Tuesday, August 18, 2015

that moment when you see the light at the end of the tunnel...and the tunnel collapses

So the RV is ready. And we had begun to move in, with the help of that amazing friend I mentioned in the previous post. We were getting settled in. Each day we'd go get a few more things out of the house. By this past weekend we'd have been fully moved in. As you already know,  we moved back into the house instead. 

As I've also mentioned before, I have Multiple Chemical Sensitivity and Mast Cell Activation Disorder (I have several other diagnoses, but those are the ones relevant to this particular story). This means we have to be EXTREMELY careful with chemicals, and it also means that every single thing we put into our bodies or in our environment costs a hell of a lot more money than the "conventional" version. Because I react to soooo many things. And reactions can look like migraines, or severe brain fog, or physical pain, or outright anaphylaxis.

So when we painted the entire RV interior, we used really safe paints. Annie Sloan Chalk paint for the walls of the living area and bedroom. Yolo Colorhouse for the bathroom and sofa. And for the cabinets, which are about 65% - 70% of the RV, some kind of zero VOC primer and paint from Sherwin Williams. Only....it wasn't. 

The first night we spent in the RV, I could smell the paint fumes, and I let my husband know. We brainstormed, and came up with running the ozone machine during the day to see if that might help. It seemed to - as long as we ran it twice a day and let it air out, the fumes weren't so strong. But the thing about running an ozone machine, even a small one, is that you must let a building thoroughly air out before you go inside, because even residual ozone can dry our lungs and sinuses and cause havoc in a person's system. It's not an ideal solution if one is actually living in a space.

So once we actually moved into the RV full on and weren't just sleeping in it, that's when I realized the ozone machine wasn't as effective as I thought - because the fumes came back in full force. And let me just tell you - despite what those chemical companies want you to think, if you can smell it, it's hurting your health. Not just My health, delicate fragile flower that I am. Anyone's health.

Those chemicals you smell in paints? Many of them are solvents, and OSHA's own website her this to say about solvents:

Millions of workers are exposed to solvents on a daily basis. Health hazards associated with solvent exposure include toxicity to the nervous system, reproductive damage, liver and kidney damage, respiratory impairment, cancer, and dermatitis. Solvents share many chemical, physical, and biological properties that warrant national attention be directed to them as a group."

Here's another article about Low VOC paints I wish my husband had read before choosing the cabinet paint:

Low VOC Paint. Everything They Never Wanted you to Know.

Or this one:

IAQ and Your Health: A Deeper Look at VOCs and Formaldehyde Emissions

I'm not blaming my husband. He is terribly overworked, overstressed, and exhausted. *I* am the one in our family who researches everything exhaustively. That's why we got the Annie sloan for the walls, and the Yolo Colorhouse. They were safe. But the latter at least wasn't really meant for cabinets. And the former, you also have to wax after to protect the paint. Then every 6 months after that. So it's understandable that one might want to look for something with a little less maintenance, especially since our life really can't afford to have *more* things to maintain. 

I am human. I have memory loss and brain fog as part of my symptoms. Sometimes I think I know a thing and I forget the thing. Or things accidentally slip through like letting my husband choose the paint for the cabinets, because using Annie Sloan seemed like a lot of steps (and expense). And even though it was my gut instinct to use that one, I sort of forgot.

I know my husband told the people at the paint store about my chemical sensitivities. I know he believed he was choosing something that would work for me. I know we both believed that the fumes and the chemicals would dissipate once the paint was dry.

But it's been months since he painted now, and they are as strong as they ever were. And on really hot days, when we needed to close the windows and run the A/C, I would end up with migraines. Every time. And every time we close the windows for any reason, I am immediately ill and my head begins to hurt. So the third time I got a migraine we decided that I couldn't stay in there anymore, and now we're back in the house.

We saw the light at the end of the tunnel. we finally thought we were on the way to getting out house sold. And then the tunnel collapsed, and we were trapped inside. With no one to dig us out. And no goddamn spoons left.

