"I'll never forget when it first started. I was sitting at a table eating a sandwich and reading People magazine, with my ten-month-old son, Christopher, nearby on the carpet. All of a sudden, he went into this strange seizure-like reaction. His upper body tensed up, and his arms started shaking, and his jaw moved kind of funny-like."
Jocelyn McIvers rushed her son to the doctor. He immediately hospitalized Christopher, whose reactions continued unabated. After a week of testing, the doctors ruled out multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, and tumors, but they couldn't identify the disorder. Christopher was then taken to the head of pediatric neurology at UCLA, who diagnosed "tremors of unknown origin."
"Christopher's EEG was normal, even during reactions, so his doctor said it was either something occurring in the deeper part of the brain [subcortical] or something different altogether," said Kevin McIvers. "He told us their best guess was that there was something dreadful going on neurologically. We would just have to wait and see, and eventually it would get worse and the root of the problem would show itself." The doctors tried drugs to suppress the central nervous system, but they didn't stop the tremors. "So we were waiting, just watching our son have all these terrible episodes, forty to fifty a day, and not knowing the cause."
Because Christopher had been perfectly healthy until this point, Jocelyn's father, a building contractor, suggested they consider as a possible cause of the problem the new carpet they had installed in their Santa Bar before the onset of the tremors. So Kevin and Jocelyn, both lawyers, cautiously approached the carpet manufacturer for information.
"Being a trial lawyer, I'm very aware of some of the shenanigans that can go on over semantics, so I was very careful how I worded my questions to the industry. I wanted the correct information for my son's benefit. I asked specifically, 'I don't want to know if the industry believes that carpet can cause problems, or if it's scientifically documented or anything like that. Just tell me, please, has anyone ever complained or claimed that they have had a neurological or neuromuscular reaction of any kind to carpet?' And the answer was, 'No. We've never heard of it.'"
The manufacturer followed up their call with a letter a month later: "You reported that your 11-month-old son has been experiencing some allergy-type symptoms since your new carpeting was installed," the July 18, 1991 letter stated. "We have not heard of any reactions similar to what you describe." (1)
Christopher's tremors seemed to lessen when they were away from home, so, on the advice of their doctors, the McIverses consulted with an indoor air consultant. He advised them to steam-clean the carpet several times and bake out the house by shutting the windows and heating it to speed up the offgassing of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), then airing it for several days. They went through this routine twice, while living at Jocelyn's mother's house for six weeks. During that time Christopher's tremors had decreased. "So we returned to our home and kept all the windows open. The tremors got worse again but were still less frequent than before," said Jocelyn.
That October the CBS news program Street Stories did a segment about Anderson Laboratories in Dedham, Massachusetts. At the request of a number of people, the lab had tested certain carpet samples for biological effects and came up with some disturbing findings. Using a standard testing method (ASTM-E981), Rosalind Anderson, Ph.D., found that air blown across the samples was causing severe respiratory and neurological/neuromuscular abnormalities and death in mice. (2, 3) The television script highlighted the health problems several families had experienced as a result of new carpeting. The McIverses saw the program.
"So we had our carpet tested and sure enough, the mice were rolling over and shaking just like our son did," said Jocelyn. "We were horrified."
The McIverses immediately removed the carpet and pad, scraped off the adhesive, washed down the entire house, baked it out again, aired it, and moved back in December of 1992. "Since December Christopher's tremors have entirely stopped," Kevin reports.
The more Kevin and Jocelyn learned about the history of toxic carpet problems [see "Carpet Cover-Up Time Line" in this issue], the angrier they became. We felt utterly betrayed. The manufacturer we had contacted was a major player front and center in the carpet industry and had people on the board of the Carpet and Rug Institute [CRI]," said Kevin. "Long before we ever called them, the CRI was very much involved in the episode where over a thousand complaints were reported by EPA workers made ill by new carpet in the EPA headquarters building. (4) I know, at a minimum, they were well aware of neurological complaints and very serious pulmonary complaints from a number of EPA workers."
