Answers to Your Questions About Toxic Free Living

Safety of ACQ Pressure-Treated Wood

Question from M S-M

I live in Orford Qc where there is a conservation national parc, a very delicate ecosystem. Unfortunately , it is a very beautiful mountain also and a promotor is now on is way of exchanging the land for another to built around 2000 condos and new golf courses. The builders have already constructedfor the many sidewalks and belvedere in the parc with ACQ wood they say, to me it smells like CCA wood. Suppose moment it is ACQ, is it safe for a prolong exposition to wild life and for the drinking water of the community?

I am concerned and I asked the promotor during the BAPE hearings yesterday. He said that it is safe and the park authorities also. I am not conviced, since he is using vinyl a lot in other constructions.

Do you have any comments on the safety of ACQ?

Debra’s Answer

ACQ stands for Alkaline Copper Quat. The main active ingredient is copper, which was the main active ingredient in CCA chromated copper arsenate pressure treatment, which was phased out in 2003. Though the copper remains the same, the other ingredients in ACQ are much less toxic than the chromium and arsenic that were used in CCA.

According to manufacturers’ literature on ACQ, quat acts as a co-biocide, providing additional protection from fungi and insect attack that copper alone would not control. Quats are commonly used in household disinfectants and cleaners, and in swimming pools and spas. Quats are biodegradable in soil.

Recently my husband and I were faced with a decision as to whether or not we would use ACQ treated wood for posts to hold a garden gate. At both Lowe’s and Home Depot, free information on ACQ treated wood was obviously displayed. These are interesting documents. On the one hand they say wear a dust mask when cutting, wear gloves when handling, wash exposed areas thoroughly after handling, wash work clothes separately from other household clothing, do not use where it may come into direct or indirect contact with drinking water or where the preservative ma become a component of food, animal feed, or beehives, and do not use for mulch. On the other hand, use recommendations include hand rails, fence posts and decking, and one brand was the winner of the 2002 EPA Presidential Green Chemistry Award!

We were in a situation where we needed two ten-foot 4×4 posts, which are not sold at either Home Depot or Lowe’s. Here in Florida, the choices were ACQ and cedar. We went to lumberyards and started off saying “We don’t want ACQ because it’s toxic” and lumberyard men would look at us blankly and say “No, it’s not.” We would show them the manufacturers’ flyers from Home Depot and they had never seen them before. They were handling and cutting these boards and posts all day long with no precautions and had no concerns whatsoever. Everywhere we went it was the same.

Coming from California, where we would use redwood instead of CCA treated wood, we thought we could just use cedar instead. But we found out that today, cedar is cut too young to have developed the insect-resistance of a mature tree. We were told that if we used cedar, here in humid Florida, the wood would be rotted in three months. The only wood you can put in the ground here and have it last at all is pressure-treated.

We ended up going with the ACQ posts and we’ll be painting them with a water-based exterior latex paint, both to protect the wood, and so we and our guests will not have to touch the ACQ treatment directly when we touch the gate posts. It was the practical choice here.

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Inexpensive Water Filters

Question from S. M.

I read your tip about avoiding water stored in plastic containers. We’ve been using a Brita pitcher as an inexpensive solution for the water we drink at home. The problem is that the Brita pitchers are plastic. Is there an alternative that is comparable in cost?

Debra’s Answer

I think the answer to this question is no.

I looked at the price of Brita pitchers and they range in price from $10-$35. There just aren’t water filters in that price range that are very effective.

There are really two major concerns about Brita pitchers. I’m going to give you the data I was able to get so you can make your own decision.

First, you were concerned about the plastic. In answer to another question about Toxic Plastic Water Bottles, the plastic in question was polycarbonate. I called Brita and they told me that the plastic used to make Brita pitchers is either styrene acrilonytrile or styrene methyl metacrylate. These plastics are entirely different, and I don’t think they are safer. I’ve included some links at the end of this answer that talk about the health effects of styrene, but what I’ve learned over the years is that when you combine chemicals, their health effects change–for better or worse. I wasn’t able to find anything on the health effects of these specific chemicals. And the form of the plastic also affects how much it will leach. We know styrene leaches from styrene foam cups and fast food containers. Does it leach from a hard plastic water pitcher? I don’t know. Tests probably have never been done. My educated guess is that some kind of plastic is leaching from the container.

My other concern about these pitchers is whether or not they are removing pollutants from the water. They remove chlorine, but do not remove chloramine. So you need to find out if you have chlorine or chloramine in your water. If it’s chloramine, it’s not removing it. Most communities now have chloramine, so check and find out.

Brita filters are designed to remove lead, chlorine, mercury, and sediment. That’s it. If you don’t have these in your water, there’s no point in using one.

