Submitted questions will be posted with my response by the following Tuesday or before.
Submitted comments will be moderated and approved within 24 hours.
Question from Ruth
There has been a lot of talk over the years about baking odors out of a house by turning heat way up. I have fragrance in my duct work from former owner’s plug ins. Will baking the house help with this?
I don’t recommend bake-outs because they can potentially cause more harm. Read more here.
Here is the transcript from a radio segment Debra did on removing odors:
Question from Patricia
I am wondering if any of your readers have experience with EMF shielding paint? Is it safe for someone with MCS? Does it work to block RF?
Readers, any experience with this?
Question from Anna
I have a set of white fiesta ware that I bought a 23 years ago. Is it lead and mercury free?
Fiesta Ware has been lead-free since 1986. The term lead-free means that there is not lead added to the product. There are trace amounts of naturally occurring lead in almost all ceramics. The California Position 65, which is among the most stringent standards, requires all ceramic products to be independently lab tested to have leachable lead levels below 0.1 ppm (parts per million). Fiesta Ware releases 50 times less than that amount.
Question from Jane and Georgette
Please, my sister and I cannot keep moving. We are both Identical 59 year old twin sisters. After 7 moves in 11 years here in Phoenix AZ due to smokers and pollutants we moved again recently to a 50+ community.. The situation here is really killing us health-wise. The woman next door does her laundry for 4 hours straight at least 3 times a week usually 6pm-10pm. Her clothes drier’s vent is aiming directly to our bedroom windows which is 10-15 feet away, very very close. She uses the scented drier sheets that is horrendous and we’ve read and really knew anyway, that these sheets are extremely toxic. Anything perfumy is. We use plant-based natural unscented everything in our house and her pollution is entering our home. We knocked on her door a few times and she never answered. We printed a note how toxic the things she uses are and it’s not only bothering us but is also a health hazard for her as well. Her car is gone most of the day, she returns at night and that’s our sleep time and now with the cooler weather we want to save electric and just use the a/c for the triple digit summer days like we have been doing.
This is totally unfair for us . I called AZ Enironmental and they said they cannot do anything because it’s her home and she can use anything she wants for her laundry.
I even called non-emergency police to ask for advice and they said the same, nothing can be done.
Manage meant told us when we were signing the lease that if we have problems with our neighbors we have to work it out with them.
We need your advice how something can be done because it’s “perfect” here, we finally want to relax and enjoy our peaceful living and we are so so tired of constantly moving due to selfish and careless ” people. Help us please?
Some suggestions that have been offered by other readers are suggesting that they use wool dryer balls or providing them information about the toxins in dryer sheets. Read these threads for more details:
Question from R
Do you have any recommendations for how to find toxin-free musical instruments (particularly guitars)? I’ve done some research, but it’s difficult to find guitars without toxic finishes, etc.
Making music has been such an important part of my life, and I would love to have a guitar to play again.
I would look on Etsy and see if you can find someone making guitars who is willing to use a non-toxic finish. I’m not sure if the wood used is solid or a veneer, but if it is a veneer, it is possible to find low-VOC veneers. Another possibility is to seal a regular wood guitar with AFM Safecoat Safe Seal which is designed to seal in off-gassing chemicals. I’m not sure if this would impact the sound but it is the lowest-cost option.
Readers, other suggestions?
Question from Laura
I was using a novelty stainless steel spoon the past couple of weeks in my tea leaving the spoon in the cup after pouring the boiling water in. I also had broken out with eczema on my eyelids that progressively got worse and spread to my face beneath my eyes and on my cheeks. I kept smelling an odd smell that smelled like stainless stell cleanser, but couldn’t locate it until yesterday when I could very distinctly smell it in my tea. I discovered this last year that I am allergic to nickel. So, my question is: Can the leaching of nickel be the cause of the outbreak on my eyelids and face?
I’m not a doctor so I can’t diagnose your specific condition but nickel allergies can present as an icy rash. Many people with known nickel sensitivities choose to avoid stainless steel altogether because it can leach nickel when it comes in contact with acid foods or beverages.
Computers are an essential part of modern life but they are a source of many hazardous substances like heavy metals, brominated flame retardants, and PVC.
Fortunately, manufactures have been making progress in finding safer alternatives for some of the most harmful materials. In 2006, the European Union implemented legislation, known as RoHS, to regulate hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment. According to Greenpeace, computer manufacturers have significantly reduced their use of lead, cadmium, mercury, hexavalent chromium and certain brominated flame retardants in order to comply with the new regulations. These changes have been implemented by all companies and not only for the European market1.
There’s still a long way to go to make computers safer. A 2007 study by Greenpeace showed that bromine was present in over 40 percent of the components tested. PVC was found in 44 percent of all plastic coatings of internal wires and external cables. Phthalates were found in the power cables supplied with all laptops. Certain toxic chemicals found did not exceed the EU standard but there are many hazardous chemicals found in laptops that are not covered by the standard.
