Schools are being fitted
with carpets and PVC floors - despite the fact that they are both
known health risks, says the Healthy Flooring Network (HFN), an
alliance of organisations concerned about health, allergies and
the environment. In the preliminary results of a nation-wide survey
HFN found that local authorities most popular choice of flooring
is fitted carpet and PVC - primarily because of cost. Today as children
prepare for a new term, HFN warned against putting fitted carpets
in more and more schools. In a new "Guide to Healthy Flooring"
they alerted local councils to available alternative floorings and
called on them to reject carpets and PVC.
Putting carpets in schools has been a growing trend,
particularly in primary schools, and with new funds available for school refurbishment the
use of fitted carpets is forecast to increase by 80% over the next few years. More than
50% of time taken off school through chronic conditions is related to allergy and
respiratory problems and the floors children play and sit on could be contributing to the
problem. A recent report by leading allergy specialist, Dr. Jill Warner of the University
of Southampton, cited carpets as one of prime culprit in asthma and allergies, while
previous studies have linked PVC not only to asthma but to a host of health and
"Most of a childs time away from home is spent at school," said Helen
Lynn, Health Coordinator for the Womens Environmental Network and spokesperson for
the Healthy Flooring Network. "Parents trying to reduce allergens in the home rely on
the authorities to do the same in schools. Councils must put childrens health first
when choosing floors, and phase out fitted carpets and PVC."
Carpets can carry up to 100,000 dust mites in one square metre and accumulate vast
reservoirs of dust mite dropping - a major allergen known to trigger asthma. The report "Allergic
Diseases and the Indoor Environment" explained that it is virtually impossible to
rid fitted carpets of dust mites with traditional cleaning methods. Carpets also collect
pet allergens which are spread from place to place on pet-owners clothes. If carpets are
fitted in schools even children known to be sensitive to cat and dog allergen cant
manage to avoid these allergens.
PVC is also associated with increased risk of asthma, after a Nordic survey linked
exposure to chemicals used to soften PVC to inflammation of the airways. Hundreds of
communities in Europe, Japan and USA are already restricting PVC in public buildings
because of health and environmental risks, and last month the European Commission
initiated further action by publishing a green paper on options for reducing the adverse
impacts of PVC. A European Directive which will ban some soft PVC toys in order to reduce
childrens exposure to softeners is to be reviewed to include other sources of the
chemicals including PVC flooring.
Last month, at a press conference to release her report Dr. Jill Warner said that
children are most susceptible to allergens. "Early exposure to allergens from pets
and dust mites can sensitise them, making them more susceptible to asthma and allergies in
later life. One in 5 children in this country have asthma - it is huge and we need to do
something about it." Her report explained that reducing allergens in the indoor
environment is crucial to reducing childrens risk of allergic diseases.
The Healthy Flooring Network wrote to 147 local authorities asking for their policy on
allergen-reduction and their attitudes to floors. Despite two approaches in June
and August less than half the authorities replied and the surveys preliminary
results show clearly that reducing allergens in schools is not a priority. Very few have
any policy on allergen reduction, although more than half would consider developing one.
The majority prefer carpets and PVC because of cost, with safety and durability also cited
as reasons for choice. Most Authorities had no particular policy on carpets and PVC
despite answering that they were aware of the health problems associated with these two
floor-coverings. Although there was a fairly good awareness of the environmental and
health problems of PVC, even those authorities who were replacing vinyl with linoleum were
doing so only partially, with PVC still the favourite.
Of the 43 Authorities which answered the survey Derbyshire came out top. They scored
highly because they have a policy on allergy reduction and a relatively high awareness of
the risks involved with carpets and PVC. Now HFN hopes that more councils will follow.
Says Helen Lynn, "We hope that by releasing these preliminary results we can alert
more councils to the importance of their choice of flooring in schools. We hope more will
respond positively to our survey and that ultimately they will remove the risks posed by
fitted carpets and PVC from our childrens school environment."
To help Local Authorities make informed choices HFN today sent out a detailed
"Guide to Healthy Flooring". The guide points out that lino, wood, rubber, and
other alternatives are just as hard wearing and easy to maintain as carpet and PVC but
much less likely to accumulate allergens. It provides thorough and up to date information
on a dozen alternative options and gives advice on how to safely remove carpets. It also
provides a comprehensive list of suppliers. This guide is available free from HFN* to
anyone wanting to actively reduce allergens in the indoor environment.
more information contact Helen Lynn at the Womens Environmental
Network 020 7481 9004.
Full results of the survey can also be found on web-site: http:
*The HFN Guide to Healthy Flooring can be obtained by sending an A4 s.a.e
to HFN, PO Box 30626, London E1 1TZ.