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 Laura
I was using a novelty stainless steel spoon the past couple of weeks in my tea leaving the spoon in the cup after pouring the boiling water in. I also had broken out with eczema on my eyelids that progressively got worse and spread to my face beneath my eyes and on my cheeks. I kept smelling an odd smell that smelled like stainless stell cleanser, but couldn’t locate it until yesterday when I could very distinctly smell it in my tea. I discovered this last year that I am allergic to nickel. So, my question is: Can the leaching of nickel be the cause of the outbreak on my eyelids and face?
I’m not a doctor so I can’t diagnose your specific condition but nickel allergies can present as an icy rash. Many people with known nickel sensitivities choose to avoid stainless steel altogether because it can leach nickel when it comes in contact with acid foods or beverages.
Computers are an essential part of modern life but they are a source of many hazardous substances like heavy metals, brominated flame retardants, and PVC.
Fortunately, manufactures have been making progress in finding safer alternatives for some of the most harmful materials. In 2006, the European Union implemented legislation, known as RoHS, to regulate hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment. According to Greenpeace, computer manufacturers have significantly reduced their use of lead, cadmium, mercury, hexavalent chromium and certain brominated flame retardants in order to comply with the new regulations. These changes have been implemented by all companies and not only for the European market1.
There’s still a long way to go to make computers safer. A 2007 study by Greenpeace showed that bromine was present in over 40 percent of the components tested. PVC was found in 44 percent of all plastic coatings of internal wires and external cables. Phthalates were found in the power cables supplied with all laptops. Certain toxic chemicals found did not exceed the EU standard but there are many hazardous chemicals found in laptops that are not covered by the standard.
If you are in the market for a new computer there are helpful tools available to find one with fewer toxins. Greenpeace’s Guide to Greener Electronics 2017 grades manufactures on their efforts to reduce their environmental impacts. One of the three criteria it uses is chemical management. It evaluates the elimination of hazardous chemicals from the product and the manufacturing process. The other criteria are energy and resource consumption, both of which have considerable impact on the environment.
The guide includes a report card for each manufacturer with an overall grade, as well as grades for each of the three criteria. Apple received the highest grade, a “B”, for chemical management. This is your safest bet for a new computer.
Chemical Management Report Card
Apple was the first electronics manufacturer to commit to eliminating PVC and BFRs (brominated flame retardants). It has gone beyond RoHS standards to include additional hazardous chemicals such as beryllium, antimony trioxide and phthalates. They have also committed to restrict benzene, n-hexane, toluene, and chlorinated organic compound.
Dell originally committed to phasing out BFRs and PVC but has been unable to meet that goal. Dell (and EMC) now have a 2020 plan to phase out environmentally sensitive material as viable alternatives exist. They still have a goal to phase out BFRs and PVC but have not committed to a timeline. They also have plans to phase out 4 phthalates ahead of the EU deadline. Some laptops and tablets are now free of PVC and BFRs.
The Elite series is free of BFRs. All products except power cords and data cable are free of PVC. HP has set a 2020 deadline to phase out remaining uses of BFRs and PVS as well as antimony and certain phthalates but only as viable alternatives exist.
All products are free of PVC and BFRs. The grade is brought down due to lack of transparency of their list of suppliers.
All other manufactures listed, including Microsoft and Sony, score a C or lower for hazard chemical eliminations.
Another helpful source is the The Green Electronics Council’s Electronic Products Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT). The system helps purchasers compare and select desktop computers, notebooks and monitors based on their environmental attributes.
Compared to traditional computer equipment, all EPEAT-registered computers have reduced levels of cadmium, lead, and mercury to better protect human health and the environment. They are more energy efficient, which reduces emissions of climate changing greenhouse gases. They are also easier to upgrade and recycle. In fact, manufacturers must offer safe recycling options for the products when they are no longer useable.
EPEAT products are identified as EPEAT-Bronze, EPEAT-Silver, or EPEAT-Gold depending on the number of environmental features incorporated in the product. You can search by manufacturer if you want to learn more about a particular product or you can search for Gold rated products. If you click on the product you can see more details about the manufacturer’s management of hazardous substances under the heading “Substance Management”. There is also an advanced search feature that allows you to search for information on specific chemicals such as chromium, beryllium, chlorine and bromine.
Question from Julie
I have a question for you about permanently reducing VOCs from hardwood floor finish.
We had the hardwood floors in our new house stained and refinished 2 months ago. We expected a water-based product to be used for the finish, but unfortunately an oil-based poly was applied instead (Bona Woodline Polyurethane). It was also applied in less-than ideal conditions during a cold, rainy period.
Two months have passed since the refinishing and we’ve moved into the house (with a newborn), but there is still a noticeable smell. We’re also seeing tVOC levels spike to over 500 ppb on our Awair air quality meter.
We have air purifiers on and have been opening windows and running fans whenever possible, which improves the air quality at the time, but doesn’t seem to be solving the underlying off gassing problem.
I know that you don’t recommend baking VOCs out, but I’d like to know what you do recommend that would speed up the off gassing of our hardwood floors. I’d love to get to a place where our floors are fully cured and not emitting VOCs.
