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EWG is Rethinking Cancer

This week Environmental Working Group launched a new website called Rethinking Cancer

It’s all about preventing cancer in the first place, instead of finding a cure.

And I totally agree with this approach. I’ve been working to that end for more than thirty years.

If you are concerned about cancer, this is a good place to start to get some ideas about what to do.

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What Is Lyocell (Tencel)?

Question from B J

Hi Debra,

Could you please tell me what it is? There are a ton of clothes made out of it this year.

Debra’s Answer

Tencel has been around for quite a while. I remember when it first came on the market in 1997. I was doing some consulting work for Esprit de Corps in San Francisco and they were looking at Tencel.

There are actually three categories of fibers:

  • natural fibers – fiber as it occurs in nature
  • regenerated cellulose fibers – cellulose from plants put through industrial process
  • synthetic fibers – industrial an-made fibers made from petroleum

Tencel is akin to rayon and modal in that they all start as natural cellulose from plants, thus their generic term is “regenerated cellulosic fibers.” Bamboo actually is another one.

The difference between “regenerated cellulosic fibers” and actual “natural fibers” (cotton, linen, silk, wool, and others) is that the natural fibers are actually fibers taken directly from the plant and spun into yarn, whereas the regenerated fibers start as plants but get turned into an industrial product before they become yarn and then fabric.

If you go to the Tencel website , you will see that they call Tencel “botanic fiber” because the raw material—word—comes from Nature. And it does. But as Tencel, the natural material is no longer in it’s natural state. The website also states that solvents are used in the process of turning wood into Tencel.

Tencel is an “eco-friendly” fabric because it saves resources and recycles it’s solvent. The wood comes from single-species tree farms.

Tencel was the first cellulose fiber to utilize nanotechnology for performance.

I personally wear natural fibers as my first choice and occasionally wear regenerated cellulose fibers as a second choice if it’s something like a scarf that I really love. But since natural fibers are widely available, I just wear natural fibers.

While there do not seem to be any known health effects from Tencel, I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone with MCS. Many readers have written in saying they react to Modal (that post seems to be lost).

I also don’t recommend clothing made from Tencel. There are manywebsites that sell clothing made from organic cotton plus Tencel or Modal, and I don’t list them on Debra’s List. There’s just a wholeness about natural fibers that have health benefits of their own, and I don’t want to alter that.

Here are some articles with more information on Tencel:

Tencel: Sustainable but not necessarily healthy gives a good overview about Tencel, benefits and concerns

Eco-Fiber or Fraud? Are Reyon, Modal, and Tencel Environmental Friends or Foes? puts Tencel in the context of the history of regenerated cellulose fibers.

Tencel or Lyocell ecofriendly — caution for those with MCS. Not recommended for MCS.

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Formaldehyde Emissions from Laminate Flooring


You can read the full report. Prompted by last years expose by 60 Minutes of formaldehyde emissions from laminate flooring made in China, sold at Lumber Liquidators, the CPSC did their own study on laminate flooring and evaluated the health effects from this particular exposure to formaldehyde.

Here are the results.

NOTE: Because of the small number of laminate flooring samples tested, these conclusions do not represent the range of all possible formaldehyde concentrations and should not be generalized to all laminate flooring manufactured during the period of concern.

As a result of this evaluation, NCEH/ATSDR has come to the following conclusions:

Health effects from estimated formaldehyde exposures

Non-cancer effects

Floorboard contributions

  • The amount of formaldehyde released could cause health symptoms in residents. Those symptoms include an increase in breathing problems and short-term eye, nose, or throat irritation. These symptoms are more likely to occur at lower concentrations for people with pre-existing health conditions like asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
  • The higher the emissions the more likely people are to experience health effects, regardless of their age or pre-existing health conditions.
  • Flooring in small chamber tests had lower emission rates than flooring in large chamber tests. Across all testing, the NCEH/ATSDR model results show that in 95% of the samples, the amount of formaldehyde released by new laminate flooring alone could range from at or below 185 micrograms of formaldehyde per cubic meter of air (µg/m3) to at or below 930 µg/m3.

