Category A Healthy. House

Maintaining a Healthy Home

So the much anticipated day finally arrives. After all these years of dreaming and endless months of planning, your new, healthy home is ready to move into. Now, most people would think that’s the end of the story. Mission accomplished! Crack out the champagne! But it’s actually a very important new beginning and one that is sadly overlooked by many people. You see, your home is essentially a living organism, and in order for it to remain as healthy and vibrant as when you first move in, you will need a long-term commitmentto both occupy and maintain your home in a healthy manner.

Most people assume they already know how to do this. After all, they can arrange the furnish­ings; decorate or coordinate color schemes; clean their home and even make it smell nice; use the various appliances; and go to the nearest home improvement store if they need to fix something. Surely all this effort makes a home healthy? Unfor­tunately, most of the time it does not.

One of the most important factors that define
whethera home is healthy or not is indoorairqual – ity. If your new home has been built with health in mind, the indoor air quality will be free of the usual toxic chemical soup found in convention­ally built new homes. However, it is possible to ruin a healthy home’s indoor air quality (even within minutes of moving in) if you aren’t aware of a few key facts.

Usually the first thing people do when they move into a new home is bring everything with them from their previous home, whether they need it or not. Let’s take a look at how some of the most common items can ruin your healthy home’s indoorair quality:

1. Old sofas and chairs made of polyurethane foam: The foam breaks down over time, re­leasing fine particulate matter into the air. This "dust" can contain chemicals such as toxic fire retardants and antimicrobials.

2. Furniture and household items impregnated with toxic cleaning products and syntheticfra-

• Bio-Wash: Environmentally friendly

household cleaners

• Bon Ami Polishing Cleanser: Non­chlorine all-purpose scouring powder

• Enviro Care: Environmentally preferred green cleaning products, some Green Seal certified

• Green: Personal care cleaner; contains fra­grance

• KD Gold: All-purpose biodegradable nat­ural soap

• Mystical: Odorless cleaner and deodor­izer

• Naturally Yours: A complete line of “eco – nomological” household and personal cleaning products

• Spectracidal Disinfectant Agent: An EPA

approved nontoxic germicide

• Trewax Nature’s Orange: Scientific Cer­tification Systems certified biodegradable cleaner/degreaser; contains citrus oils

• Trewax Neutral Cleaner: Scientific Cer­tification Systems certified biodegrad­able all-purpose cleaner for no-wax floors, marble, terrazzo, pavers, etc. (not for un­finished wood floors)

• Wow!: Scientific Certification Systems cer­tified biodegradable stainless steel cleaner

grance:These items will outgas chemicals into the air around them, often indefinitely.

3. Fragranced laundry products: These prod­ucts may be loaded with petrochemicals and are frequently a major source of unhealthy indoor air quality. Not only do these prod­ucts outgas in your laundry but as soon as you start laundering your clothes, towels, and bedding your whole house may also become polluted. I know many people love the smell of their dryer sheets, but just remember those are synthetic chemicals you are smelling, not real fragrance. Many of these chemicals have never been tested for their effects on human health.

4. Cleaning products: Like laundry products, many of these contain synthetic fragrances as well as a host of othertoxic chemicals that will outgas intotheairand leavean invisible chem­ical coating on all the surfaces with which they come in contact.

5. Pillows, duvets, and blankets: These are often full of dust mites and their feces, another in­door polluter and common allergen.

6. Old paints, adhesives, stains and finishes, garden and home pesticide products, car maintenance products, and a whole array of miscellaneous products people tend to store in the dark recesses of their cupboards and their garage: These products will frequently outgas even with their lids or caps in place and may pose a serious poisoning risk around small children and pets.

Moving into a new home often requires buying a few newthingstoo. Everything from mattressesto curtains to furniture made of particleboard now contains staggering amounts of chemicals, many known to cause everything from cancer to repro­ductive harm. All these products will outgas vigor­ously when new and ruin your home’s indoor air quality.

and protectant with no petroleum dis­tillates

Common Household Products That Clean

The following common household products may also be used for cleaning:

• Baking soda cleans, deodorizes, scours, and softens water. It is noncorrosive and slightly abrasive and is effective for light cleaning.

• Borax cleans, deodorizes, disinfects, and softens water. It is also effective for light cleaning, for soiled laundry in the washing machine, and for preventing mold growth.

• Hydrogen peroxide (H202) is effective

in removing mold stains from nonporous surfaces. Purchase a 10 percent food-grade solution. (The solution most commonly sold off the shelf is only 3 percent.) Use protective gloves to apply. A 10 percent so­lution will bleach many types of surfaces. A 35 percent food-grade H202 is available through many health food stores. The con­tainer must be refrigerated and kept clean. The 35 percent solution will burn skin and must be carefully diluted before it can be safely used.

• Soap (as opposed to detergents) biode­grades safely and completely. It is an effec­tive and gentle cleaner with many uses. For hands, dishes, laundry, and light cleaning,

As you can see, this combination of old and new household items can quickly ruin all your ef­forts to create a healthy home. The good news is that much ofthis damage can be prevented. Here’s some advice:

1. Replace old, worn furniture with new items made of natural materials, such as natural la­tex foam instead of polyurethane foam, and fabrics without flame retardants and other chemical treatments. If this isn’t within your budget, at least give your furniture a good vac­uuming outdoors and if possible let it sit out­side in fresh air and sunshine for a few hours. Wipe furniture down with either a damp mi­crofiber cloth or a mild solution of acceptable soap and water to remove old cleaning prod­uct residues. Vinegar may also help remove certain alkaline residues such as soap films. It shouldn’t be mixed with the soap but should be used separately. Replace particleboard fur­niture with solid wood items free of toxic fin­ishes and adhesives and whenever possible choose certified wood.

2. Replace laundry products with healthier, non- fragranced ones. If you want your laundry to smell good, the best remedy is to hang it out­side in the sunshine for a while. Many laundry products simply are not needed.

3. Replace cleaning products with nontoxic ones or make your own from common kitchen in­gredients such as baking soda or vinegar. (Don’t mix these two together since they are a mild alkali and an acid that will neutralize each other’s cleaning effectiveness.)

