Having Fun Preserving The Past

City Museum exterior St Louis, Missouri

City Museum exterior
St Louis, Missouri

It had been a very long time, probably more than a decade, since I had last visited the City Museum in St Louis MO. My husband and boys went there frequently while I did the grocery shopping at Whole Foods Market and Dierberg’s. For my youngest son’s 11th birthday recently, I chose not to do any shopping and just have a family day. The first place we went on a very hot mid-90 degree F day was The City Museum. I have always appreciated what they do there. Not only are they preserving some very special and interesting bits and pieces of the city’s history (“a museum”) but they let visitors physically interact with much of it. The City Museum is a highly physical experience. It used to scare the heck out of me – that is some of the crawling structures on the outside of the building – but I’ve not heard of any serious mishaps due to poor construction. It is a challenging place and so one must be responsible for their own safety and what they do while there.

The City Museum bills itself as an “eclectic mixture of children’s playground, funhouse, surrealistic pavilion, and architectural marvel.” It has also been described as “a wild, singular vision of an oddball artistic mind”. Visitors are encouraged to touch, climb on, and play in the various exhibits. It consists largely of re-purposed architectural and industrial objects which are housed in the former International Shoe building in the Washington Avenue Loft District in St Louis.

Ticket Counter St Louis City Museum

Ticket Counter
St Louis City Museum

My family made the trek up 10 stories of stairwells to have the opportunity of coming down the 10-Story Slide. I regret that the experience was not that awe-inspiring but we got some seriously sweaty exercise going for it. My youngest son spent a lot of time running up and down the Skate Park, which is a collection of skateboard ramps without the skateboards along with rope swings tied in front of some ramps. He enjoyed challenging himself by running up a ramp and trying to pull himself over the 12 ft tall wall. At one point we followed him into the dark hole of a maze and eventually I found myself slithering on my belly pushing my purse along and by the sound of it clearly under the bleachers of a circus ring (on the third floor) during one of their daily live acts. On that same floor is the Art City where guests can try their hand at a number of different art techniques. The City Museum also houses The Shoelace Factory, whose antique braiding machines makes colorful shoelaces for sale.

The roof has a small old-fashioned Ferris wheel. It also has a slide that goes under a small pond. The pond has stepping stones that go from one side to the other. The roof also has a school bus that had actually worked once, extending past the edge of the building. Visitors can walk in the school bus and open the door from the driver’s seat. Also found on the roof are a giant rope swing contained in a free-standing aluminum dome underneath the roof’s centerpiece; a giant metal praying mantis. It is possible to climb a series of enclosed metal ladders inside the dome to an exit at the top. Located in front of the building is the area dubbed “MonstroCity” which features two Sabreliner 40 aircraft fuselages suspended high in the air, a fire engine, a castle turret, a 25-foot cupola and four-foot-wide Slinkies that can be crawled through, one very high that leads to a slide, and two ball pits (which both my 14 yr old and 11 yr spent some time in while we sat nearby in the shade with cool drinks).

“Got Byproducts ?” I was inspired to write this week’s blog by an email dated July 21, 2015 from repurposedMaterials on the subject of “Theme Park” which mentioned the City Museum in St Louis. According to the company – re•pur•posed•MA•TE•RI•ALS (noun) are byproducts and waste that have value “as is” to a second, unrelated industry. repurposedMATERIALS was started with the hypothesis… “There are enough byproducts and waste that can get a very different second life, or a “repurpose”, that you could make business out of the concept.” They note that almost five years later, they have proven their hypothesis to be true.


In that same email, they introduced chemicalRepurposing – yikes !! Given my generally cautious perspective towards chemicals I am a bit anxious. In looking at that, they say that they “ended up with six fluid, mineral, chemical waste streams looking for a home”. Their list of chemicals includes carbon black powder, calcium carbonate, perlite, isopropyl alcohol, alumina, stoddard solvent, glass sludge and magnesium oxide.

Regarding our own business, I was interested in noting that they offer Bulk Bags. We use these for moving the wine cork stoppers that cycle through our own business. One contractor noted that “We use your bulk bags to fill with construction debris on the upper stories of our apartment complexes. We then crane the sacks full of rubbish right into the dumpster. Works great!” The list of the “byproducts” they offer is long and varied but here’s a sampling – narrow width belting, gym floor wood, old rails from railroad tracks, billboard vinyls and surplus paint. They even offer a 185′ pedestrian bridge.