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Plywood resins

Question from T. A.

I’m confused about plywood resins. I need to get kitchen cabinets for my new home, but there seems to be no such thing as actual solid wood cabinets. Even the ones called “solid wood” are made with plywood.

I’ve heard that exterior grade plywood has a less toxic resin that interior grade. Can you help me sort all this out?

Debra’s Answer

There are at least a half dozen types of plywood used for different purposes, but they all come down to “indoor” and “outdoor”. The indoor plywoods are generally bonded with urea-formaldehyde resin the one you want to avoid and the outdoor plywoods are always bonded with phenol-formaldehyde resin the OK one because they have to be waterproof.

The word “grade” when referring to plywood means only the quality of the wood. Furniture and cabinet grade means that there are no knot holes or imperfections in the outer layer of the wood on both sides. It does NOT refer to the type of resin used.

I found that when it comes to furniture and cabinet grade plywood, it can be made with either urea-formaldehyde resin or phenol-formaldehyde resin. The only way to know is to contact the manufacturer.

I recently purchased a sheet of “furniture grade” plywood at Lowe’s and it had no odor at all.

If your cabinet maker has his own source of plywood and can confirm for you that it is bonded with phenol-formaldehyde resin, then I believe it would be fine. If not, furniture-grade plywood made with phenol-formaldehyde resin is sold at Woodcraft stores.

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Facial Hair Bleach

Question from F. C.

I am wondering if you know of any non-toxic facial hair bleachers. All of the bleachers that are found in stores contain toxic chemicals. I would appreciate any input that you might have on this.

Debra’s Answer

I would suggest using just plain hydrogen peroxide, though I’ve never tried this myself. Since women use it to bleach their hair, I assume it would work on facial hair too.

If you want to remove facial hair, the best method I’ve found is the Finishing Touch Personal Hair Remover. Yes, it’s one of those cheap infomercial gadgets, but it really does work very well! And it is inexpensive, easy to use, nontoxic, painless, and hair actually grows back lighter and softer.

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Water Filter Basics

Question from J. L.

I just bought a water filter and I’m not sure I bought the right one. What should I be looking for in a water filter?

Debra’s Answer

This is a big question. There is a whole chapter on choosing water filters in Home Safe Home, and I’m also in the process of writing a how-to guide for the website.

Here’s a simple place to start.

Most water filter advertisements say they remove a whole long list of pollutants. But what is more important to know is what pollutants do you want to remove from your water?

The first thing to look at are two key pollutants: chlorine and fluoride.

In the past, the standard disinfectant was chlorine, but it is fast being replaced by chloramine. Chlorine combines with the natural organic matter in water such as dead leave and humus in soil, silt, and mud, to forms trihalomethanes, or THMs, the most common of which is chloroform. According to the EPA, trihalomethanes were present in virtually all chlorinated water supplies in the United States.

So chlorine is now being replaced by chloramines. If your water is not yet treated with chloramines, it probably soon will be. Chloramine is

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Dyes on Imported Fabric

Question from J.G.

I’ve been looking for flannel sheets but noticed that many are imported. Not real clear on this issue, so do I need to be concerned about the type of dye that is used in any imported fabric? Which would mean only made in U.S. cotton or organic would be safe. Thanks for any info.

Debra’s Answer

I’ve been sleeping on flannel sheets for over twenty years and have never noticed an ill effect from the dyes.

If a dye is “colorfast” — that is, that it stays in the fabric without coming out during use or washing, it is staying within the fabric. If, for example, you wore a red shirt, and ended up with red armpits, some of the dye may be absorbed through your skin and into your bloodstream. I am not aware of any reason to be concerned about dyes that are colorfast.

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Is there antifreeze in Swiffer?

Question from L. S.

Let me start by saying how much I love your website! You are an inspiration and have really made me stop, think and change the way my family and I live which was surprisingly simple!

My question is about Swiffer Sweeper Wetjet. Is there really antifreeze in the cleaning solution? Of course when you go to the company they say no but I was just wondering what you might know about it.

Debra’s Answer

This is kind of a complicated question.

When you say “is there antifreeze in Swiffer?” the answer is yes and no. No in the sense that “antifreeze” is not an ingredient of Swiffer and Yes in the sense that propylene glycol is an ingredient of antifreeze and also of Swiffer. Another difference between Swiffer and antifreeze is that antifreeze is appropximately 90% glycols of various sorts and Swiffer is 95 percent water. The propylene glycol in Swiffer is very very diluted.

