Posted by Claudia Grazioso on July 13, 2011
I have been tempted for a while to fix up my office. Right now it’s kind of a hybrid collect-all kind of room, but I have a vision — one that always starts with replacing the worn down, permanently pet-furred, hopelessly stained carpet. It would be so easy to replace it: There are numerous carpet companies that come right to your home, and they’re super cheap, super convenient, even super fast!
And, most likely, their product is super-overloaded with a whole array of toxic chemicals. I’m not really worried too much for myself. I figure that having lived in an assortment of major urban areas for most of my life, I’ve already inhaled my pregnancy weight in VOCs (volatile organic compounds). But when I look at my children and think about how insanely pink and healthy their lungs still are, I have to pause before bringing anything laden with chemicals into the house… Especially chemicals that “off-gas” the way new carpet does.
Most carpet has a lot of VOCs in it. Chemicals like toluene, benzene, formaldehyde, acetone, ethyl benzene and styrene (a suspected carcinogen) are common substances found in carpeting. Some carpet even contains chemicals on the Environmental Protection Agency’s list of Extremely Hazardous Substances. Carcinogens like p-Dichlorobenzene are in new carpets, as are chemicals that have been linked to birth defects in lab animals. And then there is that notorious (and, I admit, intoxicating) new carpet smell. That smell isn’t the brand new, crisp and clean, never-been-muddied scent that consumers like to imagine. It’s really a substance known as 4-phenyl cyclobenzene (4-PC), a known irritant to mucous membranes and eyes that can cause rashes and respiratory problems.
Despite the chemical overload in new carpeting, most consumer complaints have been relatively minor and include things like eye, nose and throat problems and skin conditions after being in contact with the carpet. So is carpet a serious threat? Probably not. But I look at my kids who lie down on the floors, play on the floors, read on the floors, drop food on the floors and still eat it, and a simple equation runs through my head: known carcinogens + suspected carcinogens + next to my children’s faces = no thank you.
So what are my office re-design options? I am going to look for carpet made from natural materials and not treated with stain guards. I am also going to look for a product that has a Green Label. This indicates that the product has been tested for VOC emissions. The only problem with Green Label products is that these carpets aren’t tested for all of the toxic substances that are frequently found in new carpets. But that’s not my only option: Since it’s not mass-produced, natural fiber carpets might not be as fast, cheap and easy as the regular stuff, but I’m going to wait and save up.
If you want to redecorate and can’t wait, look for Green Label products and ask that the carpet be laid down with hook and loop fastening, as opposed to with adhesives, which usually contain even more toxic chemicals. Also, the emissions from your new carpet are highest in the first few days. If you can, be out of the house, and leave the windows open so the chemicals can dissipate. And it’s not a bad idea to keep your home well ventilated for a while after installation.