In Search of Safety

In Search of Safety

Do nanotechnology and antimicrobial agents pose risks for my children?

Q. I am trying to select a cork or hardwood floor that is safe for my children to sit, crawl and play on. Some that I have looked at are finished with nanotechnology, and some contain antimicrobial agents.

Are you aware of any dangers posed by any of these?

A. A floor that is prefinished at the factory, instead of onsite in your home, poses less immediate impact on your indoor-air quality because the finish is cured before it enters your house.  The risk of exposure, therefore, is usually at the factory. But there are questions being raised about the safety of nanoparticle finishes and antimicrobial agents like Triclosan, as finishes wear off over time.

Nanotechnology is a relatively new technology that involves the infusion of microscopic particles onto a product. Early research indicates that nanoparticles might have toxic properties. In addition, because of their extremely small size, concerns are being raised that nanoparticles might be able to penetrate the defenses of cells in the human body, carrying chemicals with them.

The potential long-term effects of Triclosan – a bacteria killer used in Microban and many consumer products including toothpaste – have led the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to reconsider their previous approval of Triclosan. Both agencies have called for more review of the chemical in light of studies that show it alters hormone regulation in animals and might contribute to making bacteria that is resistant to antibiotics.

Both of these issues – in addition to concerns about chemical fumes that compromise indoor-air quality – are prompting flooring manufacturers to add products with more natural finishes. You might, as an alternative, consider hardwood flooring lines with natural oil, low-VOC, waterbased, UV-cured factory finishes. Cork also can be finished with natural oil or non-nano finish.

While you should also look for indoor-air quality certifications like GREENGUARD or FloorScore – these are designed to measure Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) emitted from products and do not address unknowns about nanoparticles or antimicrobials. ©


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