NTE Podcast: Specific Subjects of Worry

So often we have clients that are stuck spinning their wheels because of the fear of too many toxins and pollutants.  They use the phrase “what if” when discussing their homes. What if it has asbestos… what of it has lead… what if it has formaldehyde… Folks, just about every home will has its own set of problems to deal with and these can almost always be remediated and fixed. Jay and Andy talk about these specific subjects of worry and more on today’s show.

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Specific Subjects of Worry


Andy: Welcome to the Non Toxic Environments podcast. My name is Andrew Pace. Every week, my cohost Jay Watts and I will discuss healthier home improvement ideas and options. Thank you for finding us. And please enjoy the show.

Welcome back to Non Toxic Environments, everybody. This is Andrew Pace and with me again, although remotely today is Jay Watts from AFM. Jay, how are you today?

Jay Watts: Fine, Andy. Hi everybody listening into the show today. So Andy, we were talking earlier about our show and I think you came up with a pretty good theme. Why don’t you get us started with this?

Andy: Sure. So we hear an awful lot from clients who are worried about the building materials, that they have, that they’re using, the homes that they’re moving into. And it always seems to get into this sort of careful what you ask for when you start asking about- could this be a problem, can that be a problem? I think we all start to hyperventilate a little bit and we get overly concerned. Now, I’m not saying that what we’re talking about today is not a concern, far from that. But what I’d like to do is sort of break it down to the items that we really should have concern over, items that we can fix and we can remediate and we can control and items that maybe are just a little bit too much hype and not a big real big concern.

Jay: Yeah, I think the internet has a lot to do with people reading different things and seeing a variety of different opinions and many of them are solid and scientific and then there’s a lot that aren’t. And so all of that gets mixed into the blender. And sometimes what comes out of it is some concerns and fears about exposures. I think today we can kind of dig down into that, explain some of the things and hopefully make it a little more clear for everybody.

Talked about a little about old homes in one of our previous casts. I think it’s a good place to start because that’s where a lot of the kind of the questionable materials from yesteryear are still resonant. And so being able to manage those. Obviously we can talk about asbestos.

Andy: Asbestos was used and all sorts of materials of course, cause back in the day, nobody really knew about the worries of it. It’s a natural mineral. It’s a ground found mineral. I think when folks discovered it, they realized that it was a kind of a miracle product. Its ability to resist heat, resist direct flames, moisture could go right through it and affect the material whatsoever. And so it was used for, floor, tile backing and insulation and pipe wrap and ceiling tiles and a whole mess of things inside of the home. Now, it was also used industrially in, in the production of automobiles and boilers and so on and so forth. I have a real direct connection to this. My mother in law died of mesothelioma and so I know the dangers of it, but I also know it takes anywhere from 30 to 50 years to incubate in the lungs.

Jay: Yeah. How, how was she exposed to it? What was the, what was an industrial or job related exposure or what happened?

Andy: Well, and that was interesting with all of the research that the medical staff put together to figure out where or how she got exposed to it, found that it was washing her father’s clothes when she was a teenager because her father worked for a company that used it. And that’s how she got the exposure and she inhaled a couple of fibers and then 50 some years later, she starts having breathing difficulties.

Jay: Yeah. That’s an amazing story. I guess any sense of the timing on the discontinuing of asbestos? Was it the 70s, like the discontinuing of lead or was it earlier than that? I don’t really know.

Andy: The 60s, 70s, and 80s is when asbestos started being ramped out of the use of materials. But interesting thing is it’s not actually illegal to use right now. It’s so expensive for manufacturers to pay the fines that they just decided to not use it anymore, which makes tons of sense. We all know the dangers of it, but it’s not illegal.

Jay: So in terms of dealing with it, I mean there are companies and that’s their role in terms of remediation because you have to stick to take special care to remove as best as materials.

Andy: Correct.

Jay: The higher specific firms that will come out and do what they need to do to protect you from it exposures, which means tenting or whatever they do. And then, you know, they’re in their white suits and their masks and they’re out there removing things.

