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Submitted questions will be posted with my response by the following Tuesday or before.
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Controlling Ants With Kindness

Question from L. S.

I would like to share an update on dealing with the annual ant visitation which seems to coincide with the winter rainy season.

As you discovered, they can be washed away with a sponge [I wrote this in Home Safe Home – DLD]. However, mine come back, and keep coming back until the rainy season ends.

As a now long time composter, my appreciation and even reverence for life forms has increased; I no longer wanted to kill these little fellows; they are just seeking to survive, and hungry, therefore, how could we both get our needs met?

The solution popped out at me. I set out a very small saucer with about a tablespoon of honey in it. Being hungry, that’s where they went, and that’s ONLY where they went. After a bit, I moved it from the counter top to a place not visible to unsympathetic guests. Voila! Happy ants; happy me.

A mildly amusing side note was, though they came in a steady stream, they hadn’t eaten it all by the time Spring arrived! How cool! All that happiness for us both created by a very small offering.

Yours in a chemical-free and love-filled life,

Debra’s Answer

What a lovely solution! Thanks for sharing it.

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Natural and Synthetic Latex Pillows

Question from M. K.

I am thinking of buying some latex bed pillows but I know some have a mixture of natural and synthetic latex. Since you would be breathing so close to the pillow for 8 hours a day, does synthetic latex outgas?

Debra’s Answer

Home Environmental Consultant and Certified Bau-Biologist Mary Cordaro says “Yes, synthetic latex can outgass. Depending on how much synthetic latex is present, the level of outgassing will vary a great deal. If you’re sleeping directly on a synthetic latex pillow, you may be inhaling chemicals from the synthetic latex, which is not advisable, especially since the proximity of the materials and the exposure time is so lengthy. Synthetic latex is formulated with raw materials from petroleum products, which can be harmful to human health. In the United States, it is legal to claim that latex is natural even if it also contains some synthetic latex, so it’s important that you purchase your pillow from a reputable company.”

I agree with Mary’s evaluation. However, my actual personal experience with the 40% natural/60% synthetic latex strips on the wood slats under my mattress has been that I have noticed no petrochemical odor, nor have I experienced any negative health effects.

Eliana Jantz, Founder of Shepherd’s Dream, where I purchased the strips, responded to your questions with this answer: “I haven’t heard any complaints of outgassing from people who use our 40% natural/60% synthetic latex. And by now we probably have at least a hundred folks out there using it. I sleep on a bed without the latex but the guest bed has latex and I’ve never noticed any latex smell in the room where this bed is.

“We decided to use the blend because the Connecticut manufacturer the only one in United States manufacturing latex offered a 25 year warranty on the blend and only a 5 year warranty on the 100% natural latex. Besides that, there was no detectable difference in smell when we tested both samples side by side. Now, we are offering cotton covers for the latex slats so there doesn’t need to be any direct contact with the latex. The covers slip over each individual slat and makes a very nice finish.”

When I first received the strips, they had a very strong odor of the natural latex itself and no petrochemical smell. The natural odor did diminish over time. It took about six weeks before I could even have the latex in my house. Now it is fine. Occasionally I will notice a slight odor in warm weather. For this reason, I personally wouldn’t have a whole latex mattress or a latex pillow–but that’s just me personally! I see no reason why others shouldn’t use these products if they are OK with the latex.

My recommendation would be to choose natural latex if you want a latex pillow, just to be on the safe side. Or, buy a cotton or wool pillow.

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Is the Sentricon Termite System Safe?

Question from S. S.

What can you tell me about Sentricon Colony Elimination Systemfor termites? The pest control people say it is nontoxic, but I don’t believe them.

Debra’s Answer

I looked up this product on the Internet because I wasn’t familiar with it. It is a bait station filled with bait that is placed a short distance from the building.

One of the first websites that came up was that of the Audubon Society, who recommended it as a less-toxic alternative unfortunately, I didn’t save the URL for the page, but there are many references to this on the Internet.

