Cleaning up Chlordane from my home: Filtering and sealing

Tapping into the abundance of fresh air

While living in a house with unsafe levels of chlordane in the air, I found creative ways to breathe fresh air.

Enjoying fresh air

When the weather was warm I would leave the doors and windows open 24×7 so that the indoor air was constantly exchanged with the outdoor air.

I also slept outside in a tent.  Many people think this is strange or extreme.  Knowing that chlordane accumulates in the body, and that it would take yet a while longer to complete the structural renovation necessary to clean up the chlordane (and even then there is no guarantee it would be completely gone) I was okay with taking measures that seem extreme in order to minimize my exposure to it.

My sleeping place for 6 months last year

Honestly, I like sleeping outside.  I developed an intimate connection with the cycles of the sun and moon.  I always knew what phase the moon was in and when it would pop up over the horizon.  And I timed my morning awakening to the sunrise.  I got to know different species of birds and other animals and when they were active and when not.  I knew the patterns of my neighbors – when they went to sleep and when they got up to let out their dogs.  It was a great way to get to know the characteristics of my new neighborhood.  I spent many nights staring up into the stars before I went to bed, comparing the sky and my life to what it had been when I lived out West, where I also spent many nights in a tent.

As the fall came and the weather began to get colder, I realized that I’d need to make preparations for the winter.  It looked like my lumber milling project would still take several more months.

I considered winterizing my tent, or possibly building a yurt in my back yard.  This would be fun, but quite expensive and time consuming.

My dad suggested that I seal the chlordane-injected wood.  As I thought about it more I realize that was a great idea.  It was inexpensive.  It would let me do the necessary work to prepare the wood for the renovation that needed to be done anyway.  And it would allow me to live inside for the winter months.

Cleaning and sealing

Eric disassembling some deteriorated shelves

Over the next few weeks my parents and my friend Eric helped me with the tedious task of preparing the basement to be sealed.

The chlordane had been injected into the sill beams – large pieces of wood that hold the walls of the house up.  In order to get access to the beams it required us to remove structural wood that hold parts of the floor up, as well as clean more than 80 years of dirt, plaster, and even coal dust off the top and sides of the beams.  This prep work took nearly 7 days of 2-3 people working, spread over about a month.

I am grateful for all the help I had in this project.

My mother cleaning off coal dust from the 1930′s

Dad removing part of sill.  He was so proud to get this one removed.

Me sealing a beam






When the beams were fully prepared, I could finally seal them.  I used a product call AFM SafeCoat that I got from Artemis Building Supply.  SafeCoat is a low-VOC sealant specifically designed for furniture and other building materials that may have been manufactured with chemicals that would typically end up in the house’s air.  It effectively traps the chemicals in, preventing them from offgassing, so they don’t end up in the air.

AFM SafeCoat used to seal offgassing chemicals into wood

I’d also bought a heavy-duty air filter called IQAir GC-VOC.  This is a major air purifier!  It’s clean-room quality and contains multiple stage filters including a HEPA filter for particles and four carbon-based canister filters that are able to remove VOC’s and other chemicals from the air.

Major air purifier

A case study

Part of my intention for doing all this work, in addition to getting a clean house to live in, is to learn effective ways to deal with chlordane so I can spread that knowledge to other folks dealing with it.

I ordered some air samples so I could quantitatively compare the effectiveness of the wood sealing and the air filter.

I took two samples and compared it to a baseline sample I had taken last Spring.  The first sample was with the beams sealed.  And the second sample was with the beams sealed and the IQAir running at full speed.

Here are the results (higher numbers mean more chlordane):

 Baseline (from Spring 2012)  47.3 ng/m3
 With sealed beams  50.7 ng/m3  +7%
 With sealed beams + air filter  38.3 ng/m3  -19%

Ya…. A bit disappointing!  The sealing didn’t do anything.  That’s a bummer because it means I still have to live in a house with high levels of chlordane.

Not all is lost though.  The project was needed anyway.  The beams are now all exposed, a necessary step before the renovation.  And we know the air filter helps a little.

Also we can learn something from the results:
a) AFM SafeSeal is not very effective for sealing in chlordane, or
b) the primary source of exposure is not coming from the wood.

I know there is chlordane in the soil around the house as well.  It’s possible that the soil chlordane is seeping into the house at a higher concentration than what’s in the wood.  It’s also possible that there are other sources of the chlordane that I haven’t found yet.  It could have been injected under the concrete basement floor, for example.  That was a common application method before chlordane was banned.  It could also have been injected directly into the basement concrete block walls.

It’s been a balancing act thus far trying to determine which course of action to take to remediate the chlordane.  Air tests are very expensive – a minimum of $250 each time I want to take a test.  So I have to minimize the tests I take and plan them carefully, to get just enough information to determine my next steps.

The process involves getting objective information from the tests, learning about the history of the chemical, and then ultimately going with my gut to determine the next steps.

I’ve already spent several months milling lumber in order to renovate the chlordane-injected wood.  There’s also been a cost to receiving engineering advice and tools.  There is a risk that the steps I’ve pursued will not be the thing that resolves the problem.

I’m aware of all this as I proceed.  And I’m okay with that risk and whatever the results might be.  I’m working toward creating a stable and healthy place for myself to live.  Even if I don’t continue to live in this house it’s still worth it.  I’m cleaning up this spot on the Earth for people in the future.  I’m also doing much needed research that other folks can use about how to clean up this kind of mess.

As people begin more and more to take their health and environment in to their own hands, I believe and hope what I’m learning and sharing here will be useful.

I now have a new plan to temporarily reduce my winter exposure.  I’m working to negatively pressurize the basement to trap the chlordane in that room, preventing it from getting into the rest of the house.  I have several more air tests planned as well.  Perhaps I’ll have more to share in a future post.

