The Chemical Sensitivity Podcast

Episode 38: Chemical-Free Homes. A Conversation with Corinne Segura.

January 03, 2024 Corinne Segura Episode 38
The Chemical Sensitivity Podcast
Episode 38: Chemical-Free Homes. A Conversation with Corinne Segura.
The Chemical Sensitivity Podcast
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Episode 38 of The Chemical Sensitivity Podcast is available now!
https://www.chemicalsensitivitypodcast.org/

It’s called Chemical Free Homes.

It features a conversation with Corinne Segura.

Corinne is a building biologist practitioner and founder of My Chemical-Free House where she tests and writes about green building materials.

You’ll hear Corinne talk about why she started My Chemical-Free House, some of the greatest challenges people face when renovating, the benefits of air purifiers, if it’s possible to create a safe space in a contaminated home, and more.

Thank you for listening!

Please share your feedback with us. We love hearing from you.

My  Chemical Free House

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Aaron Goodman

Welcome to the Chemical Sensitivity Podcast. I'm Aaron Goodman, host and founder of the podcast. I'm a journalist, documentary maker, university instructor and Communication Studies researcher, and I've lived with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity or MCS for years. MCS is also known as Environmental Illness, Chemical Intolerance, and Toxicant Induced Loss of Tolerance or TILT, and it affects millions of people around the world. Many people with the condition are dismissed my health care workers, employers, friends, even family, countless people with MCS struggled to find healthy housing, and get accommodation at work and school. And we suffer in all kinds of ways. The purpose of the chemical sensitivity podcast is to help raise awareness about MCS, and what it's like for people who live with it.

We featured interviews with some of the world's leading experts and researchers on MCS, and lots of people with the condition and we're just getting started. I'm really grateful to listeners who support the podcast. If you'd like to make a monthly contribution or a one-time donation, please find links on the website www.chemicalsensitivitypodcast.org. Your support will help us continue making the podcast available and creating greater awareness of it MCS. Thanks so much. The podcast belongs to the community and the purpose is to advocate for all of us. Your help means a lot. 

You're listening to Episode 38. It's called Chemical-Free Homes. And it features a conversation with Corinne Segura, a building biologist, practitioner, and founder of My Chemical-Free House, where she tests and writes about green building materials. Created is also a guest contributor at Green Building, advisor and of course creator for the Building Biology Institute. She has eight years of experience as a green materials specifier for new builds, and renovations often working with highly chemically sensitive clients. In our conversation, you'll hear Corinne talk about why she started my chemical free house some of the greatest challenges people face when renovating and if it's possible to create a safe space in a contaminated home, and much more. I hope you get a lot out of a conversation and the episode.

Find us on social media just search for the chemical sensitivity podcast or podcasting MCS. Leave your comments about anything you hear on the podcast. And please share the podcast with others. You can find the podcast on YouTube just go to YouTube and search for the Chemical Sensitivity Podcast. And hit subscribe. You can read captions in any language you like. leave a review on Apple podcasts. It's a great way to help others learn about the podcast. And if there's someone you'd like to your individual podcast or a topic you'd like us to explore, just let us know. Email info@chemicalsensitivitypodcast.org, and thanks for listening.

Okay, Corinne, there's a lot that I'd like to ask you about your work and your website. Is there anything you'd like to start with by you know, letting listeners know about about you? 

 

Corinne Segura 

Yeah, I really started with My Chemical Free House website. And it started as materials information for new builds and rentals for people with chemical sensitivities. It's branched out more from materials to cleaning products and even some topics that like there's more and more people that are not sensitive that read it now, but it still always needs to make sense to people who are sensitive as you know as kind of the primary and as well as the general public. From there I've also written for a green building advisor I've made a course for The Building Biology Institute and yeah a few other things like that. 



Aaron Goodman

The main purpose of the website is for would you say for folks who are looking to renovate build? And so is that way most folks are going to the website?

 
Corinne Segura 

Yeah, usually they're choosing a material like a flooring material. So you know, some of it’s just furniture. Some of it's building or renovating, but the core of the site that's how it started is with building or renovating for those with chemical sensitivity.

Aaron Goodman

Why is that something you wanted to do?

