Are there such things as green furnishings and carpeting?
Yes. Look for locally-produced, VOC-free furnishings and finishes
Both carpeting and furniture can degrade indoor air quality if they are manufactured or finished with materials that emit noxious chemicals, a process called off-gassing.
Common sources of indoor air pollution are particleboard, medium-density fiberboard and other panel products manufactured with a resin called urea formaldehydeChemical found in many building products; most binders used for manufactured wood products are formaldehyde compounds. Reclassified by the United Nations International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in 2004 as a “known human carcinogen.". The resin is inexpensive but it off-gasses formaldehyde, classified as a known human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.
As the hazards of this common chemical have become more widely publicized, manufacturers have introduced panel products that use other adhesives and resins. Savvy cabinet companies market products that emit low levels of formaldehyde, and they are worth looking for.
Paints and finishes that contain high levels of VOCs—volatile organic compounds—also lower indoor air quality, especially for people who have chemical sensitivities. State and federal authorities are clamping down on VOCs, and a number of products with very low VOC content are readily available. But you have to be careful. For instance, some paint colorants are high in VOCs even if the paint’s tint base is not. Read the fine print.
If you’ve got your heart set on carpeting, consider Green Label and Green Label Plus products or rugs that are made completely with natural fibers. The labeling program was launched by the Carpet and Rug Institute to identify carpeting, adhesives and cushions that emit low levels of VOCs. Carpeting probably isn’t the best choice for floor coverings in general because it can trap contaminants that would not accumulate on a bare floor—dust mites, chemical contaminants, pet dander. Choosing low-emission products is an obvious minimum standard.