Flooring Industry Changes

Changes in the flooring industry first began in 1989 with the United States Envi­ronmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Asbestos Ban and Phase-out Rule under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). The rule prohibits the manufacture, import, processing, and distribution of certain asbestos-containing products. Under the rule, the manufacture and processing of vinyl asbestos floor tile (VAT), one of the most popular floor finishes at the time, was to cease as of Aug. 1990. Although the United States Court of Appeals vacated and remanded most of the rule in Oct. 1991, making the manufacture of VAT technically allowable, VAT production has been phased out. The change from VAT to vinyl composi­tion tile (VCT) signaled the start of a major change in the flooring industry [1-3].

At about the same time that the EPA was defining standards for the use of asbestos discussions to guide the reformulation of flooring adhesives to reduce volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions was underway. In 1990, the EPA received a citizen’s petition filed under the TSCA. The petition focused on health concerns related to the emission of 4-phenycyclohexene (4-PC) from newly in­stalled carpet, carpet cushion, and carpet adhesive. Although the EPA denied the petition due to insufficient data, it formed the Carpet Policy Dialogue to sup­port measures to reduce VOC emissions from carpet products. In 1991, the EPA completed the Carpet Policy Dialogue Compendium Report following a one- year effort by representatives from industry, public interest groups, government agencies, and the scientific community [4].

The Carpet Policy Dialogue resulted in a standardized test method to mea­sure VOC emissions from carpet products and voluntary agreements from vari­ous carpet industry organizations to test their products for VOCs. Although manufacturers and industry organizations agreed to test and report to the pub­lic the amount of total VOCs in their products, the EPA did not establish maxi­mum allowable VOC emission limits in the Carpet Policy Dialogue. Consequently, the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) of California established Rule 1168 for adhesive and sealant applications in April 1989. In February 1991, the SCAQMD established a VOC limit of 150 g/l for indoor carpet adhesives. Presently, the VOC limit stipulated by the SCAQMD

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for most flooring adhesives, including indoor carpet, is 50 g/l [5]. The Carpet Policy Dialogue and regulations established by the SCAQMD in California drove the industry towards significant changes in the formulations of adhesives and other flooring products to reduce VOC emissions.

Regulations on VOCs in floor products became more stringent in 1998 when the EPA issued the National Volatile Organic Compound Emission Stand­ards for Architectural Coatings under Section 183(e) of the Clean Air Act [6]. Under the standard, manufacturers and importers of architectural coatings (including floor coatings, concrete protective coatings, sealers, and stains) must limit the VOC content of specified coatings. Although VOC limits vary depend­ing on the coating category, and adhesives are not explicitly mentioned as a sub­ject coating, the standard has proved an incentive for the flooring industry to lower VOC product emissions and acted as motivation to reformulate products containing VOCs. Today, most flooring products available for commercial appli­cations comply with the VOC limits established by SCAQMD. The use of VOC – containing products is strongly discouraged by such government-sponsored programs such as the U. S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system.