Monday, July 20, 2009


Paint is everywhere and on everything. It is the most common and popular home repair made within a home or office. So what is Paint? Paint is mixed with four basic ingredients: Pigments, Resins, Solvents, and Additives. There are numerous hazardous chemicals in conventional paint. The US Environmental Protection Agency even classes paint as one of the Top Five environmental hazards. Due to the Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC), which are derived from petrochemicals and readily release vapour into the air, which causes serious affects on the air quality. Chemicals such as benzene, formaldehyde, toluene, and xylene are the main hazards in this off gassing process. To add to this, paint drying indoors is 1000 times more hazardous than paint drying outdoors. The VOC can be released into the air for months at a time, and sometimes, even years after painting. The common VOC risks witnessed in the majority of people are dizziness, drowsiness, allergic reactions, headaches, and perhaps skin problems; however there are much greater health risks linked to this silent killer in ones home.

What are the long term health risks that paint can cause? Studies have shown that painters, or similar occupations that placed people in the atmosphere of constant paint VOC, have a 20% higher risk for cancers in general and a 40% higher risk for lung cancer. The long- term health affects to a paints VOC are constantly related to an array of cancers. Amongst the many are liver cancer, stomach cancer, bladder cancer, larynx cancer, pancreatic cancer, oral cavity cancer, and esophagus cancer.

A large-scale study done in 2001 connects freshly painted rooms with children’s leukemia and acute lymphoblastic leukemia. It states that children specifically exposed to fresh paint in the home have a 65% greater risk of acquiring acute lymphoblastic leukemia. In addition, mothers who are exposed to paint during preconception or the pregnancy phase are three times more at risk of having a child with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Exposure can also cause developmental problems in the unborn child. Studies have shown that paints VOC can also instigate a low sperm count. On the whole, these chemicals are hazardous to male fertility.

Volatile Organic Chemicals (VOC) is widely used as ingredients in many common household products. Shockingly, these include; paints, varnishes, waxes, cleaning supplies, degreasing and disinfecting supplies, cosmetic materials, and fuels. These organic pollutants are said to be 2 to 5 times greater inside of the home than outside of them, despite the homes rural or industrial location. Products containing organic chemicals expose people to high pollutant levels in which elevated concentrations can persist in the air for years. However, in today’s environmentally concerned society, there are now efficient products that can protect individuals and their loved ones. One very environmentally significant product is non-toxic or natural paint. This paint is made from natural ingredients such as water, plant oils, plant dyes, milk protein, natural latex, bees wax, earth and mineral dyes, and minerals such as clay. These paints remain the safest type of paint accessible and are considered the most environmentally friendly. However because this type of paint is a new product on the market, the performance is not yet comparable to the performance of regular paints, especially when it comes to coverage and user friendliness. Non- toxic or natural paint tends to be more difficult to find in regular stores and are mostly found online. Ultimately, when it comes to our health an inconvenience like this should be welcomed.

The best way to reduce one's exposure is to choose low-VOC paint. Fifty percent of petrochemicals are used in conventional oil-based paints, while only 5-51% is found in water based latex paints. Regardless of this, they can still contain harmful solvents. In order to protect the air quality and ones health, the consumer must purchase low-VOC paint, which means the VOC levels are less than 100 parts per gallon. The low VOC label on the can means that the manufacturer has not exceeded a certain level of chemicals that are cancer causing. It is also extremely important that consumers be attentive of a “no-VOC” label on the paint can. This deceptive advertisement is purely a marketing ploy. All conventional paints will contain VOC to some extent.

With a number of health risks linked to paint, consumers must start being more conscientious of their purchases. Reading the labels on their cans and realizing that cheap is not always effective will be a good start. One’s health is something that should not be a daily risk. You pay for what you get so don’t cheap out when it comes to quality and ones well- being,

Stay green and until next time,
Jo Alcorn, w&c designer girl!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


Does anyone know what foam is made out of? Here’s why you should……….
To make foam, a number of chemicals are mixed and a “gassing agent” is added that creates bubbles that make the plastic cellular. The main chemical in foam is called Polyurethane, which is “a polymer consisting of a chain of organic units joined by urethane (carbamate) links.” Polyurethanes are widely used in flexible foam seating, upholstery, bedding, rigid foam insulation panels, thermal insulation, microcellular foam seals and gaskets, high performance adhesives and sealants, spandex fibers, carpet underlay, and hard plastic parts just to name a few!

