Should I Listen to the Vinyl Bashers?

Should I Listen to the Vinyl Bashers?

IMPORTANT NOTE: This article was accurate as of the date it was published, and was signed off on by all of the manufacturer sources quoted. That said, manufacturers frequently change their formulations and ingredients, so this article, given its age, becomes background. DO NOT rely on this article for purchasing these manufacturers’ current products. The questions are relatively simple, but if you would like help in getting guaranteed answers about certifications on a current product, sign up at: https://www.naturalinteriors.com/consumer-subscription/

Indoor Air Quality Certifications offer some, but not complete, assurance about vinyl flooring

Q. While I am intrigued by natural, linoleum products, my budget is more inclined toward the Naturcor vinyl flooring I am looking at buying from my local flooring dealer. I also am concerned about buying a product that does not emit excessive chemicals, and I have been warned about dioxin, which is a carcinogen, by another blogger.

Still, I have seen some vinyl brands advertise that they are green.  What is the truth about vinyl?

A. The truth about vinyl – or polyvinyl chloride (PVC) – is that it isn’t the preferred product of environmentalists or most green product enthusiasts.  But dioxin is an end-of-product life or house fire issue, because it is released when PVC is incinerated.

Naturcor, made exclusively for Flooring America by IVC, in addition to a long list of other brands, has achieved FloorScore® Indoor Air Quality Certification. Because this and other indoor air quality certifications only measure chemicals that are classified as VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds), dioxin is not assessed.

Another criticism of PVC focuses on phthalates, which are thought to affect endocrine functioning. Phthalates also are not classified as VOCs, and are not measured by FloorScore,® according to Scientific Certification Systems (SCS), which conducts the testing.

PVC  floors will  emit phthalates, or phthalate esters  –  chemical softeners used in PVC  to increase flexibility. But it is thought  that drinking out of plastic containers or children mouthing plastic toys is the most common means of exposure from household items and furnishings. Phthalates also are used in a large variety of products, from coating of pharmaceutical pills to food products and textiles.  Other types of non chlorinated vinyl, such as PVA, PVB and EVA, pose fewer questions about toxicity.

As for VOC’s that can be emitted by vinyl floors, FloorScore® sets limits for 38 compounds and is based upon California specification 01350. SCS lists certified products on its website.  The US EPA also has posted some helpful  information about phthalates and dioxins,  specific to children’s health.

Some vinyl manufacturers, like Flexco, also are making improved environmental strides by documenting the amount of recycled content in their products, in addition to getting FloorScore® Indoor Air Quality certification. Natural Interiors® member Wanke Cascade distributes Flexco on the northwest US coast. Contact them for a retailer in that area. ©

Nancy Kibbee is editor at naturalinteriors.com

41 Comments
  • Mike Schade, CHEJ
    Posted at 15:37h, 09 July Reply

    As a critic of vinyl, I couldn’t resist weighing in. 🙂

    Thanks for your thoughtful and well done summary, which highlights some of the key concerns with vinyl. Though it’s sadly not just about the dioxin and phthalates, but other concerns remain as well.

    PVC flooring is manufactured with many other toxic chemicals of high concern that are harmful to workers and the public, like the known human carcinogen vinyl chloride, not to mention ethylene dichloride and chlorine gas. PVC plants are typically located in low-income and communities of color, making the production an issue of environmental justice and racism. Entire communities have been demolished due to pollution from the PVC industry.

    In China, where a lot of PVC is made, the vinyl industry is one of the largest users of mercury in the entire world. See: http://www.unep.org/hazardoussubstances/Mercury/PrioritiesforAction/VinylChlorideMonomerProduction/tabid/4523/Default.aspx

    Dioxins are released during not just the disposal, but also during the production of vinyl, helping to make the vinyl industry a major dioxin source. Dioxins are toxic at extremely low levels and widely considered some of the most toxic chemicals on the planet – which is why they’ve been targeted for international phase-out by over 100 nations across the world.

    Phthalates are a particular concern in flooring as they’ve been found to off-gas from vinyl flooring. They cling to dust and eventually make their way into our bodies. They’ve been linked to asthma, learning disablities, birth defects, and many other serious developmental and reproductive health problems. A brand new study released just a few weeks ago found an association between vinyl flooring and phthalates in the bodies of infants. Two studies published since then have found links between phthalates and obesity and eczema in children. Testing by the federal government has documented that children have some of the highest levels of phthalates in their bodies.

