Under settlements with the Federal Trade Commission, three mattress manufacturers have agreed to stop making unsupported claims that the mattresses they sell are free of harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
In addition to challenging the companies’ VOC-free claims, the FTC charged that two of the companies made unsupported claims that their mattresses were chemical-free and lacked odor. The FTC also challenged one company’s claim that its mattresses are made from 100 percent natural materials, and another company’s claim that its mattresses were certified by an organic mattress organization.
In settling the FTC’s charges, the companies have agreed not to make similar claims in the future, unless they have competent and reliable scientific evidence to prove they are true. In addition, one company is barred from making misrepresentations about certifications.
VOCs are carbon-containing compounds that easily evaporate at room temperature. Some VOCs can be harmful to human health and the environment. Last year, the FTC brought a similar set of cases against paint companies that also advertised their products as VOC-free.
Relief-Mart, Inc. The FTC’s complaint alleges that Relief-Mart, based in Westlake Village, California, did not have and rely upon a reasonable basis to substantiate its claims that its Biogreen memory foam mattresses do not contain VOCs, have no VOC off-gassing, and lack the odors commonly associated with memory foam mattresses.
Essentia Natural Memory Foam Company, Inc. The FTC alleges that Essentia made unsubstantiated claims that its mattresses do not contain VOCs, are chemical-free, have no chemical off-gassing or odor, and are made from 100 percent natural materials. Moreover, the complaint alleges that Essentia claimed that tests show that its memory foam is free of VOCs and formaldehyde when, in fact, tests do not support these claims.
Ecobaby Organics, Inc. The complaint against Ecobaby, based in San Diego, California, alleges that Ecobaby made unsubstantiated claims that its mattresses are chemical-free; formaldehyde-free; free of VOCs, such as toluene and benzene; and without toxic substances. The complaint further alleges that the company misrepresented that its mattresses are certified by an independent third-party certifier when, in fact, the certifier is an alter ego of the company that awarded its seal to its own products without applying objective standards. Finally, according to the complaint, Ecobaby Organics claimed that tests show that its mattresses are VOC-free, chemical-free, and Formaldehyde-free when tests do not support these claims.
The proposed orders bar Relief-Mart, Essentia, and Ecobaby, from making VOC-free claims unless the VOC level is zero micrograms per cubic meter or the company relies upon competent and reliable scientific evidence that its mattresses contain no more than trace levels of VOCs, based on the guidance in the FTC’s Green Guides. The orders also bar environmental benefit or attribute claims, and certain health claims, unless they are true, not misleading, and supported by scientific evidence.
In addition, the Essentia and Ecobaby orders bar the companies from making chemical-free claims, prohibit any misrepresentations about whether the companies have testing to prove the claims about their mattresses, and bar the companies from making non-toxic claims without scientific support. The Relief-Mart and Essentia orders also bar the companies from making certain types of odor claims unless they are true, not misleading, and supported by scientific evidence. The Essentia order also bars the company from making natural claims without scientific support. Finally, the Ecobaby order prohibits the company from making misrepresentations about third-party certifications of its mattresses.
Information for Consumers and Business
According to the Green Guides , companies sometimes claim that their products are “free of” a chemical or other ingredient that may be an environmental concern. When marketers say a product is “free of” an ingredient, the product must not contain the ingredient or have only a trace amount. The “trace amount” test is met if: 1) the level of the ingredient is less than that which would be found as an acknowledged trace contaminant or background level; 2) the ingredient’s presence does not cause material harm that consumers typically associate with it; and 3) the ingredient has not been added intentionally. The FTC has a new post on the agency’s Business Blog page about mattresses and VOCs titled FTC to mattress companies: Don’t pad your green claims.
The Commission votes to accept the packages containing the proposed consent orders for public comment were 4-0. The FTC will publish a description of the packages in the Federal Register shortly. The agreements will be subject to public comment for 30 days, beginning today and continuing through August 26, 2013, after which the Commission will decide whether to make the proposed consent orders final.
Comments in paper form should be mailed or delivered to: Federal Trade Commission, Office of the Secretary, Room H-113 (Annex D), 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, DC 20580.
NOTE: The Commission issues an administrative complaint when it has “reason to believe” that the law has been or is being violated, and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest. When the Commission issues a consent order on a final basis, it carries the force of law with respect to future actions. Each violation of such an order may result in a civil penalty of up to $16,000.
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