 

Corinne Segura 

Well, I was building a tiny house on wheels. And the only information basically the only information out there was the book by Paula Baker Laporte. And there were just a couple other little things but nothing, nothing really online, hardly anything online. And I just thought this should really be online. I'm just someone that likes to organize information. Paula [Baker-Laporte] just came out with a new version of her book. And my website's really quite different from her book. Now, the overlap was probably only 10 or 20 percent. But just in general, that topic wasn't online, and that I just thought this needs to be accessible. I want to share what I'm learning from my tiny house, all the testing of materials that I was doing, and documenting that a bit. So it did the very, very beginning was mostly about my tiny house. But of course, it's expanded from there. 

 

Aaron Goodman 

Can you bring us back to the time when you were building renovating? I'm not sure if the tiny house can you talk a little bit about what led you to do that was it MCS and what was happening in your life at that time that prompted you to start a building or a renovating a tiny house?

 

Corinne Segura 

Yeah, it was a new build. I was very mold sensitive and very chemically sensitive. Right around the time I moved in was really the peak of my chemical sensitivities. And it was quite extreme. So I was, I thought this was a, you know, I had a lot of brain fog at this time, to be honest. And I just thought, like, I can't say that there was an exact plan. But I just thought that this would be a better way to control my environment. I thought I had chosen a good builder based on a recommendation from someone I trusted. And I was choosing all the materials myself.

So it turned out not to be a good builder in terms of like mold prevention on that side. But I didn't know anything about that I didn't know enough to even know, to look for that. I didn't know enough to supervise I didn't I was just choosing materials thinking this, you know, I just hoping this would work out really? 

 

Aaron Goodman

And how did it go?

 
Corinne Segura 

So it didn't go well. On the building front. I do think I did a good job of choosing material, there was definitely things that we did differently. I think at that time, well, there were fewer options. And there were also a lot of options that were actually quite experimental. And I didn't never have inbuilt before, I didn't really realize kind of the pros and cons of like, what happens if this material doesn't actually function as it's supposed to. But I did tolerate the house Well, at first, so I did well in it at first. But then there were errors that were made by the builder. And so it didn't really hold up with time to I mean, it overall it was kind of a big mistake.


Aaron Goodman

But well how many years ago was that? 

 
Corinne Segura 

A bit over 10. 

 

Aaron Goodman

So if we fast forward to now, if you know imagine people reach out to you, it'd be interesting to know, what are some of the common questions people have when they contact you. Or on the website, one of the most popular or common things people are looking up. But if people reach out to you now and say like I'm really struggling, I can't manage be in an indoor environment, would you recommend people to look at Tiny houses, or RV user of that nature. 

 

Corinne Segura

I still like tiny houses in general, if you can build it properly, like I don't think you should build anything. If you don't have the knowledge to choose a good builder, who's bold preventative and to supervise even, maybe not every day all day, but to have some kind of supervision over what's going on. Or pay someone to do that, which is usually very the very expensive option, but it's it is an option. So I do still like tiny houses. There's actually an article on the website about a passive house tiny house, and it goes into great detail on like mold prevention.A ll of the mold prevention details on building a tiny house, I would do it again. If I was in a city where you know, I could park it and i think I like it I still like the idea so I wouldn't deter people from building a tiny house necessarily.

In terms of the most popular questions is definitely not about tiny houses anymore, but flooring is the most popular topic. I guess because you know you don't even have to be doing a major renovation, you could just be redoing your flooring or it could be a renovation or a new build. 

And flooring has a lot of there are a lot of flooring options out there. And it's kind of confusing area. It's also something that's obviously very important for design. So it's something people are really interested in making sure they get the right kind of flooring. And so a lot of consultations were about that as well. 

I'll be going over the pros and cons really, because it's like, you know, we've got praise, we've got design, we've got off gassing we've got non voc chemicals like, you know, plasticizers metals. So, there's a lot to, there's a lot that just goes into flooring. Yeah. So there's flooring, it's so complicated, but everything is so complicated. So in a wider sense, you mentioned or at the time you started the website, there wasn't a lot of information. 


Aaron Goodman
There are some authors who write about this. But is it your sense that today that there still isn't a ton of information out there, and because obviously, your website provides a really valuable, wonderful source of information for people is that because there's not a lot of info out there?


Corinne Segura 

Yeah, there's not a lot of other websites that are covering building for the chemically sensitive, there's definitely a lot that goes into it. Like it's that I get flooring samples almost every week, because I need to see the latest flooring. I need to see it in person. Because websites are just so vague. Sometimes you can't even tell that even what category of flooring this is, it's so vague.

