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.

Hemp Beds?

Batting made from hemp


Question from Therese

Hi Debra,

Super big thanks for all your good, thorough research and reporting.

Do you have any info about hemp beds? Conventionally made beds with foam give me headaches and I’m very sensitive/allergic to organic cotton fibers. (skin was on fire after lying down on organic cotton beds in showroom)

My instincts are telling me hemp could be a good option but I need good info in order to proceed.

Thank you!

Debra’s Answer

Like this?

100% Hemp inside and out.

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Need Wood Ceiling Fan Blades

Question from Marcia

Hi Debra,

I am living with three chronic illneses. One being severe scoliosis and it’s hard to breathe. Must have real wooden blades. Please help find economic one.

Thank you.

Debra’s Answer

Readers, do any of you know of actual wood blades for ceiling fans?

All the “wood” blades I found were fake.

Marcia if you can’t find them ready made, ask a handyman to make some for you. That shouldn’t be expensive.

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Phthalates in Mac and Cheese Made With Powdered Cheese Higher Than Natural Cheese


This is exactly why you need to eat real fresh food, from the farm or garden to your plate.

Phthalates are potentially harmful chemicals. Three phthalates (DEHP, DBP, and BBP) were banned from children’s products in 2008. The most recent 2015 phthalate regulations call for banning additional phthalates (DINP, DIBP, DnPP, DnHP and DCHP).

In 2014 a report to the Consumer Product Safety Commission concluded that food—not plastic children’s products—is the primary exposure to plastics.

Now a new study has found phthalates in all but one of 30 packaged mac and cheese mixes made with powdered cheese.

Most relevant compounds within the sample set were DEP, DiBP**, DnBP, and DEHP*, with a prevalence ranging from 63 to 92 %. DAP and DCHP were never found above the LOQ, and DMP only in 2 samples. Prevalence of DnHP, BBP*, DNOP, DiDP/DPHP and DiNP** ranged between 12 and 22 %.

* banned from children’s products in 2008
** recommended for ban in 2015

The major findings are:

  1. Phthalates were detected in nearly every cheese product tested (29 of 30 varieties). The testing identified ten different phthalates in all, with up to six in a single product;
  2. Average phthalate levels were more than four times higher in macaroni and cheese powder samples than in hard blocks & other natural cheese, in fat of products tested;
  3. DEHP, the most widely restricted phthalate, was found more often and at a much higher average concentration than any other phthalate, among all the cheese products tested.

To me, this clearly shows that processing adds toxic chemicals to foods. And the more highly processes foods contain more toxic chemicals.

This applies to organic foods too. They didn’t give the brands tested, but it doesn’t matter if you buy organic mac and cheese with powdered cheese in a box. It’s the processing of the cheese that adds the phthalates.

NEW YORK TIMES: The Chemicals in Your Mac and Cheese

US CONSUMER PRODUCT SAFETY COMMISSION: Chronic Hazards Advisory Panel on Phthalates and Phthalate Alternatives

KLEAN UP KRAFT: Testing Finds Industrial Chemical Phthalates in Cheese

VITO: Analysis of selected phthalates in food samples

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“Vast Amounts” of Toxic Mercury Accumulating in Arctic Tundra


Scientists have long been reporting high levels of mercury pollution in the Arctic.

But now a new study reports identifies gaseous mercury in the air as the major source. It gathers in the Arctic tundra, then moves into the soil, and from there into waterways.

If so much mercury is moving from industrial nations to uninhabited arctic areas, this news begs the question: how much mercury are WE being exposed to from the environment on a daily basis?

ENVIRONMENTAL NEW NETWORK: Study Finds Toxic Mercury is Accumulating in the Arctic Tundra


MOMS CLEAN AIR FORCE: How Mercury Poisoning Works


RODALE WELLNESS: The 5 Biggest Sources of Mercury Pollution

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Get Out and Sweat This Summer—It Will Remove Toxics From Your Body


GreenMedInfo has been tracking studies that show the effectiveness of sweating to remove toxic chemicals from the body.

