An Allergy-Free, Eco-Friendly Kitchen—By The Allergista: What are Your Countertops Hiding?

Hi! I’m The Allergista!

The Allergist, aka, Jennifer from the blog, The Allergista

The Allergist, aka, Jennifer

In 2010, all of a sudden I was dealing with horrible oozing rashes on my legs and arms. It seemed to keep spreading… and spreading. Medications helped for a day or two and then I’d slide even further downhill. I ended up being diagnosed with a list of allergies (I have 24) and eczema. As opposed to taking harsh oral steroids (Prednisone) for the rest of my life, which the doctors recommended, I decided to avoid my allergens instead. It’s been QUITE the journey. Michellina has so kindly allowed me to talk to you guys because she is AWESOME like that. With her medical condition diagnosed as Inhalant Allergies… she knows what it’s like having to avoid an annoying amount of things. It’s nice to have other people who “get it” because most people don’t understand how much I had to change my lifestyle in order to deal with these issues!

So let’s get on with it, shall we? What I want to share with you today has to do with laminate countertops. Aside from being a poor imposter for wood, I never thought anything bad about them until I discovered what was in them. It all goes back to my eczema… I kept getting a really intense little rash on the underside of my right wrist. This made me think about what my wrist was touching all day and I realized that EXACT SPOT was touching the counter my work computer sat on. Thinking it may be due to cleaning products used on the counter, I started cleaning it with just water… but it didn’t make a difference. My next solution was to tape pieces of laserjet paper to the counter, preventing my wrist from actually touching it. This did the trick! And it proved to me that the actual countertops were what was bothering me…. but why?

I started doing some digging online. I wanted to know what laminate countertops were made of and how they were made… hoping this information would shed some light on what was really going on. As I dug deeper and deeper, it all made sense: cheap laminate countertops are often made with polyester resin. My skin HATES polyester! Any time polyester sits on my skin for more than 5 minutes, my eczema flares up into a mess of itchy red bumps. Not only did I learn that polyester is used in laminate counter tops, but polyester resin is created by propylene glycol reacting with a dibasic or polybasic acid. PG is another one of my allergens… veeeeery interesting! I explained my findings to my dermatologist and she wrote a doctor’s note saying that in order for me to be in a healthy environment, I need to be protected from laminate countertops.

These days, my desk at work is covered in glass which I LOVE. Not having to worry about if I’m touching my desk or having to DIY my way around it is pretty awesome.

Polyester resin doesn’t stop at counter tops, though. Here are some other places you’ll find it:

  • bathtubs
  • boats
  • in construction as an adhesive
  • fiberglass
  • luggage: as adhesive holding on the metal hardware
  • coats
  • outdoor furniture
  • packaging: bonding the plastic and cardboard together in blister packaging
  • underground utility boxes
  • sheet moulding compound
  • automotive panels
  • carbon fiber
  • kevlar

I really wish that there were strict laws around labelling the content of EVERYTHING… not just food. And actually, the laws around ingredient labels on food aren’t that great. I talk more about that here. In the last handful of years, this is just one of the sneaky ways my allergens were messing with me and my eczema. I’ve learned a LOT. In an effort to help you guys out, I sat down and thought of all the different ways my health has been secretly disrupted. I came up with nine! I organized them all into a nice little 2-page PDF which you can download by clicking the glittery button below:

Cheers to taking control and leading a healthier life!

 

XOXO,

Jennifer

 

Click Button to visit The Allergista: 9 things that could secretly be disrupting your health

Click Button to visit The Allergista and download: 9 things that could secretly be disrupting your health

Sources:

MSDS for Propylene Glycol (Polyester): http://msdssearch.dow.com/PublishedLiteratureDOWCOM/dh_006e/0901b8038006e13c.pdf?filepath=propyleneglycol/pdfs/noreg/117-01785.pdf&fromPage=GetDoc

Lyondell: http://www.lyondellbasell.com/techlit/techlit/2412.pdf

Shell ~ propylene product derivatives: http://www.shell.com/chemicals/products-services/our-products/propylene-oxide-derivatives/propylene-glycols/product-overview.html

Polyester Resin: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polyester_resin

Us Composities ~ Polyesters: http://www.uscomposites.com/polyesters.html

Moulded Fibreglass and Polyester Resins: http://www.moldedfiberglass.com/materials/polyester-resins

eHow Facts on Polyester Resin: http://www.ehow.com/facts_5043005_can-polyester-resin-make.html

PubMed: Systemic contact dermatitis from propylene glycol

PubMed: Contact allergy from propylene glycol

The Kitchen Series

An Allergy-Free, Eco-Friendly Kitchen—Oak. Glass or uPVC or Composite Panels?

