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My Temporary Toxic-Free Corner Kitchenette

A few days ago a reader comments on last week’s post Thermafoil Kitchen Cabinets and Offgassing saying:

I feel duly chastised. We too, moved into our home and didn’t check the cabinets.

We removed old carpet throughout entire home which cost a fortune to redo with tile. We completely re-did (3) toxic bathrooms, and removed tons of toxic cabinetry from the garage which was being used as a workshop. We simply ran out of money.

After we moved in, I discovered the previous owner had put these kitchen cabinets in himself approx. 5 years prior. When opening the cabinets I saw that the back part looked thin and like an mdf. Yes, mortified…

But kitchens are expensive to remodel and we had to stop somewhere.

When finances permit, I’d love to rip out these cabinets. In the meantime, I’ve gotten better living here so I will go out on a limb and say I don’t think I’m being too poisoned by them. Hence, we air out the house often and use air purifiers. For now, it has to suffice.


And I replied:

For me (and I’m not saying you have to do this), I have always operated on “get rid of the exposure first and then figure out how to replace the item with something nontoxic.” Even if that means not a beautiful kitchen, but just a make-do one.


As I’ve written before, currently I’m living with Larry’s family, helping to care for his 85-year-old mom after her husband’s death last year. She’s totally happy to share her kitchen with me, but the logistics just weren’t workable. I’m using a room in a separate building on the property for my office, and Larry built a kitchen for me in the alcove.


Perhaps “kitchen” is not exactly the right word, but it’s a food preparation area with a sink unit I got from IKEA, an apartment-size refrigerator, an island with a butcher-block top and an induction burner. I prepare most of our food here. And some used wood shelves. Investments was less than $500 and all totally nontoxic. Mostly used.


So if it were me, I would rip out your toxic kitchen and be safe, and rebuild as you can afford to.


I’ve been wanting to write about my kitchen but it’s not quite done (needs some sufficient lighting and a beautiful spice rack is in progress from Larry).

Larry put this together for me on a shoestring budget in an alcove of a room we share for an office.

We started with a wall unit from iKEA that has a sink, countertop and shelf, under $200. I’d give you the link but couldn’t find it online so maybe they are no longer selling it.

Then we installed some wooden shelves above. We just got the brackets and wood shelving at a local hardware store. No finish.

We had to do some plumbing to connect to the pipe on the other side of the wall.

We got a used apartment-sized refrigerator in perfect condition (outgassed) from a young couple who were moving and had to sell it that day. $50.

It’s sitting on top of a low wood table (you can’t see it in the picture) that was left by the roadside. Free.

The butcher block island we brought from our house in Florida. Originally about $200 from IKEA but I consider it free because we had been planning to sell it.

Around the left corner there is a tall and wide solid wood shelving unit that we got free just for hauling it away.

We already had the induction cooktop from our kitchen in Florida, and our dehydrator (which at the moment is dehydrating organic peaches from the farmer’s market), and our toaster oven. If we need a full size oven we use Larry’s mom’s oven in the main house.

All of this for less than $500. Perfect? No. Workable? Yes. And totally toxic-free.

It can be done when toxic-free is your priority.

I want to be clear this is temporary. I’ve also remodeled some beautiful full-size toxic-free kitchens.

But the point is, I make toxic-free my first priority. Always. And so my exposure to toxic chemicals is extremely low and infrequent.

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New Fragrance Studies from Anne Steinemann + A Call for Ingredient Disclosure for Fragranced Consumer Products

This week Professor Anne Steinemann, who has been a champion for the elimination of scented products, has released some new studies that are very interesting

Fragranced baby products (both regular and “green”) – nearly all products emitted chemicals classified as hazardous, with no significant difference between the regular and green products.

Essential oils (both regular and “organic”) – all essential oils emitted chemicals classified as hazardous, with no significant difference between the regular and organic products.

Regulation of fragranced products – no law requires disclosure of all ingredients in a consumer product in Australia, or of any ingredients in a mixture called “fragrance”.

Here’s another paper related to fragrance from a different source. This one is about the need for more ingredient disclosure for fragranced consumer products.

UNSW LAW JOURNAL: Something in the Air But Not on the Label: A Call for Increased Regulation Ingredient Disclosure for Fragranced Consumer Products

And here’s another from Professor Steinemann on indoor air quality at a university:

Indoor air quality at a University – the green building had some of the highest levels of pollutants

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California Fires Releasing Radioactive Particles in Smoke

As if breathing smoke itself wasn’t enough, this morning I read a disturbing personal account of one man’s measurements of radioactivity in the smoke coming from our California fires.