If you are in the market for a new computer there are helpful tools available to find one with fewer toxins. Greenpeace’s Guide to Greener Electronics 2017 grades manufactures on their efforts to reduce their environmental impacts. One of the three criteria it uses is chemical management. It evaluates the elimination of hazardous chemicals from the product and the manufacturing process. The other criteria are energy and resource consumption, both of which have considerable impact on the environment.
The guide includes a report card for each manufacturer with an overall grade, as well as grades for each of the three criteria. Apple received the highest grade, a “B”, for chemical management. This is your safest bet for a new computer.
Chemical Management Report Card
Apple was the first electronics manufacturer to commit to eliminating PVC and BFRs (brominated flame retardants). It has gone beyond RoHS standards to include additional hazardous chemicals such as beryllium, antimony trioxide and phthalates. They have also committed to restrict benzene, n-hexane, toluene, and chlorinated organic compound.
Dell originally committed to phasing out BFRs and PVC but has been unable to meet that goal. Dell (and EMC) now have a 2020 plan to phase out environmentally sensitive material as viable alternatives exist. They still have a goal to phase out BFRs and PVC but have not committed to a timeline. They also have plans to phase out 4 phthalates ahead of the EU deadline. Some laptops and tablets are now free of PVC and BFRs.
The Elite series is free of BFRs. All products except power cords and data cable are free of PVC. HP has set a 2020 deadline to phase out remaining uses of BFRs and PVS as well as antimony and certain phthalates but only as viable alternatives exist.
All products are free of PVC and BFRs. The grade is brought down due to lack of transparency of their list of suppliers.
All other manufactures listed, including Microsoft and Sony, score a C or lower for hazard chemical eliminations.
Another helpful source is the The Green Electronics Council’s Electronic Products Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT). The system helps purchasers compare and select desktop computers, notebooks and monitors based on their environmental attributes.
Compared to traditional computer equipment, all EPEAT-registered computers have reduced levels of cadmium, lead, and mercury to better protect human health and the environment. They are more energy efficient, which reduces emissions of climate changing greenhouse gases. They are also easier to upgrade and recycle. In fact, manufacturers must offer safe recycling options for the products when they are no longer useable.
EPEAT products are identified as EPEAT-Bronze, EPEAT-Silver, or EPEAT-Gold depending on the number of environmental features incorporated in the product. You can search by manufacturer if you want to learn more about a particular product or you can search for Gold rated products. If you click on the product you can see more details about the manufacturer’s management of hazardous substances under the heading “Substance Management”. There is also an advanced search feature that allows you to search for information on specific chemicals such as chromium, beryllium, chlorine and bromine.
Question from Julie
I have a question for you about permanently reducing VOCs from hardwood floor finish.
We had the hardwood floors in our new house stained and refinished 2 months ago. We expected a water-based product to be used for the finish, but unfortunately an oil-based poly was applied instead (Bona Woodline Polyurethane). It was also applied in less-than ideal conditions during a cold, rainy period.
Two months have passed since the refinishing and we’ve moved into the house (with a newborn), but there is still a noticeable smell. We’re also seeing tVOC levels spike to over 500 ppb on our Awair air quality meter.
We have air purifiers on and have been opening windows and running fans whenever possible, which improves the air quality at the time, but doesn’t seem to be solving the underlying off gassing problem.
I know that you don’t recommend baking VOCs out, but I’d like to know what you do recommend that would speed up the off gassing of our hardwood floors. I’d love to get to a place where our floors are fully cured and not emitting VOCs.
I’m sorry you are dealing with this, particularly with an infant! I know that it would be great if there were ways to eliminate toxins quickly, easily, and safely but unfortunately, that is not always possible.
The majority of the off-gassing will occur while the finish is curing, so the good news is that the worst part should be past. However, as The Green Building Council reports, oil-based finishes can off-glass for months and even years. It’s important that you do address the situation.
Indoor Air Quality professionals sometimes use a method called a “Flush Out” to reduce VOCs in a new building when concentrations are highest. The method is complex and uses a very precise mix of air volume, temperature and humidity. I don’t think this method is right for you because the majority of the off-gassing has already occurred. There is no method that will simply eliminate the lingering VOCs that will continue to offgas.
I recommend sealing the floor with a product designed to trap in any lingering VOCs. ECOS Interior Air Purifying Varnish is made for interior floors and can applied over your existing finish. It does require the floor to be lightly sanded so its important to maintain good ventilation and run your air purifiers. Also, make sure your vents are covered so the dust does not get into them.
Question from John
Has there been any new updates on non toxic campers? It seems like all campers are still using toxic materials and then the mold issue. Is it best to perhaps just get an aluminum trailer and build yourself?
I am not aware of any new updates. Debra is blogging about her reasons to build a tiny house on a motorhome chassis. You can follow her progress here.
Question from Mary
I have severe mcs
Looking for what would be the best place to live toxic free.
Possibly a tiny home
Would u give me direction.
Debra is blogging about her reasons to build a tiny house as well as the progress she is making. You can follow her here.
Another good source is mychemicalfreehouse.net.