New carpet can instantly transform the look of a room. The wide variety of colours and textures available can jump-start a new decorating scheme. Carpet contains a host of toxic chemicals, however, that constantly emit fumes that can cause respiratory damage. These chemicals are called volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and include benzene, formaldehyde, acetone and toluene, all of which are classified by the Environmental Protection Agency as hazardous substances. The adhesive in carpet contains 4-phenylcyclohexene (4-PC), which is what gives your home that "new carpet smell." The combined chemical load can prove to be too much for many people, and can cause several types of respiratory concerns.
Respiratory irritation that occurs during and for a short while after the installation of new carpet is usually due to the fine fibre particles that circulate in the air as the carpet is unrolled and cut. Symptoms include itchy, watery eyes, sneezing, coughing and headache, but they usually subside once the air has cleared. Increasing ventilation in the room during installation can help prevent irritation, but having the sensitive person leave the house during the process is more effective. Once the carpet is installed, a thorough vacuuming with a HEPA filter vacuum can remove the majority of loose particles.
The symptoms of carpet allergies are similar to those of irritation, but do not go away. The allergy is a reaction to one or more of the chemicals in the carpet fibres, adhesive or padding, rather than a reaction to the particles in the air. Some people with very sensitive skin may even have a topical allergy to a certain type of fibre used in the carpet pile, and carpet that has been stored for a long period of time can trigger allergic attacks in people with dust allergies. These issues may be avoided by purchasing a low-emitting carpet and asking the installers to unroll the carpet and air it out outdoors before installing it in the home. The only guaranteed way to prevent symptoms of carpet allergies is to not have carpet in the home.
Even if you don't experience any irritation or allergies right away, breathing the fumes off-gassed from the carpet can cause chronic respiratory problems over time. New carpets contain p-Dichlorobenzene, a known carcinogen, and many other chemicals that have been shown to cause birth defects in lab animals. Many carpets are treated with a chemical called napthelene that makes the carpet less appealing to moths, but can also cause toxicity issues in newborn babies. Chemicals that make the carpet fire retardant have also been shown to cause chronic respiratory, thyroid and immune system damage as well as brain development problems in humans. These fumes seep out of the carpet and into the air constantly from the moment the carpet is installed, and inhaling them day in and day out can allow the toxins to build up in the body over time. Installing a low-emitting carpet can alleviate some of the chemical load, but the only way to avoid it entirely is to go without carpet in your home.