The expression "sleep on it" acquires a nightmarish new meaning.
|Carcinogens, endocrine and neurological disruptors, and respiratory
irritants, enfolded in satiny luxury, as depicted on the SleepBetter.org site.
I was very pleased to find a handsome, solid memory foam pillow on sale at an excellent price a few weeks ago. It was "Made in America," which was a nice touch. At least that's what I thought at the time.
When I removed it from its package, I was hit upside the head with a stunningly toxic, chemical odor. Undeterred, I put three pillowcases on it, and jumped into bed.
Even with the cool, fresh air from the swamp cooler blowing over me, the poisonous fumes were intolerable. I didn't last five minutes.
I thought airing out the pillow for a couple of days on my balcony would probably take care of the problem. Two weeks later, the stench was as bad as ever.
I wrote to the pillow's manufacturer, international conglomerate Carpenter Co., to lodge a complaint. What I learned within a few hours was a nightmare -- not what one might expect from a "respected innovator" in the "sleep comfort" industry.
|Consider wearing a gas mask to bed. And a Hazmat suit, with little booties and gloves.|
Carpenter's marketing assistant casually advised me to "squeeze" the fetid fumes out of the pillow by hand. I'll go into more detail on that little exercise -- and I do mean exercise -- below. I'll also reprint a selection of consumer comments about Carpenter's products from the Bed, Bath and Beyond website. Those very angry people create quite a stink of their own.
HIDING ITS TRUE COLORS (AND ODORS) BEHIND A FAKE WEBSITE
But first I can't resist describing one aspect of this story that is so creepy and devious that it's actually funny -- Hollywood funny. Carpenter Co. has enlisted a prestigious, high-powered team of image consultants and consumer-behavioral scientists to turn its line of bedding into a social-media sensation. These "creative" types have created a legitimate-looking web site, SleepBetter.org, which purports to be an objective source of information, self-assessment tools and the latest news and research on sleep.
|Yet another sellout, as if she weren't rich enough already.|
|And the answer will always be, "Buy a Carpenter product!"|
But back to my smelly pillow: The company's representative, Temple Lowry, told me I needed to squeeze and press the chemicals out of this large, dense pillow by hand. There was no warning on the package that I would have to perform this little chore. And anyway, even if I could expel some of the residue, wouldn't a significant amount remain, which I would be inhaling every night for years? The question was moot: All the squeezing and pressing and rolling and jumping up and down on the pillow had no effect on the odor. It stinks up everything it touches. It fills an entire room with stink.
Why couldn't this purgation maneuver have been taken care of in the factory? Why didn't they put the pillows through some industrial-strength rollers to flush out all those toxins?
Here was Temple's Lowry's mind-boggling answer:
"The chemicals are 'used up' in the manufacturing process and are not what you are smelling. The smell is from the air that is trapped in the foam. That air is from our factory and gets breathed in daily by factory workers, who have never had a health problem associated with the factory air. Since the pillow is packaged in the factory, there is no way to squeeze out the air."
Please! OSHA has plenty of documentation about health complaints from those working in this industry, and several investigations are under way. I wonder how many factory workers feel free to complain to their superiors about the air quality in which their livelihoods are earned. Do they wear respirators while they're in there? I hope so, but I'm not going to wear one to bed.
Chemicals like polyurethane foam, formaldehyde, boric acid, antimony (a heavy metal similar to arsenic) and worst of all, polybrominated diphenyl ethers (also known as flame retardants) are wreaking havoc on your sleep and health, according to a chemist who until recently served as a consultant to several bedding firms.
"Things are improving slowly, although it's mainly cosmetic," he told me in an email. "They neutralize or mask the chemical smell -- just as 'unscented deodorant' uses a neutral scent to obscure the strong odors that are inherent in its many chemical ingredients. At this point, all I can say is that if you really want to use these petroleum-based products, whether you can smell them or not, you'll have to pay the price."
|Carpenter's Isotonic ErgoZone Memory Foam Contour Pillow|
In some cases, perhaps Carpenter has figured out how to mask the odor. (On one message board, a man recalls being advised by the store clerk to soak his new Carpenter pillow and mattress topper in Febreze, and then leave them outside for a few days. Febreze doesn't purge the products of toxins; it merely neutralizes the odor. In fact, the respected, independent Environmental Working Group gives Febreze an "F" grade for containing "ingredients with potential for developmental/endocrine/reproductive effects; acute aquatic toxicity; respiratory effects." ) In others instances, consumers are not as bothered by the odor as those of us who are more health-conscious. And in many other cases, consumers are still complaining and/or returning the malodorous products for a refund.
