On average, people spend up to 90% of their time indoors, and indoor air can be two and a half times as polluted as outdoor air.
Indoor Air Quality is of particular concern for those affected by asthma and allergies, but a healthier home is of broader benefit to all.
The asthma & allergy friendly® Certification Program seeks to assist people to identify products which will make a genuine difference to their indoor environment. It develops certification standards for relevant categories of products, and all certified products undergo testing to those standards. In this way, the consumer can then make an informed choice about materials like paint, flooring products, etc. that they bring into their home.
In the case of flooring, the release of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) from the flooring itself and any adhesives used are a factor that can impact on those with sensitive airways. Additionally, sticky allergen particles can be more difficult to remove from some types of flooring. Our standard addresses these issues.
Our flooring standard is one of 46 standards in the asthma & allergy friendly® Certification Program, covering appliances, bedding products, air filters, building products, and services that can have an impact on the indoor air environment. You can explore the flooring standard in more detail using the menu on the left, or use the links above to explore other standards.
Case Study: Tarkett
It’s no secret that consumers are demanding products that are safer and healthier for themselves and their families. But many brands are capitalizing on this by making health claims that are scientifically unfounded. What separates the companies that are delivering on their brand promise from the ones that are not, and how can companies tighten their messaging to cut across the noise?
Here, Allergy Standards’ Digital Marketing Manager, Léa Daulan, interviews leaders, brand managers, and marketers who are part of a global movement towards healthier products that are rooted in rigorous science. In this interview, meet Dhruv Raina, Tarkett‘s Director of Sustainability, a multinational corporation specialising in the production of floor and wall coverings.
Léa: A few years ago, Tarkett won the Sustainable Innovation Award in the 6th Edition of the Innovation Management Awards. Tell me more about Tarkett’s engagement in sustainability.
Dhruv: Tarkett’s 2020 Vision is essentially our near-term road map for being a leading business, one which is global in scope & scale. It is segmented into three key areas – designing for life, closing the loop and driving collaboration – and is designed to engage our teams and partners to work together to grow our collective positive impact.
In terms of materials, we want to both choose responsible materials and increase the share of renewable and recyclable materials in our supply chain. Under resource stewardship, we aim to reduce the amount of fresh and potable water we use, and to decrease energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. When we help customers develop people-friendly spaces, we want to ensure indoor air quality, health, and well-being with phthalate-free design solutions as well as products having low and/or non-detectable Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) emissions. And we intend to reuse whenever possible by ensuring that all manufacturing waste that leaves our facilities enters a biological or technical cycle. Take-back programs for flooring solutions also allow us to truly close the loop on usage.
Critical metrics have been established in each area, with goals to achieve by 2020. Progress is measured monthly and reported annually to our stakeholders. We’ve purposefully set the bar high, but we’re performing well, and by our aligning efforts throughout our locations across the globe, we hope to make a measurable impact.
Léa: Tarkett has reinforced its engagement by developing a new marketing programs dedicated to Tarkett’s healthier and more sustainable flooring such as the Laminate Flooring and the Vinyl Sheet Flooring. How does third party Certifications such as the asthma & allergy friendly® Certification fit in Tarkett’s commitment to being a more sustainable and healthier choice?
Dhruv: Strategically everyone is looking to differentiate their brand, Tarkett is no different. Except our single minded dedication to putting people first, before we even say circular it has to be safe. As a global business we need organizations that provide us with a framework of science based principles that could be verified no matter where we live. This union of science and sustainability of humans is of high value to Tarkett. One of our goals for 2020 is to have 100% of our products at or below 100 ppm of VOC emissions. A lot of them in our portfolio today are at non-detect levels. The asthma & allergy friendly® Certification Program takes this very simple concept of safe and codifies it to build trust for our customers in our brand.
Léa: Tarkett is also working with other independent testing and certification bodies such as SCS Global Services. How does Tarkett evaluate which organizations, partnerships and opportunity to align with in order to convey specific messaging about your products’ features and benefits?
