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Blog Will Resume June 4

My husband and I are driving from Florida to Ottawa, Canada and back, where I will be giving a seminar on elminating chemicals in the home that cause cancer. Feel free to post any comments and questions, and I’ll put them up when I return.

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Making The Local Choice

Question from Janet and Tim Kroeker

Dear Debra,

A year and a half ago I wrote to you asking about installing a hardwood floor on a low budget. We had a source for some local burr oak or ash wood that had been thoughtfully harvested, milled and dried locally that we would have had to sand and finish it and put up with some off-gasing even if we went with a low VOC, (would that also mean slow drying) finish.

The other alternative was to go with a mass produced, commercial prefinished, and well protected (they said up to 8-9 layers) hardwood with little off-gasing–but who knows were it came from and the harvesting conditions. The latter choice would have been less expensive, have less off gasing and because we are presently living in the house we wouldn’t have to put up with a drying time.

I asked your opinion and you replied:

Well, I wanted to let you know we did go with the local choice and we are very satisfied we made that decision. We went with a local ash wood. Our friend Steve harvested and milled the boards while our other friend John kiln dried the wood and then took it to a finishing mill in Winnipeg (about an hour drive) where it was planed and tongue and grooved.

Debra’s Answer

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Organic Tapioca Syrup and Evaporated Cane Juice?

Question from Tammy


I try to avoid giving my 3 year old daughter candy but of course family like to give her candy and junk anyway. I hate that because they really don’t have a clue how bad most of that stuff is for kids or anyone for that matter. Anyhow, I was recently introduced to an all organic lollipop with the following ingredients:

Organic Evaporated Cane Juice, Organic Tapioca Syrup, Non GMO Citric Acid (made from beet sugar (not corn), Natural Flavors (May contain Watermelon, Pomegranate, Orange Oils, Lemon Oils, Raspberry, Mango), Natural Colors, (may contain Red Cabbage, Purple Carrots)

Now I can see there is no actual sugar in these suckers but I am not familiar with the Organic Evaporated Cane Juice and the Organic Tapioca Syrup. My question is what are these sweetners and what are the effects on my daughter? Just thinking that they can’t be as bad as sugar or corn syrup doesnt make it so. I am hoping you would know.

Thanks for any insite you can give. I enjoy your newsletter!


Debra’s Answer

Organic Evaporated Cane Juice should be the whole juice from the sugar cane plant, with the water removed, but not refined. However, my experience has been that the labeling with regards to this may not always be accurate. I’ve called some companies that have this on the label and it could also mean something else.

Tapica syrup is a sweetener made from tapioca starch–the same tapioca used to make tapioca pudding. It is only available commercially. I don’t know anything about this sweetener.

It would be best to wean a child off of these kinds of treats completely.

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Liquid Cane Sugar

Question from Jenny

First off, I wanted to say how much I admire your writing and research. I refer to it often as I am a certified Bau Biologist and active in the green and sustainable community in Baltimore.

I came across a product and I was wondering whether you had ever heard of it. It is a commercial sugar cane syrup made in the U.S. The glycemic count is supposed to be lower than conventional sugar and/or corn syrup.

Here is the link I was looking for a product to substitute in sno cones as they are very popular here. I also knew that at certain times of the year Coke uses sugar cane syrup as a substitute. Some people watch for these special bottles as the flavor is supposed to be better. I thought this might be a good solution.

Thanks for your thoughts and consideration.

Debra’s Answer

Sugar Shots are simply sugar mixed with water to make what is known in culinary circles as “simple syrup.” You can save a lot of money by making this yourself (see my directions at

Simple Syrup).

It is no different from eating refined white sugar. They do have an “organic” sugar shot that may be made from whole evaporated cane juice. I didn’t check on this. But still, again, you can make it yourself at a lower cost.

You can also make simple syrup from honey or any other sweetener.

I put fresh fruit juice on my snow cones.

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A homemade alternative to Scotchguard?

Question from Diana S.

My husband and are are going to reupholster our dining room chairs, and since we have 2 kids under the age of 4, we’d like to pretreat the fabric to make it more stain repellent. I don’t like the idea of a chemical fabric protector like Scotchguard, so I’m wondering about the alternatives since I won’t be able to just take the covers off and wash them! (We’re planning on stapling them to the chairs permanently.)

I read somewhere online about soaking fabric in borax to make it more stain repellent, but I think stains would still soak in according to that anecdotal test. Does anyone have any experience with this? Is there some natural recipe I can use to pretreat the fabric before I cover the chairs?