4. Microfiber cloths often eliminate the need for any cleaning product at all.

5. If you need a vacuum cleaner, make sure it’s a HEPA model. Conventional vacuum cleaners miss and recirculate about 70 percent of fine dust particles.

use the pure bar or soap flakes without per­fume additives.

• TSP (trisodium phosphate) can be used according to the manufacturer’s instruc­tions for grease removal. TSP is available in hardware stores. Surfaces cleaned with TSP should be neutralized with baking soda prior to the application of finishes. Fluids containing TSP should not be dis­posed of in septic systems or sewer systems because of their high phosphate content.

• Vodka is effective for dissolving alcohol – soluble finishes. Use a high-proof (high al­cohol content) product.

• Washing soda (sodium carbonate) cuts grease, removes stains, disinfects, and soft­
ens water. It is effective for washing heavily soiled laundry and for general cleaning.

• White vinegar cuts grease and removes lime deposits. A safe and useful all-purpose cleaning solution can be made from dis­tilled white vinegar and plain water in a 50:50 ratio. For window cleaning, add five tablespoons of white vinegar to two cups of water. The solution should be placed in a glass spray bottle. Glass is preferred be­cause plastics are known to release hor­mone-disrupting chemicals into bottle contents. Vinegar has been used to clean and control mold growth, but the thin film of residue left on the surface may supply nutrients for new growth.



6. Avoid fragranced air fresheners of all kinds.

7. As your budget allows, replace bedding with naturally dust mite resistant organic wool pil­lows, duvets, and blankets. Mattresses made of true natural latex are also dust mite resis­tant. Organic cotton pillowcases, sheets, and duvet covers are well worth the investment when you can afford them.

8. Develop the habit of reading labels. Don’t bring any product into your home that con­tains the words "warning,""danger," or "poison." If in doubt, err on the side of caution and find a safer option.

Over time, situations may arise that need special attention. If you plan todecorate, remodel, or make repairs, you will need to plan ahead to be sure to make the healthiest choices. In case of any unex­pected problems, be sure to get them resolved im­mediately. For example, if you have a burst pipe,
dry the area out quickly, hiring qualified profes­sionals, so there is no time for mold to grow.

Understanding how to live in and maintain your home for optimum health is as important as building your home correctly in the first place. With these basic ideas, you can protect the health of your whole family, including pets, and avoid the ever-increasing list of problems associated with living and sleeping in an unhealthy home. May you never know what you have prevented!

Athena Thompson is a certified Building Biology Practitioner. A natural health specialist for over 20 years, she focuses on environmental health, spe­cializing in children’s health issues. She is the au­thor of the popular book Homes That Heal (and those that don’t): How Your Home May be Harming Your Family’s Health and cofounder of Humabuilt — Healthy Building Solutions.

Contract Close-Out

Once construction is complete and before a home is handed over from the contractor to the owner, various tests should be run on the building. This testing provides the opportu­nity for tuning and adjusting various systems and either assures that the building is operat­ing as intended or detects errors and omissions in the building system so that the contrac­tor or appropriate subcontractor can cor­rect them prior to occupation. This also pro­vides an opportunity for the contractor to do a walk-through with the owner to explain how the systems work and how the owner needs to maintain and monitor them.

Throughout this book we suggest various tests that the owner may wish to include as part of the contract, to be conducted either by the contractor and his subcontractors or by a third party. Some of these are:

• testing for air leakage in the HVAC system

• pressure balancing of HVAC or start-up and balancing of radiant floor heating

• cycling all appliances

• testing for magnetic fields

• testing air and water quality

• blower door tests to determine if there is sufficient air tightness in the finished building

We also suggest that the owner obtain various documents from the contractor including:

• photo documentation of the building pro­cess showing location of utility trenches, electrical wiring, plumbing piping, block­ing in the walls, and any other pertinent information that has been covered up in the finished home

• an owner’s manual containing equipment, material, and labor warranties, schedules for required maintenance, contact num­bers for major subcontractors, and certifi­cates of inspection and occupancy

• “as-built” drawings, which are marked-up copies of the original drawings, and speci­fications indicating any changes that have been made in the course of construction and locating any pertinent information that was not on the original documents (refer to the section on occupant educa­tion in the Overview chapter)

Further Reading

Ashford, Nicholas and Claudia Miller. Chemical Exposures: Low Levels and High Stakes. 2nd ed., John Wiley and Sons, 1998. A scientific discus­sion of the mechanisms underlying chemical sensitivities.

Bower, Lynn Marie. The Healthy Household. Healthy House Institute, 1995. Contains a useful section on household cleansers.

Dadd, Debra Lynn. Nontoxic, Natural and Earth – wise. J. P. Tarcher, 1990. Has a good selection of alternatives to toxic cleaning products.

Lab Safety Supply, Inc. Preparing, Understand­ing, and Using Material Safety Data Sheets. This booklet can be obtained from Lab Safety Supply, Inc. at 800-356-0783.

McDonough, William and Michael Braungart. Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things. North Point Press, 2002. Described on their website as “a manifesto calling for the transformation of human industry through ecologically intelligent design.”

Wilson, Cynthia. Chemical Exposure and Human Health. McFarland, 1993. A reference to 314 chemicals, with a guide to symptoms. We use this handy guide to supplement information from the MSDS.

Maintaining a Healthy Home

Toxic Fumes from Cleaning Products

L. G. is a 53-year-old woman who was in reason­ably good health until two years after she began working for a hotel as a housekeeper. At that time she consulted Dr. Elliott complaining of rashes, headaches, joint pain, and fatigue. After extensive questioning, Dr. Elliott concluded that the source of her symptoms was probably at her place of employment. Through a process of elimination, it became apparent that she had become sensitized to the pine-scented product she used to disinfect bathrooms. Although this woman was unable to convince her employer to switch to less toxic

and health standards for industrial and insti­tutional cleaners. Based on information pro­vided by the manufacturers, Green Seal has recommended cleaners that meet the follow­ing criteria:8

• are not toxic to human or aquatic life

• are readily biodegradable

• contain VOC levels under 10 percent by weight when diluted for use

• are not made of petrochemical compounds or petroleum

• do not contain chlorine bleach

• are free of phosphates and derivatives

• do not contain phenolic compounds or glycol ethers

• are free of arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury, nickel, and selenium

• have acceptable pH levels

• work optimally at room temperature

The following industrial/institutional strength cleaners are among those that are recommend – cleaning products, her symptoms improved when she was transferred to a different job within the same building.


