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Dangerous Chemicals Lurk in Your Home Products

10/21/2010 12:00:00 AM

Tags: flooring, cork, paint, wallpaper, toxic, chemicals

Too many home improvement products contain dangerous chemicals that affect our health. We’ve been telling Natural Home readers that for more than a decade, and now a large-scale study of conventional home improvement products proves us right.

The nonprofit Ecology Center of Ann Arbor, Michigan, tested more 1,000 flooring samples and almost 2,300 types of wallpaper for lead, bromine (brominated flame retardants), chlorine (PVC), cadmium, arsenic, tin (organotins), phthalates and mercury—substances that have been linked to asthma, birth defects, learning disabilities, reproductive problems, liver toxicity and cancer. As most Americans spend up to 90 percent of their time indoors, where these substances are concentrated, this study raises concerns—especially for children, who spend more time close to the floor and are therefore more exposed to these toxic chemicals.

eco flooring 
Conventional flooring can contain lead, phthalates and other dangerous substances, but flooring choices such as linoleum, cork, bamboo and hardwood all tested free of lead, mercury and other hazardous materials. Photo Courtesy EcoTimber. 

The study found some disturbing results. Five percent of the flooring samples had detectable lead (52 of the 1,016 products tested). Vinyl tile flooring scored the worst, with 74 percent of the samples (29 out of 39) containing lead at levels as high as 1,900 ppm. Two-thirds of PVC flooring tiles contained organotin stabilizers: some of these are endocrine disruptors (meaning they can disturb hormonal processes), while others can affect children’s developing brains. Numerous samples also contained phthalates that have been banned in children’s products, and which have been linked to reproductive disorders and cancer.

Wallpaper didn’t fare any better. More than half of the 2,300 samples tested contain one or more dangerous chemicals, including lead, cadmium, chromium, tin and antimony. Almost all of the wallpaper samples—96 percent—were coated with polyvinyl chloride, or PVC.

Linoleum, cork, bamboo and hardwood—our favorite flooring types—all tested free of lead, mercury and other hazardous metals. As manufacturers expand their collections of these materials, nontoxic flooring is now easier than ever to find. Healthier alternatives to traditional wallpapers exist as well. Adorn your walls with natural clay plaster or paint containing few volatile organic compounds (VOCs) whose fumes pollute the air. You can even try your hand at making your own paint and plaster!

Visit to learn about the products you’re considering bringing into your home.


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