A recent study found that the same chemicals and heavy metals that have been banned in children's toys are still appearing in home improvement products such as floorings and wall coverings. The researchers focused on heavy metals such as lead and cadium as well as phthalates. These compounds can have negative medical consequences including learning disabilities, early onset of puberty, and birth defects.
An article in the Chicago sun times details some of the potentially dangerous products investigated in the study, but notes that the Consumer Product Safety Commission is not yet ready to endorse the findings. According to a spokesperson from the Commission, "The mere presence of a chemical in a product does not make a product a hazard. It is the exposure to particular levels of the chemical under particular conditions that makes the hazard."
The study was authored by The Ecology Center of Michigan. This group had previously raised the alarm on these same chemicals and metals in toys. Four types of phthalates have now been banned from children's toys. The group notes that small children have extensive exposure to items of concerns such as vinyl flooring.
According to the study, the greatest risk is when these products begin to break down and the dangerous metals and chemicals can be released. Plasticizers used in wallpaper coatings are not chemically bound to the backing paper and can be released into the air. Foot traffic and cleaning can break down flooring which can release the compounds as dust. This dust can then be inhaled or ingested by children.
There may still be conflicting opinions about whether these compounds in home improvement products present a serious danger. But the research director for the Ecology Center mentions several alternatives that are known to be safe, such as flooring made of hardwood, cork or linoleum and wallpaper that does not have a plasticized coating.
Source: Chicago Sun Times - Chemical dangers lurk in walls, floors, Tina Lam, January 24, 2011