The nonprofit Ecology Center tested over 1,000 flooring samples and nearly 2,300 types of wallpaper for substances that have been linked to asthma, birth defects, learning disabilities, reproductive problems, liver toxicity and cancer. The results were released today on HealthyStuff.org. Home improvement products were tested based on their toxicity or tendency to build up in people and the environment, including lead, bromine (brominated flame retardants), chlorine (PVC), cadmium, arsenic, tin (organotins), pththalates and mercury.
“The public needs to know that there are practically no restrictions on chemicals used in home improvement products,” said Jeff Gearhart, the Ecology Center’s lead researcher, who founded HealthyStuff.org. “Our testing shows that toxic chemicals show up everywhere in home improvement products. If we don’t want these chemicals in our toys, we certainly don’t want them in our floors.”
Disturbing Highlights of the HealthyStuff.org’s Home Improvement Study
Flooring that was tested includes wood, bamboo, cork, carpet cushion, sheet flooring, and vinyl and ceramic tiles.
- 52 of 1,016 (5%) of all flooring samples had detectable levels of lead. Products with the highest percent of lead included: Vinyl Sheet Flooring: 23 of 731 (2%) samples of the vinyl sheet flooring had detectable levels of lead. Vinyl Tile Flooring: 29 of 39 (74%) of the tiles sampled contained detectable lead, with levels as high as 1,900 ppm.
- Flooring samples contained numerous phthalates, at up to 12.9% by weight. Limited testing for phthalate plasticizers indicates most vinyl flooring contains four phthalate plasticizers recently banned in children’s products. Four representative samples of vinyl flooring were tested from two national brands, Armstrong and Congoleum, and two discount brands, Crystal and tiles sold through a local hardware chain.
- Two-thirds 39 of 61 (64%) of PVC flooring tiles contained organotin stabilizers. Some forms of organotins are endocrine disruptors; and other forms can impact the developing brain and are toxic to the immune system.
Wallpaper: HealthyStuff.org tested over 2,300 types of wallpaper, from 11 different brands and manufacturers.
- The vast majority (96%) of the wallpapers sampled contained polyvinyl chloride (PVC) coatings.
- Over one-half (53% or 1,234 of 2,312) of PVC wallpaper samples contained one or more hazardous chemicals of concern (at > 40 ppm levels) including lead, cadmium, chromium, tin and antimony.
- Limited testing for phthalate plasticizers indicates that most PVC wallpaper also contains phthalates plasticizers which are now banned in children’s products.
- Nearly one in five (18% or 419 of 2,312) wallpaper samples contained detectable levels of cadmium (>40 ppm). 13% (290 of 2,312) had levels over 100 ppm. All wallpaper with cadmium was vinyl coated.
Indoor Air Quality of Great Concern
Phthalates — chemical additives used to soften PVC products — were particularly prominent in flooring and wallpaper, raising a number of health concerns. For example, a 2008 European study (Kolarik 2008) found an association between concentrations of phthalates in indoor dust and wheezing among preschool children, especially when PVC flooring was in the child’s bedroom. In addition some phthalates have endocrine-disrupting properties, meaning that they can disturb normal hormonal processes, often at low levels of exposure. Studies have also demonstrated possible links between phthalates and adverse impacts on the reproductive system, kidneys, liver, and blood. Finally, a 2009 Swedish study (Larsson 2008) found that children who live in homes with vinyl floors, which can emit phthalates, are twice as likely to have autism.
People spend about 90% of their time indoors, so indoor concentrations of hazardous chemicals can be more relevant to human exposure assessment than ambient concentrations. Children and pets are particularly vulnerable, since they are frequently close to the floor and therefore have high levels of exposure. In fact, many of these substances have already been restricted or banned in children’s products.
On a Positive Note
HealthyStuff.org found that many products do not contain dangerous substances, proving that safe products can be made. Safe alternatives that tested free of lead, cadmium, mercury and other hazardous metals were linoleum, cork, bamboo and hardwood. Non-vinyl flooring products are half as likely to contain hazardous chemical additives.
>> The full home improvement database and more information about what consumers can do is available at www.HealthyStuff.org.
P.S. Get ready for a our brand new series on the confusing topic of flame retardants!
More Info on PVC Toxicity and PVC-free Alternatives