Submitted questions will be posted with my response by the following Tuesday or before.
Submitted comments will be moderated and approved within 24 hours.
Question from R. G.
I was wondering if you know of a safe nontoxic garden hose, one that doesn’t leach any toxic chemicals or plasticizers into the water?
All garden hoses are made from either polyvinyl chloride “PVC” or “vinyl”, rubber, or a combination of the two.
Vinyl hoses are the least expensive but also the most toxic, both in use and in manufacture. A number of environmental groups have called even for the banning of PVC because of the environmental effects of its manufacture. And PVC can leach vinyl chloride, which is carcinogenic. How much vinyl chloride ends up in the water as it is rushing through a hose? I don’t know. Probably more leaches into the water sitting in the hose in the hot sun. For that reason, it’s probably a good idea to empty the hose after you turn off the faucet.
As far as I can tell, rubber garden hoses are made from natural rubber, the milky latex of the Hevea tree more about obtaining latex from the tree Though it starts out from a renewable plant resource, by the time it is processed it is anything but natural.
Many chemicals are added to natural latex to improve performance, making natural rubber latex suitable for use in the manufacture of rubber products. Chief among them are chemical accelerators used to speed up the manufacturing process, vulcanizing agents, reinforcing agents, filler, pigments, blowing agents and more some exact chemical names In terms of toxicity, the most dangerous health effect I found was skin allergy.
Whether or not the chemicals in natural rubber hoses leach into the product water and what their toxicity may be, I don’t know. Though rubber hose is heavier and more bulky, it is your best buy for durability. Sears says their Craftsman Rubber Hose is the last garden hose you will ever need to buy. Rubber hose is also more pliable and coils more easily in cold weather than vinyl hose.
Rubber hoses are easily available. In addition to Sears, both Lowe’s and The Home Depot carry rubber garden hoses, and most good nurseries will as well. Rubber hoses say “rubber” on the label. If no material is specified, it’s probably vinyl.
Updated 2019: If you are still using a garden hose that may be made with PVC or have lead-containing metal fittings, check out this study by healthystuff.org. It’s a bit out of date but it still provides great guidance. Debra’s List recommends Water Right hoses and Terrain Heritage hoses.
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?
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.
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.
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:
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 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,
What a lovely solution! Thanks for sharing it.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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????
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.
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.”