Answers to Your Questions About Toxic Free Living

Underwear Recommendations?

Question from Audrey

Hi Debra,

I have a friend (man) who is mcs and cannot buy fruit of the loom or Hanes underwear anymore – it is treated with an odor guard – right on the package he says that it is written Dow Chemical. I cannot use Jockey for Her panties anymore – Ever since they are not made in the U.S. they have a very strong chemical odor that I cannot get out by either airing out or soaking in baking soda or vinegar. I cannot afford the organic ones. What can we mcsers do???

Debra’s Answer

Readers? Any recommendations?

Here’s a press release about the addition of Odor Guard to Fruit of the Loom:

Dow and Fruit of the Loom Bring Long-Lasting Odor Protection and Moisture Wicking Features to Men’s Underwear

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Life Without Plastic — The Definitive Guide

Every once in a while I see a book that is written the way I would write it, and this is one of those books.

Life Without Plastic: The Practical Step-by-Step Guide to Avoiding Plastic to Keep Your Family and the Planet Healthy is an account of the first hand experience of Chantal Plamondon and Jay Sinha, founders of the website Life Without Plastic.

The website already has been a comprehensive resource of products you can use to replace plastic items around your home, but the book goes even further. After telling their story, Chantal and Jay give us

  • a Quick Start Guide to removing plastic from your home
  • a comprehensive review of plastics and their health effect (which everyone should read),
  • instructions for removing plastic from your personal space and
  • plastic-free living on the go.

This couple really knows and lives this subject.

So if you want to eliminate plastic from your life, this is the book to get.

Listen to my interview with Chantal and Jay on Toxic Free Talk Radio (or read the transcript) at TOXIC FREE TALK RADIO: Life Without Plastic.

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Nontoxic Cleaning Products for Schools


Question from Cheryl

Hi Debra,

I am a School Nurse with very low immunity and subsequent severe chemical sensitivities. The chemicals used at school are destroying me. My body burns and itches the moment that I walk through the door. I need recommendations for products that both sanitize and clean floors, counter tops and rugs. Help, please!


Debra’s Answer

Well, we’re in luck today because the EPA just issued a whole new page just a few months ago on Cleaning Effectively for a Healthy School Environment.

This page tells why it’s important, what you can do, and gives a long list of resources and organizations that can help.

At the end there are three programs that are specifically about cleaning products for schools:

  • The Product Review Database maintained by the Los Angeles (California) Unified School District offers a searchable database of over 6,000 products evaluated by the district’s Office of Environmental Health and Safety to determine their suitability for use in and around Los Angeles schools.
  • New York’s Green Cleaning Program operated by the New York State Office of General Services presents best practices and a list of approved green cleaning products. A toolkit also describes five steps to a green cleaning program as well as online training courses and customizable documents and templates.
  • Green Cleaning, Sanitizing and Disinfecting: A Toolkit for Early Care and Education, supported by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation, helps programs use less hazardous cleaning products and practices while also reducing infectious disease.

But do check out the entire page and the entire list as there are many more resources.

With this page, there should be no reason why any school should us toxic cheaning products. Just show this page to the powers that be in your school and get them to take action. All the information is right here.

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Consumer Reports Warns Not to Eat Romaine Lettuce

Late last week Consumer Reports issued a warning to not eat romaine lettuce.

“Over the past seven weeks, 59 people in the U.S. and Canada have become ill from a dangerous strain of E. coli bacteria, likely from eating romaine lettuce. In the U.S., the infections have occurred in 13 states (California, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Vermont, and Washington state). Five people in the U.S. have been hospitalized and one has died, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). There has also been one death in Canada.”

The Centers for Disease Control confirmed that the strain of E. coli detected in the U.S. is “a virtual genetic match” with the one that has caused illnesses in Canada.

You have no doubt heard this news already from your usual news sources, but I just want to add my two cents.

