Answers to Your Questions About Toxic Free Living
Last week I received a comment posted to Q&A: Non-Toxic Comforter. It really needed a whole post to answer, so here I am.
Here’s the comment:
I came to tbis page looking for info as to whether it’s possible to find a non toxic down comforter and thought I’d find info, given the title above but I’m not seeing the toxicity issue addressed. Did I overlook something? It’s my understanding that two of the main concerns w down is that it’s chemically processed and as with most bedding contains fire retardants and other chemicals. Is it possible to get a down comforter free of all these toxic ingredients?
And the answer is yes, it is possible to get a down comforter without chemical processing or fire retardants.
But first I want to answer the question about possible toxic exposures from down.
I’ve been researching and writing about nontoxic and natural products for more than thirty years. And I’ve owned and slept under a few down comforters. I never noticed them to be toxic in any way and so never did any research about how they might be toxic.
However, reading that down might be chemically processed and contain fire retardants, I had to research those specific questions and also see what is being offered today with regards to down comforters.
How Down is Collected
According to the American Down & Feather Council, “80 percent of the down and feathers used globally [are] produced in China; the majority—90 percent—come from ducks.” If you want to read more about this, and how the down is removed from the ducks, you can read all about this here.
But not all down is produced this way.
“The pure and comforting feathers that fill each of our 100% organic cotton shells travel a whopping one hundred miles down the road from Indiana where they are gathered on a small duck farm.” —Coyuchi.
“hand harvested during the molting season of the bird in a effort to not harm the beautiful bird’s or there habitat. After harvesting the down is hand sorted into different levels of quality based on the size of the harvested clusters. The larger the cluster the better the quality. Harvesting and sorting goose down by hand is very tedious and time consuming but it ensures consistent fill quality across our brands from year to year.” —Down & Feather Company.
There is now a Responsible Down Standard that uses Control Union (a certifier of organic agricultural materials) to certify down and feather that come from birds primarily raised for meat and meet strict animal welfare standards. I don’t know what those standards are because the standards page on the RDS website had been removed.
So in choosing a comforter, you want to look for a description of where the down was sourced and by what method. If the website doesn’t tell you, ask.
How Down is Processed
After down is collected, dust and dirt must be removed. This occurs through washing and drying. Washing agents may be used with unknown ingredients and fragrances. Otherwise, it’s pretty much wash and dry in a drying machine.
The International Down & Feather Testing Laboratory , located in Salt Lake City UT “audits and inspects the entire supply chain including farms and other raw material sources, slaughterhouses, synthetic fiber processors, down and feather processors and finished product sewing factories.” So you might want to find out if the down has been inspected by this organization, but I don’t know their standards.
Chemical Treatments Used on Down
The only chemical treatments I could actually find that are used on down are for making it moisture-resistant.
This down is often called “dry-down,” “hydrophobic down” or something similar. It seems to be being offered as an option, so you can choose to avoid it. Or it would be on the label as a benefit. If you don’t see mention of it on the label, it’s likely the down is not moisture-resistant.
The reason down is treated for moisture resistance is because when down gets wet, it loses it’s loft.
What chemical is used to treat the down is anyone’s guess. “some sort of chemical water repellant, “ ” a molecular level polymer applied to individual down plumes during the finishing process, ”nano technology.” I’m guessing that it’s a perfluorinated compound (PFC), which is used to waterproof many outdoor materials. It’s pretty toxic. Teflon is a PFC.
I did find a treatment for moisture-resistance called “Tan-O-Quil-QM.” There is a whole report available about this treatment that says it is a chrome tanning agent used to increase the fill power and a hydrophobic from complex to increase the water repellency. Now I don’t know if this is still being used. The report is from 1968 and the Code of Federal Regulations says that no down can use the term unless the agent actually has been applied to the down. I couldn’t find any down with Tan-O-Quil-QM online, so I think this is obsolete. But chrome may still be used for waterproofing just as it is used for tanning leather.
