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Learning Center > Green, Greenwashing & Chemical Sensitivities > 

Green, Greenwashing & Chemical Sensitivities

Green, Greenwashing & Chemical Sensitivities

What makes something green? Does green mean non-toxic? What products are safe for my chemical sensitivities? Why is my house making me sick?

How do I know if a product is really safe?

You finally got a product that says it's safe! How do you know if that's really true? What is the current state of regulation and labeling in the synthetic products world?

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Sick Building Syndrome and Building-Related Illness

information from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

The term "sick building syndrome" (SBS) is used to describe situations in which building occupants experience acute health and comfort effects that appear to be linked to time spent in a building, but no specific illness or cause can be identified.

The complaints may be localized to a particular room or zone, or may be widespread throughout the building. In contrast, the term "building related illness" (BRI) is used when symptoms of diagnosable illness are identified and can be attributed directly to airborne building contaminants.

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Toxic Mold Removal and Prevention

If you live in an older home or work in a older building, chances are there is mold, mildew, and perhaps many other fungi influencing the quality of air that you breathe.

Everyone has some mold and mildew growing in their basement, in their walls, or in their attic whether they know it or not. Although mold is everywhere, it can be controlled.

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VOC Content vs. VOC Emissions

from Air Quality Sciences and GreenGuard

DO NOT DISPLAY ON WEBSITE UNTIL COPYRIGHT IS CLEARED WITH Air Quality Sciences and GreenGuard. Article must display their copyright. 1/10/2011 per Joy

When it comes to effectively controlling the source of chemical pollutants in indoor environments, there is a big difference between basing the selection of building materials, furnishings and finishes on their respective volatile organic compound (VOC) content versus their level of VOC emissions.

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What Makes a Product Green?

When we want to know if a product is 'green' we need to look beyond the label.

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Six Myths about Building Green

If you're considering building or remodeling a home or office and are faced with doubts about whether to build green, perhaps this article will offer some inspiration. These myths need to be put to rest.

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Preventive and Curative Solutions to Indoor Air Pollution

What smells? Why am I sneezing, feeling dizzy or upset in my brand new home or office? Is it the new carpet, the new cabinetry or both? Perhaps it's the paint they just applied. Maybe it's mold growing in the walls or under the floor?

What is that musty smell in my basement or under the sink? It smells funny and is hard to locate, but something is definitely influencing the atmosphere I'm breathing.

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All About Mold

In spite of the conflicting studies about the extent of mold's harmful effects, some health fears are real, ranging from mild reactions to acute neurological disorders. The problem can be especially serious for allergy sufferers, small children and pets.

Once mold begins to develop it's difficult and almost impossible to remove.  In some cases, the best solution is to burn down the building. With the increase in mold cases and the subsequent press they have received, mold is now considered by many as one of the most dangerous indoor pollutants.

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Sources of Indoor Air Pollution (VOC's)

excerpts from An Introduction to Indoor Air Quality by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

Organic chemicals are widely used as ingredients in household products. Paints, varnishes, and wax all contain organic solvents, as do many cleaning, disinfecting, cosmetic, degreasing, and hobby products.

Fuels are made up of organic chemicals. All of these products can release organic compounds while you are using them and, to some degree, when they are stored.

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IAQ and Your Health: A Deeper Look at VOCs and Formaldehyde Emissions

by Joel Hirshberg on March 12, 2011. Average reading time: just under 30 minutes

Download this document as a PDF

The term 'sick building syndrome' (SBS) was coined in the late 1970's to describe situations where building occupants experience acute health problems. Although these experiences were linked to time spent in a building, no specific illness or cause could be defined. This was the first time national attention was given to indoor air quality as a major health issue.

SBS typically results from poor building design, old malfunctioning HVAC systems, remodeling projects or various occupant activities. Numerous and specific causes have been identified and defined by many organizations in great detail over the last few decades.

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How to Test a New Product for Chemical Sensitivity

People have different tolerances to different chemicals. Although all our products can be used by most chemically sensitive individuals, it's important for you to test each product before using it. Testing can be quick and easy.

Below is an objective testing procedure we recommend for personal sensitivity to any new product. If you're working with a doctor or health professional, please consult with her/him on this process.

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Green by Design vs. Green by Default

Someone recently said that fiberglass insulation is green because it has no formaldehyde in it. We don't agree!

Such a statement is not much different than saying paint is green because there's no lead in it.

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How do I make sure that a crib has non-toxic finish as its manufacturer stated?

by Joel Hirshberg Originally published August 1, 2013 in the Green Home Guide, a service of the U.S. Green Building Council

Q: Some manufacturers state that their cribs' finishes are non-toxic. What does that mean? Does it mean there are no VOCs emitted after the finish has been properly dried? If I do not smell any smell, does it mean there are no VOCs?
—asked by Irina San Rafael, CA

A: In general, distrust of green labels is well founded as most are not accurate, reliable or third party certified. Chemically sensitive people can often smell VOCs better than others but many people can hardly notice a difference. It's always best to test for your own personal reactions, do research on the internet and consult with people who have experience with these products.

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How long do wood sealers emit VOCs after they dry?

by Joel Hirshberg Originally published January 28, 2013 in the Green Home Guide, a service of the U.S. Green Building Council

Q: I have finished dresser with VOC 2.1lbs/gal sealer--is this low? The sealer and lacquer are Valspar Premium WW Satin Lacquer and Valspar Sanding Sealer. Is it ok to put dry finished dresser in an infant's room? I'd like to avoid chemical off-gassing. Thanks!
—asked by Elizabeth, Sacramento, CA

A: Wood sealers can be water-based or oil-based and both can contain volatile organic compounds. How much is acceptable to the government and how much is acceptable to you and your infant may be two different things. Most people wish to avoid VOCs altogether, if possible, as they tend to continue emitting nasty fumes for weeks, months or even years.

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Are zero VOCs paints always safe?

by Joel Hirshberg Originally published April 30, 2012 in the Green Home Guide, a service of the U.S. Green Building Council

Q: Has anyone used Kelly Moore's zero voc paint products and had reactions to them? I used Kelly Moore zero VOC paint in my empty condo and 8 days later, after having fans running 24/7 with all windows/patio door open, I cannot be in there for 5 minutes without a severe reaction with headaches, nausea and brain-fog. I can't find out what is in the paint that may be causing this. Have you tested Kelly Moore's zero voc paint and/or do other people have problems with their products?
— asked by Susan, Richardson, TX

A: While I have not used Kelly Moore's zero VOC paint, we receive countless phone calls just like yours from people using almost all brands of zero voc paint. “How can this be, they ask? I thought zero VOC meant it was safe and non-toxic?” Here are two possible answers.

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Can you please rate MasterCast engineered composite for my bathroom remodel?

by Joel Hirshberg Originally published April 17, 2012 in the Green Home Guide, a service of the U.S. Green Building Council

Q: Can you rate or let me know where to find information on MasterCast engineered composite offered from USMarble in terms of low voc's, durability, etc.? I am remodeling a bathroom because of mold problems and have chemically sensitive family members. I want to eliminate grout lines and need a space-specific size shower. I need shower walls that are flexible in terms of cutting for sizing and do-it-yourself installation if possible. I have located a look that I want in the USMarble product line. An expert at this website has indicated that Swanstone products have some inherent problems.
—Asked by Anita Baines, Damascus, MD

A: I must admit, this is a new product for me and I prefer not to judge any product unless I've personally tested it and have spoken directly with other homeowners who have used it extensively. However, I can give you my educated opinion based on my experience with cultured marble, Swanstone and what I've read and see on their website.

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