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Toxic furniture and mad deer.

Is it true that furniture is a major contributor to indoor air pollution? --Jon Kaplan, Brooklyn, NY

Many toxic materials are used in traditional furniture-making processes. The paints, varnishes and waxes commonly employed can release the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that are known to affect indoor air quality. One of the most common VOCs is formaldehyde, which is used in glues and is added to paints as a preservative and to upholstery to make it permanent-press. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, formaldehyde emissions can cause eye and throat irritation, allergic reactions and possibly cancer.

Some furnishings are made of absorbent materials that make them "sinks" for other pollutants. For example, fabric surfaces such as draperies, up holstered furniture and carpeting can absorb and then re-release pollutants into the air. Besides absorbing the VOCs from adhesives and paints, these furnishings can collect dust mites, bacteria and fungi, especially in areas of high humidity, leading to a wide range of allergic reactions.

Luckily for those sensitive to indoor air pollution, many toxic-free alternatives to traditional furniture exist. For instance, California-based Tamalpais Nature Works uses toxic-free finishes on its attractive furniture. The company's paints, stains and waxes are from BioShield, which makes its products out of citrus peel extracts, essential oils, tree resins, bee waxes and natural pigments. Massachusetts-based Furnature is one of a handful of companies using organic upholstery. The company started making furniture for chemically sensitive people more than a decade ago.

Hemp, a durable fiber that is six times stronger than cotton and very low in pesticide residues, is also occasionally employed in "green" furniture. Bean Products of Chicago uses hemp upholstery on its chairs, ottomans, couches and beds, and employs an air-blasting process to soften the otherwise tough fabric.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which now relies on voluntary guidelines, is considering regulating furniture for indoor air pollution through a pilot program. CONTACT: U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission,; Tamalpais NatureWorks, www.tamal; Furnature,; Bean Products,; EPA Environmental Technology Verification Project,

I've heard about mad cow disease, but what is mad deer disease?--Janet Bristol, Eugene, OR

"Mad deer disease" is a transmissible relative of mad cow disease, but it occurs in deer and elk instead of cattle. Called "spongiform encephalopathy," but also known as "chronic wasting disease" (CWD), it was first discovered in 1967 on a Colorado wildlife research facility. It has since spread slowly through deer and elk populations, mostly in western states.

The disease is found mostly in Colorado and Wyoming, where it infects about one percent of free-ranging deer and five percent of mule deer on game farms (where the animals' closer proximity to one another is a factor). One farm with infected animals could potentially spread the disease far and wide.

Some health analysts fear that there could be a link between mad deer disease and Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD), a similar type of spongiform encephalopathy that kills humans when brain proteins called "prions" deform. Between 1997 and 2000, two deer hunters and a woman who regularly ate venison died from CJD. According to Dr. Ermias Belay of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the deaths raise concern because all three were under 30, while CJD usually only strikes people older than 45.

While scientists found no conclusive evidence linking the deaths to mad deer disease, they also couldn't rule it out. And the National Institutes of Health warn: "Infected tissues could be eaten by predators or enjoyed by aficionados of wild game. And carcasses could be rendered for feed that (by error) could find its way to cattle." The very states where mad-deer infection is highest also rely heavily on the sale of hunting licenses. CONTACT: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, (800)311-3435,
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Title Annotation:EARTH TALK: Questions & Answers About Our Environment
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2005
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