First, some ugly truths: Many synthetic mattresses contain chemicals that are toxic, such as flame retardants, phthalates, and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs). According to Radford (and scientific research1), these chemicals can off-gas into the environment for years, meaning you’ll be continually exposed to them.
VOCs, flame retardants, and phthalates all have subtle but potentially serious long-term effects on our health, and according to Radford, they primarily affect the endocrine (hormone) system2.
“Flame retardants have been nicknamed ‘the new lead’ given how toxic they are to the brain, hormone system, and organs like the liver,” adds Dahl.
Though there is local legislation prohibiting some of these chemical additives, there are no nationwide bans in the U.S.
In the same way that the materials in some mattresses are harmful to human health, they also impact the environment once they’re disposed of, Dahl notes. An estimated 20 million mattresses are thrown away each year in the U.S. alone, where “the same chemicals that leach into our homes, leach into landfills and the local water supply,” says Dahl.