Boron. It is a chemical found naturally in fruit, vegetables and even water but, in the form of Boric Acid, it can keep some consumer advocates awake at night.
Mattress fires in the U.S. kill 300-400 people every year so the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission is trying to pass a nationwide law that requires all mattresses to be fire-proof.
"I guess it's a good law if it saves lives," says John Wheatley, a mattress maker here in the Quad Cities, "that probably what you've got to look at."
But to make mattresses fire-proof, some companies are using chemicals like Boric Acid. A group called People For Clean Beds says that Boric Acid is nothing less than poison and, in fact, is contained in some products billed as 'roach poison'. And you don't have to look any further than on the label: "Caution! Harmful if swallowed, inhaled or absorbed through the skin. Causes eye irritation, avoid breathing."
So what if some mattress makers are spreading this Boric Acid Roach Killer on the very mattress you sleep on each night?
People For Clean Beds says it's not something you want to be sleeping with. According the group's director, "This is close, intimate exposure, eight hours a day, every day for the rest of your life."
John Wheatley, owner of L&W Bedding in the Quad Cities has been in the business for more than 25 years and doesn't believe that Boric Acid is harmful.
"We work with them and our hands are on them daily and none of us get sick," he says. "So really, to me, it's crazy for them to say they're toxic."
In fact, Wheatley says fire-retardants like Boric Acid have been on mattresses for years.
"They do put a light coating of Boric Acid on there which is a flame-retardant and they've been doing that for 65 years," says Wheatley. "When I called the company that I buy this from they say 'Oh it's nothing to worry about, we've been doing it for 65 years'."
But People For Clean Beds wants Boric Acid, and any other fire-retardants like it, kept out of beds. They claim some companies have already put these chemicals in all their mattresses nationwide. They advertise that their product "contains no harmful chemicals" but PFCB says this constitutes a "human experiment without consent".
So who is right?
Here's what the governments Consumer Product Safety Commission says: "Based on a review of the toxicity and potential consumer exposure to fire retardants chemicals, CPSC Health and Sciences staff believes there are flame retarding materials available to mattress manufacturers that are expected to present minimal risk of adverse health effects in consumers".
It's clear the federal government is intent on passing the fire safety law.
"The law is going to be coming into effect," says Wheatley, "and so everybody's trying to figure out how to do this in an economical and safe way."
People are speculating the law will go into effect sometime in 2006.