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2019-01-09 / Features

Earth Talk

Dear EarthTalk: I need to replace the wall-to-wall carpeting in my basement. Any tips for finding something new that won’t aggravate my allergies or otherwise pollute my indoor air ?

—Jasper Manheim,
Los Angeles, CA

Carpeting is an oft-overlooked culprit when it comes to compromised indoor air quality, but the chemicals used to produce it are typically far from natural. According to the non-profit Environmental Working Group (EWG), most carpeting is made from synthetic fibers derived from non-renewable, petroleum-based sources and emits harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air.

Meanwhile, carpet backing is typically made from synthetic rubber derived from styrene and butadiene, also respiratory irritants. And that new carpet smell we know so well comes from the offgassing of 4-PCH, a potent VOC byproduct of the synthetic rubber manufacturing process known to cause respiratory problems, eye irritation and rashes. EWG adds that it also can react with other chemicals to produce formaldehyde, a known human carcinogen.


Greener carpet is made from wool, jute or cotton and emits little if any VOCs. Credit: Dominika Gregušová, Pexels Greener carpet is made from wool, jute or cotton and emits little if any VOCs. Credit: Dominika Gregušová, Pexels Likewise, the glues and sealants used to install most wall-to-wall carpeting come chock full of more VOCs and, in some cases, toxic petroleum based solvents. To add

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