The incident in Washington had brought CRI into the Carpet Policy Dialogue with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), as working agreement between government and industry that was restricted to studying total volatile organic compounds and not health effects. The dialogue had been underway nearly a year, and the carpet industry was already studying ways to reduce total VOCs in carpet and carpet-related products, when Kevin McIvers called to ask about carpet concerns. (4, 5)
CPSC had received hundreds of complaints about carpet. In a memorandum attached to a CPSC report obtained by the McIverses, dated nearly a year before they had bought their carpet, CPSC presented the results of their evaluation of complaints from 206 households about respiratory and central nervous system problems attributed to carpet and stated, "We are continuing to interact with the carpet industry and will provide them with copies of these studies for their information." (6)
Two months before Kevin McIvers called the manufacturer of their carpet for help, the New York Attorney General, Robert Abrams, had petitioned CPSC to require warning labels on carpets. (7) Because of the large number of carpet complaints, the attorneys general of twenty-five other states signed the petition as well. (9) CPSC refused to even consider their petition. (7, 8, 9)
According to Kevin, numerous lawsuits had by then been filed against the carpet industry by individuals injured by carpet: "The industry representative that I spoke to repeatedly on the phone when I was looking for information on carpet was very compassionate and always asked about Christopher's health. It wouldn't surprise me at all if that guy sincerely believed carpet couldn't be a problem and there hadn't been any history of complaints, and simply had been misinformed by upper management. But somewhere in the corporation someone has been making decisions about what information gets to the public, and it is a real dishonest, hideous decision that is being made. The direct result was that our son continued to live with the toxic carpet for another year and a half, continuing to have thousands of tremors, while my wife and I spent most of our time with a knot in our stomachs, wondering when he would go further downhill. And that's just unconscionable."
Although the tremors have stopped, testing on Christopher McIvers shows that he has immune system damage consistent with chemicals exposure, including autoantibodies (indicating that the body's immune system has mistakenly identified its own tissues or cellular components as foreign and has directed antibodies against them) to the myelin in his nervous system -- a sign that nerve tissue damage has occurred. (10)
His mother reflects: "I was extremely careful about what my baby came into contact with. Organic chemical-free food and everything. Even though I know better, I still feel guilty about the carpet. I mean, I picked it out myself -- beautiful and expensive. I wanted the house to be so nice, and then I poisoned my son with it. Looking back at all this, we wished we had just ripped it out, but they assured us the carpet wasn't the cause, and we just believed them -- which was really stupid, but we did."
"The general public needs to be aware," says Kevin McIvers, "that in spite of two congressional hearings that have been held regarding the toxic carpet issue (October 1, 1992, and June 11, 1993), the industry is still giving a very imbalanced picture to anyone who asks, and that's a great disservice."
At the October hearing, chaired by Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), Dr. Anderson reported that three of thirteen random, new carpet samples caused adverse health effects. EPA responded that the health hazard reported from 25 percent of carpets is not enough to require a warning label on all carpeting and that it would be "unfair" to do so. EPA was instructed by the congressional panel to replicate Anderson's tests. (4, 11)
"The carpet industry has mounted a massively deceptive merchandising campaign that intentionally misleads the public by implying that all carpets with the green tag have met safety standards," say New York Attorney General Robert Abrams. "First of all, there are no such recognized standards of safety. CRI has sets its own arbitrary standards. Secondly, CRI's testing program is completely inadequate because it measure only a small percentage of the chemicals emitted from carpets. Finally, a manufacturer can get a green tag for an entire product line simply by having one small piece of carpet tested once a year."
One of the carpets to pass the green tag testing is associated with disabling the members of the Charles Fitzgerald family of West Friendship, Maryland, who were exposed to it in their lighting store in 1992. When tested by Anderson Labs, the Fitzgeralds' carpet caused gross nervous system abnormalities in mice. It was then analyzed by another independent lab, at the University of Pittsburgh, with results that duplicated those of Anderson.
EPA and CPSC lent their names to the green tag program, and they have increasingly come under fire for not fulfilling their role as protectors of the public interest. (4, 12) "The Consumer Product Safety Commission receives hundreds of complaints and inquiries each year about the adverse health effects associated with the materials used to make carpet," said Abrams. "Yet the government has chosen to sweep this problem under the rug by ignoring the public's health concerns as well as my request to disseminate meaningful information about potential carpet hazards."
