They are soft, cozy, colourful, warm, and comfortable; they dress our interior decors marvellously well, but they can reveal themselves to be very noxious to our health. Carpeting is a choice receptacle for all sorts of pollutants, and even cleaning them can be noxious. Here are some of the reasons.
The 20% of Canadians suffering from a pulmonary illness are certainly more aware than others on the question: carpeting, rugs and other similar floor coverings, as with upholstering materials, are collectors of dust and other allergen carrying micro organisms, not to mention irritating chemical emanations.
According to Don Fugler, main researcher at the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), the quantity of dust removed from carpeting is many times superior to that of a hard floor. And, if a broom can remove up to 95% of undesirable particles on a hard floor, passing the vacuum only removes, on average, 40% of dust on carpeting. “In fact, there are three types of elements which lodge in carpets and are real sponges.” Explains the researcher: “They can be of a biological nature (skin, hair, food, mites…) or mineral (earth, sand, lead…) or even chemical which notably comes from materials used during construction, particularly paint vapours.
To limit this interior pollution it is recommended, among other things, to remove shoes before entering the house, to vacuum carpets more than once a week, and to cover carpeting and furniture well during renovations.
So much for the ABC’s of regular maintenance. But the choice of having carpeting at home also has its risks when it comes to deeper cleaning. The two principal ones are mould and chemical products.
Give me Air!
The number one rule when comes time for cleaning is to take advantage of the best possible ventilation to allow for evacuation of toxic emanations of certain cleaning products, and a faster drying if we use liquid products. We should therefore choose a warm and dry period for this type of household activity because the danger of carpeting which stays humid too long resides in the formation of microscopic mushrooms known as mould. The 270 recognized species in Canadian homes all have the particularity of releasing chemical substances and spores which, according to Don Fugler, may have “at best, negligible effects on our health, or at worst, cause allergies and serious illnesses.” Other than persons already suffering from respiratory troubles, individuals having a weak immune system are at risk, as are pregnant women, children and older persons as well. Also, knowing that certain moulds are invisible, we will work harder to dry our carpeting and we will privilege rugs and carpets which we can take outside to fresh air, rather than carpeting and other unmoveable floor coverings. Another good reason for proceeding with cleaning carpeting in a well ventilated environment: the chemical agents contained in certain cleaning products. Other than pesticides, whose noxious effects we need not be reminded of, stain removers and protectors are the most dangerous because they often contain chemical solvents which give off toxic emanations. And to complete the difficulty chart, the composition of synthetic carpeting poses a problem due to substances contained in certain glues and various treatments administered at the time of manufacture (fungicide, pesticide, waterproofing, stain repellents and colour fixatives) can be activated by chlorine contained in cleaning water or in reaction to other products. In passing it is interesting to note that many carpets contain volatile organic elements (VOE), such as benzene, toluene, formaldehyde, who have the sad characteristic of releasing gas and vapours up to five years after installation, and solidify before re-depositing themselves on any surface of the house. Some of these are cancer-causing; others affect the nervous and endocrinal systems.
We can then understand very well that the Children’s Health Environmental Coalition (CHEC) would sanction the acquisition of coverings in non-treated natural fibres and suggests asking the manufacturer of your future carpeting to air it out for three days before delivery and to leave our windows open for at least the same amount of time after installation.
On the CMHC Internet site, many articles relate to perfluorooctyle sulfonate (PFOS), a substance appreciated for its hydrophobal and lipophobal properties, which is to repel water and oils. PFOS was the main ingredient in the Scotchgard® line of products, manufactured by 3M Corporation and distributed for 40 years before being removed this year from the ingredients of these products. Long thought totally inoffensive, PFOS has revealed itself to be a persistent organic pollutant (POP) of which traces have been found almost everywhere in the animal world, including humans, whose body takes an average of four years to be able to totally eliminate (the highest concentrations were found in children).
Illnesses attributable to PFOS are numerous; according to the Environmental Working Group, an ecological research group based in Washington, these are various irritations (eyes, nose, lungs), headaches, fatigue, nausea… We haven’t yet studied the cancerous effects in humans, but according to the conclusions of the most recent studies, doses measured in children and adults are sometimes even higher than those causing cellular, thyroidal and reproductive disturbances as well as malformations and cancers of the pancreas, breast, testicles, prostate and liver in laboratory animals. For its part, the Cooperation and Economic Development Organization (CEDC is an international organization grouping together thirty or so countries, including Canada) are even studying the possibility of the occurrence of PFOS in the development of bladder cancers, but research has barely begun and we are still incapable of measuring the real effects of this substance on the environment and the human being.
