by Dane O’Leary
Whether due to personal health reasons or to be more conscious of our effects on the environment, some of us worry about the toxicity of health and beauty products, pesticides and preservatives in food and produce, and the leaching of chemicals. Buying organic has extended to most areas of our lives, so it should come as no surprise that many companies are now providing us with ways to renovate, remodel, and upgrade our homes with safe, non-toxic materials.
Since the kitchen is often considered the heart of the home, it’s crucial to reduce the presence of harmful compounds and toxic chemicals to a minimum if not eliminate them altogether. What’s more, many remodel their kitchen since it generally represents the largest return on investment at resale. Most materials commonly used in the construction and design of our kitchens outgas volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, that are toxic and linger throughout the home. For example, some of the most popular paint brands contain harmful biocides that become airborne in paint fumes and breathed in by passersby; the extent of the damage that some of these substances can cause to the human body is catastrophic at worst. As such, it’s increasingly important to consider designing your kitchen with non-toxic materials that won’t cause you any harm. Here are some ways in which you can ensure that your kitchen can’t harm you and yours.
Low and Non-Toxic Paint
One of the main sources of harmful chemicals used in most interior design is in paint, or more specifically in the fumes that paint gives off. Most commercial paints and those made by the largest, most popular companies contain biocides, solvents, nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs), fungicides, and VOCs. The biocides are used to preserve the paint and extend its shelf life while the fungicides prevent the growth of mold spores. The health problems that these toxins can cause include eye infection; respiratory tract infection; nausea; damage to the heart, kidneys, and lungs; and even certain types of cancer.
Additionally, a recent study found that some paint companies fail to list or identify some of the harmful chemicals that are in their products. In particular, NPEs were found to be particularly toxic and to linger for an exceptionally long time in aquatic life, building up and working the toxicity up the food chain. In humans, NPEs can cause severe and irreparable reproductive damage. Older homes may contain lead-based paints, which are also extremely toxic. There are many online databases that identify safe low and non-toxic paints you can use in your kitchen redesign.
Another area of the kitchen that poses a lot of risk is the cabinetry. Many cabinets on the market are built using particleboard, medium-density fiberboard, and plywood that also contains formaldehyde as a disinfectant and a preservative. Unfortunately, formaldehyde — also found in cigarette smoke and industrial exhaust — is known to be carcinogenic, or a substance that is capable of causing cancer in living tissue. It’s also been found to have a correlation to asthma suffered by victims who were exposed to the substance.
It used to be that non-toxic, green kitchen cabinetry was limited to those made from bamboo. However, there are varieties of formaldehyde-free particleboard and plywoods on the market, making a much greater variety of non-toxic cabinetry available in a variety of colors and styles. Additionally, there are cabinets that are made of solid and salvaged wood without being treated with toxic compounds. Much of the reclaimed, repurposed wood — such as wood salvaged from very old barns — don’t contain formaldehyde or harmful chemicals, though salvaged wood that’s been paint should be checked to make sure the paint doesn’t contain lead; lead paint much be removed with the utmost care. An alternative to solid wood is to install cabinets with a wood veneer, which is a thin layer of wood adhered to some sort of non-toxic substrate. Finally, it’s important that things like stain, epoxy, glue, and sealant used to treat cabinetry is low or non-toxic with no VOCs emitted in the air.
More resources for a non toxic home
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