Submitted questions will be posted with my response by the following Tuesday or before.
Submitted comments will be moderated and approved within 24 hours.
The precautionary principle is an approach sometimes used by policy makers in situations where there is the possibility of harm from making a decision and conclusive evidence is not yet available. It essentially means better safe than sorry. This is the approach that I use in evaluating the toxicity of products. When I research a product or material and there is credible, emerging evidence that it is potentially harmful I will recommend against its use. This doesn’t mean you should never use it or throw it away, but rather it’s an indication that there is a reason to be concerned and safer alternatives should be sought when possible. Think tobacco and asbestos. For years consumers were told that these products were safe, in spite of evidence to the contrary.
The current regulations in our country are not even close to adequate to keep us safe.
- Over 40,000 registered chemicals are in use in the U.S. and only 1% have been rigorously tested for safety.1, 2
- In the U.S., 11 chemicals have been restricted for use in Personal Care products vs. 1373 in the EU.3
- Congress passed a law in 2016 to improve regulation. As of 2020, the EPA is actually requiring less testing than under the old law.4
The belief that the amount of chemicals present in consumer products is so low that it is not concerning doesn’t take into account the cumulative or synergistic effect of the onslaught of chemicals we are exposed to every day. This example from oecotextiles.blog illustrates this risk. “a dose of mercury that would kill 1 out of 100 rats, when combined with a dose of lead that would kill 1 out of 1000 rats – kills every rat exposed!”
We must advocate for dramatic improvements from government and industry in chemical management. In the meantime, let’s choose to be safe rather than sorry.
Question from B
I have not found a fabric i like via any of the natural couch companies. How can I source my own non toxic fabrics? Do you have any suggestions for interior designers who can help me design a non toxic home? I am in MA. thank you.
I don’t know of a designer in Massachusetts but if you do find one that claims to design healthy homes I would check the credentials that qualify them to do that kind of work. Ideally, I would look for someone with a BBNC certification from the Building Biology Institute.
I am also available to consult with a local designer.
I was helping a reader evaluate a product made from polyethylene terephthalate and thought it would be helpful to share the information because it can be confusing. This material has more than one chemical name as well as many brand names. Also, surprisingly, it is not a phthalate!
Debra Lynn Dadd wrote the following article on zerotoxics.com.
POLYESTER is a category of polymers that have a specific structure. As a material, it usually refers to a the type of polyester called POLYETHYLENE TEREPHTHALATE (PET)
It is the most common thermoplastic polymer resin of the polyester family and is used to make
- fibers for clothing (where it is called “polyester” or Dacron)
- recyclable containers for liquids and foods (where it is called PET or PETE)
- film for food packaging and space blankets (where it is called MPET or Mylar)
Polyester and polyethylene terephthalates are one and the same.
Polyester is the third most-produced polymer in the world, after polyethylene (PS) and polypropylene (pp).
GOTS-Approved Polyester & Polyethylene Terephthalate
Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) approves certain non-agricultural materials for use in making GOTS-certified products that are primarily made from organic agricultural materials. These “approved” materials must meet the portion of their standard that prohibits a whole list of toxic chemicals. “GOTS-Approved Polyester” and “GOTS-Approved Polyethylene Terephthalate” are polyester and polyethylene terephthalate, respectively, that qualifies to be used in GOTS-certified organic products because it does not contain any of their prohibited chemicals.
This makes polyester and polyethylne terephthalate two of the few plastics approved by GOTS for the making of the incidental “accessory” pieces needed to construct a quality product.
NOTE: About 85% of polyesters contain antimony, which is not allowed by GOTS. GOTS-certified polyester is tested to ensure no antimony is present in the polyester approved by GOTS. This does not mean that all polyester is approved by GOTS, only polyester that is free of antimony and other toxic residues.
There are some common misconceptions about polyethylene terephthalate.
1. Polyethylene terephthalate contains ZERO polyethylene.
Plastics are made of basic units called “monomers.”
The monomer for PET is ethylene terephthalate. PET is commonly recycled, and has the number 1 as its recycling symbol.
The monomer for polyethylene is ethylene. PE is also commonly recycled and has the number 4 as it’s recycling symbol.
These are two different plastics.
2. Polyethylene terephthalate contains ZERO phthalates.
PET and PETE are acronyms for “polyethylene terephthalate.” It’s logic to think that “terephthalate” contains “phthalates.” But the toxic “phthalates” that leach out of plastics are “orthophthalates,” which is a completely different type of chemical than “terephthalate.”
