Answers to Your Questions About Toxic-Free Living

Choose Organic Ice Cream


This morning I received an email from the Organic Consumers Association about Ben & Jerry’s annual Free Cone Day.

“There’s only one problem,” they wrote. “Ben & Jerry’s ice cream is never free—because we all pay for the health and environmental damage caused by Ben & Jerry’s factory farm dairy practices.

Last summer OCA announced their testing of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream contained traces of glyphosate.

But there are other choices.

I know here is Northern California we have organic ice cream made by a local dairy. You may have local organic ice cream in your community as well. I can buy it at natural food stores and local independent supermarkets.

Straus Family Creamery has been organic for about 30 years now, maybe longer. I used to live literally, right down the road from them, less than 10 miles away. It’s a long-established family-owned dairy farm. You can go tour the farm if you are in the area. If I remember correctly, they were the first to offer organic milk and cream in stores here, and it came in glass bottles (and still does). They are a good neighbor to the community and ecosystem and their ice cream is super delicious.

Take a look around your community and see what organic ice cream you can find.

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Another Problem With Rugs: Shedding Particles


I received an email from Well + Good a few weeks ago asking for an expert quote.

They were doing a story about rugs shedding and wanted to know if particles from shedding rugs could affect your health.

This is something I hadn’t considered before because I’ve had my attention on rugs outgassing toxic chemicals, but apparently the shedding of particles from rugs is bad for your health too.

And apparently this is a big deal because there are A LOT of posts about it on the internet.

A few days ago I received a link to the finished post and learned a few things about rugs shedding and some tips on how to care for your natural fiber area rugs to reduce shedding.

WELL+GOOD: Why Your Rug is Shedding (and How It Could Be Bad for Your Health)

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Thoughts about health + illness while lying in bed with the flu

I’m not doing my regular newsletter today because I’ve literally been sick in bed with a flu since I sent the last newsletter.

I rarely get contagious illnesses, and this one was very unusual. It actually started at the beginning of February, but it was so subtle I didn’t recognize it as the flu. What I felt was exhaustion. So much exhaustion I couldn’t get up out of bed in the morning and couldn’t think enough to work unless I drank a cup of coffee (organic, of course!).

Then I started not thinking straight and just forgetting whole sections of time. Like forgetting to enter expenditures in my checking account register (something I routinely do every morning) and not noticing for four days.

And then I started to just feel unbalanced, like my body would just start tipping over when I was standing and I couldn’t walk a straight line.

I went to my Obamacare medical doctor and she just said I needed more sleep. So I slept more hours but the symptoms just kept getting worse and worse over two months until finally last Tuesday my body suddenly burst into aches and fever and coughing and runny nose and sleeping all day and night and can barely get out of bed or eat.

Yesterday was my first day out of bed where I could actually get up and do anything. And my body is no longer exhausted, I can think clearly and walk straight.

But I had some interesting insights.
 

WHOLEFOOD VITAMIN C

I had the idea I should take a a lot of vitamin C, but I didn’t want to take industrial vitamin C. Instead I kept a big bowl of those baby mandarin oranges by my bed. You know, the kind that are so popular now that are easy to peel and eat, don’t drip and are very sweet. I had just purchased five pound of these, organic, at my local farmer’s market, so I had a great whole food source of vitamin C the was really easy to eat in bed.
 

THE IMPORTANCE OF PRODUCT PERFORMANCE

Back in 1990, when I was was hired to do research and development for the founding of a green company, we had a formula we used for product development that we found to be true: first make the product work as well or better as the usual product, then make it green. And if you could also give it a competitive price, then it was a green product that would sell.

I also remembered a moment way back in the beginning when I was first coming to terms with the fact that I needed to now live without toxic chemicals to save my life. I didn’t want to give up my favorite things. Like my signature shade of red lipstick that took me so many years to find (ah, what was important to me then!) I made a decision right then that I not only needed to find things that were nontoxic, they also had to be beautiful and pleasurable. Little did I know at that moment that to open the door to the world of things nontoxic was also opening the door to the pleasures of natural fibers against my skin, the deliciousness of organic food and many other delightful experiences of life.

You may remember last week I wrote a post about The Best Toxic Free Toilet Paper. I went to my local independent supermarket and looked on the shelf and purchased two brands that looked similar because they were each made with what looked at first glance to be the same materials from a toxic viewpoint. So I bought a package of each one and brought it home. One turned out to be the best toilet paper I could find. The other turned out to have so many problems I didn’t even include it in the post.

