October 19th, 2010
12:01 AM ET

Flooring, wallpaper tests uncover potential toxics

A new study of flooring and wallpaper products turned up lead, cadmium and other potentially dangerous chemicals, according to healthystuff.org, which conducted what the non-profit billed as the largest-ever study of chemicals in home improvement products.

Healthystuff tested 1,016 flooring products and 2,312 types of wallpaper. In addition to lead and cadmium, Healthystuff found phthalates, a type of chemical last year banned in children’s toys above minute levels.

“We know from research that chemicals are emitted from these products and contribute to overall exposure,” said Jeff Gearhart, research director at Healthystuff.

No federal standards exist for lead, cadmium or phthalates in home improvement products, said Scott Wolfson, spokesman for the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

Three-quarters of ceramic tile samples tested contained lead, with levels as high as 1,900 parts per million. By comparison, the CPSC standard for lead in children’s products is 300 parts per million.

“I am particularly concerned about tile because these do tend to wear over time.  This would tend to create dust particles with lead in them,” Gearhart said in an e-mail.

Lead affects the central nervous system, kidneys and reproductive systems. No level of lead exposure is considered safe.

Vinyl flooring contained one or more hazardous chemicals 15 percent the time, compared with 8 percent of non-vinyl flooring, according to Healthystuff, a project of the Ecology Center, an environmental group.

Linoleum, cork, bamboo and hardwood all tested free of lead and cadmium, according to Healthystuff. Carpet was not tested.

A test of four “representative” vinyl flooring samples found four of the six phthalates severely restricted in children’s toys, with levels as high as 84,000 parts per million – 84 times what’s allowed in toys.

Phthalates are called plasticizers because they make plastic more flexible and resilient.

“There have been a lot of studies looking at phthalates in the indoor environment. There’s been a constant correlation with higher incidents of asthma. A recent study showed a correlation with autism,” Gearhart said.

“These guys have no proof at all. It’s all speculative links,” said Allen Blakey, a spokesman for the Vinyl Institute, a trade group.


Blakey added that the CSPC in 2003 concluded that PVC toys containing phthalates did not pose a health risk to children. Congress overrode the agency by passing the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008, imposing the phthalate ban.

Among wallpapers, more than half contained one or more hazardous chemicals. One in eight contained cadmium levels over 100 parts per million.

Blakey said cadmium and lead were not used in any U.S. made products but acknowledged they were sometimes contaminants in imports. He added that the levels Healthystuff found were very small.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services considers cadmium “a known carcinogen.” Cadmium can also damage the lungs and long-term exposure may cause kidney damage.

Calls and e-mails to  the Wallcoverings Association late Monday afternoon were not immediately returned.

Healthystuff tested the wallpapers and floorings using a X-ray fluorescence (XRF) analyzer, which the group says measures chemicals at or close to the surface.

soundoff (56 Responses)
  1. Rosemarie

    And we wonder why cancer is on the rise........

    October 19, 2010 at 08:44 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Eeyore

      Cancer is on the rise mostly because all of us are living longer and not dying first of something else, and because of poor diet and lifestyle.

      October 19, 2010 at 10:29 | Report abuse |
    • Janna

      There could be a million reasons why someone's cancer cells become active, not to mention how they formed in the first place. It could have been that one test you took that exposed you to radiation or some virus that weakened you immune system just a little too low. It's too late to worry about the ones who are already sick. Studies are about protecting our future generations.

      October 19, 2010 at 11:08 | Report abuse |
    • nschroed

      and autism!!!

      October 19, 2010 at 15:39 | Report abuse |
    • Constantine

      Every disease is on the rise – all of them – cancer, autism

      October 19, 2010 at 21:37 | Report abuse |
  2. Chris

    I don't know what the media's deal is with trying to make everyone feel unsafe in every single situation.... You're not safe when you eat, you're not safe when you sleep, and you're not safe outdoors.

