Monday, March 30, 2015

Homeowners try to assess formaldehyde risks in floors

Laminate wood flooring may look nice, but some brands
release formaldehyde fumes into the air, experts say.
Installing a new wood floor is usually about aesthetics: brown or black? Glossy or matte?

Now, some Americans and businesses are grappling with another feature: formaldehyde.

Uneasy consumers have flooded state and federal safety agencies with inquiries about Lumber Liquidators, the discount flooring retailer accused in a “60 Minutes” episode of selling laminate wood with high levels of formaldehyde, a known carcinogen.

Should they rip it out? Leave it in? And what are the dangers to adults, children or even pets?

Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman of New York has opened an inquiry into whether the company violated safety standards. Safety officials in California are also likely to investigate.

But federal regulators, armed with murky rules or none at all, have scrambled to respond, leaving consumers largely responsible for assessing the risk.

Formaldehyde exposure can cause immediate health problems like respiratory and sinus effects, but the effects of long-term exposure remain unclear.

Regulators, at least for now, are advocating a tempered approach.

“We are not encouraging people to rip out their flooring right now,” said Lynn Baker, an air pollution specialist with the California Air Resources Board, which enforces the state formaldehyde rules that Lumber Liquidators is accused of breaking.

Commercial customers could also be affected, although Lumber Liquidators estimates that commercial sales make up less than 10 percent of the market for laminate flooring, a cheaper alternative to hardwood. Homeowners account for the bulk of its sales.

Lumber Liquidators disputes the “60 Minutes” report and says its flooring is safe. The company also said it was considering offering air testing services to reassure concerned consumers.

Installers, too, find themselves on the front lines after the report.

No federal rules for airborne chemicals in the home

While federal rules exist for workers, no federal rules protect consumers from formaldehyde or most other airborne chemicals in their homes.

And while research exists on formaldehyde’s health effects, experts have difficulty correlating levels of exposure with cancer risk since so many factors can affect the development of the disease.

“Any exposure to a carcinogen can increase your risk of cancer,” said Marilyn Howarth, a toxicologist at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine.

Mr. Baker, with the California agency, said consumers should ask two questions: How long has the flooring been installed, and have they been feeling sick?

“If the flooring has been installed more than a couple of years ago, most of it has probably already off-gassed,” he said, meaning that the chemical would probably have been released.

“If it was just installed last week, that’s a different story — you definitely want to ventilate the home.”

The floorboard controversy bears a resemblance to the cases of Chinese-made drywall that released sulfur gases into thousands of homes built after the 2005 hurricane season, which resulted in metal corrosion and health complaints.

But while the drywall gases were expected to be released for decades, formaldehyde emissions in flooring may not last as long.

Most new floors emit small levels of formaldehyde. But it also seeps out of adhesives used to bind furniture and other household items, affecting the quality of the air residents breathe.

To combat its harmful effects, governments around the world have limited the use of formaldehyde in household products, particularly those made of wood.

In Europe, chemical emissions from composite wood products are tightly regulated, and Japanese regulators put the onus on home builders to limit formaldehyde levels over all within houses they construct.

The United States, however, trails when it comes to such regulations. California enacted rules to cap emissions from composite wood products sold in the state.

As far back as 2009, the Environmental Protection Agency said it was considering adopting California’s limits nationwide, and it issued a proposed rule in 2013.

But after many delays at the request of the wood products industry, the E.P.A. has yet to complete its rule. The E.P.A. said it had no plan to investigate Lumber Liquidators, citing the lack of a finished rule.

Agency proposes ventilation and air testing

The agency says it is trying to give consumers “actionable guidance” when it comes to formaldehyde from composite woods, according to Bob Axelrad, a policy adviser in the office of air and radiation.

That includes proper ventilation, when possible, and using reliable air testing methods.

David Krause, an environmental consultant at the consulting firm Geosyntec and the former state toxicologist of Florida, said ventilation helped but was not always a solution: Humidity, for example, can intensify the problem.

Testing indoor air quality is also not a simple proposition — mainly because federal standards are geared toward workplaces, not homes. There are no definitive testing levels, and people react in different ways to the chemical.

“We really don’t have anything that is enforceable,” Dr. Krause said.

Still, based on current knowledge of the Lumber Liquidators’ product, he added: “This is not a ‘Your hair’s on fire’ emergency.”

The Consumer Product Safety Commission may take a lead role in investigating Lumber Liquidators. The commission can push for a recall if it can prove direct harm to human health.

But that would involve a long regulatory inquiry. Several consumers have begun pursuing a different path: suing the company.

Source: New York Times; This article has been edited for length.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Children's exposure to secondhand smoke tied to clogged arteries

Exposure to tobacco smoke can have long-term
effects in cardiovascular health: Researchers
(Reuters Health) – In a Finnish study spanning 26 years, kids exposed to parental smoking were more likely to develop plaque in their carotid arteries as young adults than kids who were not exposed to secondhand smoke.

These findings and others suggest the health effects of passive smoking on children are not limited to respiratory or developmental health, but can have a long-term impact on cardiovascular health, said senior author Costan G. Magnussen of Menzies Research Institute Tasmania in Hobart, Australia.

Researchers used frozen blood samples from more than 1,000 kids ages three to 18 collected in 1980, along with parental reports of smoking status in 1980 and 1983 from a larger group of kids. They also had ultrasounds of the adult children in 2001 and 2007.

They tested the blood samples for levels of cotinine, a byproduct of cigarette smoke exposure, and looked for a buildup of plaque in the carotid arteries, two large blood vessels of the neck, on the adult ultrasounds.

Carotid plaque can cause narrowing of the arteries, increasing blood clot and stroke risk, according to the National Institutes of Health.

