Vitally Precious

Drinking Water

Water !! There is nothing more precious to life on Earth. Almost as precious however are the youth who will inherit the Earth when their elders are no longer the driving force of progress and evolution.

I stumbled upon the story of one such young man, Steven McDowell, with a vision for helping to alleviate the drought conditions that have become frequent news items in the southwest over to the west coast. California is currently in one of it’s worst drought cycles ever. Steven realizes that – “With climate change affecting our rain patterns we must now plan for the possibility of living with far less annual rainfall, so saving every drop could be essential.”

As this 14 year old began doing research for his science fair project, using California’s drought as his subject and how to help solve it with a focus on how each person could do their share by preserving and storing as much water as possible, he was not able to find suitable storage options already existing that would fulfill his personal goals.

So, he started thinking outside of the box to come up with a completely different solution. He took a walk around his neighborhood. What did every house have in common ? In a moment of inspiration, the answer to that question became the seed for his new idea. Every house had a fence around their yard and “for the most part they all were made of the same thing…wood”. Steven goes on to say – “I had an idea; what if the fence around my yard could be used to collect runoff rainwater!”

So he did an internet search for an existing fence product that could accomplish that goal but he found nothing like it at all. He started doing his theoretical calculations using his own yard’s fence which was 80 feet by 70 feet by 80 feet. At six feet high by seven feet long and making his “idea” fence slightly wider than his actual, 12 inches, he determined that each fence section could hold approximately 320 gallons.

Next Steven calculated how much rainwater run-off he could capture from a 2,000 sq ft roof surface area using a rainfall total of 1 inch times his conversion factor. He determined the rainwater run-off would equal around 1,200 gallons of water. The fence would capture and evenly spread that run-off water to each storage unit whenever it rained. Thus he realized that he could theoretically hold almost 13 thousand gallons of fresh pure rain water in such a fence structure.

Steven McDowell with his science project

Steven McDowell
with his science project

It is not surprising to learn that Steven won 1st Prize at his science fair with the mock-up of his working Water Fence idea. Steven explains how he realized that he was onto a truly important product idea – “My engineering teacher stated it was the best original idea he had seen in 14 years of science fairs and my science professor told me to patent the idea right away, which I did. Three of the judges approached me as well and asked me to install it in their homes immediately.”

Steven McDowell has gone on to win many other prizes with his Water Fence idea as well including the U.S Stockholm Junior Water Prize Regional Award and the American Meteorological Society’s “Certificate of Outstanding Achievement”. Even as he is very excited that his incredible Water Fence system made of HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene) which is 100% recyclable (yes, Steven is saving trees that would have been wooden fences as well as conserving fresh water !!) will soon be available for purchase, he also encourages others to create sustainable options for water conservation. The importance of water can not be over-stated.

2006 Water Scarcity by Country Both Physical & Economic

2006 Water Scarcity by Country
Both Physical & Economic

Scientist’s predict that by 2050 half of the world’s population will be impacted by a scarcity of fresh water. Environmental refugees will be forced to migrate away from areas without the necessary resource of water. The current mismanagement and misuse of increasingly scarce water resources threatens to plunge most of the global population into extreme water poverty according to the world’s leading water scientists.

The draining of rivers and underground aquifers as well as pollution and erosion along with climate change pose a long-term threat to human welfare. The increasing use globally of water combined with the permanent degradation of quality in existing water supplies is on an “unsustainable trajectory” according to scientists who feel it is fast approaching a global tipping point.

Our world needs more kids like Steven McDowell and I believe they are out there dreaming up solutions to the challenges that face mankind as we move into a future we can only theorize about now. I remain optimistic that the vitally precious resource of imaginative kids will not only find solutions to a potential scarcity of fresh water but the other pressing issues to affect everyone’s quality of life.

