Hazardous Chemicals in PVC Flooring and Hazardous Chemicals in Carpets
[download report]

The following reports have also been published
Allergic Diseases and the Indoor Environment July 2000
Report on Local Authorities Questionaire Sept 2000

Two reports compiled for the Healthy Flooring Network by Michelle Allsopp, David Santillo and Paul Johnston, Greenpeace Research Laboratories, University of Exeter.

This study was undertaken to identify and quantify the levels of certain chemical additives in fitted carpet and PVC flooring. Eight brands of carpet and five brands of PVC flooring that were available for retail in the UK were studied(1) . Both the PVC flooring and carpet were analysed for certain organotins and phthalate plasticisers. In addition, the carpets were analysed for the pesticide permethrin, brominated flame retardants, formaldehyde and triclosan (an anti-microbial chemical). These chemicals were selected for study because of their hazardous properties, combined with the knowledge that they are used in some consumer products. The intention of the study was solely to provide empirical data on the chemical composition of carpets and PVC flooring. It was not intended to generate data for calculating potential leaching rates from flooring of for calculating potential doses that individuals may take from exposure to such flooring in the home and potential consequences for human health.

The PVC flooring samples were found to contain high levels of several organotin compounds, in particular dibutyltin (DBT, 37.7 - 569 ppm), and tributyltin (TBT, 128 - 17,940 ppb). These compounds are known to be used as stabilisers in some PVC products. Two of the eight carpet samples were also found to contain substantial levels of TBT (2700 - 47500 ppb). It is notable that these carpet samples were registered as being treated with "Ultrafresh" for protection against dust mites, bacteria, moulds and fungi. It is possible, though not certain, that this biocide incorporated organotins as active agents.

The presence of high levels of organotins in PVC flooring and carpets is of particular concern since they are persistent and are toxic to the immune system. As a consequence of the use of TBT in anti-fouling paints on ships hulls, this chemical has been responsible for major reproductive problems in some species of shellfish and in some instances has been linked to massive population declines of these organisms. Recently, concern regarding commercial uses of organotins has led to a German proposal to ban the use of these chemicals in paints for shipping, biocides in textiles and other uses from the end of 2002.

High concentrations of certain phthalate plasticisers were found in the PVC flooring samples. In the carpet samples, phthalates were not found above the limit of detection. Phthalates are added to PVC to make it flexible. Diisononyl phthalate (DINP) was found in all the PVC flooring samples at levels ranging from 4.7 to 15.8% by weight and butyl benzyl phthalate (BBP) was present in three samples at levels between 1.6 to 5.0%. The presence and quantity of DINP and BBP in PVC flooring is of concern given the potential for human exposure in the indoor environment and their potential toxicity.

Phthalates cause a wide range of toxic effects in laboratory animals. In particular, BBP has been shown to have teratogenic (birth defects), reproductive and developmental effects as well as endocrine-disrupting effects (that is, it interferes with the body's hormonal system). Due to its high toxicity the presence of BBP in PVC flooring was surprising. Previous research has shown that phthalates leach from PVC flooring and are consequently found in dust particles in the home and in wash water from PVC floors. Young children may be subjected to the highest exposure to phthalates from PVC floors because their breathing zone is closer to the floor and they have a larger volume of respiration than adults per kilo bodyweight. The health of young children is of particular concern with regard to phthalates in PVC floors. A study in Norway found that children living in homes with PVC floors had a higher incidence of bronchial obstruction than children living in homes with wooden floors It was suggested that this may have been due to exposure to plasticisers in the PVC.

Three of the eight carpet samples were found to contain significant levels of permethrin (up to 78 ppb), a pesticide used against dust mites. Permethrin has been reported to have effects on the nervous system (neurotoxic) in laboratory animals. Previous research in Germany has demonstrated that elevated concentrations of permethrin found in domestic homes were largely due to the presence of treated carpets. The presence of permethrin in carpets analysed in the present study is of concern given the potential human exposure in the home via its migration to air and dusts. It is of note that a previous study reported that typical permethrin treatment of carpets, where permethrin penetrates the carpet fibres, was not effective in preventing habitation by dust mites.

One of the eight carpet samples contained significant levels (1600 ppb) of 2,2',3,3',4,4',5,5',6,6'-decabromodiphenyl ether (BDE-209), a brominated flame retardant chemical. This is of concern given the persistent and toxic nature of this compound. While fire safety is an issue which cannot be compromised, it can be achieved through the use other less hazardous fire retardants or through redesign and/or reformulation of materials to achieve lower flammability. Five of the carpet samples were also found to contain formaldehyde at low ppm concentrations.

In conclusion, several hazardous chemicals were found in significant concentrations in new PVC flooring and carpets. This highlights the continued widespread use of hazardous chemicals in consumer products, uses for which most of the public will be unaware. The presence and the high concentrations of some of the chemicals in PVC floors and carpets was unexpected given that they are recognised as hazardous chemicals at both national and international levels and, in some cases, plans exist to reduce their use or phase them out.

The results of this study are of concern as the presence of hazardous chemicals in PVC flooring and carpets inevitably leads to human exposure in the indoor environment. Flooring makes up a substantial surface area within the home; in particular, young children who breathe and play close to the floor are more likely to be exposed to hazardous chemicals in both PVC flooring and fitted carpet. Although the consequences of long-term exposure to these chemicals in the indoor environment is uncertain, the chemicals have properties which make them potentially hazardous to human health and the environment. The identification of hazardous chemicals in PVC flooring and carpets by this study has revealed an important product sector which will need attention to prevent human exposure to such chemicals and possible health consequences.

The data for the above study has been published as two individual technical notes, one on PVC flooring and the other on carpets. The former has already been submitted to the European Commission's public consultation on Environmental Issues of PVC, in November 2000.

1) The samples of carpet were manufactured by Brintons Ltd, Riding Hall Carpets, Whitestone Weavers Ltd, Rawson Carpets, Kingsmead Carpets, Westex and B & Q carpet tiles. The samples of PVC flooring were manufactured by Gerflor, Armstrong, Forbo Nairn, Marley Floors and B & Q.

[ Back Home ]  [ Up ]