Business

Health groups find toxic chemicals in flooring products

Environmental and consumer groups have found that some flooring sold by national chains like Lowe’s and Ace Hardware contain dangerous chemicals.

The Ecology Center, the Michigan-based group that led the study, worked with local groups to collect and test vinyl tile samples from building supply retailers. More than half of the samples tested by the group contained phthalates, a chemical used to soften vinyl flooring that has been linked to negative health effects.

Researchers focused their efforts on vinyl tile flooring because certain varieties have become popular with consumers recently, said Jeff Gearhart, a spokesman for the Ecology Center. Mike Schade, an anti-toxin campaigner whose group also helped with the study, said the hazards of vinyl tile were also less widely known than the risks of sheet vinyl, which contains more phthalates.

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“We think that this is going to have huge ripple effects through the flooring industry,” said Schade, who works for the group Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families. Home Depot agreed last spring to begin phasing the dangerous chemical out of its vinyl flooring products and is set to finish the job at the end of this year, said Schade, who hopes other sellers will follow its lead.

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Boston-based Clean Water Action participated in the project by gathering samples at a Lowe’s store in Braintree. Cindy Luppi, the group’s New England director, said the Armstrong tiles the group tested didn’t contain phthalates and tile makers should use alternative materials.

“We have been in conversations with retailers and manufacturers,” Luppi said. “Modern innovation can get us to safer chemicals and safer products, and a lot of the innovators are located in Massachusetts.”

Flooring samples were obtained from Lowe’s, Ace Hardware, Menard’s, Build.com, and Lumber Liquidators for the study. The 17 samples from Lumber Liquidators and four from Ace Hardware all had phthalates in them, researchers said, and 13 out of 27 samples from Lowe’s tested positive for the chemical. Two vinyl tile brands, Armstrong and Designer Image, had extremely low or no phthalates. Gearhart, the Ecology Center spokesman, said the sampling was done based on what products were available.

Home Depot confirmed it was phasing out the materials. Lowe’s didn’t immediately respond for comment. Ace Hardware and Menard’s didn’t return requests for comment. Lumber Liquidators said it is “actively transitioning” away from phthalate-containing vinyl floor tiles and said its products were safe.

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The report comes several weeks after an investigation by the program 60 Minutes that found some of the company’s laminate flooring contained high levels of formaldehyde. The company has said its products are safe.

Jack Newsham can be reached at jack.newsham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TheNewsHam.