Ordinarily you would need to sit in a sauna to sweat, but it’s summer. Go outside. Sweat is sweat. It’s good for you.

GREEN MED INFO: 4 Reasons to Break a Sweat (Solvents, Phthalates, Metals, BPA

GREEN MED INFO: Research Confirms Sweating Detoxifies Dangerous Metals, Petrochemicals] (Metals)

GREEN MED INFO: Confirmed: Sweating Removes Deadly Chemicals From The Body (Flame Retardants)

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Wool for Building Insulation

Question from Joanna

Hi Debra,

I’m building an addition to my home and I’m looking for the safest insulation.

I found this insulation that is basically sheep’s wool.

What do you think of this?

Havelock Wool

Debra’s Answer

I love it!

I love wool anything.

About twenty years ago I was remodeling the kitchen of my little-cabi- in-the-woods in Northern California and when I pulled the interior walls off, it was full of newspaper from 1930!

I needed something for insulation and I thought of sheep’s wool.

I just drove up to Shepherd’s Dream (which at the time was about an hour’s drive north of where I lived) and got the same organic wool that was stuffed in my mattress. It was perfect. And it just felt good to know I had wool in my walls. Like my house was cuddling me and keeping me warm.

This wool insulation looks fine to me. I’ve seen some others that mix wool with various other materials but Havelock Wool is 100% wool (with a small amount of natural boric acid added as an insect repellant). Their wool is sourced in New Zealand where sheep roam pastoral lands and eat grass in serene settings. It is blended and washed there before being shipped to their manufacturing facility in Nevada where they make both loose-fill and batt form insulation. 

Here are some of the benefits they list on their website:

  • ALL NATURAL – Wool insulation is entirely renewable and sustainable
  • MOISTURE CONTROL – Wool naturally manages moisture levels against 65% relative humidity
  • FIRE RESISTANT – Wool is inherently known to extinguish after smoldering
  • LONG LASTING – Extensive useful life
  • NO HARMFUL CHEMICALS – Natural characteristics allow our insulation to be devoid of harmful chemicals
  • NOISE REDUCTION – Wool creates acoustic advantages in minimizing airborne sound
  • DISPOSAL – Wool insulation can be composted at the end of an extended useful life
  • INSTALLATION – Blow-in and batts are installed like other mediums but with no protection required

I’m happy to see this product available. It’s a totally natural, renewable biodegradable alternative to toxic insulation materials.

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Safe Shoes for Children

Soft Star Shoes

Question from Amie

Hi Debra,

I found out my 3 year old daughter is allergic to carba mix, supposedly this is not in latex according to her dermatologist although I’m not so sure. It’s so difficult to find her shoes and it breaks my heart.

Mini Melissas are made out of PVC and I’m hoping that it’s a good option for her. Otherwise I have no idea what she can wear.


Debra’s Answer

First, for anyone reading who does not know what “carba mix” is, It’s a mix of chemicals are used as fungicides and pesticides and also in the manufacture of many rubber products. The mixture is used for allergy testing. More info on carba mix, read this.

Here’s the short answer of why PVC is not a good choice. PVC is made from a chemical called vinyl monomer which causes cancer. To make it soft there are phthalates added. Six pthalates have been banned for use in a list of children’s products (children’s shoes are NOT on the list*). Lead is also added as a stabilizer.

So while your daughter may be allergic to these pesticides and fungicides, PVC shoes can cause cancer. To me that’s not a better choice.

Shoes are one of the products that are most toxic and most difficult to find alternatives for.

Here are some of the least toxic shoes for babies and kids I’ve found. You’ll need to check with each about the carbs mix specifically.

I’ve created a new category on Debra’s List for Babies & Kids Shoes. Take a look.

