Things to Avoid

The Environmental Health Coalition has published a list of the top four categories of chemical groups that should be avoided and eliminated in order to solve our environmental and health problems. In their publication, Toxic Turnaround, the case is made for the elimination of these substances and chemical groups. It has been recommended by Annie Berthold-Bond in her publication Better Basics for the Home that a fifth category, plastics, be added to the list. A summary of both lists is included below, with information about building materials added by

This category includes pesticides, herbicides and fungicides, which are contained in many building materials, especially paints and finishes. The EPA's list of probable or possible carcinogens in this category is extensive, including 60 percent of the registered herbicides, 90 percent of the registered fungicides, and 30 percent of insecticides. Significant documentation suggests that pesticides can alter immune function, interrupt the endocrine system and cause depression of the central nervous system.

Toxic Gases, such as Chlorine and Ammonia
Chlorine bleach, commonly used by childcare centers and children's museums for cleaning exhibits, is a moderately toxic chlorine salt. It is especially dangerous when combined with ammonia or vinegar, causing toxic gases to be released. Chlorine bleach bonds with other chemicals in the wastewater stream to form simple organochlorines, which cause cancer and endocrine disruption. Ammonia is poisonous, corrosive and explosive and considered a suspected mutagen.

Heavy metals
Heavy metals are highly toxic to human health and the environment. Many materials used in welding, plating, soldering are extremely dangerous, and the gases that are produced during metalwork are even more dangerous. Metal manufacturing and metalworking processes are almost all extremely toxic. Both lead and mercury are considered carcinogens, mutagens and poisons. Exposure to lead can cause loss of IQ, fatigue, sleep disturbances, brain, kidney damage and death. Mercury poisoning can cause brain damage, irritability, kidney disease, memory loss and death. For a complete list of health hazards related to metals, go to, and click on metalworking.

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC's)
These compounds contain harmful chemicals that are released into the atmosphere following a chemical reaction, causing ground-level ozone and contribute to indoor aid pollution. Formaldehyde and solvents are VOC's and some of the most dangerous pollutants in building products. Formaldehyde is added to products for preservation purposes and is typically found in such substances as carpeting, paints, particle board, plywood, sealants, adhesives, and fabrics. VOC's include carcinogens, endocrine disruptors and central nervous system disrupters.

Considerable attention has been focused on the use of phthalates in children's toys over the past several years. Typically used as a softener in most plastics on the market, including plastic kids' toys, vinyl flooring, and plastic tubing, phthalates are also found in numerous building products including fixatives, lubricants, adhesives and wood finishes, to help slow down evaporation. In recent years, there has been significant research indicating that phthalates are potentially toxic to fetal development and young immune systems. Polyvinylchloride, or PVC and styrene should also be avoided.