This post has been coming on for weeks. But you know, sometimes you have to watch things unfold and then you have the big realization. I finally had the big realization over the weekend, so finally I can post this post.
It started with an interesting conversation during a consultation.
A woman wanted me to look at several products she was considering purchasing, give her my opinion about how toxic they are, and if they did have some toxic exposure, could she still use them since she had an EnviroKlenz Mobile Unit air purifier.
I just want to share my reply with all of you.
First, I actually think everyone should own an air filter. I used to not think this, however, since going through the big fire last fall and also living in an area where smells of all kinds come wafting by even though the air is generally very clean, I do think that it’s wise to have an air filter on hand in case it is needed. [Weeks after I wrote this, I finally purchased my own EnviroKlenz Mobile Unit after the wind shifted one day and we got a lot of smoke from this year’s fires.]
The general recommendation for good indoor air quality is to start by reducing pollutants at the source. Which means, remove any products you can that are contributing to indoor air pollution with products that are not polluting. Even if you have an air filter, it’s best to reduce the amount of pollution it needs to filter, as your media cartridges will last longer.
Another caveat I just want to mention is that filtered air is not the same as natural air. It’s better to breathe filtered air, but the best air is clean natural air. There are just other factors to natural air that are not present in the filtered air. So if you are in a situation where you need to be breathing filtered air, get out in nature whenever you can. Even I, living where I do in an area where there is very clean air, I still drive out to the ocean that has very very clean air full of negative ions and other beneficial factors. I call this “live” air.
So then there is the fact that when you are filtering air or reducing indoor air pollutants at the source, you are only doing this at home. Once you step out your door, you are out in the toxic world, breathing toxic air. Toxic in varying degrees depending on where you live and if you are driving in traffic or walking on a store, etc. But almost anywhere is likely to be more toxic than your home.
I explained to my client that there are several levels of how to consider toxic exposure.
- At the most immediate level you would look at a product and evaluate the materials it is made from to see to what degree they may be toxic. A product might be completely toxic-free, or have one toxic ingredient or several, or the toxicity may be low or high.
- Then there is the amount of toxic exposure you get overall in life. You have your home, which might be zero toxic like mine or some percentage toxic, and then there is “beyond home” which is certainly more toxic. And you might spend different percentages of time there. I would say that for me, I spend more than 50 percent of my time in my home and even when I go out I’m in a clean air place and there are few toxic exposures in the natural food store and the farmer’s market and other small shops and restaurants I usually go to. But for other people, it might look like 50% at home during non-work hours, then sitting in traffic, then working in a toxic office building. After I created a nontoxic home many years ago my next steps were to move out of the city into a forest and create a home-based business so I wouldn’t have to community or work in an office building.
- And then you need to consider your own level of need. If you have MCS, you really need your home to be as toxic-free is you can possibly make it. If you want to reduce your toxic exposure for other reasons, you have a little more leeway.
You don’t have to reduce your toxic exposure 100%. It’s impossible anyway. Our bodies have detoxification systems that can handle a certain amount of exposure. The problem is they get overloaded. And as we reduce our exposure, our bodies continue to detox and health gets better because the amount of exposure we have begins to be more in line with what our bodies can handle.
So this really is individual for everyone.
The big question my client wanted to know was could she buy furniture she liked that had some toxic elements to it because she was running her air filter.
I told her in my home I wouldn’t do that But it’s a process. You don’t create a toxic-free home overnight. An air filter can be a great tool while you are transitioning because it WILL remove a lot of the pollutants being created by your carpet and your bed and your particleboard kitchen cabinets and all those other things until you learn what’s toxic in your home and can replace them.
But I also understand her desire to have things that are the style that she’s accustomed to. It was an adjustment for me to stop wearing the fashionable clothes I was accustomed to, My red lipstick was one of the last items to go because 40 years ago they didn’t have all the pretty colors of natural lipstick we have now.
In the end we decided that having a few items in her house that were somewhat toxic (but not the worst offenders) would be OK with her air filter running, We just looked at the fact that she is being exposed to toxics outside of her home and put those products on the side of the ledger with the “beyond house” toxic exposures.
It all comes down to what you need to do or what you are willing to do, and what you can afford to do.
My commitment is to reduce toxic exposures as much as I can and I will be as creative as I need to be, spend whatever money I need to spend, do whatever research I need to do and go to any lengths to minimize my exposures to the max. But I also choose to go out in the world and fly in airplanes and sleep in hotels and eat in restaurants. And then I come home to my toxic free environment. It’s a balance.
In a way, my client choosing her sofa for comfort even though it may still contain some toxic components is much like me going out into the world. It’s an “informed exposure”—a risk we are willing to take, like crossing the street.
It all comes down to balance. Toxics in, toxics out. Our bodies will process a certain amount. Don’t overload. If you’re exposed, then spend time away from toxics so your body can detox.