When EPA investigated carpet complaints from its headquarters building, it published a report showing a positive correlation between EPA worker complaints and new carpet, according to an EPA Senior Scientist, Bill Hirzy. (4, 13, 14) Despite its own study, and the removal of 27,000 square yards of carpet from the headquarters building in 1989, EPA published a public information brochure, "Indoor Air Quality and New Carpet: What You Should Know," which states, "Limited research to date has found no links between adverse health effects and the levels of chemicals emitted by new carpet." (15)
There was no scientific basis for the brochure's statement, admitted Bob Axelrad of EPA during an interview on CBS "Evening News." (15) He went on to say that the brochure was formulated during the Carpet Policy Dialogue and constituted a compromise with industry. (16)
"My sense is that EPA is avoiding the issue because they don't want to participate in a financial massacre of industry," said Hirzy, speaking as president of EPA Union Local 2050. "And there is a certain amount of investment in reputation by people in EPA who early on said carpet wasn't a problem. Industry won't publicly admit there's a problem because of the liability. In the meantime, how many lives have been and will be devastated?"
"To date we have tested over 400 carpet samples," said Dr. Rosalind Anderson. "Of the carpets sent in by persons with health complaints, at least 90 percent have shown severe neurological effects. Approximately 25 percent of new carpets, ones that have never been installed, have been deadly. We've found death in mice from a new sample just sever square inches at room temperature."
In a side-by-side test conducted at Anderson Labs, EPA replicated Anderson's work. "The EPA people even picked out a new carpet sample for the test run themselves, so there couldn't be any accusation that Dr. Anderson deliberately picked a contaminated sample," said Kevin McIvers. The side-by-side test was videotaped with Anthony Pollina, aide to Rep. Bernard Sanders (I-VT), as a witness. "EPA found the same neurological effects and death in mice as did Dr. Anderson," said Pollina.
Then, when EPA returned to its own labs, "instead of duplicating what Rosalind Anderson did, as they were charged to do at the October '92 carpet hearing, EPA created its own protocol," said Hirzy. "They replicated Anderson's results at her lab, but when EPA scientists used bottled air in their own lab and bubbled it through water to add humidity, the humidity changed the result. What they found was that humidity reduced the toxicity, so apparently whatever the toxins are, they are soluble in water at low levels."
After Anderson Labs changed their protocol to humidify the air in the same manner as EPA had done," we found it removed the toxic effect as well," said Anderson. When they passed air over a toxic carpet sample and bubbled it through water, the air was not toxic to the mice. So they took that water and exposed the mice to it in the form of a mist. "Lo and behold, the toxic effect had been removed from the air and put into the water. We were now seeing the same enurotoxic effects from the water, including death, said Anderson.
"We found the same results when we injected the water into the muscles of the mice. We used appropriate control mice, which were totally unaffected by water that wasn't exposed to the carpet air. So something very bad was coming off that carpet, which can be trapped in water. It's really an exciting finding, actually. All that needs to be done now if for someone to analyze the water and see what the chemicals are."
"It cries out for follow-up," said Hirzy. "what is in the water that's killing mice? The chemicals in the carpet have already been isolated by the water, so all you have to do is test the water. But it's a terribly expensive process, so a private lab couldn't fund it on its own."
"We did not independently replicate the severe toxicity described by Anderson Laboratories," reported EPA at the carpet hearing held on June 11, 1993, before the House Subcommittee on Environment, Energy, and Natural Resources. (17) The hearing was held to discuss EPA's findings, according to Congressman Sanders' aid Pollina. But instead of talking about the positive implications of its discovery, EPA simply denied replicating Anderson's tests and then reiterated the stance taken in its brochure: "We do not have a sound basis for concluding exposure to carpet emissions presents a health risk." (17)
Under cross-examination, EPA admitted having changed the protocol and having had problems monitoring humidity. (11, 18, 19) "EPA's presentation before Congress was confusing at best," said New York Environmental Protection Bureau Assistant Attorney General Gail Suchman. "It hasn't answered our request, which is to get the right information out to the public."
