Intellectually we have analyzed and registered this information and we know that the production, use and disposal of these products are very harmful to our environment.
We are aware that by burning treated wood dioxins and other harmful substances are being released into the atmophere and cause health and environmental problems.
This inability to swiftly adjust our instinctive and emotional reactions to new dangers turns out to be a disadvantage for us. Timber preservatives which endanger our health and environment however are available in hardware and trade shops even though these products are causing disease and sometimes even death to children and adults.
We all have inherited a natural dislike for spoiled food. No one ever has the idea to eat rotten and smelly meat and a butcher who sells rotten meat would be punished by law.
Only in the past century have we been confronted with a huge amount of new unknown dangers.
The negative effects from Hiroshima to Chernobyl, the chemical accidents from Seveso and Bhopal to the court cases regarding wood preservatives can be rationalized, however our reflexes and instincts can't adjust as quickly.
Human behavior studies show that it takes a very long time for new protective reactions to anchor in our DNA and a few generations are just not enough. Rotten meat for example, has always existed and for generations we have been protected by our genetic information.
The interesting bit of this story is:
Outdoors, untreated wood from slow-growing trees such as alpine Larch, Oak and Robinia will actually last and even outlast treated pine or spruce. We actually arrive at the same goal without the use of preservatives.
Tourists, Sharks and Wood Preservation
A shark attack in the Mediterranean summer season would receive sensational reports by the press. They would discuss at length the danger of sharks for the upteenth time and many people would instinctively perceive the danger.
2) Synthetic chemicals such as insecticides and fungicides on their own or in combination with salts. One variation, which often is thought of harmless, is the treatment with chromium salts. However, trivalent chromium is suspected to be a carcinogenic. Synthetic preservatives turn wood into toxic waste and pose severe health threats to humans, animals, and the environment.
This has triggered reactions from the population and city councils. More and more communities refuse to use wood treated with poisonous heavy metals for their playgrounds and this is a good development. Their reason is that the expected cost of disposing of this toxic wood would be too high! I keep wondering why their first and utmost concern isn't the health of the children.
Why? We have learnt to be aware of dangers which have been known to us for the past 20,000 years of human history. To be eaten by a big animal is one of the dangers which have always threatened us and we have adjusted to that not only mentally and physically but also instinctively and emotionally and specific protective reflexes are being passed on to the next generation to stay clear of sharks, wolves, and bears.
Timber treated with insecticides and fungicides for outdoor use are often used in sensitive areas such as playgrounds and vegetable patches.
There are two different ways to impregnate:
I just cannot figure out, what all this imported chipboard is being used for or where it is dumped. There must be a gigantic hole somewhere in Austria, Germany and other west European countries where it all ends up. Or is it being sold as locally produced and formaldehyde-free panels?
1) From a biological building point-of-view, boric salts are harmless but rarely used. This treatment doesn't make much sense for outdoors because the salts are being washed out fairly fast and are only protective for a short time.
An Open Question
People who read trade statistics can find out about the yearly import of cheap chipboard containing Formaldehydes. Many millions of square meters are imported from the former eastern bloc countries into the west.
PVA is less hazardous for the climate indoors than synthetic adhesives. So far there are no known health hazards. However the production of PVAs by the petrochemical industry has serious environmental disadvantages.
If in doubt, always opt for furniture which contains the least adhesives.
It has to be strictly stated though, that PVA adhesives and their additives are not substances occurring in nature but are synthetic products made by the petrochemical industry with all the disadvantages in relation to energy comsumption and environmental health.
The problems with 'new molecular structures' (new as in our bodies have not been exposed to them yet) which have been discussed earlier, apply to PVA and its additives as well.
From an ecological and biological building point-of-view, we can sum up the above:
We need to recognize that most furniture will be landfill in a few years from now. Your investment in craftsman-made solid wood furniture will last for many generations and ultimately contributes to your own well-being and a healthy intact environment.
Customers who are concerned about glues often hear sales people say: "We only use PVA glues - there is no off-gassing of formaldehydes."
PVA glues consist of poly Vinyl acetate which is dissolved in water. Different additives are added to speed up the curing process or increase water resistance. Compared to Formaldehyde or Isocyanate-containing glues, PVA glues are a huge and positive step forward.
The advantages customers have when they buy mass-produced wood furniture are known prices, fast and simple purchase and swift delivery. The design is a matter of taste but usually the customer receives a better, more practical piece than they normally would when they shop for a custom-made piece.
We had a very good look at the serial production of solid wood furniture and found examples which were reasonably priced. From a financial and a building biologist point-of-view, mass-produced solid wooden furniture ranked very well.
The crucial point here is to avoid chipboard and plywood. Where possible, use solid wood elements and if necessary, fasten the boards together with dowels instead of adhesives. Use paints that are plant and oil based and waxes which are recommended by biological building standards and have all ingredients declared.
However not everyone can go this way without some compromises and for a young family which is just starting their household, the price tag can be very challenging. It was sad for us to find many cabinet-makers and carpenters do not consider those wishes at all.
This in turn causes higher prices and long waiting times with manufacturers who do.
What can someone do who can't pay a fortune? Is the only choice between cheap throwaway and expensive custom-made furniture? No!
*(Casein is a non-toxic milk product and is able to be composted. It has particular properties like a long setting time and short shelf life once it is mixed with water. This kind of glue is mostly used by tradesmen working with hand tools. It is not used in mass production.
After having resolved all creative challenges, the artistic skill of a master cabinet-maker can produce the most divine and health giving furniture without any compromises.
Solid wood slabs and boards are used for higher quality and more expensive items. Considering the furniture was handmade and had a long lifespan, we thought the price was fair.