Category A Healthy. House

Developing an Ecologically Sound Upholstered Furniture Line

While I was studying to become a certified Bau-Bi – ologist, I was captivated by Bau – Biologie’s philoso­phy. After much soul searching, I realized I wanted to incorporate its principles into the world of in­terior design, which had been my business for fif­teen years.

To create hea Ithy homes, I needed to be able to offer my clients healthy furniture, and at the time there was virtually nothing available. So in the fall of 2003 I approached Cisco Pinedo, owner of Cisco Brothers Corporation, a furniture manufacturer in Los Angeles, with the idea of producing a to­tally clean and healthy line of furniture. He readily agreed and we embarked on the lengthy journey of finding materials that would pass our stringent standards, based on the principles of Bau-Biolo – gie. I would do the research and present options for Cisco to make the final choices.

Cisco was already using sustainably harvested alder wood produced specially for the furniture industry, so wood for the frames was not a prob­lem. He has since madethe change to using Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified wood for his entire line. All the glues and finishes are toxin-free, which means they do not leave irritating chemical residues in the air after use and they help reduce thetoxicsoupthat results from chemical-laden fin­ishes mixing together in today’s tight houses. Only stainless steel screws are used in the construction of the frame and the legs are constructed from re­claimed wood, including teak harvested from res­cued heirloom homes in Myanmar.

Chemical-free pure latex rubber was chosen as the main body of the upholstery for its supe­rior qualities. It is flexible yet stable, lasting longer than petrochemical-based materials. It is absor-

dry-cleaning process further contributes to the chemical load. Natural fabrics can also be problematic on windows because ultraviolet light breaks down the fabric, creating dust and the need for frequent replacement. Home­spun Fabrics and Draperies offers draperies of nontoxic loo percent cotton fabrics.

Подпись:Naturally finished wood shutters, lou­vers, metallic Venetian blinds, or bamboo roll – downs can be attractive solutions that avoid the problems associated with fabric window dressings. Pella Corporation produces a line of windows with retractable shades sand­wiched between double windowpanes. New on the market, Eagle Window and Door Com­pany offers the Eagle System 3 tilt-and-raise blind system. Blinds are sandwiched between insulating glass for dust-free and odorless

bent and resilient, contributing to excellent heat and moisture regulation, and contains no harm­ful chemicals. Surprisingly, many people are not aware that latex is a natural product of the Para rubber tree. Its extraction does no harm to the trees, thus making it a sustainable material. And of course the latex used in our line is harvested from environmentally friendly rainforest trees.

Jute webbing eliminates the need for metal springs and avoids the health problems that may result from electromagnetic fields. Jute cording is used in place of polyester or cotton piping cord. The wool batting used to wrap the latex comes from regions where the soil is continually turned, pesticides and other chemicals are forbidden, and sheep are still herded using guardian dogs. Sheep-dip pesticides are consistently linked to nerve damage in farm workers, and low-dose ex­
posure is believed to aggravate anxiety and de­pression. There is also a concern that antibiotics used on sheep may leach into groundwater and could compromise the effectiveness of antibiotics for humans.

All our fabrics are laundered in chemical-free vegetable-based laundry detergent and are ei­ther certified organic or produced using chemi­cal-free base cloth and vegetable or low – impact dyes. Each furniture piece is available either up­holstered or with washable slipcovers. We recom­mend the use of slipcovers as another way to keep our homes healthy.

After two and a half years of collaboration, Cisco Brothers launched a line of healthy and sus­tainable furniture "for people who live responsibly and who are committed to protecting our planet." This line is the first to combine cutting-edge
window dressing in four blind colors and six shade styles.


Residential furniture is rarely included in the construction contract. The owner will typi­cally select the furniture and have it installed on her or his own or with the guidance of an architect or interior designer. Nevertheless, we are including some guidelines and resources for the selection of healthful furniture because new furnishings can have a major impact on indoor air quality.

Most standard furniture is built like most standard housing. It is mass-produced with little or no thought about the health of the buyer. For those of you who have gone to great effort to create a healthy home, shopping wisely for healthy furnishings is the next logical step. Once again you will find yourself in the role of a pioneer. Most furniture salespeople will not understand what you mean when you speak of healthy furniture. Yet formaldehyde and other chemical levels can soar when new fur­nishings are brought into the home. Tbe furni­ture can continue to pollute the environment throughout its life.

As with the production of building ma­
terials, there are many broader environmen­tal concerns pertaining to the manufacture of furniture. These include the use of endan­gered wood species, toxic waste produced at the manufacturing facility, factory workers’ exposure to hazardous chemicals, wasteful packaging, and the exploitation of exporting countries. These factors are discussed in depth in other publications. We will concentrate on health concerns for the homeowner.

Wood Furniture

Most newly constructed wood furniture is actually veneered wood attached to a core of particleboard or plywood. These manufac­tured sheet goods are often bound with urea – formaldehyde glues, which will outgas for many years. Even so-called solid wood pieces may contain hidden plywood or particleboard components in order to save on production costs. When selecting wood furnishings, keep the following recommendations in mind:

• Purchase solid wood furniture that does



Above: I nterior of Daryl Stanton Residence features solid wood antique furniture, custom made organic cotton and wool upholstered furniture and area rugs. Kitchen has solid wood cabinets and open shelving. Architect: Baker-Laporte Associates; Builder: Econest Building Co. Photo: David Hoptman.