PET has been approved as safe by the FDA and the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI). In 1994, ILSI stated that “PET polymer has a long history of safe consumer use, which is supported by human experience and numerous toxicity studies.”
I also researched to see if there was any release of chemical gasses from PET into the air. (this is called “outgassing”).
NASA has a website called Outgassing Data for Selecting Spacecraft Materials Online where you can look up all kinds of materials they have assessed because they need to choose materials for spaceships that do not outgas. They found that PET needed zero curing time to be used in a spaceship. So if you are designing a spaceship or some other small area, PET would be a good choice.
All that said, in recent years there have been some concerns about specific uses of polyether and PET.
Problems with leaching from water bottles are the most widely publicized problem. Most commonly discussed is leaching of antimony, a metalloid element that is used as a catalyst in the making of PET. After manufacturing, a detectable amount of antimony can be found on the surface of the PET. While this can be removed with washing, antimony within the PET can migrate into the water in the bottle, or any other liquid contained in a PET bottle. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the health risk of the resulting low concentrations is negligible (1% of the “tolerable daily intake).
Antimony is also present in polyester fibers, but again, will you actually be exposed to it and will it cause a health effect? This well-reserched post says no: O ECOTEXTILES: WIll the antimony in polyester fabric hurt me?
There have also been reports of leaching of aldehydes from PET bottles, enough to give an off-taste to bottled water. Even extremely low concentrations (10–20 parts per billion in the water) of acetaldehyde can produce an off-taste. Whether or not this poses a health risk is undetermined.
Question from Marcella
I was just browsing all the clothing websites you have for plus size women. It is a shame that I cannot find 100% linen whether organic or not for plus size women (22W or above 3X) that is affordable. It appears that these designers are making clothes for the rich and famous only. You pay more the label itself than you do the material.
Do you know or can you find a website that will meet the need of my request?
Question from Anne
I have a neurological disability and recently purchased a GOTS certified mattress. I want to find an encasement (rather than a protector) that is made of GOTS certified cotton but has a waterproof membrane between the layers of cotton. Its okay if the membrane is polyurethane but I want it to be sandwiched between organic cotton. Any ideas?
Yes, Naturepedic has the purest one I know of. They use GOTS certified organic cotton, GOTS certified polyurethane, and everything is produced in a GOTS certified facility.
Question from Mary
Can you tell me if Pure CureDenture Detox is still in business? If not, do you know of a similar product or company where I might purchase detox kits to make my partial denture non toxic. I appreciate your time. Thank you.
Here is the company website. I do believe their process is safe as it is based on a proprietary blend including natural charcoal. However, I just want to be clear that there is no third party testing to authenticate that this eliminates toxics. I don’t think there is harm in trying.
Question from EM
Hello! I was recently trying to figure out what my garden hose is made of, and it turns out that it’s made of PVC (not surprising). What is surprising is that it’s advertised as “toxin-free — no lead, BPA or phthalates.” That’s confusing, and I’m suspicious. Your thoughts?
This is a great question. The answer is complex because there is no government regulation of the term “toxic-free”. That leaves the consumer in the position of evaluating the safety of the product. Lead, BPA, and phthalates are among the more concerning chemicals in PVC but they are not the only ones. PVC tends to have more chemical additives than some other plastics. These additives are not typically disclosed. They can include cadmium and biocides. PVC also off-gases. The only way to know for certain what exposure you have from this hose is to test the hose itself or the water that passes through. Out of caution, I’d steer clear of any PVC.
I’ve had several people ask me if air fryers are safe. There are really two parts to this question. First, we need to understand if the food made in an air fryer is healthy. Next, we need to see if the appliance itself has unhealthy materials that can leach into food. I’m not a nutritionist so the first part of the question is outside my area of expertise, but I have been learning about and eating a healthy diet for most of my life so I’ll offer my opinion.
Food made in an air fryer is healthier than deep fried food but that doesn’t mean it’s healthy. The main benefits over deep frying are fewer calories, less fat and lower levels of acrylamide. Air fryers use very hot, circulated air to cook the food. As a result, you can use a fraction of the amount oil used for deep frying. Some fryers claim to reduce fat up to 75%. Acrylamide is a compound that is formed when certain high-carbohydrate foods such as potatoes are cooked for long periods at high heat. Acrylamide is a probable carcinogen and has been linked to certain cancers including endometrial, ovarian, breast, pancreatic, and esophageal cancer (source). One study found that air fryers reduce acrylamides up to 90% (source).
