RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Researchers studying allergies and asthma in children found a surprising link between vinyl flooring and autism, according to a recent study published in the journal NeuroToxicology. The study authors warn that the possible connection needs further study, and other experts see no reason for parents to be overly concerned.
THE DETAILS: As part of a larger Dampness in Buildings and Health study, researchers sent questionnaires to the families of 4,779 Swedish children between 6 and 8 years old in 2000, asking questions about their children and allergic symptoms, moisture problems in the home, and types of flooring materials in the home, including what the children were exposed to early in life. A 2005 follow-up survey asked parents to identify any diseases or disorders their children experienced in the last five years, including autism. The data showed that vinyl flooring, having a mother who smoked, family economic problems, and poor indoor air ventilation were more likely to be present in the lives the 72 children diagnosed with autism versus children who were not autistic.
WHAT IT MEANS: When you hear “autism” and, well, anything else in the same sentence, it’s tempting to start eradicating the alleged trigger in a fit of panic. But child health experts, as well as the researchers themselves, say it’s way too soon to know if this association is for real. “This new study is intriguing but terribly preliminary, and based on a very small number of people,” says Philip Landrigan, MD, directory of the Children’s Environmental Health Center at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City and a Rodale.com advisor. “People should be prudent in general about bringing exotic, synthetic chemicals like vinyl into their homes, but this study by itself is no basis for action.”
In other words, you don’t need to send the kids to grandma’s while you rip out your vinyl floors and replace them with bamboo.
The chemicals called into question here are called phthalates, and they’ve been linked to hormone disruption, allergies, asthma, and developmental problems. John Little, PhD, professor and coordinator of the environmental and water resources engineering program at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, VA, explains that chemicals in vinyl flooring are semi-volatile, which means they’re released in small concentrations over a number of years. Researchers aren’t sure how this affects people, particularly the health of a developing fetus in a mother’s womb, babies, and young children.
Here’s how to minimize the phthalates in your child’s environment: