The researchers found that body heat increased VOC releases from each mattress compared to released levels when mattresses were not used.
The researchers noted that the estimated exposures remained below the "NSRL" set in California's stringent environmental laws.
However, if the exposure levels took into account the age of a child, the situation became more worrisome. For example, cancer-related compounds, such as acetaldehyde, formaldehyde, and benzene, have reached or exceeded age-adjusted levels, the researchers said.
The new study was published on July 10 in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.
Experts are usually more concerned about children's exposure to VOCs, said Dr. Kenneth Spaeth, head of Occupational and Environmental Medicine at Northwell Health in Great Neck, N.Y.
Babies in particular spend a lot of time in their cradle, lying on foam mattresses that produce these gases, said Spaeth, who did not participate in the study.
"Because of their age and size, they are particularly vulnerable to potential toxic effects," he said.
Even though these chemicals do not cause immediate damage, there is concern that exposure increases their risk of cancer throughout life, said Evans and Spaeth.
The best way to protect yourself from VOCs is to maintain good ventilation inside your home, by opening windows and using fans, they said.
"Indoor air can have up to 10 times more VOCs than outside air," Evans said. "Getting fresh air can really help reduce those exposures."
Consumers can also choose mattresses made from materials other than polyurethane foam, Evans said. Mattresses containing cotton, wool and natural latex will all produce less gas.
Unfortunately, it can be very difficult for consumers to determine the contents of a mattress and the type of VOC that these materials could produce, Spaeth said.
"Consumers are in a very difficult position," Spaeth said. "It's very difficult to get good information about the contents of a mattress, and even if you know it, unless you understand the different materials well, it's hard to know which chemicals can be emitted by these materials.
"Chemicals issued will not be listed in a label indicating what the mattress is doing," Spaeth said. "These are by-products of materials."