A reader sent me a comment from an organic farmer. He said

They say “all romaine” and can’t figure out why that is. Well, they answer it in the third paragraph:

“Until the cause of the current outbreak is known and the implicated food is removed from the supply chain, CR’s experts say consumers should avoid eating any romaine lettuce.”

The problem is the supply chain, the global food system that mixes produce from dozens or hundreds of farms together, including lots of lettuce grown overseas. All it takes is one farm doing things wrong and all romaine lettuce becomes deadly.

Please buy locally grown romaine at the farmers market and eat it with gusto.

I wanted to comment on this because I usually don’t buy romaine lettuce from the supply chain. My number one source of lettuce is my local organic farmer’s market. All their lettuce comes from their own farm. It’s not contaminated.

If lettuce is out of season (as it is now) I eat other greens or buy organic lettuce at a local produce market that does get their produce from the organic supply chain.

I hardly ever buy romaine anyway. I prefer a mix of red and green leaf lettuces.

But Larry’s family (who we live with) always buys romaine lettuce in a plastic bag at the supermarket. I’m happy to report that this warning resulted in the purchase of red leaf lettuce. No plastic bag.

If you eat romaine lettuce, please take this warning as an opportunity to explore local organic sources and other delicious lettuces.

FOOD SAFETY NEWS: Consumer Reports warns against eating any romaine lettuce

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My New Space Heater

Every winter the question of space heaters seems to come up.

Most heaters you will find on store shelves are made with plastic housings, which is the worst choice because heat will cause the plastic to outgas into the air.

I’ve written a number of posts in the past about space heaters. O&A: Portable Heaters With Metal Housings in particular outlines all the types of heaters to look for plus has links to other posts about heaters.

Today I want to tell you about a space heater of a different type that Larry purchased this year at Costco, and I like it so much I took it from him to put in my office (it’s in a building separate from the house where there is no central HVAC and the built-in heater is broken).

I LOVE this heater. There has never been an odor from the beginning.

Though the heating element is suspended in a hard plastic frame, it does not seem to outgas. The only part that heats up the the heating element and the large metal “dish” that focuses the heat in the direction right on you instead of heating the entire room.


I can turn on this heater on a cold morning and in minutes my immediate workspace is warm.

For years I have used small ceramic heaters and more recently a utility heater with metal housing. Both of those have fans that make noise. This is absolutely silent except for a slight hum that is much less noticeable to me.

Here’s another interesting heater I just found on amazon while I was looking up the link for the Presto. The description says “Safe and oderless heat. Eco friendly, does not consume oxygen and does not dry the air.”

UFO Electric Mid-Wave Infrared Heater

It looks like a standard infrared heating element in an aluminum tube. It costs twice as much, but seems to be more portable and can be used indoors or out. This one can be mounted on a wall or stand and in various other ways as well.

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Resources for Affordable Organic Fabrics & Upholstering Materials

You can make a cushion for a charming window seat like this using ORGANIC upholstery materials.


Question from Sabrina

Hi Debra,

First of all, thanks for all of your wonderful information and advice over the last…Gosh, I don’t know how many years! Eight? You’ve helped me make better choices for my family and kids, specifically. I am deeply grateful.

I am going to make a cushion for a window seat for my avid reader kiddo, and I wanted to pass along some info I found about some great materials.

First: certified GOLS organic latex foam and organic cotton muslin from It’s the best price I found for organic latex foam.

I also am getting organic wool batting from, but they don’t sell organic latex, only “all natural”, whatever that means.

I will be covering the cushion in organic cotton canvas from . They have the best selection at the best prices of organic fabric, that I have found.

Hope this is interesting and helpful.

Thanks again! And Happy New Year!

Debra’s Answer

Thanks for these great resources! I’m sure others will be interested in them too.

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UV system in air conditioner OK for MCS?

Hi Debra,

Anyone with mcs have a UV system for their air conditioner?

It is supposed to help prevent odors and mold, and my ac company is trying to persuade me to get it, but I know many years ago I read it is not good for an mcser.

