Monday, October 28, 2013

Tenting and Tempurpedic (PhD Ideas 03)


We were tented last week, Wednesday to Friday. More about that later perhaps, but right now I'd like to suggest a PhD idea.  Or maybe it is an area for EPA investigation.

The question is about the warning gas, chloropicrin, used in fumigations along with the fumigant gas (sulfuryl fluoride, known as Vikane ®).  Does chloropicrin stay in Tempurpedic foam mattresses, and possibly other household foams and fillers, long past when any airborne gas has dissipated?  And if it does, does Vikane as well?

Why I wonder:  We sleep on a Tempurpedic mattress.  Friday night and  Saturday morning, whenever I was in bed and awake, my eyes stung and teared up.  When I got up I noticed I had a raspy throat and a funny (bitter?) taste in my mouth.  I slept all right but was not comfortable being awake in bed.

Chloropicrin effects:  My husband and I returned to our house two hours after the fumigators had posted the sign permitting re-entry so that we could open all our windows and let the house air out some more.  Very soon our eyes began to sting. We left as soon as we could and did not come back for about three hours. We were surprised about the eye discomfort because we knew that Vikane, the fumigant, is not supposed to be detectable by people at all (hence its enormous dangerousness). I looked again at the re-entry notice and saw the reference to a "warning gas: chloropicrin." Ah, I thought, that's what is bothering us.

The question is whether gases lodge in foams such as Tempurpedic mattresses and other porous materials (regular mattresses, comforters, etc.) and do not dissipate at the same rate they do from the air or from hard surfaces like wood and metal or from single-layer textiles like table cloths and clothing.

Prior Research?  I would have thought there would be some investigation of this by EPA and Dow Chemical (manufacturers of Vikane, but they probably sell it in a package with the off-patent "staple article of commerce" chloropicrin).  I searched the internet for anything with both words, chloropicrin and tempurpedic. I didn't find anything directly relevant so I suspect that there are no specific studies yet.
10/30/13:   I found this 2008 EPA document about chloropicrin. The words "foam" and "mattress" do not appear in it.  The section on residential structures  says: "The Agency reviewed monitoring studies completed by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) of the California EnvironmentalProtection Agency. These studies directly monitored chloropicrin.  The results of these studies are below the Agency's level of concern for bystanders."  I am not worried about the level of chloropicrin in the ambient air inside the house.  The question is whether within a few inches of the surface of a mattress, particularly one made of Tempurpedic or other foam, the level of chloropicrin is much higher, and remains much higher, for several days after the house on average is safe.
What I did find that grabbed my attention was a site with the standard warnings and preparation instructions for tenting. Here is an example. I had read that material several times in preparation for the fumigation, but this time I paid more attention to a sentence I had thought did not apply to us:
All mattresses encased in permanent, waterproof coverings must be removed from the structure prior to the introduction of the fumigant, including infant mattresses.
We have no infant or other waterproof mattresses so I had not been concerned earlier.  I know the Tempurpedic mattress has a covering but I don't think it is waterproof.  (Another internet search showed me that many people buy waterproof covers for their Tempurpedics, so I bet I am right.)

What I remain curious about is whether the kind of foam used in a Tempurpedic, possibly coupled with the kind of covering, traps gases and does not release them very quickly.  Gas that settles on hard surfaces like wood or metal, or on single-layer textiles like clothing and table cloths, and even inside the surfaces of drawers and cabinets that are left open during tenting and aeration, departs quickly.  There's nothing except air for it to interact with.  But gas in a foam mattress or fiberfill comforter might take longer to depart.
To use a recently overworked word (but in another context): does Tempurpedic foam temporarily SEQUESTER the warning chloropicrin gas, and maybe the Vikane too, in its air pockets?  Someone could get a PhD investigating this.
Meanwhile, I heartily suggest that the official tenting instructions be amended to mention Tempurpedic-type mattresses explicitly, and to explain what to do with them.  They are common enough nowadays and, alas, so is tenting.

Maybe Tempurpedic would fund the research?  Perhaps if it does, the company can improve how it makes the foam or the mattress cover (cheaper, less gas-trapping, etc.).   That way they could get more patents and keep their hold on the foam mattress market that much longer (the up-side potential of research).


By the way, our Tempurpedic had a very bad chemical smell when we first got it.  We were told it would go away in 30 days.  It took more like 8-10 months.  Perhaps our mattress was a lemon?  Or perhaps we are particularly sensitive to smells?   But I doubt that I am the only person to notice either the new mattress gas or the cloropicrin after tenting in my Tempurpedic.

