People love their vinyl flooring for its resilience and cost. In fact, Floor Weekly reported 2011 sales for vinyl sheet and tile flooring “hit a record high wholesale value of $2.11 billion” in the United States. However, that resiliency comes with a health price tag. Phthalates are added to vinyl flooring to reduce the rigidity of PVC and make it pliable. The Ecology Center recently tested sixty-five vinyl flooring products from several major home improvement centers. Fifty-eight percent of the flooring tested contained phthalates. This additive is a well-known reproductive and developmental disruptor.
Phlthalate exposure comes from breathing in dust from flooring.
Joe Thornton, Ph.D., Professor in the Center for Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Oregon states in his 2002 report
“Phthalates are organic chemicals used to make vinyl plastic flexible, and they can make up a large portion—up to 60 percent by weight—of the final product. Flexible PVC—including flooring and wall coverings—accounts for just more than half of all vinyl demand, while the remainder is rigid, unplasticized materials like pipes and siding.”
Worse yet, according to the CDC, measurable levels of phthalate exposure exist in the general population. Consequently, children are most at risk. Mothers can expose both their unborn children and born children. Unborn children are exposed to the chemical since it passes through the placenta via the exposed mother. Phthalate exposure can occur during breastfeeding.
Home Depot agreed to phase out flooring that contains phlthalates by the end of 2015. Lumber Liquidator stated it is working with its supplier but did not set a deadline. On the other hand, Lowes, Ace Hardware, and other retailers have not issued a statement.
Of the flooring tested, listed below is the percentage of flooring that tested positive for phthalate.
- 100 % of Lumber Liquidators and Ace Hardware
- 48% of Lowes’ products
- 23% of Menards
- 25% of Build.com
- Armstrong and Designer’s Images had zero levels in the surface layer.
I am not a fan of PVC.
Before I go further, I am not a fan of PVC or “vinyl” flooring with or without phthalates. Vinyl chloride, the chemical used to make PVC, is a known human carcinogen. Workers and areas surrounding the manufacturing of PVC are at risk for exposure to this chemical that contaminates water, soil, and air
In addition, the production and incineration of PVC release dioxins. Dioxins cause a host of health problems including birth defects, cancer, developmental delays, and diabetes. 95% of the doxins released during manufacturing or incineration accumulate in animal fat. When humans eat animal products that contain dioxins, the chemical accumulates in human fat.
As mentioned above, PVC can contain phthalates.
Opt for cork flooring, wood, tile, or Marmoleum instead.
But What about the Replacement Chemicals?
When I heard that phthalates were being replaced with different chemicals, I asked with what? Sometimes horrible chemicals are replaced with the equally terrible ones. (Case in point, BPA has been replaced with BPS.)
Healthy Building Network studied six bio-plastic phthalate alternatives, summarized that Grindsted Soft-n-Safe (made by Danisco/DuPont) and Polysorb ID 37 (made by Roquette) are the least toxic.
The following companies listed on Healthy Building Network who use Grindsted Soft-n-safe:
- Tarkett IQ Naturals
- UpoFloor Hovi Quartz
- Podium Naturale
The following company listed on HBN who use Polysorb ID 37:
- Gerflor Mipolam Symbioz
Just a Word about Confusion Over the word, “vinyl.”
Note, not all “vinyl” building products such as adhesives, shower curtains, safety glass, etc. are made of PVC. (See HERE to distinguish between PVC and other types of vinyl such as PEVA, EVA, and similar chemicals.) You should always ask what are the materials in the vinyl product. Realize that those alternative chemical compositions may not be as harmful to the Earth as PVC, but they do have consequences. Healthy Building Network states:
“There are still plenty of toxic challenges and untested chemicals in the life cycle of any petrochemical product. As is the case with most other polymers competing with PVC, however, the weight of available evidence indicates that the absence of chlorine in the formula will generally render the lifecycle environmental health impacts of PVB and the other vinyl less harmful than PVC and initial study is bearing this out. Like the polyolefin plastics, the use of PVB and the other non chlorinated vinyls represents a step forward in the search for alternatives to PVC.”
Tell Lowe’s to follow Home Depot’s lead.
Lowe’s is the second largest home improvement chain. As mentioned above, they haven’t issued a statement about phthalates in flooring.
Please join me and ask Lowe’s to follow Home Depot’s lead and remove flooring with phthlates from their stores. Sign HERE.
I will update this post as soon as find out alternatives that contain these less toxic plasticers.