Carpeting has been associated with a large number of health problems. The truth is that new carpet is a major source of VOC’s (volatile organic compounds). Toxic chemicals can be found in the carpet fibers, dyes, backing materials and padding. Since more than two thirds of Americans use carpeting in their homes this can become a huge problem.
That new carpet smell, like new car smell is actually the scent of outgassing VOCs. Carpets can contain formaldehyde and acetaldehyde and other noxious chemicals that outgas into your home. The greatest release of VOCs occurs within the first 72 hours of installation. According to ecologycenter.org carpets can continue to outgas for five years or more, although the outgassing decreases over time.
While it may help with sound proofing your home and feel soft underneath your feet, the fact is that there are a number of unhealthy and straight out hazardous things lurking in your carpet. Many people choose carpets as they are a cost effective option and are more comfortable than a hard surface floor. Carpets however trap dirt, dust, animal dander and manufacturing toxins.
So what exactly are carpets made of?
Carpets are made from petroleum based products and synthetic ingredients such as acrylic, nylon and polypropylene, In addition to the synthetics, carpets are treated with a host of chemicals such as water repellents, stain repellents, antimicrobials, antistatic spray and flame retardant to name a few.
What does this mean for the consumer? You end up with carpets containing harsh chemicals including acetone, benzene, formaldehyde, toluene, styrene, and a host of other volatile organic compounds. Some of these compounds are considered cancer-causing carcinogens and labeled extremely hazardous by the EPA. Â During a congressional hearing in 1992, the EPA stated that a typical carpet sample contains at least 120 chemicals, many of which are known neurotoxins.
It’s not the carpet itself that is the problem, it is also the carpet backing materials which can include glues, vinyl and synthetic latex and the carpet padding which can contain urethane and PVC.
What can you find in carpet materials?
According to ecologycenter.org Synthetic carpets are made from nylon fibers with a polypropylene backing. Of the chemicals released from carpet, most notable are styrene and 4-phenylcyclohexane (4-PC), both of which come from the latex backing used on 95 percent of carpets. The new carpet aroma is the odor of 4-PC off-gassing, which is an eye and respiratory-tract irritant that may also affect the central nervous system. The adhesive used to affix the carpet to the floor typically contains benzene and toluene, some of the most harmful VOCs.
Flame retardant -Can cause damage to the immune system, thyroid and brain development functions.
4PC-This chemical gives them a distinctive new carpet smell. It is also associated with upper respiratory problems, as well as eye and nose problems. This product is used in 95% of traditional carpet backing.
Mothproofing chemicals-which contain naphthalene.
p-Dichlorobenzene-Can cause nerve damage and respiratory illness in humans.
In addition carpets contain artificial dyes, petroleum products (such as acrylic, nylon and polypropylene), PVC, soil and stain repellents, vinyl or latex. Some of these ingredients are linked to cancer, damage to the immune system and brain development, nerve damage and respiratory problems. If you are exposed to synthetic carpeting you may experience symptoms such as: headache, eye and throat irritation, nausea, dizziness, eye tearing, chest tightness, diarrhea, cough, muscle aches, burning nose, fatigue, and rashes.
- Choose solid hardwood floors or tile.
- Look for natural carpets that haven’t been treated chemically.
- Use area rugs, made from natural materials such as wool.
- Look for CRIs Green Label Plus Certification on carpets. This certifies that carpets you are buying are free from 13 common carpet toxins. The downside of this certification is it is industry run by the Carpet and Rug Institute, some consider this certification a conflict of interest.