Archive for the ‘Health/Safety/Welfare’ Category


by Wools of New Zealand (photo credits as indicated)

Summertime - and Wool! Photo credit: Wools of New Zealand

What’s the very first thing that comes to mind when you think about wool? I bet it’s not the summer! Wool is known for protecting people from freezing temperatures, yet for over 12,000 years wool has also played an important role in protecting people from heat.

The natural qualities of wool make it more suitable for carpet in climatic extremes than synthetic fibers. In Florida and other regions with both high humidity and temperatures, the

Photo credit: Toxy's Jamstation

advantages of wool’s complex physical structure work as an atmospheric buffer. At times of high humidity, wool fiber can absorb up to 30 percent of its weight in moisture—without feeling damp—then release this moisture when the atmosphere becomes dry again. And when wool fibers are easily spread, as in carpets, they can respond in minutes to changes in ambient humidity. In this way, wool acts as a buffer to reduce peak humidity levels and make those hot summer months more comfortable.

Summer is meant to be enjoyed. It’s the time of year we throw open our windows, fill our vases with fresh flowers, and walk around barefoot. And why shouldn’t we?  There’s nothing like the beauty of the great outdoors. And one of the best ways to capture that “outdoor” feeling is with furnishings and floorcoverings made from natural materials, like wool.

Few floorcoverings are associated as closely with the land as wool. The wool from New Zealand is an environmentally friendly, sustainable fiber that is grown naturally.

Photo credit: joe-ks.com

Because wool is produced from a totally renewable resource—grass—the earth’s natural resources, which are becoming more precious every day, are preserved; unlike synthetics which require energy, and in many cases petroleum, for production.

Photo credit: Canada-photos.com

Another environmental benefit of wool is that it is biodegradable. In soil, wool readily biodegrades to produce nitrogen, sulfur, carbon dioxide and

Photo credit: Brookside Woolen Mill

water, which support the growth of plants and flowers.

Thoughts of blooming flowers also bring to mind the topic of allergies. Wool can help allergy sufferers by absorbing common contaminants and eliminating them from the air. Wool also reacts with harmful gases such as formaldehyde (a common pollutant emitted by building materials), nitrogen dioxide, and sulfur dioxide by neutralizing and binding the gases irreversibly in its structure, so everyone…even people with asthma…can breathe a little easier.

Photo credit: Carpet and Rug Institute

In addition to livin’ well, wool makes livin’ easy.  Wool is naturally superior because it has built-in stain resistant features. The scaly structure of the wool fibers holds dirt high on the pile where it can be easily vacuumed. Wet spills can be blotted up quickly as well, leaving more time to enjoy summer activities.

Wool is a fiber for all reasons and all seasons. The many benefits of this amazing fiber help make your world healthier, comfortable, beautiful and more relaxing…all months of the year.

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Image from Sparkly Like a Holiday

OK, I admit it.  I’m stealing this topic from Paul Anater, over at Kitchen and Residential Design.  But I’m not going to say the same things.

Yes, I quite agree that chalkboard paint is overdone – and way overdone in several of the images he shows.  It’s old.  It’s boring.  It’s dated.  There are clearly limits to its usefulness, safety, and definitely to its appearance.  Not only can it be toxic when it gets into your food as Paul mentions, but chalk dust can also be a major problem for people who have allergies, asthma, or chemical sensitivities, so it would not foster an accessible design for people who suffer from such afflictions.  It would also violate universal and visitability design principles, as it could create a similar hazard for other users of the space, particularly visitors whose sensitivities might be unknown.  Chalk dust doesn’t do anything for overall air quality, either, so that lowers the green design reusability quotient of the paint, never mind what the VOC content of it might be.

Now that we’ve looked at the potential health hazards, let’s focus more on the visual elements.

Looking at the images Paul posted, the ones that really offend me the most are the refrigerator fully covered in the dreadful green version of the paint, that huge, frightening expanse of black wall and door, and yes, that hideous kitchen. (more…)

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(Please note:  This video may not run smoothly for some reason; you may have to restart it several times where it leaves off in order to view the whole thing, but make sure you watch it all, including the testing processes.)

Glass tables can be wonderful additions to many rooms in the house, and are particularly popular as coffee tables, end tables, and dining tables. They are stylish, help small rooms look larger, and can help reflect light that will help brighten any space.

