Floored by Phthalates Overview

About the study
HealthyStuff tested vinyl (PVC) flooring tiles purchased at five major US retailers for toxic phthalates (pronounced "thal-ates")--hormone disrupting chemicals that have been linked to asthma, birth defects, learning disabilities, reproductive problems, liver toxicity and cancer. People can be exposed to these chemicals by breathing air or dust containing chemicals volatilized or released from the products or by handling them. The vinyl flooring tiles were purchased from Ace Hardware, Build.com, Lowe’s, Lumber Liquidators, and Menards. 

We also surveyed six major home improvement retailers to assess whether they have adopted policies to reduce or eliminate phthalates in vinyl flooring. Our investigation found for the first time that Home Depot, the largest home improvement retailer in the US and worldwide, is way ahead of the competition.  Home Depot has adopted a policy to phase out phthalates in all virgin vinyl flooring by the end of 2015. Lumber Liquidators has also begun to take action: They are working with suppliers and seeking new suppliers to transition all non-recycled vinyl floor products to those with alternative plasticizers rather than those containing phthalates, although they have not set a deadline, unlike Home Depot.  Lowe's responded verbally and stated that they were begining to evaluate the issues.  The other retailers failed to respond to our survey or multiple follow-up requests for information.

A discussion of retailer policies regarding phthalates in flooring is available here.

About vinyl flooring
Vinyl (polyvinyl chloride) or PVC plastic flooring is a popular flooring material that has a variety of associated environmental and health hazards.  Vinyl tile flooring is produced in two varieties: printed and inlaid vinyl.  Printed vinyl flooring places a paper printed image between two layers of vinyl.  Inlaid vinyl flooring uses vinyl through the tile and is typically homogeneous in construction and more durable.

In this study, we report results for the surface vinyl layers of printed vinyl tile flooring. The surface layer is typically composed of virgin vinyl, as opposed to recycled vinyl.  Printed vinyl flooring tiles are composed of several distinct layers. These typically include the wear layer, the protective layer, the design layer and the vinyl backing or base layer. For this study the surface layers (the wear, protective, and design layers) were separated from the vinyl backing layers and analyzed. For more details, see the Methodology section.

The tile backing layers are not included in the present study. The backing layers (also called inner layers) were analyzed by XRF in conjuction with a forthcoming report by the Healthy Building Network. Additional analysis of the vinyl backing layers for phthalates will be published at a later date. We did not test test sheet vinyl flooring for this study, which is likely to contain even higher concentrations of phthalates, based on other investigations.

Methodology Summary
HealthyStuff analyzed 65 vinyl flooring tiles from 5 different national retailers: Ace Hardware, Build.com, Lowes, Lumber Liquidators, and Menards.  Samples were acquired in seven states: Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, Michigan, North Carolina, New York and Vermont.  Identical samples where purchased for four products in different states.

These samples do not represent all of the vinyl tiles sold by these retailers.  The products tested include many popular flooring brands including Armstrong, Style Selections, Tranquility, Designer's Image, Achim, Mohawk, Stainmaster and Shaw.

Three research methods were used to analyze the tile surface layers: a High Definition X-Ray Florescence (HDXRF) analyzer by XOS Optics, a Fourier Transform Infrared Spectrometer (FTIR) from Thermo Scientific, and Gas Chromatography/Mass Spectrometry (GC/MS).  The XRF analyzer was used to screen for common heavy metals, plastic additives and flame retardants. The FTIR was used to study the presence of phthalates and alternative plasticizers in PVC materials.  A subset of samples (12) were sent to a US CPSC-certified third party lab for GC/MS plasticizer testing.  A more detailed description of the methodology is available.