Debra’s Answer


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Magnetically-attractive stainless steel cookware

Question from Sandy

I recently read your letters concerning cookware and I have a question:

My understanding is that All Clad’s magnetically-attractive Stainless Steel cookware is the safest choice for stainless steel.

What is your opinion, please?

Thank you!



Debra’s Answer

First of all, All Clad cookware has magnetic stainless steel on the OUTSIDE of the pan, not on the inside where it would come in contact with the food. So it has no relationship to food safety at all.

Why magnetic steel on the exterior? According to a review of All Clad at (which also states that All Clad takes longer to heat, requiring greater energy consumption), the exterior magnetic layer is there to allow these pans to be used on Induction cooktops. Because induction uses magnetic fields to heat the pan, not heat, specific types of cookware that work with the magnetic fields are needed–magnetic stainless steel, cast iron, and steel covered in enamel or porcelain. Glass, aluminum, copper, and non-magnetic steel will not work on induction cooktops. If you are not using induction, however, there is no reason to purchase magnetic steel cookware.

An article by Dr. Ray Peat, a biochemist. He says:

I checked around a few website to verify this idea that magnetic stainless steel contains less nickel than nonmagnetic, and indeed, it is true.

At they say:

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Slug Problem

Question from Joy

I am wondering if you have any recommendations on how I might kill garden slugs naturally rather than using the pellets or other chemical options sold at stores. I have seen a couple of natural products online, but am not sure how well they work or if I might be able to make something at home that works just as well? Thank you.


Debra’s Answer

I used to live in Inverness, California, where we had giant banana slugs.

I kid you not, my neighbors used to just pick them up and saute them in butter and garlic and eat them (a local food!).

I would set out pie plates filled half-full with beer in the evening. That seemed to work.

Readers, your suggestions?

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Clay Plaster walls

Question from Margaret

I have checked with the companies that sell clay plaster and they tell me kaolin clay is one of the ingredients. Since kaolin clay is somewhat radioactive, wouldn’t covering the walls of my home with it be ill advised? Or is it such a tiny amount that it is negligible? I have asked them this question and they won’t answer it (probably for liability reasons). I would love to know since clay plaster is beautiful and (apart from the radioactivity) nontoxic.

Debra’s Answer

Hmmm…I didn’t know about this. I clay-plastered my bathroom walls last year (photos coming soon) so I’ve got it on my walls–no warnings on the label, but there are no warnings on glossy magazines either, which use paper coated with kaolin…or ceramics, medicines, foods in which it is used as an additive, toothpaste, or cosmetics.

Kaolin is a naturally-occuring a clay, an aluminum silicate mineral. It is one of the most common found in sediments, soils, hydrothermal deposits, and sedimentary rocks. It is mined in Brazil, France, United Kingdom, Germany, India, Australia, Korea, the People’s Republic of China, and Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina.

Kaolinite can contain very small traces of uranium and thorium. While a single magazine made using kaolin does not contain enough radioactive material to be detected by a security monitor, radioactivitiy in a single magazine can be measured.

The EPA has a a whole page on uranium exposure. They say, “Uranium is a naturally-occurring element found at low levels in virtually all rock, soil, and water. Significant concentrations of uranium occur in some substances such as phosphate rock deposits, and minerals such as uraninite in uranium-rich ores.” My logic says that if it occurs in virtually all rock, soil, and water, and kaolin is found in soils and mineral deposits, kaolin probably has the same concentration of uranium as other naturally-occuring substances.

They also say, “A person can be exposed to uranium by inhaling dust in air, or ingesting water and food. The general population is exposed to uranium primarily through food and water. The average daily intake of uranium from food ranges from 0.07 to 1.1 micrograms per day. The amount of uranium in air is usually very small.” No mention is made of exposure from kaolin in consumer products.

My point here is, uranium is indeed very dangerous to health in very concentrated amounts, but at the other end of the spectrum, we are exposed to it every day from multiple sources. I always say it’s best to minimize exposure wherever possible, but I wouldn’t say that clay plaster is alarmingly radioactive. Our bathroom walls don’t glow in the dark and we haven’t noticed any ill health effects.

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Preventing Algae Growth in Wading Pools

Question from Denise Brill

What is the best (safest) method for preventing algae growth in children’s wading pools at home? I’d prefer not to have to drain the pool after each use since it’s an 8 foot diameter pool that holds over 400 gallons of water and is a pain to drain and refill.


Debra’s Answer

Readers? Any ideas?

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