Archive for the ‘offgassing’ Tag

Safety First, Without Compromising Other Values   Leave a comment

This is one of my procrastinations out of fear right now: there are a number of purchases/tasks when preparing for a baby that are safety related, but for some of them I’ve been afraid that I would have to compromise other values that are equally important to me. The biggest one hanging over my head is the issue of car seat. In order to keep my baby safe in the car, I have to accept the health and developmental risks of exposure to fire retardants, stain repellents, and possibly carcinogenic volatile organic compounds? Based on all of the car seats that I’ve seen in people’s cars, I have no reason to think that I’ll find one that is both safe and healthy. I’ve been afraid to find out. Until today, that is, for this post when I finally did a search online and found that it is correct that I cannot have my cake and eat it too. Healthy Child Healthy World had posted about a press release from Graco that they are phasing out toxic flame retardants, and mentioned that a couple of other manufacturers have already committed to doing so by the end of 2012. (So does that mean I’ll be able to buy one before Baby comes?) But there’s no mention about the stain repellants, or the VOCs that may be offgassing from the foam (this is my biggest concern). Not that a car isn’t already a low air quality air space, but I’m really irritated that I have no choice to put something that may be offgassing something objectionable inches from my baby’s mouth. And there’s nothing I can do about it. Aargh.

At least I can be a little bit more hopeful about a stroller. After explaining my rant to a coworker the other day, she got curious and did a search and found several purportedly environmentally-friendly stroller options. I haven’t studied the list she sent me, but I have hope. At a glance it looks like there may actually be strollers on the market that are made from fabrics that haven’t been coated in known or potentially toxic chemicals, and that aren’t 100% unrecycleable plastic.

One warning that we were planning to ignore was that of not using a secondhand crib. We had an offer to use the crib from someone that I trust to not put their baby in something unsafe. But then they got pregnant again before we did. Then a few weeks ago a coworker offered me a secondhand crib from his family. I did express some skepticism based on the ages of his children, but didn’t rule it out offhand. He crawled up into the attic and measured slats and got a description of it for me, and then I went to the Consumer Product Safety Commission website. The conflict that I have with this issue is the idea that a piece of furniture has to be disposable and can’t be reused. I went back and forth a bit as I read the information on the CPSC website. It has a drop side, but that can be immobilized; the slat separation is fine; it doesn’t have cutouts or fancy carvings. BUT it has been sitting in an attic for 10 years. That’s what ruled it out actually, the idea that after 10 years of summer attic heat and winter moisture the expansion and contraction of the wood has almost certainly reduced the structural integrity of the crib with no realistic way to fix it. Eh, so we’ll buy new and use it for both kids. I can wait several years before becoming conflicted about what to do with it when we don’t need it any more.

The most recent safety vs. health issue to be clarified is sleepwear for children. I’d previously seen mention that kids sleepwear is required by federal regulation to be treated by fire retardants. I’m sorry but if there is flame close enough to a baby that fire retardants might make a difference, the problem is already hugely out of control; and I’m skeptical that they would really make a difference if there is flame that close anyway. Back to the CPSC website for me. Turns out that under age 9 months there is no requirement for treatment with fire retardants, and after that they just have to meet a performance standard. So snug fitting sleepwear, or fabrics that don’t easily catch fire may not be treated, and can be labeled as such. Or we can just not buy anything marketed as sleepwear after 9 months and make sure that whatever it is is snug fitting and poses no strangulation hazard. Easy workaround.

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Posted August 20, 2012 by mayakey in conscious living, mission, pregnancy, shopping

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Two Big Purchases, One Easy And One Not So   3 comments

Since getting our new car paid off this spring we can really start working on the wish list for the house. Two weekends ago we bought a grill, last weekend a dining room table, and this weekend a couch. Then we’ll pause to give me time to build my herb garden and sew up the new master bedroom curtains (not busy, not busy at all). The table and couch have been pretty big deals, and it was a bit of a toss up which was actually higher priority.¬†While we have been using an office table as a makeshift dining room table, we didn’t have chairs and have been sitting on the loveseat pulled up to the table. I had to use a cushion as a booster seat to comfortably reach the table. It was also ugly and required a tablecloth, which cannot be cleaned with a wipe of a rag when it gets dirty. In competition though, on the sofa the fabric is completely torn up on the seat, and the top layer of batting beneath is also torn so the foam padding is exposed and crumbling. Therein is the problem: there’s a good chance that this sofa was treated with fire retardents, possibly including brominated fire retardents, and exposure becomes an issue when the foam starts coming out. Brominated fire retardents are persistent (don’t degrade), may contribute to neurologic and reproductive issues, and may be toxic to the liver and thyroid. So they affect me as an adult, they affect me as a woman trying to get pregnant, and they will be passed on to my child. Until we paid off the car we simply couldn’t afford to buy a couch, even a couch that didn’t meet my other requirements, so this has been a major chemical exposure that I have not been able to address. Oh, and the couch sags a bit, giving my husband back aches. Since we couldn’t decide which was really higher on the wish list, we tackled them at the same time. Yes, it’s obvious that the sofa was the more important one, but due to the higher price tag and greater research requirement it is a much more difficult purchase.