As horrific as this season’s fires have been so far, with all the destruction of homes and loss of lives, what disturbs me most is what I have just recorded in my logs, photos and readings. At the peak of the fires and smoke just a few days ago, the readings were significantly higher – – and not by just a little. I recorded a peak reading of 1,333 cpm on the morning of July 31st, and had multiple readings above 1,000 cpm during that period. And, none of the fires is even close to us this time. The likely source of much of the smoke here is a fire near Yosemite National Park, over a hundred miles away. I suspect heavier concentrations of smoke would yield higher results.

Has the vast bulk of the 40 million population of California just been unknowingly exposed to high concentrations of radioactive particles? What are the constituents of these particles? How hazardous are they? It was recently widely reported that radiation from Fukushima, in the form of Cesium-137, was detected in small quantities in California wines. There can be little doubt that Cesium-137 from Fukushima has also been absorbed by all the vegetation here, and when burned, is re-released.

FINDING THE MISSING LINK: California’s Wildfires and Nuclear Radiation—A Personal Story

So what do we do?

1. Filter our air during smoky times.

2. Take PureBody Liquid Zeolite, which can remove radioactive particles from your body. If all the vegetation in California is absorbing radioactive particles, then all the food grown here is absorbing them too.



Is there Glyphosate in Your Breakfast Cereal?

Following last week’s stunning news that a California jury ordered Monsanto to pay $289 million in damages to a man dying of cancer, which he says was caused by his repeated exposure to large quantities of Roundup and other glyphosate-based weed killers while working as a school groundskeeper, Environmental Working Group released the results of their testing of breakfast cereals for glyphosate.

“Glyphosate, an herbicide linked to cancer by California state scientists and the World Health Organization, was found in all but two of 45 samples of products made with conventionally grown oats. Almost three-fourths of those samples had glyphosate levels higher than what EWG scientists consider protective of children’s health with an adequate margin of safety. About one-third of 16 samples made with organically grown oats also had glyphosate, all at levels well below EWG’s health benchmark.”

I’d like to phrase this from a different viewpoint.

45 samples of conventional-grown oats:
43 samples contained glyphosate
31 of the samples had glyphosate levels higher that what is considered safe

16 samples made with organically-grown oats
5 samples contained glyphosate
all were lower than what is considered safe

This tells us that if you eat organic, it’s more likely than not that you won’t be eating glyphosate. But even if you do, it will be at levels considered by EWG to be below the safe levels for children.

EWG: Breakfast With a Dose of Roundup?

Click on link above for more about the testing and a chart of the levels found in various brand-name samples.

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Beyond Toxic-Free Industrial Products

I spend a lot of my time (as you know) working on finding and writing about toxic-free, manufactured industrial products because that’s where most people shop.

But for many years now, I’ve actually been living this “other” life that is beyond industrial products. It’s the next level of living toxic-free. Much more difficult and not available everywhere, but oh so rewarding.

I actually started envisioning living this way in 1987 but gave up because I couldn’t find it. But now thirty years later…

Here’s how I spent last Sunday

I spent most of my day going to our local “farm market” (that’s what they call it here, not “farmer’s market”) and also our annual Gravenstein Apple Fair, which celebrates the harvest of the Gravenstein Apples, unique to our area.

Both of these experiences made me very happy I live here as they take my experience of toxic-free living well beyond the action of choosing products without chemicals from store shelves. They take me back to LIFE.

About 30 years ago I began to study nature, and one thing I learned was about the changing of the seasons. On our civil calendar “The First Day of Autumn” has been fixed September 21, but it’s not. The Autumn Equinox that falls on that day is the middle of autumn.

I had an ancient calendar that marked a date in early August as the end of summer and the beginning of autumn and there was a festival to celebrate it. That this time of year was the end of summer and the beginning of autumn was kind of theoretical to me because it is always hot in August wherever I’ve lived, but I could see small indicators.

I’ve now been going to the farmer’s market every Sunday for almost a year, and this week, I really saw that ‘autumn is a comin’ in’. The Gravenstein apples are here, as well as Gravenstein cider and a tent telling you where you can use the community apple press to press your apples for juice. The multicolored cherry tomatoes are gone. My farmer who has been providing gorgeous cherry tomatoes and bell peppers and Persian cucumbers said good-bye to me this week. He won’t be back until January. The entire spectrum of foods in the fields is changing.

While tomatoes are ending, cauliflower is just beginning. I can’t resist these baby cauliflowers. So tender and sweet.

