453: Achieving a Non-Toxic Home and Work Environment
Ashley James And Andrew Pace
- Why measuring indoor air quality a false premise for certifying something as a green building
- What is a VOC
- What is greenwashing
- Things that off-gas in the home
- Actionable steps that you can take to have a cleaner/healthier home
Most of us think that since we’re mostly at home nowadays, we’re already safe from harmful chemicals, but that could be far from true. Just because we don’t see or smell the chemicals doesn’t mean that it’s not harming us. In this episode, Andy Pace shares the things that we have in our homes that are toxic and off-gas. He also gives us some actionable steps that we can do to have a healthier home.
Hello, true health seeker, and welcome to another exciting episode of the Learn True Health podcast. Welcome to 2021. I hope you guys had an amazing December and got some time to rest and relax as I did.
I’m now officially in my third trimester of being pregnant with our second child. If this is news to you, I’ve mentioned it a little bit on the show. I used to be completely infertile. I was diagnosed infertile, actually, by an endocrinologist who told me I’d never conceived children naturally. I had severe polycystic ovarian syndrome. I had a bunch of other health conditions as well including type 2 diabetes, chronic infections, and chronic adrenal fatigue, and I used natural medicine and holistic medicine in the last 12 years to regain all of my health.
I no longer have any of those issues, and we conceived our first son totally naturally and on time and intended. We decided to go for it. The timing just felt really right for us, and we conceived again on our first try. We're having a girl this time, we're so excited. I’m now 27 weeks, going into 28 weeks pregnant. What's amazing is this pregnancy has been so much easier compared to the last one, and that's something that I want to explore in further episodes because I spent six years focusing on going from really poor health to getting myself to the point where I was fertile again and healthy. That was for our first son, and that pregnancy was still very, very difficult for me.
A lot of issues came up, and I addressed them with my Naturopathic physician and my midwives. We were able to have a healthy birth, but it was still very, very stressful, and difficult on my body. And so after we had our son, I spent the last five years—and of course doing the podcast as well—learning so much from all these amazing guests we've had on. I spent the last five years really focusing on getting to even the next level of health.
So if you've been a long time listener or you're a new listener, go back and listen to those episodes because, in the last 453 interviews, I’ve really taken to heart so much of this information that we've absorbed from all these great guests, all the courses I’ve taken online, and of course, my continuing mentorship with several really old-school holistic doctors and Naturopathic doctors that I’ve been mentored by over 10 years now.
What happened in the last five years is I focused on really getting specific with what diet is the most healing and restorative for my body? What can I do to detox heavy metals, remove parasites, support my liver and other organs? I shed a lot of even further inflammation and weight, and I saw my blood levels be the healthiest they've ever been.
What's really, really cool is I just had that freedom. The freedom I’m experiencing in my body is something I haven't had since I was a child, and that is so exciting. I keep telling my husband when the baby kicks, I actually forget I’m pregnant, even though I’ve got this really big round belly in front of me. There's definitely an obvious baby belly, but I forget through the day that I’m pregnant. So when she kicks, I’m like oh yeah, oh my gosh, I’m pregnant. And that's so funny because, with the first pregnancy, I was so sick the entire time. I never forgot I was pregnant. And now I walk around, I just feel normal until the baby kicks.
That to me is a great example of what you can achieve with holistic medicine, what you can achieve with health. That there are these levels of health. And when you think you're like I’ve spent the last six years, two years, one year, six months, or how long you've spent investing in your health. You might plateau and you're like okay, this is good. I’m good. And then you learn something else and you decide to take it to the next level. Maybe do a cleanse, a detox, a fast. Maybe change up your exercise routine or your sleep habits. Whatever you do to take it to the next level, just look back after a few years of doing that and go wow, everything that I’m going through now is so much easier than it used to be. And that is such a cool, cool feeling.
I never would have thought that I would have achieved this much in my health 10 years ago, let alone 5 years ago. I’m so excited to be on this journey with you. Wherever you are in your health journey, whether you're a total health nut like me, and you're in really, really great shape, or like most listeners, they have some health complaints, they have some things. We have some listeners that are newer to the holistic space, and they're really sick of suffering. They're just really sick of medications that are not really helping them to get there, to get to their health goals, and they're just ready. They're ready to make some amazing changes.
In this podcast, my goal is to get you that information, to help you to achieve not only your health because physical health is just one aspect of your life. But when you have physical health, how much more ease you have to love yourself, to love your family, to be connected to your friends, to be connected to your creator, to be connected in nature, and have that energy moving through you and just experience the world. Your body is your vessel, and your experience of the world is greatly affected by the health of your vessel.
By giving your body everything it needs, all the nutrition it needs to achieve optimal health, you're giving your entire life and all those you love a better experience, an increase in joy, vitality, and a sense of purpose. So continue on this path no matter where you are. Let's make 2021 be just such an amazing transformative year. You get to say if this is your year of transformation, and I’m going to bring you episodes that are going to help you to continue to transform your life, to make it into the one that you want. The one that you see in your future as the one you want.
My goal was to have an easier and healthier pregnancy this time around, and I didn't even know that it could be this good. I’m letting you know it's so exciting the things that you can achieve.
Now today's guest, I am absolutely ecstatic for you to learn from because this is an area we have touched on a little bit on the show. I mean, over 450 episodes, there's a lot to cover. But the idea that everything in our surroundings—our carpeting, our mattress, the paint on the walls, all of this goes into our health. And our guest today is an incredibly experienced man when it comes to non-toxic environments. He has been in the building industry and focusing on materials used in homes, even in cars, and offices that are non-toxic for the human body long before we ever heard the word green, green technology, or green building. All that kind of came out in the ‘90s. He's been doing this long before that, and he tells this story and it's just absolutely fascinating. He has a lot of great actionable information.
And so if you're thinking this year you're going to renovate your bathroom, repaint some part of your house, or get new flooring, what's really cool is you can contact him. We talk a little bit about this in the interview. You can contact him, and he'll do really quick 15-minute consultations, and he'll point you in the right direction so that it can fit in your budget and be non-toxic. He has so many great resources. It doesn't have to be expensive to create a healthier environment for yourself. So just strap in, enjoy this episode. There's so much to learn.
Now I want to let you know about a webinar that I was part of creating with Jason Payne, who is the founder of my favorite mattress of all times. I really took mattresses for granted. I was just sleeping on whatever, and then we went and bought what I thought was a really expensive mattress at a box chain store a few years ago, and it was the highest end one that was within our budget. I thought man, this is going to last us 10 years. It didn't even last us three years until it was so warped that my husband and I were in so much pain and just so stiff every morning. I was really upset about that, and I looked and I looked and I looked.
I talked to a lot of other holistic people in this space, and the more I dug, the more I realized that most mattresses out there, first of all, are designed to only last a few years, are off-gassing really bad stuff for our health. They're designed in a way that doesn't allow us to have deep restorative sleep. So I finally found a mattress that I absolutely love. I did a ton of digging, and I cannot tell you what a life-changing experience this has been. I had the creator of this mattress on the show a while back, and then we decided to make this webinar so you can see and learn more.
What I want you to do is go to learnturehealth.com/bed. That's learntruehealth.com/bed. Sign up for the free webinar. It's going to teach you a bit about mattresses in general, non-toxic mattresses, what's the difference between that and regular stuff out there, probably between that and what you're sleeping on now. And in this specific mattress, how the technology works to make it so that you don't have pressure points so that you stay in deep restorative sleep longer. You come out no longer in pain, no longer stiff. Some people have actually gotten off of pain meds because of this bed. It's pretty amazing.
Check it out, learnturehealth.com/bed. Why this webinar is relevant to the topic of today's episode is because this is just another thing in your house that you want to replace. When you're ready to replace your bed, you want to replace it with this one because it is non-toxic, and it also will last over 25 years. That will save you a ton of money. If you think about it, if you have to buy a mattress every five years because they get warped or have to go to the chiropractor, you're in pain, and so you're compensating for that pain because you have a wonky mattress that's off-gassing some chemicals. That doesn't save us money and save us our health. This is why I love this mattress, and I can't say enough good things about it. Go to learntruehealth.com/bed and check out that webinar.
Come join us in the Facebook group if you're on Facebook. Just search Learn True Health on Facebook, we'd love to see you there. It’s such a supportive and wonderful community, and you can always reach out to me there in the community if you have questions. And of course, you can always email me, email@example.com. Thank you so much for being a listener, and thank you so much for sharing these episodes with those you care about. If you have any friends or family that are looking to renovate this year or looking to change anything in their home or office, you definitely want to share this episode with them. It's going to make a big difference. Have yourself a fantastic rest of your day, and remember, go to learntruehealth.com/bed and check out that webinar.
Photo by Jimmy Dean on Unsplash
[00:12:12] Ashley James: Welcome to the Learn True Health podcast. I’m your host, Ashley James. This is episode 453. I am so excited for today’s guest. We have with us Andy Pace, the founder of thegreendesigncenter.com.
Now, how I found Andy, it’s been quite interesting. If you’ve been a long-time listener, you’ve heard me interview the Sternagels. I had Teddy Sternagel and her husband, Ryan Sternagel, on the show. They have a child who had cancer and had been through treatments twice. His cancer came back. Thank God, praise God, I am so thrilled to share that their child is cancer-free. They did a lot of holistic medicine.
Through that, they really became aware of how toxins in our home, how things that we take for granted, that things that are completely “safe”, that are sold in stores are actually contributing to the amount of toxic load in our body, and thus contributing to cancer and other diseases. They became so acutely aware of this that they moved from Washington state. They bought a beautiful plot of land in Utah, and they built their home. Every single square inch of this house is non-toxic or the most absolute healthiest choice possible of material.
I asked Ryan, how did you do this? You became an expert on everything non-toxic. He goes, “No, you have to talk to Andy. Andy's the guy.” So I said, “Andy, please come on the show and share with us…” Obviously, for those who want to build our dream non-toxic home, we'd want to talk to Andy. But for those who live in a house or even a rented house or rented apartment, there are so many choices we can make to make better choices for our home environment to decrease the amount of toxic load in our bodies and also for our pets.
I’m sure we can discuss this, but some people will spend thousands of dollars on their pets and not take care of themselves. So I got to tell you that the cancer rates for our pets have gone up, and pets live in our homes 24/7. They don't get to leave much unless we take them out. They're seeing now that it's the toxicity of the off-gassing and everything inside the house that contributes to increases in pet cancer. And of course, if we're seeing that in animals, we're seeing that in humans.
So, Andy, I’m so excited to have you on the show today. You're going to really open our eyes and share with us all the things that we can do to clean up our environment so that we're living a non-toxic or the least toxic possible lifestyle. Welcome to the show.
[00:15:13] Andy Pace: Thank you so much, Ashley. It really is my pleasure to be with you and your audience today. It’s always exciting for me to talk to a new group of listeners out there in the world, and to hopefully open up some eyes to what's really happening and how to make our living environments much, much healthier.
[00:15:37] Ashley James: Absolutely. We're going to get into it. You have so much to share with us today. Now you do podcasts. Do you have your own podcast?
[00:15:46] Andy Pace: I do. It's called Non-Toxic Environments.
[00:15:49] Ashley James: Awesome. And I’m sure my listeners will want to check that out. Of course, the links to everything that Andy Pace does is going to be the show notes of today's podcast at learntruehealth.com. I’m really curious to find out though, what happened in your life that made you want to become an expert in non-toxic environments and non-toxic homes? Did you just wake up as a seven-year-old and you said I really want to become an expert in flooring, paints, and home design for green living? What happened in your life?
[00:16:16] Andy Pace: Well, quite a coincidence there, I actually kind of did as a child want to get into the business of selling building materials, and here's why. My family has owned a commercial construction material supply company that dates back to the 1930s, and we've been here in Wisconsin ever since. When I was in high school, actually before that, as a small child I remember sitting around the dinner table. Unlike most homes, when you're having dinner conversation, we weren't talking about sports or school. I was listening to my mom and dad talk about these architects, these contractors, and projects. At a very young age, I just got really interested in the entire building process.
During high school and during college, I actually was helping the family company program computers. This is the late ‘70s, early ‘80s when computers really first started coming around, and I was setting up a computer system for our family business and again got to learn more. But when I got to college, for me, it was just a no-brainer that I was going to enter the family business of selling commercial construction materials.
