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Fresh-Air Furniture
Not only is buying green furniture a way to reduce your impact on the earth. If you choose carefully it can improve the quality of your personal environment, too.
By Jon R. Luoma

For a list of companies that sell “green” furniture (made, for instance, with sustainably harvested wood, organic cotton upholstery, or stains or finishes that don’t pollute the indoor air), go to “Shop Till You Drop.”

Maggie Wood, a Jamesport, New York–based interior designer and green building consultant, notes that there is an additional green furniture angle linked to personal health and well-being. Conventional furniture manufacturers use a wide range of adhesives, wood finishes, fabric coatings, and other chemicals that can be significant contributors to indoor air pollution. Conventional paints, varnishes, and other furniture finishes, as well as some upholstery treatments, can emit, over time, chemicals called volatile organic compounds (VOCs), a process known as “off-gassing.” Various forms of pressed wood (particle board and medium-density fiberboard) are loaded with glues made with the VOC urea-formaldehyde. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), formaldehyde and some other VOCs have been linked to maladies ranging from dizziness or respiratory tract irritation to allergic skin reactions and even, in some animal studies, cancer. The EPA has also classified perfluorooctanoic acid, which can off-gas from some upholstery stain treatments, as a likely carcinogen. According to the EPA, indoor air pollutants already typically range from two to five times higher than quantities in outdoor air. (There are, as yet, no specific EPA indoor air-quality standards for off-gassing pollutants in the United States, in part because research is inconclusive about how high levels of these pollutants must be before they cause serious harm to human health.)

Woods says that in lieu of definitive proof of harm, she advocates “the precautionary principle—until science can tell us how much is too much, I think no-much is too much.  At least we should try to avoid products that off-gas as much as possible.”

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