Congressman Sanders and Subcommittee Chairman Mike Synar (D-OK) were especially critical of EPA for "dragging its heels." Said Sanders: "I am extremely disturbed that after months of promises to get to work on this issue, the EPA has failed to accurately replicate Dr. Anderson's tests, has failed to talk to a single doctor whose patients have suffered ill health effects from carpeting, and has failed to make any serious effort to identify which chemicals are causing the problem." (20)
At the hearing Ron VanGelderen, president of the Carpet and Rug Institute, testified that current research suggests that "carpet itself does not adversely affect public health." (21)
Pollina reports that under cross-examination "the three people from industry were kind of hedging and giving conflicting answers and then the chairman basically said, hey, wait a minute, you're under oath. There can be only one answer to this question. Either people are getting sick from carpet or they're not. The industry guys kind of looked at each other, and then one of them said something to the effect of, well, if you consider an allergy-like reaction to be an adverse health effect, then yes, I suppose you could say carpet causes problems for some sensitive people."
"One of the best things that happened at the hearing," Pollina adds, "was industry admitting under oath, that yes, carpet can cause problems in some people. The term allergy-like can mean just about anything, but at least they admitted that carpet could be the cause of it."
The same day of the hearing, CRI issued a press release stating: "The scientific evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that carpet itself does not adversely affect public health." (22)
VanGelderen's testimony cited EPA and CPSC as not finding scientific evidence to warrant concern over carpet. He blasted Anderson's test method, calling it "irrelevant to the debate on indoor air quality." (21) Yet just six days before Anderson went public with her test findings, CPSC had distributed a report recommending the use of the same testing method (ASTM-E981) for carpet that Anderson was using. The report analyzed the final results of a carpet testing study conducted by interagency agreement. It warned that measuring total VOCs, the measure used by the carpet industry's green tag program, is "probably not adequate as a standard to protect health." (23)
The health effects of the many chemicals the scientists found off gassing from carpet are for the most part unknown, the CPSC report stated. It then recommended the test founded by Yves Alarie, Ph.D., the ASTM-E981, calling it a "standard method" that "could be used to make reasonable predictions of effects in humans over a wide range of concentrations." (23).
"Dr. Alarie of the University of Pittsburgh was hired to develop the ASTM-E981 in the 1960s by the U.S. Department of Defense to test for the potency of nerve gases to be used by the U.S. Army in Vietnam for cleaning out tunnels," said Mark Goldman, manager of Anderson Labs. "It was later used by the pesticide industry. It came from the camp of the manufacturers frankly."
Alarie, who had been hired by CRI in the past, testified at the June hearing that when Anderson first released her test results, VanGelderen asked him to verify her test protocol. After Alarie visited her lab and reported that "her description of the effects observed was correct and her experimental design was valid," VanGelderen hired Alarie to see if he could replicate her work for CRI. (24)
Alarie testified that he replicated her results four time: "Her results are perfectly reproducible in my laboratory." (20)
In his testimony Alarie expressed concern about the many rumors being spread to try to discredit Anderson's work: "As results of neurotoxic effects and death were reported by Dr. Anderson to be due to volatile emissions from carpets, rumors were circulated that these effects were due to the exposure method -- i.e., placing the mice in restraining tubes as described in the ASTM-E981 method." Alarie conducted additional testing over even longer periods of time "in order to satisfy those rumor generators," and proved the restraints were absolutely not a problem. (24)
A CRI press release issued on the day of the hearing quoted one of its experts regarding the restraint: "[The tests] are tantamount to lacing up a human being in a strait jacket and repeatedly choking him for two days." (22)
"Cretins will continue to spread their rumors, and there is not much I can do about it," testified Alarie at the hearing. "This method ASTM-E981 has been used all over the world and I have never received a complaint from a user of it that the method itself produces neurotoxic effects." (24)
Congressman Sanders went on record agreeing with Chairman Synar, whom he quoted as saying that the testimony and evidence presented at the hearing "remind us of EPA's past failures to protect indoor air quality ... After years of complaints, consumers still have difficulty in getting straight answers to questions about chemical risks if they ask carpet retailers, or frankly, even if they ask government officials." (20)
One week after the hearing, EPA's designated carpet spokesperson was asked about the side-by-side EPA replication of Anderson's tests at her lab. "There was no side-by-side," said EPA's Charles Auer, director of the Chemical Control Division. He said the EPA had observed Anderson's testing but had not replicated it." (25)
"We submitted the videotape of the side-by-side test to Congress as part of our testimony," said Mark Goldman. "It's part of the Congressional Record."
