Submitted questions will be posted with my response by the following Tuesday or before.
Submitted comments will be moderated and approved within 24 hours.
This is an updated response to a question originally posted in 2006. Recent questions posed in the comments led me to post it today with an updated answer.
Question from Susan Hunt
Thanks for the information on non-toxic bathtubs, Debra! Now I am questioning light bulbs…………do halogen bulbs outgas at an unsafe level? Which types of bulbs are best to use?
Thanks for a great website!
When I originally answered this question om 2006. I said:
To the best of my knowledge, lightbulbs do not “outgas” in the way we generally use that term to mean outgassing toxic chemicals.
I imagine that various types of lightbulbs emit various levels or even various types of EMFs, but I couldn’t find any data on this (that doesn’t mean there isn’t any).
I do know that various types of lightbulbs and various spectrums of light have varying effects on health.
And nobody commented for eleven years.
We have more data now.
Here’s my answer in 2017.
I’ll just start by saying that the least toxic lightbulb is the incandescent light bulb. But the best type of light is sunlight.
My rule of thumb is that our human bodies and the larger ecosystem in which we live were all designed as one system. The healthiest thing is always the most natural thing and most manmade activities are actually interference to our natural connection with the Earth. And so natural light from the sun is the least toxic source of light and also the most nourishing form of light, which contributed beneficially to our health. I personally have large windows and skylights and use as little artificial light as possible. I have overhead lights only in the hallway, bathroom and kitchen and mostly don’t use them. If I need to turn on a light, I turn on a small task light.
The next best light after sunlight would be candlelight, as again, it’s a natural form of light.
Incandenscent light bulbs seem to be the least toxic and have the best light of any of the lightbulbs. For a while it seemed like they were difficult to find, but I had no trouble finding them online:
LEDs and compact fluorescents have a number of problems, from EMFs to quality of light to heavy metals that can pollute the environment when disposed of.
But you should be able to use natural light and incandenscents for all your lighting needs.
A reader alerted me to the fact that this week is Asbestos Awareness Week.
I haven’t written much about asbestos because I thought it was banned. In fact, on 12 July 1989, the EPA issued a final regulation banning most uses of asbestos, but not all. But the asbestos industry filed a lawsuit against the EPA and overturned the ban. Read more about the ban and current restrictions
Then Mesothelioma + Asbestos Awareness Center wants to see a future where a highly preventable cancer is virtually non-existent because people are more aware as to where the hazardous material can be found in their homes and occupations. They also provide information for those who are interested in learning more about the cancer as they themselves are experiencing it, or are students learning about other lung diseases as they enter health and medical fields.
While asbestos is not as widely used today as it was in the past, it is still found in some consumer products. Shannon also sent me an article about five products that still contain asbestos: car parts, insulation, construction materials, fireproof clothing, and potting soils. Potting soils? It’s the vermiculite in potting soils that may be contaminated with asbestos, as they occur in nature together.
Other domestic products that may contain asbestos include:
- Crock pot linings and around the power cord: especially those manufactured prior to 1980
- Ironing board covers either made with asbestos cloth or had asbestos fibers weaved into the material: those commonly sold around the 1960
- Hair dryer heating elements: those produced prior to 1979, though there is a possibility of foreign-made hair dryers still containing some amount of asbestos
And if you are looking for or living in an older home to avoid outgassing of VOCs from modern building materials, those older homes are the most likely to contain asbestos. Within those homes asbestos can be found in roofing tiles, vinyl flooring (installed prior to 1980), popcorn ceiling, piping, and wall boards.
Here’s another post on this blog about asbestos: Q&A: My Personal Experience with “Second -Hand” Asbestos.
Question from Eliana
I am thinking of having wallpaper in my dining room. The selection of non-vinyl wallpaper is very slim. I am very green and keep indoor air as clean as I can. The question is, does vinyl off gas forever? The other question is, what about the glue they use to put it up. Is it sealed once the wallpaper is on and if not does it off gas forever?
It is so challenging to stay green in the world we live in.
Please let me know?
Thanks so much.
Soft vinyl outgassed forever, to a lesser and lesser degree as time goes by. I really recommend no using vinyl wallpaper.
In addition, if you use air conditioning, mold can grow behind wallpaper which is a vapor barrier stopping hot and moist exterior air entering walls in summer.
Over the years I’ve seen a few uncoated paper wallpapers, but personally, if you want a pattern on the walls, I would stencil or hand paint the pattern with a nontoxic paint rather than try to deal with a paper wallpaper. I’m concerned it may mold.