~ Information Resources

Steven McDowell/Water Fence – http://www.waterfence.com/about-the-inventor

“Lack of fresh water could hit half the world’s population by 2050” posted by Steve Connor on May 24, 2013 at The Independent – http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/lack-of-fresh-water-could-hit-half-the-worlds-population-by-2050-8631613.html

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Blog author ~ Deborah Hart Yemm is co-founder of
Yemm & Hart, a green materials producer

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Conscious of Stone

Large Natural Stone Boulder Veneer

Large Natural Stone Boulder Veneer

My love affair with stone began at a very young age. I wish I had a photo of my paternal grandparent’s rock house to show you but the image above is very much how the rocks were laid. The walls were very thick and I was always fascinated by the naturalness of its appearance compared to the brick veneer home I grew up in. The house passed out of my family’s possession when my grandparents died and so it may not remain standing now. Certainly, it was durable enough to last centuries but the once rural area surrounded by cotton fields has given way to subdivision development. I suspect that old rock house became a casualty that no longer fit in with someone’s economic development plans.

We are fortunate here to be blessed with many large rock outcroppings. Ours is also a cautionary tale of hope and optimism that once fueled an ambitious building project for our business that would have created a model of sustainable design. The early concept was for an elevated structure to avoid the potential of radon that our little farmhouse is plagued by. The building was to be anchored deep in the bedrock but the excavating company quickly gave up as fracturing rhyolite broke equipment windows and wore down implements faster than could be financially justified. It was suggested that we should blast the stubborn rock.

I’ll never forget that look of having been shattered by that blast that I witnessed on my husband and business partner’s face when he returned from that first day. The company that was hired misjudged and overcharged the site and I will admit that I was emotionally impacted when I saw the result. As time passed and plans quickly changed dramatically it all seemed to have been some kind of mistake. My partner will probably never cease to regret what we did to that hilltop without a full understanding of what could unexpectedly occur. So it is that we are left with a hole that looks rather un-naturally and un-intentionally like a quarry. The building project had to be abandoned after the financial crash of 2008. Our farm however is left with a big hole (at least to us) and the mountains of removed stone to deal with. Some of that rock is being used to stabilize logging haul roads to extend their usefulness as perpetual access to the more remote areas of our farm as we sustainably harvest timber for the health and vitality of our forest.

As a natural product stone is inherently earth-friendly. Natural stone offers many attractive, environmentally friendly attributes when quarries utilize the best practices including an enduring life-cycle due to its durability, ease of care and maintenance and inherent recyclability. Responsible practices indicate that the quarry takes responsibility for preserving, restoring or improving the natural environment they have intruded upon. The Natural Stone Council says on their website – “Conserving resources, preventing pollution, and minimizing waste are some ways the stone industry is working to be eco-friendly” in support of green building strategies. The owners of Yemm & Hart do believe that stone and all natural resources should be valued as precious commodities.

West Papua Grasberg Mine

West Papua Grasberg Mine

We applaud the perspectives of the Natural Stone Council to do their “part to contribute to responsible building by providing materials that have been quarried and processed in an environmentally-conscious manner.” I recently became aware of the Grasberg Pit Mine in West Papua which is partly owned by a US company, Freeport-McMoRan. I can’t feel good about what I have learned about that project from the Free West Papua Campaign. I do realize that any politically oriented organization is going to skew the data to support their cause but this one does cause me deep concern. You can read more about those concerns at the Free West Papua Campaign link below in the Information Resources section.

Of course, mountaintop removal isn’t news. The scale of that mine in West Papua is vast but in the United States the issues of mountaintop removal and the environmental and social implications are well documented in places like West Virginia. You can read more about the impacts of irresponsible mining in Appalachia at the Information Resources link below. Sadly there are irresponsible corporations that sometimes play a shell game to hide the corporations that are liable. That may be what Massey Energy was seeking to do when it became Alpha Appalachian Holdings. We’ve seen mining companies here in Missouri possibly change ownership to shed liabilities. I remember hearing an old miner describe his feeling that was what the old St Joseph Lead Company did regarding their mining liabilities. That location is now the Missouri Mines State Historic Site.

Stephens Cemetery Madison Co Missouri

Stephens Cemetery Madison Co Missouri

The Natural Stone Council seeks to substantiate on a holistic level natural stone as a green building material looking at use and life-cycle impacts given not only its durability but salvage and reuse potentials. We revere our stone. Yemm & Hart donated one of the intact large boulders leftover from our own blasting experience to a local pioneer family’s cemetery road entrance. We are happy to see this stone given a long and useful life that can be deeply appreciated for the natural beauty and environmentally benign material that it represents. The white powder in the photo is residue that remained immediately after the engraving.