Certain strong-smelling cleaning products and disinfectants contain phenol, which is known to sensitize the immune system in some people, as happened to this unfortunate woman. When checking for phenol as an ingredient in a product, a generallysaferuleofthumbistolookforany ingre – dientincluding phenol in its nameorending in"ol."

ed by Green Seal9 and that we have found to be reasonably available for use by contractors:

• Earth Friendly Products: A complete line of floor care, all-purpose, and specialty cleaners

• ECO 2000: A multipurpose cleaner and degreaser derived from naturally occur­ring, renewable, rapidly biodegradable re­sources (can be used from a 1:5 dilution as a degreaser and stripper all the way down to a 1:64 dilution as a window cleaner)

• Enviro Care: Cleaning products for all washable surfaces

• Formula G-510: A multi purpose concen­trated colloidal cleaner/degreaser

• Green Unikleen: An industrial strength degreaser/cleaner

• The Natural: A complete line of naturally derived, fragrance-free cleaning products, with an all-purpose cleaner, a degreaser, and a bathtub and tile cleaner meeting Green Seal requirements

Household Cleaning Products

For normal household cleaning, several effec­tive alternatives to harsh chemical cleaning compounds are available. The following brand-name cleaning products do not contain harsh chemicals:

• AFM SafeChoice Glass Cleaner: Virtu­ally odorless glass, mirror, and hard sur­face cleaner

• AFM SafeChoice Safety Clean: Industrial strength cleaner/degreaser and disinfec­tant

• AFM SafeChoice Super Clean: All-pur­pose cleaner/degreaser

• AFM SafeChoice X158: Low-о dor, anti­fungal, antibacterial treatment

• Auro Awalan Line Cleaning and Care Products: Full line of natural plant-based cleaning and care products

• Auro Cleaning and Care Products: Full line of natural plant-based cleaning and care products

• Begley’s Best: Cradle to Cradle certified biodegradable all-purpose cleaner

• BioShield: A complete line of biodegrad­able, soap-based household cleaners con­taining natural and mostly organic ingre­dients

Physical and Chemical Characteristics

This section describes how the material be­haves. The information is useful for the design of ventilation systems and for providing ade­quate equipment and procedures for fire and spill containment.

• Vapor pressure tells you how much vapor the material may give off. A high vapor pressure indicates that a liquid will easily evaporate.

• Vapor density refers to the weight of the pure gaseous form of the material in rela­tion to air. The weight of a given volume of a vapor (with no air present) is compared with the weight of an equal volume of air.

• Specific gravity tells you how heavy the material is compared to water and whether it will float or sink.

• Evaporation rate refers to the rate at which a material changes from a liquid or solid state to its gaseous form.

• Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) pro­vide you with an idea of the degree to which the substance will outgas. If the ma­terial is toxic, the degree of volatility would be important to consider.

• Water reactivity indicates whether the chemical reacts with water to release a gas that is flammable or presents a health haz­ard.

• Appearance and odor indicate how a prod­uct is supposed to look and smell. For ex­ample, if the product is supposed to be clear and odorless but arrives onsite with

Section III — Physical Characteristics

Boiling Range:


Vapor Pressure (mm Hg.):

125mm Hg @ 100° F

Specific Gravity (H20=1):

1.1 -1.3

Vapor Density (Air = 1):

> 1

% Volatile (Volume):

< 1%

Evaporation Rate (BuAc = 1):

> 1

Volatile Organic Content (VOC):

3.8 Ib./gal.


(specify solvents):

Miscible in water, alcohol, acetone, some glycol ethers; insoluble in petro­leum hydrocarbons

Appearance and Odor:

Clear, odorless liquid

NOTE: In the above M5DS, the evaporation rate is compared with the evaporation rate for butyl acetate. With this particular product, the evaporation rate is less than that for butyl acetate.

Product #2 TABLE 1.6

Section III — Physical/Chemical Characteristics

Boiling Point:


-41.4° F at 1 ATM

Polyurethane resin


Vapor Pressure:


136 psia at 70° F

Vapor Density (AIR = 1):


2.98 at 1 ATM

Specific Gravity (H20=1):

Polyurethane resin


Solubility in Water:

Insoluble, reacts with water

Appearance and Odor:

Gel under pressure. Faint ether-like odor.

NOTE: Hydrochlorofluorocarbons, or HCFCs, are fluorinated carbons that are harmful to the ozone layer.

Product # 1 TABLE 1.7

Section IV — Fire and Explosion Hazard Data

Flash Point (Method Used):


Flammable Limits (% in air):


Extinguishing Media:


Special Fire Fighting Procedures:


Unusual Fire and Explosion Hazards:

None known



Conditions to Avoid:

Avoid extreme heat

Hazardous Polymerization:

May Not Occur

Conditions to Avoid:

None known

Incompatibility (Materials to Avoid):

None known

Hazardous Decomposition or Byproducts:

None known

Section IV — Fire and Explosion Hazard Data

Flash Point:

Polyurethane Resin >400° F

Extinguishing Media:

Water fog, foam, C02, or dry chemical

Fire Fighting Procedure:

Wear self-contained breathing apparatus and turnout gear. Hazardous decom­position products include CO, C02, NO, and traces of HCI. Cured foam: Wear self – contained breathing apparatus. Hazardous decomposition products include CO, C02, NO, and traces of HCI.

Usual Hazards:

Temperatures above 120° F will increase the pressure in the can, which may lead to rupturing. Cured foam:This product will burn. Do not expose to heat, sparks, or open flame. This product is not intended for use in applications above 250° F (121° C). Always protect foam with approved facings. This product is not a FIRE STOP or FIRE BARRIER penetration sealant.

Section V — Reactivity Data


Stable under normal storage and handling conditions. Do not store above 120° F. Cured foam will deteriorate when exposed to UV light.


Water, alcohols, strong bases, finely powdered metal such as aluminum, magne­sium, or zinc, and strong oxidizers.

Conditions/Hazards to Avoid:

Contamination with water may form C02. Avoid high heat, i. e., flames, extreme­ly hot metal surfaces, heating elements, combustion engines, etc. Do not store in auto or direct sunlight.