Andy: That’s right. And you know, the thing about asbestos is, and I would tell all of our clients is- if it’s in good shape, let’s say you have asbestos in the floor tile in your basement, if it’s in good shape, if it’s not fraying, then you have the choice. You can either leave it and cover it up. Essentially you’re kicking the can down the road. Either you’ll have to deal with it at some other time or the next buyer will. Or you can have it remediated. And the remediation process is just making sure you’re following the steps of, as you say, hiring the right companies, but they have to tent off the area so that no air gets out of it. It’s the use of very specialized HEPA vac systems. Double bagging the disposable materials and they haul it away and have it have it taken care of. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. You don’t have to worry about it lingering, provided that they use the proper ventilation techniques to ventilate out any of that dust.

Jay: Yeah, I think it’s a good point here to mention that, and this is consistent with some of the other materials we’ll discuss, but on asbestos it’s really dangerous when it’s turned into dust, right? What’s called a friable state. I’s not an emissions challenge. I think some people start to get confused about what it is, is it emissions? Is it dust? Which one is it? Both? Is it one or the other? In this situation asbestos is something that if it was turned into, and if you could inhale it as a particle or particulate, that’s the danger of it.

Andy: Exactly right. And this leads us to our next danger in homes, which is lead.

Jay: There you go.

Andy: Lead is used most often in paints and coatings, stains and clear finishes from probably as recent as about 40 years ago. Lead was deemed unsafe to be used in paints and coatings in the 70s. But the biggest problem would be in a large cities where you have a lot of older homes that are being still being occupied today and are probably in dire need of repair. And you have these lead painted doors and windows that every time you use them, you start to scrape off some of the dust and the dust becomes airborne. And it’s not a worry with adults. The problem with lead from an inhalation standpoint or ingestion standpoint is with children in developmental ages.

Jay: Yeah. All right.

Andy: So it’s become a real focus, real, real focus of the Department of Housing & Urban Development…

Jay: And the Department of Education. You’ve got schools that have the financing, our funding hasn’t been there to keep the schools maintain as well as they should. Right. If it’s in a community that doesn’t have the resources, you know, poor communities and schools, maybe they barely get a maintenance team, did clean the place, let alone remodel. It’s entirely possible. There’s these old, old materials still resonant in these properties and therein lies… And I think you said it, small children there that really at risk. You know, a thought just popped into my head and we’re talking about asbestos and really the danger of it being in a dust form ingredient in that way. And similarly with lead, it’s the same idea. Then I started thinking, you know, they’ve taken lead out of gasoline and so I guess my question, I don’t know if you can answer it, I’m wondering what was the danger of lead in gasoline other than inhalation? What would be the reason they are de-leaded was there something about it? It ruined engines or, I’m not certain I understand that. I never checked that all of a sudden there was unleaded gasoline. For a while you could get leaded and unleaded and then now just unleaded gasoline. It’s kind of gone away.

Andy: Right. The, for a couple of reasons. Uh, the, the biggest concerns would be from the fumes…

Jay: The burning of gasoline…

Andy: But even just the dispensing of it.

Jay: Yeah. Coming out of the pump.

Andy: Right. The exposure that people would have if they got some on their hands, the exposure to the environment when it gets spilled on the ground or if there’s a fuel leak. This reminds me a little digression here, but remember 10 years ago, 15 years ago when compact fluorescent light bulbs became the way that environmentalists were going to help the environment? And what we found out that was every compact fluorescent light bulb actually had a very small, soldered circuit board inside of each bulb. And if you didn’t dispose of the bulbs properly, which was to actually take them to a hazardous waste collection facility, people would throw them away. And these light bulbs were ending up in landfills. And the biggest problem from it was these circuit boards were leaching lead from the solder. And so think of it from a standpoint of gasoline and all the chances that there would be for gasoline to leach lead into our environment.

Jay: Gotcha. Solid answer.

Andy: Thanks.