    Even if we lived in mud huts, the mud would test positive for toxic fungal spores.... Yeah we're surrounded by chemicals, but we're still better off than we were 100 years ago when an infection was most likely a death sentance. Sure, take measures to limit your exposure, but man, it's very very easy to create public anxiety when it doesn't have to be there

    October 19, 2010 at 08:54 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Nate

      So you would rather keep your head in the sand? Ignorance will not protect you from Pb exposure.

      October 19, 2010 at 09:46 | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      No, I don't prefer keeping my head in the sand... Like I said, take measures to limit your exposure, but there comes a point when you're really just going to drive yourself nuts thinking of all the different things that can kill you. I mean, you can get lead exposure from your garden hose, and that's something you use all the time....you're not constantly handling wallpaper or flooring, and the amount of weathering that happens over the years and years will probably not be a large enough exposure to cause any kind of damage.

      Ever since they started saying that you can get cancer from heating up a potato, I just kind of surrendured and realized the fact that we will drive ourselves crazy trying to erase our cancer risk. The anxiety associated with avoiding all these causes of death is more detrimental to your health than the thing you're trying to avoid.

      October 19, 2010 at 14:04 | Report abuse |
    • Kirstyloo

      It would seem logical that there would be some environmental limits placed on some of these products or a grading system that manufacturers could apply for. This way consumers could make the choices that they want to for their families. It also might encourage companies to use healthier practices if there was a marketing angle on it. I'd pay 10% more for a healthier product, and I'm guessing that a number of other people would too.

      October 19, 2010 at 15:17 | Report abuse |
  3. Jerv

    I wonder how many of these home improvement products were manufactured in China?

    October 19, 2010 at 09:00 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Joey

      Are things made anywhere other than China these days?

      October 19, 2010 at 17:09 | Report abuse |
  4. Shawn

    This is straight-out nonsense... lead in ceramic tiles? Anyone with a brain out there ever see ceramic tile 'wear down' and create 'ceramic dust'??? Maybe over the course of 20 years a microscopic layer of it will powder. Let's apply some sense and sensiibility to our lives again. Don't lick wallpaper, don't eat paint and don't snort powder off the floor and we'll all be fine.

    October 19, 2010 at 09:06 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Nate

      The problem is that you still get exposed to it. When you vacuum or sweep you will be stirring up the dust. When the wallpaper starts to break down or gets replaced, you will be exposed to whatever is in it.

      October 19, 2010 at 09:50 | Report abuse |
    • bonita

      Never saw a ceramic tiel wear down. lol. I was thinking the same thing.

      October 19, 2010 at 10:42 | Report abuse |
    • Miruna

      I agree, I tend to think that the fear factor is the main leader of our lives.

      October 19, 2010 at 11:03 | Report abuse |
    • Janna

      Did you not know that kids crawl before they walk, and they suck on hands that have been all over the place? Children are most at risk for irreversible effects of the environment. Most old houses have lead in them until you remodel with new flooring and walls, and then if that has lead and other toxins in it, you are still being exposed. Why do you think we are trying to go GREEN? For the H*ll of it? No, you fool. For our children and grandchildren. Only an idiot would not use the technology of today for a better tomorrow. Progression is what human history is all about right??? Drink a soda, eat some chips, and lay back down on your couch. We don't want the opinion of fools.

      October 19, 2010 at 11:05 | Report abuse |
  5. Nate

    Why isn't anyone asking how the Pb and other chemicals are getting into these items in the first place. It seems to me that Pb and Cd are not essential to manufacturing ceramic.

    October 19, 2010 at 09:48 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Janna

      The same reason they place Mono-sodium Glutamate (MSG) and High Fructose Corn Syrup in food, so it lasts longer or is less likely to break down. Basically for money purposes. If you make a product more reliable aka BETTER than it was, who cares what you put into it to get the results? That's what people with dollar signs in their eyes think. Laws are made to keep people in line. Studies are done to back the laws necessary to keep people safe.