Подпись: an acrid smell and/or appears cloudy, the product may be contaminated. Fire and Explosion Hazard Data The flash point tells you the minimum tem-perature at which a liquid will give off enough flammable vapor to ignite. Obviously, the more stable the product, the safer it will be. Reactivity Hazard Data This section can provide you with clues regarding the toxicity of a product. Product #1 is stable (not reactive), with no incompatibility with other products and without hazardous decomposition or byproducts. Product #2 is unstable when exposed to ultraviolet light and high heat and is incom-patible with many substances. Подпись: Health Hazard Data This section provides useful information that will help you determine the toxicity of the product in question. Examining the health hazard section for Product # і would provide reassurance. The product appears to be only an irritant, with no known long-term health effects. (Of course, an edible product would be the ultimate assurance of product safety!) In contrast, the information below on Product #2 is not at all reassuring. This product is known to be carcinogenic, mutagenic, and teratogenic. It also may cause irreversible asthma, allergies, and other damage to the immune system. Although this product volatilizes quickly, workers who install it are exposed to extreme health hazards.

Подпись: Safe Handling Precautions and Leak Procedures This section offers more clues regarding the safety of the product. The fewer the precautions given, the more reassuring the information. Control and Preventive Measures This section lists the personal protective equip-ment that must be used, the type of ventilation to be used, and precautions to be taken when using the material for its intended purpose. Product #1 requires no special protective Подпись: clothing or equipment, which is an indication of product safety. For Product #2, good ventilation and pro-tective clothing over the entire body, including a face shield or goggles, are necessary. The above MSDS examples demonstrate that the information supplied in the MSDS, although incomplete, is nevertheless useful. An MSDS allows you to obtain a general impression about the level of toxicity of many products you may consider using in home construction.

Product #1 TABLE 1.9

Section V — Health Hazard Data

Route(s) of Entry:

Eye contact, inhalation, ingestion

Acute Health Effects:

Eye contact: May cause redness or irritation


N/A In sufficient doses may cause gastrointestinal irritation

Skin contact:


Chronic Health Effects:

Not listed as a carcinogen by the NTP, IARC, or OSHA; no adverse long­term effects are known.

Medical Conditions Generally Aggravated by Exposure:

No adverse long-term effects are known.

Emergency & First Aid:

Eye contact: Wash with clean water for at least 15 minutes. If irritation persists, get medical attention.




if irritation persists, get medical attention.

Skin contact:


Product #2 TABLE 1.10

Section VI —- Health Hazard Data

Toxicology Test Data:


Rat, 4 hr inhalation LC 50 — Aerosol 490 mg/m3 — highly toxic

Rat, 4 hr inhalation LC 50 — Vapor 11 mg/l — toxic

Rat, oral LD 50 — > 10,000 mg/kg — practically nontoxic

Rat, inhalation oncogenicity study — @ ~0.2,1, 6 mg/m3; URT irritant; carcinogenic @ 6 mg/m3


Rat, 2 hr inhalation LC 50 — 200,000 ppm

Section VI — Health Hazard Data




Eye contact with MDI may result in conjunctival irritation and mild corneal opacity.

Skin contact may result in dermatitis, either irritative or allergic. Inhalation of MDI vapors may cause irritation of the mucous membranes of the nose, throat, or trachea, breathlessness, chest discomfort, difficult breathing, and reduced pulmonary function. Airborne overexposure well above the PEL may result additionally in eye irritation, headache, chemical bronchitis, asthma-like findings, or pulmonary edema. Isocyanates have also been reported to cause hypersensitivity pneumonitis, which is characterized by flu-like symptoms, the onset of which may be delayed. Gastrointestinal symptoms include nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain.

HCFC-22 vapor is irritating to eyes. Liquid is irritating to eyes and may cause tissues to freeze. Contact of liquid with skin may cause tissue to freeze (frostbite). Dense vapor displaces breathing air in confined or unventilated areas. Inhaling concentrated vapors can cause drowsiness, unconsciousness, respiratory depression, and death due to asphyxiation. This compound also increases the sensitivity of the heart to adrenalin, possibly resulting in rapid heartbeat (tachycardia), irregular heartbeat (cardiac arrhyth­mias), and depression of cardiac function. Persons with preexisting heart disease may be at increased risk from exposure.

Polyurethane resin forms a quick bond with skin. Cured foam is hard to remove from skin. May cause eye damage.




Acute or chronic overexposure to isocyanates may cause sensitization in some indi­viduals, resulting in allergic symptoms of the lower respiratory tract (asthma-Пке), in­cluding wheezing, shortness of breath, and difficulty breathing. Subsequent reactions may occur at or substantially below the PEL and TLV. Asthma caused by isocyanates, including MDI, may persist in some individuals after removal from exposure and may be irreversible. Some isocyanate-sensitized persons may experience asthma reactions upon exposure to nonisocyanate-containing dusts or irritants. Cross-sensitization to different isocyanates may occur. Long-term overexposure to isocyanates has also been reported to cause lung damage, including reduced lung function, which may be permanent. An animal study indicated that MDI may induce respiratory hypersensitiv­ity following dermal exposure.


Results from a lifetime inhalation study in rats indicate that MDI aerosol was carcino­genic at 6 mg/m3, the highest dose tested. This is well above the recommended TLV of 5 ppb (0.05 mg/m3). Only irritation was noted at the lower concentration of 0.2 and 1 mg/m3.

Lifetime exposure of rats to 5% HCFC-22 in air resulted in a slightly higher incidence of fibrosarcomas (a malignant connective tissue tumor) in male rats compared to controls. Some of these tumors involved the salivary glands. This effect was not seen in female rats at the same dose level or in rats of either sex at the lower dose level of 1%. Rats given HCFC-22 orally also showed no increased incidence of tumors. In addition, mice exposed to 5 and 1 % HCFC-22 in a similar fashion showed no increased incidence of tumors. Spontaneously occurring fibrosarcomas are not uncommon in aging rats and the increase seen in male rats may have been due to a weak tumor-promoting effect or other nonspecific effect (stress, etc.) of HCFC-22.

Physical and Chemical Characteristics

Section VII — Special Protection Data

Respiratory Protection:

None normally required


None normally required

Protective Gloves:

None normally required

Other Protective Clothing or Equipment:

None normally required

Section VIII — Storage and Handling Data

Precautions to be taken in handling and usage:

Store in original container; keep tightly closed. Do not reuse container for other purposes.


