Why “Zero VOC’s” can still shorten your life

“Zero VOC’s” has become a the tipping point between products judged “good” or “bad”. This is misleading. Volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) describes a molecular relationship, not a material. There are VOC’s that are harmful to the environment because they react photochemically and contribute to smog. Additionally there are VOC’s that have no evidence or history of being deleterious to human health.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) mandate is about what happens outdoors. Indoor air pollution is not addressed by the EPA (or any other government agency). The following is a list the EPA excludes from being defined as a “harmful” VOC because (quoted directly from their intro to this list) “This includes any such organic compound other than the following, which have been determined to have negligible photochemical reactivity”… in other words, not contributing to smog.

So “Zero VOC, or VOC-free” can include the following:

  • methane
  • ethane
  • methylene chloride (dichloromethane)
  • 1,1,1-trichloroethane (methyl chloroform)
  • 1,1,2-trichloro-1,2,2-trifluoroethane (CFC-113)
  • trichlorofluoromethane (CFC-11)
  • dichlorodifluoromethane (CFC-12)
  • chlorodifluoromethane (HCFC-22)
  • trifluoromethane (HFC-23)
  • 1,2-dichloro 1,1,2,2-tetrafluoroethane (CFC-114)
  • chloropentafluoroethane (CFC-115)
  • 1,1,1-trifluoro 2,2-dichloroethane (HCFC-123)
  • 1,1,1,2-tetrafluoroethane (HFC-134a)
  • 1,1-dichloro 1-fluoroethane (HCFC-141b)
  • 1-chloro 1,1-difluoroethane (HCFC-142b)
  • 2-chloro-1,1,1,2-tetrafluoroethane (HCFC-124)
  • pentafluoroethane (HFC-125)
  • 1,1,2,2-tetrafluoroethane (HFC-134)
  • 1,1,1-trifluoroethane (HFC-143a)
  • 1,1-difluoroethane (HFC-152a)
  • parachlorobenzotrifluoride (PCBTF)
  • cyclic, branched, or linear completely methylated siloxanes
  • acetone
  • perchloroethylene (tetrachloroethylene)
  • 3,3-dichloro-1,1,1,2,2-pentafluoropropane (HCFC-225ca)
  • 1,3-dichloro-1,1,2,2,3-pentafluoropropane (HCFC-225cb)
  • 1,1,1,2,3,4,4,5,5,5-decafluoropentane (HFC 43-10mee)
  • difluoromethane (HFC-32)
  • ethylfluoride (HFC-161)
  • 1,1,1,3,3,3-hexafluoropropane (HFC-236fa)
  • 1,1,2,2,3-pentafluoropropane (HFC-245ca)
  • 1,1,2,3,3-pentafluoropropane (HFC-245ea)
  • 1,1,1,2,3-pentafluoropropane (HFC-245eb)
  • 1,1,1,3,3-pentafluoropropane (HFC-245fa)
  • 1,1,1,2,3,3-hexafluoropropane (HFC-236ea)
  • 1,1,1,3,3-pentafluorobutane (HFC-365mfc)
  • chlorofluoromethane (HCFC-31)
  • 1-chloro-1-fluoroethane (HCFC-151a)
  • 1,2-dichloro-1,1,2-trifluoroethane (HCFC-123a)
  • 1,1,1,2,2,3,3,4,4-nonafluoro-4-methoxy-butane (C4F9OCH3 or HFE-7100)
  • 2-(difluoromethoxymethyl)-1,1,1,2,3,3,3-heptafluoropropane ((CF3)2CFCF2OCH3)
  • 1-ethoxy-1,1,2,2,3,3,4,4,4-nonafluorobutane (C4F9OC2H5 or HFE-7200)
  • 2-(ethoxydifluoromethyl)-1,1,1,2,3,3,3-heptafluoropropane ((CF3)2CFCF2OC2H5)
  • methyl acetate
  • 1,1,1,2,2,3,3-heptafluoro-3-methoxy-propane (n-C3F7OCH3 or HFE-7000)
  • 3-ethoxy-1,1,1,2,3,4,4,5,5,6,6,6-dodecafluoro-2-(trifluoromethyl) hexane (HFE-7500)
  • 1,1,1,2,3,3,3-heptafluoropropane (HFC 227ea)
  • methyl formate (HCOOCH3)
  • 1,1,1,2,2,3,4,5,5,5-decafluoro-3-methoxy-4-trifluoromethyl-pentane (HFE-7300)
  • dimethyl carbonate
  • propylene carbonate

and perfluorocarbon compounds which fall into these classes:

  1. cyclic, branched, or linear, completely fluorinated alkanes,
  2. cyclic, branched, or linear, completely fluorinated ethers with no unsaturations,
  3. cyclic, branched, or linear, completely fluorinated tertiary amines with no unsaturations, and
  4. sulfur containing perfluorocarbons with no unsaturations and with sulfur bonds only to carbon and fluorine.

Our response to the Lumber Liquidators 60 Minutes Expose

Some of you may have seen the 60 Minutes piece about Lumber Liquidators (LL) this past Sunday. If you haven’t, I encourage you to do so (the youtube link may be liable to change but here’s a current link to the report). Reading with interest the blogs and feedback on their web and Facebook pages, and from our experience here at Planet Hardwood, I’d like to dispel some commonly held misconceptions:

  1. Within the industry “laminate” refers exclusively to plastic laminate which is the product category in question. This product is a layer of clear melamine plastic over a picture of wood (or tile or your cousin Henry) on a substrate of high density fiberboard (HDF). Outside the industry it is very common to incorrectly include wood engineered flooring in that category of “laminate” since thin layers of anything satisfies the dictionary definition of that word. Formaldehyde emission mis-labeling is not a problem in the wood business. It’s about as unlikely as finding something other than rice in the rice box at the supermarket.
  2. Not everything produced in China is suspect or deficient. Also, the Chinese don’t conspire to mis-label and confuse. Remember, this is a factory producing a private label product to a Lumber Liquidator specification packaged in a box designed by Lumber Liquidators. Lumber Liquidators brands it and that’s how they conduct their entire business. They’ve never produced a square foot of their “own” flooring. The Chinese mill managers immediately answered the tough questions posed by the undercover 60 Minute “buyers” in an entirely honest and forthcoming manner. This has also been our experience at Planet Hardwood when dealing with Chinese mills. You either pay for quality or pay for crap… there are no secrets. The customer is boss.
  3. Planet Hardwood decided years ago not to sell plastic laminate flooring. Or carpeting. Or vinyl. All of these products leave toxic trails in production, have a limited life span, will spend most of their time on this earth leaching poisons into the environment, and are unhealthy to live with while in your home.

Indoor air pollution in depth

Indoor air pollution, in homes as well as commercial buildings, is being recognized as a serious health problem. Because most people in the United States spend an estimated 90 percent of their time indoors, the health risks of poor indoor air quality can significantly increase the risk of health problems. You may think indoor air pollution won’t affect you, but chances are it already has. Have you ever felt nauseated after painting or cleaning? Well, that’s a neurotoxin for you. The problem is, these toxins affect you all the time. You might not feel downright sick, but maybe you’ll feel run down and headachy as the day wears on. And it gets worse. Many of these toxins have a cumulative effect. You never get rid of them. They collect until you reach your threshold. Every year thousands of men, women and children will suffer illnesses from indoor air pollution. (more…)

Humidity and the health of you and your wood floor

Wood acts like a sponge. It expands in the presence of excess moisture, and contracts when that moisture is given up to a dryer environment. It is always trying to achieve a balance with the prevailing relative humidity. In the Northeast, the natural seasonal swings in relative humidity are wide, and will stress the wood at each extreme. All wood responds in the same way, no matter how it’s mixed, shaved, turned it into powder and glued back together again (like the cores of plastic laminate flooring), wood will react dimensionally to the presence or absence of moisture. Wood flooring is the most stable between 35% and 65% relative humidity, the same range comfortable for people, pets, plants and other living things. Here in New England, even though human activity adds moisture to the air, it is important to humidify your home during the heating season.

Concerned about VOCs?

Since world war II, chemical use has grown by leaps and bounds. In 1945, annual production of synthetic chemical substances was 1 billion pounds. By 1987 it was 287 billion pounds, and growing every year. During that same period, doctors began noticing the phenomenon now recognized as multiple chemical sensitivity, a condition in which individuals become sensitized to chemicals by indoor air pollution and other exposures, and then suffer a variety of adverse reactions to low levels of chemicals from consumer and building products. In 1945 this phenomenon was unheard of. In 1987 it was estimated to affect up to 15% of the population. (more…)

It’s not easy being green, unless you’re a plant.

Let’s start with running a “green” business. Businesses are making marketing hay out of good standard business practices which qualify as “green”. Here’s the secret: reduce waste wherever you can and be more efficient and productive. For any good business, that’s an ongoing effort especially when impacted by a sudden increase in costs, like fuel. Consume less and steer your purchasing of operational necessities towards responsible products. This is stuff your mother told you: shut the door, turn off lights when not using them etc. etc. Anyone, like myself, who grew up with parents who lived through the Great Depression, started getting their “green” education early on.

As far as being in a “green” business, there are several challenges, beginning with the basic question: what is “green”? “Green” has replaced “natural” as the most abused word in the English language. Everything is “green” these days. (more…)