EPA plans workshops this fall with industry and Anderson Laboratories to discuss whether to pursue the test results any further. "That's just a government tactic for delay," said EPA Union President Hirzy. "It's designed to keep the industry covered. There are some hot leads here. We have human evidence that people are getting respiratory, neurological, and immunological injury from carpet. If I were industry, I'd be scurrying around behind the scenes trying to find out what's in the air and the water that's killing those critters, and then working to reduce it. And if EPA can keep things stalled up by pushing for workshops and time-consuming quote 'peer reviews,' and all sorts of delay mechanisms, that mutes out a lot of lawsuits."
Congressman Sanders' office wants action. "Number one," said Pllina, "We'd like to see EPA sit down and have some serious talks with a group of doctors who can help them make the connection to human health. Number two: We'd like to see industry not just come up with a good warning label but also suspend the green tag program. Number three: The water that trapped the carpet fumes must be tested to find what the toxins are so the manufacturing process can be changed."
CRI has agreed to work on a new additional warning label with the New York attorney general's office, which recently published a report: "Carpet and Indoor Air: What You Should Know." The report counteracts the EPA brochure by warning about the possible hazards of carpet and calling for the suspension of the green tag program.
"Our focus has been to get the right information to the public. EPA and CPSC have been totally unresponsive to all of our requests to get that information out to the public, which is why we wrote the report," stated Gail Suchman of the New York attorney general's office. "We are willing to work with CRI to establish a new consumer information program, including some sort of warning or informational campaign so the public can make an informed decision."
Congressman Sander's office has been in touch with a number of doctors from a variety of specialties who all have one thing in common. They are seeing an increase in chemical injuries, including cases where people have been made ill by carpet. "Some of the doctors are in the process of drafting short statements to present to Congressman Sanders," said Pollina. "The statements will say in effect that in recent years toxic injuries have become more common, and as that has happened, their ability to diagnose chemical injuries has improved. Further, based on what they are seeing and the diagnostic procedures they are using, including objective neurological testing, patient history and a process of elimination, it is their medical opinion that their patients, both children and adults, are being affected by the chemicals off gassing from carpets and that there needs to be more research."
Sander's staff hopes that EPA and industry will meet with some of these doctors in the near future. Pollina added, "The carpet industry has committed themselves to develop a whole array of information for consumers, retailers, and installers, which we expect to be an improvement over the earlier information they were circulating. They've also stated they will research the problem. We'll see what happens. Time will tell."
The following states have all signed the New York attorney general's petition to CPSC, which would require warning labels on carpet and an adequate public information campaign: Alabama, Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. To voice concerns over carpet safety, contact your own state attorney general's office and ask the staff to contact the New York attorney general's office. Write your state senators and representatives at:
Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
For more information on the hazards of carpet, consult:
"Carpet and Indoor Air: What You Should Know," authored by four state attorneys general, June 1993, available free from:
New York State Attorney General
New York, NY 10271
Citizens for Safe Carpet
P.O. Box 53344
Cincinnati, OH 45253-0344
Glen and Sharon Beebe, authors of "Toxic Carpet III," provide a support group and information exchange. The Book "Toxic Carpet III" is available at the above address for $12.95 PLUS $4.OO S&H.
Environmental Access Research Network (EARN)
315 W. 7th Avenue
Sisseton, SD 59645
For a list of carpet-related articles, studies, and reports available from EARN's photocopying service, send $1.00 and request "Carpet List."
