Recently websites and documents have been circulating stating that PVC is "one of the most hazardous consumer products ever created" and should be taken out of all commercial carpets. According to some, they can cause cancer and harm to the immune and reproductive systems. Well, if we are going to be honest, so can breathing air in New York City, sex with an unprotected partner and grilling meats outside but I can't find many industry's dedicated to eliminating sex in America or ending the good 'ol backyard BBQ. I'll take mine medium rare please.
Certain manufacturers looking for less costly (and often less durable and less sustainable) forms of backing materials have been exploiting these claims for their financial gain and playing on the fears of unsuspecting, and often uniformed, architects, designers and building owners. Before you rip the PVC pipes out of your house that runs the water to your tap or you pull the IV from your arm that runs blood from the PVC bag next time you are in the hospital, here are some things to consider.
The US Green Building Council appointed a special task force of materials experts to perform an exhaustive four-year study regarding the safety and health implications of the use of PVC as a building product. The task force concluded that there is no credible evidence that would support excluding PVC in favor of alternative materials. In fact, the task force warns against creating any credits that could steer decision makers towards alternative materials that may have worse environmental impacts. Particularly, new backings that might last 1/2 the length of time on the floor or that has never been studied as long as vinyl has been. PVC is one of the most widely used products in construction, from roofs, piping, flooring, wallcovering and many other products and there is NO substantiated claims of negative health effects after over 40 + years in our built environments.
Now, on the other hand, the government actually lists 228 items on its cancer causing list with items ranging from the sun, UVR's in tanning beds, wood dust in saw mills, exposure to X-radiation and gamma-radiation such as bone, chest and dental X-rays to things like MeIQ, MeIQx, and PhIP which are heterocyclic amine compounds that are formed when meats and eggs are cooked or grilled at high temperatures. These compounds are also found in cigarette smoke and, oh yeah, they cause cancer too. Then there's lead that makes batteries and Cobalt Sulfate which is used in electroplating, as coloring agents for ceramics, and as drying agents in inks and paints, and of course Diazoaminobenzene, a chemical used as an intermediate in the production of dyes and to promote adhesion of natural rubber to steel which is said to be listed as "reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen" (whatever that means). The list goes on and on and yet, vinyl in commercial carpet is not on that list. So why the hype and fear over PVC?
In this industry experts opinion there are 3 major factors contributing to this manifestation of knee jerk reaction. First, it's about love. Seriously, a legitimately caring groups of people who have seen the damage that certain chemicals have done to human health over the years are really scared for our health and welfare and are trying to do the right thing. I'm truly glad these groups of people exist. Unfortunately, these folks stopped listening with both ears to the all data on vinyl products in commercial carpet and have jumped off the PVC ledge a little too early. They are now trying to throw the baby out with the bath water. Or in this case, the baby toys out with the carpet tile backing.
Second, Fear is easy to exploit. I think it started with the cave man and fire but it's a sales fact. Certain manufacturers have decided to make carpet backing using other compounds that those same caring public watchdogs don't know about yet and have no long term test data with any history to analyze. So the watchdogs would rather attack with partial information what they think they know versus what they really don't know. These manufacturers are using PVC -free as a scare tactic and positioning tool like Kryptonite is to superman. For all we know, the substitute materials these manufacturers are using might make 3 packs of cigarettes a day look like a post modern health diet. These new materials are less than a decade old, some less than 5 years old and have yet to be studied or proven to even perform more than 6 years on the floor, unlike vinyl, which has been shown to perform perfectly for over 4 decades on the floor without any problems.
And third, it's a way to take our eye off the fact that PVC is in every car we drive, it's in every office we encounter, in every hospital we visit, every school we send our children to and in every restaurant we dine at while sipping Chardonnay and munching on charred beef. For some odd human reason, attacking PVC in commercial carpet makes some designers feel good during the day so they can go home at night and grab their PVC computer products and type on Facebook about the successful day they had ridding the world of the evil toxin PVC.
So you tell me, PVC Free, Tweedle Dee or Tweedle Dumb? Do you really want the hat with the propeller on top? I'll go with the facts and data saying it's the most sustainable and fully recyclable product available and then head to the beach for some sunshine and carcinogens. Call me crazy, but I like the beach in the summer and vinyl-backed carpet in my office. Now chill out, summer's coming and it's time to break out the BBQ!