Friday, March 04, 2005

Toxic Tables and Open Spaces

My living room has a wide, gaping hole in it. Well, it's more like a vast void, the space in which previously rested my coffee table. This was a rustic-looking table hewn from pine with wrought iron drawer pulls, a tad on the large side but it had fit well with the southwestern decor of our home. Notice I say "was".

We had this table for several years. It had no finish on it; Bryan had contemplated putting one on, but the rustic character of it appealed to us. Unfortunately, the large surface area of it appealed to the cats and they used it as their play space, nap space, and took it upon themselves to add additional character by knocking over various liquid-filled glasses, spilling the contents all over, and using it as a hairball depository. (Lovely animals!) Over time, the rustic turned to more of a grungy look. We tried to clean it up, but to no avail. Bryan took it outside and sanded the top. It got rid of the grunge, but rendered the top, of course, a different and lighter color than the rest of the table. I didn't think it so bad, but he was unhappy with the result.

Off we went to the hardware store to find some kind of natural oil which might even out the tone. We came home with a Danish Oil, said to be a natural oil. It was applied liberally, to beautiful effect. Unfortunately within ten minutes of bringing the table back inside after several days' drying time, I got a headache and my throat began to hurt. Outside it went, and onto the internet I trolled to discover that danish oil, rather than being "natural" as we were led to believe, is instead highly toxic, containing such lovely and healthful ingredients as formaldehyde and asphultum. Wonderful! Bryan became indignant, partly because I became sick and partly because all his efforts were fruitless. Said coffee table now rests prettily in the garage.

Why such ingredients are even used is beyond my comprehension. In Prescriptions for a Healthy House, the authors cite a study that there are about 80,000 synthetic organic compounds (VOCs, volatile organic compounds) commercially available and thousands more are produced annual by the chemical industry. Most of these are petrochemicals, derived from oil, gas and coal (furthering dependence on the petroleum industry and increasing use of non-renewable resources). Environmental sensitivies are on the rise and it is no wonder when we are being exposed to these kinds of substances. Sick building syndrome is attributed to exposure to chemicals used in construction materials, cleaning products , adhesives and particle board-based furnishings. I am convinced that exposure to these kinds of chemical plays no small part in my chronic fatigue issues. (Or is it merely a coincidence that the onset of many of my symptoms began after moving into a new home?)

So my coffee table is relegated to life outside, and our living room has an empty space needing to be filled. All is not lost, though. Winston the cat loves the openness of the room. He can run unimpeded and likes to burrow himself under the area rug. And it's providing a nice space to do our morning stretches. I've been forced to get things more organized; no longer having the wide shelf to store the many coffee table books and photo albums, I've had to actually clean out and make better use of the closet in the guest bedroom. We've also learned that we need to be more diligent in our purchases; that all ingredients are not truthfully labeled, so we need to be more aware and conduct more research for ourselves. We need to be more environmentally conscious, for our own health, but also with the realization that if these products are unhealthy for us, they are ecologically toxic as well.

But I need to get the large table out of the garage, so if you know anyone who is in the market for a used slightly toxic table, let me know.

EPA Facts on Sick Building Syndrome

Ohio State University Fact Sheet on Sick Building Syndrome

Fact Sheet on Multiple Chemical Disorders

1 comment:

Lynn Schibeci said...

People say to me all the time that after a few years here they start to get allergies of all kinds. They think garden plants are the problem. Reading your blog makes me wonder if everyone I've heard might be experiencing various forms of toxic poisoning because of products and building materials in their homes and offices.