Normally my blogs are light and airy and not about anything truly important. Just a lot of ‘fluff’ about the crazy but loveable French.
Just the other night though I watched the documentary called ‘The Human Experiment’. It’s a film/documentary about toxic chemicals we are exposed to everyday of our lives in North America. I was surprised to learn that new born babies have over 300 chemicals in their umbilical cords rendering them toxic before they’re even born. Did you know that over 77,000 new chemicals have been introduced into our environment since the second World War. I didn’t. No wonder health problems are popping up everywhere with just about everyone I know.
This article is written for one of my favorite clients in mind, Lynne M, whose been plagued by environmental allergies for years. I haven’t seen her in awhile and I’m hoping she’s doing fine.
With all the slick, mod, “eco” brands jumping into the market it can be hard to keep in mind that Antiques can be the most green purchase of all. Antique and vintage furniture requires no additional resources to manufacture, is often locally sourced (cutting down on transportation), is pre-offgassed and eases the load on the landfill. Quality antique and vintage furniture can also have excellent resale value (sometimes selling for the same price it was bought) which certainly can’t be said for most new furniture, green or otherwise.
Particle board and plywood (commonly found in new furniture)
Judging by words of the American Chemistry Council, Formaldehyde is a natural part of our world. And it is, in small doses. Unfortunately, it is part of the glue that holds particle board together, the stuff our houses and furniture is made of. It is a recognized carcinogen and causes eye and nose irritation and possibly more.
The best way to avoid formaldehyde is to buy used, whether it is an older home where it has had the time to off-gas, or furniture that has stood the test of time. Or, buy solid wood furniture instead of particle board.
While I hoped the smell would quickly pass, I started researching online. Reading from others’ experiences, it seemed likely that I was reacting to either formaldehyde in a plywood or some other chemical VOCs from the foam, the flame retardants, glues or dyes in the fabric. I wanted it to all work out and reasoned that it couldn’t off gas for long, right? Aside from this, I was embarrassed. I felt like I should have known better.
Five days in, I called the company I bought the couch from to ask them about the smell. I was referred to the owner who assured me that he’d never received a complaint like that about the sofa and that they “sold a lot of them.” He was sure that it would go away and that I was probably more sensitive than most people. I asked him about the frame and he confirmed that there was plywood in the frame. I was frustrated that I’d been given incorrect information from the salesperson, but I decided to give it a little more time. I figured two weeks was a good benchmark. If in two weeks time, the smell was still as strong I would need to consider alternatives to keeping the couch.
In the meantime, I opened the windows to flush out the air every couple of days and borrowed an air purifier from a friend, hoping that would do the trick. Unfortunately, it didn’t. Each time that I sat on the couch for any length of time, I’d have the same reaction – red, burning eyes and throat. Whenever I walked into the living room, either first thing in the morning or when I’d come home I’d be overcome by what seemed like a noxious cloud.
I continued to research online and read things like “the chemicals found on couches are associated with neurological and reproductive problems, as well as cancer” and that according to a recent 2012 study that found that “chemicals made up roughly 10 percent of the weight of the entire cushion” on some couches. An article from the San Francisco Chronicle was helpful and alerted me to other possible chemicals in upholstered furniture including “Ethylene oxide, used in polyurethane foam and adhesives, a probable carcinogen that can also cause brain and nerve malfunctions.” Maybe my spaciness was not so unrelated after all.
I read further. “Hydrazine, a chemical used in textile dyes, is a probable carcinogen with a range of adverse health effects, and vinyl chloride, used in the making of some furniture, is a carcinogen that can cause liver damage with chronic exposure.” I also read that even for those without immediate violent reactions, there can be long-term effects, such as respiratory and heart ailments and cancer.
I consulted some friends and local experts including Lora Winslow, founder of the Naked Truth Project–a nonprofit that serves as a resource for nontoxic living and educating people about the links between human health and what we put on our bodies, in our bodies and in our homes–and Amanda Sears, Associate Director of the Environmental Health Strategy Center. Lora explained that toxins in the body accumulate and we never know what the exact tipping point is when the body says, “Enough” and responds by developing acute sensitivity to all chemicals.