EPA Union NFFE 2050
P.O. Box 76082
Washington, DC 20013
1980 -- First documented case of people becoming sick after carpet installation. Glenn and Sharon Beebe become ill from carpet installation at their business building in Cincinnati. (26) They have now documented several thousand cases of carpet-related complaints dating back to 1972.
1986 -- The Beebes send thousands of notices to industry, medical personnel, government agencies, and consumers. (26)
October 1987 -- The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) begins carpet installation in its Waterside Mall headquarters building, and employees complain of ill health from the fumes. A total of 1,141 complaints are received. To date, at least twenty people are still unable to work in the building. (4, 27, 28)
May 1988 -- Over 100 EPA employees hold a rally in front of EPA headquarters to demonstrate their concern over air quality, the toxic carpet in their building, and EPA's refusal to acknowledge the problem and take action. (4)
August 1988 -- EPA establishes a policy of not using carpet containing the chemical 4-phenylcyclohexene (4-PC) in headquarters facilities and starts accommodating injured employees. Officially denies they are "real" injuries and claims that carpet poses no problems. (4)
May 1989 -- EPA is involved in a joint project with CPSC to study carpet complaints. EPA management tells EPA union they will not use data from their investigation into the air quality at the headquarters building because they fear lawsuits. (4)
September 1989 -- As a result of its indoor air quality study, EPA removes the carpet from its headquarters. A total of 27,000 square yards are replaced. (4, 13, 14)
September 1989 -- "The freshly manufactured carpet clearly caused the initial illness," EPA's Director of Health and Safety tells "Washington Times." EPA management removes him from that job within a few weeks.
March 1990 -- EPA management tells union "off the record" that because the union's petition to EPA to start testing and regulating carpet emissions could potentially cost the carpet industry "billions of dollars," it will not grant the petition. (4)
April 1990 -- EPA publicly denies the union petition. EPA's Indoor Air Division director privately tells attendees at an indoor air conference in Virginia that "everyone knows the new carpet made people sick," while publicly denying the same. (4)
June 1990 -- The EPA union files suit over petition denial. Court grants EPA's motion to kill the suit. (4)
August 13, 1990 -- The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) distributes a memorandum regarding the evaluation of carpet complaints from 206 households. The memorandum states that they have been interacting with industry on the topic and will continue to do so. (6)
August 21, 1990 -- EPA convenes a Carpet Policy Dialogue with floor-covering industries (including CRI) and other government agencies. The dialogue is restricted to studying only total volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions and not health effects. (4, 5)
April 1991-- A consumer alert, "Chemicals in New Carpets Pose Potential Health Hazards," is issued by New York Attorney General Robert Abrams. (29)
April 10, 1991 -- New York Attorney General Robert Abrams petitions CPSC to require consumer warning labels on carpet. (7) In time twenty-five other state attorneys general sign the petition. (9)
June 1991 -- EPA publishes the result of the air quality investigation into worker complaints in its headquarters building. Volume 4 establishes a link between adverse effects and carpet. (4, 12, 28)
June 1991 -- Kevin McIvers calls Monsanto carpet manufacturer when his ten-month-old son, Christopher, develops tremors and has to be hospitalized five days after carpet installation. Kevin reports being told they had never heard of that type of complaint before and that it could not be caused by the carpet.
