I believe that, now that architects and interior designers have greatly succeeded in tightening up buildings to reduce energy leakage and positively impact the external environment by reducing the burden of pollution in creating that energy, the current frontier for extending environmentally positive efforts, in order to facilitate truly healthy, efficient and sustainable building structures, will continue to address improving the qualities of the breathable air inside. What’s inside can not get outside as easily as it once did; and so, what is inside matters even more than ever.
At Yemm & Hart, we have long been aware of the importance of assessing VOCs (volatile organic compounds) in relation to our flooring product applications. Over the years, we have consistently sought out the least harmful adhesives, sealants and finishes; from what is available on the market for us to recommend or supply to contractors installing our products. We are happy that healthier formulations of these products have become available, increasing the benign qualities, thereby making installations of our materials in flooring applications safer for long-term inhabitants.
Some of the best work in this regard has been occurring in Health Care Facility specifications because in those structures are housed some of the most vulnerable members of human society – children, the elderly, and patients who are immune compromised or have respiratory problems. As the demand increases to prevent health impacts from occurring, motivated in part by some of the reforms underway, I believe such considerations will be increasingly extended to include all of the places that people congregate for prolonged periods of time; which are most obviously – the places where people live, or work, or are educated.
Some of the chemical families coming under increasing scrutiny as noted by the EPA are 4-Phenylcyclohexene, Formaldehyde and Styrene in carpet products. In recent years, much of the PET (polyethylene terephthalate – plastics #1) that people recycle is finding it’s way into new carpeting (one square yard of recycled PET carpet keeps 40 water or soda bottles out of the landfill). Resistron and Permalon are two brand names. Scientists continue to study the potential impacts of PET on humans. In one 2009 study by German scientists, it was found that in some PET water bottles there are enough trace amounts of some chemicals to potentially mimic hormones, in the human body when ingested. In general, it is still believed, by most authorities, that PET is “relatively” benign.
In some public installations, such as national parks, PET carpet used in lobbies and other high-traffic areas has proven to be capable of being maintained with minimal effort. PET fibers are naturally stain-resistant and do not require some of the same chemical “treatments”, that most nylon carpets do. PET retains its color and resists fading from exposure to UV in sunlight and the usual cleaning standards in commercial practice. One reassurance is based upon the “source” of PET used in carpeting – which is FDA approved, higher-quality resin – due to the bottle’s direct contact with food products. Therefore, PET, even recycled PET, is considered superior, as a “greener” choice, than polyester when used in carpet yarns.
Though we are advocates of recycled materials, we also love basic natural products, when and where we can find them. Some flooring alternatives include wool but I hesitate to recommend it; for we have recently experienced issues in a preservation structure with the casemaking kind of Moth (Tinea pellionella, and there is a second kind commonly found, the webbing type – Tineola bisselliella) in antique Navajo wool rugs and some fur that was in the same area as well.
Other flooring alternatives include sisal, jute or seagrass for carpet type choices; and wood products, such as cork, to avoid carpeting for the most part. Natural fiber carpet-like products are offered by Contempo Floor Coverings and Natural Home.
When using natural carpet type materials, you may want to select pads made from cotton or rag, and not synthetics from petroleum products. Recycled PET carpet is also recyclable into some automotive parts, insulation products or furniture stuffing. Concerns are developing regarding recycled foam padding commonly installed under wall-to-wall carpeting. The nongovernmental group IPEN that is dedicated to eliminating persistent organic pollutants recently studied this material and concluded that 23 of 26 samples contained one or more flame retardants considered toxic.
Information Resources –
2007 – Indoor Air Quality: Materials Selection (Healthcare – Top 5 Green Building Strategies) – http://www.epa.gov/region9/waste/p2/pdf/IAQFinalOct12.pdf
2011 – The Safety of Carpets Made from Recycled PET Plastic – http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=safety-of-recycled-pet-plastic-carpets
1995 – Fabric Insect Pests: Clothes Moths & Carpet Beetles – http://www2.ca.uky.edu/agc/pubs/ip/ip50/ip50.pdf
2011 – Raising Concerns About Chemicals in Recycled Carpet Padding – http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/19/garden/tests-on-carpet-padding-show-toxins.html?_r=0
Liberty Carpet One’s GreenFloors.com website (products are said to be tested to meet indoor air quality IAQ standards as set by the EPA.
Go Green Flooring – http://www.gogreenflooring.com
GreenAmerica – http://www.greenamerica.org. – National Green Pages published yearly.
Blog author ~ Deborah Hart Yemm is co-founder of
Yemm & Hart, a green materials producer