For the first two years of my career, I was involved in working with some of the largest commercial architectural firms in the country and assisting them in specifying and detailing the proper products for certain types of applications. My specialty at that time was industrial coatings. We carried a couple of lines of these industrial coating materials—very specialty. They were used in very intricate applications of airplane hangars or humane society projects.
This particular one that really got me going on the health kick was a project that was a below-grade parking structure. So essentially, it was three underground floors of parking underneath a 20-story condominium complex. The architectural firm and engineering firms that were hired to do this project brought me in to make sure we supplied the right materials to cover the concrete to withstand all the oils and greases of cars.
Well, after our crew installed the primer coat onto the concrete—essentially, they prepared the concrete, cleaned it all up, put the primer on, and you have to remember that all of the products that we're supplying were water-based because we knew this is an underground parking garage. There are people living and working in the condominiums and offices above. We can't use anything that has a lot of solvent to it. We made sure to use water-based products.
Well, after the primer coat was applied, we started getting phone calls from people living and working in the condominiums above the parking garage. We couldn't really understand why because we were using a water-based product. We made sure to put up plastic barriers so that the fumes wouldn't carry throughout the building—obviously, that didn't work. After we received a phone call from a United States senator's office who happened to be in this building—I remember this vividly—about 20 minutes after that phone call and we were all standing around talking about how we're going to proceed with this project, three of our workers collapsed.
[00:20:34] Ashley James: You're all standing around?
[00:20:35] Andy Pace: Yes. Three of our workers collapsed. They couldn't breathe. There were inhalation complications due to the coating that we were using, and we could not understand why. It's a water-based product. Well, I learned the hard way—at the age of 22 years old—that a water-based coating doesn't mean solvent-free, it doesn’t mean toxin-free. It means that 50% of the liquid component in the product is water. The other 50% can be whatever the manufacturer chooses to make their product apply better, cure faster, so on and so forth.
When this product was curing, it was an epoxy material. It actually sucked the oxygen out of the room. So we had three workers rushed to the hospital due to these inhalation complications, and they ended up being fine. But the important thing was it taught us a very vivid lesson. Just because something is water-based doesn't mean it's safe, and just because a manufacturer or somebody says oh don't worry it's fine, to not take that seriously.
[00:22:02] Ashley James: Just because it's sold in stores. That's something we really, really need to wrap our brains around. I’m from Canada, I live in the states. I love living here. This is my home, and Canada is also my home. But in both countries, I think we walk around feeling a little bit bulletproof. We're privileged in that we don't live in squalor and poverty. Obviously, I wish everyone in the world was taken care of, and that's the utopia I wish we could create for us. But the truth is that we are so privileged. Just to be in Canada, in the United States—some of the richest economies in the world—we are definitely more privileged than other countries. So I think we walk around feeling a bit bulletproof.
People assume we don't have any parasites. People assume that's something that happens with one of those countries but not this country. And then when we look that the European Union has banned thousands upon thousands of chemicals that are in food, that are in building supplies, that are different medications, and they're not banned here. You got to scratch your head. Why are there chemicals banned in other countries but are readily being used and are on the shelves here?
We have to really get that it is buyer beware when it comes to food, when it comes to anything you use in your home, when it comes to cosmetics. There are over 80,000 man-made chemicals that have been invented in the last 10 or 20 years. Our bodies don't know what to do with these chemicals. The liver doesn't know how to process it. And we're seeing all kinds of health problems continue to rise. So that was your first big wake up, and that's interesting because your family had been in the business for so many generations. But these chemicals weren't around in the 1930s like they are now. There were different chemicals, but now there are some really scary chemicals available, especially when it comes to building homes.
What did you do in your business? You're 22 years old, you're getting a wake-up call around these solvents. How did you change your business? Did you go back to school? What happened next?
[00:24:38] Andy Pace: What I did was I just started researching, and this is before the internet. I couldn't just jump on Google and start looking at article after article of these stories about chemicals and so forth. I actually had to do it the old-fashioned way and go to the library. I had to talk to people in the medical field. It's interesting. What really did it for me was on this project, we still had a contract with the owners of this building to supply a coating and so we had to finish the job. But we realized we couldn't finish it with the products that we started with.
I did a lot of research, talked to a lot of people, a lot of friends in the industry, and finally, the manufacturer that made the coating for us said, I think I know somebody who might be able to help you with this job. He put me in touch with a very, very small company out of—at the time—Riverside, California. A company called American Formulating and Manufacturing. I never heard of them. This company started in 1980-81, and they manufactured paints and coatings.
So I started a conversation with them, and it turns out that AFM was a company that was founded by a man who himself developed cancer being in the paints and coatings industry as a formulator in a lab tech. He made it his life-ending mission—literally, his life-ending mission because he died of cancer—to formulate recipes for paints, coatings, and specialty products that are completely free of the health hazards and toxins that got us into the problem in the first place.
I was introduced to the company, and I spent probably a good two years just trying to figure out what am I going to do with this information? Again, I came from the commercial construction industry. I’m used to working with architects, engineers, and contractors. But when I first started researching the materials from AFM, I thought to myself, I’ve got to go to somebody who I know in the field that can maybe give me some feedback. It just so happens that a good friend of mine was the head of buildings and maintenance for the largest medical complex in Wisconsin.
I reached out to my friend Jim and I said, “Jim, I’ve got this new paint product. The manufacturer claims that it is good for people who are subject to sick building syndrome, environmental illnesses, and something called multiple chemical sensitivity.” I said, “I’ll give you the product. Just use it in one room of the hospital so we can get some feedback so we know what's going on with this.”
Well, he did that for me, and I was there when the painting crew was applying it to one of the rooms. It was amazing. I was watching this crew applying AFM safe coat paint on this hospital room. I couldn't smell a thing. It looked absolutely gorgeous, and the crew gets done. They're talking to Jim, the head of maintenance and buildings and so forth. I’m thinking to myself, this is wonderful. They must use thousands of gallons of paint a year. I would love to be able to work with a medical facility like this.
Jim comes back to me and says, “Yeah, they're not going to use it.” “What? What's wrong with it? He said, “They didn't like the way it applied it. It was thinner, thicker, or something than what they're used to.” Gave me all of these really ridiculous excuses why they didn't want to use the paint. After doing this though, I remember getting one doctor and one nurse—separate times—who came up to me and came up to us during this and said, “This is amazing. Where can I buy this for my house?” I thought, well, it's not available. It’s only available commercially for hospitals, schools, and so forth.
This nurse said specifically, “I have to make sure that whenever they're painting in my department, that it's got to be on my time off because I literally get headaches instantly when they start to paint. It could be 15 rooms down. I'm getting a headache.”
That's when I really started looking at the whole chemical sensitivity thing. But it also dawned on me at that time, well maybe I should just start selling this to people who are asking for it, not try to sell it to companies who are just caring about the bottom line. Really, that's what happened with the hospital is that I found out later on.
The next day, Jim calls me and he says, “I’ll tell you what. The reason why they don't want to use your paint is because when the painting contractors have a contract for the hospital, they buy paint at this really low price in bulk. But they can also use it for all their side jobs. So they would lose that profit margin for all their side jobs. And they will refuse to use anything that takes away that profit margin.”
I learned, at that point, that hospitals are not necessarily always looking out for our best health. So, it really opened my eyes to the industry. From that point on, the conversations I had, we launched a catalog company—because again, there were no internet websites at the time—selling what we called Common Sense Healthier Building Materials. This was 1992 when we did this, 1996 I believe is when the United States Green Building Council was formed. And the late ‘90s, early 2000s is when the LEED program started, the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. The entire green building movement started in the late ‘90s really, and that's when that term became so popular—the term green building.
What happened was those years of studying chemical sensitivity, chemistry, how it affects the human body and so forth—as soon as green building became the norm and became so popular, the entire health aspect was completely forgotten about by the industry. They just focused on energy efficiency and global environmental concerns, which are of course both important, but had nothing to do with human health.
[00:32:45] Ashley James: That is absolutely fascinating. I have a friend, she got a degree in green buildings. She's one of the very few females in the industry in Seattle who manages these high-rise buildings. She's right there at the top. She manages all the general contractors. She works with the architects and manages these two- to four-year projects where they build these huge mega buildings. She was passionate about, not only energy saving but non-toxic.
When we started this interview, I was thinking to myself, what kind of degrees did he get in this? But you were in it before there was even a class you could take.
[00:33:46] Andy Pace: Correct. There wasn't anything. That's the thing is that people who are actually getting degrees in sustainable building, sustainable management, or are becoming certified by the U.S. Green Building Council and the LEED program, nothing against what they're doing. It’s fabulous what they're doing, but you have to look back to the entire premise of green building and what is used as a metric to validate a building and it's indoor air quality. In my eyes and many others' eyes out there, the entire premise is false.
Photo by ben o'bro on Unsplash
[00:34:39] Ashley James: Explain why. So we're talking about indoor air quality. Why is measuring indoor air quality a false premise for certifying something as a green building?
[00:34:49] Andy Pace: Okay. We've all heard that stat that indoor air quality can be 10 to 100 times worse than LA on a bad day.
[00:34:59] Ashley James: Right. Especially that we're all at home. I mean, so many people this year work from home. Many children are at home for school instead. I’m not saying that these office buildings or school buildings would be any better or worse but now is even more important to focus on the air quality inside our home and what's off-gassing in our home. It's interesting that you say that isn't the best metric for a non-toxic home or a green home.
[00:35:29] Andy Pace: Well, it's not necessarily that part. The fact that indoor air quality can be 10 to 100 times worse than LA on a bad day is actually true. But how do they measure? What is the main metric used for measuring indoor air quality?
[00:35:55] Ashley James: I was going to guess that it was some kind of measuring the amount of chemical particles.
[00:36:03] Andy Pace: Okay. Specifically VOCs. You hear this everywhere. VOCs are regulated by the EPA. VOCs have to be lowered in manufacturers’ materials, very similar to the CAFE standards of automobiles. For example, a paint manufacturer decides to start making a zero VOC paint. Not only does it meet the regulations for what a water-based low VOC paint is, but it also allows the manufacturer on the whole to manufacture some of their other products that are very high in VOCs because overall, the average is lower.
[00:36:50] Ashley James: Oh my gosh. And for those who don't know what VOCs are, volatile organic compounds, can you just go back? For listeners who have no idea what you're talking about, what are VOCs?
[00:37:01] Andy Pace: This ties a bow around this whole thing that I’m talking about. Let me give you the exact definition of what a VOC is. A VOC means a volatile organic compound. A volatile organic compound is any carbon-based molecule that's readily vaporized at room temperature that could rise to the upper atmosphere combined with nitrogen and UV and create smog.
[00:37:31] Ashley James: So that really doesn't sound like it's applicable in a house.
[00:37:33] Andy Pace: No, and this is what I’m talking about that the premise is entirely wrong. Just because something is a VOC doesn't mean it's unhealthy for humans. And toxic materials—things that are harmful to humans—are not necessarily VOCs.
[00:37:59] Ashley James: So give us an example of a VOC that isn't toxic. If I was diffusing peppermint essential oil in my home, would that show up as a VOC?
[00:38:12] Andy Pace: It can. How about this. Peel the skin off of an orange, it'll release 850 grams per liter of VOCs.
[00:38:20] Ashley James: Clearly something that's healthy for us or non-toxic for us to peel an orange.
[00:38:26] Andy Pace: You know what acetone is, nail polish remover?
[00:38:31] Ashley James: Yeah.
[00:38:32] Andy Pace: Open up a can of acetone in your house. Just open it up, let it sit there.
[00:38:39] Ashley James: I hate that smell so much.
[00:38:41] Andy Pace: Within 15 minutes, everybody who lives in that house will have detectable levels of acetone in their liver.
[00:38:46] Ashley James: Oh my gosh.
[00:38:47] Andy Pace: But according to the EPA, it's not a VOC. So you have to remember the premise of the whole VOC regulation. It's because of outdoor air pollution only. There is no regulation on the books based upon VOCs because of their inherent danger to humans. It's alluded to, it's talked about, it's referenced, but it's not actually a real regulation. The reason is because you mentioned it before. There are over 80,000 chemicals used in the production of building materials and home goods. Out of those 80,000 chemicals, only 3% have ever been tested for the toxicological effects on humans.
[00:39:40] Ashley James: Oh wait, hold on. I think that warrants a little bit more discussion. This is crazy. We assume that every drug on the market has gone through rigorous testing, right? And then we take that same assumption and assume that every man-made chemical that is available for our house, for our body, or for our food has been rigorously tested. And you're saying that only 3% has been tested for safety with humans?
