Andy Pace is a home materials expert. Here are some tips about how your home may be making you sick. He’s been incredibly helpful in building a new low-toxicity home in Park City, and today he’ll pass some of his tips along to you. If you implement just five strategies from these summit talks, it could make a significant impact on your disease risk and overall health.
Robyn: I’m excited to interview you. I’m moving into a condo, and I’m very interested in what you have to say on a personal level.
We hear this term “green building” all the time these days. What does that actually mean, and what does that have to do with our health?
Andy: The term “green building” came about in the mid-1990s, and it had to do with encompassing the idea of energy efficiency, global environmental concerns, and the health of the building’s occupants.
Unfortunately, as the building industry began to adopt “green” practices, the human health issue got pushed to the back burner. Builders, architects, and the industry as a whole focused more on energy efficiency than human health.
Energy efficiency and saving our natural resources is a fantastic goal. However, the green building certifications that are being used across the country ignore the human-health component.
While many builders, architects, designers, and consultants talk about “green” from a human health standpoint, the metrics that they use really have nothing to do with human health; they have to do with outdoor air pollution.
Right now, there are over 88,000 chemicals used in the production of building products and home goods. Out of those 88,000 chemicals, we only know the toxicological effects of 3%.
We have no idea what the other 80,000 chemicals do to the human body. My company tries to take the approach that we’ll just reduce the overall chemical load.
We know that with chemical sensitivity, asthma is triggered by formaldehyde. If we can eliminate formaldehyde from the building materials and from the home that’s been built, we can eliminate a vast majority of the problems. We also know that by eliminating formaldehyde, we’re taking care of a whole host of other chemicals that are petrochemical-related.
Robyn: Let’s talk about getting rid of formaldehyde. I imagine formaldehyde is in a lot of different home and building products. You said when you get rid of the formaldehyde, a lot of other chemicals disappear with it, because they’re all in the same product.
What kinds of products have formaldehyde? Are we talking paint and carpet? Are we talking particle board in furniture, too?
Andy: Yes, all of the above. Formaldehyde as an ingredient was taken out of the paints in the late 70s, but manufacturers have added in what are called formaldehyde precursors or formaldehyde donors.
These are chemicals that each makes up less than 1% of the paint volume, so it doesn’t have to be listed on the material safety data sheet. However, as the paint cures, it actually combines to create formaldehyde.
This is an example one of the biggest problems we have in this industry, which we call “green washing.” Manufacturers write about their products in a way that makes them sound very safe and healthy, but when you actually look at the words, the words have no meaning. The words don’t add up to safety for the consumer and are just marketing.
Robyn: What are VOCs?
Andy: A VOC is a Volatile Organic Compound. VOCs are regulated by the EPA because of the propensity for them to react with low level of nitrogen and UV to create smog.
Back in the mid to late 90’s, the EPA started regulating VOCs and products. When you go to a hardware store or a paint store, a lot of the products you find are “zero VOC,” and the manufacturers give the illusion that these products are safe.
In reality, “zero VOC” just means that the products don’t contain chemicals that contribute to outdoor pollution, but they can contain chemicals that aren’t regulated as VOCs but are highly toxic to humans.
Those chemicals include acetone, ammonia, and butyl acetate commonly found in zero-VOC paints.
Robyn: Can you talk about furniture? I’m going to buy new furniture, so what kind of furniture should I buy? I have been told that I need to go to local craftsmen and tell them to use lumber instead of particle board.
Is that accurate, and if so, why? And what do we need to know about upholstery on furniture?
Andy: Yes, that’s partially accurate. When you buy solid wood furniture, you eliminate all of the formaldehyde found in particle board.
Particle board and plywood is usually held together using adhesives that contain urea formaldehyde. Newer “urea formaldehyde free” materials replace the urea formaldehyde with phenol formaldehyde, which is safer, but it can still cause reactions for anyone with extreme sensitivities.
Solid wood furniture doesn’t have those types of formaldehyde, but there are two big concerns.
Firstly, wood furniture uses wood glue. I have personally tested water-based, so-called “non-toxic wood glue” and have found anywhere from 100 to 200 times the legal limit of formaldehyde.
Secondly, you have to worry about the finishes. Most finishes that are used by commercial furniture makers will continue to release toxins for about 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 years after it reaches a full cure.
So, if you use safe glue and finishes, solid wood furniture is going to be your best bet.
Thank you for the work that you’re doing in the world–and for being here with us.