      October 19, 2010 at 11:11 | Report abuse |
  6. Mary

    Like seriously do u guys have to like were not safe any where the whole world is full with chemicals LIKE GROW UP.....:p

    October 19, 2010 at 09:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. ArthurB

    I just attendted the national Young Onset Parkinson Conference in Atlanta, Georgia and one of the topics of discussion was environmental contributors to Parkinson's Disease. We've got some interesting interviews from the conference, and the entire conference was webcast. Archives of the webcast will be available. Go to parkinson.org.

    For out vlog, go to


    For more videos, including out Transmit Dopamine music video, go to youtube.com/user/seethebigc

    October 19, 2010 at 10:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Wallace

    Anyone who tries to discredit the dangers of chemicals and plasticizers in the home must be an industry shill, or has more sinister purposes.

    Google "George Bush" and "arsenic" and see what big business pulled-off to ruin our nation's water a decade ago.

    October 19, 2010 at 10:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Rosemarie

    Let's get back to making things in the USA and having quality control.

    October 19, 2010 at 11:05 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Kirstyloo

      I agree, but it means that we'll have to pay more. More for labor...more for better ingredients. Will Americans make the choice of jobs and health? Probably not or manufacturing jobs wouldn't have moved out of the country over the past few decades. I hate to say, but we just want more stuff.

      October 19, 2010 at 15:21 | Report abuse |
  10. Tracy

    Persons installing ceramic tile and vinyl flooring are the most at risk from being exposed to these chemicals (there is A LOT of dust creating when cutting tile, mixing grout, glue vapors), so at the very least, OSHA or someone needs to be regulating what the permissible exposure levels are.

    October 19, 2010 at 11:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Rick McDaniel

    The big question is.......how many of the "tainted" products, are imported from China, or other foreign countries, rather than being made within the US?

    Are imports killing America?

    October 19, 2010 at 12:00 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Bad Patient

      Where are our agencies that are supposed to be protecting us? (they were bought off and told to look the other way and charged with different tasks evidently)

      October 20, 2010 at 06:33 | Report abuse |
  12. hagster

    I wonder if Nate realizes how much lead is in his keyboard, mouse, etc. Keep living in your bubble(It's probably filled with lead too).

    October 19, 2010 at 12:34 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Nate

      I am aware of how toxic electronics can be. That is why I bought a Mac...which tends to have lower amounts of toxic chemicals (Pb and BFRs), if they haven't stopped using them altogether (As, Hg, PVC). Look, I know that we live in a chemical environment. It is just that simple. But tell me why we would be putting demonstrably toxic chemicals into things that seemingly don't need them. I am going to be a dad in about two weeks and I don't want my child's intellect to be stunted by needless exposure to Pb, Cd, phthalates, or any other thing just so industry can make a quick buck.

      October 19, 2010 at 13:22 | Report abuse |
  13. Julie Labrouste

    If you have cancer, or asthma, or any number of other mysteriously caused illnesses, THIS is probably the type of thing that caused it to happened. Corporations would saturate baby blankets with cyanide if it made them more money.

    October 19, 2010 at 13:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. uglymontreal

    There are also toxins in paint, especially aerosol paints, the kind used by the graffiti vandals who are defacing Montreal. They contain besides chemical propellants, adhesives, pigments, and other cancinogenic additives that are inhaled. And equally toxic solvents are used to erase them. All these chemicals then seep into the city's water table, putting everyone at risk of diseases that affect the brain and nervous system, to say nothing of a person's liver, kidneys, and bone marrow.

    October 19, 2010 at 15:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Veggiehead

    "Blakey said cadmium and lead were not used in any U.S. made products but acknowledged they were sometimes contaminants in imports. He added that the levels Healthystuff found were very small."

    "Imports" is code for stuff made in China. Don't buy Chinese-manufactured products. It's that simple.