[00:40:10] Andy Pace: Correct.
[00:40:11] Ashley James: And they haven't been tested in combination with other chemicals.
[00:40:17] Andy Pace: No, not at all. What happens is in the United States, when a manufacturer invents a new chemical compound—and keep in mind, this is happening at a more rapid pace because of things like the VOC regulations, and I’ll get to that in a second. The manufacturer comes out with a new chemical. It submits it to the EPA. I could be wrong about the exact number of days. I believe it's 120 days that the EPA has to essentially approve it or reject it. So they get 120 days after the application date to approve it or reject it, and they could say, nope, we reject this because it's going to kill off half the population.
However, because manufacturers are coming out with these new chemical compounds at such a rapid pace, and there's something like a two-year backlog to do testing, the regulations as they are written today state that if the EPA can't get to actually testing them within that time period or initially they rubber-stamp it approved.
[00:41:36] Ashley James: And how do they test it? On animals? Really, how do you test these chemicals?
[00:41:41] Andy Pace: That's also kind of an unknown. The fact of the matter is that if they get 120 days to test and they don't test it within 120 days, they have to automatically approve them because there's a two-year backlog for testing. What happens then is they leave it up to the consumer to essentially file class-action lawsuits with other consumers who've gotten sick because of it.
If this were a true leave it up to the marketplace sort of thing where manufacturers were forced to disclose their ingredients, then I can see that would actually be, in my opinion, a better way to go because now you have a complete list of everything that's in these materials. I’ll use paint because I know paint the best.
On the MSDs or the safety data sheets for a gallon of paint, it's not an ingredients list. It's essentially a list of certain chemicals that make up more than 1% of the volume or are not part of a proprietary blend. And they have to list those certain chemicals that may have a hazard component to them. When a manufacturer puts together something like a gallon of paint, you look at the MSDs, and you see three things listed, how could paint be made of three things? Well, it's not. It's made of 30 things. Most of those ingredients each make up less than 1% of the volume, therefore do not have to be listed on the safety data sheet.
That's where the real bad stuff is hidden. You've got to remember that the VOC regulations, the safety data sheet regulations, everything out there are written for the protection of the manufacturer, not the consumer. The entire green building movement and indoor air quality component of the green building movement is based upon reducing VOCs in a space. Yet VOCs have nothing to do sometimes, most times, with the true hazardous component of what's being used inside of a building. Because there are only a couple hundred chemicals used in building materials that'll be classified as VOCs, yet there are 80,000 chemicals that are available for use.
We're focusing on the wrong things. We're not focusing on the toxicity of the ingredients, and the reason why we're not is because we can't. Because manufacturers are not being forced to disclose their ingredients. Because they've lobbied enough to say to every governmental agency out there that listen, I don't want to give up my ingredients list because that's proprietary. I don't want somebody to copy my products. It really is difficult for somebody.
Believe me, I've given this presentation to architectural societies—a room full of people who have been practicing architecture for decades. They're experts in buildings, and some of these people are experts in green buildings. I tell them about this whole VOC thing and their jaws just drop open. It's not talked about whatsoever. It's not talked about that the EPA actually publishes a list of 27 different toxic chemicals that are fully allowed to be used in zero VOC formulations of materials because they specifically do not create a low-level smog. Because they don't react with nitrogen the way that most carbon-based chemicals do. Manufacturers are allowed to use acetone, ammonia, butyl acetate, and trichloroethane.
[00:46:17] Ashley James: These are chemicals that are stressing the liver, causing health issues. But because they don't contribute to smog, they're fine, they're safe. I don't trust the EPA.
[00:46:29] Andy Pace: Because it’s the EPA. They're the environmental protection agency.
[00:46:34] Ashley James: Here's why I don't trust them. On 9/11, so many of the emergency responders and the volunteers have gotten major health problems. The EPA was very quick to say—and you can google this and watch news videos of it on 9/11—the air is safe to breathe. The air was not safe to breathe, and these workers and volunteers that were trying to find anyone alive in the rubble or they're working through the rubble day and night were all exposed to what has either killed them by now or given them a lifelong crippling disease. And the EPA completely failed them. They should have said no, the air is not safe to breathe.
Anyone with an understanding of what was in that air would have said the air is not safe to breathe. They need protection. They need some kind of protection to go in there. That for me I have not trusted them since then. When we trust an organization with our health, we tend to become relaxed. We have to look at how our relationship is as adults with organizations because I think we sometimes become children. I trust this big organization that's supposed to be looking out for me. It's like we become children again trusting our parents to do the right thing for us.
So we have to get that it's always buyer beware, always, always—even if there's an FDA, a CDC, and all these alphabet soup organizations. They're not the ones responsible for our health, even though we've given them that responsibility. We still have to do our research. We still have to know that everything that we put in our mouths, put in our bodies, and put in our environment is our responsibility. It’s scary. This is the dark side of the way our manufacturing is, the way our consumerism is. That it is buyer beware. And I love that you found the AFM so early on because it allowed you to find a company that was ethical.
I love finding ethical companies to work with like yourself who are going to spend a few more dollars to make sure that the building materials you’re using are safe. Now, what do you think about the environmental working group? Do you like them as a resource when it comes to looking at ingredients for what could be healthy?
[00:49:26] Andy Pace: I do. I certainly use a lot of the information they publish. I also look at the product declaration and health declarations that some companies are now having done by a third party. I think that there are certainly many more responsible manufacturers out there now than there ever used to be. I chalked that up to the fact that again, I was telling the story of how we got really started with this. The green building really hit its zenith in about 2005, 2006. At the time, I was actually the president of one of the largest architectural associations in the country. I was talking to friends and colleagues all around the country, and all they talked about was green building.
What happened in the late 2000s? The big recession happened. From a residential standpoint, it used to be that I’d have a customer come in and say, we're remodeling the bathroom. I want to use this really cool concrete with a recycled glass countertop in the bathroom. I’d say, okay, well here's the price. It's a little more expensive than these other materials that are more commercially available. They said that's all right. I love the fact that it's recycled content. I think it's going to be great to tell my neighbors and friends about it.
At that time, people were spending money to buy anything green because that was just the wave we were going on. Then the recession hit and nobody spent money on new homes, remodeling. It was the first time in history that when the new construction market went down, usually what happens is remodeling goes up. Well, first time in history where new construction went down, remodeling went down because people were losing value in their homes for no reason. We were finding that the homes were just overvalued. And so people were losing the equity in their homes. They didn't want to put any more money into them because it’s just going to be a waste.
That didn't really correct itself until about 2013. When those customers started coming back into the marketplace, it's interesting. The individuals who were buying green for the sake of buying green before, a lot of those folks were coming back to us saying, “Hey, remember I worked with you a few years ago?” “Yeah, I remember.” They would say, “We're remodeling one of our rooms, and we're looking for healthy flooring or healthy paint.” Their mindset changed during that time. They realized that if they're going to spend—as you pointed out before—a little more money buying something that's green, well what is it doing for them personally?
They came back to the marketplace saying it's got to help us personally as well if I’m going to spend more. I might as well buy something that's actually healthier for us because while 50% of the world at any given time is going to tell you that the green building movement is garbage. We don't have to worry about it. Probably closer to 95% of people would say yeah, but if it's healthier for me and healthier for my family, now it's worth it.
They almost re-educated themselves to say all right, here's why we're going to spend a little more because I don't have to worry about the toxicity of this stuff. Since then, we've seen an explosion in the healthy building market, and very rarely do I get a customer now calling up and asking me if there's any recycled content in the product that they're buying. They'll say, “How does it affect my family? I’ve got somebody in the household who's got an immune disorder.”
[00:53:56] Ashley James: I like that you said healthy building market because green like you've said, some kind of builder who's been certified in green material, that might not even be non-toxic.
[00:54:10] Andy Pace: Correct.
[00:54:12] Ashley James: I’ve interviewed two people from this mold mitigation company that I really like, Green Home Solutions. I really like them because they invented a kind of enzyme that cracks open mold and digests it. So the mold is not there anymore. If you bleach mold, it's still there. Even though it's dead it's still releasing the toxins. They have something that kills the mold and stops it from releasing its toxins, and then it even stops it for up to two years or something like that and it's all-natural. It’s just an enzyme that's completely safe.
In the interviews, they shared that these newer homes that are “green” are worse for mold than 100-year-old homes that are drafty. Drafty is actually good. Let's say you bought a home that's built in 2018 and it's “green,” they made it so heat effective to keep in the heat so you use less energy, to keep in the air conditioning so you use less energy. There are so many barriers and there's very little flow from outside air, and that ends up trapping moisture in parts of the building—either the basement or the attic. And then they're seeing in these newer homes a ton of mold.
I thought that was fascinating because here I’m thinking we've been constructing houses for thousands of years. This is not a new science, and yet we expect that the latest in architecture and building homes—especially because they call it green—would mean that it is healthier and safer. So what you're saying is that a green home isn't necessarily healthier or safer, and could actually be more toxic because it's trapped the air in thus keeping these chemicals, not necessarily VOCs, but these chemicals. Like you mentioned the acetone for example that within 15 minutes of inhaling it, it's in our liver. Keeping what's off-gassing inside the house, and then if it had mold somewhere in the house, keeping all the toxins inside the house and the house isn't breathing enough, that's kind of scary.
You do a healthy building. I don't like the term green building because that makes us give up our power again. That makes us go, it's a green building, I trust everything here. We stop looking. We stop questioning. So we have to continue to question even though something is “green.”
[00:57:07] Andy Pace: Yes. About 15 years ago, I created a building product rating system of my own. There’s a green garden, there's a green seal, there are scientific certification systems, and all these different organizations’ floor score and so forth. All these third party solutions give us information about whether or not a product is considered green. Well, what I found was when I was trying to train my own staff here and trying to make it so that when a customer called up, everybody on staff would be able to give the same information, without influence, to our potential customers.
What we found out was, after our extensive research on this, there are actually 27 different reasons why you can call a building material green—27 different reasons—and all boils down to three main categories: environmental health, sustainability, and human health. So a lot of these reasons why products are called green essentially go into a category that we would call greenwashing, which is when a manufacturer or a salesperson essentially over exaggerates the overall environmental and health benefit because of maybe one little component, and I’ll give you examples.
There was a very large big box home improvement store here in the US that at the time, in the 2000s, they started adding these eco tags to several products that they were selling in their stores. Eco option or something like that, I forget what the terminology they're using. This is an eco option, and they put an eco option tag on bags of fiberglass insulation, which first off it's not an option. Here in Wisconsin, when it gets to be 30 below 0 in the wintertime, it's not an option to use insulation. It's actually building code, but they were selling it as an option because that’s an energy saver. They were putting an eco option tag on an electric chainsaw because it uses electricity to cut down trees instead of fuel. That's a prime example of greenwashing.
There was a manufacturer here down the street that was making, I forget at the time what it was, but they started advertising in the trade publication saying that they were a green company because they have all local manufacturing. Nothing was made overseas until you found out that 98% of the components that they were using were manufactured overseas before they finally put it together here—greenwashing.
Patagonia, I love their products. They were winning environmental award after environmental award because of their eco fleece jackets, hats, and gloves. What eco fleece essentially is taking plastic soda and water bottles, they melt it down, they spin it into a fleece fabric. Great, you're taking stuff out of the landfills. You're taking stuff out of the ocean, which in and of itself is fantastic. However, the chemist that originally invented PET back in the ‘30s said in his original report that this product should never come in contact with human skin because it enters into the blood system, it can turn chemicals into trihalomethanes, and essentially eat the body from the inside out.
So we're giving awards to manufacturers for poisoning us. These are all forms of greenwashing. And so I use this to create what I call my degree of green program. When a customer comes in, we have three main customers that come to one of our showrooms. The first customer comes in and says we are building a new house. It's got to be as human toxin-free as possible. We have a seven-year-old with autism. She responds very negatively to chemical off-gassing and exacerbates her symptoms and so forth. We need a house that is as synthetic chemical-free as possible. Can you help us?
The next customer walks in and she says I’ve been on this earth for 55 years. I’ve been a burden to the earth for 55 years. Can you help me remodel a home using all recycled, repurposed, and renewed materials? I want nothing manufactured virgin for my house. The third customer walks in and says can you help me build a home with the lowest carbon footprint?
Now, which one of those customers is wrong? None of them. They're all right in their own way. They've all developed their own personal degree of green. The first customer is about human health. The second customer, it's about sustainability. The third customer is about environmental concerns. All of them are right, yet the industry as a whole treats everybody the same—they call it green.