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Warning On Knives

Question from Dalia

Hi Debra,

Just saw a Proposition 65 warning on a knife.

What causes cancer or birth defects in knives?

Debra’s Answer

This article answers your question quite thoroughly and explains a lot about California’s Proposition 65.

THE CUTTING EDGE: What’s the Deal with Cancer Warnings on Knives?

Basically anything that is made of stainless steel gets the Proposition 65 warning because of the chromium in stainless steel.

Most of us alive today use stainless steel knives, but before there was stainless steel, all knives were made of carbon steel. I inherited a couple of carbon steel knives from my great aunt. They are great. Much sharper edge. But the blades turn black (that’s why they invented stainless steel).

You can still get carbon steel knives. And, in fact, they are preferred by chefs.

SERIOUS EATS: Why Serious Cooks Use Carbon Steel

KNIFE WORKS: The Pros and Cons of Stainless vs. High Carbon Steel Knife Blades

Ask your favorite cooking store if they have carbon steel knives or look for them online.

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Lead in Ceramic Tile


I’m posting this long correspondence because it has many links from this reader about lead in ceramic tile and various concerns.

The bottom line is: there seems to be a lot of lead in virtually all ceramic tile. It may pose a dust hazard when cutting, but is not a toxic exposure when touched or mounted on the wall. It does not emit lead into the air.

Question from Victoria

Hi Debra,

Hoping you can help us!

We have a question regarding ceramic versus marble tile. Hoping you can provide us with your thoughts!

My husband and I are planning on installing our kitchen backsplash this weekend.

We were hoping to choose plain white, made-in-the-USA 3×6 subway tile:

We had specifically chosen the manufacturer Daltile based on their “Lead free certification” letter from 2013 found on their website:

We have a lot of backsplash to install, from countertop to ceiling. The area around two large corner windows will require a SIGNIFICANT amount of cutting the tile to size, so we are very concerned about tile dust/debris generated while cutting the tile.

We felt confident choosing Daltile because they claim to not add any lead to their tile. Although they advise, by nature, there may be trace amounts. This “lead-free” claim is important to us as we have a toddler and we are currently trying to get pregnant.

However, upon further research, we came across a 2015 article from the Envionmental Information Association regarding problems associated with lead-testing ceramic tiles. Therefore they conclude it reasonable to assume all ceramic tiles have high levels of lead, if they are to be disturbed/cut.

In addition, Lead Safe America foundation advises to avoid choosing man-made ceramic tile.

We are now concerned about using ceramic tile and are leaning towards using marble tile. We cannot seem to find any info online regarding lead/heavy metals/contaminants, etc in marble tile (although surely there must be at least trace amounts?..)

Do you know if marble would be a better, safer choice? Especially when having to cut and install significant quantities of tile?
Or would the subway tile in question be just as safe? We really want to pick the safest option for our toddler.

Please let us know your thoughts!

Thank you kindly for you help! 🙂

Debra’s Answer

Here are my thoughts.

First we live in a world where nothing is 100% without some toxic element. So it’s like fire or crossing the street. We do things to minimize risk.

In the past I and many others have considered manmade ceramic tile “safe” because it doesn’t outgas anything. Now that we are also considering heavy metal exposure we find that ceramic tile MAY contain lead.

So if Daltile says they do not add lead, then the only lead in that tile is whatever lead is occurring in the raw materials. Lead is an element of the earth. It cannot be eliminated 100%. So our challenge is to eliminate ADDED lead.

The Lead Safe America post seems to me to be saying that the biggest concern is from demolition and cutting, NOT from having the tile on a backsplash.

This tile will NOT emit lead into the room.

So it would be fine to install on a backsplash. I would CUT it outdoors. You don’t want to create dust from cutting indoors.

Note that her recommendations say don’t put food on the tile (which would absorb into the food and then you would eat it), use plates, etc, but she does NOT say do not touch the tile. Skin contact apparently is not a problem. I’ve seen this from other sources as well. So it’s OK to touch the tile.