Below: Interior of Baker-Laporte Residence features solid wood furniture — formaldehyde free built-in window seat and custom made cotton uphostery with organic cotton stuffing. Photo: Lisl Dennis.

not make use of veneers or sheetgoods. Hardwoods are preferable because they emit fewer terpenes than softer woods. Nu­merous farmed hardwoods are available. Old-growth forest need not be destroyed by your furniture selection. Although the initial purchase price for solid wood furni­ture may be higher, you will be investing in heirloom quality.

• If veneered wood is all your budget will al­low, consider sealing all surfaces and edges with one of the low-VOC vapor-barrier sealants listed in Division 9. In addition, consider materials such as wrought iron and glass for tables and wicker or rattan for seating. Examine cane furniture prior to purchase to make sure it is free of mildew and mold.

• Furniture imported from tropical coun­tries is often sprayed with pesticides while in transit. Furniture imported from Eu­rope will meet Ei emissions standards and is often constructed with low-emissions sheetgoods. Look for furniture that meets GreenGuard emissions standards, which are more stringent. This furniture must achieve formaldehyde emission rates of less than 0.05 part per million. Chemically sensitive individuals should test for indi­vidual tolerance to these amounts of form­aldehyde.

Following are sources for solid wood or low – emissions furniture:

• Casa Natura: Solid wood furniture

• Ikea: Solid wood and veneered wood fur­nishings sourced from sustainably man­aged forestry operations and meeting Ei emissions standards

• Pacific Rim: Handcrafted, solid western maple furniture made from wood grown in managed forests in Washington and Oregon

• Pottery Barn: Solid wood furniture

• Smith and Hawken: A variety of sustain­ably harvested teak and cedar solid wood furniture

• Eco-terric: Green and healthy furnishings for the home

• H3 Finishes for wood furnishings

Durability, not health, is the criterion used by manufacturers when choosing finishes for wood furniture. The majority of commercial wood sealers are solvent-based and will out – gas harmful chemicals. We offer the following suggestions:

• Look for furniture with low-VOC, water – based natural oil or wax finishes.

• Buy unfinished furniture and finish with low-VOC finishes.

• If you purchase furniture with a standard finish, air it out before placing it in your living space.


Most commercially available upholstered fur­niture is stuffed with synthetic foam or latex. Many foams will initially have a strong odor. They will break down over time and emit fine particles of chemical dust into the air. Polyure­thane foams are extremely hazardous when burned. Furniture stuffing can be made with natural ingredients such as wool, natural la­tex, down, kapok, and organic cotton batting. Although these alternatives are not widely available in readymade form, you may find an upholsterer in your vicinity who is willing to work with you. A hardwood frame made for
a futon, or solid hardwood benches, can be turned into healthy couches with the addition of custom-made pillows. Down and kapok stuffings can be allergens for some people.

Upholstery textiles are often synthetic and treated with toxic chemicals to improve stain resistance. Look for natural, untreated uphol­stery fabrics such as organic cotton, wool, or silk. AFM Safe-Choice Lock Out can be used on some fabrics to help repel dirt and stains. Materials must be tested for shrink resistance and color fastness prior to application.

Some sources for all-natural upholstered furniture are:

• Cisco Brothers: FSC certified furniture

with water-based glues and environmen­tally friendly manufacturing processes

• Eco-terric: Green and healthy furnishings for the home, healthy-home consultation, and interior design

• Furnature: Manufacturer of natural, or­ganic furniture line, mattresses, and bed­ding for people with multiple chemical sensitivities

Window Dressings

Most window dressings are made of syn­thetic fabrics treated with chemicals to make them wrinkle resistant. The recommended

Laundry Appliances

Washers and dryers with porcelain-on-steel or stainless steel interiors are preferable to those with plastic interiors. Although gas dryers are more energy efficient than electric dryers, they cause the same pollution problems as gas ranges. By planning a laundry room with easy access to a drying yard, you can take advan­tage of the most energy efficient of all dryers: the sun.

Dryers should be vented directly to the out­doors. Some heat recovery devices are avail­able that recirculate the hot air from the dryer back into the house. We do not recommend these because they do not sufficiently filter fine particles and, if a gas dryer is being used, combustion gases can be released into the in­door air instead of being vented outdoors.

Vacuum Cleaners

Conventional portable vacuum cleaners suck air through a filter bag and then pump the “cleaned” air back into the room. The air that is returned is only as clean as the filtering mechanism is efficient. In fact, conventional vacuuming can stir up dust and pollen to such an extent that the ambient air is more polluted with small particulate matter than it was be­fore the cleaning. Several brands of HEPA vacuums are available and are far superior to conventional vacuum cleaners. Their “high – efficiency particulate air” filter effectively traps microscopic particulate matter. Water – filter vacuums were popular before the avail­ability of HEPA vacuums. They can become a

reservoir for mold and bacteria unless thor­oughly dried after each use.

If you are building a new home, you have the opportunity to install a central vacuum system. When the motor and dirt receptacles are located remotely in a basement, garage, or utility room, central vacuums avoid the pollu­tion problems associated with most portable models. Although more expensive than con­ventional portables, central vacuums cost only slightly more than a good HEPA or water-filter model. They are convenient and easy to op­erate. The hose is simply plugged into a wall receptacle and there is no machinery to lug around. We recommend central vacuums that exhaust air directly to the outdoors as this will prevent any small particles missed by the col­lection bag from being exhausted back into the home.

Further Reading and Services

American Institute of Architecture, Denver Chap­ter, and Architects/Designers/Planners for So­cial Responsibility. Sustainable Design Resource Guide. AIA/ADPSR, 2005. See aiasdrg. org. In­formation about energy efficiency and appli­ances.

Ao, Lono Kahuna Kapua. Don’t Drink the Water:

The Essential Guide to Our Contaminated Drink­ing Water and What You Can Do About It. Kali Press, 1998.