[01:03:01] Ashley James: But the one who's using recycled material, that's not necessarily a healthy home.
[01:03:07] Andy Pace: No, not at all.
[01:03:09] Ashley James: And the one that's doing the lowest carbon footprint isn't necessarily a healthy home. It’s not necessarily a low toxic home either.
[01:03:16] Andy Pace: And that's the thing. So yes, I focus on health. That's what I do. I focus on human health first. What I do is I help customers who are trying to build a new home, I act as their consultant liaison with the architects, the contractors, and all their subs. I always look out for the customer's best interest when it comes to human health first. And sometimes, that means you have to maybe give up a little bit of the eco-friendliness or the sustainability aspect. The healthiest floor material may not be made in the United States, might be made in the Netherlands. The healthiest paint product may not be natural, it may actually be synthetic.
These are the things that we have to look at and say there is no broad brush for everything. We have to actually look at the ingredients, and we use a heck of a lot of anecdotal information from the 30,000 customers I’ve worked with over my career to say, generally speaking, here's what they can tolerate. These are the most chemically sensitive of people out there, and here's what they say worked for them. So after we have enough knowledge and enough data of our own, we can say, on the whole, these are the ones that work the best.
Photo by Christopher Campbell on Unsplash
[01:04:32] Ashley James: Fascinating. I interviewed a guy who—his name's escaping me right now, but he worked for the DEA, that was it. He was going after the kind of like Miami Vice. He described it as like back in the ‘70s or ‘80s, he's like Miami Vice. He was going after the mob basically down there. He went into a new office building and then he got poisoned so bad he was in the hospital. He got his whole detective team trying to figure out who poisoned him because they were taking down the mob, they honestly thought the mob had poisoned him. It took him years before he figured out that he was exposed to building chemicals.
Basically, back then, there weren't any regulations for when they build a new building. These are high rises like condos and office buildings. And office buildings have different standards than condos. My husband was a union carpenter for 20 years and so he loved to point out the differences in building materials from living in an apartment to working in an office. There are a lot more regulations in an office building so it doesn't burn down. I’m like why aren't the same regulations in an apartment building? I always thought it was interesting, but they use different materials and so there are different toxic levels.
He was in an office building that was just built in Miami. They turned on the AC and all the air was recycled. There was no new air coming in. So you can imagine this is like a 50-, 60-story building with all the off-gassing of the new carpets and the paint. A few other people had a similar experience, but he was hit pretty bad. Who knows why. It could be genetics, it could be nutrient deficiencies. Whatever happened he almost died.
It took him I think it was 15 years to recover. He found a Naturopath that figured out what his issue was and actually nursed him back to health. But for something like 10 or 15 years, he had to live in the desert. He couldn't be exposed to any electricity at all. Any electricity would cause his body to go haywire. He had to live in a house that was metal that had nothing that could off-gas, living in the desert, and he called himself basically bubble boy.
He wrote a book about it. It was a very interesting interview because it really made me see how some people who are exposed to these toxins cause lifelong debilitation, and if you continue to go to MDs who are not experienced in this realm, they might treat you for fibromyalgia or something that's sort of like a catch-all without knowing that your migraines are triggered by this chemical or that chemical that's just in your environment.
I have another friend. She and her daughter were debilitated for the last few years because she was exposed to PCBs, radon, lead, and furans—I don't know if I’m pronouncing that right. There's an alternative school here in Monroe, Washington, and there's a really good AP article on it. Basically, a major company that I’m not going to mention their name because of the lawsuit, and I don't want them coming after me.
Let's just say it's a chemical company that was more recently, in the last few years, bought by a pharmaceutical company. There's a huge class-action lawsuit with hundreds of students and parents, several of which have died of cancer and other diseases because of their exposure to these chemicals in the school building. The school district said the school was safe when it still wasn't safe. There were PCBs basically dripping from the ceiling and leaking onto the children, onto their desks from these old light fixtures.
Just the horror stories that came out of this building. These are old buildings. They said that the chemicals are in the caulking, that they're in the light fixtures. There are several building materials that were even 60 years later still causing health issues. We have major, major issues with old buildings like the ones with PCBs. And then we have issues with the very new buildings, right?
It's not like you can say, oh well, my condo was once a schoolhouse that was renovated. It's a 100-year-old building or a 50-year-old building so it must not have the 80,000 chemicals in it. That's not necessarily true. What we're looking at is any home can be toxic.
[01:09:38] Andy Pace: Any home can be toxic. The question I get quite often from clients is can you give me a time frame? If I’m going to look for an existing home, and I do have a number of clients who'll actually hire me to help them go through Zillow listings to see which homes might be best for them. Is there a certain time frame that I should be looking at or that I should be avoiding?
[01:10:03] Ashley James: When were homes the healthiest? What era?
[01:10:08] Andy Pace: Interestingly enough, homes that were the healthiest were the ones built prior to World War II. After the war, this is when manufacturing really started ramping up with plastics. Could there be things like lead in the house? Yes, but that's easier to remediate. Asbestos wrapping around pipes and insulation, easy to remediate. We can see it. We can take care of it.
[01:10:40] Ashley James: Copper pipes or whatever.
[01:10:41] Andy Pace: But homes themselves, as you said before, were built so energy-inefficient that it allowed for fresh air to come to the house. Homes that were built after the war and specifically homes built in the ‘70s and ‘80s are the ones that I typically avoid. The reason for that is the whole sick building syndrome and environmental illness thing really started becoming problematic after the oil embargo of the early ‘70s by OPEC. Because building materials and buildings themselves were being built tighter, more energy-efficient because of the cost of energy.
I mean even in commercial buildings that you could adjust the amount of fresh air coming into these commercial spaces, the building managers would essentially cut down the amount of fresh air just so they didn't have to pay to heat or cool it. This is when we first started really learning about environmental illness inside of a building.
In the ‘80s, that really came to a head because this is when manufacturers really started ramping up with new technologically advanced building materials and things like building wraps that were used on the outside of a structure before your siding that would slow down water come into the building, but it would also slow down the water leaving the building—any moisture inside that cavity—and this is when mold started, and really to be a big problem in the ‘80s.
You had building materials that were made out of wood dust instead of solid wood. That wood dust was held together using urea formaldehyde-based adhesives, and all this is just a recipe for mold. Homes that were built to be sort of airtight but not really just means that moisture gets locked in that exterior cavity wall and eventually you're going to find a mold spore on some of the lumber that's going to proliferate because of the environment.
Homes that were built in the ‘90s, 2000s, this is when you started getting homes that were being built, utilizing a bit more of what's called building science. But they still weren't really focusing on the human aspect—a human living inside of the space. And now with what we call the healthy building, that's first and foremost. That's the very first thing we look at is the health of the human occupant. Everything else is secondary.
[01:13:45] Ashley James: As it should be. I mean, it's your home. If you're focusing on the health of the human, then the health of the pets is going to come with it. And it's not like we're doing this every day. You build the home once, and hopefully, you live in it for a really long time. If it does have a carbon footprint, if it does have an environmental impact, I mean you're not doing it all the time. You're doing it once, and hopefully, because you built it to your specifications, it's your forever home.
[01:14:13] Andy Pace: That's the thing. Part of the equation of building a healthy home is also to utilize materials that you don't have to replace too often because every time you have to do a project in the home and bring in outside contractors, you're causing disruption to family life. You're causing disruption in the air handling equipment. You're bringing in potential chemical toxicity. So if I can use a flooring material that's going to last 50 years as opposed to something that lasts 20, even though that flooring material is a little more expensive, in the long run not only is it less expensive because it lasts twice as long, but it's also going to cut down on any potential toxicity in the future.
We make decisions based on human health first. Now the number one question I get from customers is how expensive is it to build a healthy home? It's got to be more expensive.
[01:15:11] Ashley James: That's the first question my husband asked me last night. I told him how excited I was about this interview. We were cooking dinner and cleaning dishes, and I told him how excited I was. His first question was, “Well, I wonder how much more expensive is it?” I said, “I mean, Ryan and Teddy had spent pretty much all of their money on all the holistic treatments for their son.” I mean they told their story. This isn't the secret, but they had to sell their house and they spent all their life savings on their son, and yet they were still able to afford to build their dream non-toxic healthy home.
I told my husband, I’m like, “Well, if Ryan and Teddy could do that after years of exhausting all their resources on saving their son's life, it sounds like yeah sure, it could be a bit more expensive, but it doesn't sound astronomical. It doesn't sound out of one's reach.”
[01:16:17] Andy Pace: Well, there are two things at play here. Number one, what are your tastes for design? Do you want plastic switchblade covers or do you want brass? Think about that. Do you always gravitate towards things that are in the higher price range because you like the better style and you like things that are flashier and so forth?
The other thing is quality level, longevity of materials plays the biggest impact. I actually had an email conversation with a potential client yesterday, and she just can't wrap her head around the fact—she says, “I’m sorry, but every time I start doing research on healthier building materials, it seems like my prices are going up.” And I said, “Well, what are they going up from?”
What I mean by that is then let's take paint for instance. Again, I know paint the best. If you're choosing a gallon of paint that is considered low-cost paint, you put it on the wall, it looks fine. But in six months, the paint starts to dust and shock chalk off the wall, starts to lose its color, lose its luster. You can't wash it cause it'll wash right off the wall. This is what's called an architectural grade or commercial grade paint. It's used extensively in the commercial industry, and the reason why is commercial buildings are typically repainted every three to five years. That's just the schedule they're on.
Inside of a home, if you ever paint your house, you never want to do it again. It’s not an easy task. You have to move furniture. You have to mask everything. You got to take time off of work, or you hire somebody and you spend gobs of money but they do quality work. The fact is that most homeowners never want to repaint walls, or they don't want to do it any more often than every 20 years.
So premium grade residential paint is far superior in durability, longevity, and color retention than any commercial architectural grade paint out there. When you call a contractor to give you a price on a home, you're calling three contractors. Most often, these paint contractors are going to be bidding on paint that's at a very low price point because they just want to get the job. And most homeowners, let's be honest, don't have extensive knowledge of paint. I wouldn't expect them to.
People don't call up and say I want this quality. This is the product I want. They just say, can you give me a price to paint my house? They'll give them a price and there it is. 60% to 80% of the price that they get from the contractor will actually be labor and overhead, and a very smaller percentage of 20% to 40% is actually the material itself. If you double the cost of material, you don't double the cost of the project.
When people compare pricing and they say it's so expensive to buy healthy paint, the difference is when you buy healthy materials, 9 times out of 10 you're also buying higher quality materials, longer-lasting materials because we've taken that into the equation. This is why we sell it because you're not going to have to repaint in 20 years unless you get sick of the color.
So when you say this really price-conscious paint is $30 a gallon and your toxin-free, human-friendly paint is $60 a gallon, but ours lasts four to five times longer. And it's free of toxins, it just so happens to be. So you're not paying the extra because it's healthy, you're paying the extra because it's better quality. So now let's look at an entire home. Use that mentality for an entire home.
If you were to build a home-based upon big-box deals and lumber yard seconds, you can build a home for $120 bucks a square foot. If you're going to build a home that you want to be your life-ending home, and you want to be able to resell this home and not lose value because of the quality, you want it to improve value. You might spend $180 to $250 dollars a square foot because it's better quality. It's lasting longer, and you can see it. You can feel it in the home.
So it has nothing to do with the health component, the pricing. It has to do with quality.
[01:21:13] Ashley James: So, if someone could have a budget and build their home, I mean they don't need the granite countertops, they don't need the brass light fixtures. If they have a budget in mind and their sole purpose is we want a non-toxic home, but I like that you say let's look at investing a bit more if you can. Let's look at what lasts 50 years versus 20 versus 5. If you're doing this, you're hopefully building your forever home.
Now, what about people because it's less likely that everyone's listening is going to build their home, although that is my dream. That's my win the lottery; I'm calling you tomorrow. But if someone's remodeling, and especially again, I hate to bring up the fact that so many people are homebound these days and may continue to be. Major companies like Google, Facebook, and Microsoft have said that they're thinking everyone's going to be basically working from home for the next year. And then who knows with the schools, but many kids are homeschooling or long-distance learning.
