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Anne Steinemann PhD has been a leading researcher studying the health effects of fragrance in consumer products for many years.
Her latest study assesses the prevalence of multiple chemical sensitivities (MCS), its co-occurrence with asthma and fragrance sensitivity, and effects from exposure to fragranced consumer products.
She concluded that the prevalence of diagnosed MCS has increased over 300%, and self-reported chemical sensitivity over 200%, in the past decade. She recommended implementation of fragrance-free policies to reduce adverse health and societal effects.
Results of this study provide evidence that MCS is widespread and increasing in the US population: an estimated 25.6 million adults are diagnosed with MCS, and an estimated 51.8 million adults report chemical sensitivity. Using the same criteria to assess MCS and chemical sensitivity as prior US national prevalence studies, this represents an increase of 300% in diagnosed MCS and 200% in self-reported chemical sensitivity in a little more than 10 years.
In addition, among individuals with MCS, 86.2% report adverse health effects from exposure to fragranced consumer products. Thus, individuals with MCS are proportionally more likely to be fragrance sensitive than individuals without MCS (prevalence odds ratio 16.8; 95% confidence interval 10.3 to 27.5).
As a consequence, individuals with MCS are prevented from accessing restrooms, businesses, workplaces, and public places due to risk of adverse health effects—some potentially disabling—from fragranced consumer products. Notably, exposure to fragranced consumer products is associated with lost workdays or a job, in the past year, for 11.0% of the adult population with MCS or chemical sensitivity, representing an estimated 22 million Americans. While researchers continue to investigate which chemicals or mixtures of chemicals in fragranced consumer products could be associated with adverse effects,18 a practical step in the meantime would be to reduce exposure to the products. For instance, 71.0% of those with MCS would support fragrance-free policies in the workplace, and 82.1% would prefer fragrance-free health care facilities and professionals, as would a majority of the US general population.
You can read other articles on the health effects of frangraced consumer products on Dr Steinneman’s website.
It’s been cold here in California this week. Cold and rain and more to come.
So one of my favorite vendors at the Sebastopol Farm Market—where Larry and I go every Sunday morning—was wearing her felted wool jacket.
“Stay warm!” I said as we walked by and waved to Hazel.
“I am,” she replied. “The wind doesn’t go through my felted wool jacket.”
Felted wool jacket?!?!?!?!??!?!!
Years ago my friend Eliana, who founded Shepherd’s Dream introduced me to felting. She made a queen-sized felt for my bed and I’ve been sleeping on it since. She now makes whole “mattresses” from layers of wool felts at Heartfelt Collective. When I got my felt for my bed, my first thought was, “I want a felt coat!”
Felting is a process of making a sort of fabric from wet wool, where the coil-like wood fibers wrap around each other.
Hazel’s jacket is made of wool from her own sheep, so it contains all the colors of their wool.
She also pointed out that there are no seams because the entire jacket is pieced together by felting.
Of course, one can’t buy a felted jacket. I have to wait until the woman who teaches felting gives the felted jacket workshop again and then one need’s to felt one’s own, specific to one’s own body.
And of course, I will be at this workshop.
THIS is what we should be wearing.
* * * * *
Now all that said, I DID find two felted (aka “boiled”) wool coats online. Don’t know anything about them except what’s in the descriptions, so if you explore these, please leave comments.
Peruvian Connection Tuileries Baby Alpace Reversible Coat. This one is more like what I think of as a perfect coat—like a big blanket with arms.
Continuing to search I see that there are many coats that come up as “boiled wool” or “felted wool” but then the jacket is made with polyester linings, etc. The above were the only three I could find that were 100% unlined wool.
Question from Nick
Wanted to know if you know a good non toxic healthy box spring or foundation for under a mattress?
Actually I had never thought about this before.
I bought a wood slat frame for my natural mattress years ago and I think most people do that. These are widely available. The least expensive are those from IKEA, which I have purchased in the past and recommended to readers and clients. Nobody has ever complained to me they didn’t like them. But there are many others. Get unfinished wood and leave unfinished or apply a toxic free finish.
You can also get metal bed frames, also many available online. If you have a spring mattress you can put it right on the metal bed frame. For those of you with futon-type mattresses, you’ll need to get a “bunkie board” which is just the wood slats that you can put in any metal bed frame. Here’s one made of solid wood slats . Read descriptions carefully as some are made from glue laminated wood strips.
