Saturday, April 25, 2009

Could multiple chemical exposures be the problem with Chinese Wallboard (Sheetrock)?

CNN, Wall Street Journal, Associated Press, and Indoor Environment Connections have all reported on the concern regarding imported Chinese Wallboard. It seems once the Chinese wallboard gets wet or damp it off-gases a rotten-egg stench made of sulfur-based gases. Homeowners claim these gases can corrode metals, and may cause headaches and aggravation of respiratory systems, such as asthma. Many of these reports quote health departments as saying that levels are not elevated enough to suggest an imminent or chronic health hazard. However, there should be a concern regarding the potential for multiple chemical exposures, their cumulative effect, and the potential for long exposures to low levels of the compounds on the occupants.

The Chinese wallboard problem may affect over 35,000 homes and so far, is in states with high humidity and temperature levels where homes were constructed or renovated between 2004 and 2008. These homes and buildings, because of the shortage of domestic wallboard (also called sheetrock, drywall, and gypsum board), were installing Chinese-imported wallboard (not all Chinese wallboard is a problem). Up until this point, the reports regarding the tests on the drywall, quoting one health department “has not identified data suggesting an imminent or chronic health hazard at this time.” Some reports actually say levels found in the affected homes are not elevated enough to be of concern. One report gave hydrogen sulfide levels of .05 to .07 parts per million (ppm). Another report detected “carbon disulfide levels of approximately 5 parts per billion – all samples were less than 15 parts per billion.” The same report also reported carbonyl sulfide in the same levels. Chamber testing of the Chinese wallboard emitted carbon disulfide, carbonyl sulfide, and hydrogen sulfide, while other tests of the wallboard found in addition sulfuric acid and sulfur dioxide. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), or the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) identifies all these compounds as toxic compounds. However, the levels found are below many of the standards used for worker exposure. This is the crux of the problem, the limitations of using worker exposure standards to evaluate indoor air quality have been known for a long time and a professional would use them with limitations, typically dividing them by a factor of 10 to 100. For example, the OSHA permissible exposure limit for carbon monoxide is 50 ppm, while the indoor air quality industry uses 5 ppm to 10 ppm as a guide for evaluating air quality in office buildings.

Exposure research is very limited when looking at exposures to multiple chemicals or to long term exposures to low levels of compounds. Since this research is so limited to the point of nonexistent it is hard to say what the impacts of multiple chemical exposures or long term low level exposures would be. The limited knowledge we have points to potential moderate or minimal effects on individuals based on the compounds they are exposed to. Exposure to the multiple sulfur gases for long periods or low levels could be causing the headaches; sore throats; repeated nose bleeds; breathing problems; respiratory infection; wheezing; sinus problems; and various other respiratory ailments that occupants have complained about. Our health departments should be erring on the side of health but too many times they side on convenience.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Keeping Your Family Safe - Healthy Homes


Monday, March 30, 2009, we had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Pam Meyer of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Dr. Peter Ashley of the U. S. Department of Housing Urban Development (HUD) for our internet radio program “Keeping Your Family Safe” (find it at http://www.voiceamerica.com/ on the Green Talk Network). Our discussion was about the Healthy Homes Program. CDC is the nation’s primary public health agency and is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. CDC provides information to help the public make informed decisions and take actions to promote health and wellbeing. HUD makes affordable housing available to low income households, and supports community development and home ownership. Dr. Meyer and Dr. Ashley discussed how CDC and HUD were working together to promote Healthy Homes. Healthy Homes is a century-old concept that promotes safe, decent, and sanitary housing as a means for preventing disease and injury. In our program, we covered the following points:
  • CDC and HUD support Healthy Homes by providing grants to fund research on Healthy Homes
  • Increasing amount of scientific evidence linking health outcomes, such as asthma and unintentional injuries, to substandard housing
  • CDC has a few cooperative agreements with state or local health departments to take a healthy homes approach
  • HUD’s focus is not health research so they rely heavily on reviews, such as the National Academy of Sciences
  • HUD recently has funded some research, for example Cuyahoga County Grant – home interventions to address mold/moisture problems resulted in significant improvements in the health of asthmatic children & Seattle Grant – studied new green built public housing units on the health of asthmatic children after they moved into the units (breathe easy homes)
  • Discussion on research on allergies & asthma in regards to triggers, unintentional injuries, and poisonings

This was our final show for this period, we hope those of you who listened enjoyed the programs. Remember you can continue to access the podcast of the programs at our host page at http://www.voiceamerica.com/ or on our website http://www.keepingyourfamilysafe.net/ under each topic ticker or http://www.futureenv.com/ under the Training tab in the online training section.