About two percent of the grown-up kids had a carotid plaque uncovered by ultrasound at an average age of 36.

More than 84 percent of kids of nonsmokers had no cotinine in their blood, compared to 62 percent of those with one smoking parent and 43 percent when both parents smoked.

The authors assumed that kids with a parent who admitted to smoking who did not have cotinine in their blood had been exposed to less secondhand smoke, possibly because parents had been careful to keep their smoking away from the child.

Compared to kids of nonsmokers, these kids were about one and a half times as likely to have carotid artery plaque as adults. But kids of smokers with poorer “smoking hygiene” that exposed them to more smoke (and resulted in cotinine in their blood) were four times as likely to have carotid artery plaque as those with nonsmoking parents.

“What we were able to do that others have not, is show that parents who are unable or unwilling to quit smoking can still limit the impact of their smoking on their child’s future cardiovascular health by changing their smoking behavior to limit the amount of smoke their child is exposed to,” Magnussen told Reuters Health by email.
Early smoke exposure is dangerous in
many ways, health experts suggest.

Many smoking parents did not smoke inside the home or car, or smoked well away from their children, to the point where there was no evidence for passive smoke exposure in their child’s blood, Magnussen said.

Plaque buildup, or “atherosclerosis,” can begin in childhood so the results are not surprising, according to Karin B. Michels, an epidemiologist and associate professor at Harvard Medical School in Boston.

But only 64 out of more than 2,000 grown subjects did develop plaque, which is a very small number, Michels told Reuters Health by phone.

“I would be a little cautious but overall I think it’s an important study and lends more support to the risk of passive smoking for children,” she said. “I don’t doubt that there is a risk and it could be affecting other things like blood pressure.”

Atherosclerotic plaque is particularly dangerous when it develops at an early age, she said.

This group of kids grew up in a time when smoking was much more ubiquitous, and they would have been exposed to more secondhand and thirdhand smoke, said Melbourne Hovell of San Diego State University, who was not part of the new study.

“Thirdhand smoke” is that which lingers on surfaces or in environments and may combine with other chemicals to create toxic substances over time, Hovell told Reuters Health by phone.

Early smoke exposure may have several deleterious effects other than just plaque buildup in the arteries, including an increased risk of later breast cancer and a predisposition to nicotine addiction, Hovell said.

Plus, children of smokers are more likely to become smokers themselves, triggering a cascade of other health risks.

“It’s pretty much a perfect storm,” Hovel said.

“The other message for the lay public is to not allow any smoking in your home or car,” as it will contaminate the environment indefinitely, he said. “Parents with young children probably should avoid buying a used car that has been smoked in.”

Source: Reuters

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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Video: Indoor air concerns in baby rooms and nurseries

The arrival of a new baby prompts periods of extreme happiness - and stress. Keeping babies safe and healthy is paramount, but the advice new parents get is often conflicting.

One thing is for sure: Newborns and babies are among the most vulnerable when it comes to polluted air and exposure to airborne contaminants.

Watch this video courtesy of Cochrane & Associates for more information:

Concerned about the air quality in your home?

AllerAir offers a wide range of air purifiers with activated carbon and HEPA air filters that can help remove airborne chemicals, gases, odors, particles, allergens, mold, bacteria and viruses.

Contact AllerAir for a free consultation by calling 1-888-852-8247 or write to

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Why you need an air purifier in your home or office

Poor indoor air quality can lead to short-term and long-term
health effects, especially in children and the elderly.
As air purifier manufacturers, we get a lot of calls from people who are starting to notice the effects of poor indoor air quality.

This comes as no surprise. After all, people spend up to 90% of their time indoors (think about yourself – where do you spend most of your time? At home, at the office, in school, in other indoor spaces?)

Fact is, we spend most of our time indoors and many buildings are not equipped to provide the best quality air.

Common indoor air contaminants include:

  • Airborne chemicals coming from various sources such as building materials, cleaning products, cosmetics, scents (air “fresheners”), paint, furniture, cooking
  • Stale air
  • Mold
  • Radon
  • Dust
  • Tobacco smoke
  • Pollen
  • Mold

We have no choice in breathing. But if we keep breathing contaminated air, we run the risk of developing health concerns, either short-term, or long-term.

The American College of Allergists says that 50% of all illnesses are either caused by, or aggravated by, polluted indoor air. Pregnant women, fetuses, infants, children and the elderly are most vulnerable to indoor air pollution.

And while short-term health effects sound merely bothersome, including irritation of the eyes, nose and throat, headaches and fatigue, the long-term health effects are rather scary: These can include respiratory diseases, heart disease and cancer (EPA). 

According to the latest research, cancer has become the second leading cause of death worldwide. Toxic exposures in the environment are responsible for a substantial percentage of all cancers, between 7 and 19%, according to Environmental Health Perspectives.

How to protect yourself from poor IAQ

Even though we have no choice in breathing, we can control the quality of the air we are exposed to the most. This can be done through source control, improved ventilation and humidity control,

Open windows regularly. Even when it is cold outside, it is important to avoid a buildup of stale and contaminated air indoors.

Avoid using products that can release harmful chemicals or fumes.

Replace your HVAC filters regularly.

Use an indoor air purifier. A complete indoor air purifier needs to have activated carbon, HEPA and UV filters as well as prefilters. They can be free-standing, or attached to the HVAC system and they can run continuously to help remove airborne chemicals, fumes, odors, particles, allergens, asthmagens, mold, bacteria and viruses.

Not every air purifier is built the same. AllerAir offers the most trusted filters and a variety of options to give you the most effective air purifier for your IAQ concerns. Guaranteed.

Call 1-888-852-8247 for a free consultation or write to for more information.