September 6, 1991 -- Carpet Policy Dialogue is concluded. A public information brochure has been prepared, and industry has agreed to take steps to measure VOC emissions in their products and to take steps to reduce them. (4, 5)
October 1991 -- CPSC refuses to docket the New York attorney general's petition to require warning labels (4, 8)
March 1992 -- EPA brochure is published, claiming that no links have been found between carpet and ill health. (15)
May 1992 -- The carpet that disabled the Fitzgerald family of West Friendship, Maryland, and killed several mice with the ASTM-E981 testing at Anderson Laboratories (Dedham, Mass.) passes the carpet industry's testing program and qualifies for a Green Tag. (30)
July 17, 1992 -- CRI announces its Green Tag program in a press release. (31) The program tests only one carpet sample from each carpet type once a year -- a test based only on total VOC emissions, not biological health effects. EPA and CPSC lend their names to the program. (4, 31)
August 13, 1992 -- A CPSC report states that measuring total VOCs is "probably not adequate as a standard to protect health" and recommends the ASTM-E981, developed by Dr. Yves Alarie. (23)
August 18, 1992 -- After presenting their findings to EPA management and industry and receiving no response, Anderson Labs goes public with test results of carpet fumes killing mice, using the ASTM-E981 testing method. (2)
August 21, 1992 -- CRI has Dr. Alarie check out Dr. Rosalind Anderson's testing technique. Dr. Alarie reports that it is scientifically valid. CRI hires him to replicate Anderson's tests in his labs. He finds the same neurotoxic results four times. (24)
September 1992 -- The EPA union files a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission and EPA's Indoor Air Division, claiming the Green Tag program to be fraudulent and a danger to public health. (4)
October 1, 1992 -- Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) holds carpet hearings. Dr. Anderson says 3 of 13 random, new carpet samples tested caused adverse health effects. EPA replies that the health hazard reported from 25 percent of carpets is not enough to require a warning label on all carpeting and that "it would be unfair" to do so. EPA is given a charge to exactly replicate Anderson's test exactly. (4, 11)
October 29, 1992 -- CBS "Evening News" and "Street Stories" air segments on problem carpet, Anderson's findings, and the Fitzgerald story. When questioned about EPA's carpet brochure, which states that research has found no link between adverse health effects and carpets, EPA's Bob Axelrad admits there is no scientific basis for that statement and that the brochure represents a compromise with industry. (16)
November 6, 1992 -- Testing of McIvers' carpet shows in mice the same type of tremors and neuromuscular reactions their infant son had. They remove carpet, and their son's reactions stop. (32)
January 1993 -- EPA is videotaped replicating Anderson's test results in a side-by-side test at Anderson Labs with Rep. Bernard Sanders' aide, Anthony Pollina, as a witness. The mice have respiratory and neuromuscular reactions, and some die. (11)
January 27, 1993 -- Blood testing of Christopher McIvers shows immune system damage consistent with chemical injury. (10)
February 1993 -- Anderson's paper "Toxic Emissions from Carpets" is presented at an international conference and accepted for publication in a peer-reviewed journal. (33)
March 1993 -- In its own lab EPA changes Anderson's protocol instead of replicating the test.
April 1993 -- CRI distributes a letter to members of the carpet industry, including retailers, assuring them that "extensive research" by EPA and others failed to discover any link between carpet and ill health. Letter provides sample statements for retailers to use in assuring the public that carpet is safe and to cast doubt on Anderson's testing. (34)
June 1993 -- Four state attorneys general (N.Y., Vt., Conn., and Oreg.) prepare a report, "Carpet and Indoor Air: What You Should Know," which warns the public about the misleading nature of the green tag program. The report is sent to CRI and carpet manufacturers along with a request that they withdraw the green tag program. (35)
June 11, 1993 -- A second carpet hearing is held before Congress regarding EPA's work. EPA testimony states that its scientists were unable to replicate Anderson's findings. Anderson submits the videotape showing EPA's replication of her findings in the side-by-side test. EPA admits having changed the protocol in its own lab. Under cross-examination, industry admits that some people may experience adverse effects from carpet, and the Carpet and Rug Institute agrees to work on a new additional label with the New York attorney general's office. CRI also agrees to fund more research into carpet and work with EPA on it. The same day, CRI issues a press release stating that "carpet itself does not adversely affect public health." (11, 17, 18, 19, 22, 36)
June 18, 1993 -- Contradicting the videotape presented at the hearing, EPA's Charles Auer, director of the Chemical Control Division and current official spokesperson to the public on carpet, states when questioned about the result of EPA's side-by-side test with Dr. Anderson: "We never ran a side-by-side." (25)
July 4, 1993 -- When Dr. Anderson presents two papers at "Indoor Air '93, the Sixth International Conference on Indoor Air Quality and Climate" in Helsinki, Finland, she is approached by many researchers from around the world who tell her that they are seeing similar carpet-related health problems that this is a worldwide dilemma. (18)
Bill Hirzy, Ph.D., speaking as president of EPA Union Local 2050, believes the carpet issue could be resolved in a rational way. He states: "Carpet is a reasonable and important part of our society. There are a lot of jobs in it and there is a lot of economic value in keeping the industry going. Certainly, nobody wants to see the industry destroyed. There is no question that the industry doesn't deliberately want to hurt people. Of course they don't. But they do have legitimate concern that their stockholders will lose a lot of money, and they may not survive if there is unlimited liability. What has to happen is that industry, EPA, and CPSC must own up to past problems and take steps to prevent future ones in an honest way.