Floorboard contributions plus typical indoor levels

  • Formaldehyde is a common indoor air pollutant found in almost every home in the United States. It comes from manufactured wood products, permanent press fabrics, and other common household products. The typical amount of formaldehyde in indoor air ranges from a few µg/m3 to 240 µg/m3, with an average less than 50 µg/m3. This range
    includes lower levels in older, less energy efficient homes, and higher concentrations in newer or newly renovated homes (ATSDR 1999; ATSDR 2010).
  • NCEH/ATSDR added the estimated amount of formaldehyde released by new laminate flooring to typical home indoor air levels.
  • Our calculations show that if homes already contain new materials or products that release formaldehyde, the new floorboards could add a large amount of additional formaldehyde to what is already in the air from other sources. This additional amount of formaldehyde increases the risk for breathing problems as well as short-term eye, nose, and throat irritation for everyone.

Cancer effects

We estimated the risk of cancer from the CPSC-tested flooring based on conservatively high exposure assumptions:

  • Installing flooring with the highest formaldehyde levels, and
  • Breathing in formaldehyde at those levels in the house all day long for two years.

Using these assumptions, we estimated the lifetime risk of cancer to be between 6 and 30 extra cases for every 100,000 people. Formaldehyde levels are higher when products are new and get lower over time. Several studies have shown that indoor air concentrations of formaldehyde from new building products usually decrease over time, particularly during the first two years. Even though levels reduce over time, we calculated lifetime risk very conservatively and in a manner that is most protective of health, assuming a constant 24-hour, 7-day a week exposure to the measured floorboard emissions for the entire 2-year off-gassing period. If we instead assume a constant formaldehyde decay rate over the same 2-year period, these cancer risks would be reduced by half. If formaldehyde concentrations are assumed to remain elevated after a two-year period, the cancer risks would be proportionally increased.

To put those numbers in perspective, the American Cancer Society ( estimates that the lifetime cancer risk for people living in the United States is one in two men (50,000 per 100,000 people) and one in three women who may develop cancer from all causes (33,333 per 100,000 people).

Quality of life

People can generally smell formaldehyde before being adversely affected by it. Formaldehyde released from laminate flooring at levels that individuals can smell may affect their quality of life. Exposure to the estimated formaldehyde levels discussed in this report may cause sensory irritation, nausea, stress, and headaches.

Now this applies only to the actual laminate flooring tested, but it may apply to other laminate flooring.

We need to be careful to not extrapolate that just because this batch of flooring tested has these results that all other laminate flooring would have similar results.

I have been recommending against laminate flooring since Pergo came out years ago. I called them and without hesitation they told me that their flooring emits formaldehyde and they sent me the emissions tests.

I would like to see ALL laminate flooring be tested and provide the test results to consumers considering their products.

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Retro Foam

Question from Bonnie Johnson

Hi Debra,

Do you know anything about the company called Retro Foam. They are advertised as being toxic free for brick homes in many areas.

Debra’s Answer

I didn’t find much information on the main company website, but there is a lot more at one of their dealer websites:

They say the foam is “a tri-polymer, water-based, plastic foam; it contains a resin, foaming agent (catalyst) and pressurized air (200psi). The three components remain separate until the time of injection. The actual foam is mixed in the 10’ vinyl hose we use for installations.” aminoplast acid based air

So this tells me nothing. I called the main office and they told me the foam is three parts: aminoplast plastic, acidt-based resin and air. Combined they make foam.

I looked up “aminoplast.” but there isn’t much information.

An search for aminoplast MSDS resulted in an MSDS that says the synonym is “aminoplast polymer” and the chemical name is “urea-formaldehyde polymer.”

Yet Retro Foam’s MSDS is very different (see below).

I’m hesitant to say anything about this one way or the other. The company says it’s not hazardous, but I can’t confirm that, even with another MSDS.

They say “Does it contain formaldehyde? Yes, a very small amount: .016 ppm, which is well below EPA restrictions. Formaldehyde is also naturally produced in very small amounts in our bodies as a part of our normal, everyday metabolism and causes us no harm. It can also be found in the air that we breathe at home and at work, in the food we eat, and in some products that we put on our skin. For example: lotions, shampoos, sunblock, body wash, toothpaste, cosmetics… The point: Is formaldehyde dangerous? It depends on the amount. Is RetroFoam™ dangerous? No.”

This sounds like they are trying to make us think formaldehyde isn’t harmful.