We don’t see this change of season in the supermarket. But it’s very real at my farmer’s market and on my plate.

We’re moving into the time of harvest. I’m working hard now to bring in the “harvest” of the work I’ve been doing all year to move my work to the next level with a new website. I can start to see the new website now. Structure is up. I’m starting to organize data. I’ve found someone to help me with the technical challenges and we were started work on that yesterday. I’m working full speed ahead.

Eating seasonal, local, organic food is part of my “practice” of living toxic-free. It goes beyond reading labels to avoid toxic chemicals in industrial products, to the next level of aligning with life itself.

For the past two weeks we’ve been sampling different varieties of peaches. We’ve been putting each variety in separate bags with their names on them to get to know them. The farmer explained how the best peaches were the first peaches picked from the outside of the tree where they get the most sun and that the following week that week’s varieties would be coming from the inner branches and new varieties would be being picked from the outside of other trees.

Imaging my surprise when I brought these peaches home and cut them open and there was a sunset of colors inside the peach! Not just white or orange, but white and orange and deep red and purple. I though I would pull a photo off the internet with these colors and couldn’t find one. But this week we bought a whole entire box of peaches, and as I was peeling peach-after-peach I discovered the deep turn of color comes from ripeness. I had just never before eaten a peach that was actually ripe. But it’s only ripe like this for moments. The next day they begin to rot.


This was the first time I’ve been to this particular fair and it moved me deeply.

First, it was a city fair, so it wasn’t at a fairgrounds, it was in a park, under oak trees. There were local craftspeople, food tents set up by local restaurants and children showing and explaining their 4H animals, and bands providing music. The entire fair was the city in microcosm. And Gravenstein apples—apple pie baked by the ladies of a local Church who bake the pies every years, apple fritters, apple cider, boxes of apples, bags of apples—all Gravenstein everything. One food stall offered a grilled cheese sandwich made with slices of Gravenstein apple, local blue cheese and local honey. Apples, apples, apples!

Of course, Larry and I walked in an immediately bought a piece of pie to share. I looked up and everyone around me was eating pie made with our local apples, baked with the loving hands of our local women, and tears came to my eyes. This is what creates community. Once of the reasons I left Florida was because I was once told not to bring homemade food for refreshments to a meeting—only packaged foods. Sitting under the oak trees eating apple pie with my community made me feel part of the community, not only in the moment, but part of it’s history past and future.

I had to include this photo above of the disposal area. It’s more that trash and recycling. It was landfill, recycling, compost, and pig food.

But of course. This is a farming community. And so our fair had woodcarving and historic farm equipment and “agrarian games” (I didn’t see those, but I’m thinking they may be like the Scottish Highland games, which are competitions of skill based on things actually done in local work life).

Here the food is seasonal, local, and organic with full disclosure. You can’t buy Mindful Meats online. They are local. And you can call up all these farms on this chalkboard and they will proudly tell you all about how they grow and raise their food. No secrets here.

This is how life should be!!!!! Everywhere.

Enough. I think you get the idea. I feel like I’ve come home.

As we were walking to our car I said to Larry, “This fair is in agreement with me. It’s just how I would design it. And I am in agreement with it. This is where we belong.”

And he agreed.

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Safe Pesticide for Spiders?


Question from Michelle

Hi Debra,

I ask this question in the light that we are fighting brain cancer. We are also fighting spiders.

We have done everything possible around the house-changing lighting cans, switch plates, stuffing windows with molding, diatomaceous earth and we are still getting spiders.

I called Ecola and although they pushed their standard pesticide which we will never use, they also mention a “green version” made with “essential oils.”

I asked for the ingredients and they are as follows: thyme oil 20%, 2-phenethyl propionate 14%, rosemary oil 8 % and a combo of polyglyceryl oleate, isopropyl alcohol, wintergreen oil, and isopropyl myristate 58%.

Do you consider this a safe, non-toxic alternative? Thank you very much for your advice and help.

Debra’s Answer

First I want to just be clear that I can’t tell you if any product is “safe” for you.

I can tell you if it contains ingredients that are known to be toxic.

But there is a difference between the ability of a substance to cause harm and whether or not it will cause harm FOR YOU. Many factors about your body can affect how sensitive or tolerant you are to a substance or how well you r body can withstand whatever danger may be present.

That said, here’s what I can tell you about these materials.

Thyme oil, rosemary oil and wintergreen oil are essential oils. They are concentrated oils from plant sources. Some people who are sensitive to these oils react to them, but they are not toxic, per se.

