I recently moved into an apartment with new wall-to-wall carpet that is creating health issues for me. What should I do?
Is there such a thing as all-cotton carpet? Can you also recommend a very good air filter?
Generally, there are two health concerns related to carpet. The first is related to the emissions coming off new carpet -- the "new carpet" smell -- that are often toxic. The second concern is related to particulates and allergens that get caught in the carpet over time.
On concern #1, the smell test is actually a good approach. If you can smell the carpet, it's not a good sign. The best thing to do is to air out the home with lots of fans. You could replace the carpet with low-emissions carpet (see the Carpet & Rug Institute and its "Green Label Plus" certification), but at this point it's probably not worth the cost and trouble.
On concern #2, having new carpet is certainly better than old carpet. Over time, particulates get trapped and are reintroduced into the air as you walk on the carpet. These particulates can cause problems for those with allergies, and they're also a source of lead and other exposures due to materials tracked into the home on your shoes.
If you can replace your carpet, it's a good thing. However, if you have a policy of taking your shoes off at the door and vacuuming the carpet regularly, that can also serve to significantly reduce negative health effects.
As for air filters, find a media filter that is properly sized for the room you're in. Try to find one with a high MERV rating (12+), and avoid electronic air filters. Real HEPA filters are great, but avoid products that are "designed like a HEPA" or something similarly vague.
For more information:
You should also read GreenHomeGuide's Know-How article "Improving your home's indoor air quality: from basic to bigger and better steps," by Willem Maas.