Toxic Carpets, Green Wood and Great Lakes

How to Avoid Fuming Fibers, Deceptive Stickers and Alien Mussels

What are the toxic dangers of the carpet-cleaning chemical ethylene glycol monobutyl ether?

—Roger Schatz, Chicago, IL

Illustration: Chris Murphy

Ethylene glycol monobutyl ether, also known as 2-butoxyethanol, is the most toxic of the glycol ethers. It is a clear, syrupy liquid with a mild, rancid odor that belongs to the family of “cellosolves,” known to cause damage to the nervous system. If used under cold, well-ventilated conditions, it probably doesn’t present a great health risk. However, its exposure to heat creates toxic fumes that are hazardous to breathe and readily absorbed through the skin.

Cynthia Wilson of the Chemical Injury Information Network says the ether has an incredible list of associated health risks. Some of the effects of mild exposure to the compound are headaches and respiratory, throat, nose and eye irritation. More serious, long-term exposure can result in damage to the central nervous system, kidneys and liver, and the inhibition of the body’s ability to produce blood.

Despite its known toxicity, 2-butoxyethanol has been used in cleaners for over 50 years. It can also be found in paints, printing processes, dye stuffs and brake oils, and is used in the manufacture of agricultural chemicals and some herbicides.

Every carpet-cleaning solution contains a different combination of potentially-harmful chemicals. The most toxic ingredients in these solutions are petroleum solvents and butyl cellosolve, which both pose serious health threats.

If you have any concerns about the toxicity of chemicals found within carpet-cleaning solutions, you should contact the manufacturers and request a list of ingredients before the service is performed.


Chemical Injury Information Network
PO Box 301
White Sulfur Springs, MT 59645-0301
Tel. (406) 547-2255

Is a piece of furniture with a sticker proclaiming it to be made from plantation wood environmentally preferable to furniture made from unmarked hardwoods?

—Cathal Spelman, Dublin, Ireland

According to Mark Comolli of Smartwood, “Just because wood comes from a plantation doesn’t mean it’s environmentally sound.” If the accreditation is from the respected Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), then the product can be recommended. If not, it may be just another sticker with misleading claims of eco-friendliness.

A plantation, loosely defined as a large group of trees under cultivation, has varying environmental impacts. To meet the FSC’s guidelines, a plantation must demonstrate that it is beneficial to the local community and committed to biological conservation. Smartwood says only those products that are certified and bear the FSC logo can make claims to sustainable forest management.

When shopping for wood products, check to see if the organization certifying the product is accredited by the FSC. If that certification is missing, contact the FSC and ask about the specific item.


Goodwin Baker Building
61 Millet Street
Richmond, VT 05477
Tel. (802) 434-5491

Forest Stewardship Council
RD1 Box 182
Waterbury, VT 05676
Tel. (802) 244-6257

What can recreational boaters do to prevent the spread of zebra mussels?

—Louis and Rina Tazzioli, Rochester Hills, MI

Zebra mussels, the infamous invaders that have besieged American waterways for more than a decade, are thumbnail-sized aquatic animals that cling to and damage water intake pipes, docks and commercial fishing nets. Lake Saint Claire and Lake Erie experienced the first infestations in 1988, when the mussel was transported to North America in the ballast water of ships that had most likely picked them up on the northern shore of the Black Sea. The introduced species quickly spread throughout the Great Lakes basin, causing millions of dollars in industrial and recreational destruction.

Sea Grant, a national consortium of aquatic nuisance species programs, has launched a comprehensive zebra mussel education plan that has scattered posters, signs, workshops and media stories across the Great Lakes region. According to Sea Grant, boaters should: before and after a launch, remove all aquatic animals and plants from boats; make sure that all water is drained from the boat after a trip; and, finally, dispose of all unwanted bait on land.

While researchers learn to cope with the widespread aquatic interference, outreach programs stress that prevention is crucial to zebra mussel containment. Doug Jensen of Sea Grant says, “It takes many, many mistakes to cause an infestation, not just one introduction. It’s still not a lost cause to try to prevent the spread of zebra mussels.”


University of Minnesota
Sea Grant Program
2305 East Fifth Street
Duluth, MN 55812-1445
Tel. (218) 726-8712