Other precautions:

Read and observe all precautions on product label.

Product # 2 TABLE 1.14

Section VIII — Personal Protection

Respiratory protection:

None required if in well-ventilated area.


Wear gloves, coveralls, long-sleeved shirt, and head covering to avoid skin contact. Contaminated equipment or clothing should be cleaned after each use or disposed of.

Eye protection:

Wear face shield, goggles, or safety glasses.


If ventilation is not enough to maintain PEL, exhaust area.

General Cleanup

Household cleaning products are among the most toxic substances we encounter on a daily basis. It isironic that our efforts to clean up often produce further contamination by spreading noxious fumes throughout the house. More­over, these products end up down the drain, where they pollute air, soil, and water.

Most commercial cleaning products are made from synthetic chemicals derived from crude oil. Labeling laws and the Trade Secrets Act make it difficult to know exactly what is in any particular product. The product may con­tain highly toxic substances, but consumers have no way of knowing. Some of the harmful ingredients found in commercial cleaning products include phenol, toluene, naphtha­lene, pentachlorophenol, xylene, trichloro­ethylene, formaldehyde, benzene, perchloreth – ylene, other petroleum distillates, chlorinated substances, ethanol, fluorescent brighteners, artificial dyes, detergents, aerosol propellants, and artificial fragrances.

Commercial Cleaning Products

Professional strength formulas, which are even more dangerous than household clean­ing products, are often used when residential construction cleanup is contracted out to j ani – torial service providers.

Green Seal is an independent nonprofit organization that has created environmental


How an MSDS Can Be a Useful Tool

Although the MSDS has shortcomings, it is still an important tool for people involved in construction. If you are not working with a physician/architect team knowledgeable about chemicals, the MSDS can be confusing to interpret. However, the MSDS may provide useful information when used in conjunc­tion with other tools. The National Institutes of Healths National Library of Medicine has developed a searchable database for a wide variety of household product information.5 The database can be searched by product, in­gredients, and MSDS. By comparing MSDS chemical lists with the information available through the library, it is possible to gain a bet­ter understanding of recognized potential hazards for the listed chemicals.

Certain rules of thumb can also be used to evaluate a chemical listed in the MSDS. For example, if no special precautions are re­quired when using the chemical, if there are no listed health effects, and if cleanup in­volves only water, you might assume that the chemical in question has relatively low toxic­ity. On the other hand, if it is recommended that you wear gloves and goggles and use a respirator in a well-ventilated area, the prod­uct is likely a health hazard at least while being applied, though it may not have detrimen­tal health effects once fully cured. Certain chemicals should pique your concern, such as chlorinated or fluorinated compounds and chemicals that contain toxins such as tolu­ene, phenol, benzene, xylene, styrene, formal­dehyde, and the heavy metals, to name just a few.

With more than 88,000 chemicals in com­mon use and no toxicity data on most of them, our evaluation can be only partial at best. The US Environmental Protection Agency has published a list of 53 chemicals that ranked highest as persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic compounds, or PBTs.6 The California Of­fice of Environmental Health Hazard Assess­ment has published a list of chronic exposure levels for 80 common chemicals.7 Lists such as these are far from comprehensive and they cannot help us choose products with certainty. They can, however, help us to identify known hazardous chemicals and exposure levels and to reject products that contain these.

In summary, although you cannot base your decisions solely on information from the MSDS, it is nevertheless useful. Below are two MSDS examples, with product and manufac­turer names omitted. Because MSDSs do not always follow a consistent format, compari­sons can be difficult. Section numbers will vary, but the information covered remains the same. While the MSDS for Product #1 is in­dicative of a product that may be safe to use and in fact is one we recommend to our cli­ents, Product #2 has an MSDS that provides cause for concern.

Product Identification

This section includes the name of the prod­uct, the manufacturer, the date the MSDS was prepared, and the preparer s name. In the first sample MSDS, the product is a wood pres­ervative. The second sample involves a foam insulation material. As seen in the examples, product information may range from very lit­tle to substantial.

Material Safety Data Sheet

Section 1 -— Product Identity

Manufacturer’s Name:

Date Prepared:

Preparer’s Name:

Chemical Name: Water-based wood preservative


Chemical Formula: N/A (product is a mixture)

Product Identification No.:

DOT Shipping Class: Not regulated

Emergency Telephone Number:

Product # 2 TABLE 1.2

Material Safety Data Sheet


Date Prepared:

Telephone Numbers:

Emergency Number:

Technical Information:

Regular Business Hours:

Material Identification and Hazardous Components This section lists the chemical names of all product ingredients found to be reportable health hazards. Exposure limits in some in­stances are established by government agen­cies. As discussed earlier, OSHA PEL refers to the permissible exposure limits set by OSHA and ACGIH TLV refers to the threshold limit values set by the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists. These values are updated on a regular basis.

If you are not familiar with the toxicity of the chemicals listed and you have no refer­ences available on the subject, you can infer this information by examining the limits set by the government. When the limit is in parts per million, you can be sure that the product is highly toxic. NE stands for no established limit, and could mean either that adequate testing has not been performed or that the product is not considered highly toxic.

With a health rating of і, flammability and reactivity levels of o, and no established expo­sure limits, we can assume that the ingredients in this product are relatively safe.

In the second sample MSDS, the chemi­cals 4,4-diphenylmethane diisocyanate and chlorodifluoromethane (HCFC-22) are lim­ited to parts per million. Both chemicals are in fact known to be extremely toxic. With pro­longed or repeated exposure, diisocyanates and halogenated hydrocarbons can damage

Section II — Hazardous Ingredients

Hazardous Components (Special Chemical Identity/Common Names)*


Wt. %



Propylene glycol



None established

None established

Polyethylene glycol



None established

None established

Disodium octaborate tetrahydrate



15 mg/m3 (dust)

10 mg/m3 (dust)

* Denotes a toxic chemical reportable under SARA Title 111 Section 313, Supplier Notification provision HMIS Information: Health:!; Flammability: 0; Reactivity: 0

Product #2 TABLE 1.4

Section II — Hazardous Ingredients/ldentity Information






Polyurethane resin





4,4-diphenylmethane diisocyanate


0.02 ppm CEIL

0.005 ppm TWA**


Chlorodifluoromethane (HCFC-22)


1,000 ppm TWA**

1,000 ppm TWA**


*Not established **Time-weighted average Hazard Rating: Health: 3; Flammability: 0; Reactivity:!

the nervous, immune, and endocrine systems. Note that the health hazard rating is 3 out of a possible 4.

The Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS)

The Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) pro­vides information about the chemical sub­stances in a product, its handling precautions,

and its known health effects. The responsi­bility for preparing the MSDS lies with the chemical manufacturer. All manufacturers are required to create an MSDS for every chemi­cal compound they offer. The following infor­mation must be included:

• with the exception of trade secrets, the spe­cific chemical name and common names for hazardous ingredients

• physical and chemical characteristics

• physical hazards

• health hazards

• primary routes of entry to the body

• OSHA permissible exposure limit (PEL) and any other recommended exposure limit

• whether the chemical is a confirmed or potential carcinogen

• precautions for safe handling and use

• emergency and first aid procedures

• name, address, and telephone number of the manufacturer or other responsible party.

MSDSs can be obtained from either the dis­tributor or the manufacturer of the product in question.

What an MSDS Will Not Tell You

There is important information that an MSDS does not reveal. Thanks to the Trade Secrets Act, companies are not required to list ingre­dients they define as trade secrets. Although the OSHA Hazard Communication Standard requires that an MSDS list all health effects, the health effects of trade secret ingredients can be exempted.2 Furthermore, hazardous ingredients that are present in amounts of less than i percent and carcinogens present in amounts less than o. i percent need not be listed. Another significant omission is the lack of disclosure of “inert” ingredients, which can account for up to 90 percent or more of prod­uct volume. Some of these so-called inert in­gredients are more hazardous than the active ingredients.3

Although the consumer is not allowed ac­cess to the unlisted information, one of the codes under the same law (OSHA Hazard Communication Standard 29, Code of Fed­eral Regulation 1910.1200) permits physicians and other health care providers to access all product ingredient information for diagnostic and treatment purposes. Most doctors are un­aware of their right to know.

The permissible exposure levels (PELs) set by OSHA and the threshold limit values (TLVs) established by the American Confer­ence of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) are misleading. Industry interests have played a major role in establishing these exposure limits, most of which were set with­out prior testing.4 The small amount of testing that has been carried out was based on expos­ing rats to a single dose of a single chemical, with cancer or death as the end point. In real­ity, people are exposed to hundreds of chemi­cals at a time. These chemicals can accumulate in the body tissues over time and their effects can be synergistic. Monitoring for cancer or death does not take into account the many noncarcinogenic effects of chemicals, such as damage to the nervous, endocrine, and im­mune systems. It is important to recognize that workplace standards are not set for the safety of the worker but rather for what is con­sidered feasible for industry.

Health effects listed in an MSDS are often vague and misleading. They are most accurate when listing the acute, short-term effects, such as eye and nose irritation, rashes, and asthma. The data on chronic, long-term exposure are often lacking and do not take into account cu­mulative or synergistic effects.

Product Substitution Procedure

Contractors will often ask if they can substi­tute a product that is different from the one you have specified. The specified product may be unavailable, too expensive, or too difficult to apply, or contractors may have one that they have used before and prefer. New and health­ier products continue to be developed; it may be worth your while to consider certain sub­stitutions. The first step in researching alter­natives is to examine the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS). (Refer to the section on MSDS that follows.) You may also request a physi­cal sample. To ensure that no substitutions are made without your consent or that of your architect, you may wish to add the following language to your agreement:

• No products may be substituted for the specified product unless agreed upon in writing by the owner or architect.

• An MSDS and product literature must be

provided on any substitution for it to be considered.

• Submit a physical sample to the owner or architect whenever possible.

Product Evaluation

Since the last edition of this book, the avail­ability of products considered acceptable for a healthy house has skyrocketed. An emerg­ing problem when evaluating products for use in your healthy home is determining just how healthy a product will be. Some manufactur­ers have deliberately sought to capitalize on the burgeoning green market by engaging in what is being termed “green washing,” mak­ing claims that are not necessarily borne out by evidence. Others have created acceptable products to satisfy regulatory compliance. Not all products that are promoted as green are acceptable for a healthy home and some are more acceptable than others. Some prod­ucts are considered green because they use re­cycled materials; others may be labeled green because they come from a sustainable resource or conserve energy. Chemical formulations may be “safe for the environment” but when confined in an indoor area may still cause ad­verse reactions for people. Very few products will be universally acceptable for people with multiple chemical sensitivities. Consumers interested in healthy construction need to re­main vigilant and do their homework. Chemi­cally sensitive individuals will need to be the most vigilant.

Several resources have emerged to help consumers do their own research to find safer and more environmentally sound prod­ucts. In 1986, California voters passed Propo­sition 65, the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic

Enforcement Act.1 It was intended by its au­thors to help protect Californians by inform­ing them about chemicals known to cause cancer, birth defects, and other kinds of harm. The law states that “no person in the course of doing business shall knowingly and inten­tionally expose any individual to a chemical known to the state to cause cancer or repro­ductive toxicity without first giving clear and reasonable warning…” The governor is re­quired to publish annually a list of chemicals that are considered problematic. The current list contains several hundred chemicals.

In 2003, the law was amended by the leg­islature to set aside a sizable amount of any penalties collected under this law to help pay for future enforcement. The results have been far-reaching. The law’s requirement that prod­ucts with any of the hazardous ingredients listed have a warning on the label has served as an inducement for manufacturers to create healthier products for the California market, which are then often distributed nationwide. Since the list is updated annually, it is in a man­ufacturer s best interest to develop products that are safe so they do not have to be refor­mulated later.

Other incentive certification programs have been developed to help promote prod­ucts that meet low-emissions criterion. One of these is the GreenGuard Certification Pro­gram for Low Emitting Products, founded in 2001. The certification is a voluntary program available to manufacturers who choose to sub­mit their products for regular evaluation. The program is supported by fees paid by the man­ufacturers. Product criteria vary with the type of product, but in general a product must be tested to release less than the preestablished levels of volatile organic compounds, alde­hydes, formaldehyde, and styrene. Adhesive and sealant products also have limits on the amount of 4-Phenylcyclohexene (4-PC) they can emit.