So the whole family is at home—not everyone, but a lot of us—and you're looking around going, man, I really wish I had a better floor. I know I'm looking at my carpet wishing I could replace it right now. And if I did, I’d replace it with something that was non-toxic, of course. So there are certain things that people want to fix up around the house, maybe even just choosing a caulking, looking at their bathtub going, wow, I really need to re-caulk this bathroom before some mold comes in. Or I want to repaint a certain area. Maybe a little do-it-yourself home project. Where would they go to get some resources? Your website is great. The greendesigncenter.com has great information, but could someone hire you to consult them on small projects as well around the house?
[01:23:11] Andy Pace: Interestingly enough, I think most of my day is spent on consulting calls with customers all over the world who just have a few quick questions. Unlike a lot of consultants that are hired only for projects, I spend most of my day on 15-minute phone calls. You have a couple of questions that somebody says listen, we're looking at getting a new heating and ventilating system for our house. Can you just give me a few things to look for? Or we've got a contractor here and they're helping us fix the deck outside. What should we look for a finish or for construction adhesive and so forth?
I would love to have our website be a 100% effective educational tool for all of these things, but the fact of the matter is that it's impossible. It's impossible to be able to service everyone just with the information online because everybody's projects are so different. They all have their own little quirks and issues to deal with, and the only way that I can help is with that conversation. We talk it through, we figure it out.
I’ve got a wonderful client in Hawaii that will hire me every couple of weeks for between 15 minutes and an hour. He himself was a commercial developer for years. He's retired now, but he said to me last time after working with him for about two years, he goes, “You know Andy, I’ve worked with a lot of consultants in my career. You're the only one I can actually have a conversation with and you get it. You understand it.”
I come from the building industry, but I’m so used to working with people who have little issues that just need to be fixed. Whether I sell the product or not is kind of irrelevant when I’m being hired as a consultant because I just want you to get the best help that you can. If there is another company that I know of in your area that can provide the services or the materials that you need, I’m going to point you in that direction because ultimately, you've got to get this taken care of quickly.
The first customer that I can remember who I really, really went to school with, I’ll say, is a client in Northern Illinois back in ’95. She called me up and she said that she's been living in one room of her home coated in aluminum foil for the last two years.
[01:26:06] Ashley James: I believe it.
[01:26:09] Andy Pace: I mean, you talk about the person you were speaking of who lives in an aluminum box. This is essentially what they did. There's a product out there called Dennyfoil. It's essentially an industrial aluminum foil that we use to cover things that are off-gassing. When nothing else works, this does. It's ugly, it's metallic, it's shiny and slippery, but it works. When people have no other thing that they can do, this is what they do. She lived in that room for two to three years. For the last six months, her husband was remodeling the house and I was helping her husband choose materials and so forth. She was able to move into that house. Every once in a while, I still get a card or a letter from her just to say thank you.
I’m in business to sell materials and to sell my services, yes. But I can't tell you what it's like to have customers who call or email and say you saved my life. I’m not a physician. No, I don't save people's lives. I don't think so. But there are people who have such extreme health issues they're just looking for somebody to believe them, number one. Because let's face it, a lot of these folks have been trying to go to their regular doctors and they're basically being told they're crazy because no, that can't happen. You can't be allergic to chemicals, so on and so forth. But they find somebody who understands it, has been there before. I myself have some sensitivities. I know what it's like.
And then we have customers now that we have helped like the Sternagels who can live in a house that is safe for them and their family. I mean, it makes it for me getting up every morning and going to work, it's remarkable and really indescribable.
[01:28:24] Ashley James: I love it. When they say you've saved my life, you've saved the quality of their life.
[01:28:30] Andy Pace: Yes.
[01:28:31] Ashley James: I mean, they certainly might have died sooner. I mean, we're all eventually not going to be here in this body. Eventually, we all move on, and it is really about the quality of life that we can create. Having true health means being symptom-free and having a long healthy life that is as symptom-free as possible, as long as possible. I love hearing about 100-year-olds that run marathons. That's the kind of 100-year-old I want to be. I don't want to be the 100-year-old that's suffering in tremendous pain. I want to be 100-year-old running marathons and gardening. I want to die when I’m 120.
The life I live now is what is going to determine the quality of my life later, barring any accidents. That's what we need to think about when we invest in the health of our home. That that all these materials that come into our life, our food, everything we intake, everything we breathe in, everything we apply to our skin, everything we ingest, it all plays a role in whether we're going to live that long, healthy, symptom-free life or whether we're going to suffer now or suffer later.
In holistic medicine, Naturopathy, they look at what they call the Vis or the constitution. And there are two types of constitutions that people have, and you would know both of them because everyone has a friend in their life who has a very weak constitution. The weather changes and they're bedridden or something. Maybe they eat a little bit of sugar, drink too much wine or too much coffee late at night, and the next day they're wrecked. They just have a very weak constitution. Those people typically take better care of themselves than the ones like me who have a strong constitution. I can plow through anything. The iron stomach, I can handle anything. We typically don't slow down to take care of ourselves until we pass out.
I’m imagining the three construction workers, three strapping young men who are standing there in that meeting probably feeling woozy all day not telling you until they completely pass out. They probably had symptoms, but they didn't listen to those symptoms because it's not manly to go, I have a slight headache or I feel a little weak. Maybe I need to sit down, and then they pass out. That's the strong constitution. And in Naturopathic medicine, the ones who have a weak constitution actually typically live longer healthier lives, believe it or not, because they slow down to take care of themselves and listen to their body. It's the people like me who had to wait for the cosmic 2X4 to hit me over the head before I went, oh I guess I should take care of myself.
So the ones with the strong constitutions, I’m speaking to you guys, even though we're not affected necessarily by all the things that are off-gassing—although I hate the smell of acetone. My body goes ew, but I don't get a migraine from it. I know other people do. Okay, my liver is processing it. I don't want to over toxify my liver. My liver is doing a lot of good for me right now. But it doesn't put me down and out to have acetone in my environment. Whereas other people, like the woman you mentioned who had to live for three years with aluminum foil around her, would be put down and out if she was inhaling acetone.
[01:32:10] Andy Pace: Without a doubt.
[01:32:12] Ashley James: Right. So those who are very quick to have symptoms typically will take better care of themselves, and hopefully though, they don't go to the first drug available because that just masks symptoms. It doesn't actually get to the root cause. And those of us who have strong constitutions who are like I could live in any home, I don't care. Well, not everyone in the immediate family that's going to be living in that home has a strong constitution. The husband might be strong, but the wife is always suffering or vice versa. So that's one reason to really focus on having a healthy home instead of just toughing through it. And then understanding that those of us who tough through it will suffer later because eventually, the body will break.
[01:33:01] Andy Pace: I love the way you describe this because it helps to talk about the fact that everybody is different. The example I use with customers is everybody is born with a drum inside of their body, that all the chemicals and pollutants that we are exposed to on a daily basis, they all filter into this drum and then there's a spigot on the bottom of that drum that filters it out of the body. Well, sometimes that drum gets filled up faster than others. Some people's drums aren't as big. Once that drum fills up and it's actually filling up faster than it's draining out, it starts to spill over the top. That's what chemical sensitivity is. It's the fact that the body says no more, I can't do it.
There are three main ways that a person becomes chemically sensitive. One is massive exposure. This is where you hear of somebody who is exposed to a massive chemical. You said about the person you were talking about earlier, massive exposure because of new construction. And there's probably some chemical—formaldehyde-based—that caused that exposure. I’ll give you a good example of that.
When the EPA built its own headquarters in Washington DC 30 years ago.
[01:34:37] Ashley James: Oh my god, I’m just imagining the disaster. Okay, go on.
[01:34:41] Andy Pace: So the EPA built its new headquarters, and within the first two weeks, I believe it was 1200 people who worked in that building had to go home because of getting sick. It turns out it was the carpet and the carpet adhesive that was causing everybody to get sick. To this day, 30 years later, there are over 100 people who are still on permanent disability.
[01:35:12] Ashley James: No. This is such a great example. So many people blindly trust that the EPA is out for our best interest. They wouldn't approve a chemical in our environment that would harm us, but they themselves were poisoned by their own building materials that they were supposed to approve.
[01:35:36] Andy Pace: Correct. That’s because of just what they're looking for. They're not looking for human health issues. That's an example of massive exposure. Or another example would be legionnaires disease. When you have these legionnaires in Philadelphia who are massively exposed to this bacteria. The second way that people become chemical sensitive is typically a high-impact medical procedure—car accidents resulting in surgery, childbirth changes the chemistry and electrical impulses in a person's body. It's something to do with a health-related issue that changes the chemistry in the body. So you hear this all the time that somebody just has a medical procedure and all of a sudden they get rashes every time they use a certain type of soap. It just changes the chemistry of the body.
[01:36:44] Ashley James: Sorry to interrupt, Dr. Joel Wallach—who's one of my mentors, I’ve had him on the show a few times. He's been my mentor for the last 10 years. 80-year-old Naturopathic physician who's also a research scientist, a pathologist, a veterinarian, and has a degree in soil agriculture is really interesting. He would say that when we go through major health events, the body becomes depleted of certain nutrients.
For example, selenium is a trace mineral that the liver needs in order to recycle glutathione, and the body also needs in order to protect the thyroid. When we go through major issues like childbirth, an infection, or surgery, and if we're not getting enough of that in our food, which so much of our food is depleted in certain minerals, then the body becomes more depleted. Then the liver cannot process toxins in the same way it used to because it's just deficient.
He often says if people all of a sudden have these chemical sensitivities after some kind of health event, that we have to look at nutrient deficiencies that were exacerbated by these life events. Well, you mentioned legionnaires. For those who don't know anything about that, can you fill us in?
[01:38:01] Andy Pace: A little bit. Legionnaire's disease is essentially a bacterial infection that was caused by legionella—I shouldn't say bacterial infection. It was actually a mold that was growing in the HVAC system of a large convention center. These people, these conference-goers, these American legion, the legionnaires—where this kind of came from—were getting sick. And after much research, I realized that this is what caused it. It was mold in the HVAC system in a stagnant drip pan that was not cleaned out properly.
[01:38:57] Ashley James: And so they end up having lifelong issues and exposure. So anytime they're exposed to other toxins—that's something that a lot of people don't know is that when you're exposed to mold, mold could actually live in your bloodstream and mold can continue to cause toxins for years to come inside your body. Just like a parasite would continue to grow or bacteria or yeast. It's similar to that, and there are certain foods, herbs, and supplements we can take to mitigate that and help the body rid it. But that's like that barrel that you mentioned.
I interviewed Dr. Stephen Cabral who wrote a book, The Rain Barrel Effect, and it's almost the exact same thing that you said. Our barrel gets full, and we've got the spigot at the bottom. The spigot is like how healthy are your kidneys, how healthy is your liver, how healthy is your emunctory system to remove the toxins, and how much is coming in on the top. And then eventually, when it overflows, we've got these weird symptoms like someone will have migraines, someone will have rashes, someone will have digestive issues, and someone will just be exhausted all the time or be in pain all the time.
[01:40:19] Andy Pace: That's what comes in the third way that people become chemically sensitive and it's the most common—low-level exposure over a long period of time. And again, it's just that barrel fills up. Maybe it's when you're 30 years old, 20 years old, or 80 years old, and at some point, the barrel fills up. What I see—and I’m not an MD nor am I a chemist, but years of experience showed me that when your barrel fills up, it's typically something that is petrochemically related to what caused the spill that will cause the next symptom or the next reaction.
[01:41:09] Ashley James: Can you explain that?
[01:41:10] Andy Pace: And in our experience, formaldehyde is that key trigger. Formaldehyde is found in so many products around our home.
[01:41:20] Ashley James: Give us some examples.
[01:41:22] Andy Pace: Well, the best example I can give you is a carpet. Not to scare anybody.
[01:41:28] Ashley James: My bare feet are on the carpet right now. I’m kind of freaking out.
[01:41:31] Andy Pace: Okay. I will warn you that I have been told by some people that I scare them once in a while, but I don't try to.
[01:41:43] Ashley James: I think every guest scares us a little. The thing is, we don't want to be the ostrich with our head in the sand because that's how we end up with long-term exposure, to begin with. And you're not the total bearer of bad news because you're giving us some resources to fix it. But okay, here we have formaldehyde and carpet. Is it all carpet or only some carpet? And does it eventually all off-gas, or is 50-year-old carpet, 20-year-old carpets, or 10-year-old carpets still have it?