There is also some speculation that down is treated with formaldehyde, moldicides, flame retardants and other chemicals, but the only actual data I found online was for moisture proofing. And not much on that.
I doubt that you would find flame retardants on down itself. It’s more likely that the finished item would be treated. Researching this I found a post from this very blog where I reported on a study of flame retardants in pillows As expected there was a huge amount of flame retardants in the polyurethane foam pillow (because it is so flammable) and only 6 parts per million in a feather pillow that probably was not even treated.
Comforters Made With Chemical-Free Down
If you are looking for untreated down, forget about buying your comforter at a discount warehouse and instead look for small businesses online.
Here are a few I’ve found.
Northern Goose Down
“truly hypoallergenic & chemical free Goose Down”
“Our experience has shown, however, that these chemicals are toxic and not something that we, or our customers, would want to sleep under every night. We know of one case where an employee was exposed to these chemicals, causing burn-like blotches that required several weeks of treatment. It’s far easier and safer to just store your down products carefully, and like anything else, away from damp areas. ”
“All of our down duvets and pillow inserts are made in the U.S.A. The pure and comforting feathers that fill each of our 100% organic cotton shells travel a whopping one hundred miles down the road from Indiana where they are gathered on a small duck farm. Before filling the inserts, the down is treated with steam twice to kill bacteria and gently washed with a fragrance-free, non-toxic soap to remove bacteria that is incidental to feathers and down. Next, a water-based, non-toxic chemical is used to reduce the static charge that is associated with natural filling. Both the winter weight and lightweight duvets have a 600-fill power for a cozy and comforting sleep.”
Pacific Coast Bedding
Has a whole page on how they process their down.
Allergy Buyers Club
“The down and syriaca in these comforters is the cleanest, least treated fibers we could find anywhere. The down is de-dusted and gently washed up to 8 times in an environmentally friendly cleansing solution and rinsed three times. This cleaning process and renders it pH neutral. This is the most hypoallergenic down comforters we could find – due to the quality of materials used, cleaning process and the addition of the addition of the natural syriaca clusters.”
There’s been a discussion happening on my Q&A: Berkeley Ergonomics post about organic mattresses and i just want to bring this subject into it’s own post.
The discussion started with a reader asking about a line of mattresses made by Berkeley Ergonomics. I said it looked OK on paper but they were claiming organic certifications and not displaying them. I said “ask for their certifications.”
Well, a reader wrote back and said:
I asked to see the certifications and they refused to send them to me. In fact they got very defensive. I would love to see them if you are able to get them. I am very suspect of any firm who makes organic claims but won’t provide the certificates. They should be PROUD of them, not want to hide them. It is my understanding that they get the fabric from Europe and do all the sewing themselves so they are handling the materials a LOT. I would be very interested to know if they are handling the materials in a fashion that maintains organic integrity.
This is a great question. There are three parts to the making of an organic product:
- the materials need to meet organic standards
- all the facilities that handle the organic material must be certified
- the handling of the material in all the certified facilities also needs to meet organic standards.
In other words, there are multiple certifications and associated transaction paperwork that are required before an item can be certified organic:
- the material that’s being used in the production process, for example cotton, must be certified as having been grown as organic cotton
- all the facilities (beginning with the organic fiber on the certified organic farm all the way to the facility that makes the final stitch) must be certified, and then
- each facility that moves the materials to the next facility in the production process must get a transaction certificate from the organic certifier who certifies the previous facility so that the next facility is assured that the materials are part of the organic production chain.
For a mattress to be an “organic mattress” it needs TWO certifications (in addition to transaction certificates): one for the materials and another as an organic handler, or manufacturer.
I mentioned that Naturepedic is the only certified organic manufacturer that I knew of and a reader commented, “Actually OMI, Lifekind and Savvy Rest are organic.”
So I want to take a look at these four companies: Naturepedic, OMI, Lifekind and Savvy Rest and see how organic each of them are. I will just disclose that I have known Naturepedic for many years and am very familiar with their products, materials, and philosophy (I wrote a review of their materials for Debra Lynn Dadd Recommended Products. But let’s just look at what each has to say on their websites.
