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Throwing the Carpet Out With the Bath Water

03.28.11 Throwing the Carpet Out With the Bath Water

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What started out as a typical Thursday bath night, turned very quickly into an unplanned home renovation. As my friend was making dinner in the kitchen, her 7 yr old daughter was upstairs finishing up with a bath. Trying to be the helpful older sibling, she turned on the faucet to add some warm water for her younger brother who was next in line. 45 minutes later, water started coming through the kitchen ceiling. You can imagine the scene. There was plenty of drama, several nights in a hotel and plenty of $$ in damages.

Fortunately, my friend now sees this as a blessing in disguise and she is currently in the beginning stages of replacing the old and most likely toxic carpets that her family has lived with for the last 8 years (and which were obviously destroyed). Since they inherited the carpeting when they bought their house, the estimate of its lifespan is somewhat unknown. The EPA has stated that, "80% of human exposure to pesticides happens indoors. If you paint your room the curing paint leaves its VOCs in the carpet for you to inhale long after the walls no longer smell of paint".

If you're in the market for new carpeting, it's important to be aware that most carpets are made with synthetic materials that offgas into your home, here's a compiled list of some chemical carpet "ingredients" and their potential harm:

  • Soil and stain repellents: Often treated with perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a chemical that resists grease and water. Also a very persistent chemical linked to thyroid disease.
  • Formaldehyde: The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies formaldehyde as a human carcinogen.
  • PVC: Often used in the backing of carpet, PVC (polyvinyl chloride) plastic releases dioxins, a group of the most potent synthetic chemicals ever tested, which can cause cancer and harm the immune and reproductive systems.
  • Polyurethane: Can release toluene diisocyanate which can produce severe lung problems including Bronchitis, coughing, skin and eye problems.
  • Toluene, Benzene, Styrene and Xylene: All used in the adhesives of carpeting. Known carcinogens.
  • Petroleum byproducts and synthetics (polypropylene, nylon, acrylic): Many carpets and carpet paddings contain plastics made from petroleum, an unrenewable and energy consumptive resource. Also toxic chemicals are outgassed.
  • Antimicrobial treatments: may affect nervous system.
  • p-Dichlorobenzene: These chemicals may also cause hallucinations, nerve damage and respiratory illness in humans. A known carcinogen.
  • 4-PC: The chemical that gives carpets their distinctive "new carpet smell" and is associated with eye, nose and upper respiratory problems. 4-PC is used in the latex backing of 95% of US carpets.
  • Naphthalene: chemicals for mothproofing. Known to produce toxic reactions, especially in newborns.
  • PBDEs: a fire retardant which may cause damage to thyroid, immune system and brain development functions in humans.

Older carpets are also problematic because they may contain older, more toxic chemicals that have since been banned from the market. Older carpets also accumulate toxins and can slowly release them over time. Also, carpets with PVC backing may contain plasticizers that can react with moisture or humidity, resulting in an odor.

Some Solutions to Consider:

  • Choose Natural Carpeting: Wool or hemp are two alternatives, but make sure they haven't been chemically treated.
  • Green Label Plus Certification: In 2004, the Carpet and Rug Institute started the Green Label Plus Certification, which certifies that carpets are free from 13 toxic chemicals. Look for carpets with this certification.
  • Wood or Tile Floors with mats: Bamboo floors are a good choice.
  • Staple natural carpet down instead of using toxic adhesives.
  • Use a well sealed high quality HEPA Vacuum Cleaner or Air Filter.
  • Lay your baby on another material like a blanket during "tummy time" instead of directly on carpet.
  • Take your shoes off at the door to avoid tracking in pesticides and other environmental toxins.
  • Add more house plants! They naturally absorb VOCs that have off-gassed. Read here for the Best Plants to do so.

Any suggestions for my renovating friend are greatly appreciated........or share similar stories in solidarity!

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