So just keeping up and then there's changes to the flooring, you know, maybe I've already got it. It's not necessarily new. It's already on my website, but they've made a change is lower VOC. They've removed PA phase, the standard treatments, and just keeping up with it is a lot of work. So there's I think my website covers almost all parts of the build now. And is expanding into you know, more detailed areas. And I'm starting to make videos because I think there are not enough videos on the topic.

And for some people videos are better. I actually find probably most people prefer reading. But there are people that of course, prefer videos. And in videos, I can kind of show the products too. So that can be helpful. So that I think there's still in terms of what's missing and might be information over video. And so you mentioned flooring, that's a lot of people's minds.

 

Aaron Goodman

I think you released a list of non-toxic or safer couches for 2023, which I bookmarked and I'm going to go back. Are those big on people's lists when they go to reach out to you? And how about fixing spaces that are affected by chemicals that people are trying to make manageable? Is that are those big ones also?

 

Corinne Segura 

Yeah, sofa and rugs are very popular on the website. Not as many people contact me for what I was doing private consultation on those topics because you know much I think it's more, I think, I don't know, maybe it's easier for people to choose on their own. I would say over consultations mattresses are more important because mattresses for chemically sensitive people are tricky because you can take the most natural materials, cotton, wool, natural latex, those can easily be triggers for chemically sensitive folks. So there's no clear answer on mattresses. So people like to talk through I think whenever there's a lot of pros and cons and not like a clear answer, and it needs to be very individualized. That's what people would come to me for. So even though sofas is certainly a popular topic to read about. People come more for like mattresses for that individualized, okay, well, I don't do well with this, but I do well with that. So like what do you think material I should try next? And you know, mattresses sometimes? You know, it's a big it's a pretty expensive purchase too.

 

Aaron Goodman

Right. So you mentioned consultations. And so that's part of the the work that you do, right, I gather, right where you provide a service?

 
Corinne Segura 

Not right now, I haven't been doing presentations for a little while I might be back in the new year.

 

Aaron Goodman
And how about when people want to make a safe space in a home that is contaminated? Is that something people look to the website for?


Corinne Segura 

Unfortunately, I would say almost half. So not everyone that came to me was chemically sensitive. But out of the chemically sensitive people, I would say half were trying to remediate some kind of problem that went wrong during a renovation, usually, or you know, some kind of redecoration. So some kind of paint was applied often it's often the person chose the paint, but maybe not the primer, overlooked the primer, maybe some caulking so new flooring is off gassing and sometimes again like they chose the flooring, but they didn't choose the glue or the underlayment and the contractor just came in with whatever they thought was the norm.

Directors generally don't have any idea about VOC levels or which ones are best. And you know, that makes sense, because the companies are so vague about these things like how would they know? So unfortunately, yeah, there was a lot of remediation, and I would recommend going into, you know, doing a consultation before even not with me, because I'm not doing it right now. But because avoid these kinds of problems are really, really costly. Once we've got a flooring in there, that's a problem. Or even, you know, something glued down, and someone just commented on my blog. Now the blue needs to be scraped out, it's just so much more stressful. And for many people, even just leaving their house is difficult, you know, finding a place to go a hotel or where to go is difficult. So, yeah, unfortunately, these problems are best avoided in the first place. But yeah, I do. And it's it. With the remediation, it's also really hard if I'm not there, because a lot of the times someone doesn't know which product is the culprit, if they weren't there, during the renovation. A lot of times, they can't, they're not actually even sure which product is off gassing. And so yeah, it gets really tricky.


 Aaron Goodman

It sounds really overwhelming. Like, if I were to imagine renovating or buying a new home, it can be really overwhelming.

 

Corinne Segura 

Yeah, unfortunately, that's probably the best we can do. I would advise getting, like, let's say you have a laminate flooring and you like, I would advise getting at least five samples of the same flooring or in different colors, even if it's not the color you want. Because you need to hopefully get one those newer, and there's no guarantee that you order one and just in the color you want. And it's going to be new, brand new. So the more you get, I usually get five, you can get more. And then also you also have a bigger, like, let's say they're all seem they all smell like formaldehyde, and they all smell pretty new, you now have a bigger area of the product. So some people like will sleep beside it, some people will do like some kind of intuitive testing. You know, smell it, you could put it in a jar, depending on the size of the thing. So that you can try and, you know, close the jar and try and isolate like let that VOC build up a little bit and then sniff it. So it was a really difficult process for me because I was so sensitive and these things were hurting me at the time. So yes, this can be a difficult process. 