I understand why the Audubon Society recommends this product: The Material Safety Data Sheet MSDS for the product says that it has low toxicity to birds. But they’re not thinking big enough. The active ingredient in Sentricon is hexaflumuron, which is very toxic in the environment and “may cause long term damage to the aquatic environment”. It will bioaccumulate in fish. Because of this, warnings are given that this pesticide should not enter bodies of water. The half-life of hexaflumuron to range from 40-160 days, which means that only half of the pesticide will break down in this time period.

Here are some links where you can read about Sentricon and hexaflumuron:

My suggestion for termites would be to use Timbor MSDS sheet . It is made from 98% Disodium Octobforate Tetrahydrate, also known as boron sodium oxide, which is made by heating boric acid. The remaining 2% is simply absorbed moisture. This is a very safe product to use–the only hazard listed is by ingestion, so you’ll want to keep it away from kids and pets, but otherwise, it’s pretty safe.

My husband Larry has been using Timbor on our investment house that we are remodeling. He did a lot of research on it. He told me that in New Zealand, this product has been so effective that it had virtually closed down the pest control industry. Wood is now routinely sprayed with this product before homes are constructed, and they have no pest problems. It lasts forever, will kill wood-eating insects, and will protect wood from being eaten.

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Is there formaldehyde in gelatin capsules?

Question from T. S.

I have recently heard that the capsules used to package vitamins and herbs are not good for you. Is this true? if so, what is a good alternative to getting the benefits of the these nutrients if not in pill form. It seems difficult when most of us have neither the time or resources for growing our own food.

Debra’s Answer

The capsules used to package vitamins and herbs come in different types.

A standard gelatin capsule is made from animal gelatin. This is a by-product of cooking the meat and bones. If you have ever made meat stock for soup, when you chill it, you will notice that it gels. Gelatin, whether sold plain, mixed with fruit flavoring and sugar to make a popular dessert, or made into gel caps is this same gelatin.

There are also vegetarian capsules with are made from plant based cellulose.

Both of these geletins are safe to eat.

The problem with gel caps is they may contain formaldehyde as a preservative.

The Organic Materials Review Institute–an organization that provides certifiers, growers, manufacturers and suppliers an independent review of products intended for use in certified organic production, handling, and processing–has a whole twenty-five page review of gelatin that tells everything you would ever want to know about what gelatin and gel caps are made of and how they are made, written in 2002.

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Lead on Power Cords

Question from M. M.

I just purchased a new laptop computer, made by Toshiba. In the “Resource Guide”, on both the first page and on page 29, it says

I don’t want to consider returning it because it has good quality speakers through which I, hard-of-hearing, may be able to hear. I am housebound so didn’t personally go to stores to look at computers before ordering this. Also, I already have high levels of arsenic and cadmium according to my hair analysis, so I don’t need to add lead.

Even if I could find a different cord or chose a different computer, how would I know whether or not the new cord cord contains lead? Is the lead mixed somehow combined with something in such a way that it is not readily dispersed? Why would there be lead in a plastic cord?

I suppose I could wrap it with duct tape. I can wear gloves when I handle it, but do I want this cord sitting on my desk 2 !/2 feet from my nose?

Toshiba’s corporate office seems to be in California, so maybe notifying customers was simply a legal requirement.

What can I do to protect myself from this exposure to lead?

Debra’s Answer

First, I just want to remind everyone that there is NO safe level for lead, except “none.” Zero.

I don’t think there is a danger from airborne lead dust, but I don’t know for sure. Lead is a heavy metal–a particle not a vapor, so it is unlikely that it would be released into the air from plastic but I don’t know everything!. Lead is considered to not be dangerous in paint on a wall, for example, as long as it is on the wall. But when the paint begins to peel or it is sanded or otherwise disturbed, then lead dust is released.

My husband and I discussed this and came up with two solutions. One is to wrap the cord with some other material. He said not electrical tape because it is made from PVC too. He didn’t like this idea because he thought the tape wouldn’t be flexible enough. My idea was to wrap the cord with strips of cotton cloth. I actually have a cord on a lamp that I had clamped to a shelf a few years ago. It had a black cord I didn’t like. So I had wrapped it with purple wire-reinforced ribbon and that worked just fine.

