A recent article in the Washington Post calls out new substances that have been added to the list of "known human carcinogen" or "reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen". From reading the article, one would be concerned about the following chemicals showing up in their home decor:
- Formaldehyde and styrene (noted as being used in items such as carpet backing)
- O-Ntrotoluene (noted as being used to make dyes for wool, cotton, silk and leather)
The good news is that reputable carpet manufacturers do NOT use formaldehyde or styrene in their backing (you should check with your manufacturer to be sure). The carpet industry is one of the most advanced when it comes to eco-friendly products and many industries are using them as a guide when changing their own practices.
I recently installed a gorgeous wool carpet which had a backing made out of polypropylene. According to the manufacturer, "Polypropylene is used as a primary backing and sometimes as a secondary backing in carpet manufacturing. It is also a petroleum-based by-product and is so safe that it is commonly used as air filters, bandages, and protective netting in hospitals." Other safe backings consist of Synthetic Latex, which possesses NONE of the health risks associated with Natural Rubber Latex.
One area to be cautious of in terms of formaldehyde emissions is in purchasing MDF board furniture. Currently, the US limits formaldehyde emissions from MDF to 0.3ppm. This is 3 times the level accepted by Germany and Sweden, for example. As you can see from this article, the US has been slow to address this concern. Hopefully, the fact that formaldehyde is now listed as a known carcinogen may help change the limits to more acceptable ones. When purchasing online or from lower quality vendors, definitely ask if the goods are made with adhesives that use formaldehyde (and if they don't know, don't buy!).
Regarding, O-Nitrotoluene, exposure is more of a concern at the manufacturing level rather than for the end-user. It is used primarly in the production of Magenta dye and Azo dye (used primarily for apparel fabrics). We researched a recently selected cotton print for a client and discovered that it does not in fact use Azo dyes. It's good to know that the workers who are producing this fabric are not being exposed to a harmful chemical. For certain toxic dyes that are still in production, although limited, the risk to the end user is nil - they have been found to be totally safe when on the fiber in its final state.
I am not a chemist, of course. However, I do have a keen interest in ensuring the health and welfare of my clients. If you ever have a question about a product being sourced by me or one you have found yourself, please don't hesitate to ask.
P.S. Read Marilyn Marchione's response to the original article for an interesting perspective - and tell me what you think on my Facebook page!