Thursday, August 13, 2009

Carpet and Formaldehyde: Debunking Urban Legends

The Nest: Is Your House Making You Sick?A truly remarkable thing about the Internet is how a single news story that contains bogus and inaccurate information about carpet (or anything else for that matter) can spread like wildfire, appearing over and over in different web sites and blog posts faster than you can shake a stick at it. Indeed, in my job I often feel like I am playing a world-wide-web-based version of Whac-A-Mole, bashing headlines instead of critters, only to see the same silly story pop up again somewhere else. In this case, it's about carpet and formaldehyde.


The story, which was sent to me by several different people, originated at The Nest, a website for newlyweds setting up their first homes. The story had been picked up by a wire service and appeared in newspapers around the country.
The story lists various interior products, including paint and hardwood floors, warning consumers to “beware” of various aspects of the products. The section on carpet reads:

Beware: Chemicals in your carpets: Carpets and carpet cushions can contain VOC’s and emit formaldehyde, a colorless, pungent-smelling gas. According to the EPA, formaldehyde has been shown to cause cancer in animals and may cause cancer in humans. Health effects include eye, nose, and throat irritation; wheezing and coughing; fatigue; skin rash; and severe allergic reactions.

Take care: Look for carpets made from natural fibers with little or no chemical treatment. Shaw Floors sells a variety of eco-friendly colors and styles for both wall-to-wall and area carpeting. Also, purchase carpets with natural fiber backing that’s attached with less-toxic adhesives.
Apart from several conflicting and confusing statements, (just what exactly is an eco-friendly color?), the biggest problem with the article is the author’s use of the f word – f as in formaldehyde. If the author had performed a modicum of research on the topic she would have discovered that formaldehyde is not used to manufacture carpet and hasn’t been for 30 years.

CRI has performed comprehensive surveys of carpet mills and determined that formaldehyde is not contained in any of carpet’s raw materials. Still, to demonstrate carpet’s contribution to healthy indoor environments, CRI analyzes finished carpet for formaldehyde as part of CRI’s Green Label (GL) and Green Label Plus (GLP) Indoor Air Quality testing and certification programs. This testing assures consumers that carpet is not a significant source of any Volatile Organic Compound (VOC), including formaldehyde.

In fact, CRI’s Green Label and Green Label Plus testing and certification programs carry tremendous weight in counteracting negative and irresponsible media coverage of carpet and its role in Indoor Air Quality.

The Carpet and Rug Institute began testing carpet for VOC emissions in 1992, when CRI, in cooperation with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, created the Green Label standard to identify low VOC-emitting carpets. In 2006, CRI launched the aggressive Green Label Plus VOC testing program, with stricter criteria and additional testing. Carpets meeting the stringent Green Label Plus emissions testing criteria qualify for inclusion under California’s High-Performance Schools program.

Green Label testing expanded to include carpet cushion and Green Label Plus testing was established for adhesives. Both GL carpet cushion and GLP adhesives have the same low emission requirements. And one more critical point: independent testing shows that all VOC emissions from carpet are virtually undetectable within 48-72 hours after installation. After this brief time VOCs are gone – period!

Green Label Plus carpets and adhesives are recognized by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the United States’ Green Building Council’s (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), green building program where they earn project credit. As I mentioned, the State of California accepts GLP-certified carpet for use in their High-Performance Schools, and GLP carpet is also accepted by the American Lung Association’s Health House program. GL cushion is recognized by the EPA, state of California, and many other regulating bodies.


For even more information on carpet and formaldehyde, see this Technical Bulletin from the CRI website. There is so much evidence testifying to carpet’s safety and appropriateness, I have to ask: on the subject of carpet and formaldehyde, to whom should consumers listen? Should we believe experts at the EPA, USGBC, and American Lung Association, or an uninformed writer who wouldn’t know a tufter from a tea cozy?

Like Gil Grissom says on CSI, the (scientific) evidence never lies…

Bethany


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4 comments:

Bob Steinberg said...

I see that as of 10/12/09, this article is still posted on "The Nest." Bethany, did you make the effort to contact them? If not, someone should.

Bethany Richmond said...

Hi Bob - Thanks for your comment. I have tried to respond directly to this website - I even joined it, which is neccessary if you want to leave a comment on the site. The Nest requires that a new membet wait 3 days before posting a comment, and my first attenpt at leaving a comment with a link to this blog post was rejected. I will try again.

Abbey Carpets UK said...

Well pointed out! glad someone took the time to point these myths out to people.

Bethany said...

Hi Abbey C,
My pleasure. What other carpet topics would you like me to cover? Do you deal with different issues in the UK than we do here in the US? That would be interesting to know.

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