While GreenGuard certified products may be better than many of the conventional prod­ucts available, certification doesn’t guaran­tee that the products are free of all emissions. Therefore, because products are tested indi­vidually, the total impact of several low-emis­sions products used together may affect sensi­tive individuals. Furthermore, the tests reflect levels at seven days after installation, and levels of emissions will be higher when first installed, before the rooms are flushed out. Ingredi­ents that are listed under California’s Proposi­tion 65, the US National Toxicology Program, and the International Agency on Research on Cancer are not prohibited for certification but must be listed. Primary or secondary outdoor pollutants cannot exceed concentrations per­mitted by National Air Quality Standards. Volatile organic compounds must be less than one-tenth of the Threshold Limit Value set for industrial exposure by the American Confer­ence of Government Industrial Hygienists. Products are tested in a chamber following a set protocol and not under actual use condi­tions. Because the tests use an amount of ma­terial with the same “exposed surface area to room volume” found in a typical indoor envi­ronment, the results are intended to approxi­mate an accurate picture of emissions in real – life situations.

While GreenGuard provides some level of independent certification of emission levels, it does not provide an evaluation of the products themselves and how well they work or other considerations for usage. The McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry firm offers a certification based on the principles popular­ized by their book Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things. Throughout their lifecycle, products certified by Cradle to Cra­dle must satisfy established criteria for both human and environmental health. To qual­ify, materials need to be sustainable and able to be recycled or broken down to form ben­eficial nutrients. Products must identify their ingredients down to a level of 100 parts per mil­lion, meet other toxicity requirements, have a plan for using solar energy for their manufac­ture, conserve water, not pollute water, and be socially responsible. Cradle to Cradle certifi­cation is offered at various levels. Because at the lowest level it can be used by products that have not been evaluated for emissions, being certified does not necessarily demonstrate ac­ceptability from a health standpoint. Even be­ing rated at the highest level does not ensure that a product will be suitable for all chemi­cally sensitive individuals.

Green Seal is an independent nonprofit organization dedicated to safeguarding the environment. It is continually establishing new standards and certification programs for various product and service categories. Once a product category standard is developed by Green Seal, manufacturers can submit their products for evaluation. After they become listed, products are reviewed each year to en­sure they continue to comply. The Green Seal program is discussed further in the section on commercial cleaning products later in this chapter. Other product categories include ad­hesives and floor care products. The reader should review the standards for products of interest to determine acceptability. For ex­ample, the standard for compact fluorescent lighting allows up to 10 milligrams of mercury per lamp, although lower-level compacts are available.

Scientific Certification Systems offers an Environmental Certification Program for products meeting voluntary indoor air quality goals. The company has participated in creat­ing independent third-party standard verifi­cations for a number of programs. Their In­door Advantage Gold program sets limits for formaldehyde, aldehydes, and 4-PC in paints and other household maintenance products. Requirements for products vary and should be checked on the Scientific Certification Sys­tems website.

Although certifications provide informa­tion that products meet certain minimum cri­teria, the actual test results for products are kept confidential, so it is not possible for the consumer to compare the various certified products to one another to see which have the lowest emissions. Forums are beginning to emerge that provide a platform for consumers to post their experiences with a product. The potential of these venues is tremendous, espe­cially for chemically sensitive individuals, but only time will tell which will emerge as having the greatest value. One resource for consumer review and comment on green building prod­ucts is Rate It Green, which lists many of the products we recommend and will hopefully emerge as a strong companion to our book for the consumer interested in constructing a healthy house.

A Mishandled Spill

Early in his career as an environmental consultant, John Banta received a frantic call from a woman with chemical sensitivities who was in the process of having a home built. Theclient had painstakingly detailed plans and specifications with the help of John and her architect. The project had proceeded virtually without problems, and was entering the final interior painting and sealing process when a worker for the subcontracting painter accidentally kicked over a bucket of nontoxic paint, spilling it on the unfinished floor. The worker ran to his truck and grabbed a can of mineral spirits, which he used to clean up the spill. The solvent soaked into the floor and the fumes filled the house. John’s cli­ent became distraught because her new house was making herfeel sick.


In spite of all the best efforts, accidents still happen. The subcontractor failed to educate his worker. The spilled paint was water-based, which meant that the use of mineral spirits was unnec­essary and inappropriate. The painter should have wiped upas much as possible using clean rags and then scrubbed the rest with water. Since the floor was unfinished, any remaining paint could have been removed with sanding.

Many attempts were made to remove the noxious mineral spirit odor from the home, but the solvent had been absorbed by the construction materials. Even pulling up the contaminated por­tion ofthefloor was insufficient to fix the problem. The cleaning substance used by the painter was clearly in violation of the job contract and it ap­peared that a lawsuit was imminent. Fortunately, the house was quickly sold to a less sensitive person who wanted an ecologically constructed home and who was not affected by the residual odor of mineral spirits.

• The contractor shall verify that all materi­als are undamaged, uncontaminated, and free of acquired odors prior to installa­tion. Any products found to be defective shall not be used unless approved by the owner or architect.


Even if your contractor is well aware of your intentions, he or she will probably not have the chance to personally speak to every person who will work at your site during the course of construction. It is important that the spe­cial rules that apply to your home be posted

Подпись: A sign, posted in a prominent place on the job site, alerts everyone as to the special project procedures. Photo: Paula Baker-Laporte

in a prominent spot where all who enter will read them. You can specify that a job sign be made and posted. Sample wording that can be placed in your specifications follows:

The following sign is to be made and promi­nently posted on the jobsite. It is the respon­sibility of the general contractor to ensure that the labor force, all subcontractors and their labor forces, all suppliers, and all other visitors are made aware of these rules and fol­low them at all times.


This house is being constructed as a healthy home. Only specified products and proce­dures may be used. If in doubt, contact the general contractor.

The use of any toxic substances such as insec­ticides, fungicides, or noxious cleaning prod­ucts is prohibited anywhere on this site.

Smoking within or near the building and its garage or outbuildings is strictly prohibited.

No gasoline-generated machines or open combustion heaters shall be used inside or
near the house after the foundation is com­pleted.

Spills of fuels, solvents, or chemicals must be avoided. If a spill occurs, report it to the gen­eral contractor immediately.

