Majority of American households have their houses carpeted but not realizing that this can cause problems to indoor air quality. Carpet, with its associated padding and adhesive, is a major source of VOCs. Installed carpet has an inherent properties of 100 over chemicals, and to make matters worse, it captures additional chemicals and pollutants from outside.
Unless it is of low voc carpet, it will likely cost you eyes, nose and throat (or ENT) and skin irritation; in addition to a host of symptoms such as fatigue, problems of breathing and headaches.
Low voc carpet replaces solvents with non-(or low-)VOC adhesives for the emulsions of resin. These water-based adhesives would result in a lot less VOCs in comparison to those made of solvents. Ironically these low voc carpets can come with toxic ingredients like toluene and formaldehyde. Those who are sensitive to chemicals are well advised to exercise caution when buying low VOC carpets. Information on chemical contents can be found on Technical/Material Safety Data Sheets displayed on respective manufacturer/retailer's website.
It is thus comforting to know that the industry is addressing these emission issues. The Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI) initiated a Green Label program in 1992, whereby comprehensive testing has been done on adhesives, cushions and carpets to determine low VOC products.
A separate movement, Green Label Plus, was also started by CRI. It is a voluntary program and subjects adhesive and carpet products to vigorous testing by independent and certified laboratories according to indoor air quality standard (IAQ) as defined by the industry. Green Label Plus singles out outstanding products that satisfy published set of criteria for low VOC carpets.
One new approach in the industry is the recycled carpet (using plastic soda bottles). It carries about the same price tag but emits much less chemicals than regular carpet, thus improving indoor air quality. Make sure you check the composition and the process used to make the recycled carpet before you commit to one.