How dangerous are plasticizers? Interview with Josef Spritzendorfer, building materials expert for healthy living

In February, researchers found a banned plasticizer in the circulation of kindergarten children - the exact cause remains unclear. The question arises: where else are plasticizers found and how dangerous are they? One example is PVC flooring, which is made with plasticizers. 

The specialist journalist Josef Spritzendorfer is the founder of the European Society for Healthy Building and Indoor Hygiene (EGGBI). He is an expert in the field of healthy living and gives us his assessment of plasticizers in an interview.

The new findings on plasticizers in children's circulation were worrying for many. Where else are plasticizers hiding that you might not even suspect? 

Unfortunately, plasticizers are not only found in many plastic construction products such as floor coverings, but also in numerous everyday products such as clothing, drinking bottles, toys and household utensils made of plastic. The substance can even be found in medical devices, tubes in hospitals, electrical appliances and supermarket receipts.

What are the specific dangers of plasticizers? 

A distinction must be made here between a variety of numerous plasticizers, some of which can cause illnesses and even cancer. Phthalates are among the most dangerous. Plasticizers can also cause dermatitis, kidney and liver damage, be harmful to reproduction and even asthma, allergies and effects on brain and nerve cells have now been proven.

Are plasticizers still used in schools and daycare centers? In PVC flooring, for example? 

Many manufacturers still fail to explicitly prohibit the use of harmful plasticizers in tenders. However, many manufacturers also refuse to provide comprehensive pollutant test reports as proof of harmlessness and are content with safety data sheets and brochure statements on the harmlessness of their products. However, daycare centers in particular often have high levels of plasticizer contamination from toys and floor coverings, but also from plastic clothing. Years ago, BUND Nature Conservation published a comprehensive investigation of house dust from daycare centers. 

How can it be that some plasticizers are banned in toys, but are laid as flooring in daycare centers? Isn't there a danger here too?

Yes, there is. The flooring in nurseries is subject to heavy wear and tear. As a result, plasticizers are also released into the air from PVC flooring, for example. The pollutants from floor coverings settle primarily in house dust and are increasingly inhaled by children in particular, who often play on the floor. Long-term hormonal damage has now been proven - the properties of sperm in particular are permanently damaged in the long term. Allergy sufferers and those sensitive to chemicals can also react directly with symptoms, including irritation of the conjunctiva and respiratory tract.

Some plasticizers are already banned or strictly regulated. What about the plasticizers used in PVC flooring? 

In the case of European goods, I assume that these - so far few - banned plasticizers are actually no longer used. The situation is different with Asian imports. But even in Germany, alternative substances are now being used instead of banned plasticizers. In some cases, their harmfulness to health has not yet been proven to such an extent that they are also banned. For example, instead of bisphenol A, bisphenol S or bisphenol F with similar effects are now often used - a ban will probably take years again. This is because a ban can only be imposed once it has been proven that the substance is harmful and can be directly linked to it. The damage caused by plasticizers can often only be proven decades later, which makes regulation difficult.

Do you think it is justifiable to install PVC flooring at all? 

Such a generalisation would be completely dubious. There are now also polyvinyl floors that use harmless plasticisers. In these cases too, however, credible and comprehensive test reports from accredited institutes are required, also in order to be able to exclude the numerous other harmful substances that are often found in and on floor coverings. Self-made "logos" by some manufacturers, such as "phthalate-free", are absolutely not relevant for a health assessment. 

How can you recognise a safe PVC floor?

It is not recognisable for consumers. Manufacturers' claims are far from sufficient and only a few are prepared to provide reliable test reports. For example, some advertise their PVC flooring as "100% free of harmful substances". This is a nonsensical statement. There are no products without harmful substances.

What can consumers do to protect themselves? There is no labelling obligation. 

Even compliance with the bans on individual plasticisers is not sufficiently guaranteed. Imported products in particular can therefore be sold "uncontrolled" - especially through the pan-European internet trade. Even various quality labels do not cover a complete and meaningful range of tests for harmful substances - many such quality labels are created by manufacturers' associations themselves, which develop criteria in such a way that the majority of association members can also fulfil these criteria. Consumers should therefore not be satisfied with quality marks and certificates, but should definitely demand credible emission test reports from the retailer or manufacturer.

However, emission test ranges are too complex for most consumers. Are there no seals that can be trusted?

The Eco-Institut Label is a trustworthy label. The institute works with a very comprehensive test catalogue and focuses purely on chemical compositions and emissions. Consumers should make absolutely sure that not only the institute's logo is used, but that the product is actually certified. The institute also tests products for certain substances on request - however, this does not correspond to a fully-fledged test and the manufacturer does not receive the seal for this after the test.

Share Post

Posts that might also interest you:

Windräder stehen auf einer grünen Wiese während eines Sonnenuntergangs


Any manufacturer can label their products as environmentally friendly, but unlike dubious eco-labels, the disclosure of sustainability figures and a fair comparison with the competition create real facts. EPDs should take on this role in Europe and enable a transparent comparison of products through standardised measurements and conditions.

Read More »
Ein Schiff mit Containern fährt auf dem Meer. Im Meer sieht man den Planeten Erde.

All business is local – wie Lieferengpässe entstehen und vermieden werden können

Natural disasters, geopolitical events and the pandemic are having a significant impact on business in the flooring trade. The reason for this is the fragile supply chain. It plays a central role in global trade for many flooring manufacturers in terms of the availability and cost efficiency of their products, but is vulnerable in many places. We shed light on the various factors that can jeopardize the supply chain in the flooring trade.

Read More »