Amanda and I talked about the prevalence and health risks associated with flame retardants, the usage of which has grown significantly over the past 30 years. I found two recent studies which identified the flame retardant, “Tris,” a suspected human carcinogen (banned for use in baby pajamas in the 1970s), as the most prevalent compound in couches tested (found in 41 – 52 % of them). Concentrations of the flame retardant chemicals in couches averaged 4 to 5 percent by weight, but some couches had over 11 percent. According to one of the studies, there are at least six different mixtures being used as flame retardants in furniture today. And the scientist went on to say that we know less about the health effects of these flame retardants than we do about previously-banned retardants. I’ll repeat that because it’s a lot of info to digest – we are using large amounts of chemicals in couches today that were banned for use in children’s clothing 40 years ago. Further, other chemicals that are being used have not even been fully tested to determine their effects on humans, adult or children.
What scares me the most about all of this is that no one seems to have concrete evidence of the long term effects of exposure like this. But given what we do know, there’s good reason to be take it all very seriously.
I called the company I purchased the couch from and made arrangements for them to return the couch (minus a $100 restocking fee.)”
After all of this, why on earth would ever consider buying anything new. Even that ‘new car’ smell that people love to comment on is full of toxic chemicals including flame retardants. So what’s the answer? Do your research, buy as organically as you can, and consider vintage and antique furniture, cars, and constructed environmentally friendly houses and furniture as a part of your move to an eco-friendly living environment.
Created with less-toxic products years ago, antiques have long since completed any chemical off-gassing, maintaining your home’s indoor air quality. By restoring and repairing fine furniture, the resource-intensive cycle of endless new production is slowed, as is the fossil-fuel based packaging and delivery system. Beautiful and sturdy, wood pieces made before the 21st Century were constructed with timber with tighter growth rings, which simply doesn’t exist today, enhancing its value as a treasured collectible.
WHY IT MATTERS
Although we spend 80-90% of our lives indoors, there have been more than 77,000 chemicals introduced into the environment since World War II, many of them present in furniture, carpeting and building materials. Luckily, there are healthy substitutes available. It is possible to create homes that are pristine sanctuaries from the toxins that surround us, with pure air, pure water and beautiful interiors.
Creating a “green” house respects the health and well-being of everyone involved in its creation, and everyone who calls it home.
Green Products & Materials
I’ve compiled this list to help you create a healthy home, with products and materials that have worked well for me. Consider gradually incorporating some of these products as you renovate and update. The industry is adding better non-toxic alternatives all the time, so please check my blog frequently for updates.
Two excellent books I suggest as references:
Green Building Products, The GreenSpec Guide to Residential Building Materials, (choose the latest edition), Brattleboro VT: Building Green. Click here for the website.
LEED Materials, a resource guide to Green Building by Ari Meisel, (based on the LEED Rating System Version 3 soon to be updated to Version 4), New York, NY, Princeton Architectural Press
I also suggest keeping a binder of Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for every product you use in your home. An MSDS is a fact sheet prepared by the manufacturer that outlines known health effects, proper handling and recommended storage of the material.
Adhesives and Caulking-
Solvent-based adhesives can be a hidden source of VOCs. Consider using these products:
Gorilla Glue Original Formula
Grout Match Caulking
Improving indoor air quality with an air filter is one of the “greenest” decisions you can make. Fumes are emitted from many conventional home products, including carpets, plywood, paints and finishes. In a tightly insulated home, the Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) build up over time, creating a mixture of toxins.
Austin Health Mate Plus
The Health Mate Plus uses solid activated carbon and zeolite impregnated with potassium iodide to remove VOCs, particles in the air including dust, pollen and pet dander, and viruses and bacteria.
As you sleep, your liver works to detox the body from all the pollutants and toxins you were exposed to during the day. Conventional cotton comes from fields that are drenched in pesticides, so choosing organic bedding is a simple way to promote health.
Made with 100% organic cotton, their sheets, blankets, pillows, duvet covers, shams and more are all made with natural fibers, using a nontoxic process. They are certified to the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), produced using fairlabor practices. www.coyuchi.com
As many as 120 separate chemicals may be present in carpet, found in dyes, backing, fire retardants and stain resistant treatments. Once wet, microbial growth and mold can quickly become a problem. Offgassing may continue for years after installation, and used carpet is neither recyclable nor biodegradable, all good reasons to consider alternatives.
Earth Weave produces all natural, non-toxic carpet, area rugs and padding. Products are made using undyed, untreated wool on the face, along with hemp, cotton, jute and natural rubber for the backing materials. Yarns are locked into place with a natural adhesive derived from the Rubber tree. www.earthweave.com
Elizabeth Eakins produces all natural fiber rugs and fabrics with environmentally friendly dyes. The company has an ethos of sustainability, with worker safety a priority.