Here’s what I’m going to look for and what you should look for when evaluating whether or not a mattress is organic:
- What is the claim?
- Do they have certificates publicly displayed?
- What are the certificates certifying?
- Who has done the certification?
- What are the standards for the certification?
- What are the dates the certificate is valid?
- What is the name on the certificate?
So let’s take a look…
Let’s start with Savvy Rest. www.savvyrest.com/certifications
The first certification they list is GREENGUARD GOLD. This is not an organic certification at all. It measures emissions against a certain standard. If you go to their website and search for mattresses you will see that many mattresses qualify to be GREENGUARD gold certified even if they have materials like vinyl covers, that I would not recommend. So this certification does not contribute to their being an organic mattress.
The next Savvy Rest listed certification is USDA Organic. This applies to their Dunlop latex supplier’s rubber tree farms. And then the latex processing is certified by the International Control Union to the Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS). All that seems fine. Their latex seems to be organic.
Then Eco Institute, which apparently is their latex certifier. Savvy Rest says, “Our Dunlop supplier, Cocolatex, has achieved Eco Institut certification for the purity of their organic latex.” Go ahead, click. Ah, the certificate is for natural latex. This is a “natural” certification. No organic here.
OEKO-TEX Standard 100 also is not an organic standard. This standard says that the material is below an established standard for 100 toxic substances.
The Environmental Protection Encouragement Agency (EPEA) was founded in 1987 by Michael Braungart to implement the Cradle-to-Cradle philosophy. The standards of this philosophy (which I greatly admire) includes the elimination of a list of toxic chemicals. But this is not an organic standard either. This certification is for Radium Foam, their supplier of Talalay latex. Again this is not an organic certification.
The only thing certified organic about a Savvy Rest mattress is their USDA and GOLS certified organic latex. But not all their latex is organic. Only their USDA and GOLS certified organic Dunlop latex.
Finally, go to the website for the global organic textile standard: www.global-standard.org. There is NO certification for Savvy Rest as an organic mattress manufacturer. So we don’t know know how they are handling these materials.
Therefore, as far as i am concerned, this is NOT an organic mattress.
OMI and Lifekind
I’m putting OMI and Lifekind together because both these brands are made in the same factory, yet they present themselves as separate businesses with separate names and websites.
Let’s first look at their shared GOTS-certified Eco-Factory. You can read about it here on the OMI website and here on the Lifekind website. I’m not questioning that the factory is certified organic, I’m only commenting that they are not showing the certificate. But they do have one. See their listing in the GOTS database
So OMI can legitimately call themselves an organic mattress manufacturer. There is no GOTS certification for Lifekind listed in the GOTS database. I don’t know what the arrangement is between these two brands, but the GOTS certification is for OMI.
That said, let’s look at their individual claims about certification.
OMI also has a whole page of certifications at www.omimattress.com/Certifications.php.
This page starts out with a whole paragraph of firsts, which may or may not be true. There are no links to substantiation. They end the paragraph with the statement, “and a printout of our mattress emissions can be found on the UL/GREENGUARD website here. That would be great to see a printout of their mattress emissions. But I couldn’t find it.
They then go on to list numerous certifications, including USDA Organic, Texas Department of Agriculture, GREENGUARD, Oeko-Tex, and others that aren’t even certifications. None of them have certificates.
Mixed in with all these are their GOLS certification for organic latex and their GOTS certification. But they don’t even mention that they are a GOTS certified organic mattress manufacturer. They only say that their organic wool, cotton, and fabrics are GOTS certified.
All they need to say is they are a GOTS certified organic mattress manufacturer and show us the certificate. That covers the whole mattress—all the materials and manufacturing process. Their certification is valid until 2-17-2017. I can tell you they are certified because I went to the GOTS website and found their certification.
