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Synthetic Turf

Question from Shannon Rice


I am a mother who desperately needs information on the safety of synthetic turf. We have a very small (150 sq.ft) patch of grass that we are considering replacing with synthetic turf for our kids to play on. I’ve done quite a bit of research but can’t seem to find a bottom line answer about its safety for humans. Most synthetic turf is considered to be an environmentally friendly product since it eliminates the need for watering, fertilizing, chemical use and gas pollutants from lawn mowers. But, does that mean its safe for humans to be in contact with? Do you have any concise information on this topic?

Thanks for your time!

Debra’s Answer

OK, I’m going to get on my soapbox now because you’ve just hit one of my pet peeves. And that is when people claim products to be green without looking at the whole picture.

I did a little research and found that Astroturf brand synthetic turf is made from polyethylene plastic. According to the Synthetic Turf Council, in North America, infill synthetic turf systems used for sportsfields use polypropylene or polyethylene. Non-infill systems, ( golf and landscape), also use nylon.

Yes, you don’t have to water or maintain it, but it is also made from a nonrenewable resource that will not biodegrade. To me, the most important environmental consideration is how does the material cycle through the ecosystem? A substance that is not renewable or biodegradable cannot be green to me because ultimately it doesn’t work at all in the natural ecosystem.

Grass, on the other hand, is renewable and biodegradable and a part of nature. And it can be maintained organically.

Synthetic turf may offer a short term partial solution, but real grass is what Mother Nature designed, and I’m going to stick with that.

As to whether or not polyethylene is safe to touch, it’s one of the least toxic plastics, and if it’s outdoors where any outgassing would dissipate…I’m not concerned about health effects as much as I’m concerned about how long this patch of synthetic turf is going to sit in the landfill when you are done with it.

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Dangers of Synthetic Scents and Safe Alternatives

Question from Jill Sverdlove

I wanted to share an article I just wrote for Alternative Medicine magazine (April issue) about the hidden dangers of synthetic scents, safe alternatives, and the chemicals in fragrances. I’m hoping it will help educate people. The magazine is available nationwide, and also feel free to share these links:

Stop Making Scents

Sidebars at the below links:

Avoid These Fragrance Chemicals

Debra’s Answer

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Door & window seals, alternative to vinyl stripping?

Question from DB

Does anyone have experience replacing the vinyl stripping around windows & sliding doors? If so, what did you replace it with, how expensive was the job, & how much difference did it make in your ability to live in the dwelling? Thanks so much for any info. DB, MA

Debra’s Answer


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Safe proximity of residence to distribution power lines & transformer

Question from mimi

I live on a narrow lane where distribution power lines are very close to homes. One side of my house is located only 5 feet from such power lines (that run parallel to the back of the house); & a corner of my carport is just 5 ft from a transformer mounted on a power pole. All members of my family are at least 22 years old. Our sleeping areas are on the opposite side of the home from the power lines. The carport is attached to the residence. If we physically separated the car port from the residence, & removed all electric wiring from the now-freestanding carport, would that reduce ELF exposure inside the house?

Debra’s Answer

Info about safe distances from power lines is at Q&A: Safe Distance From Electrical Transformer. Since you’re only 5 feet away–I think that’s too close–I suggest hiring an EMF professional to work this out with you.

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power companies marking utilities

Question from Fran

Does anyone know if cities have started using non-toxic or biodegradable paint when power companies mark underground utilities? Our yard and mulch heap got marked, so I removed every scrap of mulch, every clump of painted dirt, every red, yellow or orange blade of grass! (It took over three days! Thankfully there was no rain at all!) I even dug out vegetables that had been painted! I filled more than 3 garbage bags of dirt and mulch due to having to get under the paint, which would have later caused me reactions every time I gardened and also ate the vegetables!!!!! What an invasion. Are there ways to prevent this, and are there cities NOT doing this to their customers? (Mine is a little behind the times…)

Debra’s Answer


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Question from R Zamastil

Our household seems to go through a staggering amount of batteries. These can only be recycled at our county’s household hazardous waste day. Can you tell me about the newer rechargable batteries? It used to be that you couldn’t use them in everything and they didn’t hold a charge for long. We tried them in our kids’ baby swings/bouncers, but that was ten yrs ago. I’ve now started seeing batteries similar to those in cell phones. Any suggestions/reviews would be appreciated. Thanks.

Debra’s Answer

I found some rechargable batteries called E-Cells which are literally miniature versions of the same hydrogen fuel cells that power today’s hybrid cars. They are scientifically engineered to work harder than traditional rechargeables. Each battery runs 10 times longer than alkalines and can be charged in excess of 1000 times. This will save you thousands of dollars. You can use these like alkaline batteries in any device.

