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What’s Getting Into You From Vinyl Flooring?

Many of us have concerns over the fact that people are constantly exposed to endocrine disruptors (chemicals that disrupt hormonal systems) in many common household and personal products. Even the vinyl flooring found in many homes  contains phthalates, which are endocrine disrupting chemicals. In the past year several studies have looked at vinyl flooring in homes and whether the chemicals in the flooring outgas into the air and then get into people living in the homes. The answer is YES - the chemicals in vinyl flooring do get into people living there, and they can be measured in urine (in the breakdown products of phthalates called metabolites).

Since research shows that endocrine disrupting chemicals have health effects, then the question is: Do chronic low levels do anything to people? Especially worrisome is, are they having an effect on the developing fetus when pregnant women are exposed to them and they get into the body? The following 2 studies looked at flooring, but keep in mind that we are exposed to phthalates in many, many products - e.g., plastic shower curtains, plastic food containers, some personal care products, household products. The problem is that the pthalates migrate out of the plastic products - they don't stay in the product. In the case of vinyl flooring - one can say that there are phthalate emissions from the flooring! And of course it gets into household dust.

Numerous studies found that phthalates (the phthalate metabolites) are routinely found in people of all ages - throughout the world. It can be measured in our blood (serum) and in our urine. Studies find them in breastmilk and also in amniotic fluid. Research finds associations associations between exposure to several phthalates and various effects on human health, including reproductive effects.

The following are two complementary studies. Study 1 looked at vinyl flooring (called PVC flooring in the article) in homes (in the kitchen and bedrooms), and found that phthalates get into pregnant women, and can be measured in the urine. Study 2 (from Duke University), found that chemicals children are exposed to in the home from vinyl flooring and the sofa (flame-retardants) can be measured in their blood and urine. The researchers took all sorts of samples from homes and children over a 3 year period and found evidence in the children of exposure to phthalates, organophosphate esters, brominated flame retardants, parabens, phenols, antibacterial agents and perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

So we have proof that these chemicals are getting into us. We can't avoid them totally, but can lower our exposure levels - look for upholstered furniture without flame retardants (read the label!), and don't install vinyl flooring (wood and tile floors are OK). 

Study 1 excerpts. Author Shu et al in the journal Indoor Air: PVC flooring at home and uptake of phthalates in pregnant women

Phthalates are used as plasticizers in polyvinyl chloride (PVC) materials and it is known that phthalates may migrate into the surrounding environment and then become a source for human uptake. The aim of the study was to investigate whether residential PVC flooring was related to the urinary levels of phthalate metabolites determined in pregnant women.

The data were from the Swedish SELMA study where sampling was conducted during the time period 2007‐2010. Spot urine samples from 1674 women at the end of the first trimester were analyzed for 14 metabolites from seven phthalates and one phthalate alternative. Data on flooring material in the kitchen and the parents’ bedrooms as well as potential confounders were collected by postal questionnaires at the same time as the urine samples were taken. ...This study has found significantly higher urinary levels of the BBzP metabolite (MBzP) in pregnant women living in homes with PVC flooring as compared to homes with other flooring materials.

Practical Implications: - PVC flooring in the kitchen and the parents’ bedrooms was associated with higher level of the BBzP metabolite MBzP in a woman’s first trimester urine. - Since BBzP is a regulated phthalate, our findings may bring the awareness of the usage of consumer products including BBzP.

... Both these statistical methods show that PVC flooring might be a strong source for human uptake of BBzP. A number of other studies support this major finding. ... A cohort study of 239 children (5 years of age) in New York City reported that children from homes with PVC or linoleum flooring had significantly higher urinary MBzP concentration than other children.

Study 2. From Science Daily: Children carry evidence of toxins from home flooring and furniture

Children living in homes with all vinyl flooring or flame-retardant chemicals in the sofa have significantly higher concentrations of potentially harmful semi-volatile organic compounds (SVOCs) in their blood or urine than children from homes where these materials are not present, according to a new Duke University-led study.

They found that children living in homes where the sofa in the main living area contained flame-retardant polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) in its foam had a six-fold higher concentration of PBDEs in their blood serum. Exposure to PBDEs has been linked in laboratory tests to neurodevelopmental delays, obesity, endocrine and thyroid disruption, cancer and other diseases.

Children from homes that had vinyl flooring in all areas were found to have concentrations of benzyl butyl phthalate metabolite in their urine that were 15 times higher than those in children living with no vinyl flooring. Benzyl butyl phthalate has been linked to respiratory disorders, skin irritations, multiple myeolma and reproductive disorders.

"SVOCs are widely used in electronics, furniture and building materials and can be detected in nearly all indoor environments," said Heather Stapleton, an environmental chemist at Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment, who led the research. "Human exposure to them is widespread, particularly for young children who spend most of their time indoors and have greater exposure to chemicals found in household dust."

To address that gap, in 2014 Stapleton and colleagues from Duke, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, and Boston University began a three-year study of in-home exposures to SVOCs among 203 children from 190 families. ... To that end, the team analyzed samples of indoor air, indoor dust and foam collected from furniture in each of the children's homes, along with a handwipe sample, urine and blood from each child.

"We quantified 44 biomarkers of exposure to phthalates, organophosphate esters, brominated flame retardants, parabens, phenols, antibacterial agents and perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)," Stapleton said.

The researchers presented their findings Sunday, Feb. 17 at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, D.C.  as part of the scientific session, "Homes at the Center of Chemical Exposure: Uniting Chemists, Engineers and Health Scientists."

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