Lifekind has their own list of certifications at www.lifekind.com/organic-certifications
“Lifekind’s latex mattress cores are certified to the Global Organic Latex Standard. GOLS is a new certification available to mattress manufacturers.” OK. They have a certificate. Valid until December 16. But it’s a certificate for “Organic Mattresses, Inc.” Which is OMI.
And then they go on to list the same materials as given on the OMI certifications page. Look at these two pages and compare them for yourself.
So it’s clear to me that whether a mattress is branded OMI or Lifekind, it’s pretty much the same mattress, made in the same certified factory from the same certified materials. But neither of these companies are presenting their certifications so consumers can see and verify them, and it appears that Lifekind as a company has no certifications at all.
I’d love to see both these companies improve their presentation of their certifications and be more clear about their relationship.
Naturepedic lists all their certifications at
Right at the top of the page they tell us they are a Certified Organic Mattress Manufacturer & Facility. “All Naturepedic mattresses meet the organic and non-toxic standards of the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) and/or the Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS). U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recognizes GOTS as the standard for organic consumer goods.” And then they link to their certificates, which are made out to Naturepedic. GOTS Certification, GOLS Certification
They also show their organic content standard certification. The Organic Exchange Certification Program which ensures proper tracking of organic material from its source to the finished product. Naturepedic is certified to meet this standard, demonstrating that the organic fiber in their products has been independently verified. OCS 100 Certification.
Naturepedic also has a GREENGUARD GOLD certification and a UL Formaldehyde-Free Verified certification, and Naturepedic products have been scrutinized by scientists and experts to ensure they do not contain any harmful materials for the Made Safe certification. All of these certifications are current and have valid certificates made out directly to Naturepedic and which clearly list all the Naturepedic products.
And the Moral of the Story Is…
Always, always, always look for the organic certificates, and make sure they are issued to the company making the claim (and not just to one of their suppliers, which proves little, because a supplier’s certification shows no connection to the mattress company) Independent third-party certification is the only way to know materials really are organic and the organic materials are being processed to similar organic standards.
I’m not trying to be critical here. I’m trying to raise the bar.
As consumers we can’t make informed decisions unless we have information about the materials used to make the products, presented to us in a way that are documented and can be understood. And as consumers, we need to learn what the certifications mean and how to read them.
All the information in this post is taken straight from the webpages given. You can go there and see for yourself.
I’d love to know your comments.
Pdfs of the certification pages mentioned that I examined on 28 and 29 November 2016:
Every Christmas I look for organic Christmas trees, wreaths and greenery. In the past they have been difficult to find, but this year I have quite a few. Some of these are from Debra’s List, others I’m not adding only because they are seasonal.
First, check out this great article from Beyond Pesticides about Christmas Trees and Pesticides . They talk about pesticides used on Christmas trees, give suggestions on how to find organic trees in your area, and give lots of tips about how to handle and care for your tree.
And here’s another interesting article about how farmers are learning to reduce and eliminate their use of pesticides . It says that even though Christmas tree farmers do regularly use pesticides such as Roundup and Lorsban, the amount of pesticide residue that may be present on a Christmas tree by the time it gets to your house in “minor.” Most pesticides are sprayed in the spring or summer, so by December they’ve been broken down by the elements.
TERRAIN One this page, the three trees at the top of the page are sustainably wild-harvested from pesticide-free forests. Other items on this page are unknown.
SILVERTON TREE FARM “Our Christmas trees are organically grown, with no pesticides used. Our tree farm is certified with the American Tree Farm system. To be certified we must follow “[t]he American Forest Foundation’s (AFF’s) 2010-2015 Standards of Sustainability for Forest Certification…” By following such standards we are promoting “…the vitality of renewable forest resources while protecting environmental, economic, and social benefits and work to increase public understanding of all benefits of sustainable forestry.” (http://www.treefarmsystem.org/) We are also working toward organic certification.”
