Gluten Concerns in Home Renovation Projects

By Jo Anne Murray

There have been a number of concerns expressed by members of the CCA Facebook page about the presence of gluten in drywall joint compound. Because I was having a few repairs done in my own home, I decided to research some of the industry standard products to determine their safety from the gluten perspective.

I’ll talk about the restoration products first. The major suppliers of many of the products currently on the market claim that there are no gluten-containing ingredients in any of their products. I included standard products marketed by Home Depot, Lowe’s, Rona and spoke to and/or exchanged emails with sales reps and other company spokespeople. Some of the products available are produced in Canada exclusively, others share some cross-border exchange. DAP was the only company that indicated that wheat starch is still used in a couple of their USA plants and that the wheat starch is actually tested for gluten content and the gluten content measures at a level well below 20 ppm. It is likely safe to say that the current drywall joint compounds should pose little to no concern to members of the celiac community.

Most of the information that I received from these spokespeople also encouraged that the products they have available that have the reduced dust properties are likely more desirable for projects where any health issues are of concern as the remnants from sanding these particular joint compounds fall directly to the floor with very little circulating in the air.

Now I’ll cover a few concerns for the demolition phases of any renovation projects. There is little information available about products that were used in previous decades and the potential for gluten content in these products. The only way to be certain of their safety would be to  have samples tested for gluten content before any major demolition took place. However, a more significant concern is that of asbestos in the drywall joint compound and the plaster used in lath and plaster finishing as well as texturing paint and stippling products.

Because of the insidious nature of lung injury from asbestos particles, it is recommended that existing materials be tested before any demolition takes place and if asbestos is present that abatement should be undertaken by companies qualified in the safe removal of
the asbestos-contaminated materials.

Needless to say, proper management of asbestos removal would assure that any potential gluten content would also be safely removed.

So what construction years are of greatest concern for asbestos? Asbestos has been extensively used in the construction industry for more than a century. It was banned for use in Canada in textured paint and drywall joint compound in 1979 – but – it still made its way into many of these products until the early 1990s.

If you are inclined to disregard the asbestos concerns and undertake the DIY projects anyway, there are a number of steps you can take to limit exposure to asbestos and gluten if it is present. There is personal safety equipment available to protect your health.

There are also many ways to limit the dust exposure escaping to areas outside the actual renovation area.

  • Seal off the renovation area, including sealing off the hot and cold air returns to your furnace.
  • Choose a time of year when the furnace is not likely to be running.
  • Cleanup must be managed to prevent contamination of equipment and the remainder of the building.
  • Talk to the renovation professionals so you fully understand the methods to prevent asbestos contamination. By managing the risks for asbestos exposure, you automatically manage the risks for any potential gluten exposure.

Another consideration for gluten lurking about in a renovation project is wallpaper. The commercial glues used in most pre-pasted modern wall coverings are developed from the same types of glues that are used on envelopes. However, prior to ~1970, wallpaper was applied using wallpaper paste that was made at home from wheat flour.

There are still many homes that have layers upon layers of wallpaper, and many of those layers will have wheat based wallpaper paste holding them in place. Care must be taken in their removal to contain the dust from these projects to the area of restoration and minimize the potential for its being circulated through the furnace ducts and other air movement equipment (fans, dryers, dehumidifiers).

Gluten might be a consideration in any renovation project but will be overshadowed by the asbestos concerns in most renovations. When asbestos is addressed in your project, any gluten exposure would be included in the prevention of general contamination concerns.

Please protect your health when you undertake your DIY projects.

About David Fowler

David Fowler is an online marketing consultant specializing in AdWords PPC, SEO, and website updates. He is the webmaster of Kelowna Celiac and was co-chair of the Kelowna 2012 CCA National Conference in Kelowna.