    In addition to VOCs and phthalates, flooring has also been found to contain, and therefore likely release, lead and organotin stabilizers: http://www.healthystuff.org/findings.101910.flooringwallpaper.php

    We have summarized some of these and other key concerns with vinyl on our website:
    http://chej.org/campaigns/pvc/projects/pvc-free-schools/

    Thank you.

    • Nancy Kibbee
      Posted at 19:39h, 09 July Reply

      Mike,
      Also, as it relates to your comments about VOCs, and reminding you that the post was about indoor air quality, here it the list of VOCs that FloorScore sets limits for and tests. As you have a great deal of expertise, please reply as to where you feel this is inadequate in regulating indoor air quality with vinyl flooring, which is what the original blog post was limited to. SCS also has asked the Resilient Floor Covering Institute to reply to your comment, but I thought I would post this in the meantime:
      1 Acetaldehyde 75-07-0 70
      2 Benzene 71-43-2 30
      3 Carbon disulfide 75-15-0 400
      4 Carbon tetrachloride 56-23-5 20
      5 Chlorobenzene 108-90-7 500
      6 Chloroform 67-66-3 150
      7 Dichlorobenzene (1,4-) 106-46-7 400
      8 Dichloroethylene (1,1) 75-35-4 35
      9 Dimethylformamide (N,N-) 68-12-2 40
      10 Dioxane (1,4-) 123-91-1 1,500
      11 Epichlorohydrin 106-89-8 1.5
      12 Ethylbenzene 100-41-4 1,000
      13 Ethylene glycol 107-21-1 200
      14 Ethylene glycol monoethyl ether 110-80-5 35
      15 Ethylene glycol monoethyl ether acetate 111-15-9 150
      16 Ethylene glycol monomethyl ether 109-86-4 30
      17 Ethylene glycol monomethyl ether acetate 110-49-6 45
      18 Formaldehyde 50-00-0 16.5 b
      19 Hexane (n-) 110-54-3 3,500
      20 Isophorone 78-59-1 1,000
      21 Isopropanol 67-63-0 3,500
      22 Methyl chloroform 71-55-6 500
      23 Methylene chloride 75-09-2 200
      24 Methyl t-butyl ether 1634-04-4 4,000
      25 Naphthalene 91-20-3 4.5
      26 Phenol 108-95-2 100
      27 Propylene glycol monomethyl ether 107-98-2 3,500
      28 Styrene 100-42-5 450
      29 Tetrachloroethylene 127-18-4 17.5
      30 Toluene 108-88-3 150
      31 Trichloroethylene 79-01-6 300
      32 Vinyl acetate 108-05-4 100
      33-35 Xylenes, technical mixture
      (m-, o-, p-xylene combined)
      108-38-3,
      95-47-6,
      106-42-3
      350

    • Nancy Kibbee
      Posted at 19:50h, 09 July Reply

      GREENGUARD Environmental Institute, since we began blogging about this issue, also stated that FloorScore criteria did not included appropriate chemicals for resilient flooring. You can see on their website that they have certified two brands of vinyl flooring. They, however, did not respond to requests for comments for the post you are talking about. In their absence, our visitors could greatly benefit from your review of the FloorScore VOC criteria, already posted here. We look forward to it. Thanks very much.

    • Jen
      Posted at 15:49h, 30 April Reply

      ” PVC plants are typically located in low-income and communities of color, making the production an issue of environmental justice and racism. Entire communities have been demolished due to pollution from the PVC industry.” I had to laugh when I read this. Some people will try to politicize anything. Here is where you find most vinyl products: Retail, hospitals, schools and commercial environments. My vet just installed luxury vinyl plank. It is not cheap. The stuff they installed is almost $7/sqft. I haven’t found it for less than $3/sqft making it just as expensive at wood flooring. I’ve read enough to know I will not be considering anything vinyl in my house and will be sticking with carpet (which is what you find in low income housing) until a safer soft flooring option is available.

  • Mike Schade, CHEJ
    Posted at 10:36h, 10 July Reply

    Thanks Nancy.

    FloorScore is a useful tool for evaluating VOC emissions from flooring material.

