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Congress/regulatory agencies review carpet emissions.

agencies find no proof of harm, but mixed signals are still being sent to the consumer

In recent Congressional hearings, representatives from both the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) testified that neither agency has been able to find definitive evidence that emissions from properly installed carpets can cause ill effects to consumers. The testimony came in response to controversial findings from a private testing firm - Anderson Laboratories, Dedham, MA - that linked adverse neurological effects, and even death, in lab mice to carpet emissions.

But the EPA, in repeated attempts, was unable to replicate these findings. Moreover, after more than two years of study, the CPSC released a report earlier this year that concluded that there is "no evidence" that the chemicals emitted from the carpets it studied would present a hazard to consumers, if the carpets are properly installed.

INDA is encouraged by these findings, but is concerned about the confusion surrounding this issue, especially the mixed signals that consumers receive when the media relays unconfirmed research that cannot be independently replicated.

Controversial Tests

According to testimony before the Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee of the House Government Operations Committee, Anderson Labs found that when laboratory mice were exposed to carpet emissions in a closed chamber, they suffered acute neurological effects (including disorientation, inability to walk, bizarre behavior, etc.) and even death at a rate of "high frequency."

In the tests, Anderson used a 40 liter aquarium, with air flow of seven liters per minute. According to testimony presented by Dr. Rosalind Anderson, carpet samples of different sizes (10 x 20 and 3.5 x 2 in.) were introduced into this environment and caused the adverse effects. In a number of these tests, carpet samples were placed in an aquarium that was heated. Air from the aquarium was removed and then introduced as breathing air into a chamber with four mice.

While these findings may seem dramatic, the EPA was unable to achieve similar results despite repeated attempts. According to Victor Kimm, acting assistant administrator for the EPA's Office of Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances, the EPA could not even attribute "mild toxicity" to carpet samples.

In its review, the EPA assembled a test apparatus identical to that used by Anderson Labs, used the same strain of mice from the same supplier, with the same bedding, and most importantly - the same carpet samples. Then, in simultaneous testing, the EPA and Anderson conducted six experiments using identical equipment and carpet samples. When the tests were completed, according to Mr. Kimm, there was "virtually nothing in common" between the two sets of results.

Of the 24 mice involved in the six experiments, the EPA recorded no deaths, no severe or moderate sensory irritation, no severe or moderate pulmonary irritation and no clear evidence of neurotoxicity. Yet Anderson Labs recorded five deaths in 24 mice plus severe pulmonary irritation and neurotoxicity.

Even before these simultaneous tests were conducted, according to Mr. Kimm, the EPA performed more than 30 different studies of its own involving more than 140 mice under all types of conditions.

Using carpet samples provided by Anderson Labs, EPA performed studies with up to ten square feet of carpet. Some of these studies were done with very dry air, some with normal air and some with partially humidified air. Some involved extensive heating of the test chamber, others required that the mice remain in the chamber for many days.

But no matter what conditions were used, the EPA was unable to find any evidence of carpet-related death or neurotoxicity based on these studies.

CPSC Findings Correlate With EPA

Moreover, the EPA's findings seem to be in line with those of the CPSC. As noted by CPSC executive director Eric Peterson, who also testified during the same Congressional hearings, the CPSC has been investigating potential health risks associated with carpets since 1989.

For the past two years, according to Mr. Peterson, the commission has been studying the chemicals emitted from carpets to see if those chemicals could be responsible for causing ill effects in humans.

In its review, the CPSC examined 40 different chemicals emitted from test carpets, but found no evidence that any of these chemicals would present a hazard to consumers if the carpets are properly installed.

Now, as the "second phase" to this review, the CPSC is evaluating potential emissions from carpet pads. The Commission is examining 17 samples representing five different types of carpet pad. Samples were provided from mills and retail outlets and the CPSC expects to conclude its review early next year.

But why would Anderson Labs have such different findings? In testimony presented by the Carpet and Rug Institute, Anderson was criticized for repeatedly altering its research methodologies and also for failing to submit written reports on its methodologies for peer review.

In addition, Professor Yves Alarie, Ph.D. of the University of Pittsburgh (a scientist who also tried to replicate the Anderson findings) testified that the tests conducted by Anderson Labs allowed heated samples to come in contact with the test chamber floors and that this contact raised the chamber temperature to 158 [degrees] F.

In replicating the tests, Dr. Alarie was able to reproduce the toxic effects recorded by Anderson labs when the heated samples rested on the test chamber, but not when they were suspended within the chamber. It is therefore possible that the adverse effects were not the result of carpet emissions but were instead due to increased temperatures.

INDA is encouraged that both the EPA and the CPSC were given the opportunity to present findings that question the validity of studies that purport to link carpet emissions with adverse effects in lab mice. These unsubstantiated findings, which were based on methodologies that reportedly were never subject to peer review and allegedly involved test chambers with temperatures above 150 [degrees], should never have been released to the general public.

Nevertheless, the possibility of consumer confusion is still great since there have been a number of media reports - based on the Anderson Labs experiments - and the nonwovens industry should be prepared to help resolve this confusion.

Fortunately, testimony presented by the EPA and the CPSC is now part of the public record and is available through INDA's Washington D.C. office for those who need to address concerns about alleged "toxic" carpets.

Peter Mayberry is the director of government affairs for INDA, Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry. He works out of the Washington D.C. offices of Keller & Heckman, INDA's legal counsel. This Capital Comments column appears monthly in Nonwovens Industry.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Rodman Publications, Inc.
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Author:Mayberry, Peter
Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Date:Aug 1, 1993
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