Dhruv: We look very closely to see if the organization broadens our perspective, do they keep us honest for e.g. Tarkett seeks science based strategies and wants to align with organizations that have the technical rigor and marketing acumen. We also look for partners that help us raise the bar on everything we do and in return we help them grow as well. A good example is of my work with SCS while at my previous employer, Owens Corning. Owens wanted to have a credible program verify how it lowered the embodied carbon of its products, over several interactions SCS helped Owens develop a credible program that kept the organization on track to reduce the embodied carbon of its products, verified by a 3rdparty like SCS. As a global company Tarkett continues on this journey with SCS and several other international partners like C2CPII, EPEA, ILFI, Ellen McArthur Foundation and the World Economic Forum. It is all about whether the organization strengthens your significance to sustain your success.
Tarkett seeks science based strategies and wants to align with organizations that have the technical rigor and marketing acumen.
Léa: From Tarkett’s perspective as an innovator in the green building product industry, what trends do you see emerging, who is driving them, and how does the company keep a step ahead?
Dhruv: Our operating environment has radically shifted, sustainability goals are longer term but how can we stay nimble. Customer expectations of all manufacturers, including Tarkett, are rising, and their purchasing decisions are increasingly being motivated by concerns like whether a business has committed to sustainable practices or taken a stand on an issue that matters to them. Our customers asked for transparency and we looked ahead of what was possible, our Material Health Statements (MHS) are unparalleled in the industry, in terms of the information they provide to the customer. Similarly, now that the customer is aware, they seek products that enhance their quality of life or technically speaking products that are optimized. Again, Tarkett through its commitment to C2C has been on that continuous improvement journey for many years and as a result not only radically optimized its current product portfolio but with introduction of C2C Gold Certified ID Revolution is redefining disruption. A product designed with material health, eliminating virgin raw materials use and enabling circular business model is now possible. We have built foundational elements into our strategy in terms of issues that could pose risk for a business of our size. There also was an opportunity for us to better use sustainability to drive competitive advantage by doing things in a way that leverages Tarkett’s unique assets and diverse product portfolio. And most of all, we could also see untapped business opportunity; we look at businesses driving significant revenue via their sustainability strategies and aim to maximize our ability to capture this opportunity for Tarkett.
Customer expectations of all manufacturers, including Tarkett, are rising, and their purchasing decisions are increasingly being motivated by concerns like whether a business has committed to sustainable practices or taken a stand on an issue that matters to them.
Léa: What are the next steps and objectives for Tarkett in 2019?
Dhruv: We have learned a great deal in our journey to 2020. What we are working on now marks a pivot in the role that sustainability plays in Tarkett’s business. It is evolving from primarily sustainability as “doing good” to linking business and societal value; from a singular issue to driving multi-faceted positive impact; from being stand-alone to being woven into all we do, holistically. It will ensure that sustainability is truly delivering on Tarkett’s purpose and is poised to ensure we have a thriving business now and into the future.
Léa: Thank you.
Standard Abstract 05-01: Resilient
Floor Coverings that are certified asthma & allergy friendly® are tested to the ASP:05-01 Floor Covering Certification Standard.
The Certification Standard utilizes an algorithm of proprietary and recognized scientific techniques to assess Floor Coverings for likely exposure to allergenic and irritant materials, both at the time of purchase and thereafter when in use. Product samples that pass Certification testing are granted a certificate stating that the particular Floor Covering meets the requirements for the asthma & allergy friendly® ASP:05-01 Certification Standard.
Allergy Standards Ltd (ASL) subjects the Floor Covering to both physical and chemical testing to ensure that the Floor Covering does not have properties that are likely to irritate both asthma and allergy symptoms in susceptible people:
Part 1: Allergen Removal during cleaning
Demonstrable in surface dust samples for one or both of the allergens tested
Pass fail criteria
Capacity to reduce allergen burden from floor covering through cleaning.