LYNCH CREEK FARM Wreaths, garlands, centerpieces, and “trees” (assembled from sprigs) made from Noble fir boughs from the Cascade Mountains. Assembled on a farm that has been organic since 1980. “We generate revenue for local landowners, giving them a reason to protect their forest versus opting to clear-cut.”
GRANSTORM EVERGREEN Wreaths, garlands, and a cross wreath. “We do not use any pesticides when growing or making our evergreen products. We are a family business that has been making wreaths for over 30 years.”
OREGON HOLIDAY WREATHS Wreaths hand-made with fresh cut boughs of Noble Fir, Douglas Fir, Juniper, and Pine Cones. “We are 100% organic and pesticide-free.”
CREEKSIDE FARMS Holiday wreaths made from plants of the season that are not evergreens, grown naturally without pesticides.
ORGANIC BOUQUET Wreaths, plants, and fresh flowers. “All of our sustainably certified partner farms in Ecuador, Colombia and California use earth-friendly techniques to grow the flowers you enjoy! Instead of using harmful synthetic chemicals for fertilizers and pesticides, natural resources are used to grow these beautiful flowers.”
GREEN PROMISE List of organic Christmas tree farms in USA. This list has been growing for many years and is updated for 2016.
SLOW FLOWERS A lovely online directory that lists local providers of “slow flowers”—flowers that are locally grown and often organic. Providers know the source of the flowers they sell.
CERTIFIED SUSTAINABLE CHRISTMAS TREES
Now there is a program for Christmas tree farmers that educates and certifies farmers for sustainable practices in the Northwest. Socially and Environmentally Responsible Farm (SERF) Includes in their certification requirements use of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) instead of toxic pesticides.
While only four farms in Oregon have been certified as of this writing, Oregon is the largest Christmas tree producer in the nation—more that 6 million tress are harvested there every year, and they are shipped all over the world. So you just might see a SERF seal at a Christmas tree lot near you.
A GIFT OF A WREATH
A few days ago I received a beautiful wreath from Jen’s Wreaths.
I had contacted them last week for this post, but there was a big blizzard in Minnesota and they didn’t get the message in time. When she finally responded, Jen offered to send me a wreath in exchange for adding them to the list. How could I refuse?
All the materials for their wreaths are hand-harvested from their local forests. “We are all about sustainable harvesting and a lot of our greenery actually comes from logging sites and the branches they discard…Some of our bows are made of synthetic material, but we’re on the look out for
affordable, durable ribbon that is organic and healthy for everyone.” Won’t that be great next year. Sustainably harvested wreaths with organic bows. 🙂
I emailed Jen on Friday I needed the wreath by Monday and it arrived on Saturday. It’s full and lush and just beautiful. It’s It’s mixed greens—cedar, white pine, balsam fir and dogwood—so fragrant I can smell it even sitting here in the next room as I write. I can’t wait to decorate it as Christmas comes closer.
We all want to buy organic, but in order to find out if a product is actually organic, it needs to be properly labeled.
Unfortunately, there are many non-food products that misrepresent themselves as being “organic” with false claims or misleading language.
Organic food has to be certified to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program (NOP) standards. Non-food products may be certified to USDA Organic food standards, but the NOP doesn’t require certification and it doesn’t enforce against most false “organic” claims on personal care or textile products.
The good news list that the Federal Trade Commissions (FTC) has landed an investigation into organic fraud.
And they want to hear from us about how to stop organic fraud.
To make sure you are getting real organic products:
- For food products—look for the USDA Organic
- For textile products—look for the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)
- For personal care products—look for USDA certified organic ingredients and companies that are certified organic handlers.
I removed this post and all its comments after a reader brought to my attention that it was off topic for this blog. I agree, I’ve never discussed politics and I will continue that policy.
I’m writing this post because more often than I’d like I get questions from people who have washed clothing with chemicals in the fabrics and then are not sure if the chemicals are still in the washer. Or they wash something scented and can’t get the fragrance out.
Here’s what to do.
