Super Search

Submitted questions will be posted with my response by the following Tuesday or before.
Submitted comments will be moderated and approved within 24 hours.

Dental Compositites

Question from Kimberly

Hi Lisa,

Years of searching for dental composite replacements for simple fillings.

Most of them have BPA and TEGMA related compounds. The ones that do not still have horrible chemical tastes to them.

Would love some safer alternatives.

Lisa’s Answer

The most comprehensive study I have seen that actually tests the composites is the following from PubMed.gov:
Table 4 shows a list of composites that do not contain bis-GMA ( the most commonly used BPA derivative).  Only 1 contained neither Bis-GMA nor TEGDMA.
I can’t speak to the taste of any of them.
You might ask your Dentist to help you identify some options and request a Material Data Sheet.  Look out for the following: BPA, bis-GMA, TEGDMA, or UDMA.  Just because it claims to be BPA-Free doesn’t mean there isn’t potential exposure to BPA as derivatives such as bis-GMA can convert to BPA in the mouth.

Zeolite Detox Symptoms

Question from Barbara

Hi Lisa,

Checking to see if taking the zeolite will produce detox symptoms?  If so how severe or not?  Can I start out slow in taking the product?

Lisa’s Answer

I have not personally used zeolite but the Pure Body website had the following reply:
“The zeolite Clinoptilolite has been granted GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) status by the Food and Drug Administration. Since zeolites will attract water to facilitate the detoxification process, adequate filtered water intake is suggested (8 to 10 glasses a day). If any signs of dehydration do appear (headaches, tiredness), increase your water intake and reduce your zeolite intake for that day.

Safe Drywall

Question from Teresa

Hi Lisa,

Can you please share the best safest types of drywall? I was looking at Magnesium oxide but hearing things about cracking.
Thanks

Lisa’s Answer

I have also read about pervasive cracking with magnesium oxide boards.
EWG has a helpful guide on drywall.  They recommend looking for Greenguard Gold certified products.  I used National Gypsum Company’s Gold Bond for my house.  We then safeguarded our air quality by following instillation guidelines from Prescriptions for a Healthy House (Baker-Laporte, Elliott, &, Banta, 2008).   I recommend this book as a great guide for very specific information on new building and renovations.
There are alternatives to gypsum board, one of which is magnesium oxide boards, but I could not get comfortable with their potential cracking issues.  Another alternative is a paperless product called DensArmor Plus. I don’t have any experience with this nor do I know its shortcomings but it is both Greenguard Gold certified and recommended in the book mentioned above.

Ants

Question from Jen

Hi there! I’m looking for advice on how to handle an influx of kitchen ants this summer.  My usual methods (ie – clean counters, all food put away in sealed packaging, etc) aren’t working.  I can’t even tell where they’re coming from specifically, can’t locate ant hills in the yard. Very confusing. I’m not ready to call in an exterminator quite yet (although my husband is quickly losing patience!) I’ve heard good results with the following products but since I have kids who play on the floor and pets who lick their paws I’m hesitant to use.
1-Terro ant traps
2-zevo ant spray
Thanks for your help and any recommendations you might have for me.

Lisa’s Answer

I would definitely avoid commercial ant traps if possible.
The first step is to seal any openings.  I know you said you can’t locate where they are coming from but it’s worth continuing to try to identify the source.
There are many natural ways to kill ants.  My tried and true used to be a mix of Borax, sugar and water.  It worked great, but I recently read an EWG article about the toxicity of Borax.
Another natural option is mixing vinegar and water in a spray bottle and spraying the ants.  I’ve read that peppermint, cinnamon, and lemon juice are all effective but I haven’t tried them myself.
I was surprised to learn that Terro’s active ingredient is, in fact, Borax.  It’s better than more toxic pesticides but I would still avoid it, particularly if you have kids and pets.  As an absolute last resort, you could use the Terro traps outside the house to prevent them from coming in.  It’s not ideal but at least you wouldn’t have it inside your home.
Has anyone had success with a natural remedy?