Part 2: Allergen – Airborne Measurement during cleaning
Pass fail criteria
Increase in airborne allergen during cleaning
Part 3 Allergen – Recovery in cleaning system
Pass fail criteria
Demonstrated recovery of introduced allergen in the cleaning system which is demonstrable for one or both of the allergen tested
Part 4: Volatile organic compound (VOC) emission testing
Limit Level (mg/m3)
- The level of each VOC excluding formaldehyde and acetaldehyde, should remain less than 50% of the chronic REL* (CREL) at 336 hours post-installation.
- For particular compounds having an increased potential to irritate airways, a figure significantly less than 50% is set.
- This percentage figure is determined on an individual basis.
- Where CREL figures are not available, each component must remain less than 10% of the TLV**.
- The level of each VOC component must remain less than 10% of the TLV at 24, 48 and 336 hours post-application.
* A chronic REL is an airborne level of a chemical at or below which no adverse health effects are anticipated in individuals indefinitely exposed to that level. RELs are developed from the best available published scientific data, based solely on health considerations.
** Threshold Limit Values (TLVs) reflect the level of exposure that the typical worker can experience without an unreasonable risk of disease or injury (ACGIH). They are guidelines to assist industrial hygienists and others in making decisions regarding safe levels of exposure to various hazards found in the workplace. They are not quantitative estimates of risk at different exposure levels or by different routes of exposure.
All Certified asthma & allergy friendly® Floor Coverings are associated with a unique Certification code.
Why and how we certify flooring – a Q&A
There is ever-increasing awareness of the chemicals we come into contact with every day, particularly if you or a member of your family has asthma or allergies. We created the asthma & allergy friendly® Certification Program to help you improve your indoor air environment by identifying products and services that can help to reduce allergens and create a healthier home environment.
But what is it that makes some flooring better for the indoor environment than others, and where do we draw the line to decide to certify flooring as asthma & allergy friendly®? We hope that the questions below will clarify this. Let us know if you have more questions!
Why do you certify flooring?
Our goal in the asthma & allergy friendly® Certification Program is to create a healthier indoor environment for you and your family, and so we look at all elements of the indoor air environment. Some types of flooring can release chemicals when they are applied, particularly if they are designed to be installed using adhesive. And it is easier for allergens to get trapped on some types of flooring.
We take a balanced approach in certifying products. We want to identify flooring that do not contain materials that are unnecessarily harmful. And we want to make sure that any necessary chemicals that can sometimes cause an allergic reaction are present at as low a level as is needed for them to function as intended. Our goal in the asthma & allergy friendly® Certification Program is to create a healthier indoor environment for you and your family, and so we look at all elements of the indoor air environment. Some of the chemicals in commonly used paints can cause allergic reactions, and many paints release fumes when they are applied.
We take a balanced approach in certifying products. It is not possible to make paint without using chemicals, and there are some chemicals which can have a negative effect but which are necessary for different reasons – more on that below. We want to identify paints that do not contain ingredients that are unnecessarily harmful. And we want to make sure that any necessary chemicals that can sometimes cause an allergic reaction are present at as low a level as is needed for them to function as intended.
What kind of flooring do you certify?
We certify resilient flooring, including luxury vinyl flooring, sheet vinyl flooring, vinyl tile, linoleum, and sports flooring. We do not currently certify carpet, but would consider certifying other types of flooring.
What do you look for in flooring?
We look at two areas when we test flooring.
1. Allergen Removal
The first is allergen removal. We install flooring in an environmentally-controlled chamber. We introduce allergen dust into the room and allow it to settle. We take some samples from the flooring to see how much allergen has settled on it. We then vacuum and mop the flooring according to defined instructions. We take samples again after cleaning, and compare the two results to make sure that the allergen levels on the floor have reduced by over 90%. We also take allergen measurements in the air during cleaning, and we check that allergen levels in the air do not increase by more than 10% during cleaning.
What allergens do you use?
Different allergens can vary a lot in terms of their size, how they act when they are floating in the air, and how sticky they are on surfaces. To test flooring we use dust mite allergen and cat allergen. These are both common in many homes, and are common causes of allergic responses.
Does cleaning not remove allergens from all types of flooring?