Cooking meat at high temperatures for long periods form harmful substances including heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) which have been linked to an increased risk of cancer (source). HCAs are formed when meat is cooked above 300° for long periods and PAHs are formed when meat is exposed to smoke and flames. Meat cooked in an air fryer can still form these compounds.
To reduce the risk of forming HCAs and PAHs, avoid burning the food and remove any charred portions. It’s also really important to use some form of ventilation. At least when you fry on the stove top you can (and should!) use your range hood to ventilate and when you barbeque you are outdoors. You need to find a similar method of ventilation when air frying. Open a window or find a safe way to use the air fryer under your range hood to reduce the smoke and fumes.
Do air fryers contain toxic materials that could leach into food?
This part of the question is my area of expertise!
Many air fryers have non-stick coatings and are made of plastic. I don’t recommend them.
Many air fryers use either a PTFE-based coating or ceramic coating. You can read more about why I don’t recommend either of these in The Ultimate Guide to Non-Toxic Cookware. Some people believe that ceramic coatings are safe but there is emerging evidence of risks associated with their use. At best, more research is needed to prove their safety.
Many air fryers have a plastic casing. Even if the plastic does not touch the food it will heat up during cooking which can increase off-gassing. Read more about the toxicity of plastic here. Also, some may use insulation to keep the plastics from getting too hot. It’s not known what materials are used for this insulation.
I don’t recommend any of these models because they are made of plastic and/or use non-stick coatings.
Ninja Air Fryer
The basket and crisper plate are made of aluminum with a ceramic non-stick coating. The casing is made of plastic. It does have a California Proposition 65 warning label but the company was unable to tell me which material requires it.
Cosori Air Fryer
The basket has a PTFE-based (Teflon) coating. The casing is plastic, made from polypropylene and polyphenylene sulfide (PPS).
The basket has a PTFE-based coating. The casing is plastic. It does have a California Proposition 65 warning label on it but the company was unable to tell me what material requires it.
These options are better because they are made primarily of glass or metal but each has some areas of concern.
The frying rack is uncoated and made of a chrome-plated aluminum. The baking pan is non-stick so if you purchase this item, I would avoid using the baking pan. The interior of the oven does not have a coating. The unit has a California Proposition 65 warning label for the 2 relatively small plastic parts (handle and legs), neither of which come in contact with the food.
The main compartment is made of tempered glass. The basket and racks have a non-stick coating. If you wanted to purchase this item, I would not use the basket and rack and look for an uncoated stainless steel rack with similar dimensions. It does have a California Proposition 65 warning label but the company was not able to tell me the material that requires it.
This is the Best Option I Found
The main compartment is made of tempered glass with uncoated stainless steel racks. It does not have a California Proposition 65 warning label.
Please know that I have not used this model or any of those referenced so I can’t speak to performance. This one seems to get good ratings online but you should check them out for yourself.
Personally, I plan to skip this trend and opt for healthier cooking methods like steaming and baking. If you do choose to opt in, select a model with safer materials and only use it on occasion.
Question from Miriam
My son wants some ‘Paw Patrol’ decals for his room. I’ve found some non-vinyl ones which supposedly are made from a “high quality polyester textile in North America”.
I emailed the vendor and asked if they contain PFAS or lead, BPA, or phthalates. They replied ”None of our products have any of these elements.” I’m not sure whether I can just take their word for it, or if there’s anything else to be asking about.
Unfortunately, there’s no way to verify their response other than testing the items. There will be a small amount of off-gassing from the polyester and the adhesive but given they are small in size I don’t think there is a big exposure. It’s definitely better than PVC. Odor is not a reliable way to determine the amount of off-gassing but it can be an indicator. If there is a strong smell I would not use them or at least air them outside for a few days. Also, better not to use them in the bedroom. Lead is regulated for children’s products and since the company makes specialty children’s products I would hope and assume they would avoid any use of lead so I would believe their claim. I also wouldn’t expect any need for PFAS. BPA would not really be an issue unless you were touching them and I assume that will not be the case. Phthalates can offgas but, again, they have claimed they do not contain any.
Question from Judith
I have had the PAX wardrobe and MALM dresser for several years now. In the past year I have noticed that when put clean, dry clothes in the drawers they have a musty smell when I take them out. I read your reply about them earlier in this list and it seems the off gassing should have occurred by now. Is there any other reason you can think of for this odor? I have tried putting charcoal deodorizers and wiping them down with baking soda to no avail. Thank you
I don’t think this is due to the furniture given that you have had it for some time. A musty smell comes from mold or mildew. Do you have levels of humidity in your house that could be causing moisture? Even though the clothes are clean do they have this odor before they go in the drawer?