There is a growing awareness of PVC’s toxic nature, but the quest to avoid it is daunting. First, you need to know when vinyl is not PVC.
If this most recent news highlighting the woes of PVC doesn't convince America that it's time to make a major move toward PVC-free alternatives, then nothing will!
The nonprofit Ecology Center tested over 1,000 flooring samples and nearly 2,300 types of wallpaper for substances that have been linked to asthma, birth defects, learning disabilities, reproductive problems, liver toxicity and cancer. The results were released today on HealthyStuff.org. Home improvement products were tested based on their toxicity or tendency to build up in people and the environment, including lead, bromine (brominated flame retardants), chlorine (PVC), cadmium, arsenic, tin (organotins), pththalates and mercury.
“The public needs to know that there are practically no restrictions on chemicals used in home improvement products,” said Jeff Gearhart, the Ecology Center's lead researcher, who founded HealthyStuff.org. “Our testing shows that toxic chemicals show up everywhere in home improvement products. If we don't want these chemicals in our toys, we certainly don't want them in our floors.”
Disturbing Highlights of the HealthyStuff.org's Home Improvement Study
Flooring that was tested includes wood, bamboo, cork, carpet cushion, sheet flooring, and vinyl and ceramic tiles.
- 52 of 1,016 (5%) of all flooring samples had detectable levels of lead. Products with the highest percent of lead included: Vinyl Sheet Flooring: 23 of 731 (2%) samples of the vinyl sheet flooring had detectable levels of lead. Vinyl Tile Flooring: 29 of 39 (74%) of the tiles sampled contained detectable lead, with levels as high as 1,900 ppm.
- Flooring samples contained numerous phthalates, at up to 12.9% by weight. Limited testing for phthalate plasticizers indicates most vinyl flooring contains four phthalate plasticizers recently banned in children's products. Four representative samples of vinyl flooring were tested from two national brands, Armstrong and Congoleum, and two discount brands, Crystal and tiles sold through a local hardware chain.
- Two-thirds 39 of 61 (64%) of PVC flooring tiles contained organotin stabilizers. Some forms of organotins are endocrine disruptors; and other forms can impact the developing brain and are toxic to the immune system.
Wallpaper: HealthyStuff.org tested over 2,300 types of wallpaper, from 11 different brands and manufacturers.
- The vast majority (96%) of the wallpapers sampled contained polyvinyl chloride (PVC) coatings.
- Over one-half (53% or 1,234 of 2,312) of PVC wallpaper samples contained one or more hazardous chemicals of concern (at > 40 ppm levels) including lead, cadmium, chromium, tin and antimony.
- Limited testing for phthalate plasticizers indicates that most PVC wallpaper also contains phthalates plasticizers which are now banned in children's products.
- Nearly one in five (18% or 419 of 2,312) wallpaper samples contained detectable levels of cadmium (>40 ppm). 13% (290 of 2,312) had levels over 100 ppm. All wallpaper with cadmium was vinyl coated.
Indoor Air Quality of Great Concern
Phthalates — chemical additives used to soften PVC products — were particularly prominent in flooring and wallpaper, raising a number of health concerns. For example, a 2008 European study (Kolarik 2008) found an association between concentrations of phthalates in indoor dust and wheezing among preschool children, especially when PVC flooring was in the child's bedroom. In addition some phthalates have endocrine-disrupting properties, meaning that they can disturb normal hormonal processes, often at low levels of exposure. Studies have also demonstrated possible links between phthalates and adverse impacts on the reproductive system, kidneys, liver, and blood. Finally, a 2009 Swedish study (Larsson 2008) found that children who live in homes with vinyl floors, which can emit phthalates, are twice as likely to have autism.
People spend about 90% of their time indoors, so indoor concentrations of hazardous chemicals can be more relevant to human exposure assessment than ambient concentrations. Children and pets are particularly vulnerable, since they are frequently close to the floor and therefore have high levels of exposure. In fact, many of these substances have already been restricted or banned in children's products.