So WTF do we do now?

We honestly don't know.

We looked into some possible solutions - the husband remembered reading about AFM Safecoat, and thought maybe we can use that to seal in the fumes?

I turned to the internet, and found this thread. I read the whole thread. It took me hours, so I don't expect anyone else to. But the gist was, this was NOT our fault. Not even a little. We enacted what we believed, and were told, would be an effective solution for our needs. Just like the hundreds of people on this thread did. In fact, this has  been happening for a LONG time. And the paint manufacturers know all about it. They will refund people's money, pay to have things repainted...but the thing is, the only thing that has worked for ANY of these people is to pull our ALL of the drywall and start over from scratch. An incredibly expensive, disruptive and time-consuming solution to a problem none of them created.

But we don't have drywall to pull out, because we used this on cabinets. Every cabinet in our RV. which are made from cherry wood. So what is OUR solution? I assume the wood is also porous, which was the problem with painting drywall - the paint and chemicals seeped into the pores of the drywall, rendering it stinky forever.

So what is our solution?

Right now, other than trying to recoup our costs, we have none.


  1. hiya. i am so sorry to hear about the paint problem. i have been following your progress and loved the painted drawer pulls. i dont know if this will help, but when jim and i redid the first floor at hartford the polyurethane topcoat was noxious. jim and i got headaches and felt sick. i had ordered some zeolite which came on day 2. within 24 hours the smell was gone to our noses. zeolite is a mineral that actually takes stuff out of the air and it is reusable by wrapping it in black plastic and letting it sit in the sun it releases what it had absorbed. a few pounds in your closed rv might help. good luck - you guys will get thru this! hugs!

  2. Hi. So sorry to hear of the paint issue. I found your page after googling because I have a similar problem right now. I also have asthma and chemical sensitivies and moved house recently and have been decorating. I used Earthborn claypaints on the walls - wonderful stuff - VOC free (completely) and smells of absolutely nothing - except muddy water maybe. I didn't have a problem using Johnson's undercoat and Laura Ashley eggshell paint either - virtually no smell from either. The reason I am commenting now is I used some Annie Sloan Chalk paint today on a cupboard I decided to paint. Never used it before and it has caused me a big reaction and to me smells awful! Fumy. Now maybe I just have a bad batch, but I did look up the contents on their website (and an analysis elsewhere) and I really wouldn't use it if you have chemical sensitivity. The website makes it sound very "pure" but it does contain ammonia and something ethyl thing used to make antifreeze, and smelled of formaldehyde to me. I have a known allergy to formaldehyde and it is often used in small amounts in some paints as a VOC. So low VOC isn't enough - it has to be zero VOC. It has affected me so badly we had to throw the cupboard away.

    The other options were - try and seal it to reduce the fumes and then repaint - or strip it (also nasty chemicals). As it was just an old cupboard I decided to cut my losses. In your situation there could be a couple of similar options.

    Sealing it in with Zinsser 123 plus (this does smell slightly but I was ok with it - not sure if you would be or not). It is a paint as well as a sealer so no need to paint over it - except it only comes in white! But you could maybe tint it.

    However anything that isn't VOC free may be a problem for you. I don't think you would need new drywall - removing the paint, sealing and repainting should do it. I am in the Uk so maybe some of the products I mentioned aren't available. But Earthborn claypaints are great and they also make a wall glaze for sealing a wall and then painting over - it is also VOC free and smells of nothing - maybe I slight scent of vinegar (it contains vinegar as one of the ingredients).

    So to go that route you'd probably need to hire a professional decorator to sand/remove all the paint back to the bare drywall, then seal and repaint.

    I am off to check out zeolite.


Thank you so much for commenting, it is always a pleasure to hear from anyone who is reading. Note that all comments are moderated, so when you post your comment, it will show up once its been reviewed. Thank you for your patience and your time. I wish you healing, and stay curious!