Rugmark is a non-profit watchdog group formed by trade unions, human rights organizations and consumer groups to stop the use of child labor in rug factories around the world. Look for the Rugmark-certified label on all imported rugs.
Synthetic fragrances are used to mask the odor of petrochemicals in commercial cleaning products, actually polluting your indoor air with a toxic mix of VOCs. Some of the chemicals are suspected carcinogens or hormonal disruptors. Before World War II, most homemakers made their own cleaning supplies from simple kitchen items, or you can try one of these:
Seventh Generation Unscented
Plant-derived solutions with no dyes and no synthetic fragrances. www.seventhgeneration.com
Provides home care products free of dyes, perfumes and fragrances. The company has also been commended by animal rights groups for not testing on animals or using animal-derived ingredients.
Harmful chemicals and toxic dyes are, unfortunately, part of the manufacturing process for traditional fabrics. Not only are their residues present in the fabric in your home, but manufacturing creates pollutants that harm both factory workers and the earth. A number of companies now offer “green” fabrics.
Design Tex has made a commitment to operate as a carbon neutral company, and all their products can be recycled. The company worked with architect William McDonough and chemist Michael Braungart to create a fabric capable of breaking down and returning safely to the earth. www.designtex.com
The Kravet Green collection is made of 100% recycled polyester, which is a unique blend of post-industrial and post-consumer fibers woven and treated with no additional chemicals. During the finishing process, they use water-based products and environmentally approved dyes. After years of use, these fabrics are recyclable. www.kravet.com
Maharam produces fabrics with a reduced environmental impact, and minimizes the use of chemicals that could be harmful to human health. Their natural fibers are obtained from animal or plant sources such as cotton, linen, hemp, jute, wool, silk, and cellulose, which can be replenished in less than three years.
Formaldehyde Free Glued-up woods
Composite, pressed woods such as plywood and particleboard can offgas formaldehyde, introduced by the adhesives used in processing. Consider these alternatives:
Medite 3D Medium Density Fiberboard
Soy-based hardwood plywood
Sustainable flooring can be made from a number of materials, including bamboo, cork, ceramic tile or stone. If it’s a wood-based product, look for certification from the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), which promotes environmentally sound management of the world’s forests. www.us.fsc.org
Floor finishes can contain hazardous chemicals, such as formaldehyde, petroleum distillates and mineral spirits. Many are combustible, and some contain neurotoxins.
Basic Coatings, StreetShoe
Basic Coatings offers safer products that allow you to prepare and finish wood floors with Low VOC, NMP-free and low impact green products. StreetShoe is one I’ve used, but they’ve since added others to their line. www.basiccoatings.com
An independent nonprofit group that certifies products that voluntarily comply with rigorous standards and testing, promoting the manufacture, purchase, and use of environmentally responsible products and services. www.greenseal.org
Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) systems release tons of CO2 into the air annually, making buildings one of the largest contributors to climate change. Heating and cooling methods can be a major cause of fatigue, dizziness, headaches and bronchial irritation if they aren’t properly installed and maintained.
Heat Recovery Ventilation by Honeywell
Exchanges interior air with outside air several times an hour, then filters and conditions it, recovering up to 80% of the heating and cooling energy. This lowers VOCs which build up in tightly insulated buildings. www.honeywell.com
Aprilaire Filtration Systems
Aprilaire is well known for their high-efficiency, whole house air cleaners built into the HVAC unit that remove germs, bacteria, dust and VOCs such as formaldehyde. www.aprilaire.com
Steam-injected Resdelux Humidification System by Nortec
A humidification system should keep your home between 40% and 60% humidity, but I prefer closer to 40% to discourage mold growth. The Nortec steam-injected system distributes clean steam, precisely controlled, uniformly into the air stream, void of any condensate spray, and avoids contaminated standing water. www.humidity.com
Clean ducts once a year without the use of chemicals; children are particularly vulnerable to airborne particulates. Industrial strength hydrogen peroxide is safe to use if there is microbial growth, and will not contaminate the system.
Your healthiest option is an organic mattress, made with natural latex, wool or organic cotton. Be sure your pillows are all natural as well. Non-organic cotton is grown in fields soaked in insecticides; dyes and color fixers use heavy metals such aschromium, copper and zinc, and end up as waste in rivers and soil. You can request “no fire-retardant chemicals” be used on your mattress; this requires a prescription from a doctor.