 

Aaron Goodman
Just pausing to say thanks for listening to the chemical sensitivity podcast, listen to episode 38. It's called chemical free homes. It features a conversation with Corrine Segura, founder of my chemical free house. I hope you get a lot out of the conversation and this episode, please subscribe where you get your podcasts. If you'd like to support the podcast, please find links on the website, chemical sensitivity podcast.org. Your support will help us continue making the podcast available and creating greater awareness about MCS. Thank you very much.

Can we take a step back? And you know, I read on your website, you've done an enormous amount of training and education this field? Do you want to walk me through some of that? And is this a field that you always saw yourself going in? Or was it sparked? When you develop MCS? 

 
Corinne Segura 

I've taken as many courses as I can that are related to the topic because there is no course in what I do. Like there's no course that's like, here are the flooring and insulation products and caulking and here are their VOC levels in here. Which ones have failed aids and like there is no course exactly on this. So I've taken construction courses I've taken building science, I've taken material safety and just kind of everything around it that I'm still right now I'm being smart in the process of and certified as a home inspector.

 
Aaron Goodman

Do you think there's greater awareness in the wider population about the hazards of building materials?

 
Corinne Segura 

I think more and more people who don't have MCS or don't have asthma or don't have an environmental illness are getting interested in cleaner, greener, safer materials. Definitely I would guess that half of the readers are not environmentally don't have environmental illness. That's just based on the comments and what I'm seeing but probably and probably most of those are mothers who are concerned about what they're bringing into the house.

There's just been so many chemicals now that we're looking back to the very recent past and being like, oh yeah, we shouldn't have put lead in the paint in the paint like them the wall paint in so many toys had led and still have lead.

And there's a loss of trust in in the regulatory bodies have like, there's still so much left and things, there's still so much PFAS, which is the forever chemicals. Those are being phased out. But we're gonna look back like those are going to be phased out probably by 2030. And we're going to look back and be like, oops, but there's people now that are like, we want to avoid those now, not when we, you know, not with this regulatory delay with catching everything. So yeah, there's a lot of interest in avoiding some of these big chemicals of concern. 

 
Aaron Goodman

Do you think there are more chemical products or building products that are available now? Because of this furnace? So do we have more options now that we didn't have before?

 


Corinne Segura 

Yeah, there's definitely way more options like zero VOC carpet didn't even exist until a few years ago, apart from like the most natural wool ones, but like zero VOC just regular synthetic carpet didn't exist. That's just one example we've moved. We've improved a ton with formaldehyde in laminates, especially because those usually contain a lot but any flooring that has as a fiberboard core.

And as well as like engineered products like plywood, even, we've improved the formaldehyde levels, there's just so many things that and there's more options. So like, there's now like, you can have a formaldehyde free laminate floor or you can have Greenguard Gold Certified so it's lower in formaldehyde or you can just have the standard like there's, there's a lot of options. There are alternatives to vinyl plank, because vinyl plank is probably the most popular flooring, just in general for just in the general population. So now there's, they're more they're non PVC options that are still waterproof.

So there's so many more options. I mean, that's almost just talking about flooring, but even with sofas, like a few years ago, there was like, you know, one or two companies you could choose from, and now there's like 10, let's just say, as an example, how helpful can an air purifier be in allowing someone with MCS to be in a space if you're reacting if you had a whole basement of flooring, and I love them, assuming it's kind of a fairly large standard size house. And, and, and maybe even the glue have VOCs and this if the laminate standard with formaldehyde that can't be and you're sensitive to it, that can't be removed, like you can improve on the air quality. Um, but that wouldn't be enough for a sensitive person, I would say if like, let's say the, let's say the fluorine was five years old. And it was just slightly, not great. Like you were almost able to be feeling good in the room, then maybe an air purifier, because it just helps a bit. So it's just a bit off.

You know, that's the consensus, I would say there are people that own like eight air purifiers and like they need it to survive. So that's fine, too. You know, if you can do it, do it. But in general, that consensus is like it helps a bit a little bit.

 
Aaron Goodman

I find a lot of time people ask me about if I know about how to build a safe space within a home. That would have been a lot of chemicals used? I don't know, is that something you have any info about or you may be willing to talk about?