Bower, Lynn Marie. 77re Healthy Household. Healthy House Institute, 1995. Has a useful section on household cleansers.

Conacher, Duff. Troubled Waters on Tap: Organic Chemicals in Public Drinking Water Systems and the Failure of Regulation. Center for Study of Re­sponsive Law, 1988.

EPA Safe Drinking Water Hotline, 800-426-4791, e p a. gov/ s afe water.

Goldbeck, David, The Smart Kitchen: How to Design a Comfortable, Safe, Energy-Efficient, and Envi­ronment-Friendly Workspace. Ceres Press, 1994.

The Good Water Company, Stephen Wiman, 2778 Agua Fria, Bldg. C, Ste. B, Santa Fe, NM 87501, 800-471-9036,505-471-9036, goodwaterglobal. com. Water filtration and consultation.

Hague Quality Water International, 4343 South Hamilton Road, Groveport, OH 43125, 614-836-2115. Excellent whole-house water purification system.

Ingram, Colin. The Drinking Water Book: A Com­plete Guide to Safe Drinking Water. Ten Speed Press, 1991. A guide for safe drinking water.

National Testing Laboratories, Inc., 6555 Wilson Mills Road, Cleveland, OH 44143,800-458-3330, watercheck. com. Comprehensive water testing.

Ozark Water Service and Air Services, 114 Spring Street, Sulphur Springs, AR 72768, 800-835-8908, ozarkwaterandair. org. For air and water testing and consultation regarding toxic gases, molds, asbestos, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), pesticides, gas leaks, EMFs, and radon.

Laundry Appliances

Refrigerators and Freezers

There are many styles of refrigeration units available. Self-defrosting models have a drip pan located somewhere under the unit. Some units have drip pans located in the back or mounted internally, where they are inacces­sible. When purchasing a unit, make sure the drip pan is easily accessible from the front and has adequate clearance underneath for easy cleaning. The pan should be cleaned monthly to prevent odors or the growth of microorgan­isms. It is also important to keep the cooling coils clean of dust. Not only will this improve your air quality but it also will save energy be­cause the unit will not have to work as hard to stay cold.

Cook Tops, Ovens, and Ranges

All electric cook tops, ovens, and ranges produce elevated magnetic fields. Surpris­ingly, it is frequently the built-in electric clock that is the largest source, regardless of whether the equipment is gas or electric. Use a gauss – meter to determine the distance of the field.

The act of cooking generates significant amounts of indoor air pollution through va­pors and airborne particulate matter such as grease. In addition, food particles left on burn­ers are incinerated and release combustion by­products.

Gas-fueled appliances are a significant source of indoor air pollution as they can re­lease carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, ni­trogen dioxide, nitrous oxides, and aldehydes into the air. In Why Your House May Endan­ger Your Health, Alfred Zamm describes how gas kitchen ranges have been the hidden cul­prit in many cases of “housewives’ malaise.” According to Zamm, “A gas oven operating at 350°F for one hour, because of the inevita­ble incomplete combustion, can cause kitchen air pollution, even with an exhaust fan in op­eration, comparable to a heavy Los Angeles smog. Without the fan, levels of carbon mon­oxide and nitrogen dioxide can zoom to three or more times that.”4

For chemically sensitive individuals, any combustion appliance may be undesirable and we recommend choosing electric over gas for a range/oven. Many cooks, however, pre­fer to cook with gas because it allows for better timing and temperature control. Ifyou choose a gas range, the following measures will help reduce the amount of pollution:

• Have flames adjusted to burn correctly. They should burn blue. A yellow flame in­dicates incomplete combustion and the subsequent production of carbon mon­oxide.

• Choose an appliance with electronic ig­nition instead of a pilot light. Any model built in the US after 1991 will be equipped with electronic ignition.

• Follow the guidelines for proper ventila­tion discussed below.

If your preference is to cook with gas, consider purchasing a gas-fired cook top with an elec­tric oven, since it is not necessary or even de­sirable from a chef’s standpoint for the oven to be a combustion appliance.

Various smooth cook top surfaces are available, including magnetic induction and halogen units. Because they are much easier to dean than coiled elements, they produce less pollution from the burning of trapped food particles. These units should be tested with a gaussmeter to determine the extent of their magnetic fields while in operation.

Oven cleaning is another source of pollu­tion generated in the kitchen. Continuous – cleaning ovens contain wall coatings that con­tinuously outgas noxious fumes. Self-cleaning ovens produce polynuclear aromatic hydro­carbons, which are a source of air pollution. Most brand-name oven cleaners are toxic. The safest way to clean an oven is with baking soda and elbow grease. Ifbaking soda is poured over the spill shortly after it occurs, the spill can be easily cleaned up after the oven has cooled.

Kitchen Ventilation

Because the kitchen generates significant in­door pollution and moisture, the ventilation of this room should be given special consid­eration above and beyond general home ven­tilation. Range hoods must be vented to the outside. There are models available that sim­ply circulate the air through a carbon filter and

Refrigerators and Freezers

A central vacuum system is convenient and dust free. Photo: Paula Baker-Laporte.

back into the room. These do not remove cook­ing pollution sufficiently, but unfortunately many kitchens come equipped with them be­cause they are inexpensive and do not require a roof penetration.

We recommend the largest range hood available, with variable speed control so that you can adjust speed according to your re­quirements. Some models come equipped with remote fans, which are quieter. When ventilation fans are in operation, especially at higher speeds, it is important that make-up air be supplied. If a home is not equipped with a whole-house supply system, you should open a window to supply make-up air. If a clean source of air intake is not provided by design, the exhausting of air can create enough nega­tive pressure that air will then be sucked into the house through the path of least resistance.

