Health and Safety

Avoiding Toxins in Interior Design

Are you excited at the end of the day to climb in your car and head home to your safe comfortable happy place you call home?  Of course, you should be.  You’ve decorated it to reflect your color preferences, your style and your comfort levels.  But did you design it for your health?

It’s hard to write a blog on the use of toxic chemicals in our environment.  Once you start delving into their wide spread use – their effects on our bodies and environment – the findings of studies performed on infants’ umbilical cord blood, or mothers’ breast milk – you can feel lied to, cheated, abused and defeated.

One pair of jeans can use 2641 gallons of water.  The water takes on the dyes, salts, and various chemicals which go into ground water.  In some countries like China and India the rivers can run purple, green, blue with excess effluent.  The textile industry takes the number 2 position as worst worldwide chemical polluters after agriculture.  Our clothes, fabrics and our food – just think about that.  Chemical sales today are in the $4 trillion range representing 85,000 chemicals with which we are bombarded and less than 25% of those tested for long-term effects on humans.

We’ve heard of endocrine disrupters.  They come from the off-gassing  of the plastics in our cars (the reason our interior windows getting a fog like covering), the flame retardants in our sofas, the pthalates in our shower curtains or the candles we burn to create an “atmosphere”. It seems we can’t get away from them.  They are in our fabric softeners and the fragrance in our detergents.  You can get them at the grocery store in some canned foods and on the store receipts.  They are in shampoos, face creams and cosmetics and if that isn’t bad enough now there’s a study that shows they are even in our dust bunnies.

If we tell ourselves that we’re not giving up our fabric softener smell and we can’t get radical about the whole thing, then maybe we should make a choice about what result we would like.  Endocrine disruptors sabotage our entire endocrine system which is composed of all our hormones ( approximately 50 shown here).  Blood passes through the glands that produce hormones, picking them up as the blood passes and distributing to parts of the body that use the hormones. They often mimic the hormones in the body and turn some hormones into others.  The can cause too much or not enough hormones to be produced. They accumulate in our glands and cause cell death.  They are implicated in male and female reproductive disorders, neurological problems, liver disease, osteoporosis, thyroid problems, diabetes and worst of all birth defects.  They bind to some nutrients so we can’t use them.  The list goes on and on.  Our endocrine system is so delicate and finely tuned that the tiniest amount can have severe effects, even later on in life.  And those dust bunnies?  They are an accumulation of debris that accumulates in our homes and have been shown to have enough endocrine disruptors that cause mice fat cells to increase.  Do our babies and pets on those floors get an extra dose that will cause weight gain later in life?

So what do we do?  No, we can’t avoid all 85,000 chemicals in our atmosphere.  But there are some things we should do.  Those in the design industry are purveyors of information as well as goods to their clients.  You can guide them to best choices and help them avoid the top offenders:

Avoid BPA’s (bisphenol-A).  This is most commonly found in plastic food packaging and canned foods.  Household products like CD’s,  feminine products, sports equipment, dental filling coatings, cash register receipts, even eyeglass lenses are created with it.  It has the ability to bind to estrogen and thyroid receptors and create havoc.  Products that say they are BPA free often use BPS or BPF instead which have effects similar to BPA.

Dioxin is created by the burning of chlorine or bromine in the presence of carbon and oxygen. So you think you haven’t been around a bonfire of chlorine lately?  Well our atmosphere has.  Incinerated trash,  the bleaching of paper pulp, cigarette smoke and discharge from chemical factories produce it.  It builds up in animal and human flesh and having a very long lifetime doesn’t leave our body for years.  Eating lower on the food chain, replacing animal meats with vegetables and avoiding products like bleached coffee filters can help to avoid it.

Atrazine, commonly used as a weed killer especially on corn and other crops planted commercially in rows is a potent hormone disruptor.  This is the one that is blamed for turning male frogs into females that actually produce eggs.  Any men out there who want to produce eggs?  To avoid it BUY ORGANIC and have your water sources checked and filtered.

Want to have your perfume stick to your body longer?  Make sure it has some Pthalates in the formula.  It helps make plastics soft so our vinyl floor are easier to work with while at the same time they signal testicular cells to die and disrupt our thyroids.  Avoid #3 plastic wrap,  plastic food containers, ingredients in your personal care products that say “fragrance” or “parfum” (these can be any one of 3,000 chemicals)  and use products in design other than vinyl.

Perchlorate is rocket fuel.  I know – what???  It competes in our body for iodine and is a thyroid disruptor. Well all those rockets that have been fired off have left enough in the ground that it should be tested for in our water supply.  Find standard national drinking water supply standards here.

Polybrominated diphenyl ethers PBDE’s  are fire retardants.  Deposits in human breast milk from all over the world have been detected and in as remote an animal as polar bears.  Studies have shown they aren’t reliable as fire retardants  but they can retard our IQ’s.  Anything that has foam will probably have it – carpet padding and upholstered furniture especially. UNLESS it has the label ( and is manufactured after January 15, 2015)  “The upholstery materials in this product contain NO flame retardant chemical” TB117-2013.  Don’t recover old foam in upholstered furniture.  Foam only has a lifetime of use of about 5 years before it breaks down.  Upgrade your upholstery.

Lead has one of the worst reputations for harming humans and is a hormone disruptor.This is besides the fact that it causes brain damage, birth defects, kidney and nervous system damage etc. etc.  Be very careful to test for it when restoring older homes and preferably use a worker certified in the lead paint removal process.

Arsenic interferes with the normal functioning of the body’s glucocorticoid system which keeps the processing of carbohydrates and sugars regulated.  It is a poison that leads to cancer of the skin, bladder and lungs.  Recently the media has discovered that a food very high in arsenic is rice. It doesn’t matter if it’s organic or brown or white.  Brown rice actually has more.  It comes from run off from farmland waste due to being in livestock (especially poultry) feed.  Soaking rice before eating helps decrease the amount ingested.  Test your water for it also.

Mercury binds to womens’ hormones that regulate cycles and ovulation.  We consume the most mercury through seafood.  Find the healthiest sources here.

Perfluorinated Chemicals PFC’s  Are you of the 1% that don’t have this chemical in your body?  Probably not.  This hormone disruptor coats the insides of microwave popcorn bags, is used in non-stick cookware, water proof fabrics  and in some cosmetics all the while it lowers sperm count and contributes to high cholesterol.  It has been linked to thyroid and kidney disease and low birth weight.  It is also in stain treated fabric, so maybe think that one through before having a fabric company add that as an upgrade.

Organophosphate Pesticides were originally the leftover chemical warfare compounds used by the Nazi’s in World War II.  They are the most common pest killers today.  It is a neurotoxin and used in our homes and yards prolifically.  Stop using it!

Glycol Ethers also known as fumes from paint, refinishing products and cleaning products.  They are from a group of solvents from propylene glycol or ethylene glycol and is somewhat of a generic name for over 30 solvents.  Solvents work better than soap and water and speed along the tasks we do.  But they can also lower our fertility and cause anemia. Products from this group usually enter our bodies through our skin via liquids or vapors.  The most poisonous are from the methyl or ethyl varieties.  Avoid prolonged exposure to paint  and refinishing products that have  volatile off-gassing compounds.  Use a respirator or mask when stripping or refinishing furniture.  Buy paints that are labeled  non or low VOC paints.  Manufacturers typically don’t reveal how long volatile fumes remain in a room after painting.  Why even bother.  Price doesn’t equal safety.

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