Details on the new Home Depot Chemical Strategy

James Vallette | October 25, 2017 | Newsletter

Home Depot, the largest building product retailer in the U.S., has announced a sweeping new Chemical Strategy that considers several building product categories, including carpet, fiberglass insulation, paints, and laminate flooring.  (See related Healthy Building News article).

Home Depot’s Chemical Strategy promises to accelerate important detoxification trends in certain building product categories. Avoiding hazards in products is often a function-by-function process. In this blog we provide a detailed analysis of the impacts the strategy will have on making building products healthier. We also identify areas where chemical hazards remain and more action is needed.

Paints:

Home Depot has eliminated a family of functional additives -- alkylphenol ethoxylates (APEOs), including nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs) -- from most interior and exterior latex water-based paints sold in its U.S. and Canadian stores. It will phase the rest out by the end of 2019.

APEOs are surfactants that help keep substances mixed in paints.  But NPEs contain and break down into chemicals called nonylphenols, which are highly persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic. These chemicals, when released to the environment, contaminate the food chain. NPEs are also suspected endocrine disruptors, which tend to affect children the most.  

Nonylphenol ethoxylates are mostly phased-out in Europe and Japan, but still common in the U.S., even though the EPA has identified over 200 “safer surfactants” to replace them.  Home Depot is the first large U.S. paint seller to announce a categorical phaseout of APE/NPEs, although Benjamin Moore, Imperial Paints, and Sherwin-Williams also have product lines free of them.    

Home Depot’s strategy for interior and exterior latex water-based wall paints sold in the U.S. and Canada now excludes these substances: 

  • Triclosan and Formaldehyde. These chemicals are used as biocidal additives. Triclosan is associated with hormone disruption and was recently removed from other consumer products after FDA found no evidence of efficacy as an antibacterial. Formaldehyde is known to cause cancer in humans. More action needed: Paint manufacturers rarely disclose identity of biocides; some are more harmful than others and should be disclosed and eliminated. 
  • Isocyanates. Severe respiratory toxicants that are the foundation of polyurethane systems. Isocyanates in building products are of increasing concern to public health officials.
  • Lead / Heavy Metals. Already phased-out in U.S. and Canadian standard indoor and outdoor latex paints, although heavy metal pigments are still exported from Canada to Asia, Africa and Latin America for use in coatings and plastics.

In addition to paints, Home Depot's strategy eliminates certain toxic chemicals in carpet, fiberglass insulation, and laminate flooring.

Carpet: 

The Chemical Strategy says all indoor “wall to wall carpet sold through The Home Depot U.S. and Canada” is now free of:  

  • Coal Fly Ash. Used as filler in backing. Contains toxic heavy metals, promotes continued burning of coal.
  • Organotins. Reproductive hazard, catalyst used in polyurethane and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) backings. 
  • Ortho-phthalates. Used as plasticizers in PVC backing; linked to asthma and endocrine disruption. 
  • PFOA or PFOS. Synthetic chemicals not found in nature that last millions of years in the environment; they bioaccumulate in wildlife and humans. Health hazards include cancer and hormone disruption. The carpet industry phased these out 10 years ago as intentional content, although some still remain at residual levels as byproducts of production practices or decomposition. More action needed: Many replacement stain repellants belong to same class of chemicals as PFOA and PFOS and should be eliminated.
  • Triclosan. Allowed for use in carpet as an antimicrobial. Associated with hormone disruption and recently removed from other consumer products after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration found no evidence of efficacy as an antibacterial. More action needed: Carpet manufacturers rarely disclose identity of biocides; some more harmful than others and should be eliminated.
  • Formaldehyde. Present in some antimicrobial formulations; known to cause cancer in humans.
  • Vinyl Chloride. Monomer of PVC, associated with a wide range of health impacts including cancer and hormone disruption throughout its lifecycle.
  • Nonylphenol Ethoxylates. Surfactants with ready replacements; persistent and highly toxic in aquatic environments; detected in human breast milk and urine, linked to reproductive and developmental effects.
  • Heavy Metals. Still used as stabilizers in PVC resins made in Asia; these impact human brain and organ function.

The bans on legacy chemicals could necessitate testing for these substances in any products containing recycled carpet.   

More action needed: The new Home Depot carpet policy does not yet address some significant concerns that we have raised, including halogenated flame retardants in carpet pad and NPEs in carpet adhesives. For further info, see our latest report, Eliminating Toxics in Carpet: Lessons for the Future of Recycling

Insulation:  

The retailer says all fiberglass insulation products sold in its U.S. and Canadian stores do not include:

  • Formaldehyde. This potent carcinogen was a mainstay of  binders used in residential batt insulation until 2015. (See our newsletter, “Residential Fiberglass Insulation Transformed: Formaldehyde is No More.”) Still used in some higher density fiberglass products such as pipe insulation.
  • Brominated flame retardants and other halogenated flame retardants. These synthetic chemicals are not found in nature; they will last millions of years in the environment and bioaccumulate in wildlife and humans. Health impacts include cancer and reproductive and developmental impacts. 
  • Antimony trioxide. A non-halogenated but carcinogenic flame retardant used in some fiberglass board and blanket insulation facings.
  • Added heavy metals. These impact human brain and organ function.

More action needed: The current chemical strategy only restricts chemicals in fiberglass insulation. Many other types of insulation contain the same and additional chemicals and chemical classes of concern. Mineral wool insulation still typically contains formaldehyde-based binders. Some formaldehyde-free mineral wool batts are now available and should be preferred. Rigid foam insulation products and spray foam insulation and sealants contain halogenated flame retardants.  Spray foam insulation and sealant products react on-site when applied and expose the applicators and others in the building to hazardous isocyanates. Do-it-yourselfers, who may not always be aware of the proper safety equipment, are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of isocyanates. 
     
Laminate Flooring:

According to Home Depot, “Laminate flooring at The Home Depot is verified by either GREENGUARD® Gold or FloorScore® certification to contain 0.0073 ppm or less of formaldehyde, which is a stricter standard than CARB 2 of 0.05 ppm.”

HBN Policy Director Tom Lent, who has been tracking the formaldehyde issue for decades, says Home Depot’s standard “is very low - currently the best in class for restrictions on formaldehyde emissions. Given the ability of formaldehyde emissions to increase with time, particularly when controlled by scavengers, HBN still encourages complete elimination of the use of formaldehyde based binders.”

All in all, the Home Depot 2017 policy represents important steps forward on the still long path to inherently safer chemistry on the shelves of home improvement retailers.

Home Depot's Chemical Strategy is contained in the company's 2017 Sustainability Report (see pages 67-69), available here.

HBN has also written a general overview about this topic here.