PVC and Microban in Air Conditioning

Question from Paula

Hi Lisa,

My situation is that I’m getting central air conditioning installed, and want to avoid all toxic components. I’m wondering if having PVC or Microban in my attic is something I should worry about (my attic isn’t air sealed from my living space, and air sealing is probably too expensive at this time). I guess my question is, is there a distance from which toxic chemicals aren’t a health danger?

Lisa’s Answer

The distance is not really the important factor since air will be moving through the AC system, through your vents, and into your home.  I would avoid PVC and Microban if possible.

PFAS Chemicals Found in Farm Produce

PFAS, or polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a family of chemicals that are used to make non-stick coatings such as Teflon.  Sometimes called Forever Chemicals, they persist in the environment and body and have been linked to health issues such as hindered growth and learning and increased cancer risk.

There has been increasing concern about contamination from PFAS-containing firefighter foam that is used on military bases and some airports.  The foam has previously been linked to groundwater contamination in neighboring communities. New reports show that PFAS chemicals have now been detected in milk and vegetables from farms located near military bases.  Read more food contamination here.

How to Avoid Contaminated Foods

Federal and state agencies are testing samples from potentially contaminated farms, but until more is known it may be best to avoid food from farms that are located near contaminated sites. EWG has an interactive map that shows sites with known PFAS contamination.

Take Action

The Air Force is recalling PFAS-containing foam from the U.S. and overseas, but they have not found a safe way to dispose of it once it is reclaimed.  The foam is being contracted out to private businesses for incineration, but incineration may not fully destroy the chemical.  There is an amendment before Congress to hold PFAC polluters accountable for cleaning up contaminated sites.  Click here to learn how you can help.

 

Handbag Materials

Question from Wendy

Lisa,

Can you tell me if it’s toxic to carry handbags made of these materials? I know I may need to find out more details about the chemicals but this is what I have so far.

Handbag 1:
Dyed Nylon with Water and Stain Resistant Coating
Dyed Italian Leather
Nylon Strap

Handbag 1:
70% Polyamide
30% Polyurethane
Vachetta Leather Trim

Wendy

Lisa’s Answer

Let’s take a look at each of the components of these handbags:

Handbag #1:

Nylon with water and stain resistant coating – Untreated Nylon is one of the least toxic plastics. It is still a synthetic fiber that is made from petroleum but there is little concern for its toxicity.  It’s the treatment that is more concerning.  It’s hard to say without more information but most stain resistant treatments are made with perfluorochemicals (PFCs) which can be highly toxic.

Dyed leather handle– the tanning process for leather can use 250 different chemicals including chromium which can be very toxic.

Nylon strap– If the Nylon is untreated it should be fine.

Handbag #2:

Polyamide– This is Nylon.  If it is untreated it should be fine.

Polyurethane– There are different types of polyurethane.  Read Debra’s post about polyurethane toxicity here.  It is likely that this is a food-grade film which would have low toxicity, but you would need to confirm that.

Vachetta leather trim– This is vegetable dyed leather.  Vegetable tanning does not use chromium which is a positive but since there can be 250 different chemicals used in the tanning process you might want to find out more about the specific chemicals used.  Some vegetable tanned leather may use all-natural materials, but you would need to check to be sure.

Based on the information you have provided, it looks like Handbag #2 is the safer options, but more information would be helpful.

 

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Removing Odors from Insulation

Question from Colleen

Hi Lisa,

Has anyone successfully moved into a house where the previous tenants used scented detergents and dryer sheets in the house.  I was under the assumption that the fragrances got into the insulation in the walls, etc.  How long did it take to outgass if ever?  Would a “bake out” even take care of it?

Lisa’s Answer

Debra interviewed Daliya Robson from Nirvana Safe Haven and they discussed a number of ways to eliminate odors (click here for transcript).

I would first try some low-cost options like zeolite or charcoal to try to absorb the odors. As a next step I would try the “bake out”, which has proven successful for many situations. If neither of those work, you might try some of the products mentioned in the interview. Finally, a good air purifier can be very effective. While it is an investment, you will have it for many years to help reduce toxins in your home. There are many sealers on the market that are great for reducing formaldehyde, but I have read that they do not always reduce odors, particularly if they are organic.