There are a few factors that can affect how well allergen can be removed from flooring. The size of the pieces and tiles can mean that there are more joins in which allergen can accumulate. The joins between pieces of flooring can be different shapes – square, bevelled, etc. – and this can also make it easier or harder to remove allergens. And the surface of the flooring can be made of a material which attracts the allergens and allows them to stick to it. We want to make sure that despite these factors, you can be confident that when you vacuum and mop, you are removing most of the accumulated allergen.
The second is how many VOCs are emitted when the flooring is installed. VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) are chemical compounds that easily become vapours or gases. When you can smell paints, adhesives, cleaners, insect repellents, new furniture, printer fluid etc., these smells are caused by VOCs being released.
We place a sample of flooring in an environmentally controlled chamber, where we can measure all of the VOCs released over 14 days. We record the levels after 24, 48, and 336 hours, to make sure that throughout this time period the levels remain low. If the flooring is designed to be secured with adhesive, then we include the adhesive in this chamber test.
Why do you do VOC tests?
Exposure to VOCs can cause irritation of the eyes and respiratory tract, headaches, dizziness, and other side-effects. These can impact more on people with sensitive respiratory systems, such as people with asthma and certain allergies. We want to make sure that VOC emissions are as low as possible. However, if you are someone with asthma or nasal allergies, it would still be better for you to avoid being in the room during or directly after flooring installation.
Why do you include the adhesive when you test flooring?
Adhesive can be a source of VOCs, and different adhesives can give off different levels and types of VOCs. When you have flooring installed in your home, if it requires an adhesive then the indoor air environment could be impacted by both VOCs from the flooring and VOCs from the adhesive. So it makes sense that we would include the adhesive in the chamber test to find out what VOCs would be produced in a home environment.
Is there flooring that is definitely safe?
Unfortunately, no. Given the variability between people, and the variety of sensitivities and allergic responses that different people can have, it is simply not possible to say a type of flooring will not cause sensitivities for anyone.
But there are definitely some flooring that create a better indoor environment than others, because they emit lower VOCs in your home over time, and any allergen that accumulates on it can be removed by cleaning. However, if you have had a reaction to VOCs in the past or you know that you are sensitive to some of the chemicals that are in household furnishings, you should take sensible precautions. Avoid being present when the flooring is installed, and make sure that the area is well-ventilated. Clean your floor regularly to ensure
What else do you certify?
We have 46 different asthma & allergy friendly® certification standards for products and services, addressing all areas of the indoor air environment. Some of these relate to products which remove allergens and dust from the indoor environment, like vacuum cleaners, air cleaners, dehumidifiers, and washing machines. Some of them relate to products where it is important not to provide an easy home for allergens and that it is possible to remove allergen from them – like bedding, toys, and flooring. And some of them relate to household products that should make as little an impact on the indoor environment as possible – like flooring and paint.
You can find out which products are certified asthma & allergy friendly® and read more here: www.asthmaandallergyfriendly.com
Lifestyle Article: Indoor Air Quality – Some Serious Home Truths
Sophie casts a critical eye on her own home environment and vows to make some changes…
This is the fourth episode of ‘Sophie’s quest’ a story about places where, surprisingly, air quality may not be as good as expected and brings us on a journey in pursuit of healthy air while balancing the science with everyday life.
By Lifestyle Medical Author Dr. Anna O’ Donovan
It’s Monday morning and with kids safely dispatched, Sophie leans against her closed front door and savors the quiet of the house. She’s working from home today but before she starts, she needs to spend some time focusing on the air quality in her house. All the research over the past few days has really made her think. We spend an average of 90% of our time indoors and unbelievably, indoor air can be two and half times more toxic than outdoor air so it’s a huge issue. But the good news is that Sophie’s home environment is largely under her control.
She was proud of the changes she made when Sean was initially diagnosed with asthma but in all honesty, she could do more. Immediately on learning of his diagnosis she ditched her ancient vacuum cleaner and invested in a highly effective one, certified to be effective against allergies and asthma. It has a high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter which traps dust, allergens, mold, pet dander -essentially all the small particles that would have been just recirculated into the air when using her old cleaner. Vacuuming and mopping her floors twice a week has become a habit now and she was secretly pleased with herself for doing it. But she knows it’s not enough. This morning she is going to make a check list of 4 things she can change and initiate by the end of the week.
