“Are You a Toxic Waste Disposal Site?” asks noted columnist Nicholas Kristof in his New York Times column earlier this month.
The answer? Yes. We all are.
As we teach in our four part WWYW course, over 200 chemicals not naturally occurring in humans have been identified in our blood, including in the umbilical cords of newborn babies.
This means that the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, while serving as a wake up call, is really just one story of many. Not only are many additional communities struggling with even higher rates of lead poisoning (mostly from old lead paint still in buildings or in the soil), but thanks to all the other chemicals that have traveled from our environment into our bodies, humans are now born essentially already polluted and at risk for major health problems, from cancer to brain damage to autism to nerve damage. And we now understand that children are by far at the greatest risk. As Kristof points out, “A vast amount of recent research shows that brain development at the beginning of life affects physical and mental health decades later.”
Kristof goes on to discuss the role the chemical companies and the government play in letting the status quo continue, “Chemicals companies, by spending vast sums on lobbying—$100,000 per member of Congress last year—block serious oversight. Almost none of the chemicals in products we use daily have been tested for safety.” Congress has been stalled for years on updating the woefully inadequate Toxic Substances Control Act, passed way back 1976 and still the current law.
Kristof’s column is a clear and concise overview of the problem and we encourage you to read the whole column here.
But Kristoff goes beyond summarizing. He issues a resounding call for what he terms a public health revolution. He compares today’s issues with the London of 1854, when a doctor figured out that a water pump was causing cholera. Despite the water company battling against his assertions, the doctor won and stopped use of the pump, and “this revelation led to the germ theory of disease and to investments in sanitation and clean water. Millions of lives were saved. “
To us, this story serves as a valuable reminder of several truths: Not just the power of one man, not just that we can’t always blindly trust companies and governments, but something that we all occasionally need to be reminded of. Positive change can and does happen.
We’re thrilled to see these issues discussed by such a powerful and persuasive public figure, and join in on his forceful call for a public health revolution that begins with protecting children from harmful chemical exposure.
Recognize this guy? Thanks to our role in the 2017 New American Home, not only we were able to meet with the NAHB Leading Suppliers Council but we got to hang out with the Pink Panther. Best of all, while this company mascot has been around a long time, we’re thrilled to report that his corporate parent, Owens Corning, is staying current with consumer demand to develop and offer products that are not only energy efficient, but also less toxic.
A prime example—the Pro Pink Blown-In Insulation—recommended to us by 2017 New American Home Builder Phil Kean. This insulation boasts great energy efficiency—offering the same R-value as spray foam insulation since it fills all the cracks and crevices in a wall or ceiling cavity without the leaks of traditional batts. But we love that it does so without the toxic chemicals and fumes that spray foam insulation add to the environment. A bonus—it’s recommended for reducing noise transmission. The end result? A quiet, less toxic, and energy efficient home.
We’re back from last week’s NAHB International Builders’ Show in Las Vegas! It was a fantastic trip— we saw some truly amazing products that contribute to healthier interiors and met some fabulous people who are now WWYW friends. Stay tuned! We’ll be sharing what we discovered and highlighting some trends and products in future blog posts.
The city of Flint’s toxic water supply has been making national headlines for the past few weeks. The problems began when officials switched the source of the city’s water supply from Lake Huron to the Flint River as a cost saving measure. Thanks to the highly corrosive river water, aging pipes began to leach lead into the water.
Government officials, including the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, ignored initial reports from worried consumers of smelly and rusty water, belittled whistle blowers and independent researchers, and possibly even covered up information about high lead levels in the water that many of the city’s 99,000 residents were drinking and using every day.
The water supply was switched back to Lake Huron last October, but the community now has to deal with the fallout. Permanently damaged pipes continue to leach lead and residents still can’t drink the water. Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has apologized, local, state and federal officials have all declared a State of Emergency, and the National Guard has been called in to deliver bottled water, water filters, and home testing kits. The long-term costs include not only the potentially $1.5 billion price tag to repair the pipes, but the immense health costs of dealing with the effects of lead poisoning, including potentially permanent learning and behavior disorders—especially in children.