Stone truly was one of mankind’s first building materials. Stone requires virtually no manufacturing in the conventional sense and is so durable that stone structures built thousands of years ago are still in use today. These are characteristics few contemporary “green” products can equal. Many stone quarries are old-school mom-and-pop operations that have been quarrying for decades with almost no marketing and little trade-group representation. Stone can be salvaged from one building to be reused or repurposed in another. Jason F. McLennan, CEO of the International Living Future Institute says “There is no ‘perfect’ material, but stone is as close to perfect as we can get.” McLennan notes that humans have a universal attraction to buildings made from natural materials like stone, wood, and straw. “There is a part of us that understands that these are the building blocks of nature. This is how we build. This is how we have always built.”

Many people don’t discern a difference between quarrying and mining. Jack Geibig—former director at the Center for Clean Products at the University of Tennessee and current president of Ecoform, a company that specializes in life-cycle analysis (LCA) and other environmental metrics—shared that perception, but after visiting more than 20 quarries throughout the U.S. came away convinced the impacts are very different. “In mining,” says Geibig, “you are taking elements from deep in the earth and concentrating them at the surface.” A lot more material is taken out of mines than out of quarries. In mining there is much more waste, the process is more energy-intensive, and tailings and runoff frequently contain toxic byproducts that contaminate air and local ground water.

With most quarries, the rock is at the surface in large concentrations, and the main environmental problems come from noise, occasional runoff of solids, and scrap piles at the surface. These issues are manageable, however, with good practices, and at the end of a quarry’s production (which could be hundreds of years), most can be repurposed, filled in using waste from production to create useable land or, in some cases, made into lakes. There is a state park here in Missouri called Elephant Rocks. It is the remnant of two abandoned reddish or pink granite quarries and there is a small lake in one pit there. Granite has been quarried in this region since 1869.

Jason McLennan noted “If you compare them (quarries) to an even modest forestry operation, the habitat impacts are a fraction of what they are with logging and milling wood.” He acknowledged that there are poorly run facilities in every industry, but he claims the amount of site disturbance and soil and habitat loss from forestry operations far exceeds that of quarrying. I love stone. It’s hard to even choose which I love more – stone or trees. Thankfully, we have an abundance of both and so I don’t have to choose. They are different entities with uniquely different characteristics but both are precious and should be treated as such.

Last May, our family went on an overnight backpacking adventure in Rockpile Wilderness here in Missouri. There are local stories and indications there that ancient people found the rocks at this mountaintop unique and certainly the big glade near the ancient stone circle would lend itself to camping (as my family did), star-gazing and large groups of people gathered together for whatever purpose native people came to such places. It was definitely a rock lovers paradise.

Deborah Yemm at Entrance Rockpile Mountain Wilderness

Deborah Yemm at Entrance
Rockpile Mountain Wilderness

~ Information Resources

Stone and Sustainability – http://naturalstonecouncil.org/education-training/stone-sustainability/

Free West Papua Campaign regarding the impacts of the Grasberg pit – http://freewestpapua.org/documents/the-envronmental-imacts-of-freeport-rio-tintos-copper-and-gold-mining-operation-in-indonesia-june-2006/

Comunity Impacts of Mountaintop Removal posted at Appalachian Voices – http://appvoices.org/end-mountaintop-removal/community/

Missouri Mines State Historic Site – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Missouri_Mines_State_Historic_Site

Stone, The Original Green Building Material by Brent Ehrlich at Building Green – https://www2.buildinggreen.com/article/stone-original-green-building-material?share-code=6e88a7bc09dc04c5e2842ba220348a17

Elephant Rocks State Park – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elephant_Rocks_State_Park

Rockpile Mountain Wilderness – http://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/mtnf/recarea/?recid=21864

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Blog author ~ Deborah Hart Yemm is co-founder of
Yemm & Hart, a green materials producer

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Better Living Through Chemistry ?

