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May 24, 2012
Floors That Make You And Your Children Sick


A new study from Sweden shows that chemicals from PVC flooring materials is absorbed by our bodies. The study shows that children can ingest these softening agents with food but also by breathing and through the skin.



The study at Karlstad University shows that phthalates from flooring materials is another level of toxicity we are all experiencing on a daily basis. Almost all soft flooring manufactured with plasticizers including laminate, vinyl, linoleum, composites, PVC and many types of cork flooring products contain phthalates.

Phthalates are a group of chemical compounds that occur in construction materials and a great number of common consumer goods such as toys, cleaning solvents, packaging, etc. Phthalates are suspected of disrupting hormones, premature births and may be related to several chronic diseases in children, like asthma and allergies, as shown in earlier studies.

The U.S. enacted a law banning phthalates in toys and other children’s products. Europe had earlier taken this same action because of the concern that phthalates may cause abnormal reproductive tracts, sperm damage, and reduced testosterone. The CDC has weighed in with body burden studies that shockingly demonstrate that phthalates are found in virtually every human body. One of the reasons if because they continue to be allowed on the floors we walk on.

Flooring materials using softened PVC contain phthalates and have previously been shown to be a significant source of phthalates in indoor dust. This new study was designed to investigate whether flooring materials using PVC and other housing-related factors, together with other individual factors, can be tied to the uptake of phthalates by infants.

Urine samples were taken from 83 randomly selected children between the ages of two and six months by the county council in Varmland in western Sweden. The prevalence of four types of phthalates in the urine was measured, and data were collected about flooring materials and the home, the family’s lifestyle, and individual factors for the infants. The levels of certain phthalates (MBzP, a BBzP metabolite) proved to be higher in the urine of babies that had PVC materials on their bedroom floor. The levels of another phthalate metabolite related to DEHP were lower in two-month-old children if they were exclusively breastfed, with no supplements.

DEHP contaminates the environment when it's released from the factories that use it, which is why levels are higher in industrial areas, and near landfills and waste disposal sites. Like the notorious pesticide DDT, DEHP attaches strongly to the soil and stays there for a very long time, and it's now being found in municipal drinking water supplies--and in the tissues of more and more people. You can also inhale DEHP, because plastic materials in your home and car "outgas" into the air you breathe--think about it, that "new shower curtain smell."

When DEHP enters the human body, the compound is metabolized into various substances that are more readily excreted. Unfortunately, the most important of these metabolites, mono-ethylhexyl phthalate
(MEHP) is thought to be responsible for much of DEHP's toxicity.

The enzymes that break down DEHP into MEHP are found mainly in the intestines but also occur in the liver, kidney, lungs, pancreas, and
plasma. Because conversion of DEHP to MEHP occurs primarily in the intestinal tract, exposures to DEHP by ingestion may be more hazardous than by intravenous exposure, which largely bypasses the
intestinal tract. However, MEHP has been measured in stored adult human serum as well as in the blood of children who absorb the chemical through the skin.

MEHP is not the only metabolite of DEHP and many of the known secondary metabolites have not been studied for their toxicity. The initial metabolism of DEHP is qualitatively similar among mammalian species, so that animal studies are likely to be useful in understanding the consequences of human exposure. The ability to metabolize DEHP is age-related and may also depend on underlying health status in ways that are not well- understood. It is generally accepted that the toxicity of DEHP via one route of exposure should be considered relevant to exposure by other routes, in the absence of evidence to the contrary.

Earlier studies from the current group have shown that PVC flooring can be tied to the occurrence of phthalates in indoor dust, and that exposure for BBzP in indoor dust could be associated with allergic conditions in children. These new data thus show that the uptake of phthalates in infants can be related to flooring materials using softened PVC in the home. It should be pointed out that both DEHP and BBzP are banned for use in toys for small children owing to health risks.

“With this study as a basis, we can establish that there are other sources that should be taken into consideration in regard to the uptake of banned chemicals and that we do not only ingest them in our food,” says Carl-Gustaf Bornehag, professor of public health at Karlstad University and leader of the study. The findings also show that phthalates can be taken up in different ways, both through food and probably through breathing and through the skin.

Marco Torres is a research specialist, writer and consumer advocate for healthy lifestyles. He holds degrees in Public Health and Environmental Science and is a professional speaker on topics such as disease prevention, environmental toxins and health policy.


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