News Brief

California Eyes Regulation of Stain-Resistant Carpet

Carpets and rugs with stain-repelling “PFAS” chemicals could be the next priority product designated by the State.

April 4, 2018

Stain-resistant PFAS on carpets enter our bodies and ecosystems. California may regulate these treatments.

This flow chart shows how PFAS enter humans and the environment, where they are persistent and bioaccumulative.

Image: California Department of Toxic Substances Control
The State of California is taking steps toward regulating carpets and rugs with common stain-resistance treatments.

A new draft report from the state’s Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) implicates perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in a variety of toxic effects, and recommends listing carpets and rugs with these chemicals as “priority products.” That designation could lead to regulatory action.

What’s wrong with PFAS stain repellents?

PFAS—which are used on most carpets and rugs sold today—are a class of chemicals (sometimes called perfluorinated compounds, or PFCs) comprising more than 3,000 substances, according to the draft report. Different groups of these chemicals have different effects on humans and other species, but some common features include:

  • bioaccumulation
  • environmental persistence
  • aquatic toxicity
  • kidney and liver effects, including cancers
  • immune system and endocrine system effects

Manufacturers of PFAS have argued that newer “short-chain” versions are less toxic than the phased-out “long-chain” varieties of stain-resistance treatments. But the report disagrees.

“If you look in the news lately, there’s a big problem in North Carolina, where one of the short-chain alternatives … is causing drinking water problems,” said Meredith Williams, Ph.D., safer products and workplace program deputy director at DTSC. Although no one has done exhaustive research on all 3,000-plus chemicals, she added, “We think there are interrelations between the chemicals in the class. Some are well characterized and clearly harmful. Other chemicals degrade and become the harmful chemicals.”

And these treatments don’t stay on the carpets and rugs to which they’re applied. It’s unclear how quickly carpets shed the treatments, but according to the report, most PFAS are semi-volatile, so they often cling to dust rather than becoming gases at room temperature like volatile organic compounds do. They can also be washed down the drain after hot-water cleaning of carpets—a common way they get into the outside environment, where they are persistent and bioaccumulative. (Older, phased-out chemistries are known to be persistent, bioaccumulative toxic (PBT) chemicals.)

The draft report identifies infants and children as a “sensitive subpopulation” because they play on floors and tend to ingest more dust than adults do. Studies have shown that children have higher concentrations of PFAS than adults, and others have demonstrated a correlation between PFAS exposure in children and suppressed immune-system response, impaired kidney function, a metabolic disorder known as dyslipidemia, and delayed onset of menses in girls, the report says.

PFAS and the carpet industry

Although PFAS are currently used on most carpet products, there are alternatives. Many carpet manufacturers offer PFAS-free “solution-dyed” options that are inherently stain-resistant. At least one manufacturer (Interface) has phased out PFAS altogether, but most still use the treatments on standard carpets because solution dyeing is more expensive. (Note that some solution-dyed carpets are not stain- and soil-resistant, and therefore may still have PFAS treatments.)

Next steps for California

California’s DTSC is accepting public comments on its draft report through April 16, 2018. After that, the state will decide whether to designate carpets and rugs with PFAS as a “Priority Product with a Chemical of Concern.” If it becomes a priority product, carpet manufacturers will have to look into alternatives and report their findings to the state. Finally, after that reporting period is over, California may take regulatory action.

What to do in the meantime? Williams said some institutional owners, including Kaiser Permanente, now specify PFAS-free carpet for all their projects. “Any action we do take won’t take effect for a while,” Williams told BuildingGreen, “but there are other organizations and companies that have wrestled with this problem and found some solutions.” She encouraged building professionals to consider doing the same.

More on carpets with PFAS

Three Hazardous Textile Treatments and How to Avoid Them

Carpets with No Added Stain or Dirt Repellents?

The High Price of Stain Resistance: Environmental Persistence

PBT Chemicals: Persistent, Bioaccumulative, Toxic

For more information:

California Department of Toxic Substance Control
Product–Chemical Profile for Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFASs) in Carpets and Rugs

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