Soma Sleep Store. The prices for the mattresses in this store are actually less than some of the name brands you’ll find in a mattress speciality store. You can go for a Hastens and pay up to $60,000 but are they really worth the money??
My Essentia is a Vancouver based store that’s probably worth checking out too.
That “just painted” smell is actually the offgassing of toxic chemicals into your indoor air, including benzene, formaldehyde, toluene and xylene, all of which are carcinogens or neurotoxins.
Benjamin Moore Natura
Natura Paint is a zero VOC product that is easy to find, although it may contain biocides and mildewcides that can affect people with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, or allergies. www.benjaminmoore.com
Eco Water Systems.
We all know that tap water is full of chemicals including chlorine. While our water may be better than many other urban centers we still need to filter it. Here is an excerpt discussing the water safety of our metro Vancouver water.
Metro Vancouver’s SOURCE water is enviably good because it is supplied from mountain reservoirs located upstream from local industrial, agricultural and human effluent. Nature should get the credit for this. Our water treatment plants then process this ‘raw’ water to remove sediment and to make it ‘micro-biologically safe’. UV, ozone and chlorine are used to inactivate micro-organisms present in the source water that could be dangerous to human health. Chlorine is good at killing stuff. It does not distinguish between the bad organisms in water and the good organisms inside you. Chlorine also combines with organic substances to form chlorination by-products. Studies link chlorine and these by-products to various cancers.* For these reasons, filtering your tap water with a locally appropriate water filter is a really good idea.
For more information on Vancouver water please click here.
This company out of Abbotsford appears to have some decent whole house water filtration systems. Eco-Water systems is the name but there are others out there. It’s always worth it to shop and compare.
Because of their smaller size and close proximity to the ground where chemicals are frequently used, pets can be at higher risk for toxin-based illnesses. Choosing organic foods, bedding, toys and flea/tick control is an excellent choice. No fire retardants or fabric protections should be used around pets, especially cats. Be aware that even vet-approved flea and tick formulations are dangerous. Some contain a pesticide called Fipronil, which is also in Roach Bait and is used to kill termites. There are health risks to the dog or cat treated, but also to the people who closely interact with animals treated with these toxins.
Natural holistic pet care and pet health products, and natural flea and tick control
My dog Tuffy suffers from the worst allergies imaginable. I have him on a constant dose of steroids which is horrible for his liver. I will definitely check out this site and see if there’s something better for him. I’ll let you know!
Removing allergens, dander, dust, pollen and other potential allergens is an integral part of maintaining a healthy home. A vacuum with a HEPA filter prevents particulate matter from recirculating indoors.
Specifically made for allergy sufferers, Miele offers a 12-stage HEPA filtration system with self-sealing dust bags. www.mieleusa.com (I’ve included a direct link to the vacuums sold in Canada with Canadian pricing.)
With all the hype and expense this company spends, it still doesn’t have bag vacuums which personally I prefer to bagless. I find bagless dirty, and I hate emptying them. In any event, I’ve provided a link to their website directly related to their vacuums. To me, if it doesn’t have a bag, I’m not interested. Dyson Vacuums.
Electrolux offers vacuums in several price ranges that include HEPA filters. www.electroluxappliances.com (My Mom always had an Electrolux and swore they were the best. I’ve connected the link to the line of allergy free models sold here in Canada)
Eureka offers HEPA vacuums in both canisters and upright models. Eureka also makes a pet friendly odor absorbing HEPA filter. www.evacuumstore.com
The Healthy House Institute. An American guide to building a chemical, allergen free house.
Marilee Nelson specializes in working with people with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity.
The House Doctors/www.branchbasics.com
Matthew Waletzke, Healthy Dwellings
Matthew Waletzke is a Certified Building Biology Environmental Consultant (BBEC), available for in-home consultations, healthy home presentations and workshops throughout the New York Tri-state area. Phone consultations available nationwide. www.healthydwellings.com
The Center for Green Building in Connecticut
For information on all the above products and more. Their mission is to provide products that are safe for everyone ~ the people manufacturing them, the people exposed to them, and for the environment. They ship anywhere in the world. www.centerforgreenbuilding.com
The Antique Warehouse
226 SW Marine Drive,
Visit our website and remember Antiques are Green.