    However it’s not just VOCs that we’re concerned about, especially when it comes to vinyl flooring.

    FloorScore does not address semi-volatile chemicals, in particular phthalates like DEHP, which are commonly found in vinyl flooring, can be released into the indoor environment, and have been linked to serious health problems at very low levels of exposure.

    According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, “EPA is concerned about phthalates because of their toxicity and the evidence of pervasive human and environmental exposure to these chemicals… Adverse effects on the development of the reproductive system in male laboratory animals are the most sensitive health outcomes from phthalate exposure. Several studies have shown associations between phthalate exposures and human health, although no causal link has been established. Recent scientific attention has focused on whether the cumulative effect of several phthalates may multiply the reproductive effects in the organism exposed.”

    EPA’s chemical action plan for phthalates go’s on to state, “Phthalate exposures are a potential concern for children’s health. In animal studies, exposure to phthalates during fetal development results in adverse effects on the male reproductive system. The timing of exposure is critical to the severity of effects. The fetus is the most sensitive life stage for male reproductive effects, and pubertal animals show effects at lower doses than those showing effects in adult animals. Given the well-characterized health effects of phthalate exposure in animals in conjunction with the demonstrated widespread phthalate exposure in children, EPA believes that the cumulative health risks of phthalates should be assessed to determine what actions are warranted to insure protection of children’s health from this group of chemicals.”

    In response to the growing concern about the health hazards of phthalates, the US Green Building Council has adopted pilot credits that provide incentives for architects and designers to avoid phthalate-laden vinyl building materials. In addition, the Living Building Challenge also requires buildings to avoid phthalates, vinyl, and other priority chemicals of concern.

    A useful report that compares the pros and cons of various resilient flooring materials was published by the Healthy Building Network a few years ago:
    http://www.healthybuilding.net/docs/HBN-ResilientFlooring&ChemicalHazards-Report.pdf

    Thank you.

    • Nancy Kibbee
      Posted at 10:49h, 10 July Reply

      Mike,

      Thanks again. The GREENGUARD Environmental Institute — which also certifies vinyl flooring products — was not able to respond in time for my posting deadline, but I have heard from them now: “Because our certification focuses on volatile organic compounds (and not semi-volatile organic compounds, or SVOCs), neither phthalates nor most dioxins are captured in our sum of total VOCs, as they are SVOCs and fall outside the TVOC range.”

      But their most stringent certification — GREENGUARD Children & Schools — does specifically test for phthalates.

      As you have noted, however, there are many issues to consider.

  • RobAid
    Posted at 19:42h, 01 September Reply

    Yes you should because it is the worst choice among popular flooring approaches.

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    Posted at 17:17h, 06 May Reply

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    posts which carries lots of useful data, thanks for providing these information.

  • Kristen Conahan
    Posted at 19:40h, 15 October Reply

    I recently had Shaw’s Boca floors installed and now I’m worried to live in my apartment with my small dog.
    https://shawfloors.com/flooring/resilient/details/new-market-6-0145v/boca

    All of this information is so helpful but it doesn’t provide solutions as to what to do. Who can I call to test the chemicals or who will provide me a report as to what’s in my floors?

    Yes, it passes the FloorScore testing but that’s only for VOCs and I’m noticing there is much more to worry about.

    My room still has carpet and did not get the floors. Am I safe to stay in my room even though the living room has new floors with potentially dangerous chemicals?

    I would love any help or assistance in understanding what I should do and if I should move – krisjoyconahan@gmail.com

    • Nancy Kibbee
      Posted at 10:22h, 16 October Reply

      Kristen. Shaw has stopped using phthalates in its LVT (Luxury Vinyl Tile), and is on a phase-out schedule for the end of this year for its sheet vinyl.The only way you can find out when your LVT was manufactured is to go to the contractor, who should have a record of the purchase from which Shaw can track when the product was made.
      Without this information, I would not jump to a conclusion. — Nancy

  • S.Wagner
    Posted at 20:43h, 31 October Reply

    GREAT! We just bought a house full of vinyl plank flooring, from Tranquility, I have no idea about this stuff and lumber liquidators know even less!! What do we do, as most of this is so far above me I don’t know what to do!! And my husband wants to lay this stuff NOW! I have C.O.P.D., so yes I’m worried. I am allergic to so much it’s ridiculous.

