Health Concerns

Relevant Info: New Guide For Healthy Flooring Materials


October 19, 2010 – from

Largest-Ever Study of Chemicals in
Home Improvement Products Finds Lead, Phthalates, Cadmium, Organotins and Other Harmful Ingredients

Study Finds Flooring & Wallpaper Contain Hazardous Additives
Already Restricted or Banned in Toys

Groups Call for Stronger Regulations of Toxic Chemicals in Consumer Products

(Ann Arbor, MI) — Researchers known for exposing toxic chemicals in children’s toys have turned their attention to home improvement products, finding ingredients in flooring and wallpaper that are linked to serious health problems. 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 the easy-to-use consumer website – – which also includes prior research on toys, pet products, cars, women’s handbags, back-to-school products and children’s car seats.

“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 “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.” tested home improvement products for chemicals based on their toxicity or tendency to build up in people and the environment. These chemicals include lead, bromine (brominated flame retardants), chlorine (PVC), cadmium, arsenic, tin (organotins), pththalates and mercury.

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.

In addition to finding many products with chemical hazards, test data shows that many products do not contain dangerous substances, proving that safe products can be made.

Highlights of Findings from’s Home Improvement Study:

Flooring: 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.
  • Safe alternatives are available. Linoleum, cork, bamboo and hardwood all tested free of lead, cadmium, mercury and other hazardous metals. Non-vinyl flooring products are half as likely to contain hazardous chemical additives.
  • Wallpaper: 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.
  • To sample the home improvement products experts used a portable X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) analyzer and laboratory testing. XRF is an accurate device that has been used by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to screen packaging; the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to screen food; and many State and County Health Departments to screen for residential lead paint. Additional samples were analyzed by laboratories using EPA test methods.

    “With each new scientific report linking toxic chemical exposure to a serious health problem, it becomes more obvious that the law intended to keep harmful chemicals in check — the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1976 — is not working,” said Andy Igrejas, Director of Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, a coalition of 250 groups, including the Ecology Center, working to overhaul our failed chemicals policy.

    In response to the increasing consumer demand for safer products, Senator Frank Lautenberg and Representatives Bobby Rush and Henry Waxman have introduced bills to overhaul TSCA. The Safe Chemicals Act in the Senate and the Toxic Chemicals Safety Act in the House are expected to be re-introduced in the next Congressional session.

    The full home improvement database and more information about what consumers can do is available at


    Green Flooring Materials (from the Center for Health, Environment and Justice)

    Alternative Building Materials (Healthy Building Network)

    Green Alternatives for Pipe, Electrical Cable and Switching: (pdf)

    > Read More About the Release
    > View Home Improvement Research FindingsHome improvement products can also be searched or viewed in a variety of ways:> Search by Brand> Search by Type

    > Products with Low Level of Detection

    > Products with Medium Level of Detection

    > Products with High Level of Detection

    > Products with Detectable Levels of Cadmium

    This post is part of a series documenting Sam Breen’a Spartan Restoration Project. Please see his first post here and check out the archive here. The CSPA is helping Sam by serving in an advisory role, offering modest support and featuring Sam’s Progress by syndicating his feed from as part of our CSPA Supports Program.

    Insulation: Part 1 – Green or Greenwashed?

    PIC foam with aluminum facing Credit:

    The good, the bad and the truly ugly truthiness of insulation.

    Glass Fiber Insulation

    Fiberglass insulation

    Glass fiber insulation is made or glass, new or recycled, and held together with binders.  It is cheap and non-combustable.  But it’s far from perfect. It has a relatively low R-factor and there are considerable concerns about the product’s impact on our health and the environment.   There’s a yuk factor.  Ask anyone who has gotten into the guts of an old trailer and they’ll gross you out with tales of what they uncovered in the insulation: rat’s nets, bug bodies, etc. Got leaks?  When rain and snow seeps into fiberglass, insulation turns into a soggy, moldy mess.  There are the considerable health concerns:

    If you have ever worked with it you know how it makes your skin itch; imagine it in your lungs. Some have claimed that it is the next asbestos and is cancer-causing; one website calls it “The Asbestos of the 21st Century. Packages of insulation carry cancer warning labels, based on a 1998 study. However the American Lung Association lists the studies and the most recent ones conclude that “It is currently considered not classifiable as a human carcinogen. Studies done in the past 15 years since the previous report was released, do not provide enough evidence to link this material to any cancer risk.”  – Planet Green

    What are the alternatives?  Here are some types of insulation that are more or less “friendly” to the environment.



