In “Helping improve air, land, water the SLO Chamber way,” presented was information on how the San Luis Obispo (California) Chamber of Commerce upgraded the building the Chamber occupies, making it a friendlier place, environmentally speaking. Listed were a number of ways the structure was improved. Such improvement isn’t limited to commercial buildings only. Today’s presentation provides an in-depth look at toxicity in the built environment and offers ways to reduce the level of that toxicity.
In my own home odors are common and especially noticeable when cooking. One of the more unpleasant interior smells arrives every autumn when the heater is first turned on. Evidently the heater has a heat pump and it is presumably covered with an oil coating. At the time of the year (usually in autumn) when the heater is turned on for the very first time after a period of non-use, as the heat pump begins to warm, the smell of oil can be detected all throughout the house. As a matter of practice, I usually let the system run for a good 15 minutes, all the while with windows and doors open to allow the house to “air out.” With each subsequent use, the strength of the burning-oil smell becomes less and less intense. That is, until the following year when the process is repeated.
Noticeable indeed are smells associated with, in my case, cooking and home heating. But, what about those airborne toxics that may be present inside the home that may go undetected: What are some of these and do they pose a danger to health?
One that gets much attention is carbon monoxide, a colorless, odorless gas. The potent and poisonous gas, depending upon concentration level and the environment in which it is present, can present a real danger to human health and make no mistake: it can in fact be deadly. In this regard, to help prevent catastrophe from occurring, carbon monoxide detectors are available commercially that detect the gas’ presence and an alarm will sound should detected concentrations become too high.
Radon is another gas that has been reported on by the news media.
It should be no surprise then that I would direct discussion toward dealing specifically with airborne toxics in and around homes, schools, hospitals and more. Relatedly, Huffington Post writer Lynne Peeples in: “Are Toxic Chemicals In Building Materials Making Us Sick?” provides a wealth of substantive and helpful information.
Peeples, in the article, makes mention of a report that “underscores the potential dangers of this vast and largely undisclosed stew of chemicals hiding in the building materials of modern homes, schools, hospitals and offices – indoor spaces in which Americans now spend an estimated 90 percent of their time.”
She goes on to name some, including “neurotoxins, carcinogens, hormone mimics and reproductive disrupters,” which, according to Peeples, could be a contributing factor in numerous illnesses and diseases. One of the diseases the article author mentions is asthma.
“By cross-referencing a list of known and suspected asthma-causing chemicals with ingredients in over 1,300 flooring, adhesive, insulation and other building products reported in the [Healthy Building Network]’s Pharos Database, [the group’s Executive Director and founder Bill] Walsh’s team identified a priority list of target chemicals for asthma prevention. The 20 chosen chemicals showed significant potential to not only trigger an asthma attack but to cause the onset of asthma, as well as a substantial likelihood to actually be absorbed, inhaled or ingested by building occupants.” Other substances such as volatile organic compounds and chemicals like formaldehyde in the article in question were also identified.
But not all is bad news. There is much that can be done to minimize a person’s exposure.
For instance, Peeples pointed to alternatives such as in installing linoleum flooring rather than flooring containing polyvinyl chloride [PVC]. “Linoleum is far less heavily laden with phthalates,” the Huffington Post writer observed.
And, there are more constructive suggestions where the linoleum example came from, a key one being the Bullitt Center in Seattle, Wash. During the building’s construction, according to Peeples, over 360 compounds and elements that could be potentially toxic, are nowhere to be found anywhere in the edifice, “additives” if you prefer, that are common in construction materials and processes, from what I understand. Paints, pipes, walls and wires being examples mentioned.
Positive proof that not only can living, working, playing, etc. spaces be made to be healthier-air places, but they can be made-to-order too.
Image above: U.S. National Institutes of Health: National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute