“My Home Sweet Home”

Tweenie’s Greenies: Monday Edition

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Do you love your couch?  Do you cuddle up on those comfy cushions and just seem to drift off to sleep for no good reason?  Well, maybe it’s because that couch is making you sick!!  Well, maybe it’s not just your couch.  Maybe it is all of your furniture.  Did you know that your furniture can actually have gas?  That’s right and it’s not from eating too many beans and trying to hide their odiforous effects by sitting on a furniture cushion. (I know I am not the only one to do this!)  It’s called formaldehyde and it’s in your home!!

Oh, lovely modern invention has given us the blessing of formaldehyde.  A chemical that is released into the air as a gas.  It’s a wonderful preservative (Remember those dissection specimens that were once kept in liquid formaldehyde?  Whatever happened to that?  Oh yeah, it’s a known cancer causing agent.)  Formaldehyde is also and excellent adhesive with is why it is used in building and furniture manufacturing.  It is also used in small amounts to create permanent press materials, such as drapes. 

The most common items that release formaldehyde gas in your home are plywood, particle board, veneered or laminated furniture and cabinets (look under your cabinets…probably made of particle board).  The wonderful adhesive quality of formaldehyde is used to glue those boards together.  As these materials decompose over time, they release formaldehyde gas into the air.  If you are lucky the synthetic upholstery on your furniture is probably coated with a resin that resists stains.  This makes for easy cleaning but the formaldehyde used in this resin adds to polluting your indoor air.  Think about that when you lay your head down on the couch for a long winters nap.

So, what’s the big fuss?  Well, formaldehyde is a very strong irritant (depending on exposure).  In smaller doses it will give you burning eyes, nose and throat irritation, coughing, fatigue (maybe that’s why I fall asleep on the couch all the time), rashes, headaches, loss of coordination, and nausea.    These are also all symptoms of what is called “sick building syndrome” or “multiple chemical sensitivity”.  Some people’s bodies will lose the ability to handle synthetic chemicals and develop the above symptoms.  A good way to know if your environment is making you sick is to leave it.  If you feel noticably better everytime you leave that place, you may have sick building syndrome.  In large doses, the effects of formaldehyde are more noticable.  It will creat asthma or liver, kidney and central nervous system damage.

You are probably scratching at your mouse frantically trying to scroll down the screen to see what you can do to prevent this.  Fortunately, there are some very simple measures to help the decrease the formaldehyde content of your home.  You can get rid of all the items in your home made of pressboard or particle board.  If you can’t do that, simply purchase a special formaldehyde sealant or varnish.  Put a few coats of this over any exposed particle board.  The formaldehyde gas cannot penetrate through the sealant.  The easiest thing you can do is to STOP BUYING these cheaply made particle pieces.  When you replace your furniture, buy all wood products (preferrably made from sustainable resources) or old furniture.  Furniture made over 50 years ago was not created at a time when formaldehyde was used for this function.  Grandma always did know best!

Here’s a couple good places to green up your furniture purchases:

Ikea:  Inexpensive and avoids using toxins.  They also only buy wood that meets the Forest Stewardship Council Criteria.

Steelcase:  Stylish, green guard-certified furniture.  Uses recycled materials for home office furniture.

Herman Miller: Also stylish green guard-certified furniture.

Some great links for more info:

http://www.treehugger.com/files/2007/01/how_to_green_your_furniture.php

http://www.montana.edu/wwwcxair/formald.htm

http://www.epa.gov/iaq/formalde.html

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