Now, comes concern that a recent spike in the city’s cases, including up to ten deaths, of Legionnaire’s disease, a water born illness, may be due to the change in water source—a potential issue raised months ago by the same independent researcher who had uncovered the lead problem.
Our takeaway at WWYW? The crisis serves as an important reminder that environmental threats to our health can develop at any time, and the systems, laws, and people meant to protect us can often fail.
The best way to protect ourselves? Stay aware and educated. An educated consumer with a healthy dose of common sense has the best chance of being able to react quickly to changing conditions. In addition, WWYW strongly believes and advocates that we all need to continue to demand transparency and independent third party testing from our providers— from governments to manufacturers to utilities to suppliers—of all the goods and services that we use every day in every aspect of our lives.
Big news! We’re thrilled to announce that in partnership with the Sustainable Furnishings Council and the National Association of Home Builders, the 2017 New American H
ome will be built to the Wellness Within Your Walls Standard.
The New American Home is a highlight of the International Builders’ Show each year, and serves as a showcase home that demonstrates the latest in building, design, and product innovations and trends. An estimated 90,000 people are projected to attend the International Builders’ Show and around 7,500 people tour the New American Home each year.
The 2017 house is being built in the prestigious Lake Nona Country Club community in Orlando and will be joined by the New American Remodel, a renovated house showcasing remodeling techniques and products, which will also adhere to the WWYW standard.
At last week’s High Point Market we had the opportunity to meet with the talented team behind the houses, including builder Phil Kean of Phil Kean Design Group, designer Rob Turner of Phil Kean Design Group, and Tucker Bernard of NAHB, to hear about their fabulous plans. We also got to work meeting with Sustainable Furnishing Council members to start determining which products meet the WWYW standard and will be selected to appear in the house.
We’re so excited to have such a great opportunity to spread our knowledge and to demonstrate to the leaders in the building community how building, renovation and design techniques can employ WWYW principles and guidelines to create homes that are both beautiful and healthy.
According to this report on 60 Minutes last Sunday night, Lumber Liquidators is selling laminate flooring with levels of formaldehyde up to 20 times more than permitted by California law—the same standard set to take effect later this year for the rest of the country.
It’s unclear whether Lumber Liquidators is knowingly stocking illegal and toxic products—they claim that the tests 60 Minutes used were flawed and don’t relate to real life use. But the undercover video from Chinese factories, with managers admitting that flooring bound for Lumber Liquidators is mislabeled, is disturbing to say the least—and clearly proves that labels are often unclear and sometimes even wrong.
The good news? Laminate flooring bought at Lowe’s and Home Depot fell under the California thresholds.
So what do you do if you have laminate flooring and are worried about your air quality?
If you recently installed laminate flooring from Lumber Liquidators, check here to see if your flooring is one of those found to have high levels.
Have older laminate? One option is to have your air quality tested to determine the levels of formaldehyde in the air. While testing isn’t regulated and results can be unreliable, this publication from the Consumer product Safety Commission offers great guidance as well as general tips and information on formaldehyde.
The best thing to do right now? Ventilate your home as much as possible. The emissions released into the air from toxins lesson over time, so the more you ventilate your living space, the faster harmful toxins can off-gas. It’s especially crucial to ventilate when a home furnishing or construction product is new.
At WWYW we advise you to keep asking questions about what’s in a product and what standard it meets. Even though in this case the label was wrong and information incorrect, opening a dialogue about a product is by far the best way to start figuring out what’s toxic and what’s not. And join Wellness Within Your Walls as we continue to push for clear information and increased transparency.