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An expert in electromagnetic fields at Hydro-Québec advises against the use of certain radiant electric floors which could increase the risk of infant leukemia. <<As children are often laying and sitting on the floor, it is to be avoided, not recommended due to the doubts we have on this>>, declared Jan Erik Deadman, labour hygiene counsellor at the company. <<It would surprise me if Hydro-Québec recommended (these systems) in daycares.>>
This labour health doctor was reacting to the fact that certain of these heating systems, composed of an electric wire typically installed under a ceramic floor, emit a magnetic field measuring up to 100 milli gauss (mG0) at ground level. According to nine epidemiological studies, a chronic exposure to an average field of more than 4 mG doubles the risk of child leukemia. In 2002, this is what incited the International Center for Cancer Research, along with the World Health Organization, to class magnetic fields of 50-60 Hertz in Group 2B as ‘potentially cancer-causing’. The Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation in its Mechanical Equipment Guide for a Clean Interior Environment, that radiant electric floors <<can emit significant electrical and magnetic fields.>>
Four Cancers Targeted
The most solid proofs of noxious effects of electromagnetic fields come from epidemiological studies, explains Health Canada: <<The studies have led to suppositions of the existence of a weak positive association between being exposed to fields of 50-60Hz and leukemia, brain cancer, breast cancer and lung cancer.>> But we cannot exclude that other statistical, environmental or socio-economic factors may be responsible.
Also a researcher at the McGill Faculty of Medicine, Jan Erik Deadman is co-author of a historical study published last July. It concluded that female workers, whose average weekly exposure was at least 4mG during or within two years preceding their pregnancy, doubled their risk of having a child who will develop this type of blood cancer. Other studies concluded that chronic exposure to a field of 2mG doubled the risk in children.
Should owners of electrically heated floors disable their system or turn it off before entering a room? <<The risk is considered too weak and too uncertain to change heated floors in houses and daycares, analyzes Denis Gauvin, biologist at the Institut nationale de santé publique du Québec (INSPQ) Must the population be informed? Yes. If people have the possibility of choosing a floor which exposes them less, all the better.>> Electromagnetic fields are composed of electrical fields produced by voltage (live wires) and magnetic fields from amperage (power consumed) They are measured with a multi meter which frequently acts as a voltmeter, gauss meter and radio frequency and microwave reader. The intensity of the field and the degree of human exposure diminish rapidly when moving away from the source, easy if the radiant system is in a ceiling but impossible in the case of a floor.
At one foot from a floor emitting 100mG at ground level, the field can measure 16mG, a level at which very brief daily exposures are, according to a recent California study (Li, 2002), associated with an increased risk of false labour. These fields are weaker in a house where electrical consumption is lower and if the wires are close together and laid out in parallel, their fields have a tendency to mutually cancel themselves out.
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For most people, discussions on energy efficiency are academic. They only seriously think about it when paying their heating bills, when it is too late.
It’s during winter that energy inefficiency is most obvious. In fact, the enormous icicles and ice barrages that accumulate on roofs are flagrant proof of heat loss and an inefficient use of energy. I am always surprised to hear intelligent people say that this is typically normal for our Quebec winters – just like apple pie is American. What nonsense!
At the beginning of winter, heat loss through the eaves or the attic keeps the roof surface warm. As snow starts to accumulate, it stays, even on slanted roofs. After awhile, snow becomes the insulation and traps the air. The colder it gets, the more we heat the house and the more heat we lose, the more the eaves and roof surface warm up.
One day, the roof surface temperature reaches 0 degrees Celsius and the snow next to it softens and melts. This melting snow transforms into water which slides down towards the edges. As water accumulates at the roof edges and rain gutters, the water freezes as it contacts outside air which is colder than the roof surface. Over time, the result is the formation of spectacular icicles – some reach one storey and more! The greater the heat loss is, the greater the thickness of the ice barrages behind the icicles and the greater the length of the icicles.
When there’s a major thaw and rain with temperatures reaching at least +6 degrees Celsius, even in the Laurentians, infiltrations begin. Frequently though, these do not come from the roof as such, they occur horizontally, from the edges.
In fact, the weight of the accumulated ice in the gutters opens up a joint on the edge of the roof, on the ledge or in the soffit, and the water leaking under the accumulated snow and ice in the roof penetrates to the ceilings. To the greatest surprise of homeowners, even when ceilings have a slight slope, infiltrations can manifest themselves a good distance from the exterior wall.
It’s Raining in my Bed
To my greatest disappointment, this is what my family lived through at the summer cottage of my in-laws in the Laurentians, following a successful surprise party given for André Fauteux, editor of La maison du 21ième siècle. Water started dripping from the ceiling onto our beds in the middle of the night.
Unfortunately in such cases many homeowners mistakenly blame their roof while the origin of the problem is the house’s heat loss.
Roofers are called in by panicking homeowners, and repairs are scheduled, even if no one has determined what the real cause of the problem is. Redoing a roof when it is not necessary is a very costly additional energy loss.
Certain customers have told me that they have had their roof completely redone two or three times in 10 years but the problem has not disappeared. This is outright robbery by the roofers!
In fact, as unbelievable as it may seem, many Montreal eaves contain only from 0 to 4 inches of insulation. (Note: It is generally more advantageous to install from 12 to 14 inches for a thermal resistance of R-42 to R-49, if cellulose is used, it being the most economical insulation for attics.)
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