This path could be through a chimney flue for a furnace or water heater, causing dangerous backdrafting of air many times more polluted than that being replaced.

Appliance Selection

Microwave Ovens

Microwave ovens emit high electromagnetic fields (EMFs). These ovens are designed to heat food by creating enough microwave en­ergy to vibrate molecules in the food until heat is produced. When microwave ovens are in use, magnetic fields extend out as far as 12 feet. The actual microwaves produced during oper­ation are supposed to be contained in the oven by internal shielding, but leaks can occur. If you decide to use a microwave oven, the fol­lowing suggestions will make using it safer:

• Maintain a distance of four to 12 feet from the microwave oven while it is in use. This is especially important for children, who might enjoy watching the food as it is cook­ing.

• Have your appliance professionally check­ed for microwave leakage on an annual basis. You can check it yourself on a more frequent basis with a less precise do-it – yourself tester. (One is available through Professional Equipment, a mail order cat­alog.) Any detectedleakage is unacceptable. Microwave leakage standards in the US are much less stringent than in some parts of Europe. Unfortunately, differences in the power supply prevent the use of European microwave ovens in North America.

• Do not use a microwave that appears to be malfunctioning. Signs of this would in­clude sparks flying, funny noises, fires, or the unit turning on or cycling when the door is open. If any of these occur, evacu­ate the area immediately. Do not take time to try to unplug the unit. Instead, shut off the circuit breaker to the microwave. If you do not know which one it is, shut them all off. Only then is it safe to return to the room to unplug the microwave oven.

• The shielding on a microwave is delicate. A very small amount of damage can cause a complete shielding failure. Even a paper towel stuck in the door is enough to cause the microwave shielding to fail.

• Do not microwave food in plastic contain­ers. Chemicals from the plastic can leach into the food. Some of these chemicals are known to disrupt the endocrine system.

Trash Compactors

Trash compactors are now commonplace in new homes. They can be convenient, but they can also be difficult to dean. When choos­ing a trash compactor, examine it carefully to be sure you will be able to reach into it eas­ily for cleaning. Verify that accidental liquid spills inside the unit will be contained and not run under or behind the unit. You may want to have the trash compactor installed in such a way that it can be easily removed for cleaning.

Some trash compactors come with a de­odorizer chamber. With the exceptions of bak­ing soda and zeolyte, most deodorizers contain phenols, formaldehyde, or paradichloroben – zene, all of which should be avoided.

Appliances and Magnetic Fields

All motorized equipment found in homes will generate magnetic fields when in operation. Some epidemiological studies have linked ex­posure to these magnetic fields with increased incidence of cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and miscarriage. Magnetic fields from properly wired appliances drop off very quickly in an exponential relationship to your distance from them. These fields can be easily measured with a small handheld instrument called a gauss – meter, which allows the user to determine the safe distance from an appliance.

The US government has not yet set reason­able standards for safe exposure levels, nor has it taken a strong position regarding the health effects of magnetic fields. However, various government documents and public utility dis­closures state that ifyou are concerned, you can practice ‘prudent avoidance” of these fields. Recommended safe exposure limits set by var­ious experts have ranged from 0.5 milligauss to 1,000 milligauss. Hie Swedish National En­ergy Administration has recommended that children should not be subjected to mag­netic field levels greater than 3 milligauss. The

Bau-Biologie Institute in Germany considers readings above 0.2 milligauss to be a deviation from naturally occurring conditions.

In Division 16 we include information and recommended specifications for design­ing and building a home in which magnetic fields transmitted by household wiring do not surpass 0.5 milligauss. You can follow the sim­ple guidelines below to limit your exposure to magnetic fields from appliances:

• Design your home so that major appli­ances are located at a safe distance from sitting and sleeping areas. In doing so, re­member that magnetic fields travel with ease through walls made of common build­ing materials, and that areas located out of sight behind an appliance are also exposed. For example, placing a refrigerator back – to-back with a bed, even though separated by a wall, will continually expose a person in that bed to an elevated magnetic field.

• Duration and strength of exposure are both factors. A low-level exposure for long periods of time maybe more harmful than a brief, high-level exposure. For this rea­son, pay particular attention to fields that maybe generated around sleeping areas.

• We suggest that you buy and learn to use a gaussmeter. With this device, you can mea­sure the fields emanating from appliances. For more information on choosing and operating a gaussmeter, see Division 16.

• Check your home and appliances regularly with the gaussmeter to determine whether field levels have increased. Elevated fields can sometimes indicate that an appliance has developed dangerous ground faults or is about to fail. Early detection of these fields will also decrease the risk of fire or electrocution.

Appliances and Electric Fields

Whereas magnetic fields exist only when ap­pliances are being used, electric fields are present as long as the appliance is plugged in. Unfortunately, few appliances are manufac­tured in a manner that results in low electric fields. It is possible to rewire appliances so that they operate with reduced electric fields, but this requires the services of an electrician fa­miliar with electric field shielding. Electric fields from appliances are relatively easy to control by following these suggestions:

• Keep appliances unplugged when they are not in use, especially in the bedroom. Not only will this eliminate the electric field but it will also reduce the risk of fire. Although this practice is much more common in Eu­rope, the American Association of Home Appliances and Underwriters Laborato­ries has also issued a warning stating that small appliances should be unplugged as a fire prevention measure.

• Avoid using extension cords around beds or areas where your family spends a lot of time. They tend to emit high electric fields when they are plugged in.

• Use a battery-operated or wind-up clock next to the bed.

