First UFFI, Then Asbestos, Now It’s Lead. What’s Next?
Building and renovation have been plagued over the years by the use of toxic chemicals that effect the health of occupants as well as those who do construction work. Remember urea formaldelhyde foam insulation (UFFI) and asbestos? Right now the RRP rule and lead paint are getting all the attention. But what will be next? Perhaps the better question might be: Why should there even be a "next?"
According to a study released on Oct. 19, 2010, by the non-profit, Berkeley, Calif.-based Ecology Center, many home improvement products still being sold today contain chemicals that are harmful. The study tested for chemicals such as lead, bromine (brominated flame retardants), chlorine (PVC), cadmium, arsenic, tin (organotins), pththalates, and mercury in commonly used flooring and wallpaper. The results of the study are posted at the HealthyStuff.org website. Amazingly, 5% of the flooring tested had detectable levels of lead. Specifically, 29 of 39 (74%) vinyl tiles sampled contained detectable lead, with levels as high as 1,900 ppm.
"The public needs to know that there are practically no restrictions on chemicals used in home improvement products," said Jeff Gearhart, the Ecology Center's lead researcher, who founded HealthyStuff.org. "Our testing shows that toxic chemicals show up everywhere in home improvement products. If we don't want these chemicals in our toys, we certainly don't want them in our floors."
Also, according to the study, phthalates—chemical additives used to soften PVC products—were found in flooring and wallpaper, raising a number of health concerns. According to an article posted at the website SustainableBusiness.com, "studies have also demonstrated possible links between phthalates and adverse impacts on the reproductive system, kidneys, liver, and blood. Finally, a 2009 Swedish study found that children who live in homes with vinyl floors, which can emit phthalates, are twice as likely to have autism." If living under normal circumstances in homes with these products can cause health problems, imagine the health problems that are likely to occur if the products are disturbed during typical renovations.
The public is being misled if it believes it is being protected by the federal government. The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1976 is intended to keep harmful chemicals in check. This is the same law that gave us the RRP rule. When Congress passes laws to protect us but doesn’t include adequate funding for testing and enforcement when such laws are passed, it gives the public a false sense of security. Lead is an issue today as a result of products sold in the past. According to the Ecology Center study, it would appear there are many more issues on the horizon that will likely put remodelers at great risk and liability. Politicians tell us they must regulate private businesses to protect our health and safety. If we allow the federal government to have such oversight, wouldn’t a little follow-through make sense? If the remodeling industry ignores problem chemicals in flooring and wallpaper, just like the industry ignored the lead problem, our government will have one more excuse to regulate us. My prediction: Get ready for Groundhog Day. Again.