Tackles Prop 95, Green Chemistry Initiative
November 30/December 14; Volume 30/Number 12
By Steven Feldman
Dallas—The resilient floor covering industry is in the midst of unprecedented growth, driven primarily by the popularity of the luxury vinyl category. Behind the scenes, the Resilient Floor Covering Institute (RFCI) has been doing its part to contribute to this growth while helping to sustain the long-term viability of the category.
While its manufacturer members continually introduce products that resonate with consumers and drive sales, it is through their collective resources that RFCI is able to work on advocacy issues that are bigger than what any one company could tackle by itself. Examples of this include California Proposition 65 and the California Green Chemistry Initiative (CGCI), two areas in which RFCI has devoted considerable resources in 2015.
Commanding much of RFCI’s focus over the last 10 months is a phthalate plasticizer called DINP. Phthalates are used in building and construction applications, including vinyl flooring to make a wide range of vinyl surfaces last longer and easier to maintain. Certain phthalates are used to soften vinyl because of their strong performance, durability and stability. The science simply does not support the call to remove phthalates from vinyl flooring, according to RFCI. Negative reports regarding phthalates do not look at actual exposure to phthalates, but instead claim that their mere presence in flooring is enough to cause a long list of negative health effects. Government scientific agencies and regulatory bodies worldwide have concluded that phthalates used in commercial products do not pose a risk to human health at typical exposure levels. There are no existing Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) or other government regulatory restrictions on phthalate use in vinyl flooring.
There are currently nearly 900 chemicals on the Prop 65 list that require a product reformulation or a warning label. Should a product contain any one of these chemicals and no warning label, it is subject to a lawsuit even though the exposure to the chemical(s) in the product does not come close to exceeding the safety level often established by the state.
Earlier this year, RFCI filed a petition and an extensive exposure assessment illustrating that exposure to DINP in vinyl flooring is of a magnitude below the California agency’s stated “safe harbor level” and, as such, should not require reformulation or a warning label. This procedure is commonly known as a Safe Use Determination within California Proposition 65.
“What makes Prop 65 problematic is that it is enforced by bounty hunters who can recover their legal fees,” said Bill Hall, an attorney with Venable LLC in Washington, D.C., and outside counsel to RFCI. “That has resulted in many frivolous lawsuits brought about by lawyers who are driven by profit and not by public health. Contrast this to other state regulatory initiatives that have established criteria for adherence.”
According to Hall, California is the only state in the country where this is enforced by trial lawyers as opposed to regulatory agencies that have a greater governmental interest in whether to pursue enforcement actions.
Prop 65 was adopted by referendum, so making significant amendments would require a referendum vote. “Gov. Brown is looking to reform Prop 65,” Hall said. “He has identified the Safe Use Determination process as one way to ensure there are meaningful labels, and that is why we are pursuing a Safe Use Determination that the presence of DINP in vinyl flooring does not require a warning or reformulation.”
Similarly, California’s Safe for Consumer Products Green Chemistry Initiative (CGCI) is a six-part initiative to reduce public and environmental exposure to toxins through regulation of chemicals. The program requires designated priority products to consider alternatives if the product contains any one of 2,000 chemicals. It starts with a designation of a priority product category that has to undergo an assessment program. “One of more than 80 product categories that are potentially subject to consideration is vinyl flooring, although we have ample evidence that it is safe, durable, cost effective, and the use of DINP in the product does not present a health concern justifying either a designation as a priority product or the need for a Prop 65 warning,” Hall explained.
Two parts of CGCI became statute in 2008; the other four parts were not passed but are still on the agenda of the California Department of Toxic Substances Control Green Ribbon Science Panel discussions. RFCI is making sure it lays the groundwork for helping them better understand vinyl flooring and why it shouldn’t be included in any future regulatory plans.
RFCI’s efforts go beyond the goal of protecting vinyl’s reputation as a sustainable and safe product. “One of the important objectives of our efforts with respect to CGCI and Prop 65 is to ensure that recycling in this industry, which is on the rise, can continue,” Hall said. “We want to ensure there is no discouragement from using recycled source materials that contain old phthalates. There is absolutely no health risk based on incredibly low exposure to present a need for concern about health.”
Dean Thompson, president of RFCI, noted that these aforementioned issues have not impeded resilient’s growth. “The industry is growing dramatically because our products are proven in terms of their long-term performance and durability; they are in greater demand than ever. Category growth is not being thwarted by any of these activists or regulatory issues.”
FloorScore has become the pre-eminent indoor air quality certification program for hard surfaces, Thompson said, as evidenced by the program’s 370% growth over just the last five years. Nearly 400 product constructions have been certified to FloorScore, encompassing a selection of thousands of resilient flooring styles, materials, adhesives and accessories.
FloorScore was launched by RFCI as a means to respond to the marketplace’s safety demands of resilient flooring products, specifically their VOC emission levels. FloorScore certification means a flooring product is independently certified by Scientific Certification Systems (SCS) to comply with the VOC emissions criteria of California Section 01350.
“Most hard surface floors today are certified under FloorScore, which means they will contribute to good indoor air quality,” Thompson said. “That label ensures a product is in compliance with the most stringent indoor air quality requirements in the country. It really has created a green standard.”
While Thompson noted the RFCI has not seen a major financial windfall from administering the FloorScore program, its members, and especially consumers, are the true beneficiaries. “The real growth of FloorScore has come because our manufacturers can provide products that are indoor air quality certified under the FloorScore label, which is a strong marketing advantage.”
In other news…
- To help make LEED v4 friendlier to the producers of vinyl flooring and other vinyl products, RFCI continues to take part in a supply chain working group. Supply Chain Optimization is a group of 30 members working with the U.S. Green Building Council to develop criteria for the points available under the materials credit in LEED v4.
- RFCI also continues to support Green Globes as an alternative to LEED. “We believe in market competitiveness,” Thompson said, “and to achieve the best in sustainability requires competitive green building rating systems and not dependence on one particular system.”
- New officers were elected for the 2016-17 period. Russell Grizzle, CEO of Mannington, is the incoming chairman replacing Bart Rogers, vice president, sales and marketing, Roppe. Scott Sandlin, vice president of hard surface, Shaw Industries, is the incoming vice chairman; and Jeff Fenwick, president and COO of Tarkett North America, is the incoming secretary/treasurer.
- RFCI remains on a growth trajectory. The association now comprises 34 members and estimates that its manufacturing members account for more than 95% of all resilient flooring manufactured and marketed throughout North America.