• Wire your bedroom so that the circuitry can be conveniently shut off when you go to sleep, thus eliminating the electric fields. Refer to Division 16 for details.

Types of Water Purification Systems

We recommend a whole-house water puri­fication system as an essential feature of the healthy home for most locations. Choosing the proper system will depend on several fac­tors including location, budget, water use, and taste preference. No single filtration medium can remove all contaminants from all water.

Because water quality and individual needs vary, no single combination of systems will provide a universal solution.

Choosing a system can be a complex and confusing process. The average homeowner typically does not know the right questions to ask in order to get accurate information. Water filtration systems have become popular internet marketing products and many people selling them are not much more knowledge­able than potential customers about the range of needs and possibilities. We recommend that you consult with an individual who has the following credentials:

• a broad-based, longstanding experience with water quality in your area

• a wide variety of equipment from several manufacturers

• the ability to provide you with several op­tions at various prices

• the ability to explain the pros and cons of each system

Water Conditioning

Water conditioners are used to improve the aesthetic quality of water, including color, cor­rosiveness, clarity, and hardness. They use a process of ion exchange to eliminate from the water undesirable substances (such as calcium and magnesium) that may precipitate scale on fixtures, laundry machines, hot water heaters, dishwashers, shower stalls, sinks, and skin. Water conditioners can also be effective in re­moving sediment, chlorine, and certain met­als, such as low levels of manganese and iron (both of which can cause stains) as well as odor from hydrogen sulfide. Flow rate is affected by both the size and the design of the water soft­ener and must be appropriately specified on an individual basis. Conditioned water is of­ten referred to as “soft” water.

In the ion exchange process, calcium or magnesium ions are exchanged with either sodium or potassium. Sodium chloride is the more common regenerate for water condi­tioning, but many water treatment companies have switched to potassium chloride, which is widely believed to be a healthier and more ecologically sound choice. Potassium chlo­ride is essentially a refined potash, and when returned to the ground water it can serve as a fertilizer for many plants. The small amount ingested daily from water conditioned with potassium is about equivalent to what you would gain by eating half a banana and can be a positive addition to your diet.

For those with a medical condition affect­ing electrolyte balance, blood pressure, or kid­ney function, we suggestyou consult a physician before you consider purchasing a water-condi­tioning system with salt-based regenerates. Po­tassium chloride may also contain traces of nat­urally occurring gross beta radiation.

Because of chloride discharge into city sys­tems and the subsequent impact of chlorides on rivers and agriculture, some municipali­ties are moving to ban new salt-regenerating water conditioners and give rebates to custom­ers who switch to salt-free systems. Municipal water and sewer systems are not configured to remove chlorides. This issue is of particular concern in dense metropolitan areas, but since the ion exchange process is also commonly used to remove water contaminants in private domestic wells, chlorides also are discharged into septic systems and ultimately into shallow aquifers.

One of the most promising developments in water treatment is the advent of chemical-free, nonelectrical, nonbackwashing, salt-free sys­tems to treat hardness as an alternative to soften­ing. In one system, which uses template-assisted crystallization, hardness minerals are attracted to a media nucleation site, which then sloughs off seed crystals that travel through the plumb­ing system in a molecular configuration not prone to accumulation as scale.

The single best source for verifying a man­ufacturers claims about any water treatment product is National Sanitation Foundation In­ternational (NSF), which is the industry’s gold standard for the testing and certification of wa­ter treatment systems and components. Before buying water treatment equipment, we recom­mend that you visit nsf. org and look up indi­vidual products and manufacturers to verify certification for efficiency and contaminant re­duction.

Type of system

How it works

What is eliminated

What is not eliminated


Carbon filters:

There are countless varieties of carbon filters. The two most commonly used filters in water purification are described here. Granulated activated carbon (GAC) has an amazingly large surface area (up to 1,000 square meters per gram) for adsorptive activity. Carbon filters are not bacteriostatic and will become contaminated with use. Inexpensive sediment prefilters will extend life. Inexpensive chlorine tests can indicate when to change the filter if it is used with chlorinated water. These filters can themselves become a source of contamination if not changed frequently enough. Locate the tank away from inhabited areas when used to filter radon. Although carbon filters are less expensive than aeration systems, they can collect radio­activity and may require special methods of hazardous waste disposal. Aeration is preferable to carbon filtration for radon removal.

GAC (granulated activated carbon)

Carbon is steam-treated so that the surface becomes pitted, thereby increasing surface area and adsorption capacity.

Trihalomethanes, dis­solved gases including chlorines, most pesti­cides, many chemical pollutants, radon gas

Heavy metals, sedi­ment, fluoride, viruses and bacteria, dissolved solids, and particulates, including radioactive particulate matter

Requires that water have sufficient contact time with the filter. Because GAC can breed bacteria, it is most effective when used with treated mu­nicipal water.

Carbon block

Powdered carbon is glued together to form a matrix structure that adsorbs contaminants.

Trihalomethanes, dis­solved gases including chlorine, most pesti­cides, many chemical pollutants, radon gas, particulate matter; can be used for heavy met­als under some limited conditions

Fluoride, nitrates, viruses, and bacteria

Considered more effec­tive than GAC if water conditions are within certain parameters. Will remove heavy metals only for a limited time. Periodic retesting is essential. Not recom­mended for most heavy metal removal. Glue content is a concern. Whole-house or point – source available.

