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Re: GSBN:Fwd: Earthships and pollution

At 03:26 PM 8/6/02, Catherine Wanek forwarded a message from Carol Venolia:
I've been asked to respond to a question by a Natural Home reader about
whether the tires in Earthships cause problems to the indoor air or the
surroundings. I have my gut feelings about this (don't want to take the
chance), but have any of you heard of either meaningful anecdotal evidence
or studies on this subject? Do you know anything about the composition or
chemical stability of tires in general?

Some chemically-sensitive people (and others with sensitive sniffers) have said that they reacted with (or smelled) something in Earthships they'd visited. Personally, I've been fine in all of them that I've been to, but then I'm not particularly sensitive, or even self-aware. There was one that was pretty stinky (folks from the '99 European SB Caravan know whereof I speak), but I think that was their greywater system.

The one time I met Michael Reynolds, I didn't ask him about offgassing; and the response to an unexpected email I received from him three or four years ago went unanswered, so we never struck up any cyberconversations.

Earthship proponents are understandably sensitive about offgassing - emotionally, rather than physically - and they have something to say, of course. Principally, they point out that "it's never happened." Nobody's ever gotten sick in an Earthship, they say. Then they continue by pointing out that tires finish their offgassing in short order - sometimes before they even make it onto a car - and that any subsequent offgassing is caused by photodegradation... whereupon they note, of course, that the tires in Earthships are 1) used, and 2) plastered, which not only prevents light from reaching them, but also prevents any gasses from moving into the living area.

As the piece de r?sistance, they serve up a study done at the University of Wisconsin in Madison in the mid '90s. Now, I haven't seen the study myself, but I'm given the impression (by the Earthship people) that it climbs all over itself showing that used tires are magical: They're not only in no way a toxic material, but they actually *absorb* gasses. Golly.

OK, now that I've written that, I went and did a websearch. Check the page at http://www.earthship.org/news/wmview.php?ArtID=5 for a whole whack of anti-tire-gas denunciation based on that study, which it cites by name, number, and contact info... something entirely too rare not only on the web, but in natural and alternative building literature in general. Three cheers for little getting-it-rights! (I mean, Mr. Anecdotal certainly made proper citations in the first paragraph of this email... grin...) The webpage indicates that it includes the first page of the study, which makes me think that the study must have been printed on poster-sized paper. You'll see what I mean.

John Schinnerer ( http://eco-living.net/writings/shelter/natbldg1.html ) wrote in '97 to the ESSA list, "It's called 'Selected Publications on Use of scrap tires in civil and environmental construction,' Environmental Geotechnics Report no. 95-2; May 10, 1995. The address for inquiries is: University of Wisconsin at Madison, Geotechnical Engineering Program, Dept. of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Wisconsin - Madison, Madison Wisconsin 53706. This is not light or even medium reading - it's ten or so various research reports on uses of scrap tires with charts, diagrams, tables, lots of big words and overly complicated ways of saying simple things. The good side of this is that it's very impressive-looking as an attitude adjustment tool for bureaucratic organizations and individuals whose world view is bent out of shape by the idea of using old tires in the building of a dwelling." ( http://csf.colorado.edu/forums/essa/jan97/0132.html ) That quotation ended with the kind of sad commentary on building-officialdom that David Eisenberg could get a good laugh out of, didn't it?

New to me, as a result of the websearch I just did, is something from an MCS author (in which some character named Venolia is cited) briefly referencing Earthships as healthful... but the mention is glancing and there doesn't seem to be any indication that it's based on first-hand experience. See http://www.anoumirkine.com/chapter3.htm

Finally, here's a typical rant from an Earthship builder/consultant in Canada - http://www.ecodesign.bc.ca/f3mark.htm . The tone sounds an awful lot like most defenses of any given material or method by any given proponent of it. (Not all, most.)

There seems to be a much higher amount of defensive material floating around out there about tire-offgassing in Earthships than there are indictments, or even incitements. Does that mean it's not a potential problem? I don't think so. I think, like anything, it's situational... depends on the person, the place, the confluence of details. Cedar Rose once said that the most toxic house she'd ever been in was a strawbale house: because of just about everything but the straw. SB is, of course, widely touted to be noninjurious. And - done right - it is. Maybe Earthships are like that, too.

A person with MCS considering an Earthship should do the smart thing (provided they're able to travel)... visit as many as possible, staying in them overnight and more - or at least dawdling for as many hours as they can get away with.

Meanwhile, an awful lot of drinking water is being delivered to our taps through PVC pipes...