By Talia Rose
These days, building a new home or remodeling can create exposure to a whole host of toxic and potentially hazardous to your health substances. Building products and even pressed or treated lumber contain many chemicals known to be carcinogens. These chemicals accumulate in the body and can cause liver, kidney, brain, and respiratory problems, as well as cancer. Once your building project is over, your family is breathing in the “offgassing” of these toxins for many years to come. If you have children, these toxins are approximately fifteen times more toxic to their young developing bodies. People who are “chemically sensitive” seem to be the lucky ones, as their bodies let them know when they are being poisoned. The rest of us are still being exposed, but the effects may not make themselves apparent for years to come. The cost of these commercial, chemical-based products can be high – long-term health concerns for the family, and environmental pollution caused by their manufacture and disposal. Indoor air quality is something to be concerned with before you or members of your family have health problems.
Most off-gassing tends to originate from the "skins" of the home — the walls, floors, ceilings. The products involved are paint and flooring materials. Carpeting contains toluene, benzene, formaldehyde, ethyl benzene, styrene, acetone and a host of other chemicals, some of which have already made the EPA's list of Extremely Hazardous Substances. These chemicals not only offgas into your home but crawling children then stick chemical coated hands into their mouths. In the paint industry, most large companies are marketing an environmental product. They've made good first steps, but most of the companies haven't gone far enough because the regulations don't force them to. The buzzword in the business right now is "VOCs," which stands for volatile organic compounds. VOCs are defined basically as chemicals that when released into the atmosphere, can mix with nitrous oxide and produce ozone and smog. There are toxic chemicals that off-gas in the home but that don't count as VOCs under these guidelines. Two major toxic offenders, acetone and ammonia, are highly volatile, highly toxic, but they're not counted as VOCs because they don't make smog. People often think that zero VOCs translates into non-toxic, but that's not necessarily true. That's why it's important to do your own research and not just rely upon product labels.
Some chemicals may not pose a big health risk on their own but become toxic when they combine with other chemicals emitted into the air - they create a kind of toxic stew in your home. Chemicals to watch out for include the glycols — including ethylene glycol, an ingredient used in paints and primers. It's what's used in anti-freeze. It's basically an immune system disrupter. Formaldehyde is another chemical to avoid. It's used in many different products – from carpets to particle board, foam furniture, fertilizers, and even some cosmetics. Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen. Acetone and ammonia are other toxic chemicals used in building materials and products. There are also toxic chemicals present in adhesives and in everyday cleaning and maintenance products that should be avoided.
The first step is to be conscious of the kinds of products you are bringing into your home. There are a lot of companies now offering a whole host of building products that can help you maintain your indoor environment at the very highest level. The internet is a great place to research and educate yourself.
If you're going to hire a contractor, make sure they're open to using alternative products. You don't want to have done all this research and then go to them with what you've learned and have them look at you like you're from the moon. People often resist using green products, saying that they're too expensive and that they don't work as well as other products. There are green products and non-toxic products available now that are very good, work very well and that are affordable.
If they do cost a little more, how important is your health? You have to make that part of the decision rationale. We, as consumers, do have choices that can lead to better health.