I had an assumption that all the natural mattress manufacturers would make box springs, but apparently they don’t.
Here are some box springs made with organic and natural materials:
Here is a very basic metal frame that can be used alone or fit into any bed frame
Classic Brands Hercules Heavy-Duty 14-inch Platform Metal Bed Frame
Question from Heather
I am wondering about Allbird shoes and your thoughts? I am desperately trying to find shoes for my kids and elements age boys in Seattle need good shoes. I love Pololo but only found one place in USA that sells them and sizes are slim. What are your thoughts?
First, I see that in addition to this question, you also made some other comments, including that Campers have polyester and polyurethane in them.
As you have found, it’s very difficult to find shoes that are 100% natural and even if you find them, they are often not available or affordable.
Given the state of the market today, some product categories are better than others with regard to having toxic free products available.
Shoes are one of those categories.
You commented specifically that Campers have polyurethane and polyester. Not sure where the polyester is, but I believe the soles are polyurethane. I have a pair of Campers and I wear them almost everyday. I’ve actually been wearing Campers for years and have never had a problem with the release of any kind of odor from these shoes.
In terms of toxic materials used in shoes, I personally will accept polyester and polurethane in a vegetable-tanned shoe rather than wear a pair of shoes made with PVC or chemical-tanned leather which are much more toxic.
But you asked me about Allbirds.
Looking at their website I see that they have shoes made from “Wool” and other shoes made from “Tree.”
On their FAQ page they state that their “Wool” is “proprietary merino fabric…” Proprietary wool fabric. This sounds like wool mixed with some other material. And they are not going to tell you what it is. So it’s not 100% wool. And no information on chemicals that might be used in the raising of the sheep.
Their “Tree’ fiber is TENCEL(tm), a manmade fiber that is made from plant cellulose—in this case from trees—mixed with chemicals. The trees are from responsibly managed forests, but your body doesn’t recognize Tencel as a natural fiber because it isn’t.
So basically you have a company that is making shoes out of wool and tree turned into industrial fibers and marketing them as natural.
On their basic page about the shoe materials they state:
- their laces are 100% recycled polyester.
- insoles are their proprietary merino wool fabric (with undisclosed ingredients)
- the sole is “proprietary low-density foam” (again undisclosed ingredients). It’s pretty likely it’s polyurethane foam. I’m not concerned about the polyurethane, I’m concerned about the chemicals that are used to make it into foam.
I prefer Campers.
Since Larry and I are considering the possibility of a tiny house for our next residence, a flyer for Bodega Portable Buildings caught my eye as I walked by a local grocery store window.
When I went to their website, I learned that here in Sonoma County, California (and in surrounding counties), one can build a “storage building” of 120 square feet (8’x15’) without a permit. This can be used for a studio, shop, extra bedroom, reading room, exercise room or storage.
But there’s a bonus. These counties don’t count “window seats” as floor space. These window seat areas extend out beyond the foundation and can add considerable floor space, as they could hold actual window seats, counters, desktops, shelving units, closets, or whatever, allowing you to use the entire 120 square feet for living space.
I wanted to pass this along to all of you because I know many of you are needing an extra room or a tiny house for one reason or another. And this is a clever way to get one without permits and with extra space.
The peaked roofs and arches over window seat areas add considerable charm as well as loft.
This design for a tiny house appeals to me more than any I’ve seen. Two or three or a whole cluster of these could be brought together to make a house of any size.
And while they are not built on wheels as many tiny houses are, they are small enough to be easily portable on the back of a flatbed truck when the time comes.
This company builds and delivers these portable buildings. They are just down the road from us, so we’re going to go see them (if possible).
We’ll build our own because Larry has the skill and we enjoy building together, but if we couldn’t, one of these would now be at the top of our list. I haven’t checked all the materials yet, but I’m thinking they might be open to using materials other than their standard. I’ll let you know when I find.
Mostly, I’m in love with the design and the possibility for opening up the space out beyond the foundation.
Question from John S
I love your site — you’re my go-to for the final word on toxics in our household.
