SCIENTIFIC DATA DISPELS "URBAN MYTHS"
- By Werner Braun
- May 1st, 2003
Parents today are faced with a myriad of things to worry about when it comes to their children. Some of those worries are being generated needlessly.
The carpet industry is constantly being hit with tales of asthma doctors telling patients to remove carpet because it aggravates the condition and is a contributing factor to poor indoor air quality. We also hear the one about mold making kids sick in schools, and the cure-all for this condition includes the removal of carpet from the facility.
When we see these things in newspaper headlines, we sometimes have to check just to make sure it’s not some national tabloid. In fact, we have been so inundated with suchtales from the dark side, we have taken to calling them urban legends around The Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI). We can’t figure out where these tales were born or how they continue to gather strength.
One thing we do know, however, is that when a doctor — one of the people we most trust — tells us something, we tend to believe it. Ditto for the people charged with taking care of our children at school. Yet, when we confront these folks as to where they get information that would predicate removing carpet and/or suggest it aggravates allergies, we have yet to be pointed to any scientific evidence or medical study. The fact of the matter is, it’s just not out there. Nonetheless, it hasn’t deterred the prescription.
CRI continues to fight the battle on behalf of the industry, and at long last we think we’re starting to make some headway. Thanks to some real scientific data and case studies, we are slowly but surely making some progress at dispelling some of these myths and urban legends.
A recent European Health Study was conducted within 38 health centers across 18 different countries (including the U.S.) and encompassed almost 20,000 participants. The data collected from this widespread survey showed that the incidents of asthma and allergies in bedrooms with fitted (wall-to-wall) carpet were less than those without. A few years ago, Sweden actually banned carpets from public buildings, and again, the incidents of asthma and allergies rose significantly without carpeted buildings.
All of this lends credence to what we have been saying for quite some time — carpet holds and traps allergens in the fiber, effectively keeping them out of the breathing zone until they can be properly removed with a CRI-green label vacuum. If the allergens are not in the breathing zone, they can’t possibly aggravate asthma and allergy sufferers.
Another scientific study, performed at a lab in Florida, saw a hard floor covering and a carpet equally seeded with particles. A test was then performed to measure the amount of particles in the air after subjects walked on each an equal amount of time. The difference was substantial, and again, the carpeted floor kept the particles out of the air.
Not only will we continue to develop new data through this type of research, but we will also work hard at getting it into the right hands to make a real and measurable difference.
We have started this process by targeting school administrators and facility managers. To make sure our message is not only being heard but is also being understood, we have charged our troops here at CRI with moving the needle on perception. Of course that means we have to know exactly what the perception is, so we recently contracted with a polling service to survey school administrators and facility managers. We have taken those baseline measurements and have gone about our business of educating the educators. We’ll do a follow up survey at the beginning of next year to see what kind of measurable progress we have made.
Our educational process has already begun. We have developed a CD that will be sent to 15,000 school administrators and facility managers charged with making flooring decisions in our schools. Not only will the video challenge their conventional thinking, it will also include all of the health data regarding carpet we have accumulated so they can read it in black and white. We have started an advertising campaign directed at the schools officials so they’ll know about this CD well in advance of receiving it.
Our message is clear: carpeting does not affect the indoor air environment in a negative way — in fact, it may actually improve it. Carpet does not and will not foster mold growth. Mold needs several things to grow, and carpet is not one of them. If a school has a mold problem, it has a moisture problem. Removing or replacing the carpet won’t make that go away. Bad information like this hurts us all.
One of the biggest reasons we feel it is necessary to stop the removal and de-selection of carpet in our schools, is the fact it could have a detrimental effect on student achievement.
hat’s right; studies have shown there is a correlation between student achievement and carpeted classrooms. With all the inherent benefits carpet provides the classroom, it’s easy to understand. Carpet not only reduces noises and distractions from within and outside the classroom, it makes the spoken word more audible to children’s ears. When you hear things more clearly, you understand them better.
There are also the safety issues.
Carpet not only reduces slips and falls, but when they do occur, injuries are less likely to be sustained, and those incidents will definitely be reduced. Carpet also does wonders for the classroom space, allowing teachers to expand their teaching environment by putting the floor into use as a comfortable sitting space.
Not only are hard floors uncomfortable in such situations, they also allow a far greater transfer of whatever is on the floor to be picked up by the touch of skin. Dermal transfer studies have shown 90 percent of whatever dust or allergen on a hard surface can stick to a child’s hand. When a child touches a carpet, the transfer factor reduces by nearly 65 percent.
We have launched a new Website that is a virtual library of reference, a one-stop shop for all the health information relating to carpet one could possibly want. It is a tool we feel will prove invaluable as we direct consumers as well as carpet advocates to it in the future.
The site will include the European study and the dermal transfer study. It will have information about how not only will mold not grow on clean, dry, synthetic carpet, but even wet, dirty, carpet takes longer to sustain mold growth than most other surfaces. As you can see, we thoroughly enjoy showing our deck of cards even when those who make unfounded claims against us keep their cards close to the vest.
We have the data that shows carpet is easier and less costly to maintain. One of the things our recent survey with school officials showed us was a belief that it was harder and more costly to maintain carpet in school than other flooring.
Let’s compare the cleaning and maintenance costs of two schools with 50,000 sq. ft. of flooring space. Based on a 36-week maintenance schedule, the difference in chemical costs to clean the carpet will run you about $1,500 less than it would a hard surface. (More chemicals mean more indoor air quality concerns.)
Based on a labor rate of $9.76 per hour, the labor savings for a carpeted floor compared to a hard surface floor in this amount of space is $54,070 cheaper. Just think what a school could do with $55,570 in savings.
A study that looked at a 22-year life cycle (the expected usable life of VCT flooring) was conducted in Florida last year. There is a misguided perception of life-cycle costing that the longer something lasts, the less cost through time. A true life-cycle cost analysis should include the initial purchase cost and any cost to maintain the product during the life-cycle time period in the analysis. Carpet in schools has a usable life span of 11 years. A 22-year life cycle cost analysis then should include the initial installation cost, plus the replacement cost after 11 years. Based on this formula, it is still 31 percent cheaper during the 22 years to have the carpet over the VCT.
Another indoor air quality issue that makes its way around is the Volatile Organic Chemical (VOC) emissions. Carpet is the only flooring industry that tests these emissions and it’s understandable why that is so. Of all the flooring installed in classrooms, carpet is the lowest VOC emitter. Horror tales of carpet containing formaldehyde are just that — tales. Carpet does not contain formaldehyde and hasn’t for more than 20 years.Yet, when it comes to attacking
carpet as an indoor air environment inhibitor, it almost always gets brought up.