Airborne debris indoors (C) Daniel Friedman Carpeting & Indoor Air Quality Improvement

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Effects of carpeting on buildin gindoor air quality:

This article explains possible effects of carpeting on indoor air quality in homes, including the emission of VOCs, formaldehyde styrene, and odors from other sources such as carpet mold.

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Carpeting and Indoor Air Quality, Health Effects

Carpet adhesive and padding (C) Daniel FriedmanThis article includes excerpts or adaptations from Best Practices Guide to Residential Construction, by Steven Bliss, courtesy of Wiley & Sons.

As discussed in Best Practices Guide to Residential Construction

Concerns about the health effects of carpeting first gained national attention in 1988 when new carpeting installed at the EPA headquarters in Washington, D.C., was linked to a rash of health complaints among EPA staff.

While a definitive cause never was identified, experts focused on two main compounds:

  1. The solvent-based adhesive used to install the carpeting and
  2. The chemical 4-PC (4-phenylcyclohexene), a compound found in the synthetic latex backing used in 95% of all U.S. carpets. The compound 4-PC gives carpeting its distinctive “new carpet” odor and is detectable by most people at very low levels.

Styrene, a known health hazard and suspected carcinogen, is also found in the latex backing on carpeting.

Since 1988, over 500 people have made complaints to the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) about new carpeting.

The most frequently reported symptoms have been watery eyes, runny nose, burning sensation in the eyes, nose, and throat, headaches, rashes, and fatigue. In response, the CPSC commissioned a study of off- gassing from new carpeting and identified 31 compounds, but none approached airborne levels known to be hazardous for short-term exposure.

Long-term effects of exposure to these carpet-associated chemicals or gases were not studied.

While some suspected formaldehyde , a common respiratory irritant, it has not been used in the manufacture of U.S. carpeting since the late 1980s (with the exception of some vinyl-backed carpet tiles used in commercial installations).


Carpet Labeling Program Identifies VOCs, styrene, 4-PC & Formaldehyde

Carpet padding (C) Daniel Friedman

The Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI), an industry association representing carpeting manufacturers, also took action by launching its “Green Tag” program in 1992.

The voluntary program tests new carpeting for four categories of emissions: total VOCs, styrene, 4-PC, and formaldehyde.

Since national standards do not exist for carpet emissions, the industry established its own acceptable levels.

While these might not be as stringent as some health advocates would like, they have led to a lowering of emissions by manufacturers eager to display the Green Tag label.

Labeling Program for Carpet Padding & Carpet Adhesives

Since 1992, the CRI program has expanded to include carpet pads and adhesives, suspected by some to be a greater source of volatile compounds than the carpeting itself.

Also, while no chemical stands out as the source of most complaints, the synergistic effect of multiple compounds is not well understood.

Carpet adhesive and padding (C) Daniel FriedmanAlso, the sensitivity to chemical emissions varies among individuals, making the effects of new carpeting on individual occupants difficult to predict.

Air Out Carpet Before Installation or Occupancy

Both CRI and independent health advocates agree that new carpet emissions drop off rapidly in the first 24 to 72 hours after being unrolled and exposed to ventilation air.

By increasing ventilation during that time, or if possible, airing out the carpet for several hours to several days before installation, most of the chemical emissions can be avoided. In glue-down installations, seek out low-VOC adhesives rated at less than 50 grams of VOC content per liter of adhesive.

Carpeting Alternatives for Sensitive Individuals.

Once installed, carpets can act as reservoirs for contaminants filtered from the air or tracked in on shoes, including hydrocarbons, pesticides, and other particulates.

Also, in high-humidity conditions, dust mites, a powerful allergen, can thrive in carpets. In homes with small children, people with allergic conditions, or high-sensitivity individuals, consider alternatives to carpeting. Area rugs that can be washed periodically in 130°F water are an option.

Where carpeting is installed, health experts recommend frequent vacuuming with a HEPA-type vacuum or central vacuum with an outside exhaust, and periodic deep cleaning using a hot-water extraction system.

-- Adapted with permission from Best Practices Guide to Residential Construction.


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