Tuesday, April 29, 2014

DIYing with Wood Pallets (the right way to do it!)

Who doesn’t like DIYing with upcycled materials? Building something beautiful, with your own hands, and saving the environment at the same time?  Everyone has seen the “DIY wood pallet projects” online and they look amazing. However, a lot of people are unaware of the dangers that lurk in wood pallets. 

Think about what sits on a pallet for a second. Anything from fertilizer to chemicals, things you wouldn’t necessarily like to bring into your home.  Here are some tips to help you choose the right pallet:
  • Don’t get your pallet from a gardening or hardware store
  • A place that carries a lot of dried goods is usually the place to go (think of rice/bulk dry items)
  • Have a whole-foods or “natural” store in your area? Great place to get “untainted” pallets
  • Always check your pallets for bugs (termites!) and mold/stains. If you see anything strange on your pallet, drop it and run!
  • If you can find a pallet from Canada—they seem to be the safest out there (they have a stamp that has the letters CA-0000 HT)
So now that you know about possible exposure, get outside and do some awesome DIY pallet projects!


(photo source: http://www.cape27blog.com/ )

Arsenic in Playgrounds

Why is arsenic in playgrounds?

Playgrounds are intended to be safe, healthy environments for children. To keep them this way, we need to be sure that playgrounds don't contain toxic materials. Children directly contact these materials as they play, and young children are likely to put their hands in their mouths and potentially ingest toxins.

Arsenic used to be added to pressure treated wood because it prevents the wood from decaying. In 2004, the United States Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, banned this use of arsenic in wood products. However, many schools and public parks have playgrounds that were build more than 10 years ago and may contain arsenic treated wood.

Why is it bad?

Most people know that arsenic is bad for you, but what exactly does it do? Arsenic is linked to several types of cancer, high blood pressure, endocrine-related illnesses, diabetes, and other health problems. Arsenic can also leach into the soil and water and harm the environment.

What can you do to help?

Ask your local schools if they have tested any old playground structures for toxins such as arsenic. If you have a play structure at your home, you can send a small chip of the wood to the Center for Environmental Health for testing.

If you take children to public parks with older play structures, and can't find out whether it has been tested, you can make sure they wash their hands before eating snacks or putting their hands near their mouths.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Indoor Air Pollution

There’s something in the air…

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the primary sources of indoor air pollution are a building’s or home’s materials, which release harmful gases and particles into the air.  And it’s not limited to just the indoors.  These same noxious materials are being released outside, affecting air and water quality, too. 

So where is all this bad stuff coming from?  It can be in the materials used to construct the building or home, it can be in the furnishings, the flooring, the walls, and even the everyday household products we use.  Some of these items are slowly, continuously, releasing the pollutants.  Some are released intermittently, when they are in use.  The gases and particles can stay in the air or cling to surfaces for a long time, especially if the space is not well ventilated.

Some of the common sources of indoor pollution include:

Used between the 1930’s-1970’s as insulation in homes.  It’s no longer in use for this, but still can be found in older homes that have not been abated. Also used in roofing shingles, textured paint and pipe coatings.

Lead-based Paint:
Still commonly found in pre-1978 buildings, homes, playgrounds, etc. Lead is very harmful to the environment and to people, particularly children.  If found in good, sealed condition, it’s typically not deemed hazardous, but chipping, peeling or cracking lead paint is cause for concern.  Since 2010, the EPA has enforced strict removal guidelines of lead based paint.  A contractor certified in the safe practices of the process, which can spread dust into the air and be inhaled, must handle it.

Combustion Pollutants:
Inside a home, these can originate from heaters, ovens, stoves, fireplaces, water heaters and clothes dryers.  Ensure you are using sealed-combustion, draft induced and properly vented appliances.  The ENERGY STAR seal typically indicates a sealed combustion unit.

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s):
These are emitted from paint and lacquer, adhesives, solvents and upholstery/carpet stain protectors. Formaldehyde is a common VOC, and is commonly used in the fabrication of building materials like particleboard, plywood and MDF (medium density fiberboard).

Moisture inside a home can lead to the growth of mold and mildew.  The negative effects on health include allergic reactions and asthma.  It can also lead to rot and other structural damage to the home.

Granted, at this point, most people are well educated about the dangers of asbestos and lead.  But how many think about the presence of formaldehyde in their cheap, ready-to-assembly furniture?  Credit where due though: Since 1986, IKEA has applied strict guidelines and works to minimize the use formaldehyde.  And in 2010, President Barack Obama signed the Formaldehyde Standards for Composite Wood Products Act, (click here if you want to read the actual act!), which establishes limits for formaldehyde emissions from composite wood products.

But how many people have ever heard of Chromated Copper Arsenic (CCA), a known carcinogen found in pressure treated wood used for decks and play sets?  It’s no longer used for residential settings, but who knew?  Or Diisocyanates, found in polyurethane products, which are highly toxic when the vapors and particulates are inhaled or if it comes into contact with the skin? 

Let’s chalk this up to what we don’t know…CAN hurt us.  Builder, contractors and homeowners have options to avoid these types of indoor and outdoor toxins in the materials we use.  And as with many things, the best first step is education.  To that end, we invite you to bookmark this blog and visit regularly for further information about toxic building materials.