    • Nancy Kibbee
      Posted at 21:36h, 31 October Reply

      First, vinyl plank is not laminate, which is what Lumber Liquidators got in trouble for. However, vinyl plank can be manufactured with materials in the core that contain wood composite products. If Tranquility is a Lumber Liquidators private label line, you need to ask them for third party certifications for indoor air quality on their product. This means and FloorScore, GREENGUARD or GREENGUARD Gold certification. If the product contains a composite wood core, you also need the certificate showing that it passes CARB 2 limits for composite wood products. The other third party certifications test flooring products for multiple VOCS (Volatile Organic Compounds) which could aggravate a respiratory condition.

      As for the rest of the vinyl controversy, the current controversy is over phthalates. The only third party certification that measures these is GREENGUARD Gold, and as far as I know, the concern with phthalates is possibly, the cause endocrine and developmental disruptions. Most vinyl manufacturers have already eliminated phthalate use, particularly in luxury vinyl tile, and those who still use them, are on phase out schedules to eliminate them by the end of this year.

      Without knowing the actual manufacturer and getting the SKU number and checking to see what certifications the product does or does not have, there is no way to know. Nor is there any reason to jump the gun and conclude you have an unhealthful product.

    • S.Wagner
      Posted at 21:38h, 31 October Reply

      My husband just pulled up the MSDA Sheet on this flooring for me, and it’s a joke! It does not tell you what is in it at all, it only states, quote” This product is composed of two layers. One is wearlay which is made of PVC and the other is the mixture of PVC and CaCO3.” I have no clue as to what this means, except it seems to me there is no actual control over what is put into our flooring and what isn’t right? So, lord only knows what China puts in them! Plus I’m just guessing, but I would imagine that voc free floors would cost an arm and a leg! So most people could not afford them anyway. This is one sad country, planet.

      • Nancy Kibbee
        Posted at 22:04h, 31 October Reply

        If you have the MSDS (Material Safety Date Sheet), which I do not currently have on this product as it appears to be a private lable, you basically have a document that a chemist needs to interpret for you.

        The MSDS sheet has nothing to do with third party certifications, as described in my last response, in that the third parties test the materials for emissions, and certifications are not granted unless the testing confirms compliance with safety limits set for low levels of VOCs. (Phthalates are a semi VOC, and therefore not usually a part of that analysis.)

        You are correct that VOC floors might cost more, but they don’t cost an arm and a leg, and many floors, across all categories of flooring, meet third part certification standards, which meet or exceed the most stringent standards for low levels of VOCs in the US, which have been set for a long time by the state of California. And the standards for low levels of formaldehyde, just one of many VOCs are about to become national law.

        Again, the company this flooring was purchased from has an obligation to disclose this information to you, and you have a right to determine whether it was sold to you in compliance with existing standards and laws.

  • S.Wagner
    Posted at 16:51h, 02 November Reply

    I want to thank you for all the valuable information that you have given me. Just taking the time to do it is very
    humbling for me. I don’t find much help from people without having to pay anymore. Your site is very refreshing. SO again, thank you! It is very much appreciated, and I am very grateful. From what I can tell you are extremely educated and help people a lot who would not know where to turn, this is very commendable!
    Very kind of you. We will do exactly as you say, I have already called LL and it is a third party, just as you thought, and the best I could do is e-mail there “tech”, who is supposed to know about all this stuff. I did, and I asked exactly what you said to. Hope it’s good news!

    • Nancy Kibbee
      Posted at 20:09h, 04 November Reply

      You need the name of the actual manufacturer, and the SKU number and purchase date, and then you need to contact the manufacturer for the third-party certifications. Sure you can ask LL for that information, but you need to get it from the manufacturer, and then verify whatever certifications they say they have with the administrator of the certifications.

  • Nathan
    Posted at 11:48h, 29 January Reply

    I recently moved into a rental home that the landlord has just installed new vinyl flooring in the kitchen and sunroom as well as paint all the walls a week prior to moving in.

    Since living there I’ve experienced dry, itchy eyes along with throat irritation and respiratory problems.

    Is there an air filter technology that can help pull the VOCs from the air? I just signed a lease and moving again really isn’t an option. I don’t know what specific type of floor it is other than vinyl but can try to contact the landlord to find out.