A friend of mine had it and had to have it removed, but another mcser friend has one and is okay.

It is quite expensive and if I have to take it out, I will not get any of the money back. Thanks.

Debra’s Answer

UV lights produce varying amounts of ozone, but those intended for mold and germs produce very little. That may be what some very sensitive people are reacting to.

Readers, any experience with this?

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EWG’s New Healthy Home Guides


Environmental Working Group has released a set of Healthy Home Guides. It’s the first time they have addressed exposure to chemicals in the home as a whole.

Rather than being comprehensive, these guides offer simple advice on avoiding less than a dozen chemicals of concern (lead, asbestos, flame retardants, VOCs, PFCs, antimicrobials, and radon).

Product-specific guides give only tips on what chemicals to avoid and what to look for, but no guidance on how to actually find these products.

Still, it’s a good educational effort to show there IS a problem with chemical exposures in the home and will make many more aware they should be looking for toxic-free products.


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Co-workers with Fragrance

Question from Sus D

Hi Debra,

I work with people who have worked with me when I contracted fragrance allergies, they refuse to stop using their fragranced lotions and work in my office before I get there.

We have a policy addressing this but isn’t enforced even by HR department.

I work in a health care facility and it has gotten bad over the last five years. we have customers that have fragrance allergies also.

Why do the leaders let this happen with these employees who don’t seem to care about anyone but themselves. the leaders are aware, I know of one family that has wrote letters addressing the issue.

I was told I didn’t have the right to ask people to not use their product and the only manager that has tried to help feels like his hands are tied due to no one else caring to enforce the policy.

is their any organization to contact. already contacted JAN. Any advice. the manager wants to get me and the one that works in the office before me to met and have a discussion. I say it won’t help cuz she already knows and has know since the beginning but will not stop.

Debra’s Answer

Readers, anyone have a similar experience? Any advice?

Here is a page from The Chemical Sensitivity Foundation with many links regarding fragrance-free policies

I understand you have a policy and need help getting it enforced.

Here are some other resources that might help with enforcement. Some of them address refusal to comply. You might contact any of these organizations for help with your situation.

SAVVY WOMAN’S ALLIANCE: Five Friendly Fragrance-Free Signs

New ADA Guidelines for Fragrance Sensitivity Explained | Labor Law

Accommodation and Compliance Series: Employees with Fragrance ..

Fragrance Sensitivities Raise Bouquet of Legal Issues

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How I Found My New Refrigerator

Larry and I have been living with his mom and two siblings for the past two months, and it had become abundantly clear that a standard refrigerator would not hold enough food for five adults with varying food preferences.

So we decided to get a small “apartment size” refrigerator to hold our food. A bit inconvenient to have to bring food into the kitchen from another room to prepare it, but the trade-off is that we can actually find our food and nobody else will eat it, intentionally or by accident.

And then we had to find one.

Larry looked on craigslist but didn’t find anything. I called around to used appliance stores, but they didn’t have any. Prices on new ones were more than $400, and I didn’t want a new refrigerator.

So Larry and I went to the bank to get some cash, and cleaned out his van so we could bring the refrigerator home, and looked again at craigslist.

There was a new listing.

It was about 45 minutes away, in Mill Valley. It was in perfect condition and totally clean. It was six months old so it didn’t have the “new refrigeratory smell” of plastic outgassing.

A young couple was selling it because they were moving out of their rental, which just happened to be a charming Arts & Crafts cottage in a grove of redwoods that was 100 years old. The owner wanted to tear down the house. The couple had moved everything out of the house and the refrigerator had to be gone today.

The ad said $200, but when Larry asked the seller how much he wanted, he said $150.

We took it.

Larry and I had wanted to spend $100 and his sister had given us $50 toward the refrigerator as an early Christmas present. So we spent the $100 we wanted to spend and got the exact refrigerator we wanted.

I have to tell you that intention plays a large part in finds like this. Knowing what we want and intending we will find it. Works every time.

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