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Last updated January 1, 2014

On the Carpet

Environmental Health Perspectives, Vol 101(5), May 1993

The stalemate between consumers who contend that their carpet is making them sick and an industry which has long denied any evidence of carpet culpability may soon be over. In a hearing June 11, the Georgia-based Carpet and Rug Industry (CRI) told the House Government Operations Subcommittee on Environment, Energy and Natural Resources that it would fund comprehensive health research on carpet chemicals, including volatile organic chemicals, and consider using labels to inform consumers of potential health effects.

EPA sources say the industry pledge defused a lot of the controversy that arose from toxicology tests conducted last October by Anderson Laboratories, Inc. of Dedham, Massachusetts. Results of those tests purported to demonstrate that fumes from ordinary carpet can kill mice and may cause adverse health effects in humans. However, both EPA and CRI attempts to replicate the tests failed to produce the same results, and questions about differences in protocols have been raised.

These tests were not the only impetus for the industry pledge. In 1991, 27 state attorney generals petitioned the Consumer Product Safety Commission to require that information labels be affixed to carpet products and that informational brochures be distributed at the point of sale. Industry has now indicated it would consider voluntarily taking such action.

At the opening of the hearing, Chairman Mike Synar (D-Oklahoma) noted that of EPA's $6 billion budget, funding for indoor air research receives only $6 million, therefore making industry funding indispensable. Carpet and rug manufacturing is an $8.5 billion-a-year industry. Although the exact amount of industry funding has yet to be determined, Synar estimated the cost to be $10 to $15 million over a three-year period.

CRI President Ron Van Gelderen said of Synar's estimate, "His guess is as good as any. We are willing to commit resources but not in a direction that is not validated by the scientific community." Steps toward such validation will be taken by an interagency effort to set scientific objectives for carpet research. Participating agencies would include the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and the National Academy of Sciences.




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