 
Corinne Segura 

Yeah, there's so many different levels, though. So it just depends on. And it also depends if, if the house is more moldy, I wouldn't try and create a safe room. It just doesn't work so well with mold. Even sleeping on the balcony of all the places which I've done many, many, many times isn't good enough, like the mold is just it just moves around in a way that's difficult to control. If there's some off gassing, I mean, you could do everything from kind of there's so many things you could do but like you could remove the drywall on the flooring and actually, like rebuild that room, which some people do. But it's also you know, a lot of people don't take that option because then there's the risk of all the new materials and not knowing for sure. I would say the first thing to do is actually create air exchange if you can. I just fairly recently posted a blog post on using an e ir V, which is an air exchanger that moderates the temperature and humidity a little. So it's not just opening the window, which is another strategy that I like. But this is a lot more air exchange than just opening a window. Without you know, getting too cold or getting too, you know, throwing the humidity off too much. So, air exchange is more effective than an air purifier. It's more effective than anything that you could do like within a day.

So I posted one that you could actually mount to a window to some windows that will work with and it was and so because they usually have to be like installed within the ceiling or something. So this is one option. You can also use positive pressure so for example, most people know the IQ air air purifier which is quite a good air purifier. And you can actually use it usually it just circulates the air in the room I like air goes in or air comes out within the room, but you can actually use a hose and bring in air from the outside as the intake and now you've got more air coming into the room than can leave so in a way so you've got like positives called positive pressure. So unless you have an exhaust fan running, you actually have more you have air like pressing out and that can help if there's a contaminant in the rest of the house. You can control that by um you can even use like a zipper door like a containment door on your door and you'll see that bowing outwards so you can see that there's there's when to open the door you won't necessarily have air rushing in because you've got that air blowing up the air pushing out.

 

Aaron Goodman

Are there any other kinds of products that are still really hard to find that are safe safer?

 
Corinne Segura 

Mattresses is definitely a tricky one. But I don't know what the material is. That it should be you know because of a foam mattress of mattress as at least some foam is very comfortable. And there's no foam that's perfect right now so maybe there could be some innovation there in the future by I don't want I don't think we have like the product yet. What else in flooring there's I think there's lots of great options in flooring. There's we're on the cusp of creating stain guard treatments that are not forever chemicals. I think we sort of have it but they're not. They don't quite work as well. So I'm I'm sure we're going to see more innovation there. We're definitely gonna see more innovation because states, US states are legislating you know, a ban of PFS within the next few years. So we're gonna see innovation there for sure.

Paint. Well, I mean, we've seen a lot of innovation with paint with almost all the brands now having a zero vo C line. And there's some non-acrylic paints that are even better like Kiem using a mineral binder instead of an acrylic binder. And that's come from Germany. So I don't know maybe it's been in Germany for a while, but it's pretty new here. So those are some some areas.

 
Aaron Goodman

Do you feel think that part of your work helps to destigmatize Multiple Chemical Sensitivity? 

 
Corinne Segura 

I think that the website being popular amongst, you know, maybe about 50% of non-sensitive people, helps us. And even the pressure that non sensitive people are putting on companies to improve their products is certainly helping us because of we're we're a fairly small group, and not a very organized one. Because we're suffering and like, can't always focus and can't always put the energy towards this. So there's there's definitely I see a lot of like, non-sensitive people pushing towards, you know, regulate, like, let's say in removing lead from from items.

I'm sure there's a lot of people who read the website and because I always mentioned a line about sensitive people. They've sort of learned about that just by accident because they're looking for healthier products and they're like, oh sensitive people don't do well with all this. So I'm sure there's been some education there and kind of I think blending the two groups together is is is to help in general with destigmatizing and getting our voices out there more.


Aaron Goodman

That brings us to the end of this episode of the Chemical Sensitivity Podcast. Thank you very much to Corinne Segura for speaking with me. We release new episodes twice a month. Please subscribe where you get your podcasts. The podcast is produced by me Aaron Goodman with assistance from Kasey Walstra. I'm grateful to listeners who support the podcast. If you'd like to make a monthly contribution or one time donation, please find links on the website, www.chemicalsensitivitypodcast.org. Your support will help us continue making the podcast available and creating greater awareness about MCS. Thanks so much. Podcast belongs to the community and the purpose is to advocate for all of us. Your help means a lot. You can find us on social media search for the Chemical Sensitivity Podcast, or PodcastingMCS. Please leave your comments. Anything you hear. We love hearing from you. Find the podcast on YouTube. Just go to YouTube and search for the chemical sensitivity podcast. Hit subscribe, and you can read captions in any language you like. Please leave a review on Apple podcasts. It's a great way to help others learn about the podcast. And if there's someone you'd like to hear interviewed on the podcast, or topic you'd like us to explore, just let us know. Email info@chemicalsensitivitypodcast.org Thanks so much.