Here is a very good list of the many different types of wallpapers, showing the materials—both synthetic and natural—used to make them:
And here is a resource about wallpaper adhesives:
The choices for paste seems to be vinyl, wheat, or cellulose.
So it IS possible to find a natural wallpaper and a natural paste, but I am concerned about mold, especially in a humid environment.
Question from Magda
Originally I thought that chlordane would not be a problem in and around houses any more. Until I came upon the study, article, and description of practices excerpted below.
Sorry to bring up such a long, unpleasant litany, now that spring is here and the daffodils are blooming!
But I live in Iowa and love gardening. It is very hard not to weed close to house walls, where a potential contmination would be worst, and has possibly been spread around through the building of porches, digging near foundations etc.
Do you know of any chlordane test except the one offered by Dr. Richard A. Cassidy of Toxfree, who also put the mentioned practices described below on the internet?
Thank you very much in advance. Thank you also for helping us ordinary people (who do not know science) live healthier lives.
Health Dangers of Chlordane
by Dr. Edward Group DC, NP, DACBN, DCBCN, DABFM
[schema] published + updated Published on March 14, 2013, Last Updated on May 28, 2013
The University of Iowa examined soil samples and discovered that Cedar Rapids Iowa had chlordane soil contamination almost as severe as urban areas of China.
Hedley AJ, Hui LL, Kypke K, Malisch R, van Leeuwen FX, Moy G, Wong TW, Nelson EA. Residues of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) in human milk in Hong Kong. Chemosphere. 2010 Apr;79(3):259-65. doi: 10.1016/j.chemosphere.2010.01.047. Epub 2010 Mar 2.
Bao LJ, Maruya KA, Snyder SA, Zeng EY. China’s water pollution by persistent organic pollutants. Environ Pollut. 2012 Apr;163:100-8. doi: 10.1016/j.envpol.2011.12.022. Epub 2012 Jan 11. Review.
Martinez A, Erdman NR, Rodenburg ZL, Eastling PM, Hornbuckle KC. Spatial distribution of chlordanes and PCB congeners in soil in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, USA. Environ Pollut. 2012 Feb;161:222-8. doi: 10.1016/j.envpol.2011.10.028. Epub 2011 Nov 26.
Mast MA, Alvarez DA, Zaugg SD. Deposition and accumulation of airborne organic contaminants in Yosemite National Park, California. Environ Toxicol Chem. 2012 Mar;31(3):524-33. doi: 10.1002/etc.1727. Epub 2012 Feb 6.
Morrissey CA, Pollet IL, Ormerod SJ, Elliott JE. American dippers indicate contaminant biotransport by Pacific salmon. Environ Sci Technol. 2012 Jan 17;46(2):1153-62. doi: 10.1021/es2028058. Epub 2011 Dec 23.
Lopez J, Boyd D, Ylitalo GM, Littnan C, Pearce R. Persistent organic pollutants in the endangered Hawaiian monk seal (Monachus schauinslandi) from the main Hawaiian Islands. Mar Pollut Bull. 2012 Nov;64(11):2588-98. doi: 10.1016/j.marpolbul.2012.07.012. Epub 2012 Aug 9.
Everett CJ, Matheson EM. Biomarkers of pesticide exposure and diabetes in the 1999-2004 national health and nutrition examination survey. Environ Int. 2010 May;36(4):398-401. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2010.02.010. Epub 2010 Mar 17.
Goldner WS, Sandler DP, Yu F, Hoppin JA, Kamel F, Levan TD. Pesticide use and thyroid disease among women in the Agricultural Health Study. Am J Epidemiol. 2010 Feb 15;171(4):455-64. doi: 10.1093/aje/kwp404. Epub 2010 Jan 8.
Vogt R, Bennett D, Cassady D, Frost J, Ritz B, Hertz-Picciotto I. Cancer and non-cancer health effects from food contaminant exposures for children and adults in California: a risk assessment. Environ Health. 2012 Nov 9;11:83. doi: 10.1186/1476-069X-11-83.
Sakamoto K, Nishizawa H, Manabe N. Behavior of pesticides in coffee beans during the roasting process. Shokuhin Eiseigaku Zasshi. 2012;53(5):233-6.
Environ Pollut. 2012 Feb;161:222-8. doi: 10.1016/j.envpol.2011.10.028. Epub 2011 Nov 26.
Spatial distribution of chlordanes and PCB congeners in soil in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, USA.
Martinez A1, Erdman NR, Rodenburg ZL, Eastling PM, Hornbuckle KC.
Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering, IIHR-Hydroscience and Engineering, The University of Iowa, 4105 SC, Iowa City, IA 52242, USA.
Residential soils from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, USA were collected and analyzed for chlordanes and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). This study is one of the very few urban soil investigations in the USA. The chlordanes concentrations ranged from 0 to 7500 ng g(-1) dry weight (d.w.), with a mean and standard deviation of 130 ± 920 ng g(-1) d.w., which is about 1000 times larger than background levels. ΣPCB concentrations ranged from 3 to 1200 ng g(-1) d.w., with a mean and standard deviation of 56 ± 160 ng g(-1) d.w. and are about 10 times higher than world-wide background levels. Both groups exhibit considerable variability in chemical patterns and site-to-site concentrations. Although no measurements of dioxins were carried out, the potential toxicity due to the 12 dioxin-like PCBs found in the soil is in the same order of magnitude of the provisional threshold recommended by USEPA to perform soil remediation.
Copyright © 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Information provided by
Richard W. Pressinger (M.Ed.), Wayne Sinclair, M.D.
Application to Outside Wood Surfaces
Chlordane was frequently applied to the outside wood surfaces of many homes built before 1988. This would have been done because of an actual termite problem or as a preventive safeguard from a worried homeowner. Under first consideration, the application to the outside of the home would not appear as a problem, however, as described in research on the chlordane web site, conducted by Dr. Kaye Kilburn of the the University of California, even outdoor applications of the chemical can find their way indoors to contaminate the interior to a level that can cause a variety of health problems from increased infections to increases in many neurological disorders including – anger, migraine headaches and depression.
The least expensive way to correct contamination of the exterior wood surfaces of a home is to seal the wood with a hard, enamel based paint. The most efficient method for correcting this problem is to identify which side of the home the problem exists and to then replace the contaminated wood pieces. If the home is constructed of 4×8 sheets of plywood siding, these sheets can be easily replaced for a materials cost of about $25.00 per sheet. Check with the pest control company who applied the chlordane and ask if their records show where chlordane was applied.
Infiltration up through the Foundation of the Home
This is the same route that radon has been found to contaminate homes throughout the U.S. When a home was built before 1988, standard procedure was to literally saturate 100 gallons of chlordane into the soil per 1000 square feet of home area just before the concrete foundation was poured. Therefore, a 2000 square foot home would have 200 gallons of chlordane saturated into the soil. After several years of “settling,” cracks form in the foundation and basement walls or around plumbing pipes which has been found to allow for entry of the chemical into the home.
Success has been shown with underground infiltration problems by simply identifying where the cracks in the foundation are located and sealing these with an acrylic caulking or similar compound. It is also recommended to caulk around all plumbing pipe entry points through the foundation. As chlordane was often concentrated in the outer one or two foot perimeter just underneath the foundation, there needs to be a good caulking seal at the point where the wall meets the floor
As the attic of a home is comprised of wooden 2×4 support beams, these were often sprayed with chlordane by a pesticide company to ward off future termite problems. Unfortunately, when the applicator is spraying the beams, the chemical can easily drip onto the ceiling drywall sheets that were nailed to the 2×4’s. Drywall is made of rock powders that act like a sponge, quickly absorbing the chemical and then outgas the chlordane into the living area below. Contamination would then occur to the area below which could be either the kitchen, living room or bedroom.
Ceiling drywall that has soaked up chlordane due to an attic application of chlordane can be widespread. Ceiling drywall can be purchased inexpensively in 3/8 inch thicknesses for around $5.00 for a 4×8 foot sheet. It is recommended that these be placed over existing ceiling drywall or to completely remove the existing drywall and to then apply new drywall.
The research has documented spills of chlordane containers occurring during testing research and has certainly happened to an unknown percentage of homes built before 1988. The spills could range from a few ounces to one gallon or 55 gallon containers. If one room registers a much higher chlordane level than another room – the possibility of a chlordane spill should be considered.
If a significant amount of chlordane has been spilled onto any inside flooring the two correction procedures in order of effectiveness include – painting the floor with an enamel based paint or laying ceramic or hard vinyl tile over the contaminated area.
Normal Application Residue
Although chlordane was routinely used outside the home up through March of 1988, it was often used for the indoor control of roaches and ants up until 1981. Chlordane was easily purchased by homeowners from department stores before this date as an effective roach and ant pesticide. Indoor areas routinely treated with chlordane include underneath the kitchen sink, behind the refrigerator, behind the dishwasher and along baseboards throughout the bedrooms. Sometimes the chemical odor of chlordane underneath a kitchen sink is “overwhelming” due to this area receiving repeated chlordane applications. Chlordane contamination still occurs today as many “garden/tool sheds” still have bottles of outdated chlordane on the shelves.
