Toxic Chemicals in Building Materials
A person’s indoor environment has a profound impact on their health—and the materials used to construct our homes, schools, and workplaces make up a big part of that.
Many chemicals used in building materials have not been properly screened for safety and, in many cases, they are associated with serious health conditions. This includes flame retardants used in insulation, PFAS used in stain protectors on carpets, and alkylphenol ethoxylates (APEs) used in paint and other building materials. PVC (vinyl) plastic building materials, such as luxury vinyl tile, are hazardous from production to use to disposal and, if they burn, pose an even greater risk for firefighters, for whom cancer is the #1 line-of-duty cause of death.
Low-income communities and people of color experience disproportionately high exposure and harm. For example, one study found that levels of phthalates and flame retardants in multi-unit, affordable housing were two to 18 times higher than in single-family homes.
We can build healthier and more resilient communities by moving to safer materials and processes. Safer substitutes may be as simple as changing the weave of carpet to make it stain-resistant rather than applying a toxic treatment.
Toxic-Free Future’s science and research, along with our advocacy in corporate boardrooms, Washington, DC, Washington state, and other states have led to governments and major retailers taking action on toxic chemicals in building materials.
- The Home Depot, Lowe’s, Menards, Floor and Decor, and others committed to stop selling vinyl flooring containing hormone-disrupting phthalates—stopping the use of tens of millions of pounds of phthalates.
- The Home Depot and Lowe’s committed to ban PFAS stain resistance treatments in the carpets and rugs they sell.
- A dozen top retailers, including Lowe’s, The Home Depot, and Walmart, agreed to stop selling paint removal products with the dangerous chemicals methylene chloride and NMP. Then EPA banned the sale of paint removal products with methylene chloride to consumers.
- Washington state is pursuing regulatory restrictions on PFAS in carpet, rugs, home textiles and treatments and phthalates in vinyl flooring.
We continue to work to convince EPA to stop the sale of methylene chloride-based paint removers for commercial use on the job. We work to protect low-income residents through restrictions on toxic chemicals like phthalates, hormone-disrupting alkylphenol ethoxylates, and PFAS in materials used to build affordable housing. We are partnering with Healthy Building Network to target the most dangerous chemicals used in building products such as PFAS, toxic flame retardants, phthalates, and APEs and getting Washington state and top home improvement retailers to evaluate safer alternatives and adopt bans.