But they do have one major downside, that people should be aware of, and that is that they can also provide a significant hazard for everyone in the house, but particularly for children and the elderly. Sharp edges can cause cuts and bruises when people bump into them, and particularly for the elderly, whose vision is not what it was when they are younger, they can just be more difficult to see, and thus harder to avoid bumping into. As we age, our skin gets thinner, so elderly skin is more likely to tear easily on a squared edge, too, than on one that is more rounded. Much is already made of these particular issues in aging-in-place and universal design circles.

However – and even more importantly – glass tables of all sizes and designs can also shatter, especially if someone falls on them, and severe injuries and even death may result, as the above video shows.

Even young, able-bodied adults are not immune from this risk, as both this video describes and the one blow shows graphically.

Although this second video starts out humorously, and looking like a commercial or a joke, the injuries the woman shown has likely sustained could well threaten her life, as well as disfigure her forever. The chances that the glass may penetrate her abdomen or chest, or sever a carotid artery or femoral artery (among other possibilities) are high, any of which injuries could cause her to bleed to death in a matter of minutes. She may well have also sustained a severe neck and/or back injury from this fall, fractures, and could need reconstructive plastic surgery to repair her face. This sort of trip and fall is not at all an unlikely occurrence in many homes, either, particularly as anyone who has ever had children or pets will attest.

Children are also particularly susceptible to such injuries, when they run around and jump on the furniture. Consumer Reports and the Providence Journal reported on one such tragic case of an 11 year old dying from a severe puncture wound to her leg that caused her to bleed to death.

According to Consumer Reports, “Each year an estimated 20,000 people, most of them children, are treated in emergency rooms for injuries sustained from glass furniture. In an average year, three children die”.

Pets can also cause the same kind of damage to glass furniture, and sustain the same kinds of injuries, especially if they are large and/or rowdy.

So, does this mean you should get rid of all glass tables, or never use them?

No, it just means you have to do a little homework when first buying them, and be sure that the glass is tempered/safety glass, not the more typical annealed glass used in most furniture.

Tempered glass (also known as safety glass), which is what your car windows, shower doors, and storm doors are made of, shatters into many small pebble-like pieces when it breaks, none of which are likely to cause life-threatening injuries, most of which have very few sharp edges. Annealed glass, however (which is what most home windows are made of, and almost all glass furniture parts), breaks into slabs and slices of glass of varying sizes, some quite large, with edges that are as sharp as knives, and which will quickly and easily penetrate all soft tissue, and even bone, if the force applied is sufficient. The first video above shows the difference graphically in a testing situation.

Because there are no safety standards or codes that apply to the type of glass used in tables yet (although they are now under development), it’s up to you the consumer (or your designer) to ensure that safety glass is used or specified, in order to ensure maximum safety, especially in areas of the home that have a lot of traffic, although it’s best to ensure the use of safety glass wherever glass is used in furniture in the home.

Some tables are made entirely of glass, and it may not be possible to get them in tempered glass, or they may be made in a way that makes replacing the glass portions impractical or impossible, so you will then have to decide what’s most important to you, taking into consideration where the piece will live, who will use it, the amount of traffic that will pass near it, etc.

Some manufacturers already use tempered glass as a matter of course, but far from all, so you will have to ask before you buy. If it’s just a glass top or insert, and you cannot custom order the piece with tempered glass (or you already have the piece), you can always have a replacement made of tempered glass yourself by a local glass shop. You could also have a replacement top fabricated from another material, including wood or stone, if that works with the piece and your space, and the look appeals to you, but then you will lose the visual appeal and other qualities of the glass, if that’s what you really want.

It’s also a good idea to ensure that everyone in your home and to whom you entrust the care of your children 0r elderly relatives, including babysitters and other caretakers, is trained in basic first aid, just on general principles. I don’t know enough about the case in Rhode Island, but depending upon the location of the puncture wound that bled uncontrollably as reported, it’s very possible that prompt first aid including direct pressure on the wound, arterial pressure, or even a tourniquet if necessary and possible based on the location of the wound, may have saved her life.

So, don’t let this post scare you out of using glass tables, because they are wonderful in the right settings, and totally appropriate. Just take reasonable precautions to ensure safety when selecting them – and enjoy your furniture for years to come.

