Vinyl floors are practical and relatively inexpensive. But they are also full of phthalates, the gender bender plasticizer that makes them soft. Treehugger has noted that Maternal exposure to phthalates during pregnancy is linked to lower IQ in kids and asked Do Babies Exposed to Phthalates Have Smaller Penises? We don't know what it does to little Teddy's turtle but it's no good for him.
According to Bill Walsh of the Healthy Building Network, Home Depot has no agreed to eliminate phthalates from all the vinyl flooring it sells by the end of the year. He notes that architects and designers have been trying to use fewer PVC products with phthalates for a while, but this is a big step from the big box.
Phthalates are not chemically bound to vinyl, but are mixed in. They can migrate out and collect in dust which is then inhaled. A report to the Consumer Product Safety Commission concluded:
For over a decade now, leading green designers, architects and building owners have taken a precautionary approach, avoiding PVC building products in commercial buildings as evidence grew of the many toxic impacts associated with PVC and its additives. As a result, phthalate-free formulations of vinyl floor and wall coverings began appearing in this market a few years ago. Home Depot's leadership marks a tipping point that will bring these products to everyone.
There is a rapidly growing body of epidemiological studies on the association of exposure to phthalates with human health. Most studies primarily focus on the association of maternal phthalate exposure with male reproductive tract developmental endpoints and neurodevelopmental outcomes. Two of three cohort studies found reduced AGD in male infants in relation to higher maternal urinary concentrations of phthalate metabolites. Other studies reported associations between reduced AGD and hypospadias, poor sperm quality, or reduced fertility.
Of course, the American Chemistry Council denies the whole thing and rejects the report, saying in an email:
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.
I imagine that the fight over phthalates in building products will get nasty, and that we have not heard the last of this issue.