Reader Question: Polyurethane – if I can smell it…
I have a seven month old and a trying to find information if items made from or with polyurethane are safe. My initial concern came after purchasing a piece of small furniture for the nursery where the odor was unbearable. The product was made from polyurethane foam and covered in polyester. I researched and found different results indicating it was or was not safe to expose your child to these products because of the smell and the toxic chemicals the products are made with. Is this true? If I cant smell the chemical, is it still dangerous? Also, are there different types of polyurethane? I would like as much information on the subject as possible please, as I have found many products do have polyurethane in them.
Thanks so much for your question. It is important for parents to be vigilant regarding their children’s health.
Usually, if you can smell one or more chemicals coming from any consumer product, this indicates that the product is releasing a small amount of chemicals that are volatile, that is they are easy emitted to air. Usually, a stronger smell is associated with a higher level of these chemicals in air. At some level, you or your child might experience irritation or minor health effects, such as coughing. However, sometimes the levels are high enough that more severe health effects occur, such as trouble breathing, headaches or dizziness. If you think that you have experienced severe health effects, please have everyone leave the room immediately and contact your local poison control center at (1-800-222-1222).
If the smell is bothersome, but not causing any health effects, then placing the product in a well-ventilated room or garage for several days to a week is your best course of action. After some time, these volatile chemicals should go away. The remaining chemicals, such as polyurethane, are chemically-stable and not a health risk. If the smell persists after a week or so, please contact the retailer or manufacturer and ask for a refund. The release of chemicals from such products after this length of time is not generally normal.
All chemicals are toxic at some level, yes even water. All chemicals have safe levels (or virtually safe levels) to which we all can be exposed. Thus, all products contain chemicals that are toxic, but unless the product is releasing chemicals over a safe level, you should not need to worry. The U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission has a website that gives some information on chemical releases from different products. A list of safe chemical levels can be found at http://toxnet.nlm.nih.gov/newtoxnet/iter.htm. If you want information on chemicals not found in this list, please feel free to contact us again.