Submitted questions will be posted with my response by the following Tuesday or before.
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Question from P. T.
I know that ordinary table salt is nothing but sodium chloride. My problem is trying to settle on a company to buy Himalayan salt from. Every one of the companies that I have looked at claim that they are the “one and only”. And, on one site, they claim that if the salt is not red, then it is not the real Himalayan salt. Gosh, I thought the salt came in a variety of colors, depending on where the salt was mined from. Which company would you buy from?
First, let me say a few words about salt for readers who don’t yet know about different kinds of salt.
The salt that is in most salt shakers and used in most food processing is refined salt, containing pure sodium chloride and nothing else. Natural salt as it occurs in the Earth contains a broad spectrum of minerals. It is refined for industrial purposes, used in factories to make various products, and is also used industrially as a cheap food preservative. Refined salt has been associated with health problems such as water retention and high blood pressure.
Natural salt actually restores health to the body by providing needed minerals as well as sodium and chloride. Many functions in the body just won’t happen without sufficient salt. In ancient times, before salt was refined, natural salt was considered to be one of the most valuable substances on Earth, and essential to life.
Once you’ve made the leap from refined salt to natural, then the next choice is whether to choose sea salt or salt from the Earth. All salt originally was from the sea, but as the Earth changed over time, some of those evaporated seas are now underground in salt deposits. One area of such deposits is under the Himalayan Mountains.
Salt in the Earth is often mined by use of explosives and other devices that are less than eco-friendly. Mechanical mining can also change the energy matrix of the salt. Mining and processing by hand preserves the energetic quality of the salt.
I buy a brand of Himalayan salt called “The Original” Himalayan Crystal Salt. It comes from a deposit of salt from a sea that evaporated millions of years ago, from a time when the planet was a pristine ecosystem. Then when the Himalayan mountain range was formed, the degree of compression was so extreme that it created perfectly structured crystal grids within the salt, giving it a unique bio-energetic pattern. The salt is gently hand-mined, hand-selected, hand-crushed with stones, hand-washed, and sun dried, both to preserves the Himalayan ecosystem and retains the original bio-energetic qualities of the salt.
Question from R. R.
I’ve recently found some cosmetic powders mostly made of cornstarch and iron oxides. Are iron oxides just as bad as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide? After reading about these ingredients in your e-book Debra’s Guide To Choosing Natural Sun Protection I’m wondering if iron oxides are just as bad.
Thanks! Thanks also for the e-book!!! It’s great info!!!
Iron oxides are used in almost 2,000 cosmetics products. I don’t know how they are processed, but they are naturally occurring minerals in Nature. I was once driving through the deserts in the Southwest and stopped to look at the colored rock by the side of the road. They had so many colors I could see how they could just be ground up to make cosmetics.
The Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep website says only that they are concerned that iron oxides have not been assessed for safety. I have not heard of any concerns about the health effects of iron oxides over the years.
Contrast this to the fact that the same source says titanium dioxide is a suspected human carcinogen and zinc oxide is known to be an immune system toxin and a respiratory toxicant, and may present risks to human reproduction and development based on limited data, and I would say iron oxides are much safer. I don’t see any reason to not use them.
Question from R. W.
We want to replace carpeting in our daughter’s bedroom. She is chemically sensitive and so we were comparing prefinished wood flooring with laminate wood flooring. At our local Lowe’s store we saw Bruce wood floor and a Pergo laminate. Is the laminate more toxic than the wood ? We hope to use a kind that needs neither gluing or nailing. The laminate is thicker for about the same price. Would it be more toxic?
We have also found an engineered hardwood Bruce flooring that does not require nailing or gluing. Since it is engineered, does that present any outgassing problems? Also if it requires laying foam underneath, would that present a challenge to the chemically sensitive since it would be sealed under the flooring?
I went down to my local Lowe’s and looked at all of these floorings.
First, let’s just clear up what all these different types of flooring are.
Solid wood flooring is one piece of wood top to bottom. Generally it is nailed to a wood subfloor. Most prefinished solid wood flooring I’ve seen has been nontoxic–the finish is applied at the factory and baked on.
Engineered flooring is made up of layers of wood stacked and glued under heat and pressure. It can be installed over most subfloors. The Bruce engineered flooring 6626 I examined at Lowe’s just smelled like wood to me. It did not seem especially toxic. Some engineered floors require plastic foam installed underneath. I wasn’t able to find out what type of plastic is used to make the foam underlayment. While it didn’t seem particularly toxic in the store, I’ve had experiences in the past where people purchased flooring thinking it was safe from a small sample, only to find that a roomful or a houseful was pretty toxic. As always, my best advice is to avoid plastics whenever possible, particularly when other safer products are available.
A floating floor is not attached to the floor, except around the edges. It does not require glue, however, glue is not a problem if you choose a nontoxic type, such as yellow woodworker’s glue.
Laminate flooring is made up of various layers of material laminated together. There’s a good illustration of what laminate flooring is made up of on the Armstrong website. Basically, laminate flooring is high-density fiberboard, covered by an “image layer” that makes it look like wood, topped with a protective layer of plastic. It is an inexpensive, easy-care alternative to wood and waxing that can be installed over any subfloor. It won’t last as long as wood we are still walking on the original oak floors installed in our home over 65 years ago and the finish feels like plastic. It’s basically a fake wood floor. The one MSDS sheet I looked at showed that brand of laminate flooring emitted formaldehyde fumes, so all in all, I don’t recommend laminate flooring. That said, a friend of mine recently installed a laminate floor all through her living room and it didn’t smell horrible.
Question from Z. X.
I’ve seen many recipes for cleaning items using Fels Naptha soap. Do you have any idea of whether this has toxic ingredients?
