NEW YORK TIMES
APRIL 22, 2015
Facing pressure from consumer groups, Home Depot said it would discontinue use of a potentially harmful chemical in its vinyl flooring by the end of the year.
The retailer is asking about a half-dozen suppliers to phase out their use of ortho-phthalates, according to Stephen Holmes, a spokesman. Most of Home Depot’s flooring does not contain the chemicals at all, Mr. Holmes said, adding that the move would affect about 15 percent of the company’s vinyl products.
“Phthalates are one of the top 10 groups of chemicals that we’re concerned with right now,” said Jeff Gearhart, the research director for HealthyStuff.org, a research group affiliated with the nonprofit organization Ecology Center. “We think it’s an avoidable hazard simply because there are alternatives on the market.”
Ortho-phthalates are used as plasticizers, meaning that they can make products more flexible. Consumer safety advocates say there is a growing body of evidence linking some phthalates to reproductive and developmental problems, particularly in male babies.
“This change is part of our effort to continually challenge our suppliers to develop new, innovative options for our customers,” Mr. Holmes said in an email. He also highlighted the company’s efforts several years ago to introduce paints that contained little or no volatile organic compounds.
One form of ortho-phthalate used in some of Home Depot’s vinyl flooring, DEHP, has been linked to liver tumors in animals, but its effect on humans is unclear, said Johanna Congleton, a senior scientist for the Environmental Working Group. Ortho-phthalates are commonly found in other products and even in food, she said.
Some companies — including Johnson & Johnson, one of the world’s largest consumer products manufacturers — have already decided to stop using certain kinds of ortho-phthalates. The company does not use the same types as Home Depot, said Carol Goodrich, a spokeswoman.
HealthyStuff.org worked with the consumer advocacy group Safer Chemicals Healthy Families to test 65 types of vinyl flooring for ortho-phthalates. Researchers found that 58 percent contained the chemicals, the group announced on Wednesday. Safer Chemicals Healthy Families said it had been working with Home Depot since last spring to help develop a new policy around ortho-phthalates and was urging other retailers to do the same.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission has no limit for ortho-phthalates in flooring, although it has a standard of 1,000 parts per million for toys and children’s articles. Mr. Gearhart said that 38 vinyl flooring samples exceeded 10,000 parts per million, adding that his group looks for comparable safety standards when no direct standard exists.
The Safer Chemicals Healthy Families and HealthyStuff.org report followed health concerns last month about Chinese-made wood laminate products from Lumber Liquidators, another major flooring retailer. All Lumber Liquidators flooring contained ortho-phthalates, according to the report.