Guest Post by new writer Krista Peterson
Many people think of the benefits of green building as solely relating to the environment, but they apply to human health, as well. Use of renewable, nontoxic building materials can actually lessen the risk of certain environmentally caused health problems. When building or renovating, look for healthier alternatives to the following materials.
A thread-like mineral called asbestos was once used in everything from pipe coverings to plaster molding. It is a heat-resistant and extremely durable substance, and was once treated like a “miracle mineral” that could be combined with many other materials to make them fireproof. Asbestos is relatively safe as long as it is bound up in those other materials, but if they should become broken or damaged, they can release fibers into the air. It is when these fibers are breathed in that serious health problems such as lung scarring, asbestosis, and mesothelioma can occur.
Mesothelioma symptoms, a rare and aggressive cancer of the lining of the chest or abdomen, are often confused with those of less serious lung conditions until the disease has reached its later stages, making it one of the more deadly forms of cancer. Nearly all cases of mesothelioma can be linked back to exposure to asbestos anywhere from 20 to 50 years before diagnosis. Though the UK finally banned asbestos use in 1999, the mineral can still be found in older buildings and insulation. Anyone who suspects their home may contain asbestos products should leave these materials alone unless they become damaged, in which case a licensed asbestos abatement team should be called in.
Volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, are chemicals which affect the quality of air. They can be naturally occurring or manmade, and tend to cause chronic health effects like headaches, irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat, loss of coordination or dizziness, and damage to the internal organs. VOCs can also exacerbate underlying conditions such as asthma and are a major component of smog. These hazardous chemicals are most commonly found in paints and solvents, as well as in cleaning products, pesticides, building materials, and household appliances like refrigerators and printers. The refining and burning of fossil fuels also releases VOCs into the air.
These compounds are found in their highest concentrations in indoor air and are large contributors to “sick building syndrome,” in which many occupants of a single building display similar symptoms without a known underlying illness. Fortunately, many materials that formerly included VOCs now use alternative components, so it is important to pay attention to the labels on paints, carpeting, and other building materials. Paints and stains may be labeled as containing a “low-emitting formula,” though it is still important to make sure there is proper ventilation when working with these chemicals.
The danger of VOCs and asbestos should not be taken lightly. Symptoms of sick building syndrome may continue even after the source of VOCs is removed, and, most seriously, mesothelioma life expectancy is only around 10% after five years. The good news is that, with some awareness and planning, these harmful materials can be avoided in favor of safer, more environmentally friendly alternatives.
(Updated with links)
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