We recently purchased a bidet seat for our toilet Bio Bidet Slim ONE Bidet Smart Toilet Seat in Elongated White with Stainless Steel Self-Cleaning Nozzle, Nightlight, Turbo Wash, Oscillating, and Fusion Warm Water Technology. When we received the package, we were dismayed to find that they proclaim the seat is made of “fire retardant ABS resin”.
I read in another one of your Q&A’s about ceiling fan blades that ABS plastic is most likely non-leeching in it’s final form, however this bidet has heated seats, as well as a tank of water in the back that it heats up.
Would you be concerned about sitting on a heated plastic toilet seat such as this? Or having the water spray on you from a (presumably) plastic tank?
We would love to know your thoughts. Thanks!
I personally wouldn’t do this. Generally hard plastic doesn’t outgas, but when heated it DOES outgas.
I wouldn’t use this at all.
I just want to tell you about a material that I’ve known about for a while, but am just learning all the ways it can help us with air pollution problems.
The material is ACTIVATED CARBON in the form of FELT or FABRIC, a non-woven fiber made of pure anthracite activated carbon.
Anthracite is naturally occurring mineral. It has the highest carbon content (between 92% and 98%.) and the fewest impurities and is the highest ranking of coal.
Most activated carbons are made from charcoal, which is made by burning various animal and vegetable materials.
So this is an extremely pure type of activated carbon.
Because it is made from 100% carbon, activated carbon felt has the advantage of being able to adsorb a large volume of volatile pollutants at a fast speed. It is widely used in solvent recovery, air purification, water treatment, gas masks, cigarette filtration, and in many other applications.
A sheet of activated carbon felt can adsorb volatile chemicals of many types in applications where an air filter may be impractical.
- emissions from interiors of new and used cars
- emissions from new mattresses
- smoke odors from furniture
- fragrance chemicals
- pet odors
- moldy odors in basements, lofts, and attics
- air freshener odors
- kitchen and bathroom cabinets
The limitation to using activated carbon felt is it cannot be sat on or washed because it contains no additives to bind the carbon together. To use, it needs to be encased in layers of natural fiber fabric. Place it in sun or wind to regenerate.
You can order Carbon Felt at Nirvana Safe Haven.
Question from Karen
There was work done recently in my apartment to make the floors less squeaky because it was bothering tenant below me. I have wall to wall carpeting and so what the maintenance guys did was drive multiple (30+) metal screws through the carpets to secure the floor boards more tightly. The screw heads were then sheared off.
I’m reacting strongly to whatever they did. No glues were used, just the metal screws. So I’m guessing the screws might have had a heavy coating of machine oil on them . Can’t think of anything else I could be reacting to. And it’s making me quite sick.
Do you have any suggestions for a carpet cleaner? The building manager is willing to clean the carpets for me. Any other suggestions? Im guessing I will need to ask them to rinse out the tank of the cleaner to get rid of the usual chemicals they use. What would be good for cleaning the carpet cleaner?
Thanks for your help. I’m having one of those domino effects since they did this work in my apt a few weeks ago and just reacting strongly to everything now.
It sounds to me like putting the screws in your carpet opened up the latex adhesive layer in the carpet and also perhaps formaldehyde emissions from the subflooring.
Do you know the exact locations of where the screws are?
Foil for sure would block the emissions.
The challenge here is how to put something over the screws to block the emissions.
I don’t think cleaning the carpet would do it.
Readers, any ideas?
A few weeks ago one of my clients asked me if there was such a thing as a leather sofa without toxic chemicals. She knew leather sofas are usually filled with toxic polyurethane foam and fire retardant chemicals, plus there are more chemicals used to tan the leather.
I hadn’t heard of a nontoxic leather sofa, but I asked my friend Rowena Finegan, owner of Pine Street Natural Interiors, and she said she could make one for me, and yes, there IS natural leather!
Rowena has developed her own line of custom upholstered furniture called Inside Green.
Here are the materials used to make an Inside Green sofa:
- FSC certified Wood Frames and Legs: Wood frames are made from sustainably grown Alder from well-managed American forests
- Non-toxic Fasteners and Finishes: Each piece of wood is fastened with steel screws, and double-doweled with non-toxic, water based glue. A combination of hemp webbing, jute, and hemp burlap finish out the frame.
