Answers to Your Questions About Toxic Free Living

Buying Toxic Free Clothing in Retail Stores

Question from Brittany

Hi Debra,

I am just learning about the toxins in our clothes. Are there any retail stores that follow these guidelines?

It’s just overwhelming! Don’t even know where to start. Everything is polyester.

Where do you shop?

Debra’s Answer

I wish there were such a store, but I haven’t found one yet. There may be boutiques and your can find such places online (see Debra’s List: Clothing page), but I can’t direct you to any major clothing store, And yes, I agree, it seems like everything is getting to be polyester again. Not too long ago there were a lot more natural fibers.

I buy all my clothing in retail stores, but I have to choose carefully.

I live in Florida so most of the time I am wearing cotton capri pants and tank tops. These are easy to find almost anywhere.

I would buy organic natural fibers if I could find and afford them.

But my general rule of thumb is to buy natural fibers—cotton, linen, silk, wool—and in particular no permanent press because it releases formaldehyde. No synthetic fibers, not even 1 percent. My favorite fabric is linen, which is perfect here in my tropical climate.

I also have been known to make my own clothes and have been considering having others make clothing for me. I have made evening gowns and wedding dresses out of beautiful natural fiber fabrics because I refused to wear the synthetic fabrics most formal wear is made from.

I live in Florida so my stores may be different from yours. And I don’t have a lot of choices. I look at Sears and Penny’s and Dillards and Macy’s. Often these stores will have natural fibers, but mostly not. I find things at Ross and TJ Maxx. Just great random pieces that are inexpensive. But they are getting harder and harder to find.

Readers, what is your shopping experience? Where and how to you buy your clothes?

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US Government Study Finds Cell Phones Cause Cancer

A multi-year $25 million study done by the National Toxicology Program found “low incidecences” of two types of tumors in male rats exposed to the same type of radio frequencies commonly emitted by cellphones.

It was one of the biggest and most comprehensive experiments into the health effects of cell phones.

“Where people were saying there’s no risk, I think this ends that kind of statement,” said Ron Melnick on seeing the results. He ran the NTP project until retiring in 2009.

WALL STREET JOURNAL: Cellphone-Cancer Link Found in Government Study


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New Study Shows Glyphosate in 93% of Americans Tested

In a unique public testing project carried out by a laboratory at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF), glyphosate was discovered in 93% of urine samples during the early phase of the testing in 2015.

The urine and water testing was organized by The Detox Project and commissioned by the Organic Consumers Association.

The unique project, which has already provided more urine samples for testing than any other glyphosate bio-monitoring urine study ever in America, was supported by members of the public, who themselves paid for their urine and water samples to be analyzed for glyphosate residues by the UCSF lab. These subjects were self-selected volunteers who contacted The Detox Project asking for testing.

The data released in a presentation by the UCSF lab only covers the first 131 people tested. Further data from this public bio-monitoring study, which is now completed, will be released later in 2016.

UCSF Presentation Reveals Glyphosate Contamination in People across America

Due to overwhelming response, testing of body fluids for the presence of glyphosate has been temporarily discontinued while arrangements are being made with a larger lab. If you wish to have this testing, you may do so when the project restarts later this summer.

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Non-Toxic Safe Bicycle Helmets

Question from Grace

Hi Debra,

I am looking to start bike riding again and wondered if helmets were generally non-toxic and safe for someone with MCS? Are there any brands you recommend?


Debra’s Answer

Well it only took 30 seconds to find out the materials used because someone had already compiled all the information at How Bicycle Helmets are Made. This website has a lot of information about helmets, but unfortunately not a list of least toxic helmets.

The liners are molded from Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) which is the same material used to make coffee cups. Years ago styrene was found in the blood of almost 100 percent of people tested. This part of the helmet is mostly made in China. Other foams are used as well, and they have a separate page just for Bicycle Helmet Liners: Foam and Other Materials.

“Polystyrene contains the toxic substances Styrene and Benzene, suspected carcinogens and nurotoxics that are hazardous humans.” Polystyrene Fast Facts, Harvard University.

