Is Your Floor Getting Under Your Skin? How Home Flooring Might Affect Your Family’s Health

A new study from Karlstad University in Sweden found that toxic chemicals in our flooring can be absorbed by our bodies. Not only are harmful chemicals in the air, water, and food we consume, but they’re also in certain types of flooring materials. These chemicals, known as phthalates, are softening agents found in plastics like PVC and are believed to cause asthma, allergies, and other chronic diseases in children. Toddlers are particularly at risk as they crawl across such flooring.

Phthalates found in urine samples

The study analyzed urine samples from 83 randomly selected children between the ages of 2 and 6 months. Four types of phthalates were measured in the samples, and data was collected about various factors, including the type of flooring in the children’s homes and their family’s lifestyle.

Researchers found that the levels of certain phthalates (MBzP, a BBzP metabolite) were higher in the urine of babies whose bedrooms had PVC flooring materials. Additionally, the levels of another phthalate metabolite related to DEHP were lower in 2-month-old children if they were exclusively breastfed with no supplements.

According to Carl-Gustaf Bornehag, professor of public health at Karlstad University and leader of the study, “we can establish that there are many sources that should be taken into consideration with regard to the uptake of banned chemicals, and that we do not only ingest them in our food.” The findings indicate that phthalates can be absorbed in various ways, including through food, breathing, and skin contact.

The dangers of phthalates

Phthalates are a group of chemicals used to make plastics more flexible and difficult to break. They are commonly found in products such as vinyl flooring, adhesives, detergents, lubricating oils, automotive plastics, raincoats, and even personal care products like soaps, shampoos, hair sprays, and nail polishes.

Over the years, numerous studies have linked exposure to phthalates with a range of health issues. These include:

  • Hormonal disruptions: Phthalates have been identified as endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), which means they interfere with the body’s hormonal systems. This can lead to reproductive issues, birth defects, and developmental disorders.

  • Childhood development: Prenatal exposure to phthalates has been associated with cognitive and behavioral issues in children, such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

  • Asthma and allergies: A study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives found a strong association between phthalate exposure and asthma and allergies in children.

  • Cancer: Some phthalates, such as di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP), have been classified as possible human carcinogens by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

Reducing exposure to phthalates

While it may be difficult to avoid phthalates completely, there are several steps you can take to minimize your exposure:

  1. Choose safer flooring: Consider alternatives to PVC flooring, such as hardwood, bamboo, cork, or linoleum. These materials tend to be more eco-friendly and do not contain phthalates.
  2. Dust and clean regularly: Keep your home clean and dust-free, as phthalates can accumulate in house dust. Vacuum and mop floors regularly, and use a damp cloth to wipe down surfaces.

  3. Invest in an air purifier: An air purifier with a HEPA filter can help capture particles that contain phthalates and prevent them from circulating in your indoor air.

  4. Avoid plastic products: Whenever possible, choose products made from natural materials over those made from plastics, particularly those labeled with recycling codes 3 (PVC) or 7 (other).

  5. Use safer personal care products: Look for phthalate-free personal care products, such as those labeled as “fragrance-free” or that use essential oils for scent. The Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep [(] cosmetics database is a valuable resource for finding safer options.

By taking these steps, you can reduce your family’s exposure to harmful phthalates and create a healthier living environment.