Ecology Center: Some 'eco-friendly' yoga mats made from hazardous material

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ANN ARBOR – Recent laboratory testing by the Ecology Center, a nonprofit in downtown Ann Arbor, found that some yoga mats claiming to be eco-friendly are made of materials that are hazardous to the environment and to human health.

The center's Healthy Stuff Lab tested 11 yoga mats of different brands that were purchased by editorial and customer review website Consumers Advocate.

Here are their findings:

  • Yoga mats labeled PER, which stands for polymer environmental resin, were made of vinyl (PVC), a material that causes the release of toxic and persistent chemicals during manufacture and disposal.
  • A yoga mat advertised as “organic jute and PER” was made mostly of PVC with a single layer of jute.
  • The yoga mats made of PVC contained the plasticizer DOTP, a substitute for phthalates that is likely safer but needs more research.
  • A yoga mat made of recycled wetsuits contained phthalates, a hazardous class of plasticizers.

See: Consumers Advocate's Best Yoga Mats Based on In-Depth Reviews

"I had not heard of PER before," Gillian Miller, an Ecology Center senior staff scientist, said in a statement. "I was surprised when I learned it stands for 'polymer environmental resin,' a name that tells us nothing about its composition. It sounded like greenwashing, and our test results appear to confirm that." 

Greenwashing is the practice of making misleading claims that a product, company practice, service or technology is environmentally friendly when in truth it is not.

Marketing materials for PER label it as "biodegradable" and "eco-friendly," but its PVC structure goes against those claims.

To test the yoga mats, Healthy Stuff Lab scientists used Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy and high-definition X-ray fluorescence (XRF).

Of the 11 mats tested, three were found to largely consist of PVC, including:

  • Ajna Natural Jute (labeled as "organic jute and PER")
  • Aurorae Synergy 2-in-1 (labeled as "PER")
  • GAIAM Premium Yoga Mat 6mm (labeled as PVC)

Science explained

According to the Ecology Center's findings:

"The term PER appears to indicate PVC that does not contain phthalate plasticizers. This claim was corroborated by the Ecology Center’s tests. However, the absence of phthalates does not mean the material poses no hazard to our environment and health. PVC--regardless of which additives are used--is responsible for significant toxic emissions and pollution of nearby neighborhoods during manufacture and disposal, as well as exposing workers to toxic chemicals.

"The major plasticizer identified in each of the three PVC mats was dioctyl terephthalate, or DOTP. This is an alternative to phthalates that is considered safer for human health, although data gaps remain regarding its potential for interfering with hormones."

As a result, the center is urging yoga mat companies to label their products accurately and to investigate the suppliers of their products. "At the current level of disclosure, shoppers do not have insight into how these products are impacting their world and may be misled into believing they are being eco-conscious consumers," Ecology Center officials said in a statement.

The Ecology Center regularly conducts testing on everyday items like car seats, food cans and more in order to expose potential health hazards to the public.

To learn more, visit www.ecocenter.org.

About the Ecology Center
Ecology Center is a non-profit environmental advocacy organization established in 1970 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The Ecology Center develops innovative solutions for healthy people and a healthy planet in primary areas: Environmental Health, Energy & Climate Change, Environmental Education, and Zero Waste. This work is accomplished through educating consumers, pushing corporations to use clean energy, make safe products, and provide healthy food, providing people with innovative services that promote healthy people and a healthy planet and working with policymakers to establish laws that protect communities and the environment. For more information visit www.ecocenter.org.

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