100 years ago, Fels-Naptha was the most commonly used laundry soap. It is hard to find now, but is still available on the internet, if not at your local grocer. Often it is misplaced with the bar soaps for handwashing rather than in the laundry section. It is still used today for poison ivy treatment, garden fertilizer and insecticide as well as laundry detergent and for stain removal.
When Fels Naptha was first made, most soap was made from tallow and lye. Tallow was obtained by boiling and filtering butchered fat from cows, pigs, chickens, horses, and other animals.
Today the label lists “cleaners, soil and stain removers, chelating agents, colorants, and perfume” as the ingredients. The warning on the label says, “CAUTION: EYE AND SKIN IRRITANT. Avoid contact with eyes and prolonged contact with skin. Keep Out Of Reach Of Children.
I contacted the manufacturer Dial Corp to get the Material Safety Data Sheet MSDS. In addition to soap dust, the only other hazardous ingredient listed was “Hydrocarbons, Terpene processing by-products CAS# 68956-56-9.” I was unable to find any information on the toxicity of this chemical. My standard databases just said things like “not enough data available”. But it is a petrochemical ingredient.
The MSDS for Fels Naptha from the National Institutes of Health Household Products Database was slightly different. Under “Chronic Health Effects” it says, “Chronic toxicity testing has not been conducted on this product. However, the following effects have been reported on one of the product’s components. Stoddard solvent: Repeated or prolonged exposure to high concentrations has resulted in upper respiratory tract irritation, central and peripheral nervous system effects, and possibly hematopoetic, liver and kidney effects.” Stoddard solvent is another name for mineral spirits, which are, like petroleum distillates, a mixture of multiple chemicals made from petroleum. Exposure to Stoddard solvent in the air can affect your nervous system and cause dizziness, headaches, or a prolonged reaction time. It can also cause eye, skin, or throat irritation.
Both MSDS’s note that the ingredients are not identified as carcinogens or potential carcinogens. Their health effects rating is 1, which is “slight.”
Question from J. S.
Can you direct me to nontoxic commercial cleaners?
I am chemically sensitive, and I would like to promote safe cleaners to my medical providers.
Yes. There are three that I know of. Naturally Yours products are made from natural ingredients; Safe Source products are made from nontoxic petrochemical ingredients; and Soy Clean products are soy-based.
Question from C. W.
I’m wondering if you could recommend a dark chocolate bar plain that is at least 74% cocoa. I don’t know how to “read” the labels to tell. For instance this Hershey’s Dark Chocolate I have here Ingredients: Sugar, chocolate, cocoa butter etc. I would think cocoa would be at the top of the list?
I want to try to put this article to the test:
The percentage of cocoa is listed on the label for dark chocolates that contain significant cocoa. Not on Hershey’s because I don’t think they make one with that high a percentage. If sugar is listed first, then there is more sugar than cocoa, which means the cocoa is less than 50%. If you are looking in a regular supermarket for a high cocoa chocolate, check the labels of good “bittersweet” chocolate bars. These will be sweetened with refined white sugar, but a very small amount.
I suggest going to a good natural food store in your area and look for a natural brand. Dagoba 74% bittersweet is one that I know meets your needs.
Natural brands are often made with organically grown cocoa and sweetened with evaporated cane juice the whole sugar direct from the cane unrefined instead of refined white sugar. You might also try cacao nibs, which are 100% chocolate and no sugar. These taste a little odd at first, but I like them. They would be the best if eating chocolate for the health reasons you cite above.
Another option is to mix up your own chocolate using cocoa powder. You can mix a little with butter, cocoa butter, or coconut oil and any sweetener you want.
For more on chocolate, visit Debra’s List: Organic, Shade Grown, Fair Trade Chocolate and especially read my article “Choosing Healthy Chocolate”.
Question from H. G.
I am a regular reader of your columns and refer to your book regularly, however I must take exception with your recomendation of Talalay latex for the chemically sensitive. Talalay is processed with and contains 3% preservatives like poly ethylene glycol. Dunlop latex is probably a better choice for MCS types. Please see The “Dunlop VS Talalay” Truth and Natural Dunlop vs. Natural Talalay for more info.
For those of you who don’t yet know about Talalay and Dunlop, they are two methods for processing latex used to make mattresses and pillows. They each produce a latex that has it’s own characteristics. But this question is not which is better latex, this question is about whether or not Talalay is safe for people with multiple chemical sensitivities.
As stated in your reference Natural Dunlop vs. Natural Talalay, “In the Talalay process synthetic chemicals are usually added, but not always.” The company making this statement, SavvyRest, says “We order natural Talalay only, and the company certifies that no synthetic chemicals are added to produce this latex.” So I don’t quite understand your statement that “Talalay is processed with and contains 3% preservatives…” and “Dunlop latex is probably a better choice for MCS types.”
To the best of my knowledge, it is true that some Talalay latex contains a percentage of preservatives and other chemicals. But I wouldn’t make a general statement that Dunlop latex is a better choice for MCS types. From the viewpoint of toxicity, chemical-free Talalay latex would be just as good a choice as chemical-free Dunlop.
I sent your question to Mary Cordaro, a certified Bau-Biologist who created her own line of natural beds “The Mary Cordaro Collection.” Bau-Biologie standards are the strictest in the world for toxics and she also has plenty of experience with multiple chemical sensitivities. And she chose Talalay. Here’s her reply to your question:
I agree with Mary and greatly admire the lengths to which she goes to ensure her materials are pure, but she is the exception. The practical reality is that most latex–Talalay and Dunlop–is not tested. For any material, the ultimate test for anyone with MCS is how you feel with the material. Does it feel life-supporting to your body or not? While it would be great to have a 100 percent toxic-free environment, that is rarely a reality. I believe that everyone should minimize their exposure to toxic chemicals as much as possible, within their ability to do so.