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cooker2 fire

Source: Fireflash.org

There’s a terrific article on kitchen fires and a variety of innovative fire prevention devices that can be used in the kitchen on Laurie Burke’s excellent Kitchen Design Notes blog. It’s a rather comprehensive look at the number one cause of home fires and ways to prevent them, and I highly recommend that everyone read it. Especially look at the first video, which shows very graphically how quickly a fire can spread, and the effects of various methods of attempting to put them out. That video is hands down the best I’ve ever seen for consumers about how to deal with kitchen fires – and how quickly they spread.

Watching the video sent me into flashbacks, though, I have to tell you! I had a kitchen fire myself a few years ago that started when I accidentally turned on the wrong burner when I went to heat water for tea. I had gotten lazy about putting away my pots and pans, so there was one sitting on every burner – and a plastic microwave food cover on top of the one on the burner behind the one I *thought* I was turning on. That, of course, was the burner I actually did turn on – and the whole thing went up in flames when the plastic heated up.

All I can say is thank God for my smoke detector, since I was in another room.

You can’t imagine how terrifying it is to go into your kitchen and see flames reaching to the ceiling, and the room filled with smoke, even when expecting at least some smoke.

Thank God I’ve always kept a fire extinguisher in the kitchen – and for my paramedic background and working so much with fire departments, because I knew to aim it at the base of the flames, not to use water, etc.

There are a couple of things the video did not emphasize enough, in my opinion, or even address, so I’m going to mention them here. Following that, I’m going to discuss electric fires in the home. Kitchen fires are the number one cause of housefires, and electric fires are high up the list as well, so it’s useful to discuss both together.

Additional fire safety tips:

1. The one thing the video really does not emphasize enough is not to fool around repeatedly trying to put the fire out if you can’t get it out right away when you discover it, regardless of the cause. Precisely because the flames can spread so quickly, you could easily get trapped and badly burned or killed by flames – and smoke inhalation is actually the most frequent cause of fire fatalities in the home. So get out of the house ASAP, and call for help from outside or a neighbor’s.

Some fires can be fought more readily than others, too, so here are some tips on how to decide whether or not to try to fight it yourself, and more about how to do so safely if you decide to – and when not to even try.

2. And get out even if you think you’ve gotten the fire completely put out, if it’s gone beyond the confines of the actual pan, or if you don’t know the source. Call the fire department anyways, and stay out until they clear you to return.

Once a fire gets going like they showed in the video, it can also damage the wiring to the stove, hood, overhead microwave, etc., and that alone can result in reignition and further fire damage, even once the initial flames are out.

3. Inspect your fire extinguisher at least once a month, according to the manufacturer’s instructions. You can also take it to your local fire station to have it inspected, which is also an excellent idea to ensure that there is no damage such as corrosion that could cause it to fail. Further information on care and maintenance can be found here.

4. Never, ever reuse a fire extinguisher, unless you have it professionally recharged. Even if you haven’t fully used it up, there may not be enough powder or pressure left to put out another fire, and the time you waste in trying to get it to work could cost you your life. You can have some of them recharged, or you can replace it.

They’re inexpensive – don’t stint on this. It’s not worth it – believe me. I was lazy about replacing mine after using it on some burning food in my oven at one point despite knowing better – and it initially failed when my kitchen really caught fire. I was fortunate that it finally worked and did put out the fire, but it was a very close call, and those wasted moments trying to get it to work and the added panic it caused me could have cost me my whole house.

5. Never stand a fire extinguisher up on end. Lay it down on the floor, or attach it to a wall or cabinet. The reason is that the contents are under pressure, and if the cylinder falls over and the valve is damaged, at best it will damage the extinguisher and render it useless, but it could also cause it to actually explode, and at minimum, cause the valve assembly to blow off with great force, which by itself could cause a lot of damage or injury. The article in the link is about a recall for this hazard in 1991, but any tank of pressurized gas or powder that sustains damage to its valve assembly can also go off like a rocket like this. It’s a hazard that is well known to scuba divers, and to anyone who works with any kind of compressed gas. Even if that doesn’t happen, a damaged valve may malfunction and result in the fire extinguisher not working when you need it.

6. Your best bet for most home uses is to have a dry chemical ABC fire extinguisher, which is usable on all types of fires. BC extinguishers like a couple of the ones shown on the video will not work well on paper, wood, and other ordinary combustibles like cardboard and plastics, all of which are often involved in fires in addition to the grease they featured in the video. A complete explanation of different types of fire extinguishers, ratings, and what each of the ABCD categories refer to can be found on the Fire Extinguisher 101 website.