    • Nancy Kibbee
      Posted at 13:33h, 29 January Reply

      There are now many brands of air purifiers on the market, with many emphasizing the ability to remove VOCs from the air. A quick Google search will show you many options. You could also ask you landlord what brand and style he installed, then check to see if it has a third-party indoor air certification like FloorScore. Most reputable brands now have this certification.

  • Wendy P.
    Posted at 16:38h, 30 January Reply

    Nancy,

    I just found your website today, as I’ve been researching “healthy” floor options the past few days. I realize the original post was in 2012, and thankfully some improvements have been made by many companies towards healthier IAQ. Would you consider any flooring with the Greenguard Gold and CARB2 label to be safe? I’ve noticed that many of the Shaw vinyl floors are Greenguard Gold, but not sure about the CARB 2 certificate. To be honest, I got tired of having to search and search for the certificates (at the “major” brands) and once I found a couple of companies that seem proud, conscientious, and actually advertise no VOC and superior IAQ, I thought I’d stick with them. I’m looking at US Floors’ Coretec LVT or Kahr’s engineered hardwood. If you had an opinion on either of those, I’d love to hear it, if you have time to respond. Thank you, Wendy

    • Nancy Kibbee
      Posted at 19:17h, 30 January Reply

      Wendy, there have been many objections to vinyl, most strongly, phthalates. A floor with GREENGUARD Gold is best because this is the only certification that measure phthalates, which technically is not a VOC. CARB 2 is only relevant to vinyl if it is a luxury vinyl tile that contains wood composite products. CARB 2 is a term that is currently being widely misused as it only sets limits for composite wood products that go into making another product, it only regulates formaldehyde and no other VOCs, and is not a test/measurement of the finished product that the composite wood products went into.

  • Wendy P.
    Posted at 13:32h, 01 February Reply

    Thank you for the response.
    If Greenguard Gold measures phthalates and CARB2 only formaldehyde in components, not final products, is there a “certificate” or legitimate 3rd party label to look for that covers a broader spectrum of chemicals that outgas and negatively affect IAQ? I understand not all VOCs are harmful, but some definitely are, so even a label that looks at VOCs would be helpful. Or do you recommending only reviewing the MSDS and not depending on the labels?

    Thanks again,
    Wendy

  • Frank Hoffert
    Posted at 20:41h, 01 April Reply

    Does Shaw Flooring Company’s Perpetual Oak vinyl flooring, sold through Lowes, item # 516562, contain formaldehyde and PVCs?

    • Nancy Kibbee
      Posted at 21:03h, 01 April Reply

      Frank,
      The answer to your question involves several issues. First, formaldehyde in flooring, thanks to 60 Minutes and Lumber Liquidators, is now a widespread concern among consumers. The issue raised, however, was about laminate flooring, and taking that a logical step farther, engineered hardwood floorings, which contain composite wood products that contain glue, and are then glued together in layers. There are other issues that have been raised about vinyl flooring and PVC. Shaw currently has more than 100 vinyl products registered with FloorScore indoor air quality certification, which means the products have been tested and their emissions meet safety limits set by the state of California. The name you provide does not appear on the list I just accessed, however, if this is a Lowes product, they may be private labeling a Shaw product, which raises another source of confusion. If a manufacturer’s original product is private labeled to a retailer, in order for the Indoor-Air Quality Certification to be automatically applied to the private label, the manufacturer has to fill out paperwork to register the private label with the company that does the testing, and issues the certification. The only way to resolve this question is for you to ask your salesperson at Lowes these questions, and require that they give you the proven, written verification and certification document.

  • Kelly Ann Voyce
    Posted at 08:09h, 09 April Reply

    Un-freakin-believable, we actually had put laminate flooring throughout the basement in a house we are looking to move into. However, only a week after installing the laminate flooring, we had a flood over a foot deep, & thedestroyed the kaminate flooring. I have been looking at vinyl flooring, to only stumble accross these discussions about the flooring being detrimental to our health. So now what to do, because we definitely t do not have money to afford expensive flooring, esp aftrr this. What to do? Thank you.

