Study: Vinyl flooring contributes to asthma

Flooring contains phthalates, dangerous chemical

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A new study by Swedish researchers is warning parents that vinyl flooring may be harmful to children, specifically by triggering or worsening asthma in kids. 

Channel 4 spoke with a doctor at Wolfson Children's Hospital Monday who said the problem with vinyl flooring is that it contains a chemical called phthalates, which becomes airborne. 

Doctors say no matter how much people mop and clean their floors, the tiny particles attach to dust in people's homes and can leave children caught and wheezing.

"It could cause many hospitalizations, many trips to the doctor, many days lost at school, which dominos out to parents losing time at work," said Respiratory Therapist Cathy Clark with Wolfson Children's Hospital.

Vinyl also has a nickname -- the flooring is often referred to as "the poison plastic" when it comes to kids and asthma. 

"One of the things we have found over the years with vinyl flooring, is that it constantly exudes, excretes chemical vapors, components that will attack to the household dust," said Clark.

The PVC pipe-based product contains phthalates, which is a harmful chemical used to soften plastic. The phthalates gives vinyl it's soft, bendable structure.

"It could be severe enough to where they're having many episodes of respiratory infections or they're always having an asthma exacerbation or it's very hard to get it under control, regardless of how well the parents are doing on keeping on top of their medications," said Clark.

Swedish researchers studied children and found that kids whose bedrooms had vinyl flooring were one and a half times more likely to be diagnosed with asthma a decade later, compared to kids with other types of flooring in their rooms. The study also found the strongest link to asthma was with kids whose mothers had slept in rooms with vinyl floors during their pregnancy.

Channel 4 headed to Home Depot to find out what sort of flooring would be a safer option for parents to use instead of vinyl.  

"You could either be with natural stone, which would be in this category here, which would be anything from granite to marble to travertine. You could also be into solid wood, which would give us some different options like in bamboo and also in oak. We also have some other alternatives - which would be the best - is porcelain tile, because it's the least absorbing tile," said Home Depot's Bob Weathersbee. "We also have laminate, which is another alternative that they could go to. It does absorb a little bit, it's not moisture resistant, but if you spill something, it's easy to clean up," said Weathersbee.

Although there are a few alternatives to vinyl floors, Cathy Clark said people shouldn't start tearing out their vinyl quite yet. Clark told Channel 4 pulling up vinyl could actually make asthma symptoms worse, because the removal process kicks up a lot of dust.

Clark recommends that parents who are concerned about their children's asthma should meet with their pediatrician to help determine the best options for the child.

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