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
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.