22 Sep A Secret No More
U.S. vinyl flooring manufacturers are aware of the dangers and have taken steps to eliminate phthalates from their vinyl products. To be sure, there are questions you should ask.
Q: I have put my plans to put vinyl flooring in my kitchen and family room on hold because of news reports about phthalates in vinyl flooring. Why is this information just coming out now, and can you recommend an LVT (Luxury Vinyl Tile) that does not contain these chemicals?
A: This is not new news. The Consumer Product Safety Commission and the U.S. EPA have been looking at potential health concerns with phthalates for more than a decade. It began in the 1990s, with studies, and then rules restricting phthalate use in children’s items, like rattles and teethers — things that they would routinely put in their mouths. Flooring was not on the list.
More recently, the U.S. EPA has issued an action plan for several phthalates, some of which have been used in vinyl flooring.
Several vinyl flooring manufacturers, over the past five years, have made public announcements about eliminating phthalates from their products.
Industry has identified alternatives
The progressive news is that U.S. vinyl flooring manufacturers have worked diligently to find alternatives, including bio-based plasticizers. When the national media announced in April that The Home Depot had agreed, under pressure from consumer groups, to phase out vinyl flooring products containing phthalates by the end of this year, I surveyed 13 leading vinyl flooring manufacturers. All of them already had stopped using phthalates, or were on a phase-out schedule that will end phthalate use by the end of 2015.
“Phthalates” often is the generic name used in chemistry for ortho-phthalates — a type of plasticizer used to make products flexible. They can be present in PVC water pipes, cosmetics, perfumes, certain plastic bottles, children’s toys, IV bags, medical equipment, and many other things we use daily. There are some studies indicating that they may disrupt hormone production and development. They should not be confused with terephthalates, which have not been implicated.
Phthalate-free options readily available
There are now several leading brands of LVT that are made without phthalates. In addition, they have Indoor-Air Quality Certifications, like FloorScore, GREENGUARD and GREENGUARD Gold, which mean they meet safety limits set for low levels of Volatile Organic Compounds, (VOCs), including formaldehyde and many others. U.S. vinyl manufacturers also have participated since 2013 in providing first Environment Product Declarations (EPD), certified by UL Environment. An EPD discloses product ingredients and sustainability information.
The phthalate issue does create a dilemma for sustainability. For several years, companies including Mannington, Armstrong and Tarkett, as good stewards, have participated in the reclamation of used vinyl flooring and recycling it into new flooring instead of sending it to landfills. Obviously, new flooring that contains recycled content will likely contain phthalates from previous construction. If it is a heterogeneous product, put together in layers like LVT, the recycled content will be encapsulated in the backing and not on the top or wear surface.
But these and other companies also offer products that contain no recycled content, so it allows the consumer to choose.
Your flooring retailer should be able to verify for you whether a product you are considering contains phthalates or recycled content. ©
— Nancy Kibbee is editor at naturalinteriors.com