Home Depot, the largest building product retailer in the U.S., has announced a sweeping new Chemical Strategy that considers several building product categories, including carpet, fiberglass insulation, paints, and laminate flooring. (See related Healthy Building News article).
Home Depot’s Chemical Strategy will accelerate important detoxification trends in several building product categories important to the HomeFree affordable housing community.
How can you use this in your projects? Incorporate the guidance below in project specifications. And, for areas that are noted as "More action needed," ask the manufacturers and retailers to stop using and selling materials that include these chemicals. Our collective voice will continue to transform the market.
Home Depot has eliminated a family of additives -- alkylphenol ethoxylates (APEOs), including nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs) -- from most interior and exterior latex water-based paints sold in its U.S. and Canadian stores. It will phase the rest out by the end of 2019.
APEOs are surfactants that help keep substances mixed in paints. But NPEs contain and break down into chemicals called nonylphenols, which are highly persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic. These chemicals, when released to the environment, contaminate the food chain. NPEs are also suspected endocrine disruptors, which tend to affect children the most.
Nonylphenol ethoxylates are mostly phased-out in Europe and Japan, but still common in the U.S., even though the EPA has identified over 200 “safer surfactants” to replace them. Home Depot is the first large U.S. paint seller to announce a categorical phaseout of APE/NPEs, although Benjamin Moore and Sherwin-Williams also have product lines free of them.
While Benjamin Moore and Sherwin-Williams’ transition has focused on higher-end paints (their most affordable NPE-free paints are Benjamin Moore’s ben® and Regal Select, and Sherwin-Williams’ SuperPaint), the good news is that Home Depot’s chemical strategy applies to every latex water-based paint sold in its stores.
The Chemical Strategy says all indoor “wall to wall carpet sold through The Home Depot U.S. and Canada” is now free of coal fly ash and several other toxic substances.
Home Depot’s announcement followed the release earlier in October of Healthy Building Network’s latest report, Eliminating Toxics in Carpet: Lessons for the Future of Recycling, in which we disclosed that Shaw Industries - the largest U.S. carpet manufacturer - stopped using fly ash in its carpets as of this year. These are huge developments in the carpet industry. Since the advent of “recycled content” credits in green building rating systems, carpet manufacturers loaded their products with cheap fly ash from coal-fired power plant. Rating systems like LEED have ruled coal fly ash qualifies as “pre-consumer” recycled content, even though it contains heavy metals like arsenic, lead, and mercury.
Their policy also prohibits organotins, ortho-phthalates, certain (but not all) PFAS stain repellants, triclosan, formaldehyde, vinyl chloride, NPEs and heavy metals. But more action is needed:The new Home Depot carpet policy does not yet address some significant concerns that we have raised, including halogenated flame retardants in carpet pad. Our report identifies 44 toxic chemicals in carpet, many of which are not included in the Home Depot strategy. There is no carpet yet on the market that has eliminated all of these chemicals, although individually, there are ready replacements for them.
The retailer says all fiberglass insulation products sold in its U.S. and Canadian stores no longer contain include formaldehyde. This potent carcinogen was a mainstay of binders used in residential batt insulation until 2015. It has continued to be used in some higher density fiberglass products such as pipe insulation.
Home Depot’s fiberglass insulation also does not contain halogenated flame retardants, antimony trioxide and added heavy metals, but more action is needed in other types of insulation: The current chemical strategy only restricts chemicals in fiberglass insulation. Many other types of insulation contain the same and additional chemicals and chemical classes of concern. Mineral wool insulation still typically contains formaldehyde-based binders. Some formaldehyde-free mineral wool batts are now available and should be preferred. Rigid foam insulation products and spray foam insulation and sealants contain halogenated flame retardants. Spray foam insulation and sealant products react on-site when applied and expose the applicators and others in the building to hazardous isocyanates. Do-it-yourselfers, who may not always be aware of the proper safety equipment, are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of isocyanates.
According to Home Depot, “Laminate flooring at The Home Depot is verified by either GREENGUARD® Gold or FloorScore® certification to contain 0.0073 ppm or less of formaldehyde, which is a stricter standard than CARB 2 of 0.05 ppm.”
HBN Policy Director Tom Lent, who has been tracking the formaldehyde issue for decades, says Home Depot’s standard “is very low - currently the best in class for restrictions on formaldehyde emissions. Given the ability of formaldehyde emissions to increase with time, particularly when controlled by scavengers, HBN still encourages complete elimination of the use of formaldehyde based binders.”
All in all, the Home Depot 2017 policy represents important steps forward on the still long path to inherently safer chemistry on the shelves of home improvement retailers and in people’s homes.
Home Depot's Chemical Strategy is contained in the company's 2017 Sustainability Report (see pages 67-69), available here.