Jay: So we’re back to lead. So one of the things when you’ve got old properties, and we come across this quite often, where the property may be from the sixties or fifties, and people are getting ready to do some kind of remodeling and they want to paint, but they’re worried about the lead. And typically I’m saying, well, generally speaking, if you were the only owner of the home from the sixties or fifties, and yeah, maybe there is some lead there and it could be right  at your fingertips or more than likely if the house has changed ownership over the years, there’s probably layers and layers and layers of non-lead paint on there. If this was an apartment specifically, they’re always repainting, usually repainted before new tenants occupy.

There could be a whole three, four or five who knows how many layers of water base or oil base paint right on top of the lead. So people get a little bit concerned. I think when in the recommendation would be probably your best bet here is to sand up or de-gloss your surfaces and then they- oh, there may be lead there! Yes, ,however, how old is your home and is it a rental and there’s questions we could ask if figure out if it’s really lead or if there’s something in the way. How do you talk to people when they’re dealing with it, a do it yourself-er comes in and says, I know it’s lead paint I had it tested. It is lead paint. Now I’ve got to do something about it, right, because I’m going to decorate it. What do I do?

Andy: Well, it comes down to the situation they’re in. For instance, if they’re looking at painting a woodwork in the house, specifically door frames and window frames, I will suggest strongly that they look at just removing and replacing the entire material. It’s a lot of work to strip lead based paint or any paint off of windows and doors. There’s a lot of little areas to get to, you can miss a lot of areas easily. You really have to strip it off. I mean, they say we love the woodwork. You want to keep it, it’s too expensive to replace so forth. You have to strip it off. And there are products like a product called Blue Bear, a company called Franmar. They make a soybean oil based paint stripper specifically designed for lead based paint.

Jay: And it works pretty well?

Andy: It works wonderfully, absolutely wonderfully.

Jay: I know you’re carrying it at the store. I’ve heard of it, but I’ve never actually had a chance to use it.

Andy: Right. And, and so it encapsulates the lead dust. So as you’re scraping it, you don’t have to worry about that dust become an airborne. Then you can scrape it off and spread it onto a newspaper. Many municipalities across the country, you can actually roll up that newspaper and either throw it away or recycle it. Just check with your municipality first. And so provided that all the material has been taken off and then the surfaces are cleaned and washed, you can then prime and paint and bring it essentially back to new. But it’s a lot of work involved.

Jay: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. There’s going to be situations where people just, as you just mentioned, they’re not going to want to rip things out. You know, they love what they’ve got. They just want to find a way to make it safe. And so is the way to go about that. Okay. Moving on. So I guess the next offender in the lineup, the usual suspects here formaldehyde, we’ve talked about that a lot.

Andy: Yeah, we talked about an awful lot because it’s in everything, right? It’s everywhere. And so I think let’s just take a look at all types of chemical outgassing. We’ll use formaldehyde as the target because as we say, it’s in everything, but in the average home has, new home has about 15,000 chemicals in the air just from the building process. An existing home, who knows where that is because every time a chemical off gasses, it has a potential of actually combining with other chemicals and create a new compounds.

Jay: Right? Exactly. And there’s no science on that. It’s impossible.

Andy: Right? And so yes, you can hire indoor air quality scientists or do a prism test and you can determine things such as VOCs in the air or formaldehyde or other aldehydes. But this gives you a sort of a general idea doesn’t give you the full picture. Like asbestos, which can be remediated, lead, which can be remediated, chemicals can also be remediated. So to remediate those chemicals, it’s just a matter of figuring out where they’re coming from. As we’ve always said, Jay is the best way to get rid of a pollutant is to remove the source, like asbestos and formaldehyde of course. But if you can’t remove it for whatever reason, then we have to seal it and deal with it.