7. Keep the fire extinguisher near a door, where you can reach it easily. Do not keep it on the stovetop, or tucked inside a cabinet, as you will not be able to reach it in the event of a stove fire.

8. Keep fire extinguishers in other rooms in addition to the kitchen, particularly in utility spaces such as laundry rooms and garages which can be sources of high fire danger.

9. Keep combustibles away from sources of heat and flame. That means no curtains next to the stove, or piles of paper, and no lit candles or open fires next to curtains or the like.

10. Don’t leave your cooking unattended, or other sources of flame such as candles and fires in the fireplace.

11. Make sure you also have a fire extinguisher (also ABC) accessible in your car.

12. Make sure you have smoke detectors, and test them regularly. Even if you have a hard-wired alarm system, as I do, you may not be able to rely on that. Call you alarm company periodically and check to be sure that they have the current phone numbers for your local fire dispatch or department.

My company for some reason didn’t have the current number, so when the fire set off my alarm, the company couldn’t reach fire dispatch. They kept calling me instead, which of course was useless. Even though I live directly up the hill from my local station, and it shouldn’t have taken more than 4-6 minutes for them to get to my house, it took 15 minutes to finally get them up here – and I had to call them myself ultimately, once I realized they were not coming as expected. If the house had caught fire, it could have burned to the ground by then, and would have certainly already been fully involved and not salvageable.


Burned Outlet

Source: Aluminum Wiring Information Website

Now, speaking of the wiring burning, in addition to kitchen fires, electrical fires are among the top causes of housefires. These have a variety of causes including faulty appliances, old, defective wiring, poor maintenance, electrical system failure of various sorts – and overloading the circuits. According to the BSafe Electrix website’s excellent list of facts about electrical fires, some of the issues include:

– Wiring problems in the home result in 67,800 fires, 485 deaths, and $868,000,000 in annual property losses.

– A disproportionate number of electrical fires occurring in structures 40 years old or older.

– Children under 5 are twice as likely to die in house fires as anyone else.

– Dormitory, fraternity and sorority house fires number 1,500 annually, resulting in 75 fatalities and injuries, and causing property losses of $9,100,000.We’ve all been in houses where you can’t run both a hairdryer and the toaster at the same time without blowing the fuses. This sort of thing is an indicator of overloaded circuits, and it is invariably inconvenient.

We’ve all been in houses where you can’t run a hairdryer and a portable electric heater or toaster at the same time, and attempts to do so result in instant blackouts as the fuses blow. Certainly, this sort of thing is inconvenient and annoying.

What most people don’t realize, however, is that it’s also a tremendous fire hazard. Modern building codes require the kitchen to have its own circuits, separate from the rest of the house, which helps prevent these kinds of problems, but there are still a lot of older buildings out there whose electrical systems have not been modernized, so these kinds of things happen much more often in those situations. Older buildings just were not designed to handle the electrical loads we put on them these days, and unless major renovations are done, there is no requirement to bring them up to current code.

Even in a commercial situation, where building codes are even more stringent than they are in a residential setting, fires are often caused because of excess plug load (what gets plugged in) – which is also the number one cause of out of control electric bills in that setting, and excessive energy use. Tenants/employees have an amazing propensity to want to plug in all kinds of extra things like table lamps, portable electric heaters, chargers for handheld electronics, etc. that designers, architects, and engineers typically do not even consider when designing the space and the electrical system. Wise employers will limit or prohibit employees from plugging in all kinds of extraneous equipment, which will decrease both their expenses and their fire risks. A good designer will query you closely about your need for things of this nature and take them into consideration in the design, but particularly in a commercial setting, it’s not always possible to speak to every user of the building, so the electrical system is usually designed to handle what is built in plus the minimum number of required additional outlets and circuits, without regard to individual usage patterns or desires.

Another major cause of electrical fires is that over time, the connections inside the plugs, light switches, and junction boxes can come loose, and the resulting arcing of current when it runs through the wires can cause melting and ignition of the wires themselves, as well as the surrounding building materials. Ideally, wiring should be inspected annually to try to spot these hazards before they cause trouble.

Homes that are built with aluminum wiring are at particularly high risk of fire, as aluminum can’t handle the loads as well as copper can. If the aluminum wiring has copper pigtails, the wirenuts that are used to connect the two materials can come loose over time, and the gel inside them that prevents the aluminum and copper from coming into direct contact with one another can dry up. When that happens, the Al/Cu interaction generates heat – and will cause a fire if not caught quickly. Because these things happen inside the walls, they usually are not discovered until the fire breaks out. The fire/heat/melting can travel through the walls and by the time it breaks through the walls, the whole house can go up in an instant like a fireball.