Task 1: Clean up the cleaning products
Under Sophie’s sink, there must be 15 bottles of cleaning products and every single one smells spring-clean delicious of pine or lemon or some other synthetic fragrance to make her home smell clean. But it’s not clean she is smelling at all -it’s chemicals. Clean doesn’t smell. These chemicals are volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and can cause asthma and allergies. They have also been implicated in fertility problems and cancers. It is good practice to use only the product that’s as strong as you need it to be, ditch the super strength products and use only those that clearly list their ingredients. If fragrances aren’t clearly labeled, assume they are not what you would want in your home or your lungs.
Also on the checklist is to move paints, fuels and solvents to an outside storage area – the shed is ideal – rather than the garage which is connected to the house and doesn’t have good ventilation.
Kids at a neighboring school recently had a science project whereby they learned how to make environmentally friendly cleaning products. They recycled spray bottles and following recipes from an environmental website created floor cleaner, furniture polish, air fresheners and all-purpose cleaners. This would be a great project for her own kids’ school and considering nearly half of all schools in the U.S. suffer from some sort of indoor air quality, it would be a wonderful step forward if the school adopted the use of the greener products.
Task 2: Sort through the soft toys.
A vast collection of soft toys has invaded Sophie’s house since the kids were born. Most of Sean’s now lie unused and unloved in toy boxes and on shelves where they are a perfect home for dust mites and allergens. She is planning a ruthless culling of those ones. Tara’s plush toys are still a part of the family so Sophie will hot wash and tumble dry those that will survive it. The others she will put in the freezer for 24 hours, then rinse in cold water to remove the dead mites. These toys should be vacuumed when she is vacuuming the house too.
It’s not just that toys are potential vessels for dust mite, some can release VOCs, fire retardants, phthalates and even lead. Responsible toy manufacturers thankfully now often have certification marks on labels to help parents ensure these toxins aren’t brought into the house.
Task 3: Get a hold on the mold.
It’s time to check the vents in every room and consider investing in some dehumidifiers. In this damp climate humidity can rise above 50% and this encourages the proliferation of dust mite. Ideally, humidity should be kept between 35 and 50% to will help control mold and mildew. Dryers should be vented outdoors. In bathrooms, where mold can be particularly problematic, fans need to be used, vents checked and visible mold removed with a mild cleaner. Mold is commonly found in damp spaces such as under the sink, in the refrigerator, dishwasher and the shower and of course shower curtains. Shower curtains can also ‘off gas’ so are never a good choice when considering allergy and asthma triggers.
The kids need to be reminded to always use the fan when showering so that air is circulated and moisture reduced. The shower mats need to be washed and dried fully every week. Dirty or damp clothes should not be left in a pile but should be brought straight to the laundry room. This will also reduce pollen from outdoors being spread around the house. Ask family members to wash and wipe down the sink after use rather than leave puddles of water.
Task 4: Go shopping!
Sean’s bedding already has mite proof mattress and pillow covers and Sophie is pretty disciplined about washing his sheets in a hot wash once a week, but she has decided to invest for the rest of the family as well. Millions of dust mite live in our mattresses and pillows and she is pretty certain that the pillow Tara is sleeping on was her first ever pillow. Pillows should be replaced every 5 years so it’s wise buy a high quality one that will withstand frequent washing. Dust mite resistant mattress and pillow encasements will prevent mites getting into the mattresses and pillows and will stop any already present from crawling into your sleeping space. Products that have withstood rigorous testing and are certified as such are always a good investment.
Large Floor mats should be inside and outside every entrance so that the family can wipe off outdoor matter instead of traipsing it indoors. This is such a simple principle and reduces floor cleaning so is a no-brainer. Added to this, ask family to remove outdoor shoes at the entrance.