Photo by Sina Saadatmand on Unsplash
[01:42:12] Andy Pace: So if someone were to ask me what's the one thing I can do in my house today to make it healthier, I will always say remove the carpet. I’d rather have you live on a plywood subfloor until you can afford new flooring material. Now, I know nobody wants to do that. Nobody wants to walk around their house barefoot on plywood. I understand the logistics of what I’m saying, but I say this because—and barring a couple of shining examples of some healthy materials that are out there.
A company called Nature's Carpet from Canada, another one called Earth Weave from here in the US. They do make a synthetic chemical-free carpet that my most sensitive clients can actually use. But their materials—in the grand scheme of things—are used in 1/100 of 1% of homes in the United States, if that. So that's why I say removing the carpet and here's why.
There was a researcher chemist years ago named Rosalind Anderson. She did an amazing study on the effects of carpet and the effect of a shaft of light coming through a window and heating up a space of carpet. Because back when she was doing these tests she was using lab rats, she found that carpeting as old as 20 years old would still off-gas enough to literally kill laboratory rats.
[01:44:07] Ashley James: Oh my gosh. And just think anyone's cat loves to go lie in the sun on the carpet.
[01:44:15] Andy Pace: Yes. So you mentioned before when you were talking about how this also affects animals, that's exactly what I’m thinking of. How do I wrap a bow around this? Several years ago, I was introduced to a testing system that actually AFM used for their paints and coatings to prove the effectiveness of their materials. There was a very well-known scientist in Japan, Dr. Nagasawa, and he created a method to determine the emissivity of formaldehyde off-gassing from a fixed surface. I’m trying to explain this as easy as possible.
[01:45:11] Ashley James: I mean, by all means. If you want to get a little technical or get into the science, we're all for it. You don't need to dumb stuff down for us. My listeners are super smart.
[01:45:21] Andy Pace: I’m sure they are and so allow me to geek out a little bit.
[01:45:25] Ashley James: Yeah, please do. Let's geek out. All right, let's do it.
[01:45:28] Andy Pace: This is what makes me happy. So if you're a building biologist or an indoor air quality scientist, you walk into a space, you've got a handheld monitor, and it tells you that you have elevated VOCs and elevated formaldehyde. You might even do an air capture test where you're absorbing air into a tube and you’re actually looking in a lab either with a spectrophotometer or the types of devices to read what the chemical compound is in the air.
So a customer calls and says I’ve done these really, really intense tests and I found that I’ve got a formaldehyde problem in my house. Where's it coming from? Well, AFM years ago started working with Dr. Nagasawa and found that he used the system to actually determine what in the house was releasing formaldehyde. We can all guess it's from the carpet, maybe from paint that's still off-casting, maybe from cabinetry, or this or that. But when you are trying to remediate something inside of your home and you've got a formaldehyde problem, you're literally throwing darts at what you think can be the problem.
I mean I had a situation a few years ago where a client of mine called up and said, “All right, we've had two air quality scientists in our house. They tell us we've got elevated formaldehyde. The whole family is sick. And what we've determined and what they've determined is well it's this we put in new prefinished hardwood flooring in our house. They have all said we've got to remove it and replace it with something else. So I’m calling you to verify that and can we get a flooring material that's not going to off-gas formaldehyde?”
I said, “Yes, you can get a foreign material that's not going to off-gas, but let's just make sure it's not something else.” Well, I drove up to Minneapolis, and I actually had what's called a FRAT system—formaldehyde release attenuation test. We import it from Korea. We're the only company in North America that uses this test. I use the FRAT system in her house, little sensors I placed all over the place to prove that it was the flooring material that was causing the formaldehyde off-gassing. After a half-hour, and I took those sample collectors from all over the house all over the floor, found that the newest new flooring material released zero formaldehyde. But yet they had ultra-high levels of formaldehyde in the house.
So I started thinking to myself, well, what else in the space could be releasing formaldehyde at that level? I checked cabinetry. I checked the painted walls. I checked the furniture. I even put a sensor on a return on an outlet thinking that maybe I’d get some off-gassing from the insulation in the wall that would come out through the outlet and maybe we'd prove it's that. After about two hours of testing, it dawned on me, what’s the only other thing in the house that was new that could cause this type of off-gassing?
Again, this is a 5,000 square foot home, $50,000 or $60,000 dollars worth of new hardwood flooring, but every room had an area rug. I tested every area rug to find that the formaldehyde off-gassing from the area rugs was well over the toxic limit. We're looking at between 300 and 500 parts per billion of formaldehyde coming just from each area rug in the house, and every room has at least one or two.
[01:49:32] Ashley James: I mean, okay, so it's a hardwood floor but it's a huge house—sounds really fancy. But these area rugs, are you talking about the kind you could just pick up at Ikea?
[01:49:42] Andy Pace: Sure. Once you find an Ikea, Target, or the ones you buy online for thousands of dollars, it doesn't matter. The fact is that formaldehyde is used in the chemical dyes, formaldehyde is used as antimicrobials and flame retardants in the backing.
[01:49:59] Ashley James: So even if you get one of those really expensive Persian rugs, they still have the formaldehyde off-gassing?
[01:50:04] Andy Pace: There can. It may be less because there's no backing to a Persian rug, but there are dyes used. This is what got me on the whole carpet kick. I mean really got me on the carpet kick. It taught me two things. Number one, for the cost of the testing, I improved this family's life instantly. It's a six-hour drive from where I live to Minneapolis. So I drove home, and by the time I got home, there's an email from my customers saying everybody is starting to feel better already. All they did was remove the area rugs and put them in the garage. They were actually talking about either replacing the material or actually building a new home because they didn't know what to do.
[01:50:56] Ashley James: What did they do with the area rugs? Did they throw them out? I mean, you don't want to donate them. Were they waiting for them to off-gas?
[01:51:03] Andy Pace: That's a dilemma. I mean, that's one of those environmental sustainability dilemmas. You don't want to throw it out to add to a landfill. You don't want to donate them because it's dangerous. Again, it's not always dangerous to everybody because they don't have as small of a bucket as they had. So I’m not exactly sure what they ended up doing with them. I do know that they replaced them with healthier area rugs and it made a difference.
So formaldehyde we know is a big, big trigger, and that's why we use this FRAT system now to help test homes. I have clients around the world sending me samples of what they want to install, and we're going to test it first. So let me get back to Dr. Rosalyn Anderson who is doing the testing of this carpet. It got me testing carpet in homes like regular wall-to-wall carpet, and people would hire me to test 30-year-old carpet. I’d find that 30-year-old carpet still off-gases toxic levels of formaldehyde.
[01:52:04] Ashley James: Does this test heat it up? I’m sorry to interrupt. Does this test heat up the carpet, or is it just testing it at the same temperature like 70 degrees?
[01:52:12] Andy Pace: Pacificity at room temperature. I’ve done some elevated heat tests just to show the difference. But when I test carpet in somebody's home, I always test it at the temperature that they're going to keep it at.
[01:52:28] Ashley James: You might be coming in the fall and their windows are open and it's 67 degrees and they like it. But in the wintertime, maybe they crank up the heat.
[01:52:41] Andy Pace: About a 10- to 15-degree variance doesn't do much. Do you know what I found that does more? Humidity. Now, this is where it starts to really get into the wonky building science stuff. I am finding that most people's homes and the health of the occupants are just as affected by the elevated humidity or elevated moisture than they are from the chemicals themselves. And the reason is when you get humidity in a home or moisture in a home that gets into a surface, as it evaporates out of the surface, it carries with it the chemical footprint of where it was.
So chemicals in materials are more apt to become airborne and therefore ingested, inhaled, or absorbed by us if they come off of a surface with the humidity coming from that surface.
[01:53:42] Ashley James: That makes total sense because so much of the body is water and humidity allows for toxins to travel farther and also get absorbed by the body more readily. That makes sense. So if someone's living in the desert, the formaldehyde coming off of their carpet is less, or the body's ability to absorb it is less?
[01:54:08] Andy Pace: It comes down to the individual, but I find that the body's ability to absorb chemicals—there's just more chemicals available in the air when you have higher humidity.
[01:54:30] Ashley James: Okay. So that's good to know.
[01:54:35] Andy Pace: This is where this subject becomes there's no right or wrong, there's just more information. The more information we get the better. When a customer says they're having a problem in their home, I’ll ask them, have you done an air test? Do you know what the humidity level is? Do you like to open up the windows? And they'll say, “Yeah, we painted today and we opened up the windows.” Well, that brought in more humidity. There are so many things that could cause, which is why this is just not an exact science yet, and we really have to take each customer individually.
[01:55:11] Ashley James: Right. We got off track, but you're telling a story of using this special machine and you're using it on carpets. You're finding formaldehyde, which is only one of many things that off-gases from most carpets.
[01:55:34] Andy Pace: Correct. There are many things that come off of carpets, but we always look for formaldehyde as the one thing that we can not only test for but we can control.
[01:55:46] Ashley James: Now I interviewed Dr. Ben Lynch, it's episode 225, and he wrote a book called Dirty Genes. I highly recommend that book, and he mentioned some simple things that we can do in our lifestyle right now to reduce toxic overload. But one thing he said, which just floored me because I’ve always cooked with gas, very seldom have I used an electric stove. I’ve opted for homes, apartments, condos, or whatever that has gas. I’m a foodie, I love cooking healthy food, but gas for me is so much fun to cook with versus an electric stove or induction stove.
He says if you cook with gas, you absolutely 100% of the time have to have the ventilation on, the hood on, and there are even homes and I’m surprised I’ve met two friends who have gas stoves and have zero ventilation, zero hood. That surprised me, but what he said was if you're using natural gas, you are breathing in formaldehyde because formaldehyde is in natural gas. I don't know if it's just in it or they add it to it. But it is in natural gas to the point where if you don't ventilate, you're breathing in more formaldehyde.
What he said was—and I’m trying to remember, he obviously can say it in more scientific terms, but it essentially causes an epigenetic shift in our gene expression in the ability for our liver to handle toxins. So it shuts down or suppresses our ability to handle toxins, which then is going to make it worse.
[01:57:18] Andy Pace: It overloads the system, and that's the thing. Now, the flip side of that is you start cooking using electricity and now you have to be concerned about electromagnetic fields. So this is where with our clients I’ll have to say, there is no perfect solution for everybody. There's no one thing that helps everybody. So Ben is right in saying that if you're cooking with gas, it has to be well ventilated, and I’ll take that one step further.
If you're going to use a gas range top or stove, you better make sure it's the absolute best quality unit you can afford because as the quality level goes up—and this is why I always recommend using Wolf, Viking, or Thermador. I know they're very expensive, but when you get to the more expensive units, they have sealed burners. So yes, when you're cooking you have to have the vent on. But what if you're not cooking? What if the unit is just sitting there being unused? The lesser quality systems will actually leak little bits of gas out of each burner.
I own a natural gas detector, and I go around to some people's homes. It's like oh my gosh, this is a toxic level of gas that's coming out. And beyond that, even with the expensive units, you have to be concerned about the connections of the gas pipe itself. Making sure that was done properly and you inspect it every couple of years to make sure it's not leaking. Because that's where you're going to get natural gas leaking in your home passively without you even using the stove.
Nobody is going to run their exhaust hood 24/7 in case that happens. We only run it when we're using the stove. So be mindful of the quality. If you know somebody with a meter or buy one yourself and just check it. I use it around the house all the time to make sure that my furnace isn't leaking, my hot water heater isn't leaking. I’ve used it in commercial buildings. I mean it's just an invaluable tool.
[01:59:41] Ashley James: That is so fascinating. What other things are really common that is mind-blowing that people don't know about?
[01:59:52] Andy Pace: So inside of a home, when it comes to chemical toxicity or chemical off-gassing, 90% of what you can experience in that indoor air quality is going to be because of things you can see and touch. Floors are number one. Floors are always the first thing we look for, and obviously, you know how I feel about carpet, but floors, in general, can be the biggest offender in a home. Second thing, walls and ceilings. All of your painted, wallpapered, or finished surfaces. The third thing would be cabinetry and woodwork. The last thing would be your own furnishings and finishes. Your window treatments, your furniture, your clothing, and things like that.
Those four things cover 90% of the potential toxins in your home. Insulation behind the walls, sheathing, roofing materials, additives in concrete—things like that only constitutes up to 10% of the toxicity. The problem is that when you’re remodeling a home, you typically don’t get involved in testing or fixing those things. You typically only have one chance to choose the right materials for those applications, and that's during new construction.
So if you're living in an apartment, if you're living in a home that you just want to help and you can't do anything structural, and I’m not saying throw out your furniture, throw out this, throw out that. When it comes time to buy something new, then let's try to choose things that are organically sourced materials that are actually being sold as being free of health hazards and toxins.
