In”floor”tility - How Flooring May Be Affecting Our Health


You are what you eat, but you may also be what is beneath your feet. In the case of vinyl flooring, this could be unfortunate news. Earlier this spring a study conducted by researchers at the Ecology Center in Ann Arbor, MI, found that many types of vinyl flooring contain phthalates. That shouldn’t be too surprising because we are exposed to these chemicals, which are used to make plastics more supple, through all sorts of places in our food supply and other vectors such as kids toys, PVC, and cosmetics ... to name a few.

The report Floored By Phthalates found that 58% of vinyl flooring from major home improvement retailers contained moderate to high levels of the stuff. A chart of the results by store and brands can be found here. Highlights from the Ecology Center Press Release include:

  • The poorest performing retailers: Lumber Liquidators and Ace Hardware, with phthalates present in 100 percent of the flooring samples tested.

  • Lowe’s (48 percent), Menards (23 percent) and (25 percent) also had products tested which contained phthalates.

  • Among flooring brands, Armstrong and Designer’s Image stood out for having zero phthalates present in the surface layer of tested tiles.

While the negative health impacts of phthalate exposure compose a long list, at the very top is infertility among men. For a number of years now, research has shown that high levels of phthalates in male bodies is positively correlated with lower sperm concentration and motility. A CNN Report on the American Society of Reproductive Medicine from a couple of years ago notes more recent research. 

One study presented at the conference looked at 501 couples who were trying to become pregnant. The couples in the study were interviewed and examined and provided urine samples to measure their BPA and phthalate levels. They also kept journals about intercourse, menstrual cycles and pregnancy tests.

Researchers found that the men -- but not women -- with high phthalate concentrations experienced a 20% decline in fertility and took longer to get their partners pregnant than men with lower concentrations.”

Reports on overall infertility in the U.S. seem to be conflicted, with some data showing drops while other reports show rises. Regardless of national trends, however, it is clear that phthalates are not helping matters. To this end, pressure from the consumer advocacy group Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families (SCHF) has already caused Home Depot to commit to ridding its vinyl flooring stock of phthalates . The pressure is also on Menards, the U.S.’s third-largest home improvement retailer, to follow suit. Check out their petition here if you want to add your support.

We are grateful for the work of researchers like the Ecology Center and advocates like SCHF. For every chemical out there causing a negative impact on our health, there are groups and people out there fighting to diminish their reach.


Read all articles by Damon Cory-Watson

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