Hazardous Waste Storage Area

Worried mother and concerned environmentalist meets modern technology. I called my pediatrician about constipation issues with one of my children. We were concerned about the long-term impact of unusual bowel-related experiences in our family. Am I being delicate enough for the average reader ? We had this inexplicable problem. One of our family’s members tended to clog the only toilet in our home and sometimes at motel rooms as well (at least one can usually find an alternative location in a moment of crisis at a motel !!). This usually happened late at night and so not convenient at all. Even though this sweet child in good humor once likened the situation of our toilet to a hazardous waste site with appropriate signage, he was likely traumatized at least a bit in knowing this was not a happy circumstance for the entire family. Eventually, though the child was not complaining, the family had enough experiences to not want to experience them any more. What to do ?

Mary Poppins Spoonful of Sugar

Mary Poppins Spoonful of Sugar

Being a basically natural kind of person, I tried prune juice but having to saturate it with table sugar along with a chaser of sugar water on the side just didn’t seem like a healthy long-term solution to me and though it seemed to help the circumstances somewhat, it was still a battle that none of us enjoyed. So that strategy was abandoned once the bottle of juice was empty months ago. But the problem persisted. Then, I discovered Wellments Baby Move which is concentrated prune juice with prebiotics. My finicky eater would not need to swallow as much volume and I wouldn’t have to entice him with a spoonful of table sugar anymore. The only complication was the dosing was for infants, babies 6 mos to 1 yr and 1 year and older. My son is a decade older than 1 yr but I tried that dose anyway. And still we had no real improvement in our circumstances. Finally we all just simply needed the relief of a real solution.

So, I called my pediatrician who didn’t seem impressed by my natural efforts and I had to admit they weren’t solving our problem entirely. I should mention that my son does eat a high fiber (Mini-Wheat Little Bites) breakfast with Whole Milk and whole grain pasta with Flax Oil at dinner with another cup of Whole Milk before bedtime. So even though he doesn’t do vegetables (unless you count Organic Corn Tortilla Chips as a vegetable) and infrequently eats fruits (though sometimes an Apple or Strawberries), his diet didn’t seem to me to be the source of our problem. The pediatrician said to pick up some over the counter MiraLAX and enforce regular visits to the restroom after every meal so that we could “reset” his biological cues (which only meant twice a day for my child because the rest of his eating is more like snacking). Her advice about establishing a new habit did make sense to me.

MiraLAX label

Our business deals by volume primarily in recycled polyethylene plastic. Imagine my worried mother shock to read the “active” ingredient on the MiraLAX bottle – Polyethylene Glycol 3350. We’re going to feed him plastic ? Not a warm and fuzzy feeling. Though we have researched polyethylene for toxicity when customers wanted to use it as building blocks or pieces in a children’s museum and in these solid forms the material is inert and non-toxic.

When I mixed up the first dose of MiraLAX, I was surprised that plastic could simply dissolve in water. (And a word of warning from my experience to other parents, if your child gets diarrhea when your doctor prescribes a full dose as defined by the bottle cap, give the child a 24 hour break and cut the dose in half because it is a possible sign of an overdose). Having previously written about the problem of plastic microbeads in the planet’s water supply for this blog, a thought arose that I should learn more about polyethylene glycol to determine if this material is a form of microbead. Polyethylene glycol is an osmotic laxative which works by retaining water in the stool, resulting in softer stools and more frequent bowel movements. And polyethylene glycol does not affect glucose and electrolytes in the body.

There are a lot of uses for polyethylene glycol – Carbowax in industrial use, as a surfactant, as a dispersing agent and as a laxative including the prep needed to have a colonoscopy. When attached to various protein medications, polyethylene glycol allows a slowed clearance of the carried protein from the blood. This makes for a longer-acting medicinal effect and reduces toxicity, and allows longer dosing intervals. Examples include PEG-interferon alpha, which is used to treat hepatitis C. It shows promise in spinal injuries, treating tumors, some cancers and nerve repair. One very interesting use was in preserving objects that have been salvaged from underwater by replacing water in wooden objects and making the wood more dimensionally stable. It also prevents warping or shrinking of wood when it dries, including green wood.