You can't really replace your cabinetry when you're renting, but you can improve the indoor air quality by maybe getting a portable air purifier. Keep in mind that the bedroom in anybody's residence, home apartment, it doesn't matter. If you own, you rent, the bedroom is the sanctuary, it should be. This is where we spend, hopefully, six to eight hours a night and the body regenerates itself. You have to be in a pristine environment in order for the body to do its best work. Make sure that is the healthiest room.
[02:02:45] Ashley James: I have an Austin air filter and we got it a few years ago. My son has had some issues with asthma, which we finally figured out was related to some allergies, which no one in our family has these allergies so we're like what's going on. But sometimes kids will grow out of them. It has allowed us to dive into this world of looking to clean up the air quality even better.
A few years ago—I think it was about three years ago—there were some really bad forest fires in BC, in Washington, and the whole western seaboard was basically on fire a few years ago, as it was this last year. Back then we didn't have an air filter. I wasn't even thinking about it. We had all the windows open, and it was kind of really hot. I think it was maybe August or September. It was so hot out that we had a box fan blowing cool air into the bedroom. Of course, it was blowing all the smoke into the bedroom, and I wasn't really thinking about it because there weren't any forest fires near us. But the air quality was so poor that it damaged our lungs. All of us ended up, within a month or two, with bronchitis.
I talked to my Naturopath who said that pretty much all of her clients that didn't have an air filter ended up with some form of bronchitis or pneumonia, and that's what led me to look into this. I kind of was like hitting myself because I’m so into health, how could this have been in my blind spot? But this is how we learn. After research and talking to a lot of holistic doctors, I ended up getting an Austin air filter. It is an investment, it's between $600 and $800, depending on the unit you get. I decided to get the one that removes mold and viruses. I mean really tiny particles, and we have loved it.
When we walk into the bedroom, it actually smells like a forest. The air changes when we walk in. It's very interesting, and I don't particularly feel like I live in a toxic home, but that air filter we run in the bedroom, and it really does change the feeling of the air, the smell of the air—just the quality overall. We run it all night long, and now I don't even want to sleep without it on. I just love it.
[02:05:11] Andy Pace: That's my personal favorite brand too. As a matter of fact, you speak of the fires that were happening a couple of years ago. I had a customer of ours living in Northern California that actually went around to all of her neighbors in her subdivision because she bought one from us, loved it so much she went to every neighbor in her subdivision and said if you want to improve the air quality of your home instantly, you need one of these. She organized the purchase of two pallets, two full shipping pallets of Austin airs to be shipped to her house so she could get them to all the neighbors.
[02:05:51] Ashley James: I just love her. The big one, the one that I got that's like the big bedroom unit does 1500 square feet. When there is bad air quality from the fires, we move it out into the living room, which is kind of the grand room and it very quickly recycles or cleans out all the air pretty much in all the major living spaces in the house.
Don't cheap out and get the small one because you can move it around. It's on wheels and you can move it around different parts of the home. If you're hanging out in the kitchen, living room, dining room area during the day, just have it running there. I’ve moved it into the office before. It's a little overkill in a 200 square foot office, but better than getting the smaller unit and then regretting not being able to clean out the whole house.
[02:06:43] Andy Pace: Right, and the larger units just do it quicker also in those smaller rooms. That's the only limitation of a portable is that it can only really purify the air in the space that it's in. Because we sell the Austins and we've been very happy with that, but we have a lot of situations where customers are looking for a whole-house solution. They have kids in different bedrooms and people in different areas of the home. There are whole-house solutions as well, but tell you what, Austin has the highest amount of carbon in their units of any other system we've used before. They're just highly effective, they work. They might be a little noisy for some people. I’m used to it.
[02:07:29] Ashley James: I like the sound. I don't know. It doesn't make a squeaking noise or any kind of high-pitched noise. It's just a nice whooshing sound. It's air moving, and I got used to it really fast and actually enjoyed the sound. We put it on medium when we're sleeping, but when I first go into the bedroom, I’ll turn it on high and let it do its thing. And then I put it on medium and I find that that speed for me is great. I don't like the sound of the low speed. I resonate with the medium speed sound. It's not annoying at all for me. I do know some people who are like I can't sleep with any sound on. And then for me, I’m like, okay, well then have it run on high for a few hours before you go to bed and then turn it off, or just try to get used to it.
[02:08:14] Andy Pace: yeah I turn it on high when I leave for the office, and I turn it on medium or low when I get home.
[02:08:19] Ashley James: That's a good idea. And these filters last forever. They're four or five years before you have to replace it. It's not like something you have to replace every few months like the filters in your furnace. I was thinking, you have been in this business for so long, having been connected to so many people around the world, is there a country that's doing it right? Is there a country that you can say like Finland? Is there just a country without a doubt, across the board, has healthier homes?
[02:08:51] Andy Pace: This is going to be an interesting conversation I think because I used to hear this all the time from people. I wish we did things like they did in Europe. Well, you have to remember that here in North America, the way we build homes is based upon what we have the most access to. In Europe, the way they build homes is what they have the most access to. It just so happens that here in North America, we are plentiful with hardwood. So homes since the 1600s have been built using a lot of wood. The problem is there are not a lot of homes that remain from the 1600s because wood is a natural material that eventually breaks down. It eventually absorbs water, warps, and molds, and cracks and is subject to weathering.
When I was in Italy many years ago, the villa that I stayed in was built in the 1400s. And it still operates today as a hotel 600 years later. The Colosseum built 2,000 years ago still stands. Why is this? And that's because they use a lot of stone, a lot of concrete because that's what's plentiful there. Now, of course, they've adapted to the marketplace, and they've started using wood for a lot of construction. But you got to remember that they still have that mindset of using materials that last a long time.
Homes in Sicily when I was there on that same trip, they're not designed to be the latest fashion and the latest color and craze. They're designed to last because they pass them along to the next generation.
Carpet, this is a good example of here, in the United States, we use a lot of carpets. In Europe, they don't use a lot of carpets. If they have carpet in their house, it's typically a wool rug, and it's typically a wool rug that they can roll up and take with them if they ever move because wool lasts 80 years. Whereas the plastic and synthetic carpets that we use here are designed to last 7 to 20 years at maximum because we typically either move or we get bored with what we have and we want to change it to make it look different.
It's the mindset of that. They're not as concerned about trends, fashions, and comfort per se. They're more concerned about cost, longevity, and passing along to the next generation. So I guess I’d say Europe has a lot of things on us. Older countries than the United States, the United States is so young. We're only a few hundred years old. When you take an airplane from New York to Los Angeles and you notice that 99% of what you fly over is greenery and not homes, they're not people, you’re flying over unhabituated space.
When you go to Europe and you say well Italy’s got 50 some million people living in it, and it's the size of the state of Wisconsin. We've got 5 ½ million people. It's that there are more people there. They've been around longer there. They've learned to live within their environment. So that's just the way it's done. There are a lot of countries that still don't do things like refrigeration for foods because they can't afford it or they don't have a good electrical grid. They buy the food that they prepare for the day, and whatever's left they don't save for tomorrow, they usually give it to the farm animals. That's done. Tomorrow we'll buy food for tomorrow. And so that's the mindset they have.
They do a lot of recycling because they have to, they don't have a choice. Now, I wish there are things that they would do that were better. I think the rest of the world does a very, very poor job in recycling specifically plastics. I think the United States leads the world in recycling, and the reason is because we've figured out a way to monetize it and make it worth everybody's while. So there are things that we are doing here. I think from a health aspect, we're doing some things that are better than what's done in Europe. But I just think that they have that mindset of longer-lasting and therefore they look at things a little bit differently.
[02:14:20] Ashley James: Only coming from the standpoint of a healthy home, and I love that explanation because it's true. It's based on the history of the culture, it's based on the materials that are readily available. But in terms of only looking through the lens of a healthier home or the healthiest homes, is there a country out there that is standing above the rest who has better regulations? Who their version of the EPA is actually doing their job, or they don't allow for formaldehyde in their carpets? Is there any country that's just really standing above the rest?
[02:15:04] Andy Pace: I think that there are a number of European countries that are doing some things that in my eyes just really stick out just from a common-sense standpoint. And I’ll be fair, there are some states here in the US that are also doing that. There are some states now where it's building code you have to put in a heat recovery ventilator to bring in the fresh air. Because as we talked about a little while ago in our discussion, new homes are being built so tight that we're not getting those natural air flows into the home, natural fresh air because it's against the building science to have energy leaks.
Well, the state of Minnesota several years ago adopted into their building code that you have to have an air exchange system for new construction to bring in the fresh air because they recognize that these homes are being built so energy tight, so efficient that people aren't getting enough fresh air so I think that's happening.
[02:16:14] Ashley James: Right. Especially if someone has a few fireplaces going, they're really burning through their oxygen.
[02:16:21] Andy Pace: It sucks all the oxygen out of the house, right?
[02:16:23] Ashley James: Yeah, scary.
[02:16:24] Andy Pace: Now, I worked with an automobile manufacturer many years ago—BMW out of Germany. At the time, ng this is when they just started manufacturing cars here in the US. One of their material vendors in Michigan was supplying a plywood component for their SUVs. So when you open up the back hatch there's a flat panel and you lift up that panel, that's where the spare tire was. Well, that flat panel was being made from plywood. It was Malaysian plywood that they were bringing into the states, and they were putting carpet on one side and paint on the underside.
Well, the SUVs for BMW were only being made in the United States, they weren't making these in Germany. So they had to export essentially the SUV to Germany to be sold for the German market. The German government wouldn't allow this SUV to be sold in Germany because the plywood was releasing formaldehyde.
Photo by Wolfgang Hasselmann on Unsplash
[02:17:35] Ashley James: Oh my gosh.
[02:17:37] Andy Pace: And in Germany, if you make a car that's to be sold in the German market, there cannot be formaldehyde in the air, in the cab. So this company had something like $2million dollars’ worth of cut plywood to be installed into the BMW SUV, and it halted production because the German government wouldn't allow it.
Now, we were able to provide them with a couple of AFM coatings to solve that problem, and it met the requirements of zero formaldehyde because the safe coat coatings covered up the off-gassing.
[02:18:13] Ashley James: Now, did they give you a BMW X5 as a gift?
[02:18:19] Andy Pace: I wish. But no, it actually got me on the whole kick of finding manufacturers that utilize healthier processes.
[02:18:27] Ashley James: That's really cool.
[02:18:28] Andy Pace: I mean, if you're looking for a healthy vehicle, if you buy a BMW, it's got to be one that was made in Germany for the German market that they also exported to the US.
[02:18:40] Ashley James: Could it be any German car though? I have a VW, I love it. I love my VW. I’ve had BMWs in the past, I’m not actually a fan of new BMWs anymore. In my opinion, their quality has gone down. We have a 1983 BMW and that thing's still kicking.
[02:19:01] Andy Pace: Oh yeah, it's solid.
[02:19:03] Ashley James: It’s solid. My husband just replaced the engine a few years ago, but the newer ones, they're really only meant to last till the end of the warranty, and you do not want to be out of warranty. We saw that coming. But with the VWs, they're a lot of fun. They're really great on gas mileage. I’m very impressed.
[02:19:22] Andy Pace: I’ve owned many VW's over the years, and I absolutely love them. So yes, German cars—
[02:19:28] Ashley James: Made in Germany for Germans, basically. You got to make sure it's not made for the US market.
[02:19:35] Andy Pace: That's it, that's the thing. And a number of these manufacturers now are starting to make cars in North America, so that changes the dynamics. So you got to look for something that was built in Germany.
[02:19:49] Ashley James: We need to—as a consumer—petition the US government, and for Canadians petition the Canadian government to raise the standards.
[02:20:01] Andy Pace: Yes. This is the problem we get into because of lobbying by the big companies. And again, there is no standard for health. All the standards that are being written—at least what I’ve seen—are based upon VOCs. This whole concept of VOCs is just ubiquitous, it's everywhere. People use a VOC like oh, I bought this paint, it's zero VOC. I guess I’m safe. I guess I can paint in my house with the windows closed and no mask on. No, there have been class-action lawsuits against paint manufacturers because of people getting sick because their zero VOC paint is less healthy than their regular stuff.
The FTC here in the US has fined many paint companies because their zero VOC paint basically dupes the public. Utilizing a VOC as the one and only metric to determine whether or not a product is safe is dangerous because of everything we talked about before.
