Friday, June 12, 2009
A Silent Killer
by Jean Henry Mead
Is your bedroom furniture making you sick?
I was surparised to learn that forty-six billion pounds of formaldehyde are produced annually and used in the manufacture of furniture, kitchen and bathroom cabinets, plywood, wall paneling, cosmetics, adhesives and other household products.
Formaldehyde is especially toxic in bedroom furniture manufactured in China and other foreign countries. In fact, it’s nearly impossible to buy furniture that doesn't contain formaldehyde. If you can find an American furniture manufacturer still in business, it will cost a small fortune to order a relatively formaldehyde-free bedroom suite.
Formaldehyde is not only toxic and allergenic but carcinogenic. The resins are used mainly in construction materials and are the source of one of the most common indoor air pollutants. At concentrations above 0.1 ppm, formaldehyde can irritate the eyes and mucous membranes. When inhaled at this concentration, it also causes headaches, burning throats, difficulty breathing and asthma symptoms. I know because I’ve suffered them all. We recently got rid of our cherry wood bedroom set, which was manufactured in China where most furniture sold in this country now originates. Pity the poor workers who assemble furniture on a regular basis. Even one of the factory secretaries said that she has to have her eyes checked every three weeks for toxicity.
The problem now is finding a replacement bedroom suite. For $8,000 or more, a furniture manufacturer will build a bedroom suite that contains specially ordered glue and wood that is purportedly formaldehyde-free. However, I was told by a Montana manufacturer that no formaldehyde-free plywood exists. I did some research and found that a company called Eco-Wise in Austin, Texas, produces such a plywood, so I called the furniture company to tell them about it.
I was then told, “That’s just the new California standards that take effect next year. The plywood is not entirely formaldehyde-free. And it’s going to be terribly expensive.” How expensive can enough plywood for the dresser drawers cost at $77.95 to $89.95 for a 4 x 8 sheet? I called Eco-Wise and was told to call back later when the supervisor was in. In the meantime I could research “MDS plywood” online. That was a dead end because everyone I called, and was referred to, had no idea whether formaldehyde exists in their product, but they referred me to suppliers "who might know."
Salesmen, managers and supervisors didn’t know. So I decided to call Eco-Wise again. While waiting for a call-back, I did further research on formaldehyde. The Columbia Encyclopedia says that “Formaldehyde, or HCHO, at standard temperatures and conditions is a flammable, poisonous, colorless gas with a suffocating odor. It’s used in the preparation of dyes, in the production of Bakelike, other plastics and synthetic resins, and for several other purposes. The IUPAC name for formaldehyde is methanal.“
The Wikipedia warns that methanal “is a toxic chemical. Drinking even small amounts can cause blindness.” At room temperature it’s a polar liquid used as antifreeze, solvent, fuel, and denaturant for ethanol.”
No wonder I’ve had blurred vision when getting up during the night. Isn’t it comforting to know that most of us have been sleeping with all these toxic chemicals? I’ve come to the conclusion that the best way to replace our furnitute to cut down a tree and build our own.
One good piece of information came from one of my phone calls. The Eco-Wise supervisor told me that those who can't afford a nearly formalgahyde-free bedroom suite can spray or paint their furniture with a product called Safe Seal. The coating seals in toxic fumes at a rate of 90% effective. That's great but something needs to be done at the federal level because manufacturers are either oblivious to the health problems their products are causing, or they simply don't care. Especially sensitive to the toxic fumes are small children and the elderly.
California has taken a step in the right direction with a limited ban on formaldehyde products, scheduled to take effect next year, but much more needs to be done.