These are all easy changes and require little more than some diligence and a little work. It’s always a good idea to engage the kids in these tasks (anything to reduce the workload!) and to explain the reasons behind them. If the entire family is on board, Sophie’s goal to control her home environment thereby reducing the allergy and asthma triggers that can be dangerous to her kids will be a whole lot easier.
About Dr. Anna O’Donovan – Medical & Lifestyle Author
Anna is a mum of three children, one with allergies, and she suffers from allergies and asthma herself. She is a qualified doctor and worked as a General Practitioner and as a dentist for a number of years. She is also an award winning author.
Scientific Article: Chemicals in Flooring
By Scientific Author Dr. Tim Yeomans
Materials used in construction, remodelling and decorating are major contributors of indoor pollutants that can greatly affect the air quality in your home1. The use of chemicals in furnishings and fittings can make the home a potentially unsafe environment. Flooring covers a substantial proportion of the home and so any emissions from installed flooring can contribute significantly to the indoor environment.
Flooring is available in a variety of materials including carpet, linoleum, vinyl, tile, wood and laminate. The type of flooring you select can have a positive and negative effect on the indoor environment and prior to selecting a flooring for your home, the impact on your homes’ indoor environment should be considered. Positive effects include trapping dust and dirt, as well as having easy-to-clean surfaces. Negative effects are predominantly based on the chemicals used in the manufacture of the flooring, or of the adhesive used to secure the flooring.
Chemicals and their function in flooring
The table below lists chemicals that can be found in some flooring products, and their function. Chemicals in these categories can have a negative health impact on the indoor environment and individuals living in the home.
Linked to asthma, birth defects, learning disabilities, reproductive problems, liver toxicity, and cancer2
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
By-product of petroleum based materials, adhesives
Eye, nose, and throat irritation; headaches, loss of coordination, nausea; damage to liver, kidney, and central nervous system3
Formaldehyde/Formaldehyde releasing chemicals
Used in manufacturing process
Can cause respiratory problems and skin irritation; it may cause exacerbation of asthma or cause allergic contact dermatitis4
Biocide and Fungicide
To kill bacteria and fungi
Sensitizing, contact dermatitis, respiratory irritation5,6
Anti-fouling agent, heat stabilisation of PVC
Toxic to immune system, reproductive toxicity, aquatic contamination7,8
Table 1. Flooring ingredient classes
Phthalates are plasticisers, they are used to make rigid plastic more pliable and flexible. There are several types of phthalates, two of the most commonly used are diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP) and di-isononyl phthalate (DINP). While it is argued that the actual exposure levels to phthalates do not result in high risk for adverse effects, phthalates are potential carcinogens and endocrine disruptors2. Following decades of use they are also almost ubiquitous in the environment and resistant to biodegradation. They have been banned from children’s toys for almost 15 years9, however not from other common household products. Phthalates do not bind directly to PVC material and so over time are lost from the flooring to the surrounding environment10.
VOCs are chemicals that are emitted from liquid and solid materials, and in particular are associated with petrochemicals. VOCs can cause “Eye, nose, and throat irritation; headaches, loss of coordination, nausea; damage to liver, kidney, and central nervous system”11. While these side effects are not restricted to those suffering from asthma, throat and lung irritation can cause a substantially greater problem for those suffering from asthma as it can prompt an asthma attack12.
Formaldehyde is a volatile organic compound (VOC), meaning that it can be released into the atmosphere. In larger quantities, formaldehyde can cause respiratory problems and skin irritation; it may cause exacerbation of asthma or cause allergic contact dermatitis4. For these reasons there are specific limits to the amount of formaldehyde allowed in consumer products. Limit levels are normally set for ‘free formaldehyde’ (the amount present in the product) and ‘released formaldehyde’ (the amount that may be given off or released by the product). The effects of formaldehyde include irritation of the eyes, nose and the upper respiratory tract. Furthermore, some studies have indicated an association between low formaldehyde exposure and asthma or sensitisation to certain allergens1.