They say “Is it safe? Yes. It’s environmentally friendly. It’s non-toxic, odor free, safe for everyone involved.”

I asked customer service about substantiation for these claims and she sent me their specifications sheet, which says


RetroFoam is an environmentally safe and friendly product made from nitrogen-based organic polymers. The foam is non-toxic and contains no solvents or petro-chemicals. Other “green” characteristics of Polymaster foam are:

  • Biodegradable—no disposal problems
  • No CFC’s
  • No ozone depleting off-gassing
  • No container disposal problems
  • Does not require potable water
  • Ships dry—utilizes less energy for transportation
  • Pollution prevention alternative to rigid foam boards
  • No residues following incineration

The MSDS sheet lists no hazardous chemicals.

RetroFoam Plastic Foam

RetroFoam Foamed – In – Place Insulation

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Is the Hose on the Kitchen Faucet Safe?

Question from NA

Hi Debra,

Redoing my kitchen and I am looking for a toxic free kitchen sink faucet.

I notice that many of them have a PVC hose from the faucet that can be pulled down and also used as a spray nozzle.

Went to Loews and of course they said that it was safe.

Should I stick with old fashioned one. Are there any that “hoses” are totally stainless steel lined that permit flexibility and the ability to “pull it down”.

I never drink water from the facet but obviously use it to wash veggie, fruits and everything else. Thanks for your help..

Hope you can get back to me asap….I bouht a MOEN and the plumber wants to put iti this weekend. Yikes…

Love your site!!! YOU GO GIRL!!!

Debra’s Answer

First of all, whatever any faucet hose is made from, you can always replace it with a different hose. Your plumber should be able to do that.

I’m looking around for spray hoses. Many say “vinyl” or “plastic” but here’s one at Lowe’s that’s stainless steel.

I think if you are buying a faucet it would be good idea to check the hose that comes with it and also possible replacement hoses.

Polyethylene tubing is very common and some faucets might have polyethylene or you could replace the tube with polyethylene.

I just haven’t researched all the tubing in all the kitchen faucets.

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Testing Reveals Presence of Glyphosate in Popular Breakfast Foods

Today, the Alliance for Natural Health-USA (ANH-USA) released the results of food safety testing conducted on an assortment of popular breakfast foods. Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) testing revealed the presence of glyphosate; the most widely used agricultural herbicide, in 11 of the 24 food samples tested.

“We decided to do this testing to see just how ubiquitous this toxin has become in our environment. We expected that trace amounts would show up in foods containing large amounts of corn and soy,” explained Gretchen DuBeau, executive and legal director of ANH-USA. “However, we were unprepared for just how invasive this poison has been to our entire food chain.”

Glyphosate was detected in 11 of the 24 breakfast foods tested. Analysis revealed the presence of glyphosate in oatmeal, bagels, eggs (including organic), potatoes and even non-GMO soy coffee creamer.

“Glyphosate has been linked to increases in levels of breast, thyroid, kidney, pancreatic, liver, and bladder cancers and is being served for breakfast, lunch and dinner around the world,” said DuBeau. “The fact that it is showing up in foods like eggs and coffee creamer, which don’t directly contact the herbicide, shows that it’s being passed on by animals who ingest it in their feed. This is contrary to everything that regulators and industry scientists have been telling the public.”

The presence of glyphosate in eggs and dairy supports the fear that the chemical is accumulating in the tissue of these animals, and therefore presumably also in human tissue, in a process called bioaccumulation.

Furthermore, testing for glyphosate alone does not even give us the full picture. The amounts detected by the ELISA test for glyphosate do not include any analogs of glyphosate, such as N-Acetylglyphosate, which is used by DuPont in its GMO formulations. These analogs may also be present in food and would add to the amount of glyphosate accumulated in human tissue. Glyphosate and its analogs are known endocrine disrupters for humans.

Clearly Americans are consuming glyphosate daily. The true safety of this chemical, just last year identified as a probably carcinogen by the WHO, is unknown. Current EPA standards have not been rigorously tested for all foods and all age groups. Evidence linking glyphosate with the increased incidence of a host of cancers is reason for immediate reevaluation by the EPA and FDA.

VIDEO: Are Your Eating Glyphosate For Breakfast?