2-phenethyl propionate is a natural substance found in peanuts. It is considered a “low risk pesticide” in the US and can be used here without registration. It is commonly used in natural pesticide products.

Polyglyceryl oleate is not considered be toxic or harmful.

Isopropyl alcohol is rubbing alcohol. It is generally made from petroleum when used as an ingredient. It is not expected to be toxic or harmful.

isopropyl myristate is composed of of isopropyl alcohol and myristic acid, a common, naturally occurring fatty acid. It is not expected to be toxic or harmful.

Based on this information, I would say this is likely to not be harmful. It does not, for example, contain known carcinogens.

It’s about as “not harmful” as a pesticide can be, That said, your body may not tolerate this and other products in ways not accounted for by toxicology.

If I needed a pesticide for spiders, I would use this.

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Health Effects of Gas Stoves

I saw a blog on Treehugger that environmental engineering professor Shelly L Miller tweeted a whole rush of scientific papers on the health effects of air emissions from gas stoves, so I had to run right over to her Twitter page and get them for you. Imagine my surprise when I arrived on her page and Twitter said Shelly “follows you.”

As a home cook I am a fan of using gas over electric, and thought I was doing OK because I kept my stove well-adjusted. But when I started checking my indoor air with a real-time monitor, the VOCs spiked every time I cooked something on the stove.

Now here’s the scientific data about how that’s harmful to health.

BTW, I’m no longer cooking with gas. I either use my induction burner in my tiny kitchen or my mother-in-law’s electric stove.

NOTE some of these links are unclear, but I’ve just put everything here as I found it. I’ll continue to add to this list and feel free to add studies you find in the comments.

From Shelly Miller’s:

Induction stoves a great option for consumers to move towards a fossil-fuel free home, plus it eliminates a huge source of pollution (NO2, CO, particles) in the home. #healthyhome #indoorairpollution
7 Aug 2018

Get ready, I’ll be posting a bunch of references/studies on the association between adverse respiratory health and gas stoves #sciencetwitter #indoorairpollution #healthyhomes
8:46 AM – 8 Aug 2018

From the #SixCities study: strong evidence for causal effect of 2ndhand smoke on increased respiratory illness and exposure to gas stoves associated with reduced pulmonary function – all in children.
8:51 AM – 8 Aug 2018

Respiratory symptoms were more common in children exposed to a gas stove. “Respiratory Symptoms in Children and Indoor Exposure to Nitrogen Dioxide and Gas Stoves” | American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine
8:53 AM – 8 Aug 2018

Women who used gas for cooking had increased risk of asthma-like symptoms and had reduced lung function and increased airways obstruction compared to those who did not use gas
8:56 M – 8 Aug 2018

Children from households with gas stoves had a greater history of respiratory illness before age 2 and small but significantly lower levels of FEV1 and FVC corrected for height
9:02 AM – 8 Aug 2018

#openaccess and shows the impact of using ventilation while cooking Shelly L Miller added,
9:05 AM – 8 Aug 2018

In homes using gas stoves, children whose parents reported using ventilation when using the stove had higher lung function and lower odds of asthma, wheeze, bronchitis compared to homes that never used ventilation or did not have ventilation available
9:05 AM – 8 Aug 2018

OK thats enough on gas stoves & respiratory health for now. Over 25 years ago when I was a PhD student at Berkeley talking to an EPA scientist about the most important #indoorairquality issue, and he said: gas stoves, because the association with adverse health is clear.
9:16 AM – 8 Aug 2018

And yet another study showing CO2 levels in offices above 1000 ppm causes lower cognitive functioning. Great study @j_g_allen Shelly L Miller added,
9:17 PM – 9 Aug 2018

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Exploding Glassware and Other Hazards of Tempered “Safety” Glass

This morning I received an email asking for a brand of glass that doesn’t shatter.

The reader had just had a Duralux glass shatter into “a thousand pieces” in her daughter’s hand.

This is not the first time I’ve heard about various glass items spontaneously shattering.

But I have never never never in 40 years of using only glass glassware of various types…I have never had a glass shatter in my hand or sitting on a shelf or in any other way, shape or form.

So I decided to look this up in the internet and see if it had been investigated as a hoax.

The first thing I found was an informative blog post from another mom who had experienced shattering with the same type of Duralex glass. She had done some research and had found a reference that explained there is a phenomenon by which toughened (tempered) glass may spontaneously break without any apparent reason.

Then amazon had more than two dozen reviews with similar stories of shattering.

