***image2***Planning some home improvement this fall? You might want to look closely at the cans, tubes and tubs of stuff that you're hauling home from the hardware store. Back in July of 2004, President Bush signed into law Project Bioshield, a measure intended to protect Americans from chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear attack. Sadly, the law doesn't protect us from toxic chemicals in paints, stains, primers, paint thinners, wood flooring, carpeting, household cleaners and other products that we slather all over our living spaces right here in the homeland. Many common materials are so toxic that they'll have a not-so-improved effect on your home's little ecosystem.
But one Santa Fe enterprise, Bioshield Paint Company, aims to reverse this increasingly toxic trend with a line of all-natural, nontoxic stains, paints, cleaners and other environmentally friendly products.***image1***
The nontoxic household materials sector of the economy has been represented for years by companies such as Tom's of Maine, Seventh Generation and Simple Green. Natural, nontoxic wall paints and wood stains have not made the inroads that cosmetics and cleaning supplies have, but slowly but surely, household materials manufacturers such as Sherwin-Williams are climbing onto the bandwagon, advertising product lines as "green." A closer look often reveals not so much green as greenwashing.
Chris Gettler, sales manager for Bioshield, says, "Manufacturers have learned about so-called 'green products.' What they call 'green' is often a product with reduced amounts of toxic materials, or something that's simply lead free. We put in the extra effort to be green first and a business second. Everything in our products is safe; it's not just a matter of having reduced toxicity."
Scoff at your peril. Off-gassing of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from architectural coatings accounts for 10 percent of the total introduction of these compounds into the environment, according to a recent Environmental Protection Agency study. Many of the VOCs in commercial paints and paint thinners react with molecules in the air, forming additional highly toxic compounds. For some commercial paints, this off-gassing can continue for as long as the paint is on the walls, not just while it's drying. Stains generally have an even higher concentration of oils and other substances; we've all gotten that light-headed, woozy feeling after smelling deck stain, varnish and other products.
"Many companies are now including additional ingredients in their products to mask the smells of VOCs," Gettler says. "Consumers might actually feel better than in the past while applying the material, but the level of VOCs is still the same."
***image3***Founded in 1982 by Rudolph Reitz, Bioshield has steadily gained national prominence as one of the leading manufacturers of low toxicity household products. When Reitz started out, his ideas were already popular in Europe, but Bioshield was one of the only such manufacturers in the United States. Today, Bioshield develops new products in response to self-imposed questions like, "Are our products derived from outstanding raw materials that are obtained using fair trade practices?"
Eventually, almost all household cleaning products, paints and stains will end up back in the dirt. Unfortunately, much of what's added to these products is not biodegradable and leaches into the groundwater. Solvents, surfactants, oils, terpenes, antibacterial chemicals, antimold compounds, pesticides
and more can remain, for decades, at toxic levels in wood, demolished walls, floors and discarded rugs and carpets. Bioshield's answer is to create products out of ingredients that are ultra-low VOC, all natural and nontoxic to humans.
Take, for example, paint. Bioshield offers eight different categories of paint products, ranging from clay pigment paint to Kinder Paint, which is designed especially for nurseries and children's rooms. According to a recent study of indoor air quality in the US, published in Scientific American, off-gassing from carpets, paint and other household surfaces was as toxic as introducing four cigarettes a day into the lungs of a crawling baby. Does your infant's cry sound like Tom Waits' squalling? Could be the paint.
Bioshield's Aqua Resin wood stains are made with water, earth pigments, silica, alcohol ester, surfactant and preservative. The cleanup procedure? "Our customer information advises using warm water and soap, but I recommend just using warm water. You don't even really need soap," Gettler says. No smelly, brain-cell-killing paint thinner needed either. The wood stains come in eight basic shades that are UV resistant. If the surface you want to stain needs a pre-cleaning, the company will recommend Bioshield Citrus Thinner, a low-odor solvent consisting of Isopar, an alternative mineral spirit that is low on toxicity and contains orange peel extract. If you need primer, check out Herbal Oil, which uses linseed oil as the main ingredient. Linseed oil is also the prime ingredient in Bioshield's wood sealer.
Carpets and other flooring materials are also culprits in the degradation of indoor air quality. Wood floors are one solution, but the commonly available finishes and sealers for wood floors can contain a wide variety of toxic compounds. In fact, most of the wood flooring materials widely available commercially use lumber treated with a wide variety of VOCs. In addition to low toxicity and low odor wood finishes, another solution offered by Bioshield is cork flooring tiles. Cork is a renewable resource harvested from the bark of oak trees in Spain. Once installed, a cork tile floor can be stained exactly as a wood floor. An added benefit: Cork is applied easily to concrete subfloors and provides a higher natural insulating effect than wood.
Bioshield has managed to offer an extensive variety of eco-friendly household products while remaining competitive.
"In the five years I've been here," Gettler says, "our sales have doubled. This started as a one-man operation with Rudolph doing everything himself. Now we have a worldwide market, so we've found a way to stay competitive."
For example, a five-gallon supply of Clay Natural paint, enough for roughly 2,000 square feet of wall space, sells for $170, versus approximately $110 for five gallons of commonly available mass manufactured latex paint. The cork tile flooring, at approximately $4.50 per square foot, is about a dollar more per square foot than hardwood oak. But you'd be able to walk around your living room, breathing serenely, assured that no trees were harmed in the making of your floor.