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DIY with Enviro-Friendly Materials

Ten years ago, my home improvement projects were focused on reducing allergens (have I mentioned my hairless pets?)  But today indoor air polution is a lot more serious than simple dust mites or swapping out the carpet and drapes.  Last year while renovating a downstairs bedroom suite for our housemate I learned about No VOC materials.  There was a whole lot I didn’t know and in my research I learned the difference between being “enviro-friendly” and being “human-friendly”.  From flooring, to paint and even what house plants may help reduce indoor pollution!  I tried to take good notes along the way so that I could share what I’ve learned  in order to let other people make informed choices about their next DYI.

I sat down several times this past year to write articles for this serious of NO VOCs … but sometimes somethings just don’t get the priority they need in the hopper of life’s musings to actually get enough momentum to get out the door.  Sadly my work on Enviro-Friendly materials falls into that list of — too many things … not enough time.  I say sadly too because I am watching a set of unfortunate circumstances unfold with a family member who finds herself in the middle of a workplace fubar regarding just this issue.

So even though I can’t provide all the glitzy pictures from the installation of marmoleum, or show the in-depth cost-analysis of being green or demonstrate the importance of the proper underlayment !  I can offer up my notes from the past year for those who have the inclination to take a closer look at these important issues.

Don’t take my word for it .. Google this for yourself.  Gather the data … get the facts .. and make prudent choices for yourself and your family.

Let me get the ball rolling for you with a brief definition of terms … No VOC, Low VOC, EDC, Enviro-Friendly, Sustainable Resources, PBCs … it’s a veritable alphabet soup out there when it comes to digesting the reports and slick adverttising geared at today’s enviromentally concious consumer.  So here are a few glossary notes before we begin:

“For starters, the EPA’s definition of ‘low’ is based not on an indoor health standard but on an outdoor environmental standard.” http://www.utne.com/2006-07-01/ACleanerCoat.aspx


“John Chang, who directed the research and whose findings finally were published by the agency in 2001. ‘Certain paints marketed as ‘low VOC’ may still emit significant quantities of air pollutants,’ he concluded.”  same source as above.



An Introduction to Indoor Air Quality
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

“Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are emitted as gases from certain solids or liquids. VOCs include a variety of chemicals, some of which may have short- and long-term adverse health effects. Concentrations of many VOCs are consistently higher indoors (up to ten times higher) than outdoors.  VOCs are emitted by a wide array of products numbering in the thousands. Examples include: paints and lacquers, paint strippers, cleaning supplies, pesticides, building materials and furnishings, office equipment such as copiers and printers, correction fluids and carbonless copy paper, graphics and craft materials including glues and adhesives, permanent markers, and photographic solutions.

Organic chemicals are widely used as ingredients in household products. Paints, varnishes, and wax all contain organic solvents, as do many cleaning, disinfecting, cosmetic, degreasing, and hobby products. Fuels are made up of organic chemicals. All of these products can release organic compounds while you are using them, and, to some degree, when they are stored.”




Household products including: paints, paint strippers, and other solvents; wood preservatives; aerosol sprays; cleansers and disinfectants; moth repellents and air fresheners; stored fuels and automotive products; hobby supplies; dry-cleaned clothing.


Health Effects


Eye, nose, and throat irritation; headaches, loss of coordination, nausea; damage to liver, kidney, and central nervous system. Some organics can cause cancer in animals; some are suspected or known to cause cancer in humans.  Key signs or symptoms associated with exposure to VOCs include conjunctival irritation, nose and throat discomfort, headache, allergic skin reaction, dyspnea, declines in serum cholinesterase levels, nausea, emesis, epistaxis, fatigue, dizziness.”

“Studies have found that levels of several organics average 2 to 5 times higher indoors than outdoors. During and for several hours immediately after certain activities, such as paint stripping, levels may be 1,000 times background outdoor levels.”


But it’s just not feeling a little queezy … VOCs have been linked to cancer in both animal studies and in humans. http://eetd.lbl.gov/ied/sfrb/voc-cancer.html

In January 2009 http://www.vexcon.com/pdfs/PI100VexconVOCGuide.pdf New VOC Regulations from US EPA, OTC, CARB, and SCAQMD



Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals Are Indoor Risk

Researchers Find EDC Levels Are Higher Indoors Than Outdoors


Original article from SilentSpring


Same article published at the NIH


“Over the past 15 years, some chemical classes commonly used in building materials, furnishings, and consumer products have been shown to be endocrine disrupting chemicals—that is they interfere with the action of endogenous hormones. These include PCBs, used in electrical equipment, caulking, paints and surface coatings; chlorinated and brominated flame retardants, used in electronics, furniture, and textiles; pesticides, used to control insects, weeds, and other pests in agriculture, lawn maintenance, and the built environment; phthalates, used in vinyl, plastics, fragrances, and other products; alkylphenols, used in detergents, pesticide formulations, and polystyrene plastics; and parabens, used to preserve products like lotions and sunscreens.”

August 5th summary in WebMD


Concentrations of endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) — found in many everyday products and of concern due to potential health hazards — are higher indoors than outdoors, according to a new study.

But they are equally present, the researchers found, in an urban, low-income community near an oil refinery and in a rural, affluent coastal community without much industry.


EDCs can mimic or disrupt the body’s natural hormone system, Rudel says. As a result, they can hamper cell growth and development.

Since the mid-1990s, scientists have been focusing on the study of EDCs, Rudel says, to see how they might affect child development, reproduction, and cancers such as breast and prostate.“

Tracking EDCs

The researchers found 39 chemicals outdoors and 63 indoors, including phthalates, parabens, PBDE flame retardants, PCBs, and pesticides.

The chemicals are found in such products as detergents, furniture, carpets, electronic equipment, pesticides, cosmetics, and building materials.”

How to Avoid EDCs
Research is ongoing, and until more is known, Rudel says concerned people can take a few measures to reduce potential exposure to the compounds.

Use fewer products overall, such as cleaning products and cosmetics, that contain EDCs.
Avoid fabrics coated with anti-stain chemical.
Avoid use of antibacterial soaps, which contain triclosan, an EDC.


There’s a lot to digest here. So here are some quick notes that will help:

Look for NO VOC options when remodeling choose LOW VOC only when NO VOC is unavailable.

Enviro-Friendly doesn’t always mean NO VOC  (e.g Bamboo flooring is sustainable resourse and better for the planet, but when formaldihyde ink is used to dye the end product it contains VOCs that will gass out in your home.)

What if after you read this article you feel like you are living in Love Canal? Well for starts you can pick up some cheap house plants from your local hard ware store.  Take a look at these resources for how common house plants can go a long way to fight indoor air polution.

Zap Harmful Air Pollutants, Naturally

Houseplants Devour VOC’s

Some day I may have time to sit down and show you how easy it was to lay marmoleum and how much different it feels to work with NO VOC materials.  Seriously you can SLEEP in the room the day you paint!  But for now … because it simply seemed important, I wanted to at least plant the seed that this is an important issue for everyone to think about.  Do the research for yourself, weigh the benefits and costs and make informed decisions for your next project.

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