The end is near for phthalate plasticizers

James Vallette | July 09, 2015 | Materials

The market for toxic plasticizers in building materials is closing.  Yesterday, a third major retailer – Menards – announced that it is following Home Depot and Lowe’s leads, and will end the use of phthalate plasticizers in its vinyl floors by the end of 2015.  This follows similar actions by the world’s largest flooring manufacturers – Mohawk and Tarkett – and a stark warning issued in the new issue of Consumer Reports.

In an email reported in yesterday’s Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Menards spokesperson Jeff Abbot wrote, "We are still aware of the phthalate concern and have been working diligently with our vendors to eliminate any flooring products that contain phthalates.”

Over twenty percent of the composition of some polyvinyl chloride (PVC, also called vinyl) sheet flooring is phthalate plasticizer. Public health authorities have determined that many phthalates are detrimental to developmental health. Some phthalates are carcinogens. 

In its August 2015 issue of Consumer Reports, the Consumers Union warns that parents should regularly mop vinyl floors that contain phthalates, and wash their toddlers’ hands, especially if children crawl on the floors.[1]

The Consumers Union tested 17 vinyl floors and found small amounts of phthalates on the surface layers – enough however to warrant action by parents.  “(A)lthough phthalate levels are very low, we recommend that parents of toddlers wet-mop often and wash those little hands after they’ve been crawling on a vinyl floor,” it reports. Frequent cleaning could help remove dust particles which are known to accumulate phthalates commonly used in these floorings.   (Please see our accompanying article in the Pharos Signal for further details about this and other recent tests).

Phthalates migrate from PVC, are accumulating in people’s bodies, and can cause developmental harm. These have become established facts in recent years. In response, retailers and flooring manufacturers are specifying phthalate-free floors.

Yesterday, Menards also informed the Safer Chemicals Healthy Families (SCHF) campaign, “We are planning to stop selling anything with phthalates by the end of the year. We are no longer purchasing flooring products that contain any amount of phthalates.”

The Healthy Building Network (HBN) has been working with SCHF to identify high hazard chemicals in high volume retail products. Last year, we identified phthalates as a simple and highly impactful transformation in the making. HBN researcher Sarah Lott’s study, Phthalate-free Plasticizers in PVC, supported this campaign.

Marketplace change is sweeping vinyl floors more globally, too. HBN recently learned that the world’s largest flooring manufacturer, Mohawk, is also phasing out the poison plasticizers. Rochelle Routman, VP of sustainability for Mohawk, told HBN that it “long ago” phased out the use of ortho-phthalates in all the vinyl floors that it manufacturers, and is working to eliminate them from third party manufactured floors.[2]

As HBN reported in April, Tarkett, the world’s second largest flooring company, has phased out the intentional addition of phthalates to its flooring.[3]

Now that flooring companies are eliminating the use of phthalates, the other building material producers should follow. Phthalate manufacturers – BASF and ExxonMobil – appear to be the only parties left with an interest in keeping these chemicals in commerce.

[1] See our accompanying article, “Consumer Reports warns parents: phthalates migrate from PVC floors,” published today in HBN’s Pharos Signal blog.

[2] Personal communication, Rochelle Routman, Vice President of Sustainability, Mohawk Industries, June 22, 2015

[3] HBN first reported Tarkett’s phase-out in our May 2015 report, Post-Consumer Polyvinyl Chloride in Building Products: “Tarkett has phased out the use of virgin phthalates from all their products… In order to ensure that new floors contain no more than 0.1% phthalates, Tarkett’s only sourcing of post-consumer PVC comes from vinyl composition tile floors in the U.S. that contain relatively low levels of these plasticizers.”