05-28-09 RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Researchers who developed a quick way of measuring levels of phthalates—chemicals used in artificial fragrances and to soften plastic—found that homes with the fewest carpets and plastics boasted the lowest levels of the unhealthy chemicals. The new research will appear in the upcoming edition of the journal Environment International.
THE DETAILS: Many plastic floor coverings—particularly vinyl, which is made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC)—are popular because they’re cheap and relatively easy to install. Unfortunately they’re laden with phthalates, some of which have been linked to breathing problems, sexual development problems in baby boys, low sperm count in men, and possibly cancer. Preliminary research is also finding a possible link between phthalates and obesity. In the current study, scientists found that homes with more plastic products in them tended to have higher phthalate levels in the carpeting. The carpets apparently offer a cushy hiding spot not only for pet dander and dirt, but also chemical irritants like phthalates that can exacerbate asthma.
WHAT IT MEANS: If you’re in the market for new flooring, you may want to scratch carpeting and vinyl off your list. Vinyl has been dubbed “the poison plastic” by many public health and environmental advocates, and Healthy Building Network researchers recently released an analysis of resilient flooring and chemical hazards naming vinyl “worst in class” because of its cancer-causing by-products and slow-releasing chemicals that off-gas in homes throughout the vinyl’s lifespan. And while carpets don’t necessarily contain phthalates, they trap them along with other harmful pollutants, often including formaldehyde, a known carcinogen.