Other Kinds of Mattresses,  Bedding:  On Sunday night my husband left for a business trip and I decided not to sleep on the Tempurpedic again.  I moved to the guest room's bed which has a regular mattress.  Two observations:

1.  I got snootfuls of gas when I removed the bedding from the Tempurpedic.  This seemed to confirm that chloropicrin takes longer to depart from foams and textiles than it does from air or hard, non-porous surfaces.

2.  The regular mattress was not as bad as the Tempurpedic, but my eyes did smart and my mouth got that funny taste.   Perhaps the regular mattress would have been as bad as the Tempurpedic on Friday night?  My impression, however, was that on the regular mattress it took longer for the chloropicrin to build up to an eye-stinging level.

I admit that I read and play phone solitaire in bed before falling asleep and during middle-of-the-night insomnia.  If you fall asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow and you bounce out of bed as soon as you wake up, then your eyes are open in bed for mere seconds. My eyes are open in bed for hours.  If you're like me, and if you are also sensitive to smells and eye irritants, I suggest not sleeping in your just-tented house for several days.

PhD Research - Details:  After confirming that the level of chloropicrin (and Vikane?) is higher in or above a Tempurpedic or other mattress than it is in the ambient air in a house after tenting, the researcher might consider whether the heat of the sleeper's body speeds up release of the gas.  I would guess it does.  PhD candidates who want to avoid human subject research, and home owners who just want to avoid smarting eyes and irritated throats, could simulate body heat with heating pads or an electric blanket or turn up the thermostat.  The PhDs could then measure the gas near the surface of the bed; the homeowners could turn on a fan, and if they used pads or blankets, they could cycle them off the bed from time to time to let the fan have better access to the surface of the mattress.


Conclusion:  If you are getting tented and use a Tempurpedic mattress and have sensitive eyes, consider these options:

1.  Move the mattress out of the house before the tenting begins.
2.  Move your food, meds, plants and pets back in when the re-entry notice is posted, and get the gas company to turn the gas back on so that you can warm up the house and have hot water, but sleep somewhere else for several nights.  And maybe try the
warm-body-simulation-plus-fan idea
in the previous paragraph about PhD Research details.

RJM 10/28/13, rev 10/30/13
[original version available on request]


  1. Bang on, thank you for being the only person I've run across who even considers that this may be an issue. Memory foam mattresses release gas when you buy them, so it sees kinda intuitive that the reverse might be possible. Then you're right, what is it that stimulates the mattress to release the gas. Heat it seems. If there were a big enough zip lock back I'd put my california king Memory Foam mattress in it, otherwise I'm going to have to pay a mover to help me remove it from the house. Damn you, shady chemical company.

    1. Thanks for finding me! I hope your tenting will be/was as easy as possible. By the way, since I wrote that post I tried by email and then paper mail to contact the head of a Cornell University lab that studies pesticides but never heard back. I will try some more to find someone who can do the research! Thanks again.

  2. it's all fun and games until a lawsuit happens, then complacent heads at Dow will roll!

    1. I'd like to think that Dow has enough intelligent scientists around that they - and the foam mattress makers, and the tenting industry - will address this on their own.

  3. Just had this done... had I known...ugh can't go to bed because our eyes are killing us! I wish that they had more clearly addressed this with us

    1. Yup. There's precious little 'full disclosure' about tenting. Thanks for visiting my blog and sorry I overlooked your comment for so long. Hope by now the odors and eye pain have become just a memory.

  4. Why isn't there more information available on this? Thank you documenting your experience. I am being vacated from my townhome for vikane sulfuryl fluoride tenting and it seems there is still very little information on this important subject. I have small children and have concerns with the neurotoxin exposure. We have memory foam beds. Ugh.

  5. Thanks for your comment. I agree with you 100%. There ought to be more research and more peer-reviewed information. If you have an acute sense of smell, you should be able to tell whether the warning gas has cleared from the memory foam. But of course it's possible that it clears faster than the poison. It should have been chosen to clear more slowly but who knows. - RJM

  6. The warning agent is more readily aerated in warm air. I would recommend changing the air filter on your furnace and run your furnace to heat the house. Leave fans blowing and crack your windows. In my experience this greatly helps.

    1. Thanks! That makes good sense: warmer gases move faster and the more they move the more they can escape from fabrics and mattresses. Personally I hope to move myself before I ever have to go through tenting again, but if I must, I will follow your advice!