But here’s the kicker for me. The best toilet paper turned out to be soft and lovely to use. The other one was rough and had no consideration of user experience at all.

For me, really, as I pick products I’m looking for products that meet my nontoxic criteria, but they also bring me into living in this whole different delightful world that I love and feel happy in every day. And I don’t tell you that enough.
 

SOURCES OF SYMPTOMS

In my work I write a lot about the association between symptoms and exposure to toxic chemicals. In this case symptoms are a signal from the body that something has entered the body that it doesn’t like and we need to stop doing that.

But this week in bed with the flue reminded me there are other reasons for symptoms.

The symptoms I was experiencing from the flu virus were actually indicators that my body was hard at work fighting the virus. Symptoms that remove body wastes quickly—like sneezing, coughing, runny nose, diarrhea, vomiting, and the like—are trying to get foreign invaders out of your body so your body can heal. These are symptoms we want to have, which benefit us, and should not be suppressed.

Then there are allergic reactions, which operate in an entirely different way than toxic poisoning. And individual sensitivities.

And finally, symptoms may develop when your body is detoxing to remove toxic chemicals that your body has stored to keep them out of it’s bloodstream. Sleepiness and headaches are often indicators that detox is happening a little too fast.

As uncomfortable as I was, I just waited out my symptoms and let my body do it’s job. And while I could get out of bed today and write this, I’m going to take it easy for the rest of the week so I can full recover and get back to my regular schedule.
 

ILLNESS AS A TIME OF HEALING AND REST

We tend to think of illness as “something wrong” with our bodies, but this past week, I’ve been realizing how right it has been to be sick right now.

For the past year I’ve been going and going and going from one thing to the next, making major life changes bac-to-back without slowing down for a second.

And my body finally said, “Enough! Rest! Let us heal and restore!”

Our bodies need a balance of activity and rest. It’s during sleep and rest that our bodies repair everything.
 

THE GIFT OF THIS WEEK’S ILLNESS

The truly amazing part of this experience was to observe that even though my body and mind were being ravaged by this virus, my creative side came out in full force.

I’ve been working on re-imagining my work and designing a new website and while my body was burning up with fever and my mind couldn’t put two sentences together, creative ideas and realizations were coming through just fine day and night. I’ve been keeping a pad of paper next to my bed and it’s full of scribbles and drawings.

It’s like having my body be sick right now is part of the greater creative process, so I can take my attention off everything else I usually do and just have creative time.

I am just getting so much clarity on everything. Wow! I really can’t wait to show this to you.
 

SEE YOU SOON!

OK, OK, enough for now.

I expect to be back next Tuesday with my usual newsletter and MUCH more very soon.

How Long Does it Take for VOCs to Outgas From Paint?


 

I’ve been working with a client for more than a month on outgassing her apartment using a “bake-out”.

She now says that the paint smell has gone to a point where a normal person wouldn’t smell it, but she still reacts to the apartment after being there for an hour.

She sent me a great blog post I want to share with you INDOOR AIR NERD: How Long Does it take for VOCs to Dissipate?.

The writer of this post, who is a Professional Engineer who does air quality testing, notes that testing shows it can take 2-3 months for air quality to return to normal after painting.

But he also tells of a home where he measured the air quality and after almost seven months there were still VOCs present. His conclusion was that the VOCs still lingered because the house was built to be energy efficient and did not have mechanical ventilation.

To me, this really shows that the construction of the building can make a BIG difference in how long it takes for paint to outgas.

Things that can effect the rate of outgassing include:

  • insulation
  • “tight” construction (which decreases the natural air exchange found in older buildings)
  • mechanical ventilation (air exchanges from HVAC systems)
  • natural ventilation from the opening of doors and windows

Less ventilation means less reduction of VOCs. More ventilation means faster outgassing. Add heat, as in a “bake out” and it will go even faster.

But the thing to remember is that the outgassing will continue until the paint or finish is completely CURED.

Paints and finishes go through a process of three phases:

  • “liquid” is a mixture of solids and particles and VOCs (if present). This allows you to apply the paint or finish to the surface
  • “dry to touch” happens within hours of applying the paint. You can touch it and it won’t come off on your hands and you can apply the next coat. But it is not completely dry all the way through.
  • “cured” means that all the liquid and VOCs have volatilized and there is only the solids of the paint left. At this point there should be no more outgassing. During the curing process the solid components in the paint contact and adhere to each other creating a continuous coating. When fully cured, you can wipe or wash the painted surface withoutharm, and the paint is no longer vulnerable to damage by water or chemicals.