The shipwreck Novadoc W Michigan Underwater  Preserve

The shipwreck Novadoc
W Michigan Underwater Preserve

I learned a LOT about the many valuable uses of polyethylene glycol but it took an article about toothpaste at “Dental Buzz – A Jolt of Current: Trends, Innovations, and quirks of dentistry” to get an “answer”. The author, Trish Walraven, was concerned about polyethylene microbeads in Crest Toothpaste and says “We’re not talking about polyethylene glycol, which is soluble in water. This stuff won’t dissolve in water, or even acetone or alcohol for that matter. How do I know it won’t dissolve? Because I put on my little scientist hat and tested it.” Okay, so at least it isn’t part of that environmental problem !! And the MiraLAX is working for us, we have blessedly free flowing plumbing without an incident for weeks now. Yay !!

Hydrogel Spheres

Hydrogel Spheres

I remember these little plastic spheres that my boys have had fun playing with affectionately calling them “iggys”. These tiny, 3mm solid spheres quickly become approximately 20mm balls as they swell up in water. They shrink back to their original size when dried out. You can’t even see them in a container of water. While these water beads absorb a lot of water, they yet maintain their spherical shape when they are fully “grown”. They teach a lesson about the power of a class of polymers called Hydrogels. OK, so these don’t dissolve in water (due to a physical or chemical crosslinkage of the hydrophilic polymer chains) which makes them are an entirely different kind of plastic. Common ingredients in Hydrogels include polyvinyl alcohol, sodium polyacrylate, acrylate polymers and copolymers and thankfully “natural” hydrogel materials are being investigated for use in tissue engineering.

It is best not to throw the baby of possible benefits out with the bathwater of scary chemistry that many environmentalists including my self worry about. There can be better living in part through good chemistry. Actually, as a moderate and thoughtful person in addition to being a worrying mom and a concerned environmentalist – I believe that the careful and wise application of science is very important to modern life.

~ Information Resources

“Polyethylene Glycol – PEG” at Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polyethylene_glycol

“Polyethylene Glycol 3350 (Miralax, GoLytely) at MedicineNet.com – http://www.medicinenet.com/polyethylene_glycol_peg_3350-oral/article.htm

“Crest toothpaste embeds plastic in our gums” by Trish Walraven posted in Dental Buzz – A Jolt of Current: Trends, Innovations, and quirks of dentistry on March 4, 2014 – http://www.dentalbuzz.com/2014/03/04/crest-imbeds-plastic-in-our-gums/

“Jelly Marbles – Clear Spheres” available from Steve Spangler Science – http://www.stevespanglerscience.com/jelly-marbles-clear-spheres.html

“Hydrogels” posted under “Gel” at the Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gel#Hydrogels

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Blog author ~ Deborah Hart Yemm is co-founder of
Yemm & Hart, a green materials producer

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What Happened to Good Intentions ?

2001-2014 EPA Chemical Assessments Graph

What happened to President Obama’s promise to divorce politics from science ? More specifically, what happened to those good intentions to assess dangerous chemicals more quickly at the EPA ? When Lisa Jackson came on board as the new EPA administrator in 2009 during the first Obama term, she was fully supportive of the president’s promise. She knew the EPA needed to assess 50 chemicals a year to do its job properly. Jackson quickly rolled out a plan to break through the logjam of the Bush years when the EPA was only averaging five assessments per year. Jackson’s plan seemed easily achievable and needed only a little tweaking regarding the inner workings of bureaucracy. It required no congressional approval and the Republican party never passed any legislation to block it.

It seemed like a great start for Jackson who is educated as a chemical engineer. It is interesting to note that she attended Tulane University on a scholarship from Shell Oil Company. She graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering in 1983 and earned her Master of Science degree, also in chemical engineering, from Princeton University in 1986. Jackson had some valid environmental experience from working in a variety of positions beginning at the EPA involved in toxic waste clean-up issues and moving into the top position as Commissioner at the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection before being nominated to head the EPA for Obama. Even so, New Jersey environmental activists when asked were divided in their opinion of her work at the NJ Dept of Environmental Protection agency and the split seemed to be between those who work on energy and climate policy in the state’s capital (who were supportive of her) and those who work on toxic cleanups at the local level who were critical of her.

