Apr. 27th, 2010


Apr. 27th, 2010 10:16 am
ryanabrams: (t rex)
My life recently has been great - my relationship has been growing in leaps and bounds, and is going great. My job is holding steady with the satisfaction needle buried in the green. And 11 days ago, I picked up the keys to my new apartment. It's got lots of space, a wonderful location, a helpful and friendly office staff, and an amazing price. It's perfect apartment for continuing to build on this new stage of my life. Unfortunately, it's also trying to kill me.

One of the nice things about this apartment was how much work the complex was doing to improve it before I moved in. Apparently the previous tenants had quite a few animals, and they all did animal things to the place. So the apartment was essentially being rebuilt anew for the next tenant. Freshly painted walls. Entirely replaced carpet. Kitchen counter resurfacing. Tile replacing. The works. They even had a contractor come in and rebuild one of the built in ceiling light fixtures from scratch. The apartment looks great. This was, at the time, exciting to me. I was naive.

I noticed the chemical smells immediately when I moved in, but didn't really think about it. By the end of the second day, we had grown used to it. By Monday I had a splitting headache, the shakes, was irritable and sore from moving, and felt really light headed. It was only once I got to work and re-acquainted myself with fresh air that I realized what was going on. We had spent the whole weekend essentially huffing a mixture of paint and glue. I was pretty freaked out, but mostly just nauseous.

Monday afternoon opened all the windows, turned on all the fans, and began airing the place out. I then packed a bag and moved the Beth's to try to recover. Tuesday brought the resurfacing folks who added new chemicals to the mix in the apartment, and that smell was prevalent through Wednesday. By Thursday the major strength of the smell(s) had cleared out, and the apartment seemed essentially livable again.

We spent the weekend setting up the bedroom and kitchen, organizing the living room, and generally enjoying the place. There was still some odor, but it was far reduced and the airflow kept it from being too bothersome. I braved it because I really wanted to get the place set up and feeling like home. For a little while, it worked.

Unfortunately, by yesterday morning, I was feeling quite sick again. The same symptoms. So I did some research. Apparently the initial paint smell takes about 3 days to clear, which is about how long it took once I started airing out the apartment. Sadly, New carpet chemicals last quite a bit longer. Apparently, new carpet goes through a process called "outgassing" that releases all of the remnant manufacturing chemicals into the air. It used to be associated strongly with formaldehyde, but apparently the chemicals have changed in the past decade, even if the result is the same. Some people, when building a new house, recommend putting a month between carpeting and moving in. There is actually a whole sub-industry of carpet glues/carpeting that are chemical-safe or some such. I'm guessing my apartment complex didn't spring for the fancy "eco" model.

To counteract this continual release of toxins, I looked at a study of gas absorption by plants done by NASA. They wanted to figure out how to best ensure the atmosphere on space stations and such stayed clean and healthy. One of the big winners for chemicals related to carpets was the boston fern. I now own three boston ferns - two by my bed, and one in the living room. I would have bought many more if my car were larger, though the study seemed to suggest that three is actually a lot of fern for the job. Additionally, I am researching vacuum cleaners. I'm going to need one to get all the baking soda out of the carpet later this week. I think I found a nice model that should do the job nicely. The idea is that the baking soda will soak up odors and bad things, and then the vacuum will pick up the baking soda. At the very least, at least my toxic carpet will be super clean.

The worst part about this is that I don't know exactly how to explain or combat it with confidence. I mean, the apartment may as well just be haunted, for all the actual understanding I have of what is going on. Beth doesn't smell anything in the apartment anymore, and doesn't seem to share my symptoms. She thinks this is all in my head. Which, maybe it is - but that doesn't really solve the problem, ya know?. All that does is make me wonder if I'm crazy. So I start thinking crazy thoughts. Maybe the initial weekend caused my sinuses to clog up, trapping some chemical particles in there (gonna use my Neti pot). Maybe its a non related brain problem that I am associating with the new place because of the strong smell association (going to the doctor if I'm not feeling better next week). Or maybe Occam's Razor applies, and I am just overly sensitive to some chemical being given off by the fresh paint, new carpet or carpet glues, or counter resurfacing.

In any case, my apartment is well ventilated and stocked with NASA approved ferns. I have an alternate cozy place to sleep/stay. And I have a tentative time frame for how long these things tend to take, based on the postings of other crazy internet people (at least, the ones for whom "tear out the carpet or move" is not a reasonable first suggestion). So I feel like I've covered my bases, for now, and just have to give nature time to rebalance things in there.

I'm really counting on those ferns.


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Ryan Abrams

June 2011

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