Part 2: Can a Carpet Make You Sick?
For chemically sensitive people especially, carpets with even very low VOC emissions can have what one researcher calls just absolutely “terrifying” health effects. Furthermore, industries that make carpet cushions and adhesives have not adopted such a certification program.
Safe Use Tips
1. Request VOC emission information.
2. Be sure that you can exchange or return the carpet if you develop symptoms because of its chemical emissions.
3. Allow maximum ventilation before, during, and for forty-eight to seventy-two hours after installation of a new carpet. If possible, leave doors and windows open and use fans to increase the flow of outdoor air.
4. To reduce exposure to pollutants in homes, leave during the installation of a new carpet. In the office, ask building managers to consider installing a new carpet when the area is not in use.
5. Request that the dealer or installer leave the new carpet unrolled in a well-ventilated area for one or two days before delivering it to your premises for installation.
6. Vacuum the old carpet well before its removal to reduce the amount of dust generated.
7. Use low-emission adhesives. Remember that the carpet is part of your total floor-covering system, which may include the cushion and installation adhesives. The cushion and adhesives are also sources of emissions. New low-emission adhesives are available that can greatly reduce emissions from new carpet installations.
8. New carpet is usually installed during home or office decoration, building construction, or renovation. Interior decorating usually includes the use of new materials such as wall treatments (painting, wallpapering, paneling), floor covering (carpet, vinyl, wood, ceramic), window covering (fabric, wood, plastic), and furniture. Any or all of these materials may produce chemical emissions and odors.
9. A carpet sealer can be applied to carpet to prevent off-gassing of toxic fumes.
10. If you have suffered health problems because of exposure to new carpet, you may want to alert the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission, which is studying the potential health effects of carpet chemical emissions. Write to Carpet Complaints, Room 529, U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Washington, DC 20207.
11. If you live in a home with carpeting and suffer allergies or asthma, trying using a vacuum with a HEPA filter. Once, such vacuums’ cost seemed prohibitive, but as major brands such as Eureka have begun to offer these unique vacuums their cost has come way down.ii
12. Use rugs that are made of cotton, cotton/wool blend, sheepskin, or unmothproofed wool without jute or latex backing.
13. Use hardwood flooring, tile, and natural linoleum.
14. Use woven carpet, which does not have latex adhesives to hold the fibers together.
15. For carpet padding, try synthetic jute, felted wool, or other natural material with low toxic binders and backings.
i Dybendal, T. & Elsayed, S. “Dust from carpeted and smooth floors. V. Cat (Fel d I) and mite (Der p I and Der f I) allergen levels in school dust. Demonstration of the basophil histamine release induced by dust from classrooms.” Clin Exp Allergy, 22(12):1100-6 1992 Dec
ii Weber, B. “Bells and whistles for the ‘healthy’ American home.” The New York Times, January 21, 1999: B1.