Again, I learned about Al/Cu wiring and the connectors, as well as the arcing issue, the hard way – through experience. I was lucky, though. The near-fire started in a light switch in the kitchen (just by chance) – and also just by chance, I happened to still be awake, and found it when I went to turn off the light on my way to bed. Thank God I’m a night person, because this was at 1:30 in the morning. If I’d have been asleep, I’d have likely died in my bed.

The cure for this problem is to ideally completely rewire the house with all copper wiring, but given that that is often cost-prohibitive and typically will require tearing out a lot of walls and more, the most practical solution for most people is to replace all of the wirenuts in the entire residence with new ones that meet current code, or ideally to install Copalum crimping. You can find everything you ever wanted or needed to know about aluminum wiring, its hazards, and mitigation of them at the Aluminum Wiring Information Website.

I warned my homeowner’s association about this issue, knowing that it could endanger our entire complex, but they wouldn’t listen. Sure enough, several years later, we had a major fire elsewhere in the complex that destroyed one townhouse and seriously damaged three others. In that case, the fire was caused by arcing due to loose connections – which would have likely been detected had the association required everyone to inspect and repair their wiring as I did following my own near-miss. In that case, the owner of the destroyed home where the fire started told me that her housekeeper was complaining that the vacuum cleaner wasn’t working in any of several outlets. She said that the fire suddenly burst through the walls like an explosion and spread so quickly that from the instant it started, right in front of them, they were barely able to get out of the house.

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Furniture Today reports about a London man who has suffered severe skin rashes and burns shown to result from the anti-mold chemical dimethyl fumarate, or DMF in his Chinese-made sofa, and was awarded a four-figure settlement for his claim.

According to further stories in the London Times, DMF is a common ingredient added to sofas and chairs by Chinese manufacturers Linkwise and Eurosofa, particularly leather ones, to help protect them from humid conditions.  Several other manufacturers are also being investigated.

DMF is packaged in little packets like the silica dessicants you are already familiar with that are often packaged with delicate goods, but these are inserted inside the seat cushions and between the leather and the cushion, so you won’t see any sign of them.

Unfortunately, DMF can evaporate when exposed to warm conditions, and soak through clothing to reach the skin resulting in some potentially very serious reactions.  Because gases are a very rare cause of skin rashes, it took a while to figure out what was going on, but a study in Sweden has  conclusively proven the connection.  Similar problems have also surfaced in France, Finland, Poland, and Sweden.  Apparently there have been thousands of similar injuries.

There have also been reports of similar reactions caused by some shoes as well.

As a result of these problems, the European Commission has now banned DMF and demanded a recall of all products containing DMF by May 1, 2009 and notification of affected consumers.  Unfortunately, not all retailers have complied, so there may still be thousands of these sofas and chairs out there, so please beware if you are purchasing inexpensive furniture, as much of it is made in China and may well contain this chemical.

If you have purchased new upholstered furniture in the past couple of years and have been experiencing any kind of problems with skin or respiratory irritation since then, this may well be the cause of it.

I haven’t been able to find any evidence that DMF been banned in the US, and it’s a good bet it’s present in furnishings sold here as well.  For starters, I’ve located suppliers of it in the US, and I’ve also found websites showing a furniture company by the same name in North Carolina and shipping information to a warehouse in Canada from Link Wise in China.  Because I also know that there’s a ton of Chinese-made furniture in our country, it would be a reasonable conclusion that this same contamination may well be found throughout the United States and Canada.

Please note that this is a chemical added by the furniture manufacturers, and is not used in the leather tanning process itself, so it should not be an issue for the vast majority of leather products, particularly high quality goods.

So how do you protect yourself?

First of all, don’t panic, even if you’ve recently bought leather furniture.  Call the store and ask where it was manufactured, especially if you’re experiencing any new and/or persistent respiratory or skin symptoms you haven’t found any other cause for.

If you’re just now looking to buy, start by asking questions in the stores or of the designer who is showing you the products about where the furniture was manufactured, and about any chemicals used in the process.  You may not be able to get an answer, but it’s worth trying – and if you can’t get an answer, do consider passing on that item, because the odds are high that it will indeed be from China, especially if you’re buying from a lower end store.  Likewise, if you think the furniture seems particularly well-priced or inexpensive, keep a very high index of suspicion, unless the store or your designer can assure you that it was manufactured elsewhere.

