News Analysis

Recycled Vinyl Flooring May Contain Lead

Recycled PVC inside vinyl floor tiles often contains lead and other additives from rubber-covered wiring, according to researchers.  

Lead has a long history of being used as a stabilizer for polyvinyl chloride (PVC) products, though it has been phased out and is now only occasionally used to add durability in wire insulation. But lead and other serious toxic substances might still appear in “cleaner” PVC materials because wire jackets are commingled into the PVC recycling stream to make new flooring and other building products, according to a report from the Healthy Building Network and StopWaste.

A dangerous sandwich?

Evidence for this claim comes from a toxicity study conducted by The Ecology Center, a Michigan-based organization that screens consumer products for hazardous chemicals. Having tested 74 PVC floor tile products sold in 2014 and 2015, researchers found that each tile contained an inner layer made of recycled plastic with traces of bromine, gold, and copper—indicators of electronic waste. This backing also registered an average of 1,144 parts per million (ppm) of lead and 1,846 ppm of cadmium. (For comparison, children’s toys are restricted to contain under 100 ppm of lead in the U.S.)

Published June 1, 2015