I’m impressed that repurposedMaterials seems to invite a lot of participation in the form of suggestions for repurposing all kinds of products from their network of interested persons. They are located in Henderson CO near Denver. The company defines themselves as “industrial matchmakers” with examples like an Ohio River tug boat operator, a turkey farmer in Arkansas, a water well driller in Montana, or a thoroughbred horse stable in Kentucky. They claim to be responsible for diverting hundreds of thousands of pounds of “waste” that would otherwise be headed to the landfill by locating the industries that can give these materials a second life.

In the larger scheme of things, there is very little that you can’t repurpose, recycle or add to your compost pile but while I’m touching briefly upon the concept of repurposing, a cautionary note might be appropriate. Here are “12 Items You Should Never Repurpose Or Compost”.

[1] Motor Oil – recycle your oil properly in approved containers. There are specialized business that handle this waste product ethically and many auto parts stores and some garages will offer this service to you free of charge.

Coffee Mugs

[2] PVC, Polystyrene or Polycarbonate – never reuse (or even use once if you can avoid it) – #3 plastic (PVC), #6 plastic (polystyrene) and many #7 plastics (polycarbonate). They can leach toxins such s phthalates, dioxins and bishphenol-A into your food.

[3] Aluminum Containers unless coated internally with an enamel coating, don’t re-use aluminum dishes because the aluminum will leach into your foods. I know my hands turn black when using an aluminum canoe paddle or handling aluminum tent poles. Aluminum has been linked to several different health conditions including Alzheimer’s disease.

[4] Sawdust – don’t toss it on your compost pile, use it to line your chicken cages or livestock stalls unless you know exactly where it came from because it often contains chemicals that were used to treat the wood. Black walnut shavings are toxic to horses – causing skin irritation, fever, hair loss and even founder. Black cherry shouldn’t be used in stalls either. However, if you know exactly where the sawdust came from and the source was non-toxic, it’s fine to use in your compost pile or in your flower beds.

[5] Meat and milk – shouldn’t be added to a compost pile unless you don’t mind attracting all sorts of critters to it. It generates very little heat while it decomposes and so it is not a vital component in a healthy pile.

[6] Walnuts and Walnut Shells – will release the chemical juglone which is toxic to some plants and vegetables including tomatoes.

[7] Used Kitty Litter – we actually put ours into the landfill trash when we still had an indoor cat. If you’ve ever dealt with used kitty litter – enough said !!

[8] Diseased Plants and Moldy Soil – may add fungi and bacteria to your compost pile that is undesirable.

Paper repurposed as Gift Wrap

Paper repurposed as Gift Wrap

[9] Heavily Coated or Colored Paper – While it’s fine to repurpose magazines, colored paper or wrapping paper, these should never go in your compost pile because the chemicals used to add the color and the gloss can be toxic. The ink doesn’t break down properly so these items should be tossed into your recycling bin or repurposed as note paper, collages or could be used as gift wrapping paper.

[10] Used Cooking Oil – The only sane way to repurpose used cooking oil is in making biofuel. Don’t add it to your compost pile because it can disrupt the moisture level in your pile or attract unwanted pests.

[11] Personal Hygiene Items – though this may seem like common sense, single-use personal hygiene items such as tampons, pads, tissues and disposable diapers should never be washed and reused, nor should they go on the compost pile. They have been contaminated with bodily fluids and are not suitable for recycling, reusing, repurposing or composting.

[12] Old Household Wood – If you live in a house that was built prior to 1978, most of the original paint likely contains lead. Don’t reuse old window sills, banister railings or anything painted when the house was built in any of your repurposing projects. Don’t burn them, either. Just send them to the dump.

I admit I am “liberal” about putting “organics” into our “waste pile” but then it is NOT your conventional compost pile. We are not very good at vegetable gardening, though we try to grow a few cherry tomatoes each year and sometimes get more ambitious. Even though I don’t make a good example of being able to say I adhere to all of the suggestions above, I still think they are good ones !!

Reuse Reduce Recycle finger grass

~ Information Resources

City Museum, St Louis MO – http://www.citymuseum.org/

City Museum – Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/City_Museum

repurposedMaterials – it’s all about creative Re-Use – http://www.repurposedmaterialsinc.com/

“12 Items You Should Never Repurpose Or Compost” by Theresa Crouse posted June 30, 2015 at Survivopedia.com – http://www.survivopedia.com/never-repurpose-or-compost/#


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



Chemicals – Natural & a Menace

No Toxic Chemicals !!!

No Toxic Chemicals !!!

Okay, so whatever is on this planet, is actually natural. That includes man and that includes chemicals. Man has been able to combine chemicals in ways, that did not previously occur in that same manner, in “nature”; but the fact that man can combine chemicals in novel combinations must still be in accordance with natural laws. It cannot be otherwise. Toxicity, however, should be a definite concern, when it comes to whether or not we will sustain humanity’s ability to live on this planet. We have been aware through the direct experiences of more than one acquaintance that allergic sensitivities to certain chemicals are developing in people, that seriously impact their quality of daily life.

