How Safe Are Carpets?

HOW much time do you spend in indoor areas covered with carpets? A report in New Scientist magazine suggests that the answer may be a matter of concern, particularly for children.

The magazine noted: “Our exposure to most toxic pollutants is between 10 and 50 times higher in indoor environments than it is outdoors.” John Roberts, an environmental engineer in the United States, claims that samples of carpet dust from typical homes can contain alarmingly high levels of pollutants. These include lead, cadmium, mercury, pesticides, and the carcinogenic polychlorinated biphenols (PCBs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).

Reportedly, pesticides carried into the home on shoes and pets’ paws can increase the pesticide content of carpet dust 400-fold. These pollutants are said to persist for years. Since pesticides and PAHs are semivolatile, they evaporate, drift about, and then resettle on carpets or other surfaces.

Young children often play on the floor and then put their fingers in their mouth. So they are especially vulnerable to pollutants. Since young children have a higher metabolic rate than adults, weight for weight they breathe in much more air than do adults.

Some researchers wonder if the increase in indoor carpeted areas may be contributing to the upsurge in children’s asthma, allergies, and cancer. Roberts observes: “A house with bare floors and a few area rugs will have about one-tenth of the dust found in a house with wall-to-wall carpet.”

Roberts suggests that to make carpets safer, you should use a vacuum cleaner with a power head. Then, once a week for a period of several weeks, make 25 passes over the carpet within four feet of the main entrances, 16 passes over areas with heavy foot traffic, and 8 passes over the remainder of the carpeted areas.

After you have completed this simple procedure, if you then make half the above-recommended number of passes over the carpet each week, you should be able to keep dust levels low. Roberts also advises: “Put a high-quality doormat at each of the entrances to your home and wipe your feet twice before entering.”