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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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Cotton Swimsuits

Question from A. Z.

What kind of swimsuit do you wear when you swim in your chlorine-free pool? Are cotton swimsuits available, or swimsuits made from other natural fibers?

Debra’s Answer

I have had cotton swimsuits in the past, but today I wear standard nylon swimsuits for a couple of reasons. One is because nylon is a more suitable fabric for the function of swimwear (it dries a lot faster than cotton and doesn’t mold) and the other is that cotton swimsuits are just really hard to find now.

I used to have a cotton swimsuit that I loved. It was a strapless tank made from woven fabric that was then gathered together with elastic thread to make it stretchy, then plain fabric straps were added. I had a thought that one could take two pieces of fabric and sew them together to make chennels through which you could put elastic, and then make a suit from that, but it was too complicated for my patience with sewing!

I also had an idea to make a swimsuit out of cotton/lycra “tube top” fabric. It comes in one piece so there are no seams. You can just cut it and make a strapless top that hugs your body. That didn’t work. Just wearing the fabric without swimming, it stretched out so much I couldn’t see that it would stand up to wearing it in the water.

I found some pictures of cotton swimsuits from the past that could be easily sewn. One was a kind of a loose jumpsuit with a belt with the legs cut to the length of very short shorts. Another was a loose tank top over bikini bottoms. But these are no longer available readymade as far as I could find. Kwik-Sew has a pattern for a modest two-piece swimsuit, designed to be made with cotton fabrics.

Light and Tight or Wet with Regret: Why Fabric Matters in a Swimsuit has this to say about cotton swimsuits:

I also for a time wore a cotton dance leotard as a swimsuit. You can get them from B. Coole. What I found with the one I had (not from B. Coole) was that over time the elastic stretched out and the fabric began to disintigrate (to the point where you could see right through it!). So this option is fine for a time, but you’ll need to replace these suits more often than nylon.

Safe tile grout and backerboard

Question from B. C.

Thanks to all your tips, my wife is really feeling much better with her MCS. In fact, we’re now carefully considering putting a tile floor where the carpet used to be in the bathroom adjacent to her bedroom. Using your recommendations we have found safe tile adhesives and grout sealers but we can’t find anything about safe grouts.

Can you recommend any products for a chemically safe grout and are there any problems to watch out for in the cement board underlayment materials?

 

Debra’s Answer

Grouts can have additives that that can off-gas.  Safer brands include Mapei and Summitville-700.

The standard cement board underlayment is fine. Two brand names we have used are Hardibacker and Durock. There is also Wonderboard, which was the first product of this kind.

Nontoxic garden hose

Question from R. G.

I was wondering if you know of a safe nontoxic garden hose, one that doesn’t leach any toxic chemicals or plasticizers into the water?

Debra’s Answer

All garden hoses are made from either polyvinyl chloride “PVC” or “vinyl”, rubber, or a combination of the two.

Vinyl hoses are the least expensive but also the most toxic, both in use and in manufacture. A number of environmental groups have called even for the banning of PVC because of the environmental effects of its manufacture. And PVC can leach vinyl chloride, which is carcinogenic. How much vinyl chloride ends up in the water as it is rushing through a hose? I don’t know. Probably more leaches into the water sitting in the hose in the hot sun. For that reason, it’s probably a good idea to empty the hose after you turn off the faucet.

As far as I can tell, rubber garden hoses are made from natural rubber, the milky latex of the Hevea tree more about obtaining latex from the tree Though it starts out from a renewable plant resource, by the time it is processed it is anything but natural.

Many chemicals are added to natural latex to improve performance, making natural rubber latex suitable for use in the manufacture of rubber products. Chief among them are chemical accelerators used to speed up the manufacturing process, vulcanizing agents, reinforcing agents, filler, pigments, blowing agents and more some exact chemical names In terms of toxicity, the most dangerous health effect I found was skin allergy.

Whether or not the chemicals in natural rubber hoses leach into the product water and what their toxicity may be, I don’t know. Though rubber hose is heavier and more bulky, it is your best buy for durability. Sears says their Craftsman Rubber Hose is the last garden hose you will ever need to buy. Rubber hose is also more pliable and coils more easily in cold weather than vinyl hose.

Rubber hoses are easily available. In addition to Sears, both Lowe’s and The Home Depot carry rubber garden hoses, and most good nurseries will as well. Rubber hoses say “rubber” on the label. If no material is specified, it’s probably vinyl.

Updated 2019: If you are still using a garden hose that may be made with PVC or have lead-containing metal fittings, check out this study by healthystuff.org. It’s a bit out of date but it still provides great guidance. Debra’s List recommends Water Right hoses and Terrain Heritage hoses.

Safety of titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, and iron oxides

Question from R. R.

I’ve recently found some cosmetic powders mostly made of cornstarch and iron oxides. Are iron oxides just as bad as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide? After reading about these ingredients in your e-book Debra’s Guide To Choosing Natural Sun Protection I’m wondering if iron oxides are just as bad.

Thanks! Thanks also for the e-book!!! It’s great info!!!

Debra’s Answer

Iron oxides are used in almost 2,000 cosmetics products. I don’t know how they are processed, but they are naturally occurring minerals in Nature. I was once driving through the deserts in the Southwest and stopped to look at the colored rock by the side of the road. They had so many colors I could see how they could just be ground up to make cosmetics.

The Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep website says only that they are concerned that iron oxides have not been assessed for safety. I have not heard of any concerns about the health effects of iron oxides over the years.

Contrast this to the fact that the same source says titanium dioxide is a suspected human carcinogen and zinc oxide is known to be an immune system toxin and a respiratory toxicant, and may present risks to human reproduction and development based on limited data, and I would say iron oxides are much safer. I don’t see any reason to not use them.

Types of Wood Flooring

Question from R. W.

We want to replace carpeting in our daughter’s bedroom. She is chemically sensitive and so we were comparing prefinished wood flooring with laminate wood flooring. At our local Lowe’s store we saw Bruce wood floor and a Pergo laminate. Is the laminate more toxic than the wood ? We hope to use a kind that needs neither gluing or nailing. The laminate is thicker for about the same price. Would it be more toxic?

We have also found an engineered hardwood Bruce flooring that does not require nailing or gluing. Since it is engineered, does that present any outgassing problems? Also if it requires laying foam underneath, would that present a challenge to the chemically sensitive since it would be sealed under the flooring?

Debra’s Answer

I went down to my local Lowe’s and looked at all of these floorings.

First, let’s just clear up what all these different types of flooring are.

Solid wood flooring is one piece of wood top to bottom. Generally it is nailed to a wood subfloor. Most prefinished solid wood flooring I’ve seen has been nontoxic–the finish is applied at the factory and baked on.

Engineered flooring is made up of layers of wood stacked and glued under heat and pressure. It can be installed over most subfloors. The Bruce engineered flooring 6626 I examined at Lowe’s just smelled like wood to me. It did not seem especially toxic. Some engineered floors require plastic foam installed underneath. I wasn’t able to find out what type of plastic is used to make the foam underlayment. While it didn’t seem particularly toxic in the store, I’ve had experiences in the past where people purchased flooring thinking it was safe from a small sample, only to find that a roomful or a houseful was pretty toxic. As always, my best advice is to avoid plastics whenever possible, particularly when other safer products are available.

A floating floor is not attached to the floor, except around the edges. It does not require glue, however, glue is not a problem if you choose a nontoxic type, such as yellow woodworker’s glue.

Laminate flooring is made up of various layers of material laminated together. There’s a good illustration of what laminate flooring is made up of on the Armstrong website. Basically, laminate flooring is high-density fiberboard, covered by an “image layer” that makes it look like wood, topped with a protective layer of plastic. It is an inexpensive, easy-care alternative to wood and waxing that can be installed over any subfloor. It won’t last as long as wood we are still walking on the original oak floors installed in our home over 65 years ago and the finish feels like plastic. It’s basically a fake wood floor. The one MSDS sheet I looked at showed that brand of laminate flooring emitted formaldehyde fumes, so all in all, I don’t recommend laminate flooring. That said, a friend of mine recently installed a laminate floor all through her living room and it didn’t smell horrible.

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Fels Naptha Soap

Question from Z. X.

I’ve seen many recipes for cleaning items using Fels Naptha soap. Do you have any idea of whether this has toxic ingredients?

Debra’s Answer

100 years ago, Fels-Naptha was the most commonly used laundry soap. It is hard to find now, but is still available on the internet, if not at your local grocer. Often it is misplaced with the bar soaps for handwashing rather than in the laundry section. It is still used today for poison ivy treatment, garden fertilizer and insecticide as well as laundry detergent and for stain removal.

When Fels Naptha was first made, most soap was made from tallow and lye. Tallow was obtained by boiling and filtering butchered fat from cows, pigs, chickens, horses, and other animals.

Today the label lists “cleaners, soil and stain removers, chelating agents, colorants, and perfume” as the ingredients. The warning on the label says, “CAUTION: EYE AND SKIN IRRITANT. Avoid contact with eyes and prolonged contact with skin. Keep Out Of Reach Of Children.

I contacted the manufacturer Dial Corp to get the Material Safety Data Sheet MSDS. In addition to soap dust, the only other hazardous ingredient listed was “Hydrocarbons, Terpene processing by-products CAS# 68956-56-9.” I was unable to find any information on the toxicity of this chemical. My standard databases just said things like “not enough data available”. But it is a petrochemical ingredient.

The MSDS for Fels Naptha from the National Institutes of Health Household Products Database was slightly different. Under “Chronic Health Effects” it says, “Chronic toxicity testing has not been conducted on this product. However, the following effects have been reported on one of the product’s components. Stoddard solvent: Repeated or prolonged exposure to high concentrations has resulted in upper respiratory tract irritation, central and peripheral nervous system effects, and possibly hematopoetic, liver and kidney effects.” Stoddard solvent is another name for mineral spirits, which are, like petroleum distillates, a mixture of multiple chemicals made from petroleum. Exposure to Stoddard solvent in the air can affect your nervous system and cause dizziness, headaches, or a prolonged reaction time. It can also cause eye, skin, or throat irritation.

Both MSDS’s note that the ingredients are not identified as carcinogens or potential carcinogens. Their health effects rating is 1, which is “slight.”

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ARE TOXIC PRODUCTS HIDDEN IN YOUR HOME?

Toxic Products Don’t Always Have Warning Labels. Find Out About 3 Hidden Toxic Products That You Can Remove From Your Home Right Now.