If contamination under the kitchen sink is suspected, perform a chlordane air test underneath the sink. High levels found here can be “sealed in” using new plywood or if air chlordane contamination is exceptionally high, the homeowner may be better off replacing the old counter top with a new one. Baseboards along the floor can be sealed with an enamel paint or can be replaced at a cost of 30 cents to $1.00 per foot.
Thank you for all this information Magda. Chlordane is a very toxic pesticide and it’s important to know it’s still a hazard to watch out for.
In January, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued a new Fact Sheet for Blood Lead Levels in Children.
The Fact Sheet says:
Protecting children from exposure to lead is important to lifelong good health. Even low levels of lead in blood have been shown to affect IQ, ability to pay attention, and academic achievement. And effects of lead exposure cannot be corrected.
The most important step parents, doctors, and others can take is to prevent lead exposure before it occurs.
On the CDC website they say, ” No safe blood lead level in children has been identified.”
The Fact Sheet gives tips for parents on how they can protect their children from exposures to lead.
Microban is now on all kinds of products kids and adults are touching every day.
Question from Mary
My assistant just bought a floor pad for me that says “microban” on the label.
I know that microban is an antimicrobial, but since it will be 5 feet from my nose, I don’t suppose there is a need to be concerned about toxicity. However, if it wears away like my old pads do we’ll be tracking the dust onto the living room carpet. But then I don’t sit on the floor so maybe that’s not an issue either. I would not buy a Rubbermaid dish drainer because it has microban, but this is different.
In terms of the microban, do you think it is risky to have these pads on the kitchen floor?
Thanks for your input.
This is a very good question.
I had to look this one up because exposures can happen through breathing, eating or drinking, or skin contact. And certainly if microban requires skin contact for it to get into your body, breathing it wouldn’t be an issue. Like stainless steel, for example. Perfectly fine to breathe, but it will release heavy metals into food or water.
Microban is a trade name for the chemical triclosan, so I looked up triclosan.
The primary route of entry is through the skin from personal care products and ingestion from dental care products.
Warnings from various manufacturers are limited to “skin irritation” and “serious eye irritation.”
I found an MSDS that says that inhalation is not a route of entry for triclosan in an antibacterial soap.
So this is beginning to sound like there isn’t much exposure to triclosan found on flooring pads.
How Antibiotics and Antibacterials are Compromising our Health
My guest today is Martin J. Blaser, MD, author of Missing Microbes: How the Overuse of Antibiotics Is Fueling Our Modern Plagues. We’ll be talking about how the massive increases in the developed world of “modern plagues”—such as obesity, type 1 diabetes, asthma, allergies, esophageal cancer, celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and autism—are related to loss of diversity of the complex—and crucially important—ecosystem of microorganisms within our bodies on which we all depend. As diversity diminishes, our immune systems are compromised, and we become much more susceptible to new infections. And this loss of micro-organism diversity is due to the use of wide use of antibiotics and products that contain antibacterials such as triclosan. Dr. Blaser has studied the role of bacteria in human disease for more than thirty years. He is the director of the Human Microbiome Program at New York University, the former president of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, and has held major advisory roles at the National Institutes of Health. He cofounded the Bellevue Literary Review, and his work has been written about in many newspapers and journals, including The New Yorker, Nature, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal. He lives in New York City. www.martinblaser.com.
The Dangers of Antimicrobials and How to Choose Products Without Them
My guest today is Larry Plesent, Founder of Vermont Soap. We’re going to talk about why you shouldn’t use toxic antimicrobials, which products contain them and where you can find antimicrobial-free alternatives, and some toxic free ways to kill germs. Vermont Soap makes “100% natural and non-toxic alternatives to the chemical based personal care products now in general use, including; handmade bar soaps for sensitive skin, anti-aging products, 100% natural shower gels, castile liquid soaps and non-toxic cleaners. Most products made by Vermont Soap are certified to USDA organic standards.” Larry is also a writer,philosopher, restaurateur and farmer. www.debralynndadd.com/debras-list/vermont-soap
Question from Rebecca
Do you have any suggestions on hard cases for glasses that are non-toxic?
The case I have for my sunglasses smells like it is off gassing possibly formaldehyde (from glues?). I can smell it on the plastic frames when I put them on my face. Ugh.
Any good suggestions for hard case?
I don’t have a suggestion because I don’t use a hard case for my glasses. I’m usually wearing them or they are on top of my head.
