By: Beth Barnes
May is Asthma Awareness Month! According to the EPA, about 25 million people, including 7 million children have asthma. In the past year over 12 million people have reported suffering from an asthma attack and the numbers are rising. An unbelievable 17 million doctor office and hospital visits can be attributed to asthma but despite the astounding statistics, the good news is that there are preventive measures that could help…and are helping!
Through my work at Green Goods in San Luis Obispo (www.slogreengoods.com) I’m constantly reassured that help is not only on the way, it’s here! When I raised my young daughters in rural England I was oblivious to the perils of indoor air pollution and can now easily point to many things I could have done differently, had I only known. Now, armed with what I’m learning, I hope I can teach other parents with young children what they can do to be the first line of defense when it comes to raising their healthy children, with healthy lungs and strong immune systems. We are faced with countless choices during the course of a lifetime, and choosing to be parents is the greatest and most rewarding choice of all. Now I’d like to work together with other parents to get it right and give our children the knowledge they need as they grow up and start making their own healthy choices.
Dr. Zoe Wells, ND (www.drzoe.com) of San Luis Obispo, California has spent years studying the effects of our environment on the young and undeveloped immune systems and like me, she has a vested interest in educating parents with young children…she’s a mother too! Dr. Wells says, “Re-current exposure to toxins and contaminants can trigger an incomplete immune response; the young body is then overwhelmed with histamines which allows the development of asthma.” The Environmental Protection Agency shares Dr. Wells’ opinion (http://www.epa.gov). From 1980 to 1994 the number of American children under the age of five, afflicted with asthma grew by an astounding 160%! This is a call to arms in the name of making our children’s worlds a healthier place, so time to arm ourselves against mold, toxins, allergens and chemicals in our children’s worlds.
Our choices walk hand-in-hand with responsibility, and both Dr. Wells and I agree that good and healthful choices don’t mean sacrifice when it comes to furnishing homes that are beautiful and fashioned to reflect your own personal design style. Non-toxic does not equal boring or cost-prohibitive, it equals thoughtful and informed. The green and sustainable home decorating revolution is in full swing but it no longer is an exclusive movement, reserved for those who can afford it. “Green” and sustainable is available to all of us and I have a list of firm favorites, with cork flooring riding high on that list.
Did you know that Americans spend up to 90 percent of their time indoors? As you watch your children you will see that a great deal of their time is spent on the floor. It’s a confined world where they often crawl, roll and nap, where they sometimes eat and where they spend countless hours playing and…living in their own little worlds. The world they call home is the same world where we walk, where animals sprawl and where dust and pollutants naturally land after playfully floating inside of our homes looking for a final resting ground…ah-ha, the floor, what a natural place for these pollutants to land! Parents shouldn’t be fooled into thinking that the beater bars of expensive vacuum cleaners will solve the problem…very often beater bars only stir up dust and disengage the staple of the carpet from the backing, creating ‘fur’ that can end up in the child’s mouths.
This world, the only one our babies and toddlers know and find accessible is ‘ground zero’ for indoor allergens and irritants that play a significant role in triggering asthma attacks. “Triggers” are things that can cause asthma symptoms, an “episode” (attack) or make previously diagnosed asthma even worse. If a child has asthma, they may react to just one trigger or they may find that several things act as triggers. Be sure to work with a doctor to identify these triggers and develop a treatment plan that includes ways to reduce exposure, but in the meantime also look at what you can do to perhaps limit attacks or prevent them altogether. Eventual asthma could be averted if we remove those things that can play a role in encouraging asthmatic reactions.
If a child spends most of its day on the carpet it will surely be keeping company with more than toys. Carpets are notorious for collecting dust, dust mites, allergens and contaminants and during their useful life it has been said that a carpet doubles in weight! This weight-gain can be attributed to the unfortunate and unavoidable collection of dirt that cannot be extracted by daily vacuuming or rigorous cleaning so it is a sad fact that carpets attract things that our children should not be breathing. They are the same things that can dangerously compromise the developing immune systems of our precious charges.
As building techniques become more advanced, our homes are sealed more tightly trapping chemical irritants, dust mites, molds and indoor air pollution that the EPA claims is worse indoors than it is outdoors! Our children and their developing immune systems are being held hostage but in all fairness, who knew? I wish that my daughters once had the benefit of my knowledge today, but the sad fact is that their early years were spent crawling and playing on toxic, industrial carpet. The turning point came when our old carpet tiles made way for wall-to-wall carpet. As the old carpet was removed the years of dust build up, disintegrated foam backing and unexplainable residue was enough to make me start asking questions. It was only after I returned to the United States that the pieces began to fall into place….I had been raising my young children in a toxic environment!
As it has been said, prevention is the best medicine but when did prevention become so fun, and fashionable? At Green Goods, I am very fortunate to be able to educate consumers who want to promote healthy indoor air quality in their homes. Very often it is parents who have only heard about cork flooring but don’t really understand the benefits. I want to give parents the knowledge that I did not have and let them make their own informed decisions.
The truth is that carpet, as beautiful and cozy as it is, would not the best choice for a floor covering if small children, are in the home, or will soon be welcomed into the home. As previously stated, it attracts pollutants that we would rather not introduce to developing immune systems and unless it is pure wool, the chances are very high that it contains chemicals that can cause off-gassing for a long time after installation. Cork flooring, on the other hand is not only unusual, beautiful and child friendly, it possesses some amazing natural qualities that are one step short of miraculous.
At Green Goods one of our goals is to carry products that we know come from FSC forests which means they are well-managed and rapidly renewable forests. We also look at the carbon footprint of the products we offer and also at the production processes to ensure that they are socially responsible in the way they treat their employees, their neighbors and the environment. Unlike hardwood trees that will spend up to fifty years reaching maturity, only to be cut down once, cork trees have a life span of almost 200 years and can product 9 ‘crops’ during their lifetime. The cork tree (a member of the oak family), nor the soil structure is destroyed during one of these 9 harvests so it is a highly renewable resource. This is a great teaching opportunity for parents hoping to give their children an idea of the world they are growing up into!
Cork shares many great qualities with carpet, without the allergens and pollutants. It regulates a temperature of about 71° and is very soft, naturally cushioning a little body during the formative years. It is naturally mold, allergen and mildew resistant, involves no off-gassing of harmful chemicals and it is easily cleaned with a damp mop! Another great feature is that it’s self-healing! Have you ever removed a cork from a wine bottle and two hours later found that it has re-shaped itself and seems impossible to re-insert into the neck of the bottle! Imagine a small fracture on your new cork floor….it’s the same concept. The flooring comes in tiles of different dimensions, styles, colors and designs and can easily be self-installed with click-together technology.
Cork has been used throughout history but is only coming into the limelight now as more and more people understand the importance of making healthy choices for themselves and their families. If our founding fathers thought cork was good enough for our very own Library of Congress in 1897 then it’s good enough for me! How about you?