4. Biocides and Fungicides
Biocides and Fungicides may be added to flooring to prevent the growth of bacteria and fungi. These may include silver, ammonium bromide and mercaptobenzothiazole13. Biocidal chemicals used in flooring can be sensitizing and can also cause contact dermatitis and respiratory irritation5,6. In the case of non-carpet flooring, physical removal is often as effective at bacterial removal as the inclusion of a biocide. Before you purchase flooring with a biocide, you should consider whether you really need it or not.
5. Organo-tin compounds
Organo-tin compounds can be used as heat stabilizers for PVC – PVC may degrade or discolour at higher temperatures and the addition of an organotin can prevent this. Organotins however have been shown to be toxic to immune system, have reproductive toxicity, and to be damaging to the aquatic environment7,8.
What flooring should you choose?
All of these chemicals can pose a potential risk to your home and even the choice or flooring type can have a major impact depending on an individual’s sensitivity to certain compound ands and material. When your selecting flooring for your home, what are options that are available, what kind of impact can they have on your home and what should you be looking out for?
Carpet vs Non-carpet
When selecting flooring for your home the main decision may often come down to carpet vs non-carpet. However the decision is not always that simple. Carpet has many benefits such as noise and heat insulation. Carpeting is comfortable and aesthetically pleasing. Many people may prefer carpeting in their homes, however it has been recommended for some time for those with asthma and allergies to avoid carpets due to their potential to harbour dust mites14. If selecting wall-to-wall carpeting for part of your home it is essential to have a regular vacuuming and cleaning schedule to maintain good indoor air quality14. Where a consumer is advised or prefers non-carpeted flooring, there is a wide range of choices. As discussed above, a range of chemicals can be used in flooring and so you should carefully research your flooring choice. Non-carpet flooring options are often cheaper, easier to keep clean and easier to maintain. Laminate or linoleum type flooring does not retain dust and regular sweeping and cleaning is required to, prevent aerosolization of dust and particles as people walk on the flooring14.
Natural vs Synthetic flooring
There are many options for natural or synthetic materials in both carpet and non-carpet flooring. Natural carpeting materials include wool and seagrass. These can often be prohibitively expensive. Synthetic carpets are a more budget friendly option but may also contain petrochemical based compounds and can emit chemicals such as styrene and phenylcyclohexane15.
For non-carpet flooring natural material such as solid wood floors, tiles or recycled wood can also all make good choices that are less chemically treated. In the case of recycled wood you should ensure that there has been no use of formaldehyde or urea in its manufacturing process. Click fit or nail-down installation should be considered instead of adhesive. If an adhesive must be used, select a low-VOC type. Natural linoleum is made from all-natural materials and does not use the same types of petrochemical based compounds as synthetic linoleum. During installation you should select a low VOC adhesive. Natural flooring materials can be very expensive and budget can also play a role in selecting flooring. While cheaper products are more likely to be based on petrochemical ingredients, some may be absolutely fine to use, but which ones?
How do you identify healthier flooring products?
The choice between natural vs synthetic and carpet vs non-carpet is important and should be driven by knowledge of your own (and your family’s) personal sensitivities. It is essential to consider which type is most appropriate, particularly if you have someone suffering from asthma and allergies in your home. With the increasing selection of flooring available on the market it can be difficult to identify companies and products that you can trust to assess and monitor their chemical content and the effect the product may have on your indoor air quality.
In 2016, consumers in the US were left with serious health concerns when an American Company, Lumber Liquidators, sold Chinese made flooring that had high levels of formaldehyde17. Potentially 614,000 homes were affected by this and the US Consumer Product Safety Commission directed Lumber Liquidators to test all homes involved. The company agreed to replace all flooring found to have unsafe levels of formaldehyde, and to pay for any testing required. The products were sold over a four year period, between 2012 and 201616, if the company had been part of a robust certification program, it is possible that this chemical content would have been identified at an annual audit stage.
Certification marks can play a vital role, giving producers an extra line of quality control, as well as directing consumers to products based on their impact on the indoor environment. Below are some examples of certification marks that have been developed to inform consumers on various aspects of production, chemical profiling or performance of flooring.
