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GSBN: Digest for 8/7/02

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-> Re: GSBN:Fwd: Earthships and pollution
     by Mark Piepkorn duckchow@...


Date: 7 Aug 2002 11:20:28 -0500
From: Mark Piepkorn duckchow@...
Subject: 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 

         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 resistance, 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...



End of Digest

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