U.S. flooring retailer Lumber Liquidators Inc. is giving the boot to any vinyl flooring made from recycled plastic, the company and a chemical reform advocacy group announced Nov. 17.
Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families said Lumber Liquidators has committed to new standards requiring its vinyl flooring suppliers to end all use of reprocessed vinyl in flooring and limit lead in flooring to less than 100 parts per million. In September the retailer also began requiring its suppliers to eliminate the use of orthophthalates in all vinyl flooring.
“Lumber Liquidators is committed to setting the highest standards for the sourcing of flooring products,” said Jill Witter, chief compliance and legal officer of Lumber Liquidators, in a news release. “We are pleased to work with Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families on this initiative, as part of our ongoing efforts to lead the industry forward with responsible sourcing practices.”
Lumber Liquidators developed the framework for the company's new standards with the help of the chemical reform group, and plans to phase them in next year.
The advocacy group, which launched the “Mind the Store” campaign to encourage major U.S. retailers to adopt policies that restrict and substitute hazardous chemicals in common consumer products, said testing has shown that recycled vinyl often is contaminated with lead, cadmium, brominated flame retardants and phthalates.
The harmful materials are likely coming from "contaminated vinyl scrap," said Mind the Store Campaign Director Mike Schade, probably in the form of recycled electronics.
“Contaminates of concern in the upper layer are low or non-detectible, but in the middle layer, it is absolutely off the charts,” according to testing by the Ecology Center in Michigan, Schade said. There has been very little study, however, regarding the possible migration of the harmful chemicals out of the middle layers of vinyl and into the top, human contact layers, he said.
North American vinyl producers phased out lead and cadmium as stabilizers decades ago, said Vinyl Institute spokeswoman Susan Wade. Most flooring manufactures also offer take-back programs, rather than at-large recycling programs, where they reclaim and recycle their own flooring products because they know what that flooring contains and what parts can be reused, she said, usually at a discount to the consumer or retailer.
Such programs would avoid exactly the problems that concern Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, which has plans to “encourage other retailers including Home Depot and Lowes to follow Lumber Liquidators' lead” on barring recycled vinyl flooring from their shelves, Schade said.
Scrap coming into the supply chain from other parts of the world could be the problem industry experts said, but the little vinyl recycling that does happen in the North American market is carefully regulated.
“I'm happy to see that Jill Witter, compliance officer at Lumber Liquidators, is setting the highest standards for sourcing of flooring products,z' said Kevin Ott, executive director of the Flexible Vinyl Alliance (FVA) via email.
“That being the case, vinyl flooring manufactured by North American companies would be at the top of her procurement list — safe, durable, affordable, easy to install and with a huge choice of aesthetic finishes.... Consumers do have choices. But, to promote the chemical-averse scare tactics and 'junk science' claims made by non-scientific advocacy groups does a big disservice to the consumer in making his or her sensible choice for a flooring product.”
Last month Lumber Liquidators was hit with more than $13 million in criminal fines after pleading guilty to illegally importing wood harvested from a Russian forest that is the world's last habitat for Siberian tigers and Amur leopards.
The company also made headlines earlier in March when “60 Minutes” said samples of laminate flooring made in China had levels of formaldehyde 20 times above California's safety standard. Lumber Liquidators founder Tom Sullivan said the television show's testing methodology was invalid and that his company only works with lumber mills certified as producing laminate flooring compliant with California Air Resources Board (CARB) standards. Following the controversy, Lumber Liquidators CEO Robert Lynch resigned and was replaced by John Presley, following a nearly 80 percent dive for the company's stock.