Here’s another discussion group where many users had theirs shatter and many others had no problem.

But for those that had the glassware shatter, they all say the same thing: it shattered into a million pieces, “not like any glass I’ve seen break before.”

There’s no mention of any kind of hoax.

As I continued to research I found this shattering is not limited to glassware, it’s any kind of tempered glassused to make any kind of product (see the video).

Ironically, it’s called “tempered safety glass” and is designed to break into those tiny pieces instead of big shards of glass that are even sharper. [How and why tempered safety glass was developed CHICAGO WINDOW EXPERT: Safety Glass: Is it Really Safe?]

Apparently microscopic imperfections during the manufacturing process eventually grow for days, months and years — long after a customer buys the glass product.

So what can we conclude from this?

Glass has been used for centuries to make household items. Really. It’s a pre-industrial material. When I was in Cologne, Germany I visited the Ancient Glass collection and was awestruck by the beauty of this handmade glass.

Glass is not toxic unless toxic metals are added (such as leaded crystal glassware).

Glass can break. Tempered glass can shatter.

When I was much younger, glass was universally used as a packaging material. But shampoo bottles would slip out of soapy hands and break, which is why all shampoo and many other products are now packaged in plastic.

But I have never had any glass spontaneously break that I’ve ever used. Of course, some glass items break if I drop them.

Perhaps it’s because I tend to buy glass items that are more heavy duty. I’m looking around on my desk and I have a tumbler made of recycled glass that is about 1/4” thick. I’m not going to drop it on the floor as a test, but I’m thinking if it did, it would break into a few large pieces. Likewise my water bottle is very heavy glass. I have had a few delicate pieces, but they don’t last long because they break if they are not handled very carefully.

My conclusion is we shouldn’t abandon glass altogether, but we need to learn a lot more about it to be able to use it wisely and safely.

There are many risks in life. Just because a glass might break doesn’t mean we should never use glasses. That would be like saying one is never going to ride in a car or cross a street because there are accidents. But we take precautions to reduce risk.

More to come about glass…

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Thermafoil Kitchen Cabinets and Offgassing

Question from Tammi

Hi Debra,

I am so grateful for your site as it has helped me on so many issues – THANK YOU.

I just moved into a new house and found that the cabinets are covered in thermafoil (I was suspicious because the drawers have spots that are peeling.) I would guess that they are about 7-10 years old. Would they have offgassed?

It looks like the thermafoil is only on the doors, so I have been thinking of replacing just the doors.

The cabinets do not look like wood either but they would have hopefully offgassed as they are probably the originals making them 20 years old.

It was done by Aristokraft and they have a solid wood doors as well but I am guessing there are other issues with them.

I searched for over a year for a healthier house and am happy with the house but so disappointed to find these cabinets.

Debra’s Answer

First I’m a bit concerned that you “moved into a new house” and apparently AFTER doing so you “found the cabinets are covered with thermafoil.” Just for future reference and everyone else reading this, finding out the materials used to make the kitchen cabinets is something you should have done BEFORE purchasing the house.

Here’s a description of Thermafoil from Kitchen Cabinet Kings : “Despite its name, thermofoil contains no metallic materials. Rather, thermofoil is a type of vinyl. Using heat, the vinyl is fused to a wooden surface, usually particleboard. The result is a kitchen cabinet with a smooth, seamless finish. Thermofoil is most often seen in white or off-white, although some manufacturers offer a variety of colors and even faux wood finishes. Thermofoil is also sometimes applied to existing cabinets as a refinishing technique. If you choose this option, be sure to use a professional with positive references, as the results can vary widely.”

Now that we know that Thermafoil is vinyl and not aluminum foil.

I can’t tell from your description if the cabinets were originally wood and refaced with Thermafoil or if they are not wood cabinets.

If they are wood cabinets, you may be able to have the Thermafoil removed and the wood doors refinished. Or replace the doors.

I would suggest that you have a professional come look at your cabinets, tell you what the materials are and give you some options on what you can do at this point and how much it would cost. I don’t have enough information from what you’ve told me. But I would definitely remove the Thermafoil.

Regarding outgassing, you can measure outgassing with a VOC meter such as one of these .

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Window Air Conditioner Without Odor?

Question from Bonnie

Hi Debra,

I have owned Kenmore window ac over the years – no chemical odors.

I have a new one and now is 3 months old – still has the new smell chemical.

Could you post to ask others if they found one that has less odor. Thank you.

Debra’s Answer

OK posted. Readers, any recommendations for a window air conditioning unit that doesn’t smell like plastic?

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