Construction and craft projects often result in exposure to gluten. Where does gluten lurk and how can exposure be minimized?
In the spring of 2009, our house flooded and we embarked on a journey involving demolition, repair and renovation. At the time I didn’t know that I was gluten intolerant. My husband and I decided to do our own work, which taught us many things about how houses are built and how to be handy. I remember being horribly exhausted, but I expected that– it was a stressful time.
Our house had taken on a foot of water, so insurance paid to replace the bottom four feet of drywall. This drywall had to be cut out and replaced, leaving a faint seam on the wall in some places. In order to cover that seam, we decided to texture the walls, which was my project. I had fun using brooms, feather dusters, rags and all sorts of things to make different textures around the house. I used joint compound, which goes on wet and dries into a paintable surface. Drywall may or may not contain gluten to bind the gypsum plaster, generally a nasty substance itself, which forms the core of the wall. Joint compound and wall texture are loaded with gluten to help the material mix and hold together. No wonder I didn’t feel well.
If you need to work with this stuff I would recommend a respirator (a la Breaking Bad) and gloves. I am not kidding. If I had to do it over again I’d either wear a protective suit or get someone else to do it. To tell the truth, construction materials contain things that are much more toxic than gluten. Reading the material safety data sheets on these things can give you nightmares.
The whole experience made me think. Where else is gluten hiding? Construction is often the realm of burly men who don’t admit to things like gluten sensitivity, so these materials are even more poorly marked and labeled than the things we eat. Have you ever used the substance marketed to fill nail holes? It’s full of gluten. I recommend using Elmer’s wood filler instead, which is gluten free. I no longer mix or spread tile grout or cement, and don’t apply caulk. These products have all sorts of terrible, cancer-causing things in them, in addition to a great potential for gluten and labeling that is less than revealing. Once they dry they are much safer. I also steer clear of adhesives unless they are marketed as gluten free, such as those made by Elmer’s. Indoor and outdoor house paints are generally gluten free, although you might want to contact the manufacturer to make sure, unless they have texture in them, in which case they are almost certain to contain gluten. Paint is wonderful in that it seals whatever it coats; just be careful if you need to sand.
Builders aren’t the only people who have these issues. Plaster is another thing that can be full of gluten if wheat flour or wheat derivatives are added to help it hold together. Chalk, which is basically colored plaster, can be highly dangerous to the gluten intolerant due to the amount of dust it produces and the propensity children have for putting it in their mouths. This is one reason that many schools now have dry erase boards instead of chalkboards, although most chalk produced today is gluten free. Ever felt weird using sidewalk chalk? I did.
Modeling clay and products like Play-doh contain gluten as well. It helps give these products their texture. If all of this scares you, don’t worry, there are alternatives and awareness is growing all the time. I recommend shopping for supplies online at Discount School Supply because they post a list of allergens for the products they carry and have a special webpage for those with allergies and sensitivities, including gluten. The Colorations line of products is great. Better safe than sick!
Other posts in this series include: Gluten Sensitivity: An Introduction and Gluten Sensitivity and the Artist: Avoiding Wheat Flour in Art Supplies.