Environment is Foundational

In spite of all the good intentions, since 2012, the EPA has assessed fewer chemicals than ever. Last year it completed only one assessment. More worrisome is the indication that the agency has now embraced measures sought by the chemical industry that have led to endless delays. I learn a lot about the chemical industry in reading Plastics News. I know that they have had impacts on LEED v4 as well. Though chemicals are important in our business and in everyday life, I can’t shake the feeling that the industry as a whole can’t be entirely trusted to consider the people’s health and welfare over profits when making decisions.

There are more than 80,000 chemicals on the market today. You might think that the government tests each chemical to assure that it’s safe. However, that is NOT true in the United States. Unlike the European Union, in the US, chemicals are assumed to pose no health risk unless the EPA proves otherwise. This task is left to a small program within the EPA called the Integrated Risk Information System, or IRIS. Jackson wanted to drastically cut the time spent on each chemical assessment from an average of seven years to less than two years. Yet almost immediately the chemical industry found ways to thwart Jackson’s plan with the help of certain Republicans in Congress. Although the GOP didn’t control either chamber in Obama’s first two years, some Republican lawmakers still found ways to delay the application of science at the EPA in favor of insignificant details.

Formaldehyde Warning Label

Here is one example –

In the early days of our contract furniture business the collateral furniture pieces we made had a foundation of particle board that was then covered with plastic laminate or wood veneer. One good thing about particle board is that it is made with 100 percent recycled materials. The tiny wood chunks and sawdust that go into it are usually reclaimed waste from sawmills and lumber yards. That means that some manufacturers are now using wood that would otherwise end up in a landfill.

However, particleboard isn’t part of the green-building pantheon. The reason is that the resin glue that binds the wood fibers and provides structural strength contains formaldehyde which emits carcinogenic gases into the air from the finished boards. At surprisingly low levels these formaldehyde emissions produce a pungent odor and they can pose a health risk. For decades, formaldehyde (which turns up in many other building and consumer products including automobiles and even no-iron shirts) emissions have been known to cause eye, nose and respiratory irritations in sensitive people. The World Health Organization has classified formaldehyde as a carcinogen. EPA scientists began evaluating the chemical in 1998 and determined that it was linked to nasal cancers and leukemia. To be honest, all wood naturally emits minute amounts of formaldehyde.

Formaldehyde Particleboard

Particleboard inevitably became part of discussions regarding how far beyond “minute” it is safe to go because the fabricated material is one of the primary sources of indoor formaldehyde emissions. In lab tests, formaldehyde emissions from particleboard average about 0.2 parts per million. Greenguard Environmental Institute was a nonprofit group that tested and certified formaldehyde emission levels in building-products and furnishings. According to Marilyn Black, an environmental chemist and the original founder of Greenguard, above 0.3 parts per million almost everyone will notice their eyes watering and nose and throat becoming irritated. In 2011, UL Environment acquired ownership of Greenguard and as such is no longer a non-profit.

Georgia-Pacific makes particleboard with formaldehyde. It is owned by Koch Industries’ whose billionaire owners Charles and David Koch financially influence politics. The American Chemistry Council, a trade association and lobby group for the chemical industry, said in a statement in defense of the formaldehyde industry – “The scientific literature is clear that there is no increased health risk from low-level exposures normally found in home or work environments.” Who do you want to believe ? I certainly have a preference.

Republican Senator David Vitter of Louisiana blocked the EPA appointee who would oversee the IRIS program until the agency agreed to get a second opinion on its formaldehyde assessment. The EPA agreed to have the National Academy of Sciences review its formaldehyde draft. The academy is considered the preferred scientific adviser at the national level but the panel reviewing the formaldehyde assessment didn’t focus on whether the EPA was right about the science. Instead it criticized the formaldehyde draft for being confusing and made suggestions on how to make future IRIS reports clearer. This seemingly valid perspective actually made the chemical industry very happy.

What Happened to Good Intentions ?

What Happened to Good Intentions ?