This chemical is also found in many finishes which have been linked to cancer, respiratory conditions, allergic reactions, reproductive disorders and other serious health problems. This chemical is also highly flammable. It has caused many states to outlaw the use of oil-based polyurethanes because of the severe health risks that it poses and its contribution to the air pollution problem. The fumes from this chemical are released into homes, up to a month after oil-based finishes are applied. These fumes can lead to many health problems due to the off-gassing from Polyurethanes, especially with the mixture of formaldehyde, which is the combination within many types of foams in a home.

UFFI or Urea Formaldehyde Foam Insulation was used in the 1970’s as a retrofit product. This expanding foam insulation was mixed on-site and pumped into the walls or cavities within a building. Earlier research on the carcinogenic effect of UFFI suggested that formaldehyde off-gassing from the UFF insulation put people at a significant cancer risk. However it is a controversial topic after additional research was done, due to the fact that it depended on how the foam product was mixed at the site and how the formaldehyde levels differed from building to building. The off-gassing from the UFFI declined steadily with age, due to the open-cell foam not retaining the gases long term. People hypersensitive to chemicals and some people with other respiratory illnesses seem to lose a reaction to this material in time; however the study is complicated by the fact that high levels of formaldehyde off-gassing also occur from some furniture padding and glues or finishes used in chipboard cabinets or sub flooring. So how could they properly test where the reactions were coming from?

Another reason why you should know about the foams within your home is a study found high levels of toxic fire retardants in women’s breast milk, which has increased 200 times, the highest in the world: 10 to 20 times higher than Europe records. US and Canada together account for almost half of global PBDE use. PBDEs are fire retardant chemicals used in soft polyurethane foam, and are found in furniture, textiles and carpets as well as in hard plastic, computers, home appliances and dashboards. Animal testing research shows that exposure to PBDEs are linked to thyroid hormone disruption, permanent learning and memory impairments, decreased sperm count, fetal malformations, behavioural changes, hearing deficits and possible cancers. Studies say that the fire retardant chemical is also showing up in house dust, sewage sludge, water sediment within rivers and oceans. Which lead to a study that found the chemical showing up in tissues of whales, seals, birds and even their eggs along with dozens of freshwater species and marine fish? This chemical accumulates in humans and animals and injures the central nervous system. This compound truly is an environmental nightmare!

With more information constantly evolving on how harmful these chemicals can be, people are wisely turning to green products and with the green demand comes more green alternatives. What a better way to make a movement then within your own home. With the advent of new technology, there are now products available that will help keep the environment healthier without having to compromise your own comfort.One product for your home that has recently gone green is BioBased insulation. The insulations is made from soy bean oil, with is produced by over 600,000 farmers in the U.S. It is a raw material which replaces the petroleum ingredients, and helps reduce the countries dependence on fossil fuels making this BioBased insulation more environmentally responsible. This insulation contains no harmful and irritating micro fibers. BioBased insulations continuously create an air barrier within a home or structure to block mold, pollen, and other allergens from entering. The insulation creates an air tight seal for a more energy efficient home and healthier environment.

Another product, furniture and bedding companies are becoming greener with their foams. They are turning to soy blend foam made with BiOH polyols, which are the soy-based ingredient used for flexible foam in upholstery pieces like furniture, bedding, carpet backing and automotive seats. The technology of BiOh polyol has allowed products to have 20% more renewable content within them. Only 3 years ago all of these products were 100% petroleum-based. Cargill innovators of BiOH polyols states "for every 1 million lbs of BiOH polyols that replace traditional petro polyols in foam cushioning, approximately 2200 barrels of crude petroleum is saved for other uses." This has a significant impact on our environment and our health. BiOh polyols has a 36% less global warming emissions, 61% less non-renewable energy use and total energy demanded is 23% less.

While many of these new green products are an investment, in the future the environmental concern will pay off and hopefully many health problems will become extinct as our homes become friendlier with a lack of air pollutant chemicals in them. The green movement is a cause that should not be looked upon lightly for the health risk should be reason enough to change the way of our lifestyle. A movement might start with just a small step but as one moves, the steps get bigger and stronger and before everyone knows it the world is moving together towards a greener conscience existences!

Stay green and until next time,
Jo Alcorn, w&c designer girl!


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