[02:21:14] Ashley James: Fascinating. Just because you've got a whole list of companies, give me a few more. So like you said, cars built in Germany. Not necessarily just BMW, but all cars built in Germany for Germans. Are there any other countries or major products that you are like yes, this is the one to go with when it comes to buying major, like you said, appliances or major purchases for the home?
[02:21:41] Andy Pace: So like I said before when you're buying appliances, specifically gas appliances, getting the higher-end materials unfortunately are far more expensive but are less likely to have gas leaks. So that's going to be things like Wolf, Viking, Thermador. Even the GE Profile, really good brand. These units will have sealed burners. It makes them more efficient for cooking because if it says that a burner is 16,000 BTU, you don't want a leak that lowers the BTU output. So that's what you're paying for. You're paying for that 16,000 BTU.
Again, it's interesting how everything kind of comes back to this. The quality level of the product also means that it's a healthier material. So if I’m buying 99¢ a square foot flooring from some big box store, chances are if the average price of similar material—just an average price—is $3 a square foot, and the price of really good material is $5 a square foot, chances are the 99¢ per square foot product is going to be inferior in quality and in health. There are some exceptions. There are always exceptions, but generally speaking, you get what you pay for.
[02:23:14] Ashley James: And those companies have to cut corners.
[02:23:17] Andy Pace: It’s coming from somewhere folks. It's coming from the cost of manufacturing. Paint, I referred to this before. Paint that's $20 a gallon is not going to last as long as paint that's $70 a gallon. And I’m not just talking about AFM safe coat, I’m talking about Benjamin Moore Aura, which is $70 a gallon. Great product. It's not necessarily considered healthier, but it's a great long-lasting material.
Paints can off-gas anywhere from three and a half years to five years on a wall. Once it's reached a full cure—coalescing of the film—the material still continues to off-gas, and this is something that I think a lot of people don't understand. Chemical off-gassing and I referred to this throughout our conversation, is actually the release of unreacted chemical monomers from a cured or a solid-state of a surface. Paint can off-gas for three and a half to five years. Little bits and pieces of some of the components that come off as kind of like dust from a surface.
Formaldehyde can off-gas from the carpet. I’ve tested carpet up to 30 years old that still off-gases formaldehyde. Plywood because of the urea-formaldehyde used in the glues. I’ve tested 35-year-old engineered wood that off-gases formaldehyde because we cover it up with other flooring materials and it stops off-gassing because it's covered up. Open it back up again and remodel, you're just exposing it to come back out again.
So all these things can off-gas for very long periods of time. You may not smell it, you may not know it, you personally may not even sense it, but somebody in the house might. And you combine that with all the other things that are in the home that are off-gassing and it creates this chemical soup. So the average home that's built today has anywhere from 10,000 to 15,000 chemicals in it just from the manufacturing of the home, the building of the home.
Formaldehyde is just one of those chemicals. It happens to be the one that's probably the biggest problem causer, but there are so many other things that come off of the surface. And then you have somebody that walks in the home that has freshly dry cleaned clothes or maybe, God forbid, they smoked a cigarette on the way home. And that adds another 2500 chemicals. You can see where we get inundated with chemicals on a daily basis.
There is no perfect way to take care of this, I wish there was. I wish there was the perfect healthy home. I wish there was a perfectly healthy product. So what we try to do as a company, as a consultant is to help lower the exposure. We're never going to get it, 100% folks, it's just impossible. But we're going to try to get it lower. We don't strive for perfection, we strive for tolerance. Let's get that overall load lower so maybe it's not going to fill up that bucket at all in your lifetime. Or at least get to a point where we make the home tolerable.
People who have lived in that one room of their home covered in aluminum foil understand they're not going to get perfection. They want perfection because they've lived with this horrible problem for years, but they also understand if I can just make it tolerable, I know that when I leave my home I’m going to get inundated with chemicals from other people. But when I come home at least I’m coming to a healthy sanctuary, and that's what we strive for.
[02:27:09] Ashley James: I love it. Well, you are such a fantastic resource, and of course, I definitely recommend listeners checking out your podcast so they could continue learning from you. They could give you a call and hire you for a quick consult like a 15-minute or a longer consult if they're looking at replacing flooring or replacing cabinetry, or if they're just got some concerns about what's in their house, or thinking about repainting that kind of stuff. We haven't even scratched the surface. You have so many years of experience, and you, like me, love to dive in and learn. You have had experience with thousands upon thousands of clients. I’m sure there are areas we didn't even get to talk about today, but we did cover some really well-rounded things and shed light on more of the common things that people need to know about when it comes to the environment of their home.
I like that we touched on cars because we spend a lot of time in our home and a lot of time in our cars. Obviously less time on our cars than our home, but sometimes cars can be a more toxic environment especially in the winter. We're not cracking open the windows, we're not breathing in the fresh air, and we can quickly build up the things that are off-gassing—all the flame retardants and stuff that are in our cars in the air. You may not experience any symptoms now, but it is filling your bucket and other family members or pets may be worse off than you and not know it. That's maybe why some people in your home are more prone to aches and pains, are more prone to headaches, are more prone to being fatigued, or having sleep problems. Very common signs of just the body having to deal with more toxins.
To wrap things up, what are some actionable steps that people can take? Should we just open our windows even if it's the wintertime? You've already mentioned getting an Austin air filter. They could actually buy it from you, which is great. Are there any others—I don't want to say quick fixes, and you did mention getting some handheld device that they can test to make sure their appliances aren't leaking gas? Is there something they could do today, some actual steps they can take today to start to turn things around in the environment of their home?
[02:29:39] Andy Pace: So a lot of that has to do with their living situation, whether they own or they rent. But the first thing I’ll say is if you are just noticing a general uncomfortableness when you're in your house, you have flu-like symptoms. I know right now it's a little difficult because as you say, we're all spending a lot more time in our homes than ever before, and COVID is running rampant. I myself have had it, and it can give you all those same flu-like symptoms. But if generally speaking, when you come back home to your place of living, if you just don't feel comfortable—there could be anxiety issues. These are all symptoms of some type of indoor air quality problem. Be it from chemical exposure, mold exposure, or even electromagnetic field exposure.
So I recommend getting your air quality tested. There are some pretty inexpensive systems on the market that allow you to test the indoor air quality of your home to at least give you an idea of what we're dealing with. And then from that, again, carpet is an issue, area rugs can be an issue, but most important is to make your bedroom a healthy sanctuary. At least try to get those six to eight hours a night of really undisturbed healthy time to allow your body to heal. Make sure you're using cleaning materials that aren't adding to the chemical toxic soup in your house.
Probably the best thing I can say for people who are renting is, as a consumer, at least the things that you bring into your house try to make sure that you are doing your best to eliminate chemical off-gassing. Again, it's very difficult as a renter because a lot of times you're buying furniture from the big boxes to fill the space and a lot of times, that furniture is made with formaldehyde laden particle boards and plywoods. But if you can, if the budget allows, find better quality materials. It means usually getting products that are made with solid woods. The side benefit is it's going to be a healthier piece of furniture.
So things like that. Just think about how the product might be made, and maybe, if that means holding off on buying something until you can afford something that is of higher quality, that's going to help you in the long run.
[02:32:32] Ashley James: I love it. Everyone wants to save money, but when you look at buying furniture the cheaper, the material the quicker the furniture is going to break down, and then you have to replace it more often. My bed, for example, I did a lot of research and talked to a lot of health experts before we settled on the type of mattress we were going to buy. And I am so thankful we did because the mattress we bought, not only is it non-toxic and they really pride themselves on this. They'll even give you 100% of the whole list of chemicals or building materials that have been used to make this bed, but it's also designed to make the deepest, most healing restorative sleep.
If you're sleeping on something for eight hours and your face is right against it, you could be breathing in God knows what, and there are so many mattresses that have flame retardants and all that kind of stuff that you could be breathing in. I’m so happy that my bed is one of those that don’t. Just like you said, you make healthy buildings, and this is a healthy bed. It's an investment, it's a more expensive mattress. It's double the price of normal mattresses, but they also have a guarantee that it lasts for 20 years or more. They stand behind that. They'll replace your mattress if there's any warping or at all for 20 years. Normally, people will replace mattresses every five years because they warp.
The cheaper ones just don't hold up and they cause health problems like back pain and then you have to go to the chiropractor. Some people just choose to get on medication for pain not realizing that they're cheaper mattresses they saved money on one end, but it costs them on the other end. It's better to invest in the furniture and the bed that is going to last for 20 years and also be the healthiest for you, and I like that that goes hand in hand. The quality of your health is often something that's going to last longer.
Thank you so much for coming on the show. This has been so enlightening, and I know my listeners are going to love following you. Andy Pace, it's been such a pleasure. Your website is thegreendesigncenter.com, and of course, the links to everything that Andy does is going to be the show notes of today's podcast at learntruehealth.com. And you've got your podcast. Give us the plug again, what's the name of your podcast?
[02:35:01] Andy Pace: Non Toxic Environments, three words. You’re going to find it on iTunes, of course, and all the major podcast providers.
[02:35:10] Ashley James: Fantastic. And Andy, I want you to come back anytime you have some new exciting information or if there's a topic which we haven't explored yet that you think worth teaching us on. Come back, I’d love to have you back.
[02:35:24] Andy Pace: I would absolutely love to. You can tell I love to talk, so that's not a problem.
[02:35:28] Ashley James: You're in good company. We love to listen to you.
Well, I hope you enjoyed today's interview with Andy Pace. Wasn’t that amazing, so eye-opening, especially I just love that story about how BMW. They can sell formaldehyde-soaked vehicles to us here in the United States, but they can't manufacture their own formaldehyde-soaked vehicles and then import them from America into Germany because Germany has higher standards. I mean doesn't that just blow your mind? And that happens everywhere.
And that story about the EPA's own building is so toxic that it has done permanent damage to 100+ employees these last 10 years. I mean, they must just be kicking themselves. The idea that they themselves rubber-stamped and approved all the chemicals that were used in the building process of their new building, and is something we have to deeply consider when purchasing anything for our environment, for our home. Just because you can't smell it and you can't see it doesn't mean it's not doing irreparable damage to our bodies, to our families, and to our pets.
I’m just so happy that we had Andy on today so that he could share with us this information. This kind of information will empower you. And no matter what your budget is, there is a way to make sure that future choices are healthier ones or non-toxic ones for us, and I’m so looking forward to my future choices being more educated ones because of all the work that Andy's done and he provides for us.
Now, be sure to go to learntruehealth.com/bed, even if you're not thinking about buying a mattress right now, it's still really good information to have. And please share it with your friends and family who might be looking for a mattress, especially those who have been in pain who are experiencing inflammation, stiffness, and regularly having to go to the chiropractor because they're constantly out. They're like, how did my neck go out, how did my back go out? I was just sleeping.
Well, they definitely have to see this webinar. Learntruehealth.com/bed, check it out. Let me know what you think. I am such a raving fan of this company because they have taken all the materials that are non-toxic to make an amazing bed, but then they created the science to make a bed be the healthiest for us in terms of the deepest, most restorative sleep possible. And of course, we go into discussing that and teaching more about that in the webinar. So go to learntruehealth.com/bed.
Thank you so much for being a listener. Thank you so much for sharing this episode and all the other episodes. And of course, you can go to learntruehealth.com and use the search function on the website to check out all of the rest of our great interviews. If you are curious about different topics, just type that topic into the search bar and you'll find us. And if you're on LBRY, be sure to check us out there as well. The links will be in the show notes of today's podcast. That's just another platform that you can find our podcast.
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Health Coach, Podcast Creator, Homeschooling Mom, Passionate About God & Healing
Ashley James is a Holistic Health Coach, Podcaster, Rapid Anxiety Cessation Expert, and avid Whole Food Plant-Based Home Chef. Since 2005 Ashley has worked with clients to transform their lives as a Master Practitioner and Trainer of Neuro-linguistic Programming.
Her health struggles led her to study under the world’s top holistic doctors, where she reversed her type 2 diabetes, PCOS, infertility, chronic infections, and debilitating adrenal fatigue.
In 2016, Ashley launched her podcast Learn True Health with Ashley James to spread the TRUTH about health and healing. You no longer need to suffer; your body CAN and WILL heal itself when we give it what it needs and stop what is harming it!
The Learn True Health Podcast has been celebrated as one of the top holistic health shows today because of Ashley’s passion for extracting the right information from leading experts and doctors of holistic health and Naturopathic medicine
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