Tens of millions of pounds of phthalates annually eliminated from vinyl flooring: That’s the victory our collaborative Mind the Store campaign scored in 2015 after we secured commitments by leading retailers to eliminate phthalates from the flooring. We did this by first testing dozens of floor tiles from the nations’ largest home improvement retailers, then reporting the results, meeting with the companies, and challenging them to step up. This effort was a collaboration between the Ecology Center, Safer Chemicals Healthy Families, the Environmental Health Strategy Center, and Healthy Building Network.
Four years later, our new tests found that the top retailers of flooring have honored that commitment. Their actions demonstrate the power that retailers have to transform the marketplace away from unnecessary toxic chemicals in building and consumer products to “mind the store.”
Driving phthalates out of flooring
In 2015, 58% of 65 vinyl floor tiles we tested contained elevated levels of phthalate plasticizers, including 100% of samples collected from Lumber Liquidators, 70% from The Home Depot, and 48% from Lowe’s. Over half of the top layers, made of virgin vinyl, contained phthalates. Many backing layers contained contaminants from recycled vinyl: lead, cadmium, antimony, and bromine (suggesting the presence of brominated flame retardants), for example. These contaminants were most likely from plastic electronic waste.
Fueled by our test results and public report, we persuaded the nation’s largest home improvement and flooring retailers to eliminate added phthalates from the flooring. The Home Depot was the first to commit to phasing out this hormone-disrupting class of chemicals by the end of 2015. We soon secured similar commitments from top competitors, including Lowe’s, Lumber Liquidators, and Menards. And in the month that followed, other major retailers of flooring joined them, including Ace Hardware and Floor & Décor.
Addressing toxic chemicals in recycled vinyl
Lumber Liquidators and Floor & Decor went even further by banning recycled vinyl from avoiding incorporating the associated hazardous contaminants. In November 2015, in response to our campaign, Lumber Liquidators announced the company’s new policy agreement to become the first major retailer to publicly ban the use of contaminated vinyl scrap plastic in flooring. The company committed to adopting new standards that require its suppliers of vinyl flooring to end all use of reprocessed vinyl plastic in vinyl flooring and limit lead in flooring to less than 100 parts per million (ppm). And Floor & Decor went even further by adopting the most stringent standards addressing contaminants in vinyl among the nation’s top flooring retailers. The company banned vinyl scrap plastic and limited lead, cadmium, toxic flame retardants, chromium, and mercury to 100 ppm.
How have top retailers implemented their bans on phthalates in flooring?
Almost four years later, we checked up on three of the largest flooring retailers. We purchased vinyl floor tiles in 2018 from The Home Depot (10 tiles), Lowe’s (13 tiles), and Lumber Liquidators (3 tiles). When available, we chose brands and patterns we had tested in 2015. We separated the tiles into their distinct top and bottom layers. In addition to testing for phthalates, we tested the tiles for heavy metals and bromine to identify whether contaminated recycled vinyl may be present. None of the new samples we tested contained phthalates at levels we could detect. We commend these retailers for following through on their commitment to eliminate toxic phthalates from vinyl flooring.