Reverse Osmosis (RO)

RO involves forcing water through a semipermeable membrane with extremely fine pores from a more concentrated solu­tion (ultimately becoming the reject water) to a more dilute solution (the product water). The water’s direction of movement is the opposite of what would be experienced during osmosis and is achieved by applying water pressure to the solution on the more concentrated (contaminated) side of the membrane. RO will remove a variety of ions and metals as well as some bacterial contaminants (cysts), but not coliform bacteria. RO systems will remove some arsenic (arsenic V but not the more toxic arsenic III). Reverse osmosis is well documented in the literature and in post-treatment testing proves to be effective in removing uranium, but N5F does not certify for uranium reduction. RO membranes eject the bulk of almost any dissolved and suspended contaminant including ionic, organic, and silica compounds.

One criticism of reverse osmosis-filtered water is that it is stripped of essential minerals. Although this is true, it is a tradeoff for overall water quality. Most consumers do not depend on water for their nutritional needs but elect to take vitamin supplements or remineralize their RO water. Savvy water treatment companies use a crushed limestone (calcite) post-RO filter to impart a pleasant taste to the water. Parents sometimes express concern that RO removes fluoride added to municipal water for dental health purposes. This is true, but water fluoridation in general is a controversial issue and today most children under professional dental care receive whole-mouth fluoride treatments.

Type of system

How it works

What is eliminated

What is not eliminated


The most valid criticism of RO is that anywhere from 3.5 to 5 gallons of water are rejected for every gallon of purified water produced. Many inexpensive, noncertified RO systems have much higher rejection rates, are extremely wasteful, and still do not deliver verifiable contaminant reduction, the primary reason for using reverse osmosis. While reject water is routed to the drain, it is not lost but reenters the hydrologic cycle. In many cases, the RO reject water may be collected and redirected for irrigation purposes. Seek out a five-stage RO system. Plastic parts can be problem for individuals with petrochemical sensitivities.

When selecting a reverse osmosis system, look for certification by National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) International (www. nsf. org) to ensure materials quality, system performance, and contaminant reduction. Be wary of self-proclaimed lists of contaminant reduction and verify the certification for the specific unit you are considering on the NSF website under Drinking Water Treatment Units.

СТА (cellulose triacetate) RO membrane

Water is forced under pressure through a fine membrane that screens out dissolved solids.

Dissolved solids (60 to 90%), heavy metals, asbestos, radioactive particles, some bacteria; NSF certified under­counter RO removes 99.99% of cysts

Dissolved gases, some biological contaminants, sediment

Most suitable for pre­treated municipal water in which biological con­taminants are already low. Filter requires chlo­rinated water supply to prevent bacteriological decay.

TFC (thin film composite) well membrane

Same as above.

Dissolved solids (60 to 98%), heavy metals, asbestos, radioactive particles, some bacteria, limited amount of bio­logical contaminants

Dissolved gases, sedi­ment

Cannot be used with chlorinated water supply unless prefiltered with carbon.


Ultraviolet (UV) purification

UV radiation penetrates membrane of microbe and inactivates it.

Biological contaminants

Dissolved gases, sedi­ment, radiologicals (note that protozoan cysts such as Giardia and Cryptosporidium may not be completely eliminated if there is any shadowing effect caused by hardness or sediment)

Does not provide residual disinfection. Sediment, hardness, minerals, iron, manga­nese, or turbidity will make system ineffective because a shadowing effect shields bacteria from UV.

Oxidation with ozone, hydrogen peroxide, chlo­rine, or injected air

Oxidation can change the valence state of water contaminants so that they can be physically filtered.

Clarifies, deodorizes, and precipitates metals; oxidizes and eliminates bacteria, viruses and organic matter

VOCs, pesticides, chlo­rine; does not remove anything from water

Use of chlorine as oxidiz­ing agent not recom­mended from ecological and health standpoints. Post-system carbon fil­tration is recommended.

Type of system

How it works

What is eliminated

What is not eliminated



KDF (kinetic degradation fluxation)

Zinc/copper alloy causes chemical transformation of contaminants as they pass through KDF, which disrupts metabolic func­tion of bacteria.

Controls bacterial growth; removes some heavy metals, chlorine, and biological contami­nants

Trihalomethanes, bacteria, radiologicals

Very effective when used as prefilter, followed by carbon filter and then reverse osmosis. Does not work well in all pH conditions; requires 150 ppm of total dissolved solids (TDS) to be effective. Is bacteriostatic but not a bactericide. Suitable for water with very low bacteriological count. Works best on hot water. Testing after installation is advised.



Small filter/shower head combination that threads into existing plumbing.

Chlorine. Some filters may have other proper­ties. Verify contaminant removal potential at www. nsf. org.

Radiologicals, pesticides, gasoline, bacteria. Do not remove trihalo­methanes, pesticides, or VOCs because of lack of contact time. Not considered effective treatment for most bio­logical contaminants or chemical contaminants of health concern.

Very inexpensive and often very limited in scope. Do not require plumber to install. See May 2007 Consumer Reports for reviews of shower head, pitcher, carafe, and other inline filters.


Water is turned to vapor, condensed, and then collected.

Dissolved solids, mi­croorganisms, nitrates, heavy metals, sediment, radioactive particulate matter

VOCs, dissolved gases, including chlorine

Effective when used with carbon postfilter. High maintenance, low production, and high energy consumption. Flat taste. Metal-bodied distillers may add alu­minum or other heavy metals to water.

Sediment filters

Can be a filter medium in cartridge or tank ap­plications. Can be a set­tling tank where water is siphoned off the top after particulates sink.

Particulate matter, sand, dirt

Remove only particulate matter; strictly a physical process

Most often used as pre­filter for other systems. Backflushing models use additional water for self-cleaning.

Type of system

How it works

What is eliminated

What is not eliminated



Water is run over a series of plates, where it is de­pressurized and blown with a fan so that gases and odors can escape. It is then repressurized.