Just as an aside, my whole kitchen and bathroom has this tile up all the walls 8 feet.

The conclusion seems to be that we should assume all manmade tiles contain lead. But as I outlined above, just because they contain lead doesn’t mean they cannot be used safely.

Marble is a natural material. It is not manufactured. Therefore lead would not be added, but it would contain any trace amounts of lead that occur naturally.

I would pick either and cut it in an area away from your toddler, where the dust would not go throughout the house via your HVAC.

Victoria’s Reply

Hi Debra,

Thank you so much for your reply! Your information and advice is greatly appreciated!!!

My concern is not the tile itself, but of the dust/debris generated when cutting large amounts of tile.

My hubby will cut the tile in the backyard, but even then, I worry about the tile debris/dust accumulating, possibly even contaminating, the deck, the playsets, the grass and soil my toddler plays in. Not to mention hubby’s clothing, dog paws, wind, etc, dragging it inside. I understand it doesn’t take very much lead to dust to contaminate an area.

This construction forum thread regarding lead in tile provided some interesting info:

“One contractor I followed actually ripped out old tile that didn’t have lead in them and installed tiles that did have lead in them.

I checked where he dump the water from the tile saw and the soil was way over the clearance levels for lead content.

Dry cutting with a grinder produced the same results.”

The same forum thread mentioned an amazing field report that provided a lot of interesting information

“The tile installer needs to take precautions to avoid the toxic effects of the lead and he needs to be sure that he does not carry tile dust home on his clothes or in his truck. Bob Knowles, a professional lead risk assessor, made the importance of this clear to me. On several occasions, the New Mexico Health Department asked him to trace down the source of lead that was causing elevated levels of blood to show up in school children. In some of these cases, he verified that the lead was coming from the professional activities of these children’s parent or parents who were tile installers. The tile dust was in their pick-up trucks and it was on the clothes, which they were wearing home. The pick-up trucks were used as work vehicles and for family transportation.”

Although Daltile provides a 2013 letter on their website that advises that they do not add lead to their glaze, I am still somewhat concerned about cutting and installing ceramic tile because they advise the tile may still contain lead. Im not concerned about the tile once it is installed.

So I was thinking maybe it’s best we cut and install marble instead of ceramic tile, just for peace of mind, because I can’t seem to find anything online that mentions lead in marble as a concern (unlike ceramic tile)

I would not be concerned about lead dust from tile cutting and installation if we didn’t have a toddler/still breastfeeding/potential pregnancy, as you know the effects of lead exposure are scarily irreversible, and even low levels of lead in the young body have been shown to affect IQ. Terrifying! 🙁

Although as you mention we live in a world where nothing is 100% without some toxic element… I just wish we lived in a world where us humans were more responsible about minimizing risk and took more care to ensure not only our safety, but the safety of the next generation(s) *sigh*!

That’s why I’m so appreciative of your website, blog and the work that you do, spreading important information and knowledge to everyone. Thanks so much for doing the amazing work that you do!! 🙂

Kind regards,

Victoria & family

Debra’s Answer

Considering all of the above and your concerns, I agree that your best choice is marble.

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Air Pollution May be Harmful Even at Levels Considered “Safe”

Live interactive map shows real time air pollution worldwide


A new study from Harvard University suggests that air pollution continues to contribute to premature death of Americans—even at levels well below the legal limits set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The nationwide study showed long-term exposure to two main smog pollutants—ozone and fine particulate matter—could increase chances of a shorter life.

The analysis of more than 60 million senior citizens found no sign of a “safe” level of pollution, below which the risk of dying early tapered off.

The Clean Air Act requires federal limits on the nation’s most widespread air pollutants to be updated periodically based on scientific review. The study, however, finds the current regulations to be insufficient to fully protect the public.

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Air pollution exposure may hasten death, even at levels deemed ‘safe,’ study says

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