Answers to Your Questions About Toxic Free Living

Natural Bristle Toothbrushes

Question from J. A.

I am in Australia and find a need for toothbrushes for my 2 year old son, also for my sister. My son has allergies to not only plastics but soft silicones ie: teats, flanges, bottles that have been sealed with silicone. All foods have to be made from scratch.

I would love your help in finding a wooden toothbrush with natural bristles, not nylon some companies seem to think this is a natural product. Any help you can give me would be much appreciated.

Debra’s Answer

There are actually a number of natural bristle brushes available. These two would be best for your son, as they have wood handles instead of plastic: Caswell Massey and Squeaky Monroe.

Other websites sell natural bristle toothbrushes with acetate handles. The first time I saw this and read that it was “natural and biodegradable” I thought they were wrong–acetate is a plastic. Well, I looked it up and found that while it is manmade and it is a plastic, acetate is a specific type of plastic–called cellulose acetate–made by introducing the acetyl radical of acetic acid commonly known as vinegar into cellulose from wood-pulp and/or cotton fibers. This combination produces a tough, clear plastic that is used to make a wide variety of household products, including frames for eyeglasses.

Other websites that sell natural bristle toothbrushes include

Classic Shaving,, and These dental sites carry natural bristle brushes not because they are natural, but because “they remove plaque better than any other conventional brush in the world.”

Internatural carries Fuchs German toothbrushes that have a patented replaceable-head design. This allows you to replace the bristles regularly without disposing of the entire toothbrush.

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Emergency preparedness for pets

Question from L. R.

After reading in your newsletter about your disaster preparedness preparations and then seeing you mention your cat, I thought I would pass along some information about disaster preparedness for pets.

I’ve been corresponding with someone I met on an internet group since we both have cats we love dearly and could not leave behind in an emergency, a problem that evidently caused many hurricane/flood victims not to evacuate. With earthquakes or, potentially, terrorism there is no warning in order to evacuate, but if an earthquake or other emergency makes buildings unlivable, one may have to evacuate on very short notice.

She shared a website with me that has excellent information on emergency preparation for pets. They are working to rescue many pets in New Orleans and surrounding areas.

The organization is Noah’s Wish. They have resources on disaster/evacuation planning for all kinds of pets, not just cats.

I had never heard of them until my internet group friend told me about their site after I mentioned I couldn’t imagine leaving my cat if emergency shelters didn’t permit pets and that I’d probably stay in my car to keep my cat with me. She said she’d probably do the same!

Debra’s Answer

Good advice! Thanks!

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Touching Up No-VOC Paint

Question from M.M.

We are ready to paint a new house. I prefer using low- to no-VOC paint. Our painter is suggesting regular paint Sherwin-Williams “Builders Solution” because we are using some deeper colors and will need to tint…which would bring the low to no VOC paint up to VOC levels of the regular paint. Is this so?

I keep seeing the SafeCoat paint brand as I do some research. Have you ever used it? Can it be touched-up without noticing? Cleanable? I’m being told low to no VOC paint cannot be touched up easily and you have to end up re-doing the entire wall. What has been your experience??

Also, I keep getting told the VOC’s in regular paint are gone after the paint is dry…that the out-gassing just stops at that point. I cannot seem to find any information or research showing otherwise. Do you know of any?

Thanks so much.

Debra’s Answer

Here’s my experience.

I’ve used Sherwin-Williams low-VOC paint. I ran into a problem once getting their low-VOC paint because they couldn’t give me the dark color I wanted. I went to Benjamin Moore and had no problem getting my color in low-VOC. I don’t know if a deeper tint increases VOCs, but if it does, wouldn’t it increase VOCs of regular paint too, to higher than normal? So you would still come out with less VOCs by using the low-VOC base.

The VOCs in “regular” latex paint ARE gone when the paint is dry. VOC is the abbreviation for volatile organic chemicals. They evaporate as the paint dries. So the importance of low-VOC is during application and drying, and, of course, reducing toxic waste and emissions into the environment. Once the paint has dried, they are the same, in my experience. Low-VOC paints were actually developed to reduce outdoor air pollution from the VOCs.

Prior to low-VOC paints, I used to use regular water-based latex paint. Then I would put a space heater in the room for about 24 hours. It would completely dry in the 24 hours and have no odor. So if you must use the water-based latex, this is a way to minimize your exposure. But I would still like to see your painter use the low-VOC.

I have not used SafeCoat. I have nothing against it, just usually have been in a situation where I couldn’t afford the extra price or didn’t have time to wait for delivery. I’ve heard the same things you have, but have no personal experience.

So I asked around. Here are two responses from people who DO have experience with SafeCoat.

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Christmas Trees and Ornaments

Question from P. C.

With the holiday season approaching and trying to live non-toxic for the first time, how do you feel about live christmas trees? And if they are OK, how to decorate them?

Debra’s Answer

Personally, I just decorate my tree with white lights and put a metal gold star on the top. It’s very simple, but always magical for me.

That’s the short answer. But there are many details to consider about the health and environmental effects of a Christmas tree.

A good place to start is with my Christmas Trees excerpt from the new revised edition of Home Safe Home. It discusses the basic health issues and gives some suggestions on how to enjoy an “allergy-free” Christmas tree.

Then you need to decide what type of tree you want. Choosing a Tree outlines the environmental benefits and harm of the different options. Fresh Cut Trees and Living Trees have more details on these two choices. Make Your Own Recycled Tree tells how you can make a “tree” by recycling scrap evergreen boughs.

I’ve got lots of suggestions for nontoxic and earthwise Tree Ornaments and instructions for decorating my favorite holiday tree–a Tree of Life.

And finally, How To Recycle Your Holiday Tree and, if you’re interested The History of Holiday Trees celebrating the season with evergreens is a lot older than Christmas!.

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Pollution in Beach Sand?

Question from S.W.

I hear so much about polluted beaches. I was wondering if I should boil or somehow sanitize beach sand I bring home before I use it to soften up my feet.

Debra’s Answer

All beaches are different in terms of their level of pollution. Here in Florida where I live, we have a lot of beaches. They test the water regularly and we get beach alerts if the local regulators find that pollutants go to levels high enough to cause illness.

I’m not particularly concerned about sand. It’s siting out in the hot sun all day. The sun is a natural disintectant.

I go to the beach all the time and walk on the sand and swim in the water. I’m not concerned about it at my local beach. Learn more about the specific area where you are collecting your sand. Certainly there are polluted beaches, but not all beaches are polluted.

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Is there formaldehyde in gelatin capsules?

Question from T. S.

I have recently heard that the capsules used to package vitamins and herbs are not good for you. Is this true? if so, what is a good alternative to getting the benefits of the these nutrients if not in pill form. It seems difficult when most of us have neither the time or resources for growing our own food.

Debra’s Answer

The capsules used to package vitamins and herbs come in different types.

A standard gelatin capsule is made from animal gelatin. This is a by-product of cooking the meat and bones. If you have ever made meat stock for soup, when you chill it, you will notice that it gels. Gelatin, whether sold plain, mixed with fruit flavoring and sugar to make a popular dessert, or made into gel caps is this same gelatin.

There are also vegetarian capsules with are made from plant based cellulose.

Both of these geletins are safe to eat.

The problem with gel caps is they may contain formaldehyde as a preservative.

The Organic Materials Review Institute–an organization that provides certifiers, growers, manufacturers and suppliers an independent review of products intended for use in certified organic production, handling, and processing–has a whole twenty-five page review of gelatin that tells everything you would ever want to know about what gelatin and gel caps are made of and how they are made, written in 2002.

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