Question from Bonnie

I have a friend who recently purchased a foam mattress from a company called CertiPUR-US. It claims to be a green item with very little off gassing. I have an older mattress in my guest room and was thinking about replacing it. Any info on them?

Debra’s Answer

CertiPUR-US certifies polyurethane foam that is advertised by various retailers as “certified nontoxic foam.”

CertiPUR-US is a registered certification mark of Alliance for Flexible Polyurethane Foam. The Alliance itself has no website.

The Polyurethane Foam Association describes the Alliance as “A voluntary testing, analysis and certification program developed by members of the global foam industry in response to an increase in substandard imported foam products.”

And on a promotional piece published by the Alliance, it says “The Alliance for Flexible Polyurethane Foam is a joint program of The Alliance for the Polyurethanes Industry and the Polyurethane Foam Association.”

So this is not an independent third party certification program, but rather the industry certifying itself.

This CertiPUR-US “certified nontoxic foam” is a petrochemical polyurethane foam that has been tested and certified by an independent lab to meet specific standards for “physical performance, indoor air emissions and environmental stewardship.”

CertiPUR-US does not perform the independent lab test themselves, but instead directs manufacturers to a CertiPUR-US approved laboratory. Then the signed application and all test data are sent to CertiPUR-US for review and certification. www.certipur.us/pages/for-foam-suppliers/#how

Getting-a-foam-certifiedwww.certipur.us/about-our-seal/

The CertiPUR-US emissions criteria are:

  • Made without ozone depleters
  • Made without PBDEs
  • Made without mercury, lead and heavy metals
  • Made without formaldehyde
  • Made without phthalates regulated by the Consumer Product Safety Commission
  • Low VOC emissions (less than 0.5 parts per million)

Their website (www.certipur.us/about-our-seal/) explains the CERTI-PUR claims as follows:

certiPUR-US* Made without ozone depleters

“Ozone’s presence is important in our upper atmosphere, where it provides a shield from the sun’s radiant energy. The Montreal Protocol, adopted in 1987, mandated that industries eliminate ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) by the year 2000. U.S. foam producers were well ahead of schedule in complying with this regulation. Unfortunately, in some parts of the world, CFCs are still used to manufacture foam. The CertiPUR-US label prohibits the use of any CFCs, or other ozone depleters, in the foam manufacturing process.”

NOTE: US manufacturers don’t use ozone depleters, so any US foam qualifies

* Made without PBDE flame retardants

“These controversial fire retardants have been linked inconclusively to chronic illness in cats and humans. Some PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers) were used in foam to meet certain state flammability requirements, but those PBDEs were effectively banned in the U.S. by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in January 2005. U.S. foam producers no longer use PBDEs. Laboratory testing verifies that CertiPUR-US certified foams are made without using PBDEs.”

NOTE: PBDEs are no longer used by US foam producers at all because they were banned by the EPA in January 2005. This certification does not guarantee that there are no fire retardants, only PBDE is disallowed, which is not even legal to use any more. Even if they add more single flame retardants to their list, the field of chemical flame retardants is broad, and any of these chemicals could be present in the foam.

* Made without mercury, lead and other heavy metals

“Though not common components of foam chemistry, heavy metals in food (mercury in fish) and in the home (lead paint in children’s toys) have made the entire heavy metal family an area of concern. CertiPUR-US laboratory testing subjects material extracted molecular analysis capable of detecting even trace amounts of heavy metal content. CertiPUR-US verifies that registered foams are made without mercury, lead and other heavy metals.”

NOTE: heavy metals are not commonly used to make foam

* Made without formaldehyde

“Like heavy metals, formaldehyde has never been used as a raw material in foam. Formaldehyde has been labeled as a cause of poor indoor air quality. The absence of formaldehyde in foam is verified in CertiPUR-US-certified foam by a small chamber emission test.”

NOTE: formaldehyde has never been used as a raw material in the making of foam

* Made without phthalates are prohibited for certification.

“Phthalates (pronounced ‘thal-āts) are mainly used as a softening agent in the manufacture of some consumer products. The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (2009) eliminated the use of seven specific phthalates for use in children’s toy and child care items. CertiPUR-US goes a step further by requiring detailed laboratory analysis of foam extractions and prohibiting the use of phthalates regulated by the Consumer Product Safety Commission in all CertiPUR-US certified foams.”

NOTE: Only the prohibited phthalates are prohibited for certification. This certification does not guarantee that there are no phthalates, only the seven regulated phthalates are disallowed.

* Low VOC (Volatile Organic Compound) emissions for indoor air quality (less than 0.5 parts per million)

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are a major component of air pollution. VOC emissions from household products are also a concern for indoor air quality.CertiPUR-US certified foams are tested using a small chamber test standardized by ASTM International. In the test, foam samples are conditioned for 72 hours after which emissions of total organic compounds are measured. Results of this test verify that CertiPUR-US compliant foams can be identified as low emission.

NOTE: Low emission does not mean “no emission.”

So pretty much every foam manufactured in the USA could be certified.

My conclusion is that this certification gives consumers a false sense of security that the CertiPUR certified polyurethane foams:

  1. are certified by an independent third party certification program, to
  2. meet a higher standard than other foams manufactured in the USA.

But in fact, it’s the polyurethane foam industry certifying that the foams that carry the seal meet a standard for which any polyurethane manufactured in the USA could qualify.

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