Schools, families should replace carpets as industry moves away from PFAS
BLOOMINGTON, Ind.—Children can be exposed to a toxic medley of per- and polyfluorinated chemicals (PFAS) from carpets, according to a peer-reviewed study, co-authored by an Indiana University O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs scientist, published today in Chemosphere. But the good news is that daycares, schools, and families can eliminate this exposure source by replacing older carpets. Most carpet manufacturers recently stopped using PFAS, which were formerly applied to carpets to make them stain- and soil-resistant.
The authors, led by O’Neill School’s Marta Venier, measured PFAS concentrations in carpet and dust samples collected from 18 California childcare centers in 2018. Both the carpet and dust samples contained significant levels of 40 different PFAS, with carpets appearing to be both a source of and a sink for the chemicals.
PFAS are linked with serious health harms in both children and adults, including impaired neurodevelopment, immune system dysfunction, hormone disruption, and cancer.
They estimated that the total PFAS intake via dust ingestion for the children was between 0.023 and 1.9 ng/kg body weight/day. The minimal risk levels reported by the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry for certain PFAS are as low as 2 ng/kg body weight/day, and dust ingestion is only one of many exposure routes. This means that PFAS in carpets can contribute to health harm for children in contact with the carpet.
“From circle time to nap time, young schoolchildren spend a lot of time on the floor,” Venier said. “Harmful PFAS in carpets and dust then collect on kids’ hands and toys, which they put in their mouths. This is also true in homes, where infants and toddlers crawl and play on carpets.”
Fortunately, the carpet industry has moved away from PFAS, and most major retailers no longer sell carpets with PFAS. As of January, The Home Depot and Lowe’s—among others—have phased out carpets and rugs with PFAS.
“Our study shows that the recent retailer phase-outs of PFAS in carpets are a major win for children’s health,” said co-author Tom Bruton, senior scientist at the Green Science Policy Institute. “With PFAS-free carpets more available, schools and families can replace older carpets and protect children’s health from exposure to these dangerous and long-lasting chemicals.”
The authors notified the childcare centers of their results so that operators could choose to remove and replace PFAS-contaminated carpets.
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The O’Neill School (formerly SPEA) is a world leader in public and environmental affairs and is the largest school of public administration and public policy in the United States. In the 2021 "Best Graduate Public Affairs Programs" by U.S. News & World Report, O’Neill ranks first in the country. Additionally, six of its specialty programs are ranked in the top-five listings, including the number one nonprofit management program.