Radon, odors, dissolved gases

Bacteria, solids, heavy metals, and dissolved radiologicals

Aeration is the EPA – preferred method for radon removal.

Centralized Water Purification


Water pressure pushes water molecules toward the hollow center of fiber membrane tubes. Large particles and microorganisms are trapped within the fiber and then flushed out during automatic back­washing.

Removal of chlorine by activated carbon and physical blocking of bacteria, parasites, and viruses greater than 0.02 microns

Heavy metals, radioac­tive particles, arsenic, and nitrates

Ultrafiltration is touted as eliminating the need for bottled water, but it is far less effective for contaminant removal than RO. Ultrafiltration systems do not soften water and do require water backwashing.

Authors note: This table has been created by Steven Wiman of Good Water Company for this edition of Prescriptions for a Healthy House.

Residential Equipment

Much has been written about the energy effi­ciency of appliances. Since appliances account for as much as 30 percent of household energy usage, choosing wisely can greatly reduce en­ergy consumption. Because many sources of information are available on appliance energy values, we have limited discussion in this book to health issues related to appliance selection. (See the end of this chapter for books about re­ducing appliance energy consumption.)

Bath Water Found to be Culprit in Copper Toxicity Case

When F. W. was 63 years old she was seen by Dr. Elliott for a chronic vaginal discharge that had per­sisted for five years. She had been previously eval­uated by several healthcare practitioners for this problem. Although her gynecologist had been unable to find evidence of a yeast or bacterial in­fection, the patient was nevertheless placed on a variety of antibiotics, which seemed to exacerbate the problem.

During the interview, it was discovered that the patient’s symptoms seemed to improve when shetraveled. Shewentontodisclosethata rash she had all over her body also improved while she was away from home. She concluded that her symp­toms were probably related to stress, although there were no obvious new stressors in her life that could have accounted for this peculiar reaction.

When questioned about events in her life that took place around the time of onset of her symptoms, she revealed that she had moved into anew home. Dr. Elliott suspected that the source of the patient’s problem could be the bath water, since water was the only substance in contact with her vagina.

A water sample was sent to a laboratory for analysis. The results showed extremely high cop­per levels. Upon further inquiry, it was discovered that many water samples from the same part of town were also showing high copper levels. Ap­parently, the carbon dioxide in the water created enough of an acidic environment to dissolve the copper in the water supply piping.

The patient decided to install a whole-house water filtration system that could be customized to remove carbon dioxide in the household water.

system, consult the National Tap Water Qual­ity Database.3

Remember, however, that water leaving the treatment plant may be further contami­nated by the time it reaches your tap. During its journey, treated water can pick up lead from solder or old pipes and copper from pipes. Pipes made of PVC, the most common type of new piping, release chlorinated compounds and other chemicals into the water. Pipes that have breaks can suck in mud and silt and are prone to bacterial contamination.

Municipally treated water is usually low in biological contaminants because of chlorina­tion, but it is not well-screened for industrial and hazardous waste. The chlorine with which almost all municipal water has been treated often reacts with naturally occurring organic compounds, creating potentially harmful tri – halomethanes. Water experts in your area will know the range of contaminants found in your municipal system and the best strategies for eliminating them.

Private well-water quality is not governed by EPA regulations, but primary and second­ary standards for public systems are useful guidelines for the treatment of water in private wells. EPA recommends testing private water supplies annually for nitrates, coliform bacte­ria, total dissolved solids, and pH levels to de­tect contamination problems early. Your local water specialist should be able to make gen­eral recommendations for well-testing in your area.

Before consumption begins on a private water well, samples should be submitted for

Within a few days after installation, her rash and vaginitis disappeared. Because of evidence of ex­cess copper stored in her body, she underwent a program of vitamin and mineral supplementation and heavy metal chelation. She is currently doing well and is without complaints. In a follow-up visit, she stated that the greenish ring that had been present on the bathroom fixtures also had disap­peared.


Copper is essential to human life, but in high doses can cause anemia, rashes, liver and kidney dam­age, and gastrointestinal irritation. While the need for filtering the household drinking water may be obvious, this case study illustrates that bath water may be an unrecognized source of toxic exposure.

Because the skin is a large surface area, it allows for significant absorption of substances into the body from bath water. We do not suggest that you avoid tub bathing, which can be both pleasurable and therapeutic. Instead, we recommend that your water be filtered at the point of entry into the house. Filtration systems are most effective when they are customized to fit both the home­owner’s personal needs and the local water condi­tions. These conditions can vary greatly from one location to another. Whether or not you decide to install a whole-house water filtration system, we recommend that you have your water tested periodically.

a comprehensive laboratory test by an EPA – approved laboratory. In addition to deter­mining what is in the well water, the test will help establish a baseline for future changes in water quality. Every well should be tested individually as even adjacent wells may have highly variable water chemistry because of different depths or geological variance of the aquifer.

Improving Drinking Water Quality with Reverse Osmosis

Pure water is one of the three essentials of life. The Bau-Biology approach is always to look first to nature. For water, we can look to the seagull. In 1969, Steven Sourirajan, professor of environmen­tal studies at the University of California, discov­ered thatthe seagull has a special membrane in its throat that enables it to drink salt water. The mem­brane allows water to be absorbed and the extra salt is then spit out through the nasal passage.

This observation allowed Sourirajan to de­velop the first reverse osmosis water purifier. To­day reverse osmosis has been developed into a marvel of modern water purification technology and is being used all over the world. It has become the most effective method ever invented for wa­ter purification. It out-performs flocculation, distil­lation, carbon filtration, and other methods. Entire city-wide reverse osmosis units have been put into production, sometimes costing hundreds of mil­lions of dollars fora municipal system.