Our team recently traveled to Las Vegas to present “Healthy Homes: Designing to Avoid Tight Box Syndrome,” an AIA CEU class, at the 2015 International Builder Show (IBS). While Las Vegas might be the last place that you’d think would care about Wellness Within Your Walls (I don’t know which was worse—the second hand smoke or the toxin filled “air fresheners” piped in to cover the smoke), I’m happy to report we had robust attendance for our 8am (!) presentation and a great time on our stay.
We spent lots of time on the exhibitor floor looking for the latest and greatest in products that blend health and wellness with green initiatives and spreading the word about WWYW. Many companies are doing a great job, many are working hard to get there, and a vast majority do not understand what is in their products at all, and don’t think consumers care. While everyone seems to “get” that energy efficiency is good now, there is still little knowledge about the raw materials that make up many of the products touted as “green,” and how those raw materials might be affecting our health.
Therein lies the great challenge, the one we are positioned to most effectively reach at WWYW as educators. The Las Vegas’s of the world need our help, but so do the manufacturers and builders who think they’re being green. We love talking to the vendor on the convention floor that’s doing everything right and can easily answer our inquiries about safety data sheets and life cycle assessments. But we get an even bigger thrill every time we educate the vendor who doesn’t even know you can have your product tested by third parties to find out exactly what’s in it, or the builder who discovers that just tweaking his construction schedule to allow off gassing will mean a healthier home. Each conversation where we educate a company on the importance of considering the toxicity of its components, and not just its energy efficiency, is an exciting victory!
We recently had a fabulous celebration dinner with one of our first WWYW Ambassadors, Grace Kaynor of lifestyle boutique Sotre in New Orleans (pictured here with Jillian Pritchard Cooke and Nonnie Preuss of WWYW and Susan from Sotre).
Our Ambassadors will represent all 50 states (with additional representatives globally) and will be carefully selected from the retail, design and building communities.
Once selected, ambassadors have the chance to be the first in their area to earn the WWYW designation, and will partner with WWYW to spread the word on the health benefits of reducing toxins in interiors by organizing education seminars and teaching the complete WWYW four-part health and safety CEU courses in their region. Think you’re the perfect fit for us? Contact Nonnie Preuss at Nonnie@wellnesswithinyourwalls.com.
At Wellness Within Your Walls, we’ve been studying the role toxins play in interior spaces for years so we have a ton of information to pass along. But since keeping things clear and achievable is our top priority, we definitely don’t want to overwhelm anyone.
So to get you started, we came up with 5 Easy Tips to Detoxifying Your Home. Consider this your basic level of knowledge, and then keep these things in mind as you live your life. Small steps add up when lessening toxins, so it’s important to just get started. You can then add more layers to this base of knowledge over time, gaining additional tips and lowering toxins even more.
Does this statistic sound familiar to you? 42% of consumers surveyed by the Sustainable Furnishings Council stated that either they or a family member were directly affected by indoor air quality, but 36% said they were “doubtful or skeptical” about green products.
We’re all more and more conscious of the dangers of toxins in our own homes and offices, and of the importance of being proactive about our own wellness and health, but completely struggling to weed through overwhelming information and conflicting claims. “Green” is everywhere. But who can you trust?
The problem is similar for builders, designers, and manufacturers who want to be part of the movement to create healthier interior spaces. Where do they start? Who has the right information? Is there an easy answer? Is there even a correct answer?
That’s just where Wellness Within Your Walls comes in!
By offering clear advice and valuable information, encouraging dialogue and focusing on the tight box syndrome (what we call it when energy efficient buildings can’t breathe, allowing harmful toxins to build up)—we help the building and design communities to work together with the consumer to reduce harmful toxins in the home.
We see Wellness within Your Walls as your trusted guide. We understand that there are no easy answers and that every time we turn a corner there’s another complication or contradiction. But we’re committed to sorting through all the information, teaching you to ask the right questions for your unique situation, and helping you make the choices that will reduce interior toxins in your interior space. And we are committed to having that task be affordable, accountable and achievable