Bullitt Center - Seattle WA

Bullitt Center – Seattle WA

Good news comes by way of a thorough effort to address such concerns in the building of The Bullitt Center, opened in Seattle WA in April 2013. In learning the details of this new construction, I was finding within my own self a deep appreciation for such an achievement by the building’s designers. The feat that they accomplished was keeping OUT of its construction, more than 360 commonly used and potentially toxic elements and compounds – from its walls and wires, to its pipes and paints.

A report by the scientists, who focused their research on just one common condition – “asthma” – resulted in “Asthmagens” on the Healthy Building Network website. Their report underscores the potential dangers of this vast and largely undisclosed stew of chemicals hiding in most building materials used in modern homes, schools, hospitals and offices. Americans now spend an estimated 90 percent of their time in such indoor spaces. This list of chemicals includes neurotoxins, carcinogens, hormone mimics and reproductive disrupters, which could be playing a role in a number of today’s increasing health problems.

I personally believe that we see so many incidences of cancer in the general population now for similar reasons to why there is such an increase in the incidence of asthma. Human beings are exposed to great concentrations of chemicals, that they did not naturally evolve to be in that much contact with, due to the advances of modern chemistry in concert with industry, for the production of products that contribute to revenue streams. These products become conveyances of those substances, that each of us are coming into increasingly frequent contact with.

I welcome the ever closer scrutiny of design professionals with the educated ability to analyze and interpret the safety of such common ingredients of modern living. They are bringing us not only greater transparency but refining our awareness of these impacts.

Architectural drawing Bullitt Center - Seattle WA

Architectural drawing
Bullitt Center – Seattle WA

The group that created the Pharos database cross-referenced a list of known and suspected asthma-causing chemicals with ingredients in over 1,300 flooring, adhesive, insulation and other building products. A priority list of 20 target chemicals were chosen for their likelihood of preventing the development of asthma. These chemicals all showed a significant potential to cause the onset of asthma, and were likely to actually be absorbed, inhaled or ingested by building occupants. Many volatile organic compounds (VOCs), such as formaldehyde, made the list. The potentially toxic emissions from these products peak when the product is new and then dwindle over time as they are “off-gassed”. Semi-volatile organic compounds (SVOCs), which tend to capture less attention from the building industry, are also represented on the list, due to their propensity to create much longer-term indoor hazards because they slowly degrade over time. Also included are flame retardants, phthalate plasticizers and other SVOCs which have been also identified as hormone disrupters. Some of these are better known for their emerging links to things like obesity, breast cancer and attention deficit disorder, but evidence suggests the chemicals can affect the lungs and the subsequent development of asthma, as well.

Over recent decades, as more and more man-made chemical complexes have entered our daily lives, energy efficiency standards simultaneously tightened-up buildings. One of the troublesome trade-offs to this well-intentioned campaign is the trapping of toxic gases released by those chemical ingredients. Even a construction project that earns a top rating for being a “green building” (such as the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design – LEED) certification, may still be packed full of toxins — with perhaps even less of an opportunity, due to energy efficiencies, for their escape.

We appreciate the attempts in considering the new LEED standards unveiled in November to offer manufacturers credit for the disclosure and elimination of certain hazardous chemicals. While this may have immediate financial implications for business, we are in agreement with the long term intention – “to ultimately reduce harmful chemical exposures.” We understand that in order to do that, disclosure must occur regarding what is actually in the product that is going into the building. Many of those who are genuinely green-hearted in the design world (including those creating the new LEED standards) have already realized that many of the kinds of chemicals that they would like to keep OUT of buildings, are viewed by their manufacturers as “trade secrets”. They often don’t appear on any disclosure of ingredients list and many have never been tested, for their effects on human health. We understand that that the environment’s ability to sustain life can be seen as intimately linked with the health of human beings.

Bullitt Center Features

Bullitt Center Features

Next year (Jan 15, 2014), designers will be able to access a list of ALL of the ingredients approved for the Bullitt Center (950 individual components) on their website. We look forward to that gift of The Bullitt Center’s willingness to share their hard work, with all of us who love healthy buildings full of healthy people.

Information Resources –

Huffington Post – “Are Toxic Chemicals In Building Materials Making Us Sick?” by Lynne Peeples posted Dec 12, 2013

Healthy Building Network – “Full Disclosure Required – A Strategy to Prevent Asthma Through Building Product Selection”

Living Building Challenge

Pharos Building Product Library


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