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Wallpaper, vinyl flooring are another source of toxics in our homes

Posted on Oct 19, 2010
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Toxics in home improvement products Largest-Ever Study of Chemicals in Home Improvement Products Finds Lead, Phthalates, Cadmium, Organotins and Other Harmful Ingredients

Calling it yet another wake up call to Massachusetts residents that toxic chemicals are a silent but serious threat to us all, the Alliance for a Healthy Tomorrow pointed to the results of a study released today by HealthyStuff.org that found harmful chemicals including lead, phthalates, cadmium, and organotins in a number of home improvement products including flooring and wallpaper.   HealthyStuff.org is a research organization widely known for exposing toxic chemicals in children’s toys and other every day products used in homes and workplaces.


“This is yet another example of how our chemical safety system is broken and failing to protect our health,” said Cindy Luppi, New England Co-Director for Clean Water Action.  “Recent polls show that 74% of the public supports stricter regulation of chemicals.  It’s simply common sense: these hazards don’t belong in our homes and they don’t belong in our bodies.”

HealthyStuff.org tested over 1,000 flooring samples and nearly 2,300 types of wallpaper and found substances including phthalates, cadmium and lead that have been linked to asthma, birth defects, learning disabilities, reproductive problems, liver toxicity and cancer in their samples.  Among the products tested, were those manufactured by Armstrong, Congoleum, Crystal and Aco Hardware among others.  The results can be found on their website.

The Alliance for a Healthy Tomorrow is calling for passage of legislation at the state and federal levels to regulate toxic chemicals in consumer products, replacing them with safer alternatives where feasible.

The home improvement products were tested for chemicals based on their toxicity or tendency to build up in people and the environment. These chemicals include lead, bromine (brominated flame retardants), chlorine (PVC), cadmium, arsenic, tin (organotins), pththalates and mercury. 

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.

In addition to finding many products with chemical hazards, HealthyStuff.org test data shows that many products do not contain dangerous substances, proving that safe products can be made. 

Highlights of Findings from HealthyStuff.org’s Home Improvement Study:

Flooring: Flooring that was tested includes wood, bamboo, cork, carpet cushion, sheet flooring, and vinyl and ceramic tiles. 

Wallpaper:  HealthyStuff.org tested over 2,300 types of wallpaper, from 11 different brands and manufacturers. 

In addition to finding many products with chemical hazards, HealthyStuff.org test data shows that many products do not contain dangerous substances, proving that safe products can be made. 

To sample the home improvement products experts used a portable X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) analyzer and laboratory testing.  XRF is an accurate device that has been used by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to screen packaging; the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to screen food; and many State and County Health Departments to screen for residential lead paint.  Additional samples were analyzed by laboratories using EPA test methods.

“With each new scientific report linking toxic chemical exposure to a serious health problem, it becomes more obvious that the law intended to keep harmful chemicals in check — the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1976 — is not working,” said Andy Igrejas, Director of Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, a coalition of 250 groups, including many from Massachusetts, working to overhaul our failed chemicals policy. 

A bill that would replace toxic chemicals with safer alternatives has been widely debated in the Massachusetts legislature and will be re-filed in 2011. Congress is also starting to take up the issue at the federal level as well. In response to the increasing consumer demand for safer products, Senator Frank Lautenberg and Representatives Bobby Rush and Henry Waxman have introduced bills to overhaul TSCA. The Safe Chemicals Act in the Senate and the Toxic Chemicals Safety Act in the House are expected to be re-introduced in the next Congressional session.

The full home improvement database and more information about what consumers can do is available at www.HealthyStuff.org.

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