"I think there is a way to address the issue and warn the public without bankrupting the industry. A conference needs to be held with the possible plaintiffs, industry, a regulatory agency, and a public-advocacy-type group. They need to sit down and hammer out ways to compensate people who have been injured so far and begin a very aggressive and forthright program of warning consumers that there appear to be some individuals who, when exposed to certain lots of carpeting, are in danger of profound adverse health effects.
"This conference would need to come to an agreement made binding by a legislative or judicial finding that limits the liability of industry, compensates those already injured in a timely manner, and protects the industry from future liability once they've come clean and have issued accurate public service announcements and adequate warning labels on each roll of carpet. Once industry has honestly and forthrightly informed the public of the risk, then by purchasing their product, the public is consenting to take on that risk, and the industry should be free of liability. Similar to the warning label on a cigarette package. But right now the pubic is being stonewalled by a bunch of lies from industry and from the EPA, so they don't even have the opportunity to make informed decisions."
Not all carpets are problem carpets. Anderson Labs has found no toxic effects in about three-quarters of the new carpets tested (ones that have never been installed). (18) For consumers the issue is knowing whether the carpet they want will pose a health risk. There is no easy answer to that question because the chemicals causing problem carpets has not yet been determined.
If you wish to purchase carpeting, you can take steps to minimize total exposure to the chemicals found in it. But while reducing total volatile organic compound (VOC) exposure will lessen the amount of toxins the body has to deal with, it may not be an adequate measure for health protection, according to a Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) report. (23)
"Based on what's happening out there and what we're seeing with our carpet testing," said Dr. Rosalind Anderson of Anderson Labs in a telephone interview, "I think we have to conclude that there must be some ongoing process that we don't know about yet, continuing to generate fumes over times. Something is breaking down very slowly and consistently and whatever it breaks down to is bad news. It's probably some combination of chemicals forming new compounds that we're not expecting."
A consumer alert put out in 1991 by New York Attorney General Robert Abrams advises caution: "People who smoke, have allergies, or suffer from respiratory disorders may be more prone to experiencing symptoms when exposed to new carpeting. Further, the chemicals pose a greater risk to small children. Pregnant women should also avoid these fumes, as they may be harmful to the child [in the womb." (29)
The following are suggestions for dealing with the problem-carpet question. No guarantee of safety is implied or intended. People's sensitivities vary greatly, so caution and common sense are advised.
The following are some of the companies that sell woven wool carpet, low VOC emitting carpet adhesive and purifiers:
1940 Olivera Rd.
Concord, CA 94520
woven wool carpet, jute backing or polypropylene backing
P.O. Box 1351
Wayne, PA 19087
woven wool carpet, just or polypropylene backing (further surface treatment is optional)
2825E Boradbent Pkwy. N.E.
Albuquerque, NM 87107
woven wool area rugs
Gordon T. Sands Ltd.
40 Torbay Rd.
Markham, Ontario L3R 1G6
woven wool carpet, commercial felt carpet pad
P.O. Box 1928
Calhoun, Georgia 30703
woven wool carpet
Hendricksen Naturlich Flooring Interiors
6761 Sebastopol Ave., Suite 7
Sebastopol, CA 95472-3805
natural wool carpet, jute padding constructed without glue,
Auro Adhesive (contains no petrochemicals),
Envirotec Adhesive, true linoleum
H & I Carpet Corp.
115 Dupont St.
Toronto, Ontario M5R 1V4
woven wool carpet
527 Charles Ave.
Syracuse, NY 13209
AFM Carpet Adhesive (low VOC carpet adhesive)
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