If you’re working with a designer, he or she should be willing to ask the showroom for you and get back to you if she doesn’t already know the answer.

If any furniture salesperson asks you about allergies or chemical sensitivities, run like the wind, because there have been reports of unscrupulous salespeople and shops still trying to sell this stuff even where it’s been banned.

And always buy quality goods – the very best you can possibly afford, even if you have to purchase it one item at a time over a period of time in order to be able to afford better quality.  You really do get what you pay for with furniture, in so many ways.  In the end, high quality furnishings will last and look beautiful for decades, while cheaper stuff will fall apart and look shabby quickly and have to be replaced much more frequently, often at greater overall cost in the long run.  In later blog posts, I’ll cover how to tell good furniture from the rest, both upholstered and casegoods.

Also, given all of the reports of various other contaminated products coming out of China these days, including drywall used in many new homes, I hate to say it, but it might be a good idea to be extremely cautious indeed about learning the origins of anything you purchase, and to possibly just say no to Chinese products altogether.  Yes, you can get a lot for your money with cheap, mass-produced Chinese furniture, which accounts for a huge percentage of the mass market furniture sold in the US, but between these kinds of health risks and the negative impact on our own economy, and given that there’s a lot of top quality product out there coming from the US itself and other countries that do not have these problems (and is much, much greener/more sustainable in many ways), are the risks really worth it?

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I just came across some information on kitchen appliance product recalls on the Kitchen-Exchange blog that you might want to be aware of.

1. GE Recalls Ranges Due to Fire and Burn Hazards – GE Profile(tm) Freestanding Dual Fuel Ranges

2. Recall: Kidde XL Fire Extinguishers – Kidde Recalls to Replace Fire Extinguishers Due to Failure to Operate

3. Maytag/Jenn-Air/Amana/Admiral/Magic Chef Refrigerator Recall – Maytag Recalls Refrigerators Due to Fire Hazard

4. Bosch and Siemens Dishwasher Recall – Bosch(r) and Siemens(r) Model Dishwashers Recalled by BSH Home Appliances Corporation Due to Fire Hazard

5. RECALL – GE Profile, Monogram & Kenmore Ovens – Hazard: The extreme heat used in the self-clean cycle can escape, if the wall oven door is removed and incorrectly re-attached by the installer or the consumer. This can pose a fire and burn hazard to consumers.

6. Wolf Recalls 24,000 48″ Ranges – Hazard: Delayed ignition of gas in the 18-inch oven can cause a flash of flames to be projected at a consumer when the range door is opened, posing a burn hazard to consumers.

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As reported on March 5, 2009 in my post entitled ” Chinese Drywall Corrosion Problems Proliferate in US ” Chinese-made drywall is causing all kinds of problems in new homes in multiple states.

It turns out that the problem is even worse than I previously realized. Not only are metal building elements and electrical elements affected and the home permeated by the nauseating sulfur-like or acid-type smell, but appliances are failing at a particularly high rate, often in under a year – far faster than one would ever normally expect. Silver jewelry and tableware may tarnish quickly, and mirrors are turning black. Even computers and Xboxes are needing replacement or new motherboards quickly.

This stuff is also causing a wide assortment of health problems as well – headaches, nosebleeds, upper respiratory tract infections, etc., which are often only better when the residents are away from home.

The full story is on the Consumer Reports website.

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Please join us and forward this invitation:

Green Science Policy Institute Symposium: The Fire Retardant Dilemma
Fridays, May 8, and September 25, 2009, 8:30am – 4:00pm
150 University Hall, UC Berkeley, 2199 Addison Street, Berkeley

o Susan D. Shaw, director, Marine Environmental Research Institute (MERI), Blue Hill, Maine, Bioaccumulation and Health Risks of PBDEs and PFCs in Marine Mammals: Are We Running out of Time?
o Dr. Richard Murphy: Director of Science and Education, Holly S. Lohuis: Education/Research Associate, Ocean Futures Society Fireproof Killer Whales – J. M. Cousteau alerts the public to PBDE contamination
You can see their findings of PBDEs in Killer Whales on April 22 on PBS
Jean-Michel Cousteau Ocean Adventures
April 8 Sea Ghosts (Beluga Whales), April 22 Call of the Killer Whale
o Donna Mensching, DVM, University of Illinois, College of Veterinary Medicine The ABCs and PBDEs of Feline Hyperthyroidism: Current Findings on a New Epidemic
o Kris Senecal, Research Biologist, US Army Natick Soldier Center, Protecting our Troops from Fire Injuries as well as Fire Retardants
o Carl Cranor, UC Irvine Toxic Torts: Science, Law and the Possibility of Justice