- Cushions: Layering of your choice of wool fibers, or organic goose feathers and down, with 100% pure natural latex padding. Premium quality wool batting comes from regions where the soil is continually turned, pesticides are forbidden, and sheep are still herded with the use of guardian dogs. Goose feathers and down are sourced from farms that raise geese for food consumption—completing a vertically integrated business model which is both financially and ecologically beneficial to local economies and the end consumer. The totally chemical-free feathers and down are separated by hi-tech machinery and are washed in biodegradable emulsifiers before being packed into 250-thread-count, 100% organic cotton covers.
- Pure, Petroleum-Free Latex: The foam that both covers the frame and is used for the cushions is natural latex, harvested from an environmentally friendly renewable resource procured from rainforest trees.
- Upholstery: organic cotton/hemp canvas. All fabrics presented with the line have been laundered in chemical-free vegetable-based laundry detergent and are either certified organic or have been produced using chemical-free base cloth and vegetable or low impact dyes.
- Finishes: WOCA natural oil stain—plant-based, sustainable, and non-polluting and contain no artificial pigments or preservatives. Along with being a naturally durable substance, oil-based stain also protects against scratches and indentations better than a standard urethane finish.
A sofa can be built in any size or style using these materials, and you can also get it upholstered with the healthiest leather I’ve seen.
EcoPell vegetable-tanned leather is made in Germany. Rowena loaned me a sample book and swatches to take to my MCS client and she had no reaction at all. The swatches actually just smelled like natural leather—no chemical smell. See all the leather colors and weights you can choose from.
This leather is regularly tested for chemicals frequently found in leather and publishes their test results. It has been certified by several organizations as being particularly environmentally-and allergy-friendly.
There is actually so much information about any and how this leather is good you just need to go to their website and read all about it.
This exceptional leather sofa is not inexpensive, but it CAN be made—in any size, style, and color that you desire.
Five years ago I posted INSTRUCTIONS TO “BAKE OUR” TOXIC FUMES, which originally appeared in my now-out-of-print book Home Safe Home. Many readers since have used this method of heating rooms to make chemicals from paints, finishes, and other building materials outgas more quickly.
I’ve done this many times over the years, like when I would paint a room before there was no-VOC paint. I would just put my oil-filled radiator space heater in the room, close the door, leave it overnight, and in the morning open the windows and that was all that was needed.
Occasionally someone would call me and say I need more heat. How hot does the room need to be? I tell them to rent “an industrial heater.” And they do and it worked.
A couple of weeks ago I received an email from a reader saying the method wasn’t working for her. She heated up her space, even individual rooms, and the smell wasn’t decreasing.
We’ve been trying to figure out what she should do and the only thing I can come up with is “more heat.”
But she was’t able to find a heater.
I went out to look for heaters as well.
If you have done a bake out and needed more heat than ordinary room-size space heaters, please leave a comment and let us know what type and size heater you used and where you got it. Please be as specific as you can.
Here are some things I learned.
There are three key numbers to understand when looking for a heater: watts, volts and BTUs.
Watts are the amount of energy you need to power the heater.
Volts are the amount of energy coming out of an electric plug. An ordinary house electric plug is 110 volts. Some plugs, such as those for electric clothes dryers and electric stoves, are 240 volts.
BTUs are the measure of heat that is produced by the heater.
To get enough heat for a bake out, you need to use a heater (or heaters) to provide enough heat for the size of the room. The general rule of thumb is you’ll need roughly 10 watts of heating power for every square foot of floor area in the room. So a 1,500-watt heater can be the primary heat source for an area measuring up to 150 square feet (that’s 10’ x 15’).
My oil filled radiator heater uses a 110 volt plug, can be set to produce various amounts of heat up to 1500 watts, which is enough to heat 150 square feet.
This article is very thorough about different types of heaters and how to choose one for energy efficiency, but it will also help you understand types of heaters for bake outs: SYLVANE: Heater Buying Guide
One problem my client is running into is that she has an open plan of 600 square feet, so that would require the equivalent of four 1500 watt heaters.
A problem I run into is I am usually living in older houses with older wiring and I blow out the circuits.
I did find an electric heater at an equipment rental place that runs on a 240 watt plug, but my client’s stove is gas and she doesn’t have a clothes dryer, so she doesn’t have the plug. And it’s for professional use only.
OK that’s all I’m going to say on this.
Anyone have any knowledge or experience about heaters?
Let’s figure this out together so we have this data here.