ALLIANCE FOR NATURAL HEALTH USA: Glyphosate Levels in Breakfast Foods: What is safe?

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Phthalates in Fast Food—But That’s Not All…

Researchers at George Washington University have found that people who eat fast food tend to have significantly higher levels of certain phthalates that have known health effects.

The danger isn’t from the food itself, but rather the process by which the food is prepared.

To determine how fast food processing methods affects the presence of certain non-natural chemicals, researchers analyzed data for nearly 9,000 people, that was collected as part of federal nutrition surveys conducted between 2003 and 2010. The surveys included detailed information about the participants’ diets, including what each had eaten in the last 24 hours. They also contained the results of urine samples taken at the same time, which allowed the researchers to measure the levels of three separate chemicals, including the phthalates DEHP and DiNP.

fast food in 24 hours before the test “much higher” “Much higher” than those who had eaten none
a sizable amount of fast food 24% higher 39% higher than those who had eaten none
a little fast food 15% higher 25% higher than those who had eaten none

Exposure to phthalates is widespread. The group of chemicals is used in many products, such as food packaging, where it does not appear on the label. Even though the dangers of phthalates are not yet generally accepted, studies show a strong link between DEHP and diabetes, an increase in allergies in children and negative child behavior. The phthalate DiNP has been association with higher blood pressure.The amount of phthalates in fast food seems to be associated with the amount of processing equipment food goes through in quick-serve restaurants. More contact with plastics, conveyor belts, and various machines results in more phthalates in the food.

But fast foods are not the only source of phthalate exposure. Phthalates from food processing are widespread in the food industry. An article in The Guardian reports:

In food, for example, even milk packaged in glass may have passed through plastic tubes on its way from the cow to the bottle, taking DEHP along with it. “Milking machines use a lot of plastic and DEHP is free and very lipophilic (fat soluble), and milk is full of lipids, so it just pulls the DEHP out of the plastic tubing and into the milk,” explains Robin Whyatt, professor of environmental health sciences at the Columbia University Medical Center and the lead author on several landmark phthalate studies. “So my guess would be that milk is a pretty important source of dietary exposure to DEHP.”

In the same article, a study showed imported organic spices to be contaminated with phthalates:

Spices are another surprising source of phthalate exposure. A 2013 study, published in the journal Nature, compared the phthalate levels of two groups, one eating their regular diet but armed with a handout of recommendations for ways to reduce BPA and phthalate exposure in their diet, and the other eating a catered diet consisting solely of local, organic fare, none of which had touched plastic packaging. The study authors were shocked to find that DEHP levels in the local, organic group jumped 2,377% over the course of the experiment. Determined to figure out why, the researchers tested all of the foods consumed by the group and found high levels of the phthalate in dairy products and various organic, imported spices.

This just points out once again the importance of preparing your food at home from fresh ingredients that have not been through industrial processing. Even organic foods packaged in glass have still been run through machines with soft plastic tubing.

See my food blog Toxic Free Kitchen for recipes and more information on preparing food yourself at home.

THE WASHINGTON POST: Researchers have found a ‘striking’ new side effect from eating fast food

ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH PERSPECTIVES: Recent Fast Food Consumption and Bisphenol A and Phthalates Exposures among the US Population in NHANES, 2003-2010

NHANES is the [National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey

THE GUARDIAN: Phthalates are everywhere, and the health risks are worrying. How bad are they really?

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Are Organic Strawberries Really Organic?

Coincidentally, as soon as I posted this I received an email from EWG. For the first time in five years, strawberries topped their “Dirty Dozen” list of foods that you must eat organic because they are so toxic. Read more at EWG…

Question from Jackie

I saw the above on Facebook and they showed a picture of Driscoll’s Strawberries with it.

So I wrote to them regarding the above and below is there answer.

You cut through this much better than I do.

What do you think, should we not be buying them???