 An Allergy-Free, Eco-Friendly Kitchen—By The Allergista: What are Your Countertops Hiding?

An Allergy-Free, Eco-Friendly Kitchen—Ecological Panels, and Building Biology Service, EcoLibria

An Allergy-Free, Eco-Friendly Kitchen—uPVC Board

An Allergy-Free, Eco-Friendly Kitchen—Benchtops

An Allergy-Free, Eco-Friendly Kitchen ~ A Recap on the Low Irritant Kitchen

Hi, I'm Jennifer, and I sometimes guestblog over here at the Labyrinth!
Back in 2010, I was diagnosed with a long list of allergies, eczema, lactose intolerance and vitamin D deficiency. It was a complete lifestyle change... and in the beginning, it was hard. Endless hours were spent doing research and the more I learned, the more my skin and health improved. I want to share that valuable information with all of you who are dealing with the same struggles! If you'd like to read more, visit my blog, The Allergista!

Building Products/Tradespeople Reviews

Hey there!

Just a short post to let you know that all the services and building products I use that work out for me and don’t impact on my health will be reviewed on this blog. So far, I’ve had some positive experiences with tradespeople and businesses that I’m so grateful for that I feel it’s only right to pass their names and details on. There’s my wonderful, thoughtful and patient draftsperson (aka Eco Designer), Quin Wyatt, whom you can read more about here. And many more positive experiences (and a few not so positive that I’m willing to share, too) that will feature here. When you come back in the future just click on the Freedom: an Allergy-Free, Eco-Friendly House link right here under the Building tab! All my posts to do with housing will be organised there for you. (Some are organised under Renovating for People with Chemical Sensitivities for your convenience, also.)

:)

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Of course not every product that is fine for me to use will be okay for others too. Of course, this is due to the varying nature of our sensitivities. For instance, mould is a mahoosive issue for me. (It’s taken 10 years of toiling with chemical avoidance, under the weight of my illness to work this out, because small amounts can’t be detected, which makes them invisible unless spores are en masse; and, it was not until I lived in a house that was mouldy that I realised that it was such a problem (then came the medical testing as further confirmation). If you get sick when it rains, you may want to look into this also.)) So, even though I have solvents, petrochemicals and fragrances to avoid when choosing products for building a house, I now realise that if I don’t do my best to avoid mould exposure, all those other chemicals impact on my health far worse. But for someone else it may be plastics or even all chemical based products that must be avoided, yes? Please be mindful of that when researching and choosing your own products! Your health needs are precious and need to be taken seriously.

Our house is being created with moisture control, elimination and prevention of condensation in mind. And it’s airtight, with good control of cross ventilation so we can air it regularly.

There’s a saying in Eco House Creation: Wrap em’ tight; ventilate right!

Nowhere is this more important than with creating housing for chemically sensitive people. The reason Eco Houses are wrapped tight is for energy efficiency. But for people like us, especially parts of our community who live housebound, being able to ventilate properly can be a massive issue. But even more problematic is what happens when we don’t open our houses to air them on a regular basis: condensation and mould growth are evil and can sneak up on your health, taking it on a ride into hell. Also take into account the materials and chemicals used in building and renovations; and coupled with a tight building, what you have created is the perfect environment for Sick Building Syndrome. It’s a thing. And it’s real. And it can be a pain in the arse, sinus and brain!

(I know! It’s a conundrum because of outside air polluted by cars, trucks, woodsmoke (from chimneys), fragranced-based washing powders and fabric softeners.)

This is where the right tradespeople are key in making a home safe for people with asthma, chemical sensitivity, and/or immune disfunction. Greenwashed products are great if they are really green but it’s not just about saving our environment; it’s about the people and animals who live in the homes, too. (Amelia Hill has written extensibly on this issue here.) However, if you can find the right tradespeople who listen and take on board your needs, and most importantly, what you don’t need, then you are on your way to a low VOC, chemical-free, mould-free utopia!

There is also a book out by Christa Upton who has successfully built an MCS friendly house and has written a book about it.

Stay tuned for more…

PS: if you know of any suitable tradespeople, businesses or products, drop a comment down below. This blog is read all over the world, and people will find this page or any of the others tagged with Build an Allergy-free, Eco-friendly Home via internet search engines. (And you never know, next time I’m stuck in bed with no creative writing flow, I just may make another one of my Listly Lists including your valuable input!)