My husband preferred wearing gloves when handling the cords, but I think that is impractical.

But first, I would recommend that you test the cord to see if it actually has lead in it. There is a movement toward phasing out lead in PVC, but there is still lead in most cords. One survey found lead in 23 out of 27 cords tested. After handling the cords for only 10 seconds, fingers also tested positive for lead. To test for the presence of lead on your cables, use Lead Check swabs.

More about the warning label from Harvard University.

Nontoxic Carpet Cleaner

Question from P. A.

Due to a lack of time and energy, I’d like to hire someone to clean our carpets for us; however, I have serious concerns about the toxicity of the products used.

Do you have any suggestions? Do you know anything about ChemDry? Their website says they use “hot water extraction with the power of carbonation.” Do you know what this means?

Any help you can provide would be greatly appreciated.

Debra’s Answer

Carbonation is what makes the bubbles in club soda or any soft drink. It occurs naturally in some spring waters. To make carbonated beverages, liquid carbon dioxide is injected under pressure beneath the water in a sealed container. Each of us exhales carbon dioxide into the surrounding air every time we breathe.

Using carbonated water as a cleaning solution has been around for a long time. Once I was having lunch with my literary agent and a big New York editor at a fancy restaurant in San Francisco. I ordered an ice cream dessert that came in a pool of chocolate sauce. I put my spoon in the ice cream and the whole scoop slipped off the plate into my lap! My agent immediately ordered a bottle of club soda and the chocolate stain came right out.

ChemDry is applying this same method on a larger scale. Their website says:

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Silicone baking mats vs parchment paper

Question from S. T.

Why do you recommend silicone baking mats? Isn’t cooking parchment safer?

Debra’s Answer

Cooking parchment also called parchment paper, kitchen parchment, greaseproof paper and cooking paper is a sheet of paper impregnated with silicone, which makes the paper grease- and moisture-resistant as well as relatively heat-resistant. It is commonly used to eliminate the need to grease baking pans–allowing, for example, repeated batches of cookies to be baked without regreasing the pans–and it can also be folded to make moisture-proof packages in which foods can cooked or steamed.

Parchment is made with bleached white and unbleached brown paper. Since the bleached paper might contain toxic dioxin, it’s better to use the unbleached parchment paper if you use it.

Silicone baking sheets are a sheet of silicone that can be reused over and over again.

Silcone is safe to use for baking and cooking, whether impregnated in paper or in a sheet by itself. Silicones are made chemically by creating a “backbone” of silicon from common sand, the same stuff from which glass is made and oxygen molecules, a combination that does not occur in nature. Then various other synthetic molecules are added branching off of the main silicon-oxygen line to create hundreds of different silicones that range from liquids to rubbery solids. Though this is a completely manmade product, it is completely inert and will not transfer to foods (more at Q&A: Is silicone cookware safe?).

I use both silicone baking sheets and parchment paper. I use my silicone baking sheets to line pans whenever I bake something which might stick. They have saved much time, effort and water from clean-up, and are much safer overall than using baking pans with other non-stick surfaces. I use parchment paper now only when I want to specifically use the cooking technique of baking in parchment, as when I make a recipe such as Fruits Baked in Parchment, or as a substitute for waxed paper waxed paper is covered with paraffin, a petrochemical wax.

The advantage I see to using silicone baking sheets over parchment is that they can be reused up to 2000 times. Though the mats cost more than parchment paper, there is a great savings overall. A box of unbleached parchment paper costs $5 and a silicone baking sheet costs $20, but a box of unbleached parchment paper will cover only 32 baking sheets, and a silicone baking mat will cover 2000 baking sheets. It would cost $310 to buy enough parchment paper to replace one silicone baking mat.

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Clean Salad Spinner With Baking Soda

Question from J. B-G

I want to tell you how fantastic baking soda cleans up the salad spinner “cage”!