I haven’t even looked at hard cases for years.
Readers, any suggestions?
POLL: Californians Overwhelmingly Support Right to Know Legislation for Cleaning Product Ingredients
Proposals in Cleaning Product Right to Know Act (Senate Bill 258) enjoy strong bipartisan support
SACRAMENTO, CA – A new poll shows California voters overwhelmingly support legislation to require ingredient labeling on cleaning products sold in the state. Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) introduced the Cleaning Product Right to Know Act of 2017 (Senate Bill 258) to require detailed ingredient labels on cleaning products sold in the state.
The Cleaning Product Right to Know will give full disclosure about what is in the products millions of families and domestic workers use every day.
“It is clear that Californians want to know what is in their cleaning products so they can make good choices for themselves and their families,” said Sen. Lara. “Unknown chemicals are lurking in our homes and workplaces, and it’s the reason janitors and domestic workers have higher rates of asthma, respiratory illnesses and birth defects. The Cleaning Product Right to Know Act will protect the health and safety of workers and all families.”
Major findings of the poll include:
More than three-quarters of voters (78%) are supportive of legislation to label cleaning product chemicals.
Support crosses party lines with 87% of Democrats, 76% of no-party voters and 67% of Republicans in favor.
Nearly three-quarters of voters (72%) would be more likely to support their legislator if they backed the proposed bill.
As voters learn more, their support for the proposed policy solidifies.
Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates (FM3) conducted the poll of 1,000 registered California voters from January 15-19, 2017, before Senate Bill 258 was introduced.
Click here to read the Cleaning Product Right to Know Act: www.leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=201720180SB258
This is important because cleaning products are not required by law to list their ingredients, even though they are some of the most toxic products on the market. — Debra
The portion on the right is dry and has been wiped down. The portion straight ahead I did this morning and the oil is soaking in and drying. Obviously the dull part on the left is the floor before I refinished it. I love this!
Question from Judy
Here is a natural way to refinish very old floors where much of the finish has worn off. We are doing it and I think it’s going to be great! Thought you would like it.
- Sweep floors
- Any greasy stains? Use WHITE VINEGAR. Scrub the stains in a circular motion with a sponge. Use the scrubbing side, but make sure you buy the ones that have the non-scratch scrubbing side. Let the vinegar dry. If stain is still visible, do it one more time. Let dry.
- Scrub the same stains with Dawn and hot water – in a circular motion. then with the grain. Let dry.
- Mop entire floor – we used Murphy’s Oil Soap and water. Let dry.
- With the soft side of a sponge, spread olive oil over entire floor. Let dry. This could take up to 24 hours. Then take a clean towel and wipe over entire floor (vigorously).
On one of our floors, I let the oil stay on for only about 6 hours, then used the towel, because we needed use of that floor! It still looks fine. We did all of this in December, and the floors still look great!
DON”T SLIP! FLOORS ARE VERY SLIPPERY UNTIL AFTER THE TOWEL IS USED!!!!
I’m doing it a little bit at a time, and there’s no lines where you stop and no smell, and it looks fabulous!
I found out about this because I’ve been wanting to refinish my floors but it was too expensive and I didn’t want the chemicals in my house. Then I went to the home of a friend for dinner who lives in an old house and her floors looked fabulous! I asked her what she did and she gave me the information. And now I’m doing mine and they look great too.
I’m so excited! I can’t wait to do the whole house.
This sounds great. I need this for my floors too! I’m going to try it.
For years I have been wanting to grow sprouts at home, but didn’t because I couldn’t figure out where to put the jars that would:
- have enough light
- be near a water source
- be in a place where it’s OK to drip
- not get in the way of other things I’m doing
- be in a place where I would see them on a regular basis so I would remember to water them and could monitor their progress
Finally, yesterday I came across sprouting yet again and wanted to do it. But again ran into the question “where do I put the jars?”
You know that old saying. “Where there’s a will there’s a way.”
Well I decided I was going to figure out where to put the jars so I could sprout.
And then last night I went to Target to buy another half-gallon glass refrigerator pitcher and then decided to just walk around the store and see if I could find something that would hold the sprouting jars.
And I did! I found these metal baskets that I could hang in my kitchen window right over the sink and they are perfect in every way! They are designed to hang on a cabinet door to hold cleaning supplies, but I just used it for a different purpose. I would give you the link but this item doesn’t seem to be on the Target website. It might be in your local store.
Anyway, if this type of basket would be useful for you in some way, search for “cabinet basket” and you’ll find similar products.