The hard shell is PET (the plastic used for bottled water containers). It is glued to the liner, so there may be some toxic adhesive there. More expensive helmets have shells made of polycarbonate (that’s the plastic that contains BPA).

I’m just going to stop here. I think you get the idea. Many more chemicals are mentioned in this article.

I know this is a safety thing to wear a helmet, and in some states they are required by law for children, but not for adults.

I think if I wanted to ride a bicycle and felt like I needed a helmet, I would probably try to make my own. Hmmm, a cooking pot lined with polyethylene foam? I’m not trying to be funny, just thinking out loud….

A helmet could be manufacturered from nontoxic materials, but it seems that everyone thinks they are OK.

Readers, your thoughts? Any suggestions?

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Eco-Friendly Travel Trailer

Question from TA

Hi Debra,

I just came across this cute eco-friendly travel trailer made with non-toxic materials, composting toilet, etc.

I thought you might like to know about it. (I admit I just did a quick skim and didn’t check into all the details about materials and such, but did see the claim of non-toxic materials).

I know the subject of safe campers has come up before on the Q&A. Obviously, the price of this isn’t something that everyone can rush out and by. 🙂 But for those who are looking for something like this, or even those who are looking for safe living quarters, might be happy to know about it.

It doesn’t appear to have a shower, but it’s pretty cute. 😉

I don’t know how long they’ve been in business; it looks like they just have this one model right now, so I wonder if down the road they’ll have more options available (perhaps including a shower or other bed configurations, as most of us wouldn’t need bunk beds).

At any rate, it seems worth checking out and surely has to be better than all the “regular” brands that are available. And it would certainly draw attention from others, I suspect, since it’s very unique looking.

By the way, they do rentals in the Pacific Northwest. So even if a person can’t buy one, renting might be an option if a person needs safe travel accommodations in that area of the country. I’d definitely look into it if I ever travel to that area again.

Debra’s Answer

That IS cute! Couldn’t resist showing you the picture. I didn’t see a list of materials, but it does say “No toxic chemicals or VOCs.” How great!


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Corporate Progress Toward Safer Chemicals

the chemical footprintLast week, the Chemical Footprint Project has published its inaugural report — the first initiative of its kind to publicly benchmark corporate chemicals management..

The results provide valuable insights into how leading companies manage chemicals in their products and supply chains, and how all companies might manage these issues in the future.

Last year, a select group of 24 leading-edge businesses both small (millions in annual revenue) and large (tens of billions in annual revenue) stepped forward to participate in the Chemical Footprint Project and to receive a score on their corporate chemicals management practices. Participants included: Levi Strauss & Co.; Seagate Technology, PLC; Johnson & Johnson; GOJO Industries; Becton, Dickinson and Company; Beautycounter; and California Baby, among others.

The report analyzes participants’ responses to a 20-question survey regarding chemicals management across four categories: Management Strategy, Chemical Inventory, Footprint Measurement, and Disclosure & Verification. Key findings include

  • Senior leadership matters: The 29% of firms with Board-level oversight or senior management incentives performed better overall than firms with no such accountability.
  • Companies need comprehensive policies: Without policies that address chemical hazards in manufacturing, supply chains, and packaging – in addition to products – companies face hidden liabilities and chemical risks.
  • Disclosure lags practice: Across every category – Management, Inventory, Footprint, and Disclosure – companies have more chemicals management practices in place than they share publicly. For example, 83% have a legally restricted substances list, but only 17% of those companies make that list public.
  • “Design for Health” sets leading edge: companies whose entire product portfolios are based on minimizing or eliminating chemicals of high concern performed well above average.
  • Chemical footprint measurement is new and challenging: Before they can reduce their chemical footprints, companies need to know the chemical ingredients in their products and identify chemicals of high concern, so it’s no surprise that in this first year, companies scored low for measuring baseline chemical footprint.

