As concerns continue to grow about indoor air quality and exposure to toxic chemicals in our homes and schools, we've seen a plethora of new wall and floor treatments that eliminate chemicals like formaldehyde and other VOC's (volatile organic compounds). But until now, there hasn't been a surface that absorbs these toxic compounds.
Based on the plaster walls found in centuries-old Japanese temples, the Japanese company Shikoku International has formulated a modern version of the chemical-absorbing wall surface called Eco De Vita. The key ingredient is a high-porosity diatomaceous earth, a soft sedimentary rock made up of fossilized diatoms, a type of prehistoric hard-shelled algae. The cell structure of the fossil allows for an extremely high absorption rate of adjoining minerals (and chemicals).
This is great news for homeowners who are trying to improve the quality of the air inside their homes. Mortgage Daily News reports that off-gassing of formaldehyde and other VOC's is the primary reason for unhealthy indoor air and is a very common problem in US homes. Carpets, drapes, mattresses, furniture, cabinets, wall and floor finishes, even insulation materials often contain urea-formaldehyde, which will off-gas into the air you breath for up to 30 years! OSHA (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration) has linked VOC's to increased rates of asthma and cancer.
The current Eco De Vita line includes 2 levels of wall finish - KRM and KRT. KRM has proven in a 1-liter test chamber to eliminate formaldehyde by more than 97% (from 30 parts per million) in four hours. The more porous KRT completely eliminates the formaldehyde in less than two hours (PDF). Other benefits include reduction of pet odors (KRT absorbs 90% of pet odors in 15 minutes) as well as the elimination of cigarette smoke and other toxic VOC's found in the home like acetaldehyde and acrolein.
The other great thing about this product is that, unlike traditional plasters, Eco De Vita does not require lime or gypsum as a binding agent. Contractors can plan on less work, faster curing times and an easy spray-on application process. These traditional plaster walls also "breathe," quite literally regulating indoor humidity depending upon the time of year -- absorbing moisture in high-humidity times and releasing it during low-humidity periods. This makes for a much more comfortable interior.
Will Americans adapt to this age-old building technology? It's a good question. We are so used to regularly painting our interiors in a wild array colors, it may take some getting use to. The color palette, though quite beautiful to my eye, is limited to subtle earth tones. The plaster can easily be patched or sanded, but a higher degree of skill is required to make one of the traditional zen-like wall textures, making for higher installation costs.
But when you look at all the benefits and the promise of truly clean indoor air, the magic plaster wall becomes very appealing.