old mattress, which needed to be replaced decades ago was also made from cotton. My mother purchased the bed in 1950 and I am now 70 years old.

My new mattress is 100 percent natural fibers, no flame retardants, no synthetic materials. The air in the bedroom is clean and neither of us have trouble sleeping any longer. Think of all the health damage we’ve avoided by purchasing an organic mattress made from latex from the tree, wool from California sheep, and encased in certified organic cotton all assembled by hand.

For our health, it’s the best dollars we’ve spent.

15 09 2013
Lisa

One possible unexplored issue that comes to mind about soy foams is whether they may be attractive to pests. There are numerous problems with mice chewing through auto wiring that is coated with a soy based coating.

15 09 2013
O Ecotextiles

I had not heard that before. Do you know if it’s the soy that attracts them, or something else? However, scrolling through the TV stations one night I was caught by a show about people’s odd addictions; one young woman broke up polyurethane foam into small pieces – and ate it!

15 09 2013
Susan Snow

I suspect those mice should be chewing through the uncoated wire as well.
Most soy is genetically engineered with a bacteria or organism from another species to make the seed and plant resist intensive spraying of weed killers. Basically the plant, the soybean, can drink Roundup, (or 2,4-D, dicamba, glufosinate, or whatever else it is genetically engineered to resist) and not die.

On the other hand, our air, soils, waters (beneath the ground, on the surface, and through precipitation) are all contaminated with these and other weed killers. A recent United States Geological Survey study identified up to 100% of the rainwater tested contained Roundup weed killer and other pesticides.

Wildlife, including rats and mice, given a choice will not eat foods contain Genetically Modified Organisms. When corn was in my bird seed, the grackles, bluejays, coons, mice, and rats would not eat it. About 98% of corn is also genetically engineered with the Bt toxin, a soil bacterium into every cell in its DNA throughout the plant. And alike soy, it is also genetically modified to resist more herbicides. Most rats avoid GMO foods, and if the wire coating was GMO soy, they would avoid that as well.

Wildlife know something intuitively that the bigger brained mammals do not know and what the corporations who manufacture these products do not want us to know. We need mandatory labeling of GMO foods in every State in the USA. Currently, in food products, legislation has passed in Connecticut, Maine, and Vermont. And there is a ballot initiative I-522 for Washington State for November, 2013, to label and give us the right to know which foods are genetically engineered. It will be a start to allow more power in the hands of consumers.

As for mice, they will go after anything that gets in their way or what they want to build their nests, but generally avoid GMO foods..

14 03 2014
Alphonso

Its like you read my mind! You seem to know a lot about this, like you wrote the book in it or something.
I think that you could do with some pics to drive the
message home a bit, but other than that, this is magnificent
blog. A fantastic read. I’ll definitely be back.

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