    Hemp insulation is made from hemp fibre with polyester added for strength.  Soda is added as a fire retardant.  Hemp is naturally resistant to moths and beetles. Hempflax (it comes in bats) is manufactured by a Dutch company that claims their product is low in dust which helps contribute to cleaner indoor air.  They say their product can be recycled after use.  The hemp comes from Germany and the Netherlands.  Imported.  See the company web site for a PDF brochure – and a mind-expanding history of industrial hemp (what is it about the Dutch and weeds?)



    Denim insulation is mostly made of the leftover bits from blue jeans and treated with a “natural” fire retardant.  Bonded Logic is the company that makes UltraTouch Natural Fiber Insulation from 85% post-industrial cotton fiber. It is 100% recyclable, VOC- and formaldehyde-free. And it won’t itch like fiberglass insulation.  (Seems like there’s a lot of dust that comes out when you shake it. )

    Recycled Newspaper

    Recycled Newspaper

    Excel Building Solution’s Warmcel  made from 100% waste recycled newsprint. Thermal conductivity of  0.036 W/mK. Said to be an alternative to blown fiberglass or bat insulation. layered into walls being built, or blown into atticspaces and already sheetrocked. Warmcel insulation by Excel



    Water-blown policynene that creates an foam blanket of millions of tiny air bubbles. It does not shrink and adheres to the surrounding structure, so there is no settling and no air gaps. It has no VOC’s no formaldehyde, Recognized for LEED credits and is becoming very popular as a clean, green, long lasting insulation. When holding a piece, it seems the most benign and friendly insulation ever, it is like filling your walls with sponge cake. ::Icynene




    Procell is a mix of 100% recycled newspapers, adhesives and fire retardants that fills voids and dries quickly, and appears similar to Dom’s Warmcell from the UK.  Pro-Cell is “specially treated to repel vermin and insects, and to prevent the growth of harmful mould, mildew and wood-rotting fungi” “::Thermocell



    This is a polyurethane foam system made out of recycled plastic (a barrel of Heatlok-soya contains 1000 plastic bottles) and soya oil.  zeroozone depletion and is even coloured green. The manufacturer, Demilec, “is the first Canadian manufacturer of Spray Polyurethane Foamto meet the requirements of the Montreal Protocol. DEMILEC uses recycled plastics, renewable natural oils, and water, all while maintaining the high quality and performance of its foam systems. ::Heatlok Soya


    Aspen Aerogels has started selling aerogel blankets for use as insulation in buildings.

    “Aspen Aeorgels says that its Spaceloft blankets have two to four times the insulating value per inch compared to fiberglass or foam. It’s also relatively easy to work with, allows water vapor to pass through, and is fire resistant–a common demonstration of aerogels is to have a person fire a Bunsen burner below the aerogel while putting a hand on the top side.” (source)

    The fact that it’s just 2 to 4 times better than fiberglass or foam makes me think that they paid a pretty big performance price to bring costs down, since pure aerogel would provider higher thermal insulation, but it’s still a pretty big step in the right direction. We’re not talking about a few percent improvement. Over time, in a big building, this could represent a lot of heat that would otherwise leak out (or heat that would leak in when the air conditioning is on).

    Other companies that are coming out with more affordable aerogel derivatives to be used as building insulation are Cabot and Thermablok.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if in a few years (or decades at most) very high-quality aerogel was used almost everywhere for insulation. Unless we make something even better, that is.

    Other types of insulation such as straw bale aren’t appropriate for trailers.

    Some Links:

    “Green Insulation: More Choices”

    “Why the choice of insulation matters”

    ” Space age insulation: it’s already here”

    This post is part of a series documenting Sam Breen’a Spartan Restoration Project. Please see his first post here and check out the archive here. The CSPA is helping Sam by serving in an advisory role, offering modest support and featuring Sam’s Progress by syndicating his feed from as part of our CSPA Supports Program.