In Defence Of The Flooring Sector
Richard Harris, marketing manager of F Ball and Co, launches more criticism of Alan Best after his response in CFJ (October):
HAVING read the column by sustainability consultant, Alan Best in the October issue of CFJ, and after some deliberation over the merits of prolonging the debate, I felt there is a need to protect the flooring industry against a thinly supported argument that has the potential to damage our industry if left unchecked.
From reading Mr Best’s response to my critique of his original article, which targeted the flooring industry as a significant contributor to the increasing presence of seriously harmful VOCs in buildings, it is evident that my words touched a nerve.
Mr Best has gone to great lengths in an attempt to defend his position, with lengthy extracts from his CV and references to a research paper on furniture creation and an article run by CFJ highlighting alleged ‘alarming’ levels of formaldehyde in Chinese-made laminate flooring discovered in America.
My issue is not about whether Mr Best is an effective chair at meetings of the Flooring Sustainability Partnership, nor do I have any knowledge of his past work in the flooring industry to make any judgement on whether he is a good, bad or indifferent practitioner.
My response was based purely on the content of his original article, of which Mr Best is adamant he stands by every word. Mr Best’s ‘credibility as a writer’ (as he puts it) can be judged by reading what he’s written, rather than by what committees he sits on.
Mr Best’s original article is clearly implying that the flooring industry or huge swathes of it either doesn’t care about harmful emissions or is unable to do anything about them (or maybe without calling on the services of consultants like himself).
However, if we look more closely at what Mr Best says: he is vague as to the levels of VOCs present in individual flooring products, he is not specific as to the safe or unsafe levels of individual VOCs and he supports his arguments with reference to the presence of VOCs in substances and materials including tobacco smoke, heating oil, wall coverings, paint and paint strippers, disinfectants, anti-freeze and plastic bottles.
In fact, the only specific references he makes to the presence of VOCs in flooring products are acetaldehyde in laminates, linoleum, varnished wood, cork and pine, formaldehyde in plywood, particleboard and MDF, and phenol in vinyl. Again, he fails to attach specific figures to the levels present.
He also refers to long exposure or exposure to high levels of various VOCs leading to lung damage, kidney, liver and blood disorders, as well as nausea, vomiting, convulsions and disorders of the heart and circulatory system. But doesn’t define how long or how high.
Using, what has now become an emotive term i.e. VOCs, it’s easy to cause alarm. The fact is that not all VOCs are harmful. The smell of strawberries, the scent of a flower. Both are the result of VOCs. We keep eating strawberries, we like to have fresh flowers in our homes.
Some VOCs, at specific concentration levels and/or certain extended periods of exposure can be harmful. But you need to be specific.
Otherwise, it is scaremongering. It has the potential to do damage to the industry or, perhaps, to those companies who may lack the marketing means to repel such arguments, no matter how spurious they may be. This is really what compelled me to respond to Mr Best’s article, once again, to put the record straight.
There are many examples where scaremongering tactics have had a profound effect on an individual industry or even the work of an institution as big as the health service; we can all recall the research paper on MMR, picked up by the popular media, which led to many parents choosing against their children being vaccinated against preventable diseases, such as measles, mumps and rubella.
Taking a responsible approach to the development of our products should be the aim of us all and, as I was at pains to point out in my original response, the flooring industry (including manufacturers of floorcoverings, floor preparation products and adhesives) has been working for many years to reduce and remove VOCs and other chemicals from their products. This has been done to remove potentially harmful chemicals, replace components that give rise to unpleasant smells, but which aren’t necessarily harmful, and to meet or, often, pre-empt government legislation.
I will leave other manufacturers to speak for themselves, but from my experience, the contribution of the flooring industry to improving the ‘health’ of our building environments is overwhelmingly positive and far removed from the picture painted by Mr Best.
This article has been reproduced from the Contract Flooring Journal. You can find them at www.contractflooringjournal.co.uk.