Latex: Is This Good or Bad?

Latex. If you’re like me, when I hear the word it does not conjure a favorable meaning. When Sprout decided to team up with Monte on an exclusive new glider made with natural latex, I wanted to find out exactly what is latex. What I found was enlightening.

Latex can either be natural or synthetic.

Natural latex is a milky liquid found in some flowering plants and is used in defense against insects. It is harvested mainly from the rubber tree plant found in tropical regions such as Sri Lanka with a process similar to that of maple syrup. The trees are not harmed, and therefore, the process is sustainable. After collection, the latex is filtered for purity and centrifuged to remove excess water. The frothy remains are poured into a mold and steam baked (sometimes it is flash-frozen before stream baking). It is mainly used in mattresses, medical equipment, shoes, and balloons. While it is true that some people are allergic to it, latex is dust mite and mold resistant creating a more hypoallergenic product.

Synthetic latex, also called styrene-butadiene, is a copy of natural latex made in a laboratory. When demand for rubber products increased in WWII, scientists derived a way to to replicate latex out of petrochemicals. Numerous studies have concluded that there is a correlation between styrene-butadiene and cancer, most commonly leukemia (1, 2, 3). It is mainly used in the automotive industry in the making of tires, hoses, and seals as well as in paints & glue, but it is also commonly found in mattresses and furniture. During my research, I found numerous mattress and furniture makers that claim there is no difference between natural and synthetic latex (other than price). However, The Mattress Journal states, “The cons of synthetic (latex) include the fact that the polyurethane foam releases environmental toxins during manufacture and will continue to emit carcinogenic gases as it breaks down over the years.”

The takeaway lesson here is that purchasing furniture made from synthetic latex could potentially expose your family to a cancer causing material. Thankfully, Sprout San Francisco sought a glider and a rocker made with natural latex and now is able to offer it exclusively to their customers!

1. Sathiakumar N, et al. 1,3-Butadiene, styrene and lung cancer among synthetic rubber industry workers. J. Occup. Environ. Med. 2009;51:1326-1332
2. Alder N, et al. Meta-analysis of mortality and cancer incidence among workers in the synthetic rubber-producing industry. Am. J. Epidemiol. 2006;164:405-420
3. Huff JE, et al. Multiple organ carcinogenicity of 1,3-butadiene in B6C3F1 mice after 60 weeks of inhalation exposure. Science 1985;227:548-549