Natural and Not, Part II

Natural and Not, Part II

Studies that show what “fringe,” green proponents warned of all along are an overdue validation of the environmental products industry

I distinctly remember a small group of co-workers who voiced concerns that the windows did not open while everyone else was extolling the beauty of the newly constructed newsroom we worked in, complete with new cubicles, new computers, carpeting, paint, ceiling tiles and everything else that makes up a building’s interior.

LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) had not been created yet. Employees who raised questions about indoor-air quality were “strange,” possibly unbalanced.  You could have heard a pin drop when one of them asked what I now know was a very natural question: “Does the ventilation system bring fresh air into our work area?”

Natural or not, the managers responded as though the question bordered on insubordination. Accordingly, it would have been beyond insane had the employee suggested that toxins in the indoor air be scientifically measured or a control group of employees be selected to have blood tests to determine what chemicals they were being exposed to.

Yet this is what researchers at the Boston University School of Public Health just finished doing. Its research team found elevated levels of PFCs (polyfluorinated compounds) in the indoor air of a sampling of offices, in addition to the blood of employees from these offices. PFCs are chemicals used in water- and stain-resistant coatings used on furniture, food containers, carpeting and even in some paint.  Elevated levels of PFCs are known to weaken the body’s immune system.

Even old, not remodeled offices that were included in the study had PFC levels that were three to five times higher than those found in homes.

Though this is just one small study, it will no doubt be expanded because, until now, scientists have attributed most PFC accumulation in the body to diet.

In the meantime, more people likely will ask questions about product contents and treatments with less fear of being socially alienated. More will look for LEED practices, which reward proper ventilation practices.

And more people not only will look for indoor air quality certifications — like GREENGUARD, CRI Green Label Plus, FloorScore, Green Seal and SCS Indoor Air Advantage – but they also will compare the emission limits imposed by these certifications.

Of course some people will continue to roll their eyes and suppress laughter at these questions and investigations because, for them, this is natural.

But we should all know by now that it’s not.©

— Nancy Kibbee is editor at naturalinteriors.com

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