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My relationship with money, an abundant resource

Give and Receive

I’ve struggled with a lot of different things in my life.  But one thing I’ve always had good luck around is money.  It’s not that I’m rich or anything.  It’s just that I’ve always had a healthy relationship with it.  I’ve always had at least what I’ve needed, and I’ve never felt the need to hoard it or be pulled too much in the rat-race of modern-day life to obtain it.

Having enough money has enabled me to do some really great things.  Like, giving, for example.  In the past several years my income in the software world has increased, while my living style has become much more simple.  This has enabled me to give away huge amounts of my money to folks who are doing really cool world-changing projects.

I look at money as a resource, just like having a tool or a skill.  We all have different resources available to us.  So I got a big thrill out of supporting folks with one of my resources, so they could reach their own visions and dreams.

Some of the projects I feel good about supporting over the past few years:

  • The Cafe Gratitude grateful bowl.  This is a pay-it-forward meal served by a restaurant in the San Francisco Bay Area that lets people pay what they can afford.
  • Helping a friend in Pittsburgh start a temple for women’s healing.
  • Supporting many projects around the world that reduce or eliminate carbon from entering the atmosphere, reducing climate change.
  • Buying multiple cattle and farm animals for families in poverty-stricken areas along with training for the families receiving them through Heifer.
  • Sending some of my friends to personal growth classes that they wanted to take but couldn’t afford.
  • Helping a friend get out west so he could share his Flowetry with the folks out there.

Ultimately, it’s selfish.  I want to live in a world where people feel open and communicate well and feel joy and fulfillment so that I can experience those things too!

I’d love to live in a world where we weren’t so reliant on money, where what we give and receive is based on human needs rather than a tiny piece of paper.  We’re working toward that with lots of new technologies such as gift economies.  But let’s face it, most of the world is not there yet.  I believe that by changing our relationship to money and seeing it as a resource, we can work toward a world where the money itself is not that important.

A shift in phase

And now comes for me, a shift in phase.  I’m letting go of the safety net.  After years of obtaining this resource, paying off my debts, saving up, getting rid of most of my personal belongings (my house has almost no furniture and I sleep on the floor).  I am now entering a consumption phase.  I recently left my software career in order to do work related with helping the environment, work that, at least initially, doesn’t bring an income like that of software.  I’m spending to get some items for my house so that I have a more comfortable place to live.  I’m allowing myself to, once again, rely more upon the world to support me.  My savings is almost spent and for the first time in more than a decade I’m allowing myself to take on some debt.

I’m okay with this.  I’m bringing along trust – trust in myself and in the world to provide exactly what I need, trust that my soul can not just survive but thrive, by not attaching to the rat-race of money obtainment, but by allowing myself to recognize the abundance of wealth that’s all around me in the form of food, nourishment, and community.

Even the point of this message itself is to stay in relationship to you, to communicate and let you know, “Hey!  I need some support!”.

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Letting myself be socialized in order to save the world

“By letting go of my strict adherence to my preference of interacting, I am able to open doors which lead to creating a bigger effect I want in the world.”

I’m probably more socialized now than at any other point in my life.

The other day I momentarily forgot someone’s name when seeing them at a party.  I was terribly embarrassed.  A few years ago this wouldn’t have been the case.  At that time I wasn’t that concerned about whether or not someone remembered my name, and didn’t care as much about remembering other people’s names, as much as I was concerned about remembering their “soul”.  I cared much more about remembering the essence of their energy: intelligent, open, critical, strong, beautiful, and about the conversations we had.  I didn’t like the social convention of immediately introducing ourselves and announcing our name upon meeting.  In my experience the vast percentage of name-remembering never ended up sticking.  I thought it was silly that such an emphasis was put on this ritual rather than the essence of meeting the person, whatever their name may be.

In recent years I’ve changed my perspective. My life purpose has always been to create shift in our culture.  I noticed, though, that I wasn’t being very effective at creating change because people couldn’t relate to me.  I was so extreme to them about how I used language, ate my food, stated my needs and desires, and spent my time.  People reflected their unease to me or made up some story about why I was that way.

I started to make a practice of learning people’s names when I met them.  I even developed a system around it which increased my ability to remember a whole slew of names.  My best event was a meeting I went to with 15 people where I remembered all but one person’s name the first time they introduced their self to me.

I learned that in order to be effective at changing our culture, I needed to be able to relate to people wherever they were at so that they’d feel comfortable with me.  Silly as the name-remembering ritual may be, it’s a practice that our culture places value in.  In our culture, when someone remembers our name it means that we’re memorable by them.  It makes us feel good.  That’s the way our culture tells the story.  That story is so deep that we truly believe it in our bones.

When I have this kind of connection with folks they feel more open around me.  They’re more willing to listen.  And I have a better shot at being able to tell them about something they didn’t previously know.

By letting go of my strict adherence to my preference of interacting, I am able to open doors which lead to creating a bigger effect I want in the world.

I can also look at it as honoring people where they’re at.  Not honoring the cultural custom, but honoring the people.  Because as silly as the custom might be, it’s the people that are important.  I deeply respect people, wherever they come from and wherever they are at.

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Pittsburgh’s biggest resource: How will the city manage it’s water in the 21st century?

Pittsburghers have an opportunity in how we handle our regions most precious resource: water.

I interviewed Sara Madden of Nine Mile Run Watershed Association to explore issues around how our current infrastructure leads to pollution of our waters, a new project that will be Pittsburgh’s most expensive public infrastructure project in the history of the city, and innovative ways that we can collectively embrace this impending change and bring resilience and sustainability to our city.

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