Different types of paints take different periods of time to cure. You should find out and consider the cure time for any paint before you apply it. By doing so you will know what to expect in terms of how long it will continue to outgas VOCs or other chemicals.

You can check with the manufacturer of any paint to get the cure time.

I see most latex paints say it takes “up to 30 days for a ‘full cure,’” depending on color choice, humidity, ventilation and temperature.

Here are some tips from ECOS Paints on How to Make Paint Dry Faster

  • Keep a fan on. Multiple fans oscillating in the room will speed up the dry time considerably. You want to have a good amount of air circulation, but don’t have the fans on high if the room is dusty because it will ruin your paint finish.
  • Apply light coats. If you’re using a thicker nap on your roller sleeve, it might cause you to apply far more paint than what you need, increasing your dry time substantially. Two uniform coats of paint will always look better than one really thick one, so it’s best to apply light coats. You should feel your roller sleeve starting to dry out as you apply light pressure towards the end of a few rolling patterns. If the paint is squishing out of the sleeve when you apply pressure, you still have too much paint in the sleeve and should continue rolling before getting more paint from the tray.
  • Keep the room warm. If it’s winter and you’re painting in a space that gets a bit drafty, using a space heater is a good idea. Also, if it’s cold and your windows are leaky, that could affect how long the paint takes to dry near them. Some older homes that aren’t that well insulated can have fairly cold exterior facing walls. It’s still fine to paint them in the winter, but they might dry slower.
  • Keep the humidity down. When it’s really muggy in the summer, paint dries more slowly. Actually, just painting in a closed room increases the humidity even on a normal day, so open the windows if you can and get some fresh air in the room.
  • Paint one wall at a time. We always recommend this but, it’s easy to forget when you’re cutting in. If you cut in one wall and then paint it before moving on to the next, then that first wall might be dry by the time you finished the other three, so you’ll have no downtime during the project.
  • Use a zero-VOC* paint like ECOS Paints. Zero-VOC* paints naturally dry faster. Also, our rich pigments and premium formula cover better, so there’s less tendency to apply coats that are too thick.

Of course the best thing is to choose a paint with the least VOCs you can in the first place.

My favorite wall paint is Old Fashioned Milk Paint, which is made from milk and other natural ingredients, and has no VOCs. It actually smells like a mug of warm milk as you are painting it on the walls. But there are many other low- and zero-VOC paints available now as well.

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The Best Toxic Free Toilet Paper

Question from Terry

Hi Debra,

What is the best chlorine and formaldyhide-free toilet paper?

Thought you might know off the top of your head!

Debra’s Answer

It’s been a while since we discussed toilet paper. And I’m glad you asked.

Actually I just had the need to purchase toilet paper over the weekend. I live in a household with other people and my rent covers household toilet paper. I got them to agree to unscented. But we ran out so I went and bought some, and had the opportunity to look at what’s new on the shelves. And then this question came in the next day…:-)

There actually is one brand that I think comes out on top and that is Green 2 by Tree Free (website | amazon).

Here’s why.

#1. It’s fragrance free.
For me this is the most important toxic criteria. There are many other fragrance-free toilet papers, but Green 2 goes above and beyond: no inks, dyes, lotions, wheat, corn or glue as well.

#2. It’s made from sugar cane and bamboo.
The toxics issue here is that more and more toilet papers are being made now from recycled paper. In addition to toxic exposures from chemicals in inks and anything else that may be on the paper being recycled, recycled paper also is known to contain BPA. So this toilet paper is BPA-free. Also GMO-free because sugar cane and bamboo are not genetically modified. Plus I like tree-free products because I’d like to leave the trees standing so they can clean the air.

#3. It’s bleached with hydrogen peroxide.
When paper is bleached with chlorine, the process creates dioxin, one of the most toxic chemicals on earth. Hydrogen peroxide does not create harmful byproducts.

#4. It’s made without formaldehyde.
Formaladehyde is often used to give “wet strength” to paper. No formaldehyde used here.

They actually have a customer service phone number in the USA with a person who answers it and speaks English. Some of the other toilet papers I attempted to contact didn’t.

I actually found this toilet paper on the shelf at my favorite local independent market, which sells all kinds of cool stuff (such as whole heirloom chickens).

