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Is Your Carpet Toxic?

On May 15 Natural Living featured a pretty impressive article on the downsides of the rather popular wall-to-wall carpet floor covering. I was so impressed with their writings that I am quoting most of the article here. Credit for the information, of course, goes to Natural Living.

“Many people love their indoor carpeting and look forward to having brand new wall to wall carpeting installed. Did you realize however, that no matter how clean you keep your rug, even if you steam clean it weekly, it is still highly toxic to you, your family and your pets?

Over 60% of homes in the USA have carpeting. Carpets cover the floors of our business and schools. Children play for hours on them, infants crawl on them and breathe deeply of their fumes, proud homeowners inhale that ‘new-carpet smell’, and all the while we are being poisoned by the chemicals, allergens and toxic dust that lurks in our carpets.

Whether your carpets are new or old, they probably have more bad things in them than you want to imagine. The list is staggering. For new carpets there are ‘volatile organic compounds’ VOC’s. These include toluene, benzene, formaldehyde, ethyl benzene, styrene, acetone and a host of other chemicals, some of which have already made the EPA’s list of Extremely Hazardous Substances. Known carcinogens such as p-Dichlorobenzene are in new carpets, as are chemicals that produce fetal abnormalities in test animals. These chemicals also cause hallucinations, nerve damage and respiratory illness in humans.

Other compounds in new carpeting that affect your health are adhesives, stain protectors, mothproofing and flame retardants. That ‘new carpet smell’ comes from 4-PC, associated with eye, nose and upper respiratory problems that are suffered by many new carpet owners. 4-PC is used in the latex backing of 95% of US carpets. In 2000 the 3M Company removed the chemical perflouro-octanyl salphonate from their product, Scotchgard, because it had been found to cause reproductive problems in rats. It had also been found in high levels in the wildlife of urban areas. Mothproofing chemicals contain naphthalene, which is known to produce toxic reactions, especially in newborns. Fire retardants often contain PBDE’s (see our report Toxic Flame Retardants and Children’s Health) which are known to cause damage to thyroid, immune system and brain development functions in humans.

Older carpets can be more of a hazard than new ones: Not only do they contain the chemicals banned from more recent production, they also have had years to accumulate pounds of dust mites, dirt, pesticides and other toxins brought in on shoes, feet and pet’s paws. Did you know that your carpet can hold 8 times it’s weight in toxin filled dirt and you can’t even see the trapped dirt that your carpet is hiding! The EPA has stated that 80% of human exposure to pesticides happens indoors. Every time you spray for bugs or use a fogger, the chemicals settle in the rug and stay there for years. If you paint your room the curing paint leaves its VOC’s in the carpet for you to inhale long after the walls no longer smells of paint. Just put in a new wood or laminate floor? You’ll be living with those toxins, sealers, solvents and glues even after you clean with all the right products. Household dust contains lead and other heavy metals, because lead is in our soil and will be for a long time to come.

Older carpets are so toxic that your chances of being exposed to hazardous chemicals are 10-50 times higher in a carpeted room than outdoors. If the carpet is plush or shag, your risk increases substantially.”

What can one do, you ask? Well, according to Natural Living : “… to reduce your exposure to carpet toxins. First, if you can, get rid of the carpeting.” Enough said.

This is an excerpt from an article published in the Floor Covering Installer by Mickey Moore, a certified NOFMA inspector. The article is called “Managing and Meeting Customer Expectations Through to the Final Inspection”

Finishing Hardwood Flooring, Over-all Appearance-What to Expect

The NOFMA Standard for Inspection is reported in NOFMA’s Finishing Hardwood Flooring technical service manual page 10 or www.nofma.org , Finishing Hardwood Flooring, Over-all Appearance-What to Expect: “Inspection should be done from a standing position with normal lighting. Glare particularly from large windows, magnifies any irregularity in the floors and should not determine acceptance.

A finish similar to that found on fine furniture should not be expected. Trash in the finish, a wavy look along strips, deep swirls or sander marks, and splotchy areas can be indications of inadequate finishing or cleaning. The quality of the finish can be acceptable and still include come of these problems, but they should not appear over the entire floor.

The perimeter and hard to reach areas (i.e. under radiators, around cabinets and cabinet cut-outs, closets, corners, etc.) are most likely to contain these irregularities.

Again, when inspected from a standing positions these irregularities may be present but should not be prominent.”

Corollaries to this basic finishing standard can apply to appearance and performance issues. The overall look of the floor should be consistent with the grade of the product purchased. The higher grades should have a mostly uniform appearance allowing for natural color variations. The lower grades will have prominent and wide color variations associated with all allowable characters in the flooring. Of course, a piece may get into the flooring that does not meet the grade; the floor does not fail with the occasional occurrence and is considered acceptable.

Some other issues which can be considered acceptable as an occasional occurrence include: close ends, “H” joints, cluster of short boards, over wood, gaps, un-square ends, unfilled face nail, unfilled open character, nailing frequency mistake, handling abuse, minor cupping, noises and movement etc. The key here is “occasional occurrence”—If these issues are prevalent it can be a problem. When inspected from a standing position these and similar items may be present in the floor but should not be prominent. Additional irregularities are allowed for closets and hidden areas.

Prominent features may require individual attention. A broken or split board with loose pieces, a board with open shake (separation along the grain), a planer bite at the end, a prominently dark board in a NOFMA Select floor; these prominent characters, particularly the unsound ones may require replacement. A single loose board or a noisy area can be face nailed for repair. For the repair to pass inspection, it should not be noticeable from the standing position. Hide face nails, make precise cuts for board replacement, protect the surrounding pieces to not bring attention to the area, fill openings and color-match filler and apply an additional coat over the entire room to cover the repaired area.

If after the job is completed the customer refuses to accept the floor, you can call for inspection and a written report by a NOFMA Certified Wood Flooring Inspector. This new NOFMA certification is the only program that provides extensive training for applying the standard to make fair and honest assessments of flooring problems. A NOFMA-certified inspector will provide an accurate assessment whether the problem is with installation, product quality or unrealistic customer expectations. For information on the NOFMA-CWFI program contact the NOFMA office.”