Home Improvement Product Findings - October 2010

HealthyStuff.org tested over 3,300 home improvement products. 1,016 samples of flooring and 2,312 samples of wallpaper were tested for this research. The test data represents the largest publicly available database of toxic chemicals in home improvement products. Currently, there is no regulation of chemical hazards in the products tested. Our testing is not necessarily representative of all flooring and wallpaper on the market. In addition, the presence of a chemical in a product does not necessarily mean there is exposure. Our sampling was conducted by the Ecology Center.

Overall Findings:

Heavy metals and other additives are commonly found in residential flooring and wallpaper. These chemicals include lead, cadmium, flame retardants, tin compounds and phthalates -- harmful chemicals that are linked to asthma, reproductive problems, developmental and learning disabilities, hormone problems and cancer.

Home improvement products are largely unregulated for chemical hazards and contain hazardous chemicals additives, called phthalates, at levels prohibited in children's products by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). CPSC prohibits the presence of 6 phthalates in children's products at levels greater then 1,000 ppm. Download flooring phthalate test results.

PVC building materials were 7-times more likely to contain hazardous additives, compared to non-vinyl alternatives tested in this study. All PVC materials tested - 1,350 of 3,019 contained hazardous additives; Non-PVC materials - 18 of 273.

Over 1/2 (53% - 1,234 of 2,312) and 15% (119 of 793) of flooring had one or more hazardous chemical additives.
Levels of hazardous chemical additives in flooring and wallpaper are commonly found in household air and dust at levels 5-100 times higher then outdoor concentrations.

There is no adequate system in place to regulate or restrict these chemicals, whether they are made in the US or abroad. Changes in the law are needed to keep lead and other toxic chemicals out of home improvement products.

Highlights of Flooring Product Findings

HealthyStuff.org tested over 1,000 (1,016) flooring products, including vinyl tile and sheet flooring, ceramic tile, wood, bamboo and cork flooring. Carpet was not sampled. Specifically we tested:

  • 731 Sheet Flooring – vinyl sheet flooring
  • 30 Linoleum – natural linseed oil based flooring
  • 43 Wood – prefinished hardwood flooring
  • 8 Bamboo – laminated bamboo flooring
  • 61 Plastic Tile – vinyl flooring tiles
  • 39 Ceramic Tile
  • 92 Cork – natural cork flooring
  • 12 Carpet Cushion

15% of vinyl flooring products (compared to 8% of non-vinyl flooring) tested had detectable levels of one or more hazardous chemicals. Vinyl flooring products are twice as likely to contain hazardous chemical additives.

Limited testing for phthalate plasticizers indicates vinyl flooring contains four phthalate plasticizers which were 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. All samples tested contained one or more of the banned phthalates.

Flooring samples contained numerous phthalates, at up to 12.9% by weight. The following individual phthalates were found in flooring samples:

  • Bis(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate (DEHP): maximum level of 37,000 ppm
  • Butyl benzyl phthalate (BBP): maximum level of 45,000 ppm
  • Di-n-octyl phthalate (DnOP): maximum level of 14,000 ppm
  • Diisononyl phthaltes (DINP): maximum level of 84,00 ppm

5% (52) of all flooring samples had detectable levels of lead (>40 ppm). Products with the highest percent of lead included:

  • Vinyl Sheet Flooring: 2% (23 out of 731) of the vinyl sheet flooring had detectable levels of lead
  • Vinyl Tile Flooring: 74% (29 out of 39) of the ceramic tiles sampled contained detectable lead, with levels as high as 1,900 ppm

2/3 or (64% - 39 of 61) of PVC flooring tiles contained organotin stabilizers. Tributyltin is an endocrine disruptor.

Highlights of Wallpaper Findings

HealthyStuff tested over 2,300 types of wallpaper, from 11 different brands and manufacturers. We found that most wallpaper is coated with polyvinyl chloride (PVC). 96% of the wallpapers sampled contained PVC coatings. One-half (53% - 1,234 of 2,312) of PVC wallpaper samples contained one or more hazardous chemicals of concern (at > 40 ppm levels). Nearly one in five (18% - 419 of 2,312) wallpaper samples contained detectable level of Cadmium (>40 ppm). 13% (290 of 2,312) had levels over 100 ppm. All wallpaper with cadmium was vinyl coated. 15% (338 of 2,312) of wallpaper samples contain brominated flame retardants (BFR). These products contained a BFR combined with an antimony-based synergist.

PVC-Free and Green Flooring Findings

Non-vinyl flooring products are half as likely to contain hazardous chemical additives.
Linoleum, cork, bamboo and hardwood all tested free of lead, cadmium, mercury and other hazardous metals.

PVC Building Product Hazards

Phthalates are a group of chemicals, some of which have endocrine-disrupting properties, meaning that they can disturb normal hormonal processes, often at low levels of exposure. (EPA 2000)

Human testing by the federal government finds phthalates in almost all of the population, with the highest levels in children ages 6 to 11 years and in women DINP (one type of phthalate) is commonly used as an additive in children's toys. (CDC 2005 & 2010)

Studies have demonstrated possible links between DINP and adverse impacts on the reproductive system, kidneys, liver, and blood. In vitro maternal exposure to DEHP (a type of phthalate) been correlated to improper brain development in fetal rats. (State of Oregon & Xu 2007)

Exposure to DEHP can lead to the formation of cancerous tumors in the liver. (Foster 2007)

A study published in 2009 found a statistically significant link between PVC flooring, asthma, and autism spectrum disorder. The study found that children who live in homes with vinyl floors, which can emit phthalates, are twice as likely to have autism. (Larsson 2009)

A 2008 study found an association between concentrations of phthalates in indoor dust and wheezing among preschool children. The presence of PVC flooring in a child's bedroom was the strongest predictor of respiratory ailments. (Kolarik 2008)

A study of 10,851 children found the presence of floor moisture and PVC significantly increased the risk of asthma. (Norback 2000)

A study among personnel in four geriatric hospitals found asthma symptoms were more common in the two buildings with signs of phthalate degradation in PVC flooring. (Bornehag 2004)

A study of workers in an office building found they were diagnosed with adult-onset asthma at a rate of about 9 times higher than expected. The researchers identified PVC flooring as the source of chemicals, such as 2-ethyl-l-hexanol, l-butanol, in the air. (Tuomainen 2004)

A study of adults working in rooms with plastic wall covering materials were more than twice as likely to develop asthma. These researchers pointed to other recent epidemiologic studies in children conducted in Norway, Finland, Sweden, and Russia that also found links between PVC, phthalates, and respiratory problems. (Jaakkola 2006)

Exposure to phthalates is linked to birth defects of the genitals and altered levels of reproductive hormones in baby boys. An increased breast cancer risk is also suspected. (Main 2006, Swan 2005, Marsee 2006)

NOTE: HealthyStuff.org is an initial screening of chemicals in products for a handful of hazardous chemicals. There are a number of chemicals of concern that the X-ray fluorescence (XRF) device and HealthyStuff.org cannot detect. For example, there has been much concern recently about bisphenol A, a component of polycarbonate plastic. The XRF device is not able to detect bisphenol A, nor can it identify polycarbonate. In addition, the XRF device cannot detect phthalates, a family of chemicals of concern, although we have used the presence of PVC plastic as a surrogate for the likely presence of phthalates.

* Please see our Methodology


Inline HTML

This content comes from a hidden element on this page.

The inline option preserves bound JavaScript events and changes, and it puts the content back where it came from when it is closed.

Click me, it will be preserved!

If you try to open a new ColorBox while it is already open, it will update itself with the new content.

Updating Content Example:
Click here to load new content