We started with the dining room table. My big requirement was that it be solid wood, so that it will last a long time and to eliminate offgassing from plywood or other engineered wood. From there we had two directions: secondhand (so that no new raw materials had to be used) or new from FSC-certified sustainably harvested wood. I think the option with the smallest footprint is the former, so we planned a weekend of driving from one consignment or antique store to another all over Sacramento. After the farmer’s market I decided to stop in at the consignment store nearest us to see if it was worth going with Mike when he got back from the gun show. I was in love by the third table. There were several tables that I could have lived with for a couple of years, and a couple that I could probably have lived with for decades. But there was one that was beautiful and seems perfect. It was also close to the most expensive table in the store. Mike and I went back in the afternoon, and he agreed that it is the table for us. It is solid wood, even the brackets under the table and the little drawers in both ends. The chairs are currently upholstered in a white cotton, but that should be easy enough to replace with leather upholstery and organic cotton or wool batting. Easy, and next-to-no driving around required!

Then we drove up the street to a store that sells custom furniture to start the process of getting a new sofa. Between the two of us we had some challenging requirements (ok, mine were the biggest challenges): firm cushions and back, leather, hardwood, organic fill, and no offgassing foam. We’re getting 3 of the 4. We didn’t even bother shopping any furniture galleries because we figured the chances of finding something hardwood, leather, and without/with a minimum of offgassing and toxic treatments were pretty much nil. A perusal of a few furniture store website where the words “(wood)¬†veneer” showed up in every description proved that out. The issue with the wood is that many particleboards are made with adhesives that offgass formaldehyde and VOCs (volatile organic compounds). Plus hardwood just lasts longer. The issue with leather stems mostly from the fact that I am tired of not being able to clean my furniture. I’m one of the few people who tries to wipe down my fabric furniture every spring and fall, but usually I give up long before the water stops turning black. I want leather where one wipe of a cloth leaves a clean surface. Additionally, since we’re about to have kids I understand that leather stands up better to “life”, stains less (as long as you wipe the spill up right away), and looks better with age. And leather is not necessarily treated with toxic flame retardants, stain repellents, and water proofers. (Just the not-so-inert leather processing chemicals, oh well; and some cleaning/protectant chemicals aren’t great either). Unfortunately, about 95% of leather sofas have soft cushion backs, so it was a challenge to get a leather tightback sofa that will be comfortable for Mike’s back.

I did have to compromise on the foam in the sofa, though. Not surprisingly in the green black hole of Sacramento, in a web search I wasn’t able to find any custom furniture makers advertising non-polyurethane foam, and I’m not crazy enough to drive to San Francisco for a sofa. (Side rant, the term really should be “made to order” not “custom”) The consultant at the store we went with also expressed concern that a latex cushion wouldn’t last as long as the polyurethane. So I’m stuck with the VOCs (specifically isocyanate, I think, which is used to make it foamy) offgassing from the foam. The cushion has a layer of down on top of the spring/foam layer, which is encased in cotton batting, so there’s another miss. “Conventional” cotton uses an absolutely crazy amount of pesticides. While I would have preferred a spring/latex cushion with organic cotton, hemp, or wool batting, this compromise is acceptable. It’s about as good as I expected to find. All-in-all the sofa purchase was not as hard as I feared, but it was a challenging purchase and since there wasn’t an example of the model in the store, hopefully we like it. In 8-10 weeks when it is delivered.

Posted June 11, 2011 by mayakey in home, pre-pregnancy, shopping

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Flooring Choice #2: Cork   3 comments

Our second decision in the replacing-the-flooring journey was a little bit more of a challenge. What would be the best option for the living room and hallway? Because of the proximity to the front entrance and the traffic patterns in the house, carpet is not an option for the living room or the hallway. But to accommodate the various activities in the living room, we want something soft and padded, and something that would be an acoustic dampener. Also, the existing tile in the adjacent entry and dining room is fairly elegant looking, and we want to have something complementary and similarly elegant in the living room in hopes that it will boost our resale value when we sell the house down the road.

More tile? Not soft or sound dampening; plus we would never be able to match the existing tile. Wood or bamboo? Again, not soft or sound dampening. Conventional laminate? Not soft or sound dampening, plus there’s an issue with offgassing of formaldehyde and VOCs. Vinyl? Not on your (my) life. Natural linoleum? Not the elegant look we are going for.