Jay: And you know you’re talking about the past versus the present, because a lot of times what people have done is they’ve done some recent work and they discover they have a formaldehyde problem and it’s newly created. Oh, it’s panic time, panic mode. What do I do now? It brings to my mind, of course, the system you’re pioneering with the ability to actually surface test for formaldehyde. And I think that’s a vast improvement in terms of analyzing indoor air quality. You alluded to it with the ambient air test, and they can be helpful. You can get a sense of pollution levels, but you really don’t know where to start with that. And so being able to pinpoint it and deal with it in that very specific way is really leaps and bounds ahead of where it’s been.

Andy: That’s a great point. Jay. You know, you think of something like, asbestos you can see it, you know where it’s coming from. We all have a pretty good idea what is releasing it.

Jay: Well, I black it’s black and ugly.

Andy: But chemical gas, chemical fumes. The release of un-reacted chemical monomers, we can’t go by smell.

Jay: No.

Andy: Just because something doesn’t smell doesn’t mean it’s safe. Carbon monoxide is not safe. Chemical off gassing and depending on your level of sensitivity does not have to have an aroma. On the flip side, just because something has an aroma doesn’t mean it’s dangerous. And so the FRAT system to be able to detect where in the house formaldehyde is actually coming from has been a remarkable, giant leap forward in remediating chemical outgassing.

Jay: Yeah. Yeah. Especially as you alluded to earlier, when you’ve got a brand new house where you’ve got so many new things in there, being able to pinpoint and say, oh, it’s the floor or it’s the paint I aware of, whatever it may be, wherever it may be. This is so important because then you can tackle those surfaces and just kind of go at them as you need to go at them. And what’s really great about it as you can, in almost real time, you can fix it and test it and make sure that it’s taken care of.

Andy: Exactly. Exactly. So I, and I might not gonna bore everybody to tears with the whole chemical outgassing thing cause we talk about it just about every episode.

Jay: Yeah, we do. Yeah. It’s a part of everything we talk about.

Andy: It is, but it is a specific subject of worry in which is why we’re here today. I’d actually like to talk about a couple specific subjects of worry of things we don’t necessarily need to worry about.

Jay: Yeah, it’s a good one.

Andy: So the first thing I’ll touch on is, which again, something we’ve talked about many times, which is VOC or volatile organic compounds. This one’s kind of a hybrid because yes, there are many VOCs that are dangerous to humans as well as being to the environment. Probably too many to list. And these VOCs find themselves in a variety of products in our home. But there are also VOCs that are completely harmless to humans. There’s actually a list of 37 chemicals that the EPA has deemed to be unreactive and, and even though they are carbon based, they’re readily vaporize at room temperature, they do not react with nitrogen and UV to create low-level smog. And so the EPA says, well, manufacturers, you’re allowed to use these 37 and you don’t have to disclose them.

Jay: Is that list on the EPA website?

Andy: The list is not, it’s not on the EPA website. So this list, I actually do have a copy of it and I’m going to post it and allow people who listened to the podcast to download this because I think people will be really interested to see the two or three that I talk about all the time.

Jay: Ammonia, acetone.

Andy: I mean that’s nail polish remover folks. That’s dangerous stuff. Ammonia, that’s a dangerous solvent. Also, not a VOC. One that I think really throws people, that new carpet smell that everybody knows that everybody hates? There’s a chemical in that material called trichloroethylene 1,1,1. Trichloroethylene. That’s actually an exempt compound by the EPA. Manufacturers do not have to leave and list it as an ingredient.

Jay: Therein lies the problem with the way things are perceived because it’s zero seems to be the target. If we don’t, if we have zero, we’re safe. Right? I think you’re pointing out that that’s not necessarily true. Certainly reduction and zero of those regulated ingredients. That’s an important step forward. We know that, right? But it’s those unregulated ones are the ones that we need to watch out for. And people come into this not really aware of that, they buy zero and they’ve heard zero and for many years the talk in our industry was that zero was your ideal, now we know from our experience just on a daily, a day to day basis that the zero metric isn’t the perfect metric.