DREAM A LITTLE DIETHYL CHLORIDE DREAM WITH ME
Tellingly, Carpenter puts its name prominently on virtually none of its bedding products. It offers an array of branded "lines" (such as "Ambient Comfort," "Slumberfresh," and "Beyond Perfect"), but its corporate identity is revealed only in tiny print at the bottom of the package.
Maybe that's because its core mission, like DuPont's, is "Better Living Through Chemistry." Not exactly lullaby material.
WE'D BE BETTER OFF SLEEPING OUT IN THE BARN
Walter Bader, owner of the "green mattress" company Lifekind and author of the book Toxic Bedrooms, once sent several mattresses to an Atlanta-based lab for analysis. A memory-foam model was found to emit 61 chemicals, including the carcinogens benzene and naphthalene.
|It is available! Somewhere! For a price!|
Unfortunately, pillows -- which it seems would have the greatest impacts on our health -- have shown the greatest growth in chemical (as well as structural) innovation over the past 25 years.
"Some noteworthy recent efforts have been dedicated to minimizing the use of isocyanates to synthesize polyurethanes, because the isocyanates raise severe toxicity issues," the former consultant said reassuringly.
|Carpenter's Isotonic Beyond Perfect Memory Foam Topper.|
Carpenter Co. is more of a chemical company than it is a bedding company, despite the beauty and plushness of its sleep-related products. Carpenter characterizes itself as "the world's largest producer of comfort cushioning products," with 14 divisions that turn out such not-snuggly products as tire filling, "chemical systems," "expanded polystyrene solutions (including Envirogreen Geofoam with Preventol Preservative Insecticide), roofing insulation, and "the finest answers to your Acoustical and Thermo-formable fiber needs." Dream a little dream of insecticide and tires. No wonder their stuff smells so terrible.
BED, BATH AND BEYOND BELIEF
The online world is filled with scathing comments about Carpenter's products (regarding both stench and declines in quality over the past several years). There are positive comments as well, and it would be interesting to find out what makes the difference.
Here is a sampling of negative reviews from the upscale retailer Bed, Bath and Beyond to a 1/4 inch, $60.00 Zoned Comfort Memory Foam Topper:
I would have loved to give this product 5 stars because it is so comfortable and makes any firm bed feel great. In fact, it was the most comfy topper I have ever experienced. But, BEWARE, the smell of the foam was overwhelming after airing it out for 2 DAYS. The instructions said air it out for a few hours. I did and it made little difference. It smelled petrochemical and gave me headaches, swollen, red eyes and a stuffy nose. (I am aware that some products--like carpet, fabrics, etc., can "out gas" for a period of time.) I had to wash my sheets and mattress pad daily because of the overwhelming smell (which gave the unmade bed--and topper--a chance to air out even more). My pillow even absorbed some of it and the bedroom took on a bizzare odor that made it like I was sleeping in a gas station. I thought I was being oversensitive, since I do have allergies. But everyone in the house, including my houseguests, agreed it was really bad.
I bought a dud mattress about 8 months ago, so I purchased this topper to help make it less firm. I have noticed an inprovement in my sleep quality after 3 nights. The only thing is that the cover it came with STINKS. It's some kind of strong deodorant smell that clings to everything. I smelled like it all day. I threw out the cover, cleaned everything and everything still smells! I would not recommend using the cover at all, or even opening the seperate bag it comes in.
THOSE KOOKY SPOOKS AND THEIR FARCICAL FIBS
In spite of my resentment of firms dedicated to "stealth" marketing -- of both ideas and products -- it's hard not to be entertained by their silly, self-important shenanigans in our competitive marketplace. This kind of enterprise has been around since at least the 1920s, to create "buzz" and generate "spontaneous" interest or support among the public. The employees have a blast in their role as inspired pupeteers, but their mission is very unsavory. In college, I studied a sweepingly successful 1950s campaign by PR giant Hill and Knowlton -- paid for secretly by the American Medical Association -- to turn the American public against a system of nationalized health care, which was depicted, successfully, as a Communist plot. Deja vu all over again.