(And thanks for reading, I tried to keep this short.)

Sharing is Caring…

:) 

The Steps to Building an Eco-Friendly, Allergy-Free house

The Steps to Building an Eco-Friendly, Allergy-Free house and the tradespeople and companies we used (So far we have been really lucky with the team of people who we’ve found to help us build a low-toxic house.):

Design your house. We used Quin Wyatt, eco-Designer: 0418 589 461

Find your workers (yes I have a post: How to Find or Organise Fragrance Free Workers [post coming up])

Building Biologist: Raphael Siket at EcoLibria1300 326 542

Building Biologist: Lucinda Curran at Eco Health Solutions: 0488 377 466

How to Test Building Products and Products for you own or someone else’s Suitability [post coming up]

How to Sort out Protection Based on Duty of Care with your Local Council [post coming up]

A fully, well-cured Concrete Slab, solid as a Rock from D&C Fear Concreting: 04 0369 3794

Low-toxic Pluming installed by a fragrance-free plumbing team: KLM Plumbing

Choosing Fittings for the bathroom, kitchen and laundry: @Reece Plumbing: 03 5253 3000

Choose your internal Building structure: We went with Hardwood from Calco [Post coming up]

Build a frame: we went with Damien and his team from Pristine Carpentry [Post coming up]

Choose a roof style, find a roofer [post coming up] , which are often, but not always a plumbing and roofing job (because plumbers and roofers often do both); We have the maddest Japanese style roof, which we are over the moon about, installed by Blessed Roofing, designed by Quin Wyatt, eco-draftsperson.

Virtual House Tour: using Sun Study Designs made by Quin our eco-draftsperson

Hydronic Heating by Hydrotherm [post coming up]

Laros and Proclima (Post 2# coming up on Laros Technologies and their Intello wrap)

(We will be using internal air sealant wraps by Proclima from either Laros or Passive House here in Victoria, Australia)

Michellina Van Loder is a Professional Writer, Journalist and Blogger. This is where she shares her tales about trail blazing her way out of the Labyrinth of Chemical Sensitivities and Mould. This is also where you will find the latest Research on related topics.

How Long Does it Take to Create a Safe Home?

Definition of ‘Safe’: 1. predic. ] protected from or not exposed to danger or risk; not likely to be harmed or lost. 2. not likely to cause or lead to harm or injury; not involving danger or risk.

To build a safe home for someone who is so sensitive to chemicals that they are having trouble living comfortably without pain can be an enormous task. I know this because I’ve just spent the last three years designing the house, testing the building materials, sourcing the workers and also the products needed to build an Eco-friendly, Allergy-free House. And, as difficult as this has been, and I am nowhere near the most sensitive of all my chemically sensitive brothers and sisters, I’ve learnt to have an exquisite understanding of the trials and tribulations encountered on this project of trying to create a safe place to live. 

The last three years of my life have been hell; so I really need this safe place. 

A place where I can walk on tiles instead of foil; a place where I can sleep without getting sick from neighbours’ chimney smoke; a place where I can be well enough to cope with going to Uni one day a week; a place where I gain enough tolerance to chemicals back that my partner doesn’t have to shower every time he comes in after being near fragrance wearers, the petrol station or in the supermarket aisle (where cleaning products’ VOCs from the cleaning aisle adhere to his clothes (and the little hair that he has)); a place where I’m not exposed to moulds, especially outdoor moulds making their way inside; but most of all I just want a place that’s safe. A place where I can just be without being sick. (Something we all deserve!)

Whether you consider yourself to have, or have been diagnosed with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) or you just have a few chemical sensitivities, you need a safe home before you can even begin to recover. Whether you or a family member have inhalant allergies, asthma or another condition impacted on via human produced chemicals or natural substances, before you can begin to recover, seriously, a safe home must be created. A study by Pamela Reed Gibson titled, ‘Perceived Treatment Efficacy for Conventional and Alternative Therapies Reported by Persons with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity‘, lists a chemical-free home (after chemical avoidance) as the top second successful treatment for people with chemical sensitivity. I’m holding on tightly to that piece of information right now.

So how long does it take to create a safe home for someone sensitive to chemicals (like, a lot of chemicals)?

