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Ehsan Ekrami

PhD in Textile chemistry and fiber sciences

Agent of OEKO-TEX in IRAN

 

Carpets can be found in many houses around the world. Scientific studies have demonstrated that carpets contribute substantially to indoor air pollution by volatile organic compounds (VOCs) due to the variety and quantity of VOCs that are emitted from various products and the large area of carpets used indoors.

Carpets contain a multitude of synthetic compounds such as polyester, nylon, acrylic, olefin fibers, latex and polypropylene backing. Many chemicals within the carpet emit during the first few months following installation, giving the “new carpet smell”. One of these, 4-phenylcyclohexene (4-PC) is primarily responsible for the odor associated with new carpet installation.

There are over 250 gaseous compounds known to be emitted by new carpets, many of them VOCs. A large number of the VOCs detected are known or suspected carcinogens or irritants at high concentration levels. The health-related symptoms, can vary greatly from person to person. General symptoms include headaches, eye irritation, nausea, drowsiness, skin rashes and respiratory and sinus congestion. However, there is currently little published evidence about the possible long-term health effects of exposure to these chemical and biological contaminants. Emissions of VOCs from carpets with different backings have been studied in European countries and the USA. Most of these studies, however, were concentrated on the investigation of carpets with SBR backing. The most important VOCs present in carpet emissions released include: styrene, toluene, formaldehyde, a variety of benzenes, and butadiene.

 

Following several lawsuits against major carpet manufacturers concerning indoor air quality, emission standards began to be formed for particular products. Nowadays, in European countries and the United States, there is an interest among manufacturers of carpets in the adoption of voluntary standards where specific chemicals should not rise above specified levels. For instance, to identify carpet products which are truly low-VOC emitters, the Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI) in the USA has established a labelling program. The carpet manufacturer is allowed to attach the indoor air quality label to that specific product type if the test result does not exceed the emission criteria (Table.1).

Table 1. CRI’s Green certification program limit values for volatile emissions

Emission factor

Limit value (mg/m3)

Carpet total VOCs

0.5

4-phenylcylohexen

0.05

Formaldehyde

0.05

Styrene

0.4

 

OEKO-TEX® which is a globally independent testing and certification system for different types of textiles also established limits on VOCs for carpets as summarized in the Table 2. The prerequisite for certification of textile products to Standard 100 by OEKO-TEX® is that all components of a carpet complies with the required criteria and limit values without exception.

The Standard 100 by OEKO-TEX® testing procedure for the determination of VOC emission of carpets is performed in a chamber of defined size, using samples of defined area. The sample is brought to equilibrium with conditioned air at a defined air exchange rate. Under continuing ventilation a defined amount of air is sampled and passed over an adsorbent. De-sorption is carried out with an appropriate solvent. The content of the above mentioned components in the extract is determined by gas chromatography coupled with mass selective detection.

 

Standard 100 by OEKO-TEX® limit values for volatile

Organic Chemicals (VOCs)

Volatile compounds

Limit value [mg/m3]

Formaldehyde

0.1

Toluene

0.1

Styrene

0.005

Vinylcyclohexene

0.002

4-Phenylcyclohexene

0.03

Butadiene

0.002

Vinylchloride

0.002

Aromatic hydrocarbons

0.3

Organic volatiles

0.5

Since the inception of the related inspection and labelling  programs, the USA and European industry has made substantial reductions in the emissions of total volatile organic compounds (TVOCs) from their carpets, as well as reductions in emissions of 4-phenylcyclohexene (4-PC). However, there is still limited technical guideline to encourage the carpet industry to manufacture low-VOC-emitting carpets, and to assist the consumers to select the carpets, which meet the criteria for low emissions, because few data on the VOC emissions from carpets exist in the industry.

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