Con­sumers need to ask more ques­tions about the rel­a­tive tox­i­c­ity of prod­ucts

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - LIFESTYLE -

Far from be­ing safe havens, our homes have his­tor­i­cally proved them­selves to be dec­o­rat­ing death­traps. The Vic­to­ri­ans adored vivid — and ar­senic-rich — wall­pa­per, while lead-based paint and as­bestos weren’t given the heave-ho un­til the Nineties, and their le­gacy lingers on.

The healthy homes move­ment is gath­er­ing mo­men­tum. Peo­ple are tak­ing charge of their health, from food to Fit­bits, and want their homes to en­hance their well-be­ing, too.

Stricter build­ing reg­u­la­tions around en­ergy ef­fi­ciency have had a knock-on ef­fect on health. Air-tight homes with­out ad­e­quate ven­ti­la­tion can cause damp and trap the chem­i­cals from build­ing and dec­o­rat­ing prod­ucts. Un­healthy build­ings trig­ger and ex­ac­er­bate res­pi­ra­tory prob­lems, car­dio­vas­cu­lar ill­nesses and al­ler­gies, putting chil­dren and those with pre-ex­ist­ing con­di­tions most at risk.

While some in­di­vid­ual prod­ucts such as paint are reg­u­lated for their tox­i­c­ity, it’s the long-term, cu­mu­la­tive ef­fect of ex­po­sure to low lev­els of chem­i­cals in the home that is of­ten mis­un­der­stood.

“We al­low paint in­gre­di­ents that are known to be harm­ful be­cause, if they are in small enough quan­ti­ties, it’s thought that it won’t mat­ter,” says Ed­ward Bul­mer, whose nat­u­ral paint range is sol­vent and toxin-free. “My fear is that chem­i­cals are in so many prod­ucts now, it is cre­at­ing a bur­den that some peo­ple can’t process.”

Bul­mer lists his in­gre­di­ents on the tin — a transparency rare in the paint in­dus­try — and would like to see others stop us­ing in­gre­di­ents such as gly­col ethers (linked to al­ler­gies and asthma) and ph­tha­lates (linked to hor­monal dis­rup­tion). Other health­ier paint brands i nclude Lake­land and Earth­born.

There are a few Euro­pean and US ac­cred­i­ta­tion schemes for low-toxin prod­ucts for the home, but no Bri­tish-based one. There are also plenty of low-toxin prod­ucts that aren’t cer­ti­fied — Bul­mer says that the price of test­ing is pro­hib­i­tive for a small busi­ness, even though his paint would pass with fly­ing colours.

Health char­i­ties can be use­ful sources of in­for­ma­tion: Al­lergy UK’s Seal of Ap­proval is given to prod­ucts such as bed­ding that have been tested for their abil­ity to re­duce al­ler­gens, or their re­duced chem­i­cal con­tent.

Be­yond that, it’s up to con­sumers to ask ques­tions about the rel- ative tox­i­c­ity of prod­ucts. Gen­er­ally speak­ing, the less pro­cessed some­thing is, the bet­ter; for ex­am­ple, choose solid wood floor­ing over en­gi­neered or lam­i­nated prod­ucts, whose glues give off higher lev­els of f ormalde­hyde. Cork and linoleum are good op­tions f or floor­ing ; tiles and glass are in­ert, al­though tile ad­he­sive is an­other mat­ter.

Self-builders are tak­ing the lead when it comes to health­ier hous­ing, just as they did with en­ergy ef­fi­ciency a gen­er­a­tion ago. Ger­man pre­fab­ri­cated hous­ing is par­tic­u­larly hot on the sub­ject: homes by We­berHaus are med­i­cally cer­ti­fied as “healthy hous­ing” for their ex­cel­lent in­door air qual­ity thanks to formalde­hyde-free glues, and for fea­tures such as pollen fil­tra­tion in ven­ti­la­tion sys­tems.

Baufritz’s homes are made with­out polyurethane foams, chem­i­cal in­su­la­tion ma­te­ri­als and other toxic ad­he­sives, and fix­tures and fit­tings are emis­sions-tested. The house­builder also sup­plies a list of fur­ni­ture sup­pli­ers whose of­fer­ings will be low in tox­ins.

The me­chan­i­cal ven­ti­la­tion sys­tems that are a must in th­ese air­tight homes give the big­gest health boost, ac­cord­ing to home­own­ers, rid­ding houses of hu­mid­ity while fil­ter­ing out­door pol­lu­tion.

We­berHaus cus­tomer Hilary Pot­ter de­scribes her Cam­bridgeshire home as “smelling clean — you come back from hol­i­day and it doesn’t feel like it’s been shut up for a week”. Pam Bowles, who owns a Baufritz prop­erty, de­scribes the at­mos­phere as “like be­ing out­side, inside. It never gets stuffy.”

Bowles says that the phrase “healthy home” drew mirth from her lo­cal plan­ners in Kent, but as an al­lergy suf­ferer who has seen dra­matic im­prove­ment to her hay fever, she’s hav­ing the last laugh. “I can’t even re­mem­ber the last time I had a headache,” she says.

The wider build­ing in­dus­try is catch­ing up. BRE’s Home Qual­ity Mark is awarded to su­pe­rior new­builds based on three cri­te­ria: run­ning costs, en­vi­ron­men­tal foot­print and health, with the lat­ter cov­er­ing acous­tics and day­light as well as in­door air qual­ity.

Air qual­ity can also be im­proved by mon­i­tors such as made by Foobot and Awair, which alert home own­ers when in­door pol­lu­tion in­creases — af­ter the use of a cer­tain clean­ing prod­uct, for ex­am­ple.

An­other way to clean the in­door air is to add a few house­plants. Ac­cord­ing to Nasa’s Clean Air Study, some of the best in­clude ivy, ferns, pothos and peace lilies. And … breathe.

PHOTOS PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Peo­ple are tak­ing charge of their health, from food to Fit­bits, and want their homes to en­hance their well-be­ing, too.

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