The Green Seal Certification for cleaning products also assesses products on the basis of environmental impact. It includes testing for performance, health and environmental requirements such as toxicity and biodegradability. In terms of health aspects, there are a range of chemicals that are banned, such as carcinogens, mutagens and undiluted ingredients that cause skin sensitization18.
Greenguard certification is primarily focussed on promoting healthier indoor environments and was first established to assist EPA purchasing decisions. The Greenguard certification for flooring tests for chemical emissions, at a static timepoint as well as over time20. This standard is primarily focussed on air quality and does not measure performance characteristics.
Forest Stewardship Council
Forest Stewardship Council is an independent organization that protects forests for future generations and focuses on environmental, economic and social aspects. FSC certification ensures that products come from responsibly managed forests through Forest Management Chain of Custody processes21.
California Air Resources Board
California Air Resources Board is the clean air agency in the State of California. CARB is charged with protecting the public from the harmful effects of air pollution. CARB certification of flooring mainly relates to formaldehyde levels in composite wood products22.
asthma & allergy friendly®
The asthma & allergy friendly®Certification Program is operated by Allergy Standards Ltd in collaboration with the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), Asthma Society of Canada (ASC) and is also operated internationally through a global certification mark. Cleaning product certification is based on the impact on the indoor environment for those suffering from asthma and allergies, impact on health and measurement of appropriate quality characteristics. This program focuses more on health and efficacy as opposed to environmental characteristics20.
The 4 things to keep in mind when choosing flooring
Flooring covers a significant part of the home, if it may affect your health you need to ensure that you are selecting an appropriate flooring type. If you have a sensitivity to certain chemicals, or have asthma and allergies, the following points may be useful:
- Whether carpet or non-carpet, select the most appropriate for your circumstances. Synthetic carpets should be avoided if you have a sensitivity to chemicals that are commonly found in these products. If you do select carpet, ensure that it can be cleaned regularly and effectively to remove any bound dust or dust mites.
- Consider naturally based non-carpeted flooring as they will not contain petrochemical based chemicals that may be found in vinyl flooring or synthetic linoleum. Advances are continuously being made in the area of functional chemicals that are compatible with a healthy indoor environment. Make sure that you research your choice carefully. For example, some PVC flooring has been tested and certified to be suitable for those suffering from asthma and allergies22
- Dust particles may build up on non-carpeted flooring and become aerosolised if not cleaned regularly.
- Where appropriate, use certification marks to guide your product selection
You should always review appropriate certification marks and determine how they fit with your personal needs. If you are aware of your allergy or sensitivity triggers it will help to provide you with the information required to make an informed decision on products that are more suitable for you. As always, make sure that you understand what the product certification is based on, and that environmentally friendly does not always mean human friendly!
About the author
Thanks to Dr. Tim Yeomans for this insightful article.
Dr. Tim Yeomans is the Centre Manager for Shannon Applied Biotechnology Centre, a collaboration between two third level colleges in Ireland. Tim holds a PhD in Microbiology and postgraduate qualifications in Technology Commercialisation and Innovation Management. Tim has worked in research and development for 20 years, both in industry and academia. In his role in Shannon ABC, Tim is responsible for the scientific direction of the Centre, intellectual property management and business and technology development.
|Certification Name||asthma & allergy friendly®||Floorscore®||Greenguard Gold||Cradle2Cradle Gold|
|Cleaning and Care|
Determination of keeping allergen levels low during cleaning
|Airborne allergens and irritants|
Assessment of airborne solvents and other irritant or toxic materials during floor covering installation and in use
|Recovery of Allergens in the Cleaning System|
The allergens removed from the flooring must be captured by the cleaning system
Assessment of the volatile organic compounds released
after 1, 2 and 14 days
after 14 days LEED Credit
after 14 days LEED Credit
after 7 and 14 days LEED Credit
specific limits for formadehyde presence
after 1, 2 and 14 days
after 14 days
after 14 days
after 14 days
asthma & allergy friendly®
but may include other criteria
all materials are assessed for material health, material reutilization, renewable energy and carbon management, water stewardship, and social fairness.
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