A notable percentage of vinyl flooring and wallpaper contain substances linked to cancer, learning disabilities, reproductive problems, asthma, and birth defects, a Michigan-based research group announced this week. Nevertheless, several prominent vinyl industry groups refute the claims, saying government and independent research shows they are not harmful to humans.

The Ecology Center of Ann Arbor said roughly 5% of the 1,016 flooring samples it tested contained lead; those 52 products comprised vinyl sheet flooring and vinyl tile. In tests of wallpaper containing PVC coatings—representing 96% of the total research sample—more than half contained such hazardous chemicals as lead, cadmium, chromium, tin, and mercury.

The Ecology Center posted its findings on its www.HealthyStuff.org website. That same site also contains reports on past research it has done regarding toxic chemicals in toys, pet products, cars, handbags, back-to-school products, and children's car seats.

According to the Vinyl Institute, the Resilient Floor Covering Institute, and the Wallcoverings Association, their preliminary review of the center’s data shows that the metals were not found in a vast majority of the tested PVC/vinyl products or were there only in extremely low amounts; in some cases, the amounts were lower than the safety levels for lead in toys.

The vinyl groups also said in a statement that most PVC/vinyl products manufactured in or imported to the U.S. are made without intentionally added lead or cadmium. Also, many manufacturers have implemented or are developing voluntary certification programs that stipulate avoidance of such metals. 

Some of the center's findings involve products that are suspected of causing health problems but haven't definitively been banned. One example is phthalates, which in the case of building products may be used to make PVC products flexible. The center said its tests of flooring samples "contained numerous phthalates, at up to 12.9% by weight. Limited testing for phthalate plasticizers indicates most vinyl flooring contains four phthalate plasticizers recently banned in children's products."

Most PVC wallpaper also contains phthalate plasticizers.

The vinyl groups contend that phthalate-plasticized products have been used for decades and have been thoroughly evaluated for safety by government and independent scientific organizations. They are widely accepted for use in consumer, medical, and other types of products.

“The FDA reviewed phthalates in medical devices and did not find any evidence of harm,” Allen Blakey, vice president of industry and government affairs for the Vinyl Institute, told EcoHome. “The Consumer Product Safety Commission reviewed phthalates in toys and did not find they were causing any harm. The National Toxicology Program reviewed phthalates, Health Canada reviewed phthalates, the main health committee of the European Union reviewed phthalates, and they all pretty much agreed they had not found any evidence of harm. But there are researchers who have found that if you feed rats and mice massive quantities, you can interfere with the male sex organs.”

Linoleum, cork, bamboo, and hardwood all tested free of lead, cadmium, mercury, and other hazardous metals, the center said.

Craig L. Webb is Editor of ProSales. This article originally appeared on ProSales Online. Assistant Editor Evelyn Royer contributed to this report.