This salad spinner of mine has been in regular use for about 25 years; periodically it gets hand washed with warm soapy water and after being rinsed, put out in the California sun to be sanitized; but this winter it suddenly got grey looking, sort of like what can happen to laundry sometimes.

Upon closer inspection, I recognized the signs of encroaching mold. Out came the old toothbrush and on came the baking soda, just sprinkled lightly on the bottom at first. After I scrubbed that part inside and out, I rinsed it, then turned the cage on its side and dusted the inside all around before working with the toothbrush inside and out again.

After rinsing, the whole cage looked and sparkled like brand new!

Debra’s Answer

Thanks for your tip!

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Unscented Talcum Powder

Question from N.M.

I have MCS, and have been unable to find unscented, fragrance-free talcum powder Note the apparent redundancy, since many products that are labeled “unscented” actually contain fragrance, sometimes appearing in the Ingredients list only as a chemical name. I would like to find a source for a safe no mica talcum that has no added fragrance. Can you help?

Debra’s Answer

I could only find unscented talcum powder one place: Birch Hill Happenings. The owner says that it is “100% pure” to the best of her knowledge. It is imported from Australia.

Talc is considered safe enough to be used as an ingredient in nearly one thousand cosmetic and bodycare products. In the past, there has been some question about its safety. It is often stated that talc contains traces of asbestos, however, eighty-five samples of talcum powder studied from 15 countries found that the main detectable mineral impurities were chlorite, mica, carbonates, quartz, and feldspars. Purity varied from 47% to 93%, with powders from Germany and USA having the highest quality. Products from Chile, France, Andorra, Portugal and Colombia were the lowest.

Dr. Hauschka products website FAQ states:

Also, you can just purchase plain cornstarch or arrowroot powder and use that.

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Pesticide residues in fabrics

Question from P. G.

I have all three of your books, and thoroughly enjoy your newsletters! Thank you for all you do, and for sharing it all with us out here!

I am very committed to a healthy environment–organic beds, bedding, carpet, foods–just about everything. I spend a lot of money for it. However, for my clothing, I do purchase natural fiber cotton, linen, and silk clothing, but I don’t buy it organically. And there is my dilemma. I am aware of all the pesticide use on growing cotton, but does that residue REALLY end up transferring to our bodies when we wear it as clothing? Has any conclusive study or proof of this been made?

I understand the need to pre-wash new clothing of the residues from sizing and any other “new” fabric treatments before wearing (I wash my clothes with Whole Foods brand laundry detergent along with baking soda, and use vinegar in the rinse cycle), and appreciated your advice on avoiding non-wrinkle, stain-resistant clothing (which I now do–thanks!), but haven’t completely resolved this organic cotton clothing issue.

I ordered some swatches of organic fabrics to purchase to sew (I used to sew all my clothes) and may consider that. The prices of the fabric are very reasonable. But then I just wonder: is it really a valid concern????

Debra’s Answer

I’ve already partially answered this question in Q&A: Conventional vs Organic Cotton Clothing, but I wanted to specifically answer the question “Has any conclusive study or proof of this been made?”

My experience wearing non-organic cotton clothing is that I don’t feel any residues of pesticides present. But that’s not a scientific test.

So I asked Home Environmental Consultant and Certified Bau-Biologist Mary Cordaro to comment on this, because she has experience with product testing done by laboratories in Germany that are far more sophisticated than the laboratories we have available here in the USA. Mary said, “German fabric tests on conventional cotton fabric have shown that, unlike cotton batting, pesticides are not usually present in cotton fabric. The fabric milling and production process removes the pesticides.”

I’m not concerned about health effects from pesticide residues in cotton fabrics (though they are present in cotton batting, so it would be important to get organic cotton in a mattress or pillows). We all should be concerned about the pesticides from the growing of cotton making their way into the environment (which then come back to us in soil, air, and water). But as I said before, at this time there just isn’t enough organic cotton for all of us to wear it 100% of the time. At the same time, we should each take every opportunity available to us to purchase organic cotton to support the continued growth of the industry.

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