Hodges Digital ("The Hodges Partnership") attracts corporate clients such as Carpenter by (here's their gobbledegook) "making the most of your front door to the world, via responsively designed web sites and custom, cloud-based apps. We believe that great user experiences should extend to enterprise software. Whether it’s building custom apps or web sites, we can help reimagine the web for your organization....Our experience is your success. Hodges Digital brings to the table web strategists, user interface designers, graphic designers, copywriters, developers and marketing and public relations experts. The Hodges Partnership helps to extend clients’ brands through media relations, events, promotions and social media.
"We start by exploring your goals, whether it’s raising your company’s profile, making a splash with a new product or enhancing your expertise in front of your target customers."
I especially love this part: "We do a lot of that – exploring, raising, splashing, enhancing – along with a whole lot of other smart tactics designed to get you noticed."
Oh you splashy guys -- you're such a hoot. It would be fun to have your job if one didn't feel any sense of responsibility to your fellow human beings. Just toy with them, and "enhance" their awareness in your own special way, and watch your numbers soar. It's like a video game, except that it's REAL! In a way.
WOULDN'T IT BE 'SPLASHY' TO SEND PILLOWS INTO SPACE?
|Is this adorable or what? But what does it have to do with the experience of burying your face in a petroleum-based pillow?|
"We intend to help send pillows 100,000 feet up into (near) space, and any of you can watch this unfold live on SleepBetter.org," the website said enticingly in 2013. What a marvelous, relevant event!
"It is all part of an out of this world promotional campaign we cooked up for Carpenter Co. and SleepBetter.org on behalf of our client SLAY Communications," the press release said. Slay indeed. But slay whom?
According to the behind-the-scene Machiavellis, it all started that summer with a Facebook fan engagement program called "Postcards from Pillow," where SleepBetter.org’s Facebook fans had many chances to compete to become "pillow parents" to a pillow toy that the firm designed and had manufactured. "Pillow parents" then spent the summer sending in pictures with their pillows, which they “adopted” and named. The PR guys received hundreds of photos and created a gallery of more than four-hundred photos (here), including one with Iron Chef Michael Symon.
|It would take a cold heart indeed to object to such innocent affection for a little pillow.|
Is this not the most adorable thing you've ever heard? Parenting a pillow isn't anywhere near the hassle of parenting a child, and how often does your child let you rest your head on him while you have a nap?
"To cap off the engagement program we partnered with JP Aerospace, 'America’s OTHER Space Program' to float the pillows into space."
SleepBetter.org broadcasted the launch, flight and descent of two of the launch vehicles, according to the site. It must have been a hard landing, though, for all those guys who had to conjure up the next wild-and-crazy Carpenter extravaganza.
"YOU PICK THEIR POCKETS WHILE I SHOW THEM SOME CLEAVAGE"
What a great case study in diverting attention from the quality of your products to the fun of being a parent to a cute, smiling pillow.
And who said America isn't the greatest nation on Earth? He needs to be tarred and feathered. Real feathers, not that crappy "synthetic feather replacement medium" that Carpenter produces.
As for me, I washed my old polyester fiberfill pillow (which, unlike the "advanced" products such as memory foam, can be laundered) and I'm back to '60s-style sleeping. It sure smells good to smell nothing except for my sweet Elderly Girlishness.
But now what do I do with Carpenter's putrid hunk of pillowness? I wouldn't think donating it to the Homeless Shelter or a refugee agency. That would not be a loving, compassionate act! I don't want it to wind up in the landfill, where it would poison the groundwater and kill migrating birds for thousands of years.
I guess the whole "pillows in space" idea had merit after all. It's terrible to contemplate polluting our whole beautiful universe with crap like this, but we need to sleep -- and breathe, untroubled -- right now, so we can wake up refreshed and take care of the universe with a clear mind.
Sweet dreams are made of these? I am one to disagree.