Propylene glycol is a whole family of compounds that have many different names and uses see Propylene Glycol Ethers Panel website for a full list. It is used in everything from manufacturing polyester and as a solvent for extracting fats and oils to an ingredient in soft drink syrups and flavoring extracts and as a preservative in many foods. It is also used as a coolant in refrigerators, hydrolic fluid and brake fluid, for de-icing airport runways, and in various drugs and cosmetic products.

Propylene glycol is considered to be relatively nontoxic. However, in saying this I am NOT saying that it is safe to drink antifreeze.

If you want to know what is in antifreeze, go to any search engine and type in “antifreeze MSDS”. That’s the Material Safety Data Sheet that lists the hazardous ingredients and their health effects. You’ll find that most of the antifreezes available now are made from ethylene glycol, which has a whole string of horrible health effects. The MSDS sheets for antifreeze products made from polyethylene glycol list hardly any adverse health effects at all. One ad for propylene glycol antifreese says “Safe. Odorless. Tasteless…Propylene Glycol formula makes this…antifreeze non-toxic. So if you need antifreeze for your car, choose one made from propylene glycol.

Because all antifreezes are not made with propylene glycol, you can’t really say that “antifreeze” is in Swiffer.

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Cotton Lunch Bags

Question from M. B.

Love the newsletter. I cannot wait to buy the revised edition of your book!

I have a quick question – are there alternatives to vinyl lunch bags? My nine year old son has a vinyl lunch bag the cooler type that really needs to be replaced and we hate the smell of new vinyl. Paper bags won’t do, he really needs a lunch bag that stays cold for 4+ hours. No school lunch program yet, either. Help!

Thank you so much for all the GREAT info!!

Debra’s Answer

I don’t know of any natural fiber lunch bags that are insulated, but there are a number of nice cotton lunch-bag size bags available online–some are even made with organically-grown cotton and reasonably priced too. What I would do is get a cotton bag and then insert one of those cold packs that you can refreeze. See if that works well enough for you.

Browse the cotton lunch bags on Debra’s List

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Sealing Toxic Particleboard Furniture

Question from P. N.

I have a crazy situation. I put a $500.00 deposit down on some furniture I love, but found out it’s wood veneer over fiber-board. I’ve been agonizing for a week whether to have it delivered or if I should lose my deposit, or at least some of it. My chiropractor muscle-tested me weak on formaldahyde, so it wouldn’t be a great thing, but it was on sale for a really good price, it looks great, it’s what I need, but I don’t want to get sick and I don’t want to feel hypocritical.

I found this stuff called Safe Coat which is supposed to stop most of the out-gassing but my friend says it will just slow it. Do you have any advice?

Debra’s Answer

About your furniture, I’ve used the product you mentioned. The exact product is called Safecoat Safe Seal, which is specifically designed to block formaldehyde emissions from particleboard. Not all Safecoat brand products have this ability, so be sure to get this specific product.

My experience using this product was similar to yours. Many years ago, I purchased an inexpensive dining table to use for a desk that I thought was all solid wood. When I got it home and started putting it together, I found that one essential piece on the underside was particleboard. I really needed a desk and this was the only wood table I had found that I could afford. But the smell of formaldehyde was clearly present.

So I got some Safecoat Safe Seal and completely sealed that one piece of particleboard. There was no more odor of formaldehyde and I was able to work at that desk with no reaction.

Your friend is partially right. My best recommendation is to use solid wood. The sealant will block enough formaldehyde fumes to form an effective barrier, but the particleboard beneath it will continue to outgas behind the barrier of the sealant. Over time, it may need to be reapplied. Multiple coats would give you a more complete seal. I think I applied two or three coats it was twenty years ago!.

Now, about whether you should follow through with the purchase for the reasons you stated…Even if it looks great, it’s what you need and you would lose your deposit, I wouldn’t go through with such a purchase if I knew it would harm my health. If it does affect your health, it will cost much more than your deposit to recover your health, and you will need to get rid of it anyway.

I once had a situation where I was working in a doctor’s office who treated patients who were chemically sensitive. He moved into a new office and needed to put down new flooring. I chose a flooring for him that was nontoxic, but his wife, who had an eye for decorating, wanted a different floor–one she chose for style, not safety. Well, being a good husband, he followed his wife’s advice and installed 2000 square feet of vinyl flooring. The following week he had to rip it out and install the flooring I recommended because none of his patients could come in the office! So it’s better to do it right the first time.

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What Pillow Do You Sleep On?

Question from S. M.

We are curious – what pillows do you sleep on?

Debra’s Answer

Organic wool pillows from Shepherd’s Dream. I have slept on cotton and feather/down pillows, but when I tried wool, I fell in love with them. :- We have the standard size bed pillows and also the wool neck rolls. I love my neck roll so much I carry it with me when I travel. Even though I don’t have back or neck problems, I just sleep better with that extra support.

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