Newsletter | May/Jun 2011

Summary: Healthy Alternatives for Interior Finishes & Materials
by Susan Ahlstrom, new OWA member and AAU student

Jean Hansen and students of Suzan Swabacker's design class at AAU

Jean Hansenís April 19th presentation on Healthy Alternatives opened our eyes to the dangers of many materials and gave us a plethora of alternative materials to use that are safe for people and the environment, and sustainable. She showed us that materials and products are available and that use of these safer alternatives will encourage other manufacturers to move in the same direction.

Instead of vinyl, or PVC, one of the worldís largest sources of dioxin a human carcinogen, use one of several alternatives: polyurethane and nylon textiles, bio-based textiles using materials such as: bamboo, wool, and agri-composite materials like Kira, a PLA (polylactic acid) made from corn. Manufacturers offering healthy vinyl and PVC alternatives include: Teknionís Contessa chair, Trevira or Avora polyester cubicle curtains, Haworthís Zody chair, Maharamís Faux Sure textiles, Architex Intílís RX 6004 fabric, Herman Millerís Kira PLA fabric, Lutronís shadecloth, Tandusí Ethos modular carpet, Nora rubber flooring, Designtex topic color shadecloth, Forbo linoleum, and Carnegie Surface IQ wallcoverings and Xorel textiles.

VOCs (volatile organic compounds) release gases, such as formaldehyde, toluene, benzene and isocyanates, into the air, affecting air quality and having a detrimental effect on people causing respiratory illness, cancer, and smog. VOCs are often found in finishes for wood and metal, and in composite wood products. To reduce VOCs use powder coatings rather than laminates and adhesives, use newer water based coatings that meet CA 01350 specification standards, and look for wood and metal finishes that are UV cured. Formaldehyde is used as a binder in composite wood products and beginning in 2009 had strict limitations of emissions set on it by the CA Air Resources Board phasing in those limitations over a three year period. Alternative products are FSC-certified wood for veneer and hardwood frames, substrates and composite woods. FSC-certified wood improves conservation by preventing over-foresting and deforestation, and by its credible system to identify well-manages forests.

Itís time to stop using materials that poison people and the environment because alternatives are readily available. Products are on and coming to market that are free of harmful toxins and their use will ensure that other manufacturers follow suit. A look at, an independent indoor air quality environmental institute that certifies products, lists many manufacturers that meet their standards; look under architects and designers, and then select the find products tab. Jean offered the following resources in her presentation:,,,, and

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