My Three Key Ways To Avoiding Toxic Chemicals When Renovating.
Building our dream home has been a fun, sometimes testing experience, which I am very grateful for. I was lucky to of had the chance to do a mini renovation in a previous apartment so had become clued in on the toxic overload that can occur with new materials! Back then, my daughter was a new born and although I knew about chemicals in medicines and foods, I had no idea when I laid the carpet-because it was soft for her to crawl on-that I was also covering the house with a truck load of chemicals! Babies have a higher resting metabolic rate — meaning their rate of oxygen consumption is greater than adults. As a result, they are much more susceptible to harm from breathing in pollutants and can develop respiratory, cognitive and developmental health problems. I wish I knew then what I know now. The good side is we got to implement it in our forever home, and today I am sharing three major aspects to re-think when renovating or building for your families health.
THE SOFT BUT 'DEADLY' CARPET
Carpets are full of volatile organic compounds (VOC's). VOCs are a group of chemicals that vaporise making them easily inhaled by us! There are over 400 compounds in the VOC family which have been identified in the home and of these over 200 can be found in carpeting including toluene, benzene, formaldehyde, ethyl benzene, styrene, acetone. What the!?
They are used in carpets for a variety of reasons such as antistatic sprays, flame retardants, moth proofing, artificial dyes, antimicrobial treatments, and finishes - it’s enough to make any mother nervous about letting their young child crawl around on their hands and knees if they knew!
The side effects recorded from exposure to these chemicals are diverse: headache, confusion, loss of memory, depression, dizziness, burning eyes, nose, and throat, difficulty breathing, fatigue, weakness, skin rash, hair loss, etc.
Older carpets may contain chemicals banned from more recent production and considering carpet can hold eight times its weight, it can harbour years of accumulated dirt, dust mites, and previously used chemical cleaning products, pesticides, paint fumes and solvents.
- Go for natural floor covering; sustainable wood (Green peace is reviewing its Good Wood Guide but you can also check out FSC Sustainable wood) or even better buy reclaimed recycled wood or use bamboo.
- Use non-toxic products to keep it clean such as vinegar in water or eucalyptus oil in water.
- If you do have carpet avoid using the strong chemical carpet cleaners and have a no-shoe policy in the house to avoid build up of pollutants storing in the floor.
THE MATTRESS THAT GIVES YOU NIGHTMARES
My poor darling Ariella and I learnt this one the hard way too. We finally got her a double size bed last year and the mattress to go with it, for those nights that seem like we are playing musical beds with our young children. (If it's going to happen let it happen in comfort!)
She was so excited she got me to have a "sleep over" the first night. I woke up exhausted, like I had drunk a bottle of wine. Ariella was not tired but proceeded to weep throughout the whole morning before school. I didn't put two and two together. The same thing happened the next day; she couldn't stop crying. I know girls are emotional but this wasn't right. It wasn't until I took her to see our wonderful kinesologist that next day, that she pointed out it was likely the new mattress and she was suffering from chemical overload. You think I would have learnt my lesson after the carpet. I felt terrible!
Immediately we stopped sleeping on the mattress and she felt better! We put the it outside in the sun for the next week, alternating covering it with bi-carb soda, and then inside for another week before we slept on it again.
Mattresses are required to withstand a two-foot wide open flame of a blowtorch for 70 seconds, so by that standard you can guess how much flame retardant they contain and then off gas to you while you are sleeping and your body is attempting to rest and repair. Flame retardants have been detected in the blood of polar bears, human breast milk, and even in the bark of trees ranging from Tasmania to Indonesia, so its safe to say they are stubborn particles that do not break down easily or stay only in the products they are meant for. The issue with this is that they are extremely toxic and research shows links with headaches, moodiness, cancer, delayed brain development and fertility issues.
The other issue is most mattresses sold on the Australian market are made from petroleum-based polyurethane but all foams, natural or synthetic, have chemical contents that omit VOC's
- In Australia check out chemical-free bedding from Natural Bedding.
- If you must have a fire retardant mattress search for one with natural silica which is the safest option available.
- Choose mattresses made from natural latex that does not need flame retards or mould repellants.
- Don't choose mattresses with springs as they are a dust mite haven and sleeping on top of metal coils leaves you vulnerable to increased Electromagnetic pollution.
- If you can afford it, look at purchasing organic cotton sheets. Cotton is one of the most highly sprayed crops.
FRESH PAINT THAT AINT SO FRESH
I like white walls but I don't like headaches that come from freshly painted walls. Like the VOC's in mattresses and carpets, most paint holds a plethora of chemicals such as toluene, xylene, ethyl acetate, formaldehyde, volatile plasticisers, methylene chloride, ammonia, fungicides and glycol that come with silent health dangers with their emissions that can be seen immediately when exposed to too much fresh paint or long term slower detrimental health issues as they release into the air years after their applications. The VOC content of paint and the CO2 emitted during manufacture are also key contributors to environmental impact.
Luckily now there are many more choices of companies now that manufacture low- and no-VOC paints that perform as well as their predecessors.
- Choose water based paints over oil based paints as they contain less chemicals
- Check out Green Painters whom have chemical free paints.
- Keep your home well ventilated. Fresh air works wonders, especially in the month after painting.
- In-door plants are also fantastic at absorbing toxins and releasing fresh air into a home.
- Never put a child into a freshly painted room to sleep overnight. Let it air out for a few days at least!