An air filter can help achieve that balance.
* * *
In the weeks that followed I had other similar questions.
But there’s a variation on this theme, and that is the so-called “nontoxic” certifications that certify that the product has passed certain tests and therefore are safe. You’ve seen them: GREENGUARD, MADESAFE, Oeko-Tex 100, Floorscore, the CARB standards for formaldehyde…and the like.
The problem with these certifications is
- they are only testing a limited number of chemicals and
- they are testing these chemicals down to a level
But that doesn’t mean that they are testing all the pertinent chemicals for that particular product and it doesn’t mean that they are testing down to the level that is acceptable to your particular body.
From my viewpoint, there is a false sense of security. Consumers look at these seals and think the product is “not toxic.” But not toxic by what standard? And what else might be in the product in addition to what is tested, which is not tested?
Just this morning someone sent me info on the “healthiest” carpet pad made of GREENGUARD-certified memory foam. No, I would not recommend that.
But these certifiers seriously think that these products are OK because they are “lower emissions” than other similar products.
Better. But better enough?
* * *
Then this week another woman was asking me about remodeling her kitchen and replacing kitchen cabinets. And then someone commented on her question and said he was living with toxic kichen cabinets too because he couldn’t afford to replace them. I’m thinking about all this and then…
Over the weekend Larry and I were driving to a different farmer’s market than we usually go to because I wanted to buy some organic olive oil directly from the farmer. For all the fake olive oil on the market, I am fortunate to be surrounded by producers of olive oil. I can go walk in the groves if I want to, I actually drive by some of these groves on a regular basis, so I know where the olives and the oil come from.
So we were driving and I suddenly remembered that when I first learned that toxic chemicals in my home were making me sick, my first instinct was to remove all the toxic chemicals from my room. I was living with my father at the time, so I only had control over my bedroom. But I took all my polyester clothes out of the closet, removed all my books, removed my furnture, my bed and my mattress and all my bedding. I pulled up the carpet. All that was left was four walls and a cement floor with dried paint spatters all over it.
I was not concerned with how it looked. I was concerned with getting my body away from toxic chemicals. It was only later that I learned that in every case of poisoning the first step is to get the person away from the poison or get the poison away from the person.
It takes exposure to a poison for it to cause a poisoning. I know that sounds obvious, but it is forgotten every day. And “toxic” is just another name for poison.
So when I speak to you, my viewpoint is wanting not to reduce your exposure to toxic household products. I want to eliminate your exposure to toxics in your home. Just as I did in my own home. Just as I continue to do every day.
The goal is zero toxics.
That doesn’t mean I actually achieve this goal every moment of every day. But any time I can eliminate a toxic exposure—by any means—I will. That includes leaving a place if necessary, removing things if necessary, ending relationships if necessary…
And that’s really how I feel about how toxic-free I need to be. How toxic-free you need to be is up to you.
* * *
I want to make one more point.
We talk about “toxics” but in actuality toxic chemicals are poisons.
There are two types of poisons: acute and chronic.
Acute poisons cause immediate symptoms and are the reason for poison control centers.
Chrinic poisons create health effects over time, after being exposed day-in-and-day-out.
Let’s take formaldehyde, for example. Formaldehyde has been in use for a long time.
Here is an early warning label for formaldehyde what would have appeared on a bottle of formaldehyde:
Here are some current warning labels for formaldehyde: used in a workplace setting:
Here is the warning label for formaldehyde for a consumer product such as particleboard kitchen cabinets or permanent press bedsheets, both of which are continuously emitting formaldehyde into the air in your home.
I didn’t forget to put the warning label there. There isn’t one.
The same formaldehyde that is an acute poison is also in consumer products at levels that act as chronic poisons when you are exposed to them day after day.
This is what we are dealing with.
Years ago when I was very sick from toxic chemical exposure and struggling to get well, I kept eliminating exposures and eliminating exposures and still wasn’t getting well. But I wouldn’t give up my perfect shade of red lipstick. And finally I decided OK I have to do this. And that was it. It was the last exposure I needed to breakthrough and stop overwhelming my body. I’ve seen this over and over where there is one thing someone won’t give up and when they remove that exposure their health turns around.
The moral of this story is: eliminate as many toxic chemicals as you can.
My order of priority is: first, toxic-free, then functional, then beautiful.
I always choose the least-toxic option available. When I’m at home, I pretty much eat organic, for example. When I’m traveling I’ll seek out organic but it may not always be available. So then I’ll eat food with pesticides, knowing they will leave my body within a few days. But I never eat junk food. I just don’t eat if all there is available is fast food. That’s just one example of my level of choice.
Again, we each need to make our own choices about the degree of toxic exposure that is necessary to have good health or prevent toxic harm in our own bodies. Lots more information that will help you make these decision will be coming soon when I launch my new website Zero Toxics at the end of September.