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What is Polyurethane Foam?

Suzanne Price

Ever since many manufacturers began removing flame retardant chemicals from their upholstered furniture, customers have been asking if the foam in their furniture is now ok. Though we are thrilled that manufacturers no longer need to spray their foam with these terrible chemicals, we still believe polyurethane foam is not ideal to have around your baby. This kind of foam breaks down over time and releases particles into the air. These particles can be absorbed into your baby's lungs and can be ingested as they crawl through the dust on the floor. A blog from a respected partner of ours, O Ecotextiles, explained the details well. Below is an excerpt (read the full article here). Our upholstered furniture does not contain polyurethane foam. 

EXCERPT:

"Polyurethane foam is a by-product of the same process used to make petroleum from crude oil. It involves two main ingredients: polyols and diisocyanates:

~ A polyol is a substance created through a chemical reaction using methyloxirane(also called propylene oxide).
~ Toluene diisocyanate (TDI) is the most common isocyanate employed in polyurethane manufacturing, and is considered the ‘workhorse’ of flexible foam production.
~ Both methyloxirane and TDI have been formally identified as carcinogens by the State of California.
~ Both are on the List of Toxic Substances under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.
~ Propylene oxide and TDI are also among 216 chemicals that have been proven to cause mammary tumors. However, none of these chemicals have ever been regulated for their potential to induce breast cancer.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers polyurethane foam fabrication facilities potential major sources of several hazardous air pollutants including methylene chloride, toluene diisocyanate (TDI), and hydrogen cyanide. There have been many cases of occupational exposure in factories (resulting in isocyanate-induced asthma, respiratory disease and death), but exposure isn’t limited to factories: The State of North Carolina forced the closure of a polyurethane manufacturing plant after local residents tested positive for TDI exposure and isocyanate exposure has been found at such places as public schools.

The United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has yet to establish exposure limits on carcinogenicity for polyurethane foam. This does not mean, as Len Laycock explains in his series 'Killing You Softly', 'that consumers are not exposed to hazardous air pollutants when using materials that contain polyurethane. Once upon a time, household dust was just a nuisance. Today, however, house dust represents a time capsule of all the chemicals that enter people’s homes. This includes particles created from the break down of polyurethane foam. From sofas and chairs, to shoes and carpet underlay, sources of polyurethane dust are plentiful. Organotin compounds are one of the chemical groups found in household dust that have been linked to polyurethane foam. Highly poisonous, even in small amounts, these compounds can disrupt hormonal and reproductive systems, and are toxic to the immune system. Early life exposure has been shown to disrupt brain development.'

'Since most people spend a majority of their time indoors, there is ample opportunity for frequent and prolonged exposure to the dust and its load of contaminants. And if the dust doesn’t get you, research also indicates that toluene, a known neurotoxin, off gases from polyurethane foam products.' ”

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