Oh, and the company is woman-owned as well, which is not a toxics consideration but good to know.

All things considered, I like this brand best.

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Buying A Home Near Train Tracks

 

Question from Madelyn

Hi Debra,

My husband and I have a toddler son and are expecting baby #2 in the fall.

We are very health conscious and try to live as non-toxic as we can.

We live in Colorado and are in the process of buying a home.

We have found a beautiful home, essentially our dream home in a great neighborhood near a lake right in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.

However, there are train tracks behind the house, only visible if a train is passing. My husband would estimate the tracks to be from 600-900 feet away from the stone wall of the home’s backyard.

The trains pass through on these tracks several times a day, most are open air cars carrying coal. The town has set an ordinance so the trains are prohibited from blowing their horns and can only travel about 5mph. The longer trains can take several minutes to pass.

While we dont find the noise of the train to be much of an issue, we are concerned about fumes and air quality. These are diesel trains and I assume they release some amount of toxic fumes.

I have read studies that show an increased rate of asthma and cancer in people who live by rail yards where trains are constantly idling, or increased health issues in railroad workers who are constantly exposed, but would these risks carry over to a house near the tracks where trains pass by a few times a day but dont stop or idle?

We like to sleep with our windows open at night and want to spend a lot of time in the backyard so I’m wondering whether I should be concerned about poor air quality? Any thoughts?

Debra’s Answer

Well I went out and walked 100 feet to get an idea of the distance and I’m not concerned.

Yes it is producing some pollution, but so does car traffic.

When I lived in Florida I had train tracks on two sides and they were probably within 1000 feet now that I went and walked to get an idea of the distance, but I rarely noticed they were there and never noticed any pollution.

I would just observe some trains going by from your house and see what you think.

Now that said, I did some research online. I searched on “distance from train tracks air pollution” and a lot of studies came up. I didn’t read all of them because most were looking at like houses right on the edge of the train tracks.

I think your distance takes you out of the zone of concern. There’s a lot of air between you and the trains 600-900 feet away.

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DIY Toxic Free Pet Bed

Here’s an organic pet bed for dogs and cats, sold in the USA at Only Natural Pet

 

Question from Kimberley

Hi Debra,

I have just came across your website and love all your reviews and info on non toxic products!

I am specifically looking for an all natural dog bed for my new puppy and wondered if you had any UK supplier suggestions? I noticed you offered a US company, but I would love to find one closer to home. I’m also happy to do a DIY dog bed if you have any suggestions on this?

I’m not sure you do requests like this, but I thought I’d give it a go on the off chance.

Thanks so much for your time.

Debra’s Answer

I love the UK and would be happy to come there and find all your nontoxic products, but at the moment mu knowledge is limited to the USA.

But since you are willing to make your own, here are my suggestions.

A pet bed is basically a big pillow that you fill with something. So to make a natural pet bed, just use natural materials.

For the cover, choose GOTS certified organic cotton if you can get it. Otherwise any cotton fabric you like that does not have a permanent press finish. Something like a good sturdy canvas would be a good choice.

Here’s a useful post called What Material Is Good to Fill a Dog Bed? . They suggest

  • Foam – so I would go with GOLS certified organic latex foam
  • Cedar Chips – these smell nice and also repel bugs naturally.
  • Old Clothes – my favorite because you can take them out and wash them and wash the cover too and it will be clean, clean, clean.

Take a look at a commercial pet bed made with synthetic materials for design ideas, then make what you like with natural materials.

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Millions Now Known To Have Multiple Chemical Sensitive (MCS)

Anne Steinemann PhD has been a leading researcher studying the health effects of fragrance in consumer products for many years.

Her latest study assesses the prevalence of multiple chemical sensitivities (MCS), its co-occurrence with asthma and fragrance sensitivity, and effects from exposure to fragranced consumer products.

She concluded that the prevalence of diagnosed MCS has increased over 300%, and self-reported chemical sensitivity over 200%, in the past decade. She recommended implementation of fragrance-free policies to reduce adverse health and societal effects.

Results of this study provide evidence that MCS is widespread and increasing in the US population: an estimated 25.6 million adults are diagnosed with MCS, and an estimated 51.8 million adults report chemical sensitivity. Using the same criteria to assess MCS and chemical sensitivity as prior US national prevalence studies, this represents an increase of 300% in diagnosed MCS and 200% in self-reported chemical sensitivity in a little more than 10 years.