Has anyone else had success minimizing these types of odors?

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Totally Non-Toxic Harwood Floors


 

Question from Marcia

Hi Debra,

My home has two levels. The upstairs and stairs have subfloor, but the downstairs has a concrete slab. I would love to install solid hardwood, but I can’t figure out what would work for the whole house. I wouldn’t mind nailing, but that won’t work over the concrete slab on the lower level. I’m too afraid to use glue. I want it to be zero VOC and totally non-toxic. My daughter spends all her time playing in the floor (and puts her hands in her mouth a lot, so tile is out).

Have you or any of your readers seen info on Timberclick? I can only find them at vendor websites, not their own website. They also seem to have some bad reviews.

Am I missing another install option that could work? I really want to replace the carpet (which was installed in 1996).

Debra’s Answer

I’ve just recently discovered that click flooring can be nontoxic. I can’t speak for all click flooring, but I’ve found two that I would install in my own home.

One is cork and I would have to find out the brand. But it is made in Europe, where they have different standards than we do in the USA. I had the sample in my office for several weeks and no problems.

But the other is a product called Home Legend Click Lock Hardood Flooring , which you can buy at Home Depot.

It’s called harwood flooring, which is misleading because it’s not hardwood through and through, but it’s nontoxic. I was surprised.

It is made of an engineered wood called High Density Fiberboard (HDF) with a hardwood veneer on top. I know this sounds toxic, but it’s not. HDF is made only from wood lignins steamed together with hot water and very high pressure. The hardwood is aptly named. It is VERY hard.

I have had a sample sitting on my desk for several weeks with no problems.

I’m considering putting this flooring in my entire tiny house that I am building. It’s only $1.98 per square foot. Which is ibky $560 for 280 square feet instead of $1500 for cork.

Again I’m not saying all click flooring is made of hardwood, or that all click flooring is not toxic, but this one seems really good.

And there’s no adhesive. You just lay it yourself over your existing subfloor (you may need to seal your subfloor first depending on what it’s made of).

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Eating “Plant-to-Mouth” From My Organic Garden


I started out last year with this tiny garden outside my office door. I took this photo yesterday morning after cleaning out the weeds. All these plants are from last year. Those purple flowers to the left are chive blossoms, several varieties of strawberries, Santa Barbara daisies (not edible but pretty). There’s another barrel with last year’s potatoes popping up again and a pomegranate tree, plus more over by the motorhome we are turning into a tiny house.

 

I spend a lot of time writing about how we can choose consumer products that are made without toxic chemicals, but “toxic-free” also includes doing and making thing yourself without toxics. Such as organic gardening.

This year we had a lot of rain, so my little garden is popping with plants I planted last year.

I’ve got chive blossoms ready to eat right now. English peas I planted earlier this year are about to give a harvest. Strawberry plants are sending out runners and the new plants are about twice the size of the original plants and already producing flowers. The two raspberry canes planted last year have produced so many new plants we have been digging them up and replanting because they are overflowing the barrel.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “The Earth laughs flowers.” Today I am saying, “Here in my garden, the Earth is laughing vegetables and fruits!”

I’m fortunate to have Larry and his mom and a brother and a sister—all experienced gardeners—and enough fertile soil that we can each garden to our hearts content. This morning there was a large basket of java beans just harvested that I think we’re having for dinner.

Next weekend we’re going to some wonderful plant nurseries where we can buy heirloom seedings for edible plants. I can’t wait!

As I was walking around my garden, looking forward to pulling raspberries and tomatoes right off the plants and into my mouth I suddenly thought, “Oh, the next step after farm-to-table is plant-to-mouth!” I can hardly wait to do that in a few days when the peas pop. Fresh English peas with chive blossoms right out of my hand.

Pea pods in my garden are about to burst open with peas!

 

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ARE TOXIC PRODUCTS HIDDEN IN YOUR HOME?

Toxic Products Don’t Always Have Warning Labels. Find Out About 3 Hidden Toxic Products That You Can Remove From Your Home Right Now.