I’m sorry you are dealing with this, particularly with an infant! I know that it would be great if there were ways to eliminate toxins quickly, easily, and safely but unfortunately, that is not always possible.
The majority of the off-gassing will occur while the finish is curing, so the good news is that the worst part should be past. However, as The Green Building Council reports, oil-based finishes can off-glass for months and even years. It’s important that you do address the situation.
Indoor Air Quality professionals sometimes use a method called a “Flush Out” to reduce VOCs in a new building when concentrations are highest. The method is complex and uses a very precise mix of air volume, temperature and humidity. I don’t think this method is right for you because the majority of the off-gassing has already occurred. There is no method that will simply eliminate the lingering VOCs that will continue to offgas.
I recommend sealing the floor with a product designed to trap in any lingering VOCs. ECOS Interior Air Purifying Varnish is made for interior floors and can applied over your existing finish. It does require the floor to be lightly sanded so its important to maintain good ventilation and run your air purifiers. Also, make sure your vents are covered so the dust does not get into them.
Question from John
Has there been any new updates on non toxic campers? It seems like all campers are still using toxic materials and then the mold issue. Is it best to perhaps just get an aluminum trailer and build yourself?
I am not aware of any new updates. Debra is blogging about her reasons to build a tiny house on a motorhome chassis. You can follow her progress here.
Question from Mary
I have severe mcs
Looking for what would be the best place to live toxic free.
Possibly a tiny home
Would u give me direction.
Debra is blogging about her reasons to build a tiny house as well as the progress she is making. You can follow her here.
Another good source is mychemicalfreehouse.net.
Question from Mary
Do you know what is in enviroclense purifier?
I have mcs and this purifier destroyed my whole home clothes and all textiles.
I can’t breathe in 15 min.
I can’t wash the smell out of anything and nobody knows how to get it out
I only ran the purifier for 3 hours and now I cant live in my home
Smell is between ammonia bleach smell and cascade is how I explain it w a little sweet smell added.
Please can u help me so I can live in my home
EnviroKlenz is made with MCS users in mind. Have you tried calling the company and asking them for ideas? I can’t tell you what you are reacting to because everyone is different.
Here are some threads where other readers have commented on how they have handled odors from air purifiers. I hope they help,
Question from Martha
Do you know of a home printer that does not offgas when in use?
All printers will offgas. In addition to off-gassing, printers can emit particles into the air which is also harmful. Always use a printer in a well-ventilated area, keep it away from your bedroom, and use a high quality air purifier.
Here is a helpful resource to identify less harmful electronics. Look for “gold” level printers that score highly on reducing environmentally sensitive materials.
Question from Kristin
I’d like to wrap my mattress to protect myself from off-gassing. My research has brought me here, after this site was referenced in an idea to use foil insulation. I love this idea, but does it pose any risks? Are there any toxins I need to be aware of that might be added to the insulation? Any recommendations on brands? If I buy a polyethylene roll to wrap, what are the specs I’m looking for. So many choices pop up, and I’m not sure exactly what I’m looking for except high density, clear. Does it need to be food grade?
I believe you are referencing this post from 2011. Debra recommends a specific product that is just aluminum foil and polyethylene. I would be very careful to select a product that does not have any added chemicals. Here is a company that sells polyethylene wraps for mattresses. This may be a safer bet.
I know that buying a safe mattress is not affordable for everyone but it is a much safer option than wrapping a traditional mattress in plastic.
Question from Tamra
Hi I am trying to find bathroom and kitchen cabinets that will not off gas, and a healthy choice for home. Seems finding a painted finish on cabinets that is Low VOC is difficult, as I am told they do not wear well. Are there any companies you like for MCS? Mainly I have looked at Crystal cabinets ( seems if I understand right that their stained cabinets do have a low VOC finish top coat? But I do not think painted ones do?) Wood Cabinets 4 less I came across on this site, but I did not see much on Crystal cabinets. Also trying to find a more affordable, but HEALTH and not reacting to new cabinets is the most important thing.
Crystal Cabinets do not specify on their website if their paints or stains are low VOC. You could call them and ask. You could purchase solid wood cabinets from Wood Cabinets for less and get them unfinished and have someone paint them for you using a low VOC, or preferably a zero VOC paint.
I can tell you whether or not products are toxic but I can’t tell any individual whether or not they will react to something as everyone is different. Readers, are there any recommendations for cabinets for those with MCS.
Question from Sherry
Any suggestions for a laptop computer that doesn’t outgas much. Thank you for any help you can give.
There is a very helpful resource called the Green Electronics Council. “Purchasers can search for electronics based on product category, manufacturer, geography or EPEAT rating. EPEAT-registered products can even be identified based on specific attributes valued by an organization (reduction of toxic materials, recyclability, use of recycled plastic, etc.).
Manufacturers register products in EPEAT based on the devices’ ability to meet certain required and optional criteria that address the full product lifecycle, from design and production to energy use and recycling. Bronze-rated products meet all of the required criteria in their category. Silver-rated products meet all of the required criteria and at least 50% of the optional criteria, while Gold-rated products meet all of the required criteria and at least 75% of the optional criteria.”