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Health risks from neighbors' hardwood floor installation?
November 17, 2007 3:35 PM   Subscribe

Upstairs neighbors had hardwood floors installed. I think they've gone on vacation while the installers did their work (stage 1 was Monday, stage 2, yesterday). The paint-fume smell in our condo is awful. What kind of health risks are there to ourselves or our cat?

We opened the windows on the evenings of Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday (not overnight though because outside has potential burglars, freezing temperatures, and we're both sick with a nasty cold). The smell in the building was almost back to normal on Thursday, but then the installers came back yesterday. We opened the windows again yesterday evening, shut them overnight, opened them again today for a couple hours (but shut some of them again because it was too cold). Are we risking serious health problems by closing the windows overnight? (I realize now I should have asked this yesterday, but I wasn't thinking straight yesterday.)

Also, the installers vacuumed the main floor lobby carpet, but not the carpeted stairs leading to the basement units (one of which is ours). There's a thick layer of dust, I assume from sanding, on the banisters and the stairs. Googling turns up references to sanding resulting in carcinogenic dust. Does this mean I shouldn't use my little (non-HEPA filter) canister vacuum on it? If not, how do we get the dust out of the carpet?
posted by cybercoitus interruptus to Home & Garden (10 answers total)
 
The health risks are substantial. Open all your windows that get fresh air, turn on fans, get out of the house if you can. At least get out for an hour or so every now and then, to judge the strength of the smell when you return. But, seriously, that stuff is not good for you.
posted by StickyCarpet at 4:42 PM on November 17, 2007


Make sure that the neighbor's windows are open, so the fumes escape some other way than seeping into your place.
posted by StickyCarpet at 4:47 PM on November 17, 2007


When I had hardwood installed, the installer told me that we shouldn't be there. He showed me that the glue says right on it that children should not be near it.

Call your local Poison Control for info, since you are not in the same unit.
posted by acoutu at 4:48 PM on November 17, 2007


oh, Poison Control's a good idea. I don't know why I didn't think of that.

Make sure that the neighbor's windows are open, so the fumes escape some other way than seeping into your place.

Yeah, I'm sure the neighbors in question didn't direct the installers to leave their windows open. Part of the reason I'm not thinking straight is that I'm so supremely pissed off at those neighbors for fucking off and leaving the rest of us to deal with their toxic fumes without any warning.

I guess I'll use this as an opportunity to go meet the people in the other units.

At least get out for an hour or so every now and then, to judge the strength of the smell when you return.

for how many days is this critical? Tomorrow, sure. Monday Tuesday Wednesday too? Er I guess I'll ask Poison Control that one.

Thanks for the answers everyone & any more info is welcome.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 5:08 PM on November 17, 2007


This might be contentious, but if you have to vacate for a few days it would seem the responsibility for the extra lodging costs should fall on someone else.
posted by edgeways at 8:02 PM on November 17, 2007


Unfortunately, we own, the hardwood floor people own, and the condo association is small and pretty informal. It doesn't have any explicit rules laid out for dealing with this kind of situation. The neighbors in question certainly won't pony up any cash. This is the worst of a few incidents indicating that consideration for their neighbors isn't something they care about.

Poison Control said, "There can be cardiac involvement with polyurethane finishes, so if anybody has palpitations or if your cat starts acting funny you should go to the hospital or vet." Also, to keep going outside if we feel we're not getting enough fresh air. They had nothing specific to say about how many days we'll need to keep doing this.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 8:57 PM on November 17, 2007


You could always file for an emergency injunction in court if necessary.
posted by slavlin at 9:28 PM on November 17, 2007


Why not just ask the people refinishing the floors to open the windows in that unit?
posted by DarlingBri at 2:36 AM on November 18, 2007


the heath effects of short-term exposure to the solvents in common floor poly-urethanes for healthy adults are minimal... it's the floor refinishers who really get the effects of years of breathing in toluene.

the only way I can think that the dust would be carcinogenic is if the the floors had relatively old sheet linoleum or 'vinyl' tile and the refinshers sanded away the mastic (glue) which was often impregnated with asbestos. If they did sand away mastic then this is a major health hazard for the whole building especially your neighbors. you could take a sample of the dust to be tested but that might be expensive and not especially reliable. it sounds dire but probably (hopefully) they didn't do this.

it sounds like you need to have a talk with your neighbors: ask them about whether they had any linoleum taken out. they may not have known what happens when you refinish floors and it sounds like the contractor was pretty sloppy. i think it's most likely that this was an annoyance and not a health threat though...
posted by geos at 6:32 AM on November 18, 2007


Why not just ask the people refinishing the floors to open the windows in that unit?

When I left the building on Friday afternoon, I asked one what kind of work they were doing, and didn't think to ask anything else (there was a bit of a language barrier). They'd gone by the time I came back.

the heath effects of short-term exposure to the solvents in common floor poly-urethanes for healthy adults are minimal

That's a relief, but in that case, why are there dire warnings for residents to get out of the house for a few days? CYA liability thing for the contractors?

the only way I can think that the dust would be carcinogenic is if the the floors had relatively old sheet linoleum or 'vinyl' tile

Carcinogenic dust info that made me worried about using our vacuum on it and sending particles right back into the air.

You're right about talking to the neighbors, of course, to find out exactly what they had done. And politely suggest that they give advance notice for things like this in the future.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 12:54 PM on November 18, 2007


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