On a Positive Note
HealthyStuff.org found that many products do not contain dangerous substances, proving that safe products can be made. Safe alternatives that tested free of lead, cadmium, mercury and other hazardous metals were linoleum, cork, bamboo and hardwood. Non-vinyl flooring products are half as likely to contain hazardous chemical additives.
>> The full home improvement database and more information about what consumers can do is available at www.HealthyStuff.org.
P.S. Get ready for a our brand new series on the confusing topic of flame retardants!
More Info on PVC Toxicity and PVC-free Alternatives
- How and Why to Avoid Toxic PVC (Vinyl) Plastic in Every Day Products
- CHEJ Pulls Back the Curtain on PVC
- When is Vinyl Not PVC?
- Our Favorite PVC-free Mattresses
- PVC-free Mattress Covers
- PVC-free Bath Mats
- PVC-free Baby Bath Seats
- PVC-free Bath Toys
We've been aware of the dangers caused by lead exposure in children for many years now, but you have to wonder how in the world a baby bib could end up contaminated with lead, right? It turns out that lead is almost always tied to the presence of PVC (also called vinyl) in baby bibs.
Throughout my research, I kept ending up right back at the Center for Environmental Health (CEH) website. The following are some great questions and answers from their Lead in Baby Bibs FAQ:
- How do I know if my baby's bib has vinyl parts? Most bibs have a tab that lists the materials used to make the bib. If your child's bib is labeled “polyvinyl chloride”, or “vinyl”, or “PVC” it may contain lead.
- Is lead dangerous? Childhood lead exposure has a profound effect on developing brains. It can lead to brain damage, lowered IQ, attention deficit, and behavioral problems.
- Why do they put lead in bibs? Some manufacturers intentionally add lead to vinyl (PVC) plastic as a stabilizing agent or a pigment. But there are safer alternatives. PVC can be made without lead, and bibs can be made from other plastics besides PVC. Bibs can also be made without plastic.
- How serious a health threat are these lead tainted bibs? Stores were selling bibs that had lead levels three to four times greater that the legal limit for lead in paint. We take this health threat seriously, but we urge parents not to panic. The lead levels are not high enough by themselves to cause acute lead poisoning during normal use. But we also urge parents to keep in mind that children are exposed to many sources of lead. Parents can do a lot to protect their children from lead simply by testing bibs and other suspicious products and getting rid of the ones that test positive for lead.
- Are there other problems with vinyl? From the factory to the home to the garbage incinerator, vinyl products are toxic from start to finish. When burned, vinyl releases dioxins, chemicals that can cause cancer and harm the immune and reproductive systems. Many vinyl products contain additional chemicals, including phthalates which confuse the body's hormone systems. Vinyl is also very difficult to recycle.
- My baby's bib (or toy, etc.) was made in China. Is it safe? The fact that your item was made in China does not make it unsafe. We've found many lead-free toys, bibs, and other items that were made in China. We've also found lead-contaminated products that were made in the United States. The only way to know if your items are contaminated with lead is to test them.
- Why are there so many dangerous Chinese products? What can we do about this? Huge retailers in our country are always cutting costs. They insist that their foreign and American manufacturers make products as cheaply as possible. This economic pressure favors dangerously cheap production at the expense of consumer safety. Retailers will tell you that they are simply responding to pressure from the American consumer who demands low prices. There are many things you can do about this: support small local businesses, write to the big retailers and urge them to protect consumer health, write to the Consumer Product Safety Commission and urge it to live up to its name. You can also support organizations like Center for Environmental Health.
I hope the CEH tips enlighten you as much as they did me. Also, keep in mind that while Ethylene Vinyl Acetate (EVA) contains the word “vinyl” it's not the same as Poly Vinyl Chloride (PVC). Baby bibs and toys made from EVA are widely accepted as safe.