Q & A: Gasses in the indoor air Carpet and floors - vocs and gas emissions may provoke allergies

Q. My husband has a problem with many buildings that have newer carpeting, etc. We recently rented an apartment for him to work in. We had the carpeting all ripped out and put linoleum down. Now he says that the adhesive they used must be bothering him. He had to leave one job because of the building. His symptoms include mottling of his hands, headaches, or funny feelings, and becomes very irritable. I can only use a few different cleaning supplies as well. He is driving me crazy. What is this and what can we do?

A. New carpeting, particularly carpeting that was glued down with adhesive used to be a major indoor air quality problem. The complaint rate has decreased considerably since the carpet/rug manufacturers began a program at the instigation of USEPA to produce low emission carpeting and adhesives.
Carpeting is a composite product. It includes fibers that may be natural (wool) or synthetic (it is mostly synthetic), one-to-two layers of backing material (which was once jute but is now primarily polyolefin) and a styrene-butadiene latex adhesive that binds the fibers to the backing. In the past, the latex binding contained a by-product called 4-phenylcyclohexane (4-PC) that gave carpeting a distinctive rubbery carpet odor. 4-PC was alleged to cause adverse health effects. To my knowledge carpeting materials no longer emit 4-PC.

Though carpeting materials and glue-down adhesives available today have low emissions compared to a decade or so ago, they still emit dozens of synthetic organic chemicals, albeit at very low concentrations. Theoretically these concentrations are too low to cause adverse health effects. However, it is quite possible for some individuals (and this may be your husband) to be hypersensitive, that is, they respond to even low concentrations of a substance or a mixture of substances.
The hand-mottling symptom is new to me. However, it suggests that he may be exposed to some type of contact irritant.

The combination of symptoms your husband reports (headaches, funny feelings, irritability, and mottling hands) are not the "normal" combination of symptoms individuals report in problem buildings