So back to what happened . . . What put the brakes on the EPA’s intention to complete chemical assessments in a timely manner ? The short answer – the chemical industry’s lobbyist and former EPA official Charlie Grizzle. By leveraging the National Academy’s criticisms about the clarity of the formaldehyde assessment, Grizzle and others got language inserted into legislation that delayed all 47 chemical assessments that were in progress at the time. They did this by instructing the EPA to adopt the academy’s recommendations and explain to Congress how it was going to implement those regulations for ongoing and new assessments.

William Ruckelshaus, who ran the EPA for presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, said getting the National Academy to review the EPA’s scientific findings is a common delay tactic used by industry that endangers the public health. He said that delaying the publication of adverse findings is an unconscionable act on behalf of the industry that manufactures the chemicals and derives economic benefit from that activity. Ironically, last year the National Academy subsequently released its own assessment of formaldehyde. I’ll bet you guessed it already !! It agreed with the EPA’s findings that formaldehyde is a known carcinogen. Regrettably it has been 17 long years that the EPA has been trying to get its formaldehyde assessment completed and even now, it is still mired in delays.

Formaldehyde Danger

And the situation remains worrisome because in July 2012, Dr. Kenneth Olden took charge of the EPA’s National Center for Environmental Assessment, which is who oversees IRIS. While a director at the National Institutes of Health, Olden raised eyebrows by collaborating with the American Chemistry Council to fund scientific research. It should not be surprisingly then that his appointment has won praise from the chemical industry and certain Republicans for his embrace of the procedural changes to assessment reports as suggested by the National Academy of Sciences.

Companies in the particleboard industry say that they HAVE voluntarily reduced formaldehyde emissions from their products by 80 percent in 20 years. I believe it but Yikes !! Certainly, we can all be thankful for that much. The particleboard industry could bring its formaldehyde emissions down simply by using a different glue – phenol formaldehyde resin. Emissions from particleboard made with that glue are so low that some green rating systems give points to home builders for using it. According to Healthy House Institute, Urea-formaldehyde (UF) glue off-gasses considerably more formaldehyde than Phenol-formaldehyde (PF) glue. Georgia-Pacific Chemicals does manufacture and offer a Phenol-formaldehyde glue under the tradename LEAF®. The product is considered by them to be a low-emission resin for use in particleboard and MDF. LEAF GB resins may be melamine-formaldehyde, melamine-urea-formaldehyde or phenol-formaldehyde based and GP believes they may meet some green building standards.

As often happens, what California demands serves all of the citizens of the United States because their influence in the marketplace is that strong. The California Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Resources Board has established low emission standards for the off-gassing of formaldehyde that should result in safer substrate products becoming more common in the marketplace nationwide. The first emission standards were implemented on January 1, 2009. The latest update on this issue was posted at their website on May 23, 2014 (see my information resources below for that link).

~ Information Resources

“Obama’s EPA breaks pledge to divorce politics from science on toxic chemicals” posted by David Heath on Jan 23, 2015 – http://www.publicintegrity.org/2015/01/23/16641/obamas-epa-breaks-pledge-divorce-politics-science-toxic-chemicals

Environmental Protection Agency’s Integrated Risk Information System – http://www.epa.gov/iris/

Lisa P Jackson, EPA Administrator 2009-2013 posted at Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lisa_P._Jackson

“A Solution to the Particleboard Problem?” by Katherine Salant posted May 31, 2008 at the Washington Post – http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/05/30/AR2008053001485.html

Greenguard Certification from UL Environment – http://greenguard.org/en/index.aspx

“Formaldehyde-Based Glues” posted at Healthy House Institute – http://www.healthyhouseinstitute.com/hhip-780-Formaldehyde-Based-Glues

Adhesives/Binder Resins offered by Georgia-Pacific Chemicals – http://www.gp-chemicals.com/Adhesives_Binder_Resins_Product_Category

Composite Wood Products ATCM (airborne toxic control measure) – http://www.arb.ca.gov/toxics/compwood/compwood.htm

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Blog author ~ Deborah Hart Yemm is co-founder of
Yemm & Hart, a green materials producer

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