Andy: Well, and this is why VOCs are so controversial. And because of that, I believe the industry just tries to avoid the discussion. And folks, please don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that VOCs are perfectly fine. We know they’re not perfectly fine, but it’s not the right metric because using VOC as your metric, choosing materials is actually in some situations causing more harm to the occupants. Now the next logical question is, well, what metric do you use? We don’t use a metric folks. We have to just use common sense. We have to use recommendations, anecdotal information. You have to listen to people who you trust. That’s what we’re here for. We hope you trust us and we hope you listen to what we’re talking about. There just is no metric. The owner of, of AFM years ago told me that, metrics in this industry are essentially trying to give a black or white answer in a world of gray.

Jay: Yeah. So true.

Andy: And I think about that every single day. The world is not that way. We have to look for things that make sense. So I don’t want to beat that a horse anymore. Another ingredient, a specific ingredient, Jay, that you’ve talked to me about quite a bit is a titanium dioxide.

Jay: Yeah. Well, it’s a dominant ingredient in most coatings these days. It’s the ingredient in there that allows for a whiteness. And talking just specifically about paint. So paint companies, market their product in what’s called bases. And those bases are calibrated to accept colorants. So you can tint very light colors, off white colors all the way up to very, very dark colors. And so when you’re making bases for the very light colors, you will have more titanium dioxide in those formulations. As you start to eliminate it or remove it so that you can actually tent darker colors you have less of it and you can see this. If you looked and you folks, you don’t normally see this because you don’t see what the bases look like untinted. You see them tinted. But if Andy were to open up a can of our paint, a pastel based paint from anybody, it would look fairly white, very white as a matter of fact, or would look like white paint. And if you open up that same brands, deep base or dark base or accent based on look at the same product before it’s tinted, it would look much more translucent. That’s just because the white in there is such a powerful ingredient that there would be no way to be able to tint a dark color if we had too much titanium dioxide in the formulation. So let’s talk about when the worries. I took a call the other day from a gal who was worried that she was going to have an inhalation exposure to titanium dioxide. And she had already started using our brand, our Safecoat brand. She was very happy and she wanted to continue on and she was getting ready to do a nursery for her. And then she started to read on the internet about how titanium dioxide is a carcinogen. You don’t want to be around it. And she was worried. So she called and I wanted to just relay her fears by saying, well, it’s like lead or like asbestos. It’s one of those things where you’re not exposed to it as a particulate, there’s really not an emission index with it at all, really. It’s just something that you wouldn’t want to breathe in a dust form. It’s completely suspended in the coatings. In that way, you’re not exposed to it. That’s what I shared with her and she kind of got a better feeling for it and felt more comfortable about it. So what do you think Andy? I mean, that’s pretty much how it is, right? There’s nothing outside of the dusting of titanium dioxide, which would be, again, if you were sanding old paint. And I tell you, listen, if you’re sanding anything, you don’t want to breathe in any of it. I don’t care what it is. Right? So if you’re sanding wood, you’re sanding a piece of pine or a piece of oak or something and wear a particulate mask. Right? So you don’t inhale it. No one wants to inhale dust. I kind of break it down to almost the real kind of simplistic basic terms, you know? Because it’s just good practice.

Andy: Well, and this is a thing about titanium dioxide. It’s found in every paint manufacturers paint, right? This is what makes paint white. This is what mate’s makes paper whites, toothpaste white. This is the ground found mineral that if anything is white, it uses titanium dioxide and yes, if you are breathing the dust of it from sanding or grinding, it could cause eye, nose and throat irritation. This reminds me of crystalline silica, which is another ingredient that used to be found quite a bit in paint. Safecoat, never used it. Because of its possibility of causing silicosis, but that particular ingredient actually had a track record of causing silicosis where titanium dioxide is more or less a warning, like don’t breathe dust. I am all for telling people to take precautions and be careful whenever they’re using. But it’s almost like saying this knife is sharp or this hot coffee is hot.

Jay: Yeah.