Reverse osmosis units are also being installed in homes. These units need annual servicing for several reasons:

• Filters need cleaning as they collect dirt.

• Reverse osmosis membranes can deteriorate.

• Bacteria can develop in the system.

The reverse osmosis membrane is only one part of this system. Fortruly pure water, there are multiple other filters and steps before and after the reverse osmosis membrane. Reverse osmosis membranes have openings that are too small to be called holes. These pores allow water molecules to pass through but preventthe passage of contaminants. If the filters become plugged with trash, the flow of water is slowed down, reducing the pressure of the water stream, which should be around 60 pounds per square inch. Ideal pressure produces the maximum water purity and best flow and ex­tends the longevity of the components.

In addition to salts, other contaminants are fre­quently found in water and can be effectively re­duced by a reverse osmosis system:

• Heavy metals such as lead, cadmium, mercury, and arsenic, found in all water to varying de­grees, are removed by the reverse osmosis membrane.

• Volatile contaminants such as chlorine, am-

contaminants that can adversely affect public health and are known or anticipated to occur in water.

Secondary standards (NSDWRs) are non­enforceable guidelines for contaminants that may cause cosmetic effects (such as skin or tooth discoloration) or have aesthetic effects (such as taste, odor, or color) in drinking wa­ter. Hie EPA recommends secondary stan­dards but does not require water systems to comply. States may choose to adopt them as enforceable standards.

The EPA Consumer Confidence Rule re­quires public water suppliers that serve the same people year round (community water systems) to provide a consumer confidence report (CCR) to their customers. These re­ports, also known as annual water quality re­ports or drinking water quality reports, sum­marize sources used (rivers, lakes, reservoirs, or aquifers), any detected contaminants, com­pliance efforts, and educational information. The reports are due to customers by July 1 of each year. To find the CCR for your municipal



monia, and trihalomethanes are also found in public water supplies and can be removed with pre-and post-filter activated carbon. The carbon also helps remove other volatile indus­trial and agricultural residues such as pesti­cides and herbicides.

• Bacteria are another important concern, but these will typically be killed by the chlorine found in most municipal water systems. Pre­filters will then remove the dead bacteria along with other types of sediment. For puri­fication of water supplies that are not chlori­nated, ultraviolet purifiers can be added to the system to kill bacteria.

Reverse osmosis units should be tested and ser­viced on a regular basis. Annual testing of water quality is a good indicator of how well the unit is functioning and when the reverse osmosis mem­brane needs to be replaced. Poor water quality in some parts of the country means that membranes and filters need to be replaced more frequently there.

Servicing includes not only replacing filters as

necessary but also cleaning and disinfecting the unit. The procedure involves disassembling the re­verse osmosis system, cleaning the unit, flushing it with hydrogen peroxide, replacing the filters, and checking the unit’s performance.

Laboratory water quality tests are only as good as the person doing the evaluation. This means water testing should be performed by a qualified water testing laboratory that specializes in water purification and not just testing. It is of little value to know what is in your water if you do not have a way to remove it.

Warren Clough is a chemist, Certified Water Spe­cialist, and Bau-Biologist with 50 years’experience analyzing water quality and making water purifi­cation system recommendations. His company offers free initial telephone consultations and charges minimal fees for water testing to evaluate reverse osmosis units. It can be reached six days a week during normal business hours at Ozark Water Service and Air Services, 114 Spring Street, Sulphur Springs, AR. 72768, 800-835-8908, ozark waterandair. org.



Water Treatment Equipment

Water Purification in Standard Construction

Poor indoor air quality is not the only form of pollution that affects human health. Our water sources, both public supplies and pri­vate domestic wells, have also become increas­ingly contaminated. Public concern about water quality has increased dramatically. In late 2005, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found in an analysis of more than 22 million tap-water quality tests (most of which were conducted to meet EPA compliance) that 260 contaminants were detected in water served to the public.1

Of the contaminants identified in the EWG study, the EPA has set enforceable health lim­its for 114 contaminants and nonenforceable, recommended standards for five. More than half (141) of the total contaminants identi­fied are unregulated and without safety stan­dards. The statistics reported by EWG are believed to represent an underestimate of the exposure of American consumers to unregu­lated contaminations in the nations tap water. Not considered in the study were unregulated pharmaceuticals and personal care product chemicals, which, surprisingly, were found in the tested water. The good news is that EWGs analysis found over 90 percent compliance with enforceable health standards.

Water Quality Parameters

Water purification is not standard in home construction, and unless you specify water testing and purification they will not be in­cluded. Although water purification is usually considered an “extra,” whole-house systems are best planned for and installed at the time of construction. But before you can contem­plate options for water quality improvement, you need to know what is in your water.

This is relatively easy to determine if you are on a city or other public water system, but water in private wells is not regulated. The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), passed in 1974 and amended in 1986 and 1996, gives the

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) au­thority to set drinking water standards for public water systems that provide water for human consumption through at least 15 ser­vice connections or regularly serve at least 25 individuals. To find out more about regulated water contaminants and to learn about the po­tential health effects and the sources of these contaminations, consult the EPAs Drinking Water Contaminants website.2

There are two categories of EPA drink­ing water standards: primary and secondary. Primary standards (NPDWRs) are legally – enforceable standards that apply to pub­lic water systems and are classified into the following categories: microorganisms, disin­fectants, disinfection byproducts, inorganic chemicals, organic chemicals, and radionu­clides. Primary standards protect drinking water quality by limiting the levels of specific