Alternatives to specified materials must be approved in writing by the owner and/or ar­chitect prior to use.

Prohibited Products

Because it is difficult to foresee every single product application that will be required in a project, it is prudent to list the major catego­ries of prohibited materials that are the worst health offenders. This gives the general con­tractor and subcontractors the “big picture” in terms of materials. Sample language contain­ing such a list follows: [3]

• asphalt or products containing asphalt or bitumen

• commercial cleaning products other than those specified

• adhesives, paints, sealers, stains, and other finishes except as specified

• any building materials contaminated by mold or mildew

• any building materials or components that have been contaminated while in storage or during shipment

Contact the architect for further instructions about any application where these substances would normally be used if information for a substitution is not in this document.

Procedures to Prevent Insect and Rodent Infestation

Some simple measures can be applied from the outset of construction that will prevent infes­tation of rodents and insects. Consider adding the following requirements to the above list:

• All foodstuffs shall be disposed of in con­tainers that will be removed from the jobsite and emptied at the end of each workday.

• All debris shall be removed from under and around the building premises and properly disposed of in a Dumpster. The Dumpster shall be removed when full on a regular basis so that piles of debris do not accumulate on the ground around it.

Quality Control

There may be some instances where you will be asked by your contractor to share in the re­sponsibility for application of an experimen­tal material. You may choose to accept this responsibility on a case-by-case basis. How­ever, aside from any agreed-upon exceptions, the contractor must be willing to provide the same warranty for your finished home as would be provided if standard products were being used. The contractor should have no problem doing so as long as the manufactur­ers instructions are carefully followed.

Manufacturers will specify the conditions required for the proper application of their products, such as proper curing times, ac­ceptable temperature ranges, or specific prep­aration of substrates. Because the materials contain fewer chemical additives, the manu­facturers specifications may be both differ­ent from and less forgiving than what trades­people are accustomed to. Consequently, workers may require close supervision by the contractor to maintain a high standard.

Another area requiring special vigilance on the contractor s part lies in the careful screen­ing of materials as they arrive onsite to ensure that no spoilage, adsorption of odors, mold, or other forms of contamination have occurred.

We know of a case where batt insulation was shipped to the jobsite in a truck that had been used to transport fertilizer. Once the in­stallation was installed, the home took on a dis­tinctly unpleasant odor because of the adsor­bent nature of the batt insulation. In another case, a painter who was unfamiliar with milk – based paints did not realize that the products he was using had spoiled. The finished home smelled like sour milk.

Subcontractors may be unfamiliar with some of the healthier products we recom­mend and may not recognize a problem when it arises. These products typically have little odor, and a strong odor may be an indication for concern. The contractor s nose becomes an important quality control mechanism. Excep­tions include products such as silicone caulks and vapor barrier sealants, whose strong odor upon application quickly dissipates and be­comes neutral. A call to the architect or manu­facturer may be helpful for reassurance when questions arise.

It is important to have a clear agreement from the outset about your expectations con­cerning quality. This agreement can be for­malized in the specifications using language similar to the following:


Special Project Procedures

Healthy home building does not permit many behaviors and practices that are commonly accepted at standard jobsites. The procedural expectations must be clearly stated by the owner and upheld by the contractor. Some basic rules that you may wish to include and expand upon in your specifications are: [1] [2]

contamination and moisture damage dur­ing storage and after installation.


Statement of Intent

Clear communication among contractor, owner, and architect is a key factor in the suc­cess of any building project. When creating a healthy home, there are many special project procedures that must be communicated with even greater clarity than in standard construc­tion. The owners intentions and instructions for special procedures can be formally trans­mitted in the statement of intent, thus making them part of the construction contract.

Here is a sample of specifications language that succinctly states the owners wish to cre­ate a special project:

This house is being constructed as a healthy house. The following specifications outline special project procedures and acceptable building products. The products specified herein are intended to be as free of harmful chemicals as is presently possible and rea­sonably attainable. In using these products and following these procedures, we are safe­guarding to the best of our ability the health of future inhabitants and of the workers in­volved in this construction. Our concern extends also to the workers involved in the manufacture of these products.


Building a healthy home can be a pioneer­ing endeavor. Choosing the right architect and contractor is of paramount importance. Creativity, intelligence, common sense, and commitment to the ideals of healthy house building are essential qualities for each of the participants. At times you and your team will be experimenting with products that have not been on the market long enough to have a performance history or wide distribution. At other times you may find yourself partici­pating in a revival of materials and techniques that were used successfully for centuries but have been replaced in standard construc­tion by commercialized products containing harmful chemicals.

The contractor will need to allow more time for locating special materials, scheduling their use, and supervising their installation. You may encounter initial resistance from sub­contractors who are reluctant to do things that are unfamiliar to them. Some of the healthier products might be harder to work with be­cause they do not contain certain harmful ad­ditives that make application easier. For these reasons, the general contractor will need to su­pervise the project more closely than in stan­dard construction.

During the construction of a healthy build­ing, the owner may wish to hire subcontractors to carry out specific environmentally related testing, quality control inspections, proce­dures, or installations. Included in standard contracts from the American Institute for Ar­chitecture (AIA) is document A201, “General Conditions for Construction,” which acknowl­edges the owner s right to hire his or her own subcontractors. Careful coordination with the contractor is necessary, however, because any delays and expenses incurred by the contrac­tor because of this work will be the responsi­bility of the owner. Some of the additional test­ing and inspections are described in Division 13. Other quality control procedures will be outlined where appropriate throughout the text. If you do not use a standard AIA contract, you may need to add language to your contract to outline the parameters for specialty subcon­tractors to be hired by the owners.

In summary, a healthy home can take more time and effort to build, which may be re­flected in the contractors scheduling and pric­ing. Once committed to the project, however, the contractor is like the symphony conduc­tor, who must lead all players to a successful performance regardless of the difficulty of the piece. You will wish to clearly state this expec­tation in your specification document. An ex­ample of such language follows:

• The contractor shall be responsible for ob­taining all specified materials or approved substitutes and for performing all special project procedures within the contract time, as stated within the construction contract.

• The contractor shall be responsible for the general performance of the subcon­tractors and tradespeople and for any necessary training, specifically with re­gards to the special project procedures, materials, and prohibitions as outlined in these specifications.