I have to admit I bought a battery recharger a few years ago along with some rechargable NiCads. It was a good idea, but didn’t actually get used. The problem was we never set up a “battery station” where we could “drop off” batteries to be recharged and pick up the recharged batteries for use. Because we didn’t have that process set up somewhere, when we needed to recharge, we couldn’t find the recharger, there were no recharged batteries to use, etc. So it’s important to have everything set up for easy use to make this work.

Readers, what are your experiences with rechargable batteries?

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Food-Grade Rain Barrels & alternative to Teflon Tape

Question from Fran

My husband and I are looking for rainbarrels. We notice that very few of the good-looking ones are “food-grade plastic.” Two sites do (& both seem decently priced): sites for the grey-black “Urban” rain barrel ( about $80 each, $100 counting shipping; and also some sold by “Midwest sales” on a few sites including – a dark green, 60-gallon, on sale for about $100 free shipping.

I am not sure if “teflon tape” is involved for the first one, although “plastic” is mentioned; but “Teflon tape” is definitely installed on the threads of the second (the green) one, much to my disappointment. My husband was sure it was not the same Teflon, but online sources cited that it is PTFE. Is the amount in this case negligable, and also do you know if any alternative exists to ensure a tighter fit on threads at connections? (There is one more choice I liked from the gardening sites you list – a terra cotta that seems very orange-red; but the color is wrong for us.)

By the way, a woman in a city near me is going to try painting her rainbarrels with ivy designs (they are selling for $60 so far unpainted). I emailed her that I worry about the UV paints and hope she uses non-toxic. What are your thought on this, if any opinion? Thanks!

Debra’s Answer

I’m not concerned about Teflon tape used on the connections leaching into the water into the barrel. If you want to, you can check the connections to make sure no tape is entering the barrel, or you could remove it entirely. We have Teflon tape on the fittings in our bathroom. It’s pretty standard now to prevent drips. Does anyone know of an alternative?

Regarding the painted rain barrels…I don’t think the paint would permeate the rain barrel and infiltrate the water. It would be best to use a nontoxic paint, but I don’t know if any are available that will adhere to plastic and stand up to weather. Cute idea though.

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Getting Pesticide Out Of Clothing

Question from Julie Vietor


My clothes all smell of pesticide from being stored in my condo that reeks of pesticide (recently bought it, cannot live in it, have recently had it baked out by professional bake-out contractors, still not good enough, I keep working away at it).

I know soaking clothes in vinegar may help. Am currently trying a 48 hour soak. Has anyone had experience with this? How much white vinegar should I use?

Debra’s Answer


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Coconut water

Question from Sheri


Thank you for your latest recipe for Coconut Water . For the last few months I have been making a smoothie for my daughter with young coconut water & meat (she has numerous food allergies and dysphagia which requires thick consistency drinks so she does not aspirate). I had not considered drinking just the water for myself and the idea of the lime with the coconut sounds yummy. I can’t wait to try it. I read your smoothie recipe and thought I would share mine in case anyone wanted something without any dairy.

Green smoothie:

Water & meat from 1 young coconut
1 cup green leafy vegetable (spinach, kale, etc.)
2 cups frozen or fresh fruit (any combination you would like – my favorite is pear raspberry, my daughter’s favorite is all mango)

Cut up fruit & veggie a bit and them place everything in a blender and blend until smooth. If my fruit is a bit tart I will sometimes add just a bit of agave or honey to taste, but usually it is very good just like it is. A great way to get your green veggies without even knowing they are there.

Thanks again Debra for your newsletter and website – they are fantastic. I also want to tell you how excited I am about the new direction for sweet savvy recipes – I am right there with you, now that I have broken the refined sugar habit, I want to take it a step healthier for me and my family.

Debra’s Answer

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Washing Soda Same as Baking Soda?

Question from Barbara

Is Arm and Hammer Super Washing Soda the same as Arm and Hammmer Baking Soda just in a bigger box ?

Debra’s Answer

Baking soda is sodium bicarbonate and washing soda is sodium carbonate. They are very similar, but different.

Sodium carbonate (also known as washing soda or soda ash) has the chemical formula Na2CO3. It most commonly occurs as a crystalline substance, which can be extracted from the ashes of many plants. It is synthetically produced in large quantities from table salt in a process known as the Solvay process.

Sodium bicarbonate has the formula NaHCO3. It is commonly called sodium hydrogencarbonate, sodium bicarb, baking soda, bread soda, cooking soda, bicarb soda, saleratus or bicarbonate of soda. It is a component of the mineral natron and is found dissolved in many mineral springs. The natural mineral form is known as nahcolite.

Read more at Q&A: Baking Soda vs Washing Soda for Laundry.

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