Well, the answer to that is as vast and varied as the symptoms and the chemicals to which we, as individuals, try to avoid. Also, I think this is a project that may take time due to a lot of stopping and starting because it’s so important to get the living space right; it’s worth actually taking your time rather than just slapping something together that turns out to be intolerable. The answer to this question came to me in the mail not long ago. A friend whom I’d shown my house plans to wrote back to me and said: “Don’t rush into this. Take as long as you need to get it right.” This was coming from a person who has MCS; someone who has successfully built themselves a safe home; someone who was once very sick and has now experienced a huge recovery in health. Inspiring much? I’ll say!

So what type of house does a chemically sensitive person need built for them?

When I asked my specialist just exactly what type of home we needed to build for me to be able to avoid symptoms from chemical exposure within my living space, he said: “You just need a normal house built without chemicals you are reactive to.” This was a relief because I was starting to think about straw bale and mud bricks, you know, natural materials, which are fine if that’s what you want or need but I wanted to build a house that fits into the urban landscape. Something that can be resold further down the track; something that goes up in value; something that won’t leak or grow mould. Concrete, brick, stone, wood and cement sheeting is what we decided on.

Because of the testing that I’ve undergone with Allergist and Immunologist, Dr Colin Little during the last decade, I know exactly what chemicals I need to avoid: carpet, pine, VOCs, mould, woodsmoke, petrochemicals, solvents and fragrances, so I guess that’s a map I’m very grateful for.

We bought our little block of land in 2012 and, by 2014 our plans were finalised. (However, early this year, after applying for a financial loan, we had to reconfigure our plans to fit our budget–it was that or over extend ourselves.) I began testing products mid 2012, and, mostly, apart from paints, sealants, some kitchen materials and plaster top coat, all our building materials have been tested and decided upon. This would have to be the most demanding part. Here’s a selection of building materials and chemicals that have been tested and that have been deemed safe:

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Spotted gum from Woodform (however, we are using blackbut); another section of wood painted in Intergrain (prepared and posted out by Woodform; Ardex low VOC wet seal; Ardex low VOC glue, Latacrete, low VOC wet seal; Neemaboard (UPVC board to replace chipboard), possibly for our kitchen; Modakboard, for our walls and upper floor; oak for kitchen doors; stone for benchtops (which we may not use because we can’t find a suitable sealant); Zennit (Deceuninck) uPVC window frames; Victorian Ash for the staircase, from Coastal Stairs; and finally, no VOC plaster base coat by Boral.

Spotted gum from Woodform (however, we are using blackbut); another section of wood painted in Intergrain (prepared and posted out by Woodform; Ardex low VOC wet seal; Ardex low VOC glue, Latacrete, low VOC wet seal; Neemaboard (UPVC board to replace chipboard), possibly for our kitchen; Modakboard, for our walls and upper floor; oak for the kitchen doors; stone for benchtops (which we may not use because we can’t find a suitable sealant); Zennit (Deceuninck) uPVC windows; and finally, plaster base coat by Boral.

These are inside my rental property right now. I sleep near them! I’ll post about the testing process later; it will be great to compare notes with others on this important task.

Since I took that photo we’ve tested a few more products, plus there are a heap of heavier building products outside on our deck, but as you can imagine, this is a lot of testing. I’ll do an update post later on the rest of the products. The point in showing you all this is this: don’t rush into creating a safe home for yourself or someone you care about. I know it can seem to outsiders that we are being overly fussy or anxious; that perhaps we should just jump in an decide and just bloody get on with the project. But what are the consequences if we don’t get it right? Well, for me, if I don’t get it right, I won’t have anywhere to live. Once the build is finished and the loan repayments come into affect [effect/affect?] for me, then I won’t have this rental property anymore. This is incentive enough to get it right! (I do joke about having to live in my car but this is not funny at all because I get so ill even after two hours in it.)

How about you, how long do you think is a reasonable time to create a safe home? Do you have any experience in creating one? Please, do share. (I’m open to input on my choice of building products too… )

Michellina Van Loder is a Professional Writer, Journalist and Blogger. This is where she shares her tales about trail blazing her way out of the Labyrinth of Chemical Sensitivities and Mould. This is also where you will find the latest Research on related topics.

Information, products and views presented by guest bloggers @The Labyrinth are not necessarily the same as those held by this blog's author, Michellina van Loder. Reviews are my own personal opinions (unless stated otherwise); and satire is used throughout personal posts. Any health topics discussed are not to be taken as medical advice. Seek out medical attention if needed and do your own research; however, you're welcome to use mine as a start.
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