I recently purchased a memory foam (polyurethane) mattress and was looking online to see how long they take to "air out". They produce a strong odor for awhile after manufacture. However, instead of finding my answer I found seemingly endless reports on websites claiming that memory foam gives off potentially toxic fumes.
It is clear that the hydrocarbons evaporate and load the sleeping room. Most of the hydrocarbons are powerful carcinogenic chemicals and attack, with severe damages, the immune and nervous systems. Most autoimmune disorders (like arthritis, lupus, allergies asthma, and others) have been connected with or thought to be boosted by increased exposure to petroleum. Interestingly, in the US there are no exposure limits for carcinogenicity in the case of the polyurethans.
Recent findings also showed that petroleum-based foam mattresses may be a source of cancer-causing chemicals. During use, all these foams break down in dangerous by-products: toxic dust under the bed and formaldehyde gas in the air.
Additionally, the average mattress seems to contain around a pound of fire retardants called PDBE (polybrominated diphenyl ethers), already banned in Europe and the US. These PDBE have only been recently banned (January 2005) so the mattress you currently sleep on probably still contains them. Tests show that these chemicals may be especially toxic to kids, potentially affecting their hearing, memory and even intelligence after sleeping on PDBE-treated cribs.
I am doubtful of these claims, because it seems to me that if they were true, these mattresses either wouldn't be on the market or you'd hear more about these problems. Second, most of these websites seem to be marketing alternative "natural organic latex" mattresses, so their motives are suspect.
My question then: Is there any evidence that memory foam (polyurethane) mattresses give of toxic gasses, and if so, do they do so in quantities that can have a noticeable effect on a sleeper's health?