Professionals in all facets of indoor air quality research agree that carpets should not be in schools. The concern isn’t only that new carpets emit fumes from a variety of chemicals.
Carpets, particularly older ones, can also harbor high levels of microbiological contamination. Ken Martinez, microbiological specialist with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, believes that while a decision about carpets should be made on a case-by-case basis, his “general” opinion” is that schools should not have carpets. A further concern about placing carpets in schools is that they can also become reservoirs for lead and pesticides; the contaminants are tracked onto the fiber from shoes and boots.
- If a school chooses Terazzo tile or sealed vinyl composition tile over carpeting, it will save millions of dollars in installation, maintenance and replacement. Mary Oetzel, president of Environmental Education and Health Services, Inc., studied the cost of flooring from five major city school systems in five states, representing 458 schools. The average replacement cost over 40 years for carpet was around $400,000; the cost for vinyl composition tile (VCT) or Terazzo was around $50,000. The savings by using carpet alternatives averaged $350,000.
- Make sure that carpet, if used, is an inert product—not a low emission carpet, but a low potency, low toxicity carpet. Low emission carpets only mean that the company has set lower limits of emissions instead of eliminating the chemicals.
- Don’t purchase carpets that contain the chemical 4-PC, a little-understood chemical that was isolated from carpet after works at an EPA office building became ill following a new carpet installation.
- If using carpet, makes sure that it is placed where there is no moisture, and provide adequate ventilation.
- Prevent conditions that encourage microbial growth, such as around food sources, humidity, and wet boots.
- Cure new carpet by outgassing all chemicals and glues before the children are exposed in the school. The best time for installing carpets in schools is in June. Avoid glues whenever possible.