  • Valerie
    Posted at 08:48h, 01 May Reply

    What about this product? Would it be free from phthalates? We also need a low cost flooring that will hold up to water, kids and dogs.

    http://www.lowes.com/pd_749837-28573-50SLV506___?productId=999901229&pl=1&Ntt=smartcore+vinyl+flooring

    • Nancy Kibbee
      Posted at 08:55h, 01 May Reply

      In about six weeks, Natural Interiors will be launching a subscription program through which you will be able to request information on any flooring product. Lowes and other flooring dealers sell mainstream products but they are sometimes private labels and it can take some time to get all the information on product contents. I am sorry our new program is not yet up and running, but, in the meantime, I would ask your salesperson to attempt to document the answers to your questions.

  • Valerie
    Posted at 08:57h, 01 May Reply

    http://www.smartcorefloors.com/construction-specs/

    Looks like GreenGuard Gold. 😉

    • Nancy Kibbee
      Posted at 09:08h, 01 May Reply

      That would address many concerns. GREENGUARD Gold is the only of the prominent third-party indoor-air quality certifications the currently tests for ortho-phthalates.

  • Eileen Cervi
    Posted at 15:50h, 05 June Reply

    We are looking at vinyl flooring from Opus and Richmond Reflections which are Canadian products. They are FloorScore certified but we cannot find out if they have the equivalent of GreenGuard Gold as that seems to be more of a US based standard. Am I correct in that?

    Am wondering if you know anything about these products (hoping your subscription program is nearly there!!) Thanks

    • Nancy Kibbee
      Posted at 18:20h, 05 June Reply

      Eileen,

      The FloorScore standard was developed by the North American trade association, the Resilient Floor Covering Institute. You can read its FloorScore definition at https://www.naturalinteriors.com/green-certification-guide. You can also read the definition there of GREENGUARD Gold. As it pertains to vinyl, GREENGAURD Gold measures phthalates, which none of the other certifications do, because phthalates are semi-VOCs, not VOCs measured by the other U.S. air quality certifications. Nonetheless, due to the controversy over the past year and a half over phthalates and the fact that all legitimate manufacturers have stopped using them, you should be able to request from your dealer, who will need to check with the manufacturer’s rep, documentation that your product is not made using ortho-phthalates. In addition, document that it is not made using post-consumer recycled vinyl or it could contain phthalates, and possibly, heavy metals.

  • Kabita
    Posted at 11:33h, 12 July Reply

    We had installed Vinyl flooring from Home Depot in 2014. Trafficmaster african dark. Now we have a little baby in the house, and I’m worried about our health. Thankfully it is only in one of the bedrooms but that’s the one we have been sleeping in 🙁
    I contacted diygenius.com and they told me that the product is floorscore certified, ( tvoc 0.5mg/m3).
    But i’m not convinced and though right now we can’t afford to change the flooring, I would truly appreciate your input on this. (I’m planning to use the second bedroom for us now)
    Please Help.

    • Nancy Kibbee
      Posted at 15:25h, 15 July Reply

      It is always great when a product has a third-party indoor-air quality certification like FloorScore or GREENGUARD. Unfortunately, as far as I know, GREENGUARD Gold is the only one that measures ortho-phthalates, a semi-VOC, and ortho-phthalates are the source of most of the controversy over vinyl flooring that has spanned the past two years, because ortho-phthalates migrating from vinyl products have been linked with endocrine disruption, and possible problems for children. Virtually all major manufacturers stopped using them by the end of last year, and when questioned by the environmental group that led the campaign, The Home Depot agreed to stop selling vinyl flooring containing ortho-phthalates by the end of 2015. Your installation was in 2014. Ask for documentation as to whether your floor was made with ortho-phthalates or not. FloorScore certification does not help you with this matter.

  • Cheryl
    Posted at 18:07h, 19 July Reply

    What about IVC vinyl made in Bellgium

  • Julie Pancoast
    Posted at 16:46h, 29 September Reply

    HI Nancy-Do you know if Floorte’s Alto Plank Carbonaro are certified Greenguard Gold. I cannot find the info on their website. I contacted their PR person who has forwarded my request for info on it but haven’t heard yet.

  • Diane
    Posted at 09:54h, 11 November Reply

    I am looking into vinyl plank flooring for my entire house. Could someone let me know if aqua lock plus is ok as I have my 8 month old grand daughter here 2 days s week. It is a new product that just came out.

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