paul bookbinder

Column: They’re killing us slowly

BOOKBINDERCOLUMNThe most difficult part of writing these articles myself, instead of hiring a professional, is that, as the deadline approaches, the pressure mounts and it gets more and more difficult to come up with a new topic that you might find interesting or amusing. After all, what could possibly be new after writing 154 Kitchen and Bath Insiders?

I thought of tackling the topic of “standing your ground” in the remodeling process, but Liz felt the topic was too close, and too soon, to current events.

I came up with “whistle blowing in the cabinet industry” but realized I don’t have a whistle.

So, stumped, I’m taking the easy way out and falling back on one of my favorite topics, the dreaded imports that are slowly killing us just as sure as a direct attack on our homeland.

They put arsenic in our orange juice and lead in our kid’s toys, and there’s even sulfur in our sheetrock. God only knows what’s in the cabinets. And yet, we keep importing products and produce from that big country in the east. So really, what’s the big deal? Where’s the harm in a little arsenic, or lead, or hydrogen sulfide gas, when you can save a couple of bucks? Haven’t you heard? We’re still in a recession. Health is a small price to pay when you’re talking about saving money.

But. if you are concerned about avoiding the perils of hazardous material exposure when eating, buying toys, homes or remodeling, you must use your common sense. The best way to begin is by reading labels, assuming you still can read after exposure to all those noxious fumes. If not, have your BFF read the label for you. If the product does not have a label, ask the proprietor for a Material Data Safety Sheet, which lists the properties, both harmful and inert, of the product.

In the remodeling industry, most cabinet and countertop manufacturers have been making a concerted effort to clean up their act. Now you can purchase American-made cabinets that have little or no harmful ingredients, such as volatile organic compounds, at very competitive prices, although they will never be as inexpensive as cabinets made in countries where the average hourly wage is less than a U.S. dollar.

Some of these same countries sell granite counters with high levels of radon, a cancer-causing radioactive gas. Just shut off the lights and see them glow. But hey, they’re cheap. Consider instead quartz composite countertops, which are certified by various environmental organizations as to their lack of harmful emissions, or buy granite that has acceptable radon emissions.

Now, I’m not saying that everything made in America is great, in fact some of our stuff could stand a little room for improvement, but at least there are some government standards to adhere to. And I’m not saying that exposure to some chemicals is all that bad. When I was an Industrial Arts teacher, for many years I taught both woodworking and printing. In print shop, we handled type that was made primarily of lead and washed our hands with kerosene. Having dinner with a friend, a product liability attorney, the other day, I mentioned this and said it didn’t seem to adversely affect me. Her reply was, “think of what you could have been.”

So sit back, take a deep, formaldehyde-filled breath, and watch the kids sip arsenic-laced apple juice while putting their lead-painted toys in their mouths. It really doesn’t matter much because the hydrogen sulfide gas coming from the sheet rock will eventually kill you anyway. Unless, of course, you decide to spend a couple of extra bucks and buy safe products from a country you can trust.

Paul Bookbinder, M.I.D., C.R., is president of DreamWork Kitchens, Inc. located in Mamaroneck, New York. A Master of Design (Pratt Institute), and E.P.A. Certified Remodeler, he serves on the Advisory Panel of Remodeling Magazine. A member of the National Kitchen & Bath Assoc., he is also a contributor to Do It Yourself magazine. He can be reached for questions at 914-777-0437 or