COUNCILS SLIP UP ON
SCHOOL FLOORS –

CHEAPEST CHOICE IS BAD FOR CHILDREN’S HEALTH, SAYS HEALTHY FLOORING NETWORK

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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 environmental problems.

"Most of a child’s time away from home is spent at school," said Helen Lynn, Health Coordinator for the Women’s 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 children’s 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 can’t 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 children’s 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 children’s 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 survey’s 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 children’s 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.

For more information contact Helen Lynn at the Women’s Environmental Network – 020 7481 9004. Full results of the survey can also be found on web-site: http: www.healthyflooring.org

*The HFN Guide to Healthy Flooring can be obtained by sending an A4 s.a.e to HFN, PO Box 30626, London E1 1TZ.

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