The Human Experiment film produced by Sean Penn is a shocking and personal examination of our current world of consumerism and the consequences to human health due to current chemical laws and lack of commercial transparency. The film provides an insight into the current chemical landscape within the USA, delves into personal stories and collates a snap shot of statistics as to how life has changed and the relevance to increases in many illnesses and disease.
Although produced in the USA this film also represents the Australian way of life and chemical integration into the products we buy on a daily basis – a great visual representation of complex issues. Concerns that frankly – many of us just don’t have time to research but are unknowingly reaping the consequences. Many consumers are mistaken in their belief that Australia does it (consumer safety) adequately or better than the USA – we don’t!
Key insights; the system of chemical integration into products we buy … “Chemicals are innocent until proven guilty” and “Consumers do think that someone, somewhere is protecting us”.
While there are many interesting facts and grounding insights from this film the take home message is that money makes the world go around and as a consumer of goods from personal care products to building materials, each one of us needs to develop an inquiring mind for self preservation and family health.
We all each make unique buying decisions daily as to the products we will allow into our lives and live with in our homes. The challenge is to find time to question products that can have a significant impact on our health and the health of our home. Once we know we need to find healthy option products – where do we start?
Within the home, the way we interact with products and particular product characteristics need to be considered in relation to the impacts on health.
For example, while carpet is soft underfoot – adds warmth, texture and colour – it also contains a range of chemicals depending on its composition. Synthetic carpets contain petrochemicals and often plastics that have the potential to release endocrine disrupting chemicals via dust or VOCs (off gassing), both linked to health concerns in certain circumstances.
Wool is often seen as a natural alternative. However this is where the inquiring mind can uncover some surprises. Wool carpets in Australia contain pesticides to prevent deterioration from moths and insects. This is an example as to where building/interior design, occupant need, occupant use, occupant health and sustainability all meet.
A family who has a new born baby who will spend considerable time on the floor – with an understanding of the above issues and exposure routes of inhalation, ingestion, absorption may choose to opt for an alternative floor surface to carpet while their child is little. Or if proceeding with carpet, they may opt for the natural fiber, ensuring that while the baby is lying on the floor a blanket is placed between the baby and the carpet to assist with minimising exposure to pollutants.
There is no one size fits all approach to product selection because the application, occupant profile, occupant use, interaction with the space and client needs all must be considered. There is one mantra that is consistent – minimise pollutants where ever possible in and around the home.
4 tips for a non-toxic home renovation;
1. Opt for formaldehyde free products such as adhesives and board materials
2. Opt for zero or low emission paints – understand the differences between petrochemical and plant based options
3. Opt for water based timber floor finishes over solvent based products
4. Consider the season your reno project is due for completion for maximum ventilation ability at occupancy – generally, new materials and finishes offgass at higher levels than older items (that is until they start to deteriorate /break down).
About the author
Melissa Wittig of Healthy Interiors is a property and design professional here in Australia who’s been researching and educating about the many issues raised in this film for many years. Melissa has recently written about her experiences, strategies, design and lifestyle tips associated with products and daily practices in the home within The Smart Living Handbook.
One of the biggest challenges that families have is finding the time to ask the questions needed to make informed decisions about products. Founded on consumer need, Melissa established healthyinteriors.com.au providing online resources to connect people with easily accessible information about the many facets of creating a healthy home, lifestyle practices, product and tools. The site also includes a voucher hub connecting families with “healthy option” suppliers while providing members with discounts.
The process of minimising pollutants within and around the home is a journey from building/ renovating to lifestyle daily practices and product choices. It is not reasonable or feasible to suggest that we can eliminate all pollutants from our lives. However The Human Experiment and Healthy Interiors suggest that we can take small steps to make a big difference to minimise what we are exposed to daily so that our bodies and homes are burdened with less toxins over time – which can only equate to healthier people, valued healthier homes, healthy communities and healthier environment.
For more information, visit healthyinteriors.com.au