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Home Depot and Lowe’s Eliminating Toxic Phthalates in Flooring

Who will be Next to Join Them?

Fantastic news!! Home Depot and Lowe’s, the two largest home improvement chains in the country, announced they will ban toxic phthalates added to vinyl flooring by the end of the year!

Their actions will have a huge impact on driving these harmful chemicals out of flooring in our homes, given the tremendous quantities of flooring both retailers sell.  Together, they sell nearly $10 billion of flooring a year.  You can read all about it in our national news release, as well as the New York TimesBoston GlobeBloomberg BusinessCharlotte Observer, as well as hundreds of others nationwide.

We welcome and congratulate both Home Depot and Lowe’s for doing what’s right for our families and homes, and hope other major retailers will join them.  This is a huge win for our Mind the Store campaign, which has been encouraging big retailers to tackle toxic chemicals in their supply chains.

Phthalates are harmful to our health and can migrate out of flooring, get into the air we breathe and easily make their way into our bodies. A growing body of credible scientific evidence has linked exposure to phthalates to serious threats to human health including asthma, harm to male reproductive organs, brain development, and the immune system.  Ten years of biomonitoring data gathered by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows near universal exposure to most phthalates in a representative sampling of Americans. Women are exposed to higher levels of phthalates than men, and children are more greatly exposed to phthalates than adults.

Big retailers driving phthalates out of flooring

Safer Chemicals Healthy Families’ Mind the Store campaign has been working in partnership with Home Depot for nearly one year to develop their policy, along with our partners at the Healthy Building Network, Environmental Health Strategy Centerthe Ecology Center, and Clean Production Action.

The company has instructed their suppliers to eliminate added ortho-phthalates from all vinyl flooring by the end of 2015.  This is a big deal as Home Depot is not only the largest home improvement chain in the US, but the largest worldwide.  According to one story, “Total flooring sales accounted for over 7% of Home Depot’s $83.2 billion total revenues in 2014, or almost $6 billion, a 4% increase from the year before.”  As of their first quarter of 2015, Home Depot had accomplished 85 percent of the phase-out!

We unveiled Home Depot’s policy in a new report we co-released with our partners at the Ecology Center’s where we surveyed major retailers to assess whether they have adopted policies to eliminate phthalates in flooring. The survey found that The Home Depot was far ahead of its competitors by requiring its suppliers to eliminate ortho-phthalates.

The survey also revealed Lumber Liquidators has pledged to take action — they are working with suppliers and seeking new suppliers to transition all non-recycled vinyl floor products to those with alternative plasticizers rather than those containing phthalates. They continue to seek alternatives and are currently testing replacements, however they have not set a formal timeframe for elimination of phthalates, unlike both Home Depot and Lowe’s.  We are hopeful they will also set a clear timeframe soon.

Home Depot’s actions are already having a ripple effect throughout the flooring supply chain.

In less than one week after we released our report and an accompanying online campaign, Lowe’s has agreed to eliminate toxic phthalates in their flooring by the end of this year! Lowe’s wrote to us and said, “With more than 90 percent of our virgin product offering sold today currently phthalate-free, the remainder of the virgin product will be free of ortho-phthalates by the end of 2015.”  This is huge as Lowe’s is the second largest home improvement retailer in the country, and their sales of flooring, “represented $3.2 billion in sales for Lowe’s last year, or 6% of its $56 billion total revenues.”

Toxic chemicals widespread in vinyl flooring

The report also found that most vinyl flooring tested contained toxic phthalates, a number of which have been banned in children’s products since 2009. The flooring samples tested were purchased from major home improvement retailers including Lumber Liquidators, Menards and Ace Hardware. Researchers found that 58% of vinyl flooring tiles tested contained phthalates. Moreover, almost all (89%) of vinyl flooring samples tested contained organic tin-based stabilizers. Over half of the samples tested contained multiple plasticizers.

A separate report from the Healthy Building Network also found other toxic hazards hiding in recycled vinyl flooring.  HBN found, legacy toxic hazards are being reintroduced into our homes, schools and offices in recycled vinyl content that is routinely added to floors and other building products. Legacy substances used in PVC products, like lead, cadmium, and phthalates, are turning up in new products through the use of cheap recycled content.”  No retailer has adopted a policy on recycled vinyl, at least yet.

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