One day I was doing a test on a product and intentionally put perfume on a piece of clothing and then washed it in my washer. My washing machine was now scented and I couldn’t get the scent out.
What worked was a product called “washing machine cleaner”. I used the Clorox brand, but there are others. You find it in the laundry products section of a supermarket.
It’s really really really strong chlorine bleach.
But it did remove the fragrance from my washer.
The product itself is toxic, but we’re dealing with removing industrial chemicals from your washer.
Just use it once and be done with it.
On my post Q&A: OK to Use Gas Stove? a reader posted a comment asking “How do you know ‘If your burners are not adjusted properly, …they will produce more combustion by-products’?”
And also since more of you have been testing your indoor air quality by signing up with HomeLab, I’ve frequently been hearing that problems are being found in the kitchen, with combustion by-products being produced by their gas stove. I even found that in my house, where my VOC readings were “in the green” until I turned on my gas stove to cook.
A properly adjusted gas burner should have a blue flame continuously around the burner, like this:
The blue color means the flame is getting enough oxygen and burning completely.
Yellow flames mean the flame is not getting enough oxygen and is not burning completely.
To fix the problem of a yellow flame yourself see http://homeguides.sfgate.com/causes-burner-flame-gas-stove-yellow-82498.html
If a flame is missing, it means that the burner is clogged and needs to be cleaned.
If you want to clean your gas jets yourself see: http://homeguides.sfgate.com/clean-gas-stove-jets-26836.html
This burner really has a problem—uneven, yellow and missing flames—and is producing a lot of combustion by-products:
It’s a good idea to get your gas stove checked by a professional every once in a while, especially if you see any of these problems. Your local energy provider may offer a free service.
In the last few months I’ve suddenly started seeing many products made from “cork fabric” or “cork leather” and also “vegan leather.” I ignored this vegan leather for a while because in the past vegan leather often mean PVC vinyl, which is not a good substitute, but when I found out it was actually cork, I took a look at it.
You’ve probably seen cork in many consumer products such as wine stoppers and bulletin boards.
The cork used to make cork fabric is thin cork shavings obtained directly from the bark of the cork oak tree. These shavings are glued to a fabric backing to make a fabric that feels very much like leather, but is plant-based.
I called a manufacturer of cork fabric and asked them about the process of making it. The thin layer of cork is “laminated” to a fabric backing using an “environmentally-friendly” adhesive. The standard backing fabric is a polyester/cotton blend.
The company I talked with did not have much information about the laminating process for me to evaluate. This material is apparently made to a vegan standard and has some environmental benefit, but it doesn’t appear to be made with a nontoxic intent.
I have a sample of this fabric, sent from a retailer of products made from it. I just have a small swatch, but even that piece has enough odor to it that I can’t recommend it as being nontoxic. It smells like some kind of fabric finish. I actually had to take the swatch to my garbage can outdoors, and get it out of the house.
So if you see products made from this material, now you know what it is
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) issued a report last week that shows more than 300 million children around the world are exposed to outdoor air pollution at least six times the level considered to be safe by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Clear the Air for Children is a 100-page report that shows the sources of outdoor air pollution, the impact of air pollution on the health of children, the unique vulnerabilities of children, how to protect children from air pollution.
Though the greatest numbers of children affected by the worst air quality is in India, Asia and north Africa, these same pollutants are found in indoor and outdoor air here in the United States and affect our children’s health in the same ways. And our own health as well.
According to a new study from researchers at the University of Ottawa and Columbia University, when outdoor air pollution levels rise in Manhattan, stock prices fall.
The study tracked the S&P 500 index, the most widely cited New York Stock Exchange benchmark, over a 15-year period and compared its returns with hourly measures of fine particulate matter in lower Manhattan, where the NYSE is based.
The one standard deviation increase in air pollution decreases returns by 11.9 percent, or what the researchers deemed a “substantial effect on daily NYSE returns.”
“We hypothesize that pollution decreases the risk attitudes of investors via short-term changes in brain and/or physical health.”