We Are Surrounded by
When I served as a volunteer fire fighter a few years back, I learned that entering a burning building is much more
dangerous than the professionals first make it appear.
While fighting hot flames and breathing wood smoke is severe
enough, we were aware that modern buildings contain a hidden danger that few people consider. Burning plastic, particle board,
manufactured carpet fabrics and other chemically made household items emit deadly toxic fumes. Inhaling this kind of smoke
isn't something anybody should be doing. Modern fire departments now are equipped with special masks and breathing devices
that allow fire fighters to enter burning buildings and extinguish fires without this one added threat.
out a speeded-up version of a deadly event going on in nearly all modern homes and office buildings today. While they aren't
burning, these same chemically manufactured building materials are still leaching toxic fumes into the rooms. The only difference
is that the damage to our lungs and our bodies is going on at a much slower pace than it would if the building were on fire.
the world population continues to explode, the demand for wood and other building products has increased so fast there is
a critical shortage of natural resources. Industry, always quick to see a profit in any situation, invented alternative building
materials that resemble the wood used in older homes. And if they can't copy wood, they use ultra-thin strips of a piece of
real wood, called veneer, to decorate the surface of a panel of plywood or particle board. And, as Shakespeare once put it,
there lies the rub. There is a common and deadly ingredient used in the manufacture of carpeting, particle board, plywood,
wall paneling, trim, two-by-fours, ceiling tile and even the paint on the walls. They all contain formaldehyde.
Most people know that formaldehyde is embalming fluid. It also
is used to preserve body parts by hospitals and pathologists.
In addition to its preservation properties, formaldehyde
is found to be a powerful and inexpensive resin and bonding agent for glue. This is unfortunate, because industry now uses
it extensively in the manufacture of all the artificial wood products used in building a modern house.
A few years
ago I interviewed the manager of a large wood products manufacturing facility on the Apache Indian reservation in Arizona.
He was proud to show me a new method of manufacturing "perfect" two-by-fours out of wood chips. Using a special glue, the
plant was turning large piles of sawdust, formerly considered waste, into solid wood products. He pointed out that the new
two-by-fours, two-by-sixes, and planks would not warp, were perfectly straight, and were actually stronger than a conventional
wooden board of the same size. He said his factory was consequently able to make a better product at a lower cost, which to
him was good business. I don't think he ever thought about the danger lurking in the formaldehyde used in the glue that made his wonderful new
During my research for this story, I was astounded to learn that formaldehyde is found virtually everywhere.
It is a combustion product found in cigarette and wood smoke, natural gas, kerosene, and the exhaust from automobiles, incinerators
and power plants.
You can find formaldehyde in urea-foam insulation, plywood, carpeting, paper products, cosmetics,
deodorants, shampoos, fabric dyes and permanent press clothes, inks and disinfectants. It is even used in air and carpet
There are especially high concentrations of formaldehyde in the walls, floors and furnishings in our homes.
Wherever you find pressed board, particle board or plywood, you will find formaldehyde. And if you think it isn't present
in your home, look closely at the doors. If you find that the outer finish is a thin veneer, be assured it is covering a large
block of pressed or particle board. That new end table in your living room may also be filled with particle board. So are
the kitchen cupboards, wood paneling on the walls, and the studs holding the wall in place. Your roof is probably made of
plywood. All of it held together with glue made from formaldehyde.
So what is the problem with formaldehyde?
It is a deadly toxin, a known
carcinogen, that leaches in the form of a gas. It seeps silently from the walls, furniture, doors,
clothes, curtains and upholstery. It constantly fills the rooms of your home with thin vapors of poison that in time, can
kill you. In the meantime, it makes you sick.
When breathed into our lungs formaldehyde causes respiratory problems
and eventually cancer of the upper respiratory tract and lungs. It is linked to asthma and other lung disorders. It causes
rashes and skin disorders among some people who come in physical contact with it.
Exposure to formaldehyde is known
to increase sensitivity to other irritants and chemicals, creating allergies that did not exist prior to exposure. For some
people, exposure to formaldehyde creates a permanent impairment to their health.
Symptoms of low-level exposure to formaldehyde include runny nose, sore throat, cough, dermatitis, sleeping
disorders, headache, fatigue, breathing difficulties, sinus irritation, chest pain, nausea, bronchitis and decreased lung
capacity. Acute exposure can cause abdominal pain, anxiety, coma, convulsions, diarrhea, bronchitis, phenomena and pulmonary
Formaldehyde breaks down in the body to become carbon monoxide. The first symptom of carbon monoxide poisoning
is a severe headache, followed by death. Carbon monoxide is the same stuff that comes out of the tail pipe of your car as
you drive down the road. Everybody knows that stuff is deadly.
With so much formaldehyde used in the building materials
going into newly constructed houses and office buildings, it should be no surprise that the incidence of "sick houses," or
buildings where people cannot live without being sick, is on the increase.
Of course the cause of this problem, like nearly all of the problems faced by people on this
planet, has its roots in overpopulation. We have resorted to this kind of building material because we are running out of
trees and natural products with which to build our homes. And for some strange reason, we think a century old building in
our neighborhood, which is made of solid hardwood, has outlived its usefulness. We have a tendency to bulldoze these fine
old structures into rubble and haul the debris off to the local landfull. Every time we do this, we destroy fine pieces of
solid oak, black walnut, maple, cherry, white pine and other lumber than can no longer be bought at any price.
And then comes the epitome of human folly. We replace that grand old
building with either a concrete parking lot or a new modern structure filled with formaldehyde.