Andy: And so what’s happening in the industry, right, is there are some folks out there who are just making life miserable for manufacturers by finding any loose chink in the armor. And they’re saying, you need to tighten this up because we’re going to sue, people can get sick. We’re going to sue. So when you see on the safety data sheets or the MSDS, when you see warnings about irritants, whether it’s in Safecoat’s or any other paint brand, look a little deeper and you’ll see this typically because of, at least in case of Safecoat, it’s because of the titanium dioxide and it’s an unavoidable ingredients in liquid paint.

Jay: Yeah. I think Andy’s been a pioneer in this folks, looking beyond the veil of products and studying products and understanding products. And if you have a chance to go to the Degree of Green website and take a look at Andy’s metrics for understanding how to select products, I think it will be very valuable for you and to give you a little picture because I think it’s really worth it for folks to know. The kind of help, you don’t have to be alone out here in this world. There are a lot of good folks doing a lot of good work and there’s a lot of information that can be extremely valuable in terms of making decisions about the ingredients you want to be around. I just want to put that out there and folks to take a look.

Andy: Well the last thing I’ll say about the specific subjects of worry that we’re talking about today is that, and I’ve probably said this before, I’ll reiterate this. Sometimes they have to take a step backwards to take two steps forwards. In a home, there is no perfect way to do things sometimes and you have to use materials that yeah, maybe I’d like to avoid. Paint is not one of them in this situation. I always take precautions when I use any liquid material. But you know, if you have to use a certain type of adhesive or a certain type of cleaner or a certain, whatever it is, just understand that at the end of the day, if you’re making the home healthier in the long run for the occupants, that’s the goal, right? So, that’s what Jay and I strive to do here every week is help people make their homes a little healthier. And what this episode was all about was just letting you know that not everything is a five alarm fire that we really have to work with. We’ve got to deal with some of these things are very scary sounding, but they can be fixed and remediated or covered up and lived with. That’s the direction we have to go.

Jay: Right, right. And again, just to reiterate, folks, we’re not trying to downplay some of the concerns here. We’re very much very keenly aware of the dangers out there. In fact, many years ago our company came out with a corporate brochure and we talked exactly about that. The danger wasn’t outside. The danger was inside. And so we made a point of saying we need to be watchful. This was back in the early, late eighties, early nineties. We’re 30 years on from now and things have gotten a lot better, much better. But there’s still, you need to be paying attention here. I always stress with people with whatever brand you use or thinking of using, try to sample, I know Andy’s a big advocate of sampling and manages a very, very effective sampling program on his end, for all kinds of products. It’s really important and just don’t fall for a sales pitch or what you read on the internet on a specific website. I mean, you can read all that stuff and educate yourself, but it’s really important to get your sample or do your due diligence before…  The worst thing that can happen is that you make a leap. And then you get into it so deep when you realize, we’re in deep water here and now what are we going to do? Andy and I both deal with these kinds of situations on a day to day basis and have for many, many years. It’s always saddening to me when I know that people kind of, for whatever reason, budgetary or time wise or whatever, they kind of jumped into a situation and now they’re having to come back after all the work and time away from their home, possibly in the money spent to have to do it over again.

Andy: Right.

Jay: And it just, my heartbreaks, every time I hear these stories. In the front end, it’s better to slow down a little bit and make everyone else get in the back seat so that you can drive this car of trying to keep yourself healthy and build a healthy home for yourself and your family. That’s the goal here. That’s the most important thing.

Andy: Fabulous Jay. Great. Great bits of advice there. And folks, if you have any specific subjects of worry that you want to talk to us about, feel free to drop me an email, andy@degreeofgreen.com. You leave us a speak pipe on the website, which is a voicemail. We get a lot of phone calls and a lot of emails every week and we really appreciate the questions, the suggestions. Matter of fact, we’ve had a lot of people reach out about this subject, about the ingredients that are found in paints and, and so forth. And we really appreciate all that feedback. And folks, Jay and I will be back again next week with another good episode of Non Toxic Environments. We appreciate you listening.


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