Home Depot phasing out toxic vinyl flooring

Last Updated Apr 23, 2015 8:05 AM EDT

Most vinyl flooring contains chemicals called phthalates, many of which have been banned from children's products over concerns of negative health effects. Now, a report released on Wednesday praised Home Depot (HD) as being "far ahead of its competitors" in requiring suppliers to stop using the chemicals.

Phthalates are used to soften plastic and vinyl and make them more flexible. But they're believed to be toxic and have been linked to a laundry list of ailments.

The study by HealthyStuff.org, part of the nonprofit Ecology Center, tested 65 vinyl floors and found that 58 percent had phthalates. The samples were purchased from major home improvement retailers.

As part of its research, the group looked into whether any of the retailers planned to take steps to phase out the use of phthalates and found that Home Depot intends to do so this year. By the end of the first quarter, the phase-out was reported to be 85 percent complete.

"As the world's largest home improvement retailer, Home Depot's new policy sends a strong signal to the marketplace that retailers want healthier building materials free of harmful chemicals like phthalates,"Andy Igrejas, director of Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, said in a statement.

The revelation about phthalates comes on the heels of a "60 Minutes" investigation that revealed Lumber Liquidators (LL) has been selling laminated wood flooring with high levels of formaldehyde, a carcinogen. Tests commissioned by the show found that 30 of 31 boxes of flooring labeled as being in compliance with California's tough air quality standards were not.

The company has taken issue with how the tests for compliance are conducted, arguing that when put in place, flooring that uses formaldehyde in the glue that holds the wood particles together can pass California testing standards. However, the top layer of the laminate is peeled off to do the testing.

In this study, Lumber Liquidators was one of two retailers that had phthalates in every sample tested. The other was Ace Hardware.

Lumber Liquidators issued a statement saying it has been taking steps to phase out phthalates.

"Lumber Liquidators is mitigating the level of phthalates in our virgin vinyl flooring to meet existing CPSC (Consumer Product Safety Commission) guidelines for items like child care items and toys," the company said. "Since the summer of 2014, we began adjusting our product standards and are actively transitioning to work with suppliers who support this goal. This is consistent with Home Depot's efforts and with our comprehensive commitment to product quality and safety. To be clear, all our products -- vinyl or otherwise -- are safe for consumers."

According to Ace Hardware spokesperson Kate Kirkpatrick, flooring sold by Ace Hardware out of its distribution centers is free of ortho-phthalates.

She noted that Ace "is a retailer-owned cooperative that sells wholesale products to local hardware stores. Ace stores are not required to purchase all of their inventory from our distribution centers and, therefore, may sell flooring materials obtained from other distributors. We are committed to environmental education and stewardship -- for our customers, our company and our communities. Ace strives to purchase and offer products from vendors that are in full compliance with all applicable federal and state laws and regulations."

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    Mitch Lipka is an award-winning consumer columnist. He was in charge of consumer news for AOL's personal finance site and was a senior editor at Consumer Reports. He was also a reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer and the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, among other publications.