Wednesday, August 13, 2008
Staying in a clean vacation rental, classroom, office, or home should not increase our risks of sinus problems, asthma symptoms, reproductive harm, damage to our lungs, and exposure to carcinogens (causes cancer). But it does.
Toxic Teddy Bears? Everyday, we use products that expose us to toxins that impact our health, indoor air pollution, and water quality. For me, going green means making better choices about how I take care of myself and in turn, my loved ones, which includes the planet.
The Law of Diminishing Returns. I focus 80% of my green choices on Indoor Air Quality (IAQ). I avoid smoke of all kinds, VOCs, toxic cleaning products, chemical pesticides, and toxic building materials.
Toxic Building Materials. Many conventional building materials contain formaldehyde, carcinogens (cause cancer), and radon. I stay away from the biggest offenders, granite counter tops, paint and all other finishes with VOCs, carpet and flooring glues, treated wood, drywall. I use "no VOC" paints and finishes, glues, and flooring adhesives. If I have to use drywall or thinset mortar for tile installation, I make sure the house is unoccupied for the period of time the material is outgassing icky formaldehyde and other poisons. Check with the manufacturer for specifications--usually tile related materials take 48 hours. Carpet and other glues can take up to one year.
Fuming Furniture. The majority of affordable cabinetry and furniture available at Home Depot, Lowes, Walmart, Ikea, and similar stores is made of MDF, Medium Density Fiberboard which is loaded with toxic VOCs. While it is exciting to find the low prices on these prefab bathroom vanities, dressers, bookcases, and entertainment centers, we end up paying a higher price with our health.
VOC-free MDF is available, but none of the stores I've checked can determine if their manufacturers use it. Tony Spinelli, of Cabinets by Sun Ray informs me that his supplier carriers a VOC free MDF for about the same cost as the toxic MDF. I can't wait to get my new kitchen cabinets now that I found a source that won't break the bank.
Clean Green Breathing Machines. The U.S. EPA’s Indoor Air Quality Program states that aerosol sprays, cleaners and disinfectants, moth repellents and air fresheners contain dangerous VOCs.
All purpose cleaners, glass cleaners such as Windex, tub, tile, grout cleaners and sealers , degreasers, carpet cleaners, stain removers, floor strippers and cleaners, metal polishes, and oven cleaners contain endocrine disrupting chemicals such as butoxyethanol and other glycol ethers.
Laundry detergents like Tide, multi-purpose cleaners, floor care products and carpet cleaners, non-chlorine sanitizers, toilet bowl cleaners and deodorizers contain harmful APEs. Look for products that use alcohol ethoxylates (sometimes listed as ethoxylated alcohols) instead.
Alkyl phenol ethoxylates (APEs) are surfactants found in laundry detergents, stain
removers, and all-purpose cleaners, which have been found to reduce embryo survival in fish and alter tadpole development. APEs contaminate rivers and streams, and have also been found in household dust.
Over Exposed. School children and janitorial and domestic workers show a much higher prevelence of asthma than those who are not exposed to cleaning chemicals on a daily basis according to numerous studies. Monoethanolamine (MEA), a surfactant found in some laundry detergents, all-purpose cleaners and floor cleaners is a known inducer of occupational asthma.
Ammonium quaternary compounds, disinfectants found in some disinfectant sprays and toilet cleaners that have been identified as inducers of occupational asthma.
Phthalates, carriers for fragrance in glass cleaners, deodorizers, laundry detergents and fabric softners, and are linked to increased allergic symptoms and asthma in children.
A 2004 report from the National Center for Health Statistics states that the incidence of asthma among preschool-aged children rose by 160% between 1980 and 1994, accounting for 14 million missed school days each year and $3.2 million in treatment expenses.
Air fresheners usually contain VOCs such as xylene, ketones and aldehydes as well as benzene and formaldehyde, both of which are known carcinogens. Air fresheners may also contain fragrances--irritants associated with watery eyes, headaches, skin and respiratory irritation, asthma and allergic reactions. Exposure to phthalates, which carry the fragrances in these products, usually aggravates asthma and is linked to reproductive harm, specifically reduced sperm count in men.
UW engineering professor Anne Steinemann analyzed of some of these popular items and found 100 different volatile organic compounds measuring 300 parts per billion or more -- some of which can be cancerous or cause harm to respiratory, reproductive, neurological and other organ systems.
Some of the chemicals are categorized as hazardous or toxic by federal regulatory agencies. But the labels tell a different story, naming only innocuous-sounding "perfume" or "biodegradable" contents.
"Consumers are breathing these chemicals," she said. "No one is doing anything about it."
Industry representatives say that isn't so.
"Dr. Steinemann's statement is misleading and disingenuous," said Chris Cathcart, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Consumer Specialty Products Association, in a statement.
"Air fresheners, laundry products and other consumer specialty products are regulated under the Federal Hazardous Substances Act and subsequently have strict labeling requirements," he said. "Companies producing products that are regulated under FHSA must name on the product label each component that contributes to the hazard."
Okay, so the label may tell us it's toxic and researchers have numerous reports of people -- particularly those with asthma, chemical sensitivities and allergies -- having strong adverse reactions. I'm one of those people. That's enough research for me!
When restaurant owners and airplane cleaners use air fresheners, or when vacation rentals wash towels and sheets in scented laundry supplies its a problem for me. And even when the concentrations are low in individual products, I'm exposed to multiple sources on a daily basis. That's why at home and on the road, I do my best to hang out in healthy homes owned by people who:
~Change HVAC air filters at least once every three months
~Use Permanent or high allergen filters
~Open the windows for a minimum of 45 minutes a day for fresh air
~Eliminate or minimize use of products with synthetic fragrances. This includes "essential oils." Being an "essential oil" does NOT mean it is healthy. Most oils have synthetic fragrance additives.
~Don't bother with HEPA filters on vacuums and other equipment unless you change them regularly. Most filters don't work, especially when they're filled with dirt.
~Never allow smoking of any kind.
~Eliminate or reduce materials made of MDF, particle board, glued woods, carpet, or vinyl
~Eliminate pans with Teflon
~Ventilate and leave the house for at least 48 hours after applications of StainMaster, StainGuard products and installation of drywall and other building
~Use no or low VOC paints, sprays, adhesives whenever possible
~Cross ventilate or exhaust fans in use to minimize mold growth
~Do not allow pets on soft materials, upholstery where dander cannot be removed
~Burn only unscented, beeswax or chemical free candles. Many wicks contain lead and candle waxes have carcinogenic scents and additives.
Photo by Steve Beinhorn