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Councils slip up on school floors  Aug 2000
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Document.Icon.gif (199 bytes) Too toxic to talk about March 2001



One year after the launch of the Healthy Flooring Network [1] carpets are firmly recognised as a risk factor in health problems including asthma and allergies. With more and more writers and health specialists focussing on the adverse impacts of indoor allergens, HFN today calls on consumers to enter the debate by sharing their carpet experiences with others through the HFN web-site.

Already thousands of concerned consumers have visited the site (over 26,000 in June alone) or phoned HFN. "People who want a healthy home are thinking twice about carpets," says Helen Lynn, HFN spokesperson and Health Coordinator for the Women's Environmental Network (WEN).

One year ago carpets were rarely mentioned in reports about asthma. Today the public is repeatedly advised to either clean carpets rigorously or to remove them. Fitted carpets have been dubbed "the toxic sponge" by national newspapers [2].

Now HFN invites the public to have their say. The organisation will publish stories about carpets and PVC (vinyl) on its web-site ( If you feel carpets or vinyl have had negative impacts on your or your family's health; if you've reacted to the chemical smell of new carpet or vinyl; if you've changed to smooth floors and noticed a positive difference - HFN wants to hear from you.

Following the initial revelations from HFN that carpets could be damaging to health (July 2000) a spate of reports from other researchers has added to the increasing body of evidence. ·

On July 21 (the Lancet) researchers at the Manchester Asthma and Allergy Study Group [3], reported that "environmental manipulation" - including removing carpets in infants bedrooms - reduced symptoms of asthma and allergy in high risk babies. ·

In Seattle, Washington, environmental engineer John Roberts, had carpets analysed by independent laboratories. In May the New Scientist reported his findings: "high concentrations of heavy metals such as lead, cadmium and mercury, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), pesticides and polychlorinated biphenols (PCBs)." Some of these are toxins that can cause cancer. ·

Last year the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) studied pesticides in fitted carpets. In one case a square metre of carpet contained more than a gram of permethrin, an ingredient found in household insect sprays, but also found in a sample analysed for HFN as an ingredient added to carpets to kill dust mites [4]. ·

Writing about the EPA study in the mass market women's magazine, Woman's Own, ITN's consumer expert, Chris Choi, said "The Carpet and Rug Institute...says there's no link to adverse human health effects. In my opinion, though, carpet manufacturers are going to have to work a lot harder. They need to persuade us that we can feel confident with their flooring when so few of us feel comfortable around chemicals." ·

This sentiment was previously expressed from within the flooring industry. In May, Alan Bakalor, Editor of CFJ Contract Flooring Journal wrote "The environment is probably the most important issue for the carpet industry today." "Naked ladies photographed on plush carpets [5] don't answer client and consumer concerns about environmental issues. That's where British carpet manufacturers must become proactive or face losing even more market share." ·

But the Carpet Foundation is still sticking its head in the sand. Last month, reported The Kidderminster Shuttle newspaper, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) upheld a complaint about Carpet Foundation advertisements implying that it was an undisputed scientific fact that there was no link between carpet and asthma. One of the ads was in "Living Allergy Free" - the magazine of the British Allergy Association - but after the ASA ruling, the Carpet Foundation was told not to repeat the claims. ·

By contrast, architects in Scotland have taken up the challenge. Edinburgh based Gaia Architects are finalising plans for the first experimental "asthma free home" to be built in Perth later this year. Among other things, carpets will be replaced with natural substances, and vinyl wallpaper will be replaced with organic paint. The initiative has been welcomed by the National Asthma Campaign: "Making the home environment asthma-friendly is an important part in making sure asthma is well controlled," they said, including "minimising the use of soft furnishings." ·

Health has now become firmly linked to our homes. Last year The Independent on Sunday reported "The home is the latest area of our lives where health has become a selling point." Now the Builders Merchants Journal report (June 2001) that Timber laminate flooring is a runaway success. It says "The Healthy Flooring Network is presenting a very strong case to the consumer who wants a handsome floor but who also wants to avoid the dust mite and pet allergens …" Laminate flooring sales are projected to more than double on 1998 sales by the year 2003, while solid wood flooring sales grew from 1998 to 2000 by 3 times the rate of the UK floor coverings market as a whole. [6]

During the last year HFN has targeted schools, local authorities, politicians, retailers and property developers to alert them to the dangers of carpets, as well as PVC (vinyl) floors. Now that the message has been widely spread HFN invites the public to voice its views.


FOR MORE INFORMATION: Please call HFN - 020 7481 9004.

Editors Notes:
1. HFN is an alliance of organisations and individuals concerned about health, asthma and allergies. Founder members include the Women's Environmental Network and Action Against Allergy. HFN was launched in July 2000 with the publication of a report "Allergic Diseases and the Indoor Environment," by Dr. Jill Warner, Senior Lecturer in Allergy and Immunology at the University of Southampton. See
2. Daily Mail, 4th May 2001 - "The Toxic Sponge in your home - 90% of our homes are carpeted and can be harbouring pollution levels 50 times higher than outdoors"; Daily Telegraph, 3rd May 2001- "According to a report published today, carpets act like toxic sponges, sucking up dangerous amounts of poisons…"
3. National Asthma Campaign Manchester Asthma and Allergy Study Group. As well as removing the carpets they covered mattresses, washed soft toys and bed-linen weekly and applied benzyl benzoate to carpets and furnishings throughout the house.
4. A report "Poison Underfoot" released jointly by HFN and Greenpeace revealed high concentrations of chemicals in carpets and PVC (vinyl) flooring. See
5. Reference to a British Carpet Foundation advertising campaign.
6. Some laminate flooring is bonded together with formaldehyde resin which can emit formaldehyde gas at room temperature. HFN recommends asking for low or zero emitting boards. A complete range of flooring is listed in its Guide to Healthy Flooring available from HFN, c/o WEN, PO Box 30626, London E1. Tel: 0207 481 9004.

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