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Crib Notes -- The Discovery Files

The Discovery Files
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A team of environmental engineers at The University of Texas at Austin found that infants are exposed to high levels of chemical emissions from crib mattresses while they sleep.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Crib notes. (Sound effect: baby sound)

I'm Bob Karson with the Discovery Files--new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

(Sound effect: soothing lullaby) Next to being cradled in your arms, the safest place for a baby to sleep should be in a crib. Infants spend 50 to 60 percent of their day sleeping.

Now environmental engineers at The University of Texas at Austin (Sound effect: lullaby gradually changes to more sinister music)) have found that babies are exposed to high levels of chemical emissions from new crib mattresses.

They found that VOC emissions are four times greater in new mattresses, and two times higher in the infant's breathing zone compared to surrounding air. They are increased by body heat. And because infants inhale more air compared to their body weight than adults do, they experience ten times the inhalation exposure of adults.

They analyzed 20 new and old crib mattresses from 10 different manufacturers, looking for emissions of VOCs... potentially harmful volatile organic compounds. The team IDed more than thirty of them.

The findings suggest the re-use of an older mattress, or an extended airing-out period for a newer one. Trouble is, older mattresses could contain other toxic substances that are now banned.

Currently not much is known about the health effects of the levels of VOCs found in homes. But understanding the baby's slumber environment may help us all sleep a little better.

(Sound effect: theme music)

"The Discovery Files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research--brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

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