The Chemical Footprint Project (CFP) was launched in 2014 with the support of investors representing $2.3 trillion in assets under management and institutional purchasers with over $70 billion in purchasing power. Similar to carbon footprinting, the project applies clear and consistent metrics to help purchasers select suppliers based on how they manage their chemical footprint. These metrics also enable investors to integrate chemical risk into their sustainability analyses and investments.

“You can’t manage what you don’t measure,” said Dr. Mark Rossi, Executive Director of the nonprofit Clean Production Action and one of the project’s founders. “By scoring companies on their overall progress in avoiding Chemicals of High Concern and using safer alternatives, the Chemical Footprint Project fills a critical missing piece in the sustainability mosaic for investors, purchasers, and other stakeholders.”

Companies participating in the survey see not only an opportunity to improve their performance on environmental measures, but ultimately to reap business benefits like increased sales and market share, higher rates of customer loyalty and employee satisfaction, and lower compliance costs.

Read The Chemical Footprint Project 2016 Annual Report

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Nanoparticles in Baby Formula

nanoparticlesA new report from Friends of the Earth found that popular infant formulas sold throughout the United States contain infinitesimally small ingredients known as engineered nanoparticles,

The commissioned independent laboratory analysis found nanoparticles in six infant formulas tested. These ingredients are not labeled and are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

FRIENDS OF THE EARTH: New report: Nanoparticles in baby formula


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Polymer Environmental Resin (PER), Thermoplastic Elastomers (TPE) and Least Toxic Yoga Mats

A reader wrote to me as a comment, asking about a yoga mat. Doing research on the response opened up the whole issue of materials used to make yoga mats. So I turned it into a post.

The issue with yoga mats is that in the past, most were made with polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which is made from and emits vinyl monomer (VCM), phthalates, and lead. Together, these materials release chemical gasses that can cause cancer, endocrine disruption, and all kinds of neurological problems.

So within the yoga world, there had been a movement going on towards finding the perfect “PVC-free” yoga mat.

Polymer Environmental Resin (PER)

The yoga mat that prompted this post is made from a material called “PER.”

Somewhere the reader found the following and pasted it into the comment. I’m not sure where she got this as I couldn’t find it on the page of the link she gave me.

This mat has been Oeko-Tex 100 Tested and Approved and are Safe, Non Toxic, Hypoallergenic, No Phthalates, Phenols or PAHS, Free from Latex, Rubber or Silicone.

4) Our Patented PER Mats are made from a new non toxic resin, free of rubber, silicone, latex and does not emit any toxic chemicals or gases.

Please note that PER is a patented product and not PVC as many less expensive products. Be careful of Imitations not registered PER;

5) The mat has been successfully tested against harmful substances; Oeko-Tex Standards Class-1- Baby Articles and US FDA approved by SGS”

So what is this PER and is it really safe?

PER is the acronym for Polymer Environmental Resin. This is kind of a strange name because usually substances are named for the chemicals used to make them. This name simply says it’s a polymer (plastic) resin that has environmental benefits.

Ironically, PER starts as polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which has been plasticized and stabilized with acetyl tributyl citrate instead of phthalates and lead. So it’s not “PVC-free” as advertised. It actually is PVC, with different plasticizers and stabilizers.

Certainly acetyl tributyl citrate is much less toxic than phthalates and lead, so this is an improvement, but what I’m concerned about is that the basic vinyl chloride monomer (VCM) used to make PVC is itself a carcinogen. Swapping out the plasticizers and stabilizers doesn’t change that.

Their claim that it contains no phthalates, phenols, PAHs, latex, rubber, and silicone is certainly true.

They also say it is nontoxic and does not emit any toxic chemicals or gasses. I’ve never seen this material, but I do know something about PVC. And it just doesn’t react 100%. There tends to be some small amount of unreacted VCM. But it only takes a small amount of VCM to be toxic.

I went to the website of the yoga mat in the link the reeder gave me. I didn’t see any mention of Oeko-Tex or a certificate. Maybe it’s there, but I didn’t find it on a sales page.