In addition, among individuals with MCS, 86.2% report adverse health effects from exposure to fragranced consumer products. Thus, individuals with MCS are proportionally more likely to be fragrance sensitive than individuals without MCS (prevalence odds ratio 16.8; 95% confidence interval 10.3 to 27.5).

As a consequence, individuals with MCS are prevented from accessing restrooms, businesses, workplaces, and public places due to risk of adverse health effects—some potentially disabling—from fragranced consumer products. Notably, exposure to fragranced consumer products is associated with lost workdays or a job, in the past year, for 11.0% of the adult population with MCS or chemical sensitivity, representing an estimated 22 million Americans. While researchers continue to investigate which chemicals or mixtures of chemicals in fragranced consumer products could be associated with adverse effects,18 a practical step in the meantime would be to reduce exposure to the products. For instance, 71.0% of those with MCS would support fragrance-free policies in the workplace, and 82.1% would prefer fragrance-free health care facilities and professionals, as would a majority of the US general population.

JOURNAL OF OCCUPATIONAL AND ENVIRONMENTAL MEDICINE: National Prevalence and Effects of Multiple Chemical Sensitivities

You can read other articles on the health effects of frangraced consumer products on Dr Steinneman’s website.

including:

Fragranced consumer products and health effects in America

Air fresheners and indoor air quality

Green buildings and indoor air quality

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Felted Wool Shepardess Jacket

Shepardess Hazel Flett of Bodega Pastures wearing her fleece wool jacket at the Sebastopol Farm Market, handmade from the wool from her sheep.

It’s been cold here in California this week. Cold and rain and more to come.

So one of my favorite vendors at the Sebastopol Farm Market—where Larry and I go every Sunday morning—was wearing her felted wool jacket.

“Stay warm!” I said as we walked by and waved to Hazel.

“I am,” she replied. “The wind doesn’t go through my felted wool jacket.”

Felted wool jacket?!?!?!?!??!?!!

Years ago my friend Eliana, who founded Shepherd’s Dream introduced me to felting. She made a queen-sized felt for my bed and I’ve been sleeping on it since. She now makes whole “mattresses” from layers of wool felts at Heartfelt Collective. When I got my felt for my bed, my first thought was, “I want a felt coat!”

Felting is a process of making a sort of fabric from wet wool, where the coil-like wood fibers wrap around each other.

Hazel’s jacket is made of wool from her own sheep, so it contains all the colors of their wool.

She also pointed out that there are no seams because the entire jacket is pieced together by felting.

Of course, one can’t buy a felted jacket. I have to wait until the woman who teaches felting gives the felted jacket workshop again and then one need’s to felt one’s own, specific to one’s own body.

And of course, I will be at this workshop.

THIS is what we should be wearing.

* * * * *

Now all that said, I DID find two felted (aka “boiled”) wool coats online. Don’t know anything about them except what’s in the descriptions, so if you explore these, please leave comments.

Peruvian Connection Halden Alpaca Felted Coat

Peruvian Connection Tuileries Baby Alpace Reversible Coat. This one is more like what I think of as a perfect coat—like a big blanket with arms.

Continuing to search I see that there are many coats that come up as “boiled wool” or “felted wool” but then the jacket is made with polyester linings, etc. The above were the only three I could find that were 100% unlined wool.

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Good Box Spring

Question from Nick

Hi Debra,

Wanted to know if you know a good non toxic healthy box spring or foundation for under a mattress?

Debra’s Answer

Actually I had never thought about this before.

I bought a wood slat frame for my natural mattress years ago and I think most people do that. These are widely available. The least expensive are those from IKEA, which I have purchased in the past and recommended to readers and clients. Nobody has ever complained to me they didn’t like them. But there are many others. Get unfinished wood and leave unfinished or apply a toxic free finish.

You can also get metal bed frames, also many available online. If you have a spring mattress you can put it right on the metal bed frame. For those of you with futon-type mattresses, you’ll need to get a “bunkie board” which is just the wood slats that you can put in any metal bed frame. Here’s one made of solid wood slats . Read descriptions carefully as some are made from glue laminated wood strips.

I had an assumption that all the natural mattress manufacturers would make box springs, but apparently they don’t.

Here are some box springs made with organic and natural materials:

Naturepedic

OMI 

US Box Spring

Here is a very basic metal frame that can be used alone or fit into any bed frame
AMAZON: Classic Brands Hercules Heavy-Duty 14-inch Platform Metal Bed Frame

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