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  • Shanghai Air: Part 3: IKEA unit ruins test result?

Shanghai Air: Part 3: IKEA unit ruins test result?

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  • By admin
  • Date April 10th, 2012 09:19
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  • After having written about air quality and the conundrum of opening windows to control pollutants, the next step should normally be to talk about air filters.

    Not quite. Air filters are like applying band-aids to a cancer: they only help on the surface of things.

    Far more important is eliminating chemical pollutants at the source.

    Here's an example. Imagine we install a fire hose that pumps clean water into the Huangpu River. Obviously, the area right next to the fire hose will have the cleanest water... but would you jump in for a healthy swim? Probably not.

    The same is true for air filters: the cleanest air is right next to the unit. So unless the unit is strapped to your head, thinking about the source of chemical pollutants is probably a good idea.

    For interiors, most of the toxins come from the finish materials: paints, varnishes, carpets, wallpapers, glues, and so on. 10 years, ago, the only way to eliminate chemical pollutants was by eliminating the finish materials. This didn't leave us with many options... although it did yield some of our favorite designs.

    Fortunately, over the past few years we've managed to cobble enough materials to lower chemical pollutants to within standards... and better. Our process has been incremental: finding materials with potential, trying them in a project and testing the results. Those that fail go onto our X-list. Those that pass go onto our GIGA list. We've been surprised by the results time and time again, and here are the salient points:

    - It is entirely possible to fit-out a space in China that is healthy.
    - Imported materials are not always better than local ones.
    - Healthy materials are not necessarily more expensive.

    There is no better way to explain this than through a case study. A recently completed project in Pudong serves as a perfect example (see pictures):


    In terms of materials we used the best from our own GIGA list. Some, like Imondi (wood flooring), and Mylch (windows) are locally made and sold both nationally and internationally. Other favorites, like Biohouse and Dove (wood finishes) are local and very well priced. Still others like Auro (wall paint) are imported yet still competitive. Armed with materials that we'd used and tested in the past, we were very confident that this apartment would easily pass the chemical screen.

    The tests for this apartment were by Pureliving China and overall, the apartment was right on target. However, there were two critical rooms that failed and caught us by surprise.

    The first was the master closet, clocking in at 1371ug/m3, almost 3 times above the limit. Worse, when the meter was put directly in the closet the figure climbed to 6400, almost 13 times above the limit. Furthermore, the off-gassing leached into the master bedroom, bumping up those levels to 460. Fortunately, the cause was easily identified. For the first time we had used camphor for some of the shelves because of its natural ability to prevent mold. Many woods are toxic to human health, but clocking in at almost 13 times over limit, our assumption is that this one had been chemically treated. Once identified, the shelves were removed and replaced.

    More alarmingly, the other room that failed was the baby's. Here, the room tested at 680, about 1.4 times above the maximum level. Surprisingly (or not?), the culprit here was a newly bought IKEA unit. Within the cabinet, the levels were recorded as 1142, while the levels coming right out of the particle board clocked in at 1600, just over 3 times above allowable levels.

    Now, we could put an air filter in the babies room, but would it really help if the baby was sleeping next to the IKEA unit, or on a similar bed? Also, why should we have to spend more money and more electricity to make up for a bad product, when there are good products out there?

    This is just one of many examples. I'm always surprised by how many people turn to large foreign brands because they believe those brands are safest. I've learned to trust what has been tested. Big, small, local or international it doesn't really make a difference. Results are what matter.

    These results apply to whether you are renovating a space or renting a fully finished one. With the resources that are out there today, the high cost of rent, and the fact that spaces can easily be 10 times above the health limit, i'd consider insane anyone who rents a space without testing it first. A landlord who chooses toxic materials should be left hanging, as should a manufacturer who does the same.

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