Health damaging toxins hide in unsuspecting places. That’s especially true in the case of some building products. Take, for example, the walls of your home. Most walls in homes and offices are made with dry wall. Dry wall is composed of gypsum board with paper (usually recycled) on either side. It comes in 4 foot by 8 foot pieces, usually ? inch thick. Dry wall itself isn’t toxic, but the plaster-like mud substance used to cover seams usually does contain toxins.
The Toxic Culprit In Dry Wall
When dry wall is hung it is fastened to wallboards and studs with nails and screws. Where the individual dry wall boards meet there are small gaps or seams. To hide these seams and create a smooth even wall surface, the seams are covered with a paper tape and then plastered over with something called joint compound. Joint compound is also used to cover the nails and screws. The joint compound or “white mud” as it is referred to in the industry usually comes pre-made. About three coats are required and for the average home which translates into about 25-50 gallons.
The Dangers Of Joint Compound
Joint compound is composed of gypsum or sometimes limestone, polyvinyl acetate, and benzene (the preferred solvent). A natural or synthetic starch is used as a binder and mica, clay, talc or perlite is used as a filler. Ethylene glycol helps to control the drying time. Antibacterial and antifungal agents are also added. Many of these substances are known toxins. In a Harvard study done for the EPA, joint compound was found to release as many as 25 volatile organic compounds or VOC’s. Six of the compounds they identified are suspected human carcinogens. The picture gets worse because the release of these VOC’s into the air of your home increases over time. That’s right. Instead of decreasing as you might expect, the vapors were found to increase rather than decrease depending in temperature and humidity conditions. Interestingly, the higher the temperature and humidity the more VOC’s released. This means breathing the air in your home may increase your risk of cancer – indefinitely.
There are nontoxic alternatives to the conventional highly toxic joint compounds. One such brand is called Merco. It has natural binders and has no fungicides or preservatives. Dry wall experts say using this type of joint compound is a little more difficult but the quality and finish of it is far superior.
Merco comes as a powder and has to mixed fresh on the construction site and used that day so it’s a little more labor intensive. Up to 4 layers, instead of 2 or 3, may be required. After sanding it, however, the drywallers — whose first experience with it was in our new home — said it finished like glass. For the homeowner they reported only advantages, saying it bonded to corners better than conventional joint compound, looked better, and was stronger. They stated the quality of the non-toxic alternative was so high it would never crack.
Being A Conscious Consumer
Most of us are unaware the dangerous toxins we are exposed to every day – especially the toxins right in our homes. According to the EPA the air you breath in your home on the average is 4 times more polluted than the air you breath out doors. Most of this pollution outgases from a variety of substances in building products like joint compound and in interior decor products like carpeting, caulking, particle boards, sealers, finishes, furniture and paints. Knowing where toxins hide is half the battle. Once you do it’s easy to find alternative safer products. For just about everything there are safe very low toxic or completely nontoxic choices. Be a conscious consumer. Your health will benefit.
The Death Of A Thousand Paper Cuts
Exposure to environmental toxins adds up over time. Unfortunately you are exposed to not one or two toxins on a daily basis, but dozens or more likely hundreds. These toxic exposures add up. They weigh on — impact — a number of the body’s biological systems. In the worst-case scenarios they are known to trigger cancers. Avoiding these sources of toxins, while more expensive short term, isn’t difficult. There are alternative non-toxic products available readily. For the complete newcomer who wants to avoid this toxic stuff, there are many certified ‘green’ building consultants who can help guide you to quality products and answer questions. I highly recommend it.
The Bigger Picture: Health And Consciousness
Avoiding toxins anywhere — in your food, your home and environment — makes good health sense. It’s a smart preventative measure that will lower your risk of many diseases. It ‘averts the danger not yet come’ as Ayurveda recommends. But there’s more to the picture. The body, according to ancient systems of natural medicine, profoundly influences our state of mind. In turn the mind profoundly influences the condition and strength of the body. Look after the health of both because they co-create each other.
The quality of life is measured by more than the absence of disease, in the mind, body, and spirit model of health. Simply put, creating health is much more than creating a body free of disease. It’s also about recognizing that the body can support and nourish — create — a state of mental fullness that is serene, completely aware, highly alert, fully awake, infinitely connected, emotionally enriched, and flowing in complete harmony with natural law and solidly balanced. This is the ‘consciousness’ part of the picture. It’s important because the body and mind feed back onto each other and profoundly influence the health of one another. This is one way to think about the mind-body model of medicine.