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Install floors with low-VOC adhesives

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Most floor adhesives contain chemicals that release harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air. Why not try one of the many healthier floor adhesives now on the market to install your eco-friendly floor? It'll do the job just as well and give your lungs a breather!

Find it! Low-VOC adhesives

Before you buy

Look for a product certified by the GREENGUARD Environmental Institute, which tests adhesives for VOCs.[1]

Installing floors with low-VOC adhesives helps you go green because…

  • Low-VOC adhesives release fewer volatile organic compounds into the air, minimizing indoor and outdoor air pollution, and their associated health and environmental concerns.

Organic chemicals are widely used as solvents in adhesives and other household products. When these adhesives are used, they release organic compounds into the air we breathe. Concentrations of many VOCs are up to 10 times higher indoors than outdoors, and some are suspected or known human carcinogens.[2]

Consumers are instructed to use these products indoors only in properly ventilated areas, which then evacuates these pollutants to the outdoors. VOCs contribute significantly to ground-level ozone (smog) production and a variety of health problems.[3] Ground-level ozone also harms ecosystems and vegetation, accounting for an estimated $500 million in reduced crop production each year in the United States.[4] Using low-VOC products can help reduce air pollution. In fact, the reduction of VOC emissions by 1 ton per year is the same as taking 26 cars off the road.[5]

Instead of solvents, manufacturers of low- or no-VOC adhesives use heat or other processes to emulsify the resin. Generally, water-based adhesives emit fewer VOCs than conventional solvent-based products.[6]

Even low- or no-VOC products may contain toxic ingredients, such as formaldehyde and toluene.[7][8] Chemically sensitive individuals and people with asthma need to be particularly careful when choosing adhesives. Technical Data Sheets or Materials Safety Data Sheets obtained from retailers or manufacturers’ websites list information about the adhesives that may help in making a choice.

Certified products

GREENGUARD Environmental Institute tests adhesives for VOCs.[1] This testing program sets maximum allowable emission levels in accordance with the US Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) procurements specifications, the recommendations from the World Health Organization (WHO), LEED for New Construction, and LEED for Commercial Interiors.[9]

Drawbacks

Although low-VOC adhesives typically cost more than their conventional counterparts, the cost is no more than 5 percent higher.[6] Cost is not the only concern, however. Manufacturers say low-VOC products perform on par with conventional products, yet widespread use among contractors has been slow, primarily due to longer cure times. This slow acceptance is expected to change, however, as manufacturers improve the products as well as their accessibility.[10]

Related health issues

People spend more than 90 percent of their time indoors, and evidence suggests that the quality of indoor air, even in large cities, is often more polluted than the outside air.[11] VOCs vary in their ability to negatively affect health; some are highly toxic and others have no known health effects. Common symptoms after exposure are eye, nose, and throat irritation; headaches; loss of coordination; nausea; and liver and kidney damage. Some VOCs are suspected or known to cause cancer in humans.[12]

Glossary

  • formaldehyde: A flammable reactive gas belonging to the VOC (volatile organic compound) family of chemicals. It is widely used in personal care products, building materials, insulation, and home furnishings. Ingestion of the chemical can cause severe physical reactions, including coma, internal bleeding, and death.[13] The US Department of Health and Human Services considers it a probable human carcinogen.[14]
  • ground-level ozone: The main component of smog, ground-level ozone is formed when volatile organic compounds (VOCs) react chemically with nitrogen oxides (NOx) when it is sunny and hot outside.[15] Many urban areas have high levels of this summertime pollutant but rural areas can have increased ozone levels too as wind can carry ground-level ozone hundreds of miles from where it originates.[16] Breathing ozone can cause a number of respiratory health problems plus it damages ecosystems and vegetation including crops.[4]
  • toluene: A clear, water-insoluble liquid with a smell familiar to anyone who has opened a can of paint thinner. This aromatic hydrocarbon is known as a developmental toxicant that can cause adverse effects on the developing child. Effects can include birth defects and low birth weight. More than 1 million pounds are produced in the US annually.[17]
  • volatile organic compounds (VOCs): Gases released by a wide variety of products, including household cleansers, furniture, and dry-cleaned clothing.[12] VOCs can cause several health concerns, ranging from headaches and respiratory inflammation to central nervous system problems. VOCs are also considered a possible human carcinogen.[12]

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