Dear Jackie,

Thank you for taking the time to ask about our growing practices at Driscoll’s. Growing conditions vary from farm to farm and among different growing regions around the world. Depending on these conditions, berry farmers may need to take action to protect their crop by using protective materials. Any pesticide that is used must be in compliance with federal and state laws, and must comply with the pesticide registration policies of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA), and the berries must also be in compliance with legal pesticide tolerances established by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (US FDA). For additional information on specific pesticides available for use by berry farmers, please refer to the US EPA’s website at

The type of farming method used to grow the berries (organic or non-organic) will also determine what options the farmer has to protect the crop. An organic farmer can only use pesticides that have been approved for certified organic farming by the United State Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Organic Standards Program. A non-organic farmer can choose to use either an approved organic or a non-organic pesticide. Driscoll’s is also one of the largest suppliers of organic berries with a product line that includes strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and blackberries. We are proud to offer consumers a wide assortment of organic and non-organic berries that allows consumers to have a choice when purchasing Driscoll’s berries.

Hopefully this information has offered some insight into our growing practices. Please let me know if you have any additional questions that haven’t been answered.

Best Regards,

Hannah Hughes

Driscoll’s Customer Care Representative


Debra’s Answer

Oh this is a difficult question.

If you didn’t click through and read the article, it was making the point that the SEEDLING is treated with methyl bromide, even for organic strawberries.

First of all methyl bromide degrades in the sun in 10 days. So it’s highly likely that as the plant grows there is no residue of methyl bromide by the time the fruit is formed and you eat it.

Here’s more about fumigation from NPR

California’s strawberry growers don’t want to take any risk that their crop will fail…

So every year, a month before planting time, fumigation machines move slowly across California’s strawberry fields. They inject chemicals into the soil and seal the fumes into the soil with sheets of plastic.

The chemicals kill practically everything in the soil: Insects, weeds, and fungi..

Organic strawberry growers don’t fumigate. They stay a step ahead of diseases by moving from field to field. This also means that they only get to grow strawberries on a particular field once every three to five years, or sometimes even longer. Yet even California’s organic strawberry growers buy their plants from nurseries that do use fumigation. Nobody wants to run the risk of bringing diseased plants into their fields.

This technology has done wonders for strawberry production. But it’s under attack. And it may have to change.

The most powerful fumigant — methyl bromide — is supposed to be phased out gradually because it can eat away at Earth’s ozone layer. It’s still used under a “critical use exemption” that the Environmental Protection Agency has obtained each year.

But I’m not sure it’s a big deal for the end eater of the organic strawberry.

And I just don’t like being sensational about something so small.

We don’t live in a perfect world and we need to make our choices from what is available while at the same time striving to improve the overall problems.

I would say that an organic strawberry from a methyl bromide treated seedling is far better than a conventional strawberry that would have even more toxic pesticides.

So either choose organic, however flawed, or don’t eat strawberries, or grow your own.

I think Driscoll’s response is sufficiently vague as to say nothing. But since they are selling fruit from multiple farms under their brand, they can’t possibly describe the growing conditions for any specific box of strawberries.

That’s why farmer’s markets and gardening are so wonderful!

I just called my local organic nursery and she said organic seedlings sold in nurseries are NEVER treated with methyl bromide or anything else. She said it’s different for commercial seedlings.

My friend Joyce just planted strawberries in cement blocks. The strawberries then hang on the outside of the block instead of in the dirt. I liked this so much I had her come over and help me set up some cement blocks too in my garden, Now I need to go down to the organic nursery and buy some untreated strawberry seedlings.

Have some fun! Grow your own strawberries.


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Equipment for Making Kombucha Tea

Question from Linda H

Hi Debra,

I am making kombucha tea for its probiotic and healing properties. It appears that a continuous brewing method promotes a more prolific probiotic colony. Can anyone help me find a “Sun Tea-like” decanter with the following criteria (or suggest the best alternative)?

1. glass container


3. SILICONE (rather than metal or plastic) seal 4. 1 gallon to 3 gallon capacity

4. NO METAL coming in contact with any beverage (as it could damage/kill scoby)

So far, this is the closest I have come, based on information obtained through live chat at They told me it is a stainless steel spigot and glass decanter. I haven’t been able to get through to Wayfair to determine if there is any plastic, but there probably is:

The shape of the decanter is not ideal. Cylindrical would be better, with a large mouth. But this could work, if what I was told is true.

I would appreciate any guidance you have to offer. Thank you!

Debra’s Answer

This page has a whole list of kombucha equipment, including large wide mouth glass jars with and without dispensers and a stainless steel replacement spigot. Plus a kombucha starter kit.

I think you’ll find what you need here.

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