Polyurethane causing burning in throat?

Q: I have COPD and never use chemicals in my home; no air fresheners, no cleaning products, etc., only essential oils and vinegar. We recently bought a 37 year old home and did a complete renovation (hand scrub of mildew in crawl space and encapsulation, paint inside and out including paint over stained trim, new appliances, etc.)

I told my handyman/contractor that I wanted a “strong finish” on our beautiful oak floors in the living room and dining room so that grandkids wouldn’t destroy them. I didn’t think another thing about it as I was busy with so many other tasks with the renovation and move. He applied two coats of Minwax fast-drying polyurethane gloss “professional.” The last coat was applied a week ago Saturday and we began moving in the following Tuesday (two days later). I was in the home on Monday, one day after the final application, but in and out. I’ve been in and out of the house since, boxing up things from the old home, buying things to complete the renovation, furniture, appliances, etc., so I wasn’t in the home non-stop until three days ago. I was unpacking and putting up shelf paper so I was in the home all day and night. We’ve been sleeping in the home for a week, but our bedroom doesn’t have hardwoods; however, hardwoods are in the hallway outside our door and all through the living room and dining room where I was throughout the day.

I began having burning in my throat 3 days ago. I thought I was just getting what everyone else had, but I told my husband I didn’t really feel bad, that it felt different. The burning was up in the top of my throat too, into my mouth. Over the week we’ve been there, I thought the smell was from all the paint (and it could be that too). Well, last night at 11:00 as I sat in the living room, it occurred to me that the the smell I’ve been smelling is mostly coming from the polyurethane floor finish as is my sore throat! I never opened the house up until last night. Today I’ve left the home and left all windows open and turned on all ceiling fans.

MY QUESTION – Since I was in the home for a week before opening the home up and I’ve been exposed to the polyurethane for that long without any ventilation, have I sustained any long-term damage other than temporary irritation? I’m afraid to call my doctor as I know she’s going to scold me for this. I’ve called Georgia poison control and they tell me it’s temporary and that if used according to instructions, it’s fine. Of course, we know that’s what they have to say. My concern is that money talks and we all know there are ways around safety for these big corps. Please help. I’m hoping it is only temporary. What about my grandkids? Should we stay out of the home for a period of time? Should they not visit? Thank you!! (Sorry to be long winded.)

A: I’ve had a couple of worrisome complaints like yours over the course of more than 40 years working with finishes. I can’t honestly see how a floor finished for that many days, dried for days, can be the source of these health issues. All finishes have solvents or they would take forever to dry. But the solvents leave the coating within hours. I have become much more aware of lung issues since last year I appear to have developed asthma. I don’t know the answer. You were cleaning for mold. Is it possible you have spread some of that around? What about dust when working on the floors?

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