    October 19, 2010 at 15:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. grasshopper

    Well, this artical did a good job scaring people, but it does not provide any useful information about how to mitigate this concern. Are they any test kits I can get to test my tiles, or is there any brand identified that I should avoid. etc? I do not find ths article very helpful, just more alarming news.

    October 19, 2010 at 16:49 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Nate

      Good point.

      October 19, 2010 at 17:08 | Report abuse |
    • Constantine

      Well – i guess its up to us to find that out

      October 19, 2010 at 21:39 | Report abuse |
  17. krain

    This is real eye-opener. I made a documentary about workers in China poisoned by cadmium (www.reddustdocumentary.org), and am definitely alarmed to learn that cadmium or lead would be found in wallpaper or flooring. Manufacturers should definitely phase-out the use of these heavy metals.

    October 19, 2010 at 17:52 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Bad Patient

      wow...that looks helpful. there was some concern that it is in our water supply so i will watch this. thanks for doing that.

      October 20, 2010 at 05:33 | Report abuse |
    • Bad Patient

      How is China doing in protecting themselves from corporations?

      October 20, 2010 at 06:30 | Report abuse |
  18. Andy

    No-VOC products made sense before this study, now there is hard data to back it up.

    – A

    October 19, 2010 at 20:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. jenstate

    There are also known carcinogens and toxins in personal care products. While we can't get rid of every little thing, knowing the worst offenders can certainly help. Here is an article that references 17 of the worst toxins in daily use products:

    October 19, 2010 at 20:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Constantine

    not surprising – not shocking at all

    October 19, 2010 at 21:38 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Constantine

      Think i read an – article or post about the toxic materials in sheet rock in homes in florida – apparently from china – not pointing any fingers though

      October 19, 2010 at 21:40 | Report abuse |
    • Bad Patient

      The world needs a dry wall that doesn't grow mold.

      October 20, 2010 at 05:29 | Report abuse |
  21. Bad Patient

    good that congress overrode pvc. i had a mp3 player with a neckband that made me break out with blisters on blisters...severe case. i called the company and they said it was pvc. ipod headphone wire coatings seem to be an issue for me also, but not as severe. i never called the company on that one...i can guess from the reaction though.

    October 20, 2010 at 05:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Handyman Sutton Coldfield

    I agree with what Krain said. Absolutely, those chemicals must be phased out knowing that these floorings and walls are supposedly for home improvement and beautification, and also, people are in great contact with it which may cause them disease, etc. So, to ensure safety, there must be a background check-up of these manufactured materials.

    October 20, 2010 at 08:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Charlie

    It seems that with all the flooring choices that are available, the general public would be able to choose the safest flooring product for their need. It seems that carpet and hardwood are the safest choices.


    November 17, 2010 at 09:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Sabine

    With so many affordable material choices it is easier than ever before to use "healthy home" materials. I am so glad that serious scientific studies are being conducted to alert the public.

    April 7, 2011 at 10:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Sabine

    With so many affordable material choices it is easier than ever to use "healthy home" materials in home remodel projects.. I am glad that serious scientific studies are being conducted to show the correlation between home building products and illness.www.SabinesHome.com

    April 7, 2011 at 10:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Joanne

    After we wallpapered our kitchen I suffered with asthma-like severe breathing problems. I had hot flushes, sweats, & was spitting up mucous & blood. Another person whom I spoke with had all the same symptoms as me from the wallpaper in her bedroom & she was also passing out. Her incident happened a few years before mine. We both purchased our wallpaper from the same store, but hers came from a different manufacturing company. My wallpaper contained fungicides. I became very sick. My life turned into a nightmare.

    June 25, 2013 at 02:45 | Report abuse | Reply
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    I found Awesome company who serve Flooring they offer best service and provide all types of flooring http://efloorsusa.com

    October 19, 2013 at 01:04 | Report abuse | Reply
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