With the winter months ahead, many of us are starting to batten down the hatches in anticipation of spending a whole lot more time (ugh) indoors. That said, it’s probably a good idea to be aware of what exactly we’re hunkering down with.

Released today, the Ecology’s Center’s massive study of toxic chemicals in home improvement products, the largest study of its kind, couldn’t come at a better time. In the past, the Ecology Center has tested consumer goods like toys, pet products, and even handbags for potentially health-compromising chemicals but this is the first time the Michigan-based nonprofit has focused on home improvement products, specifically wallpaper and flooring.

For the study, available to view at HealthyStuff.org, over 3,300 home improvement products — 1,016 flooring samples and 2,312 wallpaper samples, to be exact — were tested for lead, bromine, chlorine, cadmium, arsenic, tin compounds, and mercury using a portable X-ray Fluorescence (XRF) analyzer.

Here are a few highlights (if you can call them that) from the study: 

• Flooring samples contained numerous phthalates, at up to 12.9% by weight. Limited testing for phthalate plasticizers indicates most vinyl flooring contains four phthalate plasticizers recently banned in children's products. Four representative samples of vinyl flooring were tested from two national brands, Armstrong and Congoleum, and two discount brands, Crystal and tiles sold through a local hardware chain.

• 52 of 1,016 (5%) of all flooring samples had detectable levels of lead. Products with the highest percent of lead included: Vinyl Sheet Flooring: 23 of 731 (2%) samples of the vinyl sheet flooring had detectable levels of lead. Vinyl Tile Flooring:  29 of 39 (74%) of the tiles sampled contained detectable lead, with levels as high as 1,900 ppm.

• Safe alternatives are available. Linoleum, cork, bamboo and hardwood all tested free of lead, cadmium, mercury and other hazardous metals. Non-vinyl flooring products are half as likely to contain hazardous chemical additives.

• Over one-half (53% or 1,234 of 2,312) of PVC wallpaper samples contained one or more hazardous chemicals of concern (at > 40 ppm levels) including lead, cadmium, chromium, tin and antimony.

While the results of the study can be alarming — particularly if you’re going to be spending the winter cooped up with brand new wallpaper that didn’t test so well — perhaps most sobering is the fact that there are no federal mandates in place that regulate or restrict potentially damaging chemicals in home improvement products.

In fact, according to HealthyStuff.org, the EPA has used its authority to require testing for fewer than 200 of the 62,000 chemicals in commerce since 1979. This makes urging your local Representative to support the Toxic Chemicals Safety Act all the more important.

So what can you do? Aside from taking action with good, old-fashioned letter writing (or emailing), head on over to HealthyStuff.org to view the overall findings and peruse the study's database searchable by brand, type (wood, bamboo, cork, carpet cushion, sheet flooring, plastic and ceramic tiles, and wallcovering), level of concern, and chemical detected.  And remember, just because a certain chemical or chemicals were detected in a product by the Ecology Center, doesn’t necessarily mean that you are being directly exposed to it. 

Do any of the particular findings — or products tested — make you uneasy about being cooped up at home this winter? 

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