The carpet under your feet may have been processed with petroleum products, using toxic dyes and, if it's nylon, heinous chemicals like benzene and hydrogen cyanide gas, according to Green Seal, a research group that stamps environmentally sound products with its label of approval. Plus, the adhesives used in carpet installation emit large amounts of VOCs (volatile organic compounds) that contribute to indoor air pollution.
Your best bet is to buy solution-dyed area rugs made of organic materials like wool, cotton or jute. The processing is easier on the earth, and off-gassing isn't a problem.
Prairie Rugs, based in Burnsville, Minn., sells eco-friendly chindi rugs through retail outlets such as Henry Simon Furniture Co. in Fitchburg. The rugs, produced in India, are made from cotton rags left over from a bedding manufacturer (pre-consumer recycled waste). Their earthy hues are the result of low-impact, "fertilizer-based" dyes, which are later diluted and used to irrigate fruit and vegetable gardens around the small operation that makes the rugs.
"Our family has been to India, talked to the workers, and made sure that working conditions are fair and humane," says Kevin Aylworth, owner of Prairie Rugs. "We are the sole client of the manufacturer, which supports 24 families. There's no child labor, workers are paid more than the prevailing wage, and health care is provided."
Aylworth, who has been running Prairie Rugs for more than a decade, says that eco-friendly, sustainable practices are in vogue now, but for him there was never an alternative.
"The karmic consequences of not treating people fairly are too great," he says.
Prairie Rugs, 17 Garden Dr. , Burnsville, Minn. 55337 ; 612-865-8595; www.prairierugs.com