Carpets add to wildfires’ toxic air pollution

In the wake of unprecedented wildfires that ravaged Northern California, we would do well to reflect on the primary factors that led to the worst air pollution ever recorded in the area. The fire destroyed more than 8,500 buildings and homes, many of which were filled with a wide array of products that contain toxic chemicals. When carpet and other plastic building materials burn, some of the deadliest substances on Earth are released into the air.

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Carpets are ubiquitous in the kinds of structures laid waste by the wildfires — including homes, workplaces and schools. Now, as the Wine Country and other parts of California rebuild after these fires, is a good time to think more holistically about what materials and products go into new buildings and homes.

Home Depot recently banned a host of toxic chemicals from the carpets it sells. And San Francisco is strengthening its internal purchasing requirements for furniture and carpet so they won’t contain flame retardants, stain resistance treatments, heavy metals and other toxic chemicals.

But much more is needed.

We must fundamentally transform the carpet industry, including banning toxic substances from carpet, incentivizing the design of safe and fully recyclable carpets. Finding carpets that don’t contain toxic chemicals is a challenge because toxic carpet ingredients are not disclosed to consumers or retailers. The industry is responding to consumer demand for safer products, but these are not yet widely available.

Consumers should be empowered to make safer choices by requiring manufacturers to fully and publicly disclose all material contents, including toxic chemicals, in new carpet.

Carpets and foam carpet pads are among the mo


st significant sources of toxic chemicals in indoor environments — chemicals we daily inhale into our lungs and absorb through our skin. A recent report by the Healthy Building Network uncovered 44 toxic chemicals common in carpets. These chemicals are known to cause respiratory disease, heart attacks, strokes, asthma and immune and developmental health problems in children. Magnifying the threat carpet poses to children’s health is the fact that they spend much time on the floor. And air pollution is particularly harmful to infants.

In the U.S., more than 4 billion pounds of carpets are dumped in landfills or burned in incinerators each year. Of California’s 343 million pounds of carpet discards in 2016, only 11 percent was recycled, the remaining 257 million pounds were sent to landfills and 20 million pounds were burned, emitting dangerous particulates and toxic chemicals to surrounding communities. In recognition of the public health threat posed by carpet design and disposal, in October 2017 Gov. Jerry Brown signed a first-in-the-nation law requiring carpet manufacturers to double the rate of carpet recycling by 2020 and ending the consumer subsidization of carpet incineration.

While recycling is an important step toward sustainability, the carpet industry must also design out toxic chemicals in their products. Unfortunately, we can’t look to federal regulators for protection. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is changing the way it evaluates health and environmental risks associated with hazardous chemicals to more align itself with industry goals. This shift in our nation’s approach to regulating toxic chemicals couldn’t come at a worse time, as new research shows that nearly 1 out of 6 deaths globally were related to pollution in 2015.

Since carpet production is projected to grow, carpet design will continue to have major repercussions for our health and environment.

Jim Vallette is the research director for the Healthy Building Network. Monica Wilson is the associate director of the U.S. office of the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives.

A consumer guide to toxic-free carpets

Choose a flooring type like wood, natural linoleum or 100 percent wool carpet.

If you pick broadloom, choose products installed by “stretch-in” or tackless strips — not wet adhesives.

Avoid chemical treatments for mold, bacteria or fluorinated stain repellants.

Choose carpet pads made with natural fibers or rubber

source and reports

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