Outgassing and Health Concerns

I have received several letters from those who have read my story about outgassing. I certainly did not intend to cause alarm.

Plastics outgas (also referred to as off gassing or degassing). The rate at which this outgassing occurs depends on the resin type,  time, temperature and atmospherics. The good news is that outgassing of a material will decrease over time. The bad news is that some materials can outgas over a period of several years.

Some people are concerned about the potential hazards of this outgassing on our health. These concerns are not unfounded. According to our EPA, chemical vapors from plastic materials potentially can cause asthma and other respiratory problems, as well as skin and eye irritation.

Health issues resulting from exposure to pressure sensitive vinyl films, in my mind, should not cause anyone loss of sleep.  Outgassing vapors from materials used in the home construction industry, on the other hand, do warrant careful consideration and evaluation.

Having worked as a construction manager for what was the largest custom home builder in Illinois in the 70s, I would recommend that contractors and home owners carefully review product information on raw materials and consider natural and safer choices.

In selecting building materials alternative, you will have to rely on the data provided by materials manufacturers. Unfortunately, there is no home test kit that you can buy to reliably evaluate air quality. Testing of vapors emitted from materials is a very specialized endeavor requiring very expensive and specialized laboratory equipment. Various tests are conducted according to specific industry protocols, such as ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) procedures.

Laboratory tests are generally conducted in some type of vacuum chamber. Some tests measure the loss of mass of a material. Other instruments collect and analyze the volatile gases from products.

Unless you can afford expensive tests or can live in a bubble, make the best common sense decisions with the information available on materials selection and forget about it. We are doing pretty well as a species. With seven billion people on the planet, it is not likely that we will soon face extinction and be placed on the endangered species list.

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