I also couldn’t find any data on the health effects of PER, either pro or con. No Safety Data Sheet. Nothing.

Here are the only two references I could find on PER:

APPROPEDIA: Polymer Environmental-Friendly Resin

STACK EXCHANGE CHEMISTRY: What is Polymer Environmental Resin (PER)?

Thermoplastic Elastomers (TPE)

Another material used to make PVC-free yoga mats is TPE.

TPE is the acronym for ThermoPlastic Elastomers, a class of copolymers that have the elastic properties of rubber and re-meltable property of thermoplastics.

There are six generic classes of TPEs:

  • Styrenic block copolymers (TPE-s)—made of styrene
  • Thermoplastic olefins (TPE-o)
  • Elastomeric alloys (TPE-v or TPV)
  • Thermoplastic polyurethanes (TPU)—made of polyurethane
  • Thermoplastic copolyester—made of polyester
  • Thermoplastic polyamides

But Safety Data Sheets say only that the material composites are trade secrets.

TPE is such a nebulous term that it could mean many things.

It’s certainly a petroleum product, so if you are sensitive to petrochemicals it wouldn’t be a wise choice.

TPE is being used more and more as an alternative to PVC in various types of products, including medical devices and food packaging.

Oh. Now here is a MSDS for “TPE 5187”:

It lists these ingredients for “TPE”:

  • EPDM [ethylene propylene diene monomer (M-class) rubber, a type of synthetic rubber]
  • Bromine Flame Retardant
  • Antimony Trioxide [another flame retardant]
  • Polypropylene [a nontoxic plastic]
  • Proprietary Stabilizers [who knows what these are]

OK. That’s as far as I need to search. It’s likely most TPEs contain similar ingredients.

Least Toxic Yoga Mats

While PER and TEC are far better than PVC, they are not good enough for me.

Now we get down to the natural materials used to make yoga mats.

There are a number made from natural latex, but many people are allergic to latex or do not like the natural odor (I am one of them).

So then there are a few yoga mats made from natural fibers.

Yogasana Cotton Yoga Mats
Listen to interview with co-founder and owner Kevin Aylward on Toxic Free Talk Radio

Rawganique Hemp Yoga Mats
Listen to interview with co-founders Klaus Wallner and Thammarath “Touch” Jamikorn on Toxic Free Talk Radio

There may be more, but these are two I know about.

I think it’s great that there are “better” alternatives that are less toxic. But why be less toxic when you can be least toxic?

Personally, I’m always looking for the least toxic materials I can find. PER and TPE are still too toxic for me.

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Totally Toxic-Free Office Chair—Stylish and Affordable Too

I’ve been looking for a toxic-free office chair for years. Last time I looked I was so dismayed I ended up buying a dining room chair. But that isn’t so comfortable to sit on at a desk all day long. I really wanted a chair that swivels and rolls.

I just have this routine of looking at office chairs everywhere I go, and last weekend I finally found a totally toxic-free office chair at IKEA. Totally toxic-free and affordable. only $89.

It’s called ROBERGET and it has a whole story about how it was designed (which you can read at the store, but it’s not online).

It’s 100% steel, with an epoxy powder coat in grey or bright turquoise. I got the grey one.

The seat is molded, so it’s actually quite comfortable. And I love the sunburst design on the back.

It’s nice and stable. I’m just totally happy with this.


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Fertilizer for Lawn

Question from Joanna

Hi Debra,

Is there a non chemical organic lawn fertilizer and also weed killers that you recommend for someone with extreme MCS? The grass is brown from lack of water in California. Thank you.

Debra’s Answer

I lived in California most of my life, so I can tell you that when you start getting more rain, the lawn will come back to life.

In terms of fertilizer…well, gardening is very localized, and different parts of the country have different conditions and different types of lawn.

So here are my suggestions.

Go online and search on “organic lawn care.” When i just searched I got

  1. local lawn service companies that use natural methods
  2. instructions on how to maintain your lawn organically
  3. Natural lawn care products

Also see if you have a local organic nursery. They would be able to help you with this too.

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