Panel Discussions:
o Can hyperthyroid disease in cats and health problems in marine mammals be related to exposure to fire retardants or other chemicals?
o How can we protect marine mammals, our troops, our pets and our families from halogenated flame retardants and other persistent organic pollutants?

This symposium series brings together contributors from industry, government, academia, and citizens groups to share information on fire retardant materials and policies and how to protect human and environmental health by reducing toxics in consumer products. This session will be focused on health impacts in marine mammals and cats and will also have a speaker on legal aspects of the issue and another from the army, where the fire retardants are needed to protect our troops.

For questions or to register for the session : FRDilemma@gmail.com or 510 644 3164.
Previous speakers at: http://greensciencepolicy.org/?page_id= <http://greensciencepolicy.org/?page_id=10>

Kind regards,

Arlene Blum PhD
Visiting Scholar, Chemistry
University of California, Berkeley
Executive Director, Green Science Policy Institute
Telephone: 510 644-3164 Mobile: 510 919-6363
Web: www <http://http://www.greensciencepolicy.org/> .greensciencepolicy.org <http://http://www.greensciencepolicy.org/> , http://www.arleneblum.com <http://http://www.arleneblum.com/>

The Green Science Policy Institute provides unbiased scientific information to government, industry, and non-governmental organizations to facilitate more informed decision-making about chemicals used in consumer products in order to protect health and environment world-wide.

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Many building materials and products used in interiors, including the foams used in furniture construction, are required by the building code to be treated with fire retardant chemicals – even those products used in the residential environment. In addition, many fabrics are required to be treated with these chemicals, including clothing and bed linens, and all textiles used in the commercial environment.

There is a tremendous and growing body of evidence that these chemicals accumulate in the body and cause a number of major medical problems including cancers and neurological, reproductive, thyroid, and developmental problems, as well as genetic mutations. Studies have shown that many marine mammals and household pets are dying as a result of the accumulation of these chemicals, and children in particular are becoming seriously ill as a result – many more than would likely die in the fires these products are intended to mitigate. It is inevitable that many of the increasing medical problems that we are all experiencing in this day and age are a result of these widespread practices as well.

Obviously, this is a major public health issue of incalculable proportions that affects not only people living today, but will affect future generations because of the genetic mutations and impossibility of getting rid of these chemicals. And yet, because these products are actually required by the building codes, we either cannot buy products for buildings or interiors without these chemicals already impregnated, or we as designers and architects must actually actively and deliberately specify them separately.

Yes, we are actually required by law to use products in your homes and businesses that are known to put the health and safety of every person who ever enters a building at clear and obvious risk every single day.

This is particularly ironic in light of the arguments that ASID and other pro-legislation groups are putting forth about how designers who go through their mandated educational, experience, and testing pathway are specially trained to protect the health and safety of the public, how this particular training pathway is necessary for us to know how to do that, and how no one who doesn’t have this particular cocktail of experiences could possibly know anything about protecting the public. This is one of their primary arguments for why interior designers should be licensed – but they are obviously basing the requirements on “knowledge” and codes that actually cause considerably more harm to people and the environment than it could ever prevent!

And what’s more, the harm resulting from these chemicals is happening even without them burning. Once they do ignite in a fire (and eventually, they will still burn), then even more toxic chemicals are released into the environment. All burning materials do this, but when you burn nasties like these compounds, you get even more and nastier gasses released into the air.

I wonder how many interior designers actually know anything at all about these issues, especially those who do have professional training? I know that I was certainly never taught about them in design school at either of the two prominent schools that I attended. Sure, they taught us about the codes requiring these chemicals and testing procedures, but definitely not about the hazards inherent in them (or how the tests for flammability don’t actually translate to real life conditions and are therefore themselves invalid as predictors of safety, but that’s a topic for a separate post).

And needless to say, this sure as heck isn’t a very green practice, either – and yet we are required to even apply these toxic chemicals to the most green of materials.

Please read the article below from the Green Science Policy Institute website for more details. (more…)

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