What’s left? Cork! I discovered cork as a viable flooring option years ago when I realized that the floor of Stanford’s Memorial Church was cork. Until then I couldn’t figure out how cork could be used as a floor because I imagined a bulletin board lying on the ground and could not figure out how to keep it clean or how it would not fall apart quickly. My husband had the same thought before we actually looked at cork flooring samples. Cork flooring is actually ground up cork bark mixed with adhesives and compressed into sheets (so it is technically a laminate flooring). Patterns and stains can be added on the top layer, which means there are some gorgeous cork floors out there. The cork tiles still have the springy-nature of the cork bark, so it is a good compromise between hard and soft flooring options. It is also a good compromise for acoustic dampening (maybe that’s why they use cork tiles in Memorial Church). As a plus, cork is a thermal insulator like carpet. I bounced around online for a while reading reviews of cork floors and it seemed like I mostly found rave reviews with a handful of lukewarm ones. I found very few negative reviews.

As far as environmental benefits, cork can be used for LEED credits for sustainable materials and recycled materials. It is considered a sustainable material because cork is the bark of the tree and the tree doesn’t need to be cut down for the harvest. Cork flooring is made from the waste material left after making bottle corks, which sort-of makes it a recycled product. (It can also be made from recycled cork stoppers, but I don’t know how common that is.) Since it is a laminate material there is some risk of off-gassing due to the adhesives, but the floor that we are buying is GreenGuard Indoor Air Quality Certified, so it is low-emitting for volatile organic compounds, formaldehyde, and phthalates. Not perfect, but pretty good.

So a floating cork floor it is! Think conventional laminate floor with the tongue-in-groove joints, only it’s a fiberboard sandwiched between two layers of cork. Theoretically I can DIY this, but I don’t think I could manage doorways and the bay window in the living room. Instead, I talked to the contractor that is going to install all the flooring about letting me help.

Posted July 23, 2010 by mayakey in environment, home, shopping

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Flooring Choice #1: Carpet   2 comments

The first decision in the replacing-the-flooring journey was the easy one: wall-to-wall carpeting in the bedrooms. Both my husband and I much prefer the feel of carpet rather than hard flooring under our feet when we get out of bed. We want that area of the house to be soft and padded, with good acoustic dampening, and cozy looking/feeling. An area rug is just not satisfactory in the bedroom. We originally also planned on putting wall-to-wall carpeting in the living room but the floor plan and traffic patterns in this house made us re-think that decision and decide to stick with carpet in the bedrooms only.

We are going to be installing a wool carpet on a natural hemp/cotton backing with rubber adhesive and jute secondary backing made by Earth Weave. I’ve seen plenty of mentions lately about carpet made from recycled plastic as a green choice but had no desire to go that route. The recycled plastic carpet is a wonderful idea from the standpoint of reducing waste to the landfill/incinerator and putting that “waste” material to good use, but those carpets are otherwise pretty much the same as conventional carpet. By that I mean offgassing of the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) used in the backing and the chemical waste from making the carpet. Also, at the end of it’s life the recycled carpet has to go to a landfill or incinerator, whereas our wool carpet is biodegradable.

Wool carpet has some additional benefits that other forms of carpeting don’t have. I have the first on good authorities, but we’ll have to see about the other to over the next few years.

  • Wool is naturally flame retardant. (super bonus for bedrooms!)
  • Apparently wool is easier to keep clean than synthetic carpets because the inherent crimp of the fibers keeps dirt and spills at the surface longer than relatively straight synthetic fibers.
  • Apparently the texture lasts longer in wool than synthetic carpets because the crimp is inherent to the fibers.

Carpet does have cons, but they can be moderated a bit. I mentioned some of the cons in my post about removing the old flooring from the house.

Con #1: Carpet traps particulate matter and contributes to poor indoor air quality.

For this reason carpet is not a good choice for high traffic areas. The more traffic, the more particulate matter gets tracked in, ground into the carpeting, and kicked back up into the air. In this case, the bedrooms are not near any of the entrances to the house and can be considered low traffic. (the living room and hallway are at the front entrance though, that’s why we decided against carpet there) Additionally, we sort-of have a “shoes off at the door” policy in our house that at least reduces how much dirt gets tracked around. In my Human Exposure class in grad school we learned just how dramatically different the air quality is (based on particulate matter) in a house with a shoes-off policy compared to one where shoes are allowed throughout the house. Thirdly, we (meaning my husband) have a standard practice of vacuuming the carpeting every week already, so we should be able to keep our new carpet from getting too dusty/dirty and worsening our indoor air quality.

Con #2: “Conventional” carpet offgasses VOCs, which contribute to poor indoor air quality.

So we are buying a “chemical-free” wool carpet. Conventional carpet uses VOCs in dyes, glues, and stain protection, but we are buying an undyed wool carpet with hemp/cotton and jute backings and rubber adhesive. No VOCs, no problem. We will be using a pure wool carpet pad. Again, no VOCs, no problem. It’s a bit more expensive but we can afford it (barely) so we get to go for the ideal.

Posted July 16, 2010 by mayakey in environment, home, shopping

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