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Home Depot to Shed Flooring Chemical

Monday, April 27, 2015

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ATLANTA—The world’s largest home-improvement retailer has pledged to phase out vinyl flooring products that contain a potentially toxic chemical by the end of the year.

The Home Depot said it will phase out vinyl flooring made with ortho-phthalates—chemical plasticizers used to make products more flexible, confirming an announcement made Wednesday (April 22) by the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families group.

The retailer itself did not issue a release, but Corporate Communications Director Stephen Holmes said in an e-mail that the change was “part of our effort to continually challenge our suppliers to develop new, innovative options for our customers.”

Home Depot
Home Depot

The Home Depot is the world's largest home-improvement specialty retailer, with more than 2,200 retail stores in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

Holmes noted, “As an example, we introduced low-VOC paints and then no-VOC paints, several years ago.”

Tests performed recently by Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families and the Ecology Center found the chemicals were widely used in vinyl flooring.

A Link to Health Issues

The human health effects of phthalates are not yet fully known, according to the National Institutes of Health. However, the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families group reports that they have been linked to asthma, male reproductive and developmental issues, citing recent scientific studies.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission limits phthalates to less than 0.1 percent of the material used in toys and children's products.

children playing on floor
© iStock.com / naumoid

The use of phthalates has been restricted in childrens' toys since 2008. Recent testing shows that flooring that contained phthalates had levels of the chemical between 10 and 90 times greater than the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission’s limit for children’s toys, according to the Ecology Center.

Phthalates are also subject to a pending ban in the European Union, the group notes.

Chemical Group Reacts

In an e-mail Thursday (April 23), the American Chemistry Council issued a statement in response to the retailer’s pledge.

"Phthalates are used in building and construction applications to make a wide-range of vinyl surfaces last longer and easier to maintain," according to the ACC's High Phthalates Panel.

"Certain phthalates are used to soften vinyl because of their strong performance, durability and stability.  We urge retailers and their customers to closely examine the misleading claims behind this report, rather than allowing scare tactics to distort the facts about phthalates used in vinyl flooring.”

Phase-Out Plan

Home Depot adopted the new policy after working with a coalition of consumer, environmental and health advocate groups for nearly a year, according to the announcement.

“As the world’s largest home improvement retailer, Home Depot’s new policy sends a strong signal to the marketplace that retailers want healthier building materials free of harmful chemicals like phthalates,” said Director of Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families Andy Igrejas.

The Atlanta-based retailer had accomplished 85 percent of the phase-out as of its first quarter of 2015.

The move affects about 15 percent of the company’s vinyl product offerings, a spokesman told The New York Times.

Phthalates: Widespread in Flooring

In addition to the Home Depot policy shift, Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families also reported findings of a recent study it conducted with the Ecology Center.

The study found phthalates were widespread in flooring sold at national flooring retailers, including Lowe’s and Lumber Liquidators.

© iStock.com / popovaphoto

Chemical makers say phthalates are used to soften vinyl products because of their strong performance, durability and stability.

Specifically, 38 vinyl flooring tile samples out of 65 (58 percent) contained phthalates.

The tests further showed the flooring tiles that contained phthalates had levels of the chemical between 10 and 90 times greater than the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission’s limit for children’s toys, the Ecology Center reported.

Other Retailers Challenged

Igrejas has called on Lowe’s, the world’s second largest home-improvement retailer, and others, to follow Home Depot’s lead.

Lowe’s says it is still reviewing research on the chemical, but notes that it has been working with suppliers to consider alternatives, according to reports.

Lumber Liquidators, which has recently come under fire for allegations of excessive formaldehyde levels in its Chinese-made laminate flooring, has been working with suppliers to transition to alternatives but does not have a timeline on implementation, the group reports.

“Home Depot’s decision will make a hugely positive impact on indoor environmental quality,” predicted Bill Walsh, executive director of the Healthy Building Network.

HBN’s 2014 report, “Phthalate-free Plasticizers in PVC,” demonstrates the availability of phthalates alternatives and their growing use in vinyl flooring.

That report was said to have been a key resource in the coalition’s dialogue with Home Depot.


Tagged categories: Building materials; Flooring system; Health and safety; Home Depot; Laboratory testing; Retail; Vinyl

Comment from Ujjval Vyas, (4/27/2015, 8:13 PM)

I am puzzled by these types of stories. There are many more serious scientific studies that are easy to find which show that this kind of easy, breezy, beautiful, NGO study is silly. The fact that the Home Depot marketing folks have capitulated to this kind of thing only shows that it is one of the growing number of retailers that are anti-science and pro-mumbo jumbo if they think it will sell product. No doubt, Home Depot is also comfortable selling copper bracelets and vegan pet food. Some may find it attractive to shop at Home Depot as a result of this announcement. For myself, I will now put it on my list of suspect and anti-science companies that I don't wish to encourage by such actions. Just a pet peeve of mine, but, why would anyone trust pure advocacy groups who have spent their whole existence demonizing chemistry of all kinds so easily and rejecting even the most basic science such as HBN? Much of this anti-scientific self-congratulatory activism is the purview of those who seem to need to make a career out of moralistic superiority. Under such conditions, the creation of "demons" and "angels" becomes not only easy but a necessity. Realizing that the world is not only far more complex and interesting than this cartoon version of the world and is full of competing and incommensurable values is the first step to a mature conversation.

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (4/29/2015, 8:24 AM)

I think the basis for concern over pthalates has reached a considerably higher bar than vegan pet food. Note the CPSC limits for children's toys and the potential issues noted by the NIH. Alternate plasticizers have been available for a long time - the phaseout for children's toys was over 15 years ago.

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