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steven-gilbert-2My guest today is toxicologist Steven G. Gilbert, PhD, DABT, He’s a regular guest who is helping us understand the toxicity of common chemicals we may be frequently exposed to. Today we’re going to talking about solvents and vaports. This large class of chemicals includes all the chemicals known as “VOCs” which enter our bodies through breathing or absorbtion through the skin. We’ll explore how you are exposed to solvents and vapors and their health effects.  Dr. Gilbert is Director and Founder of A Small Dose of Toxicologythe Institute of Neurotoxicology and author of A Small Dose of Toxicology- The Health Effects of Common Chemicals. He received his Ph.D. in Toxicology in 1986 from the University of Rochester, Rochester, NY, is a Diplomat of American Board of Toxicology, and an Affiliate Professor in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences, University of Washington. His research has focused on neurobehavioral effects of low-level exposure to lead and mercury on the developing nervous system. Dr. Gilbert has an extensive website about toxicology called Toxipedia, which includes a suite of sites that put scientific information in the context of history, society, and culture.









Toxic Solvents and Vapors

Host: Debra Lynn Dadd
Guest: Dr. Steven Gilbert

Date of Broadcast: May 28, 2015

DEBRA: Hi. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd. This is Toxic Free Talk Radio where we talk about how to thrive in a toxic world and live toxic free. It is Thursday, May 28th, 2015. It’s a beautiful day here in Clearwater, Florida. The sun is shining as it usually does. We’re having very warm days. Let’s see, it’s 84° outside, beautiful day.

Today, we’re going to talk about solvents and vapors. My guest today is toxicologist Steven Gilbert and he is a regular guest. He’s on every month or so. And we’re going through actually chapter by chapter of his book called A Small Dose of Toxicology, which you can get on his website for free. The easiest way to find it is to just go to, look for his show and click on the book and it will take you right there rather than give you the longer URL to get there.

Today, we’re going to talk about toxics and vapors. Toxics and vapors are those things that you smell like when you have a permanent ink marker and it has that smell – or glue when you’re making a model or all those things that smell like something. We’re going to talk about the toxicity of those.

Hi, Dr. Gilbert.

DR. STEVEN GILBERT: How are you doing?

DEBRA: Good. How are you doing?

DR. STEVEN GILBERT: Good. We’re having a great day in Seattle here too. We have a nice sunny day. My solar panels are producing lots of electricity.

DEBRA: That’s so good to hear. So tell us about solvents and vapors.

DR. STEVEN GILBERT: Before we jump into solvents, I just want to point out that yesterday was the birthday of a very, very important person, Rachel Carson. She wrote Silent Spring. It was really instrumental in raising the issue of chemicals. She focused mostly on pesticides, and was really instrumental in the banning of DDT.

I actually have a couple of quotes I want to read from her. One of them is:

“If we are going to live so intimately with these chemicals, eating and drinking them, taking them into the very marrow of our bone, we had better know something about their nature and their power.”

Solvents are just one example of that, but she’s focusing on pesticides. But we do need a better understanding of the nature and power of the chemicals we are exposed to.

DEBRA: Absolutely.

DR. STEVEN GILBERT: Another one of her quotes was:

“As crude a weapon as the caveman’s club, the chemical barrage has been hurled against the fabric of life.” And we are hurling lots of chemicals in the fabric of life. We have thousands of chemicals that are produced over a million pounds per year. And a vast majority of them, we do not know a lot about their toxicity.

So I just want to point out and just remind everybody that Silent Spring is still a wonderful book. Rachel Carson’s birthday was yesterday in 1907.

DEBRA: Thank you very much. I totally agree with you, totally, totally, totally.

I didn’t read Silent Spring for many, many years even though I was interested in toxics because I thought it was an environmental book. But really, I think it’s the first general public book on toxics and the effect that they have on the environment and the effect they have on our health. I think everyone should read it. It just is I think the basic beginning of this whole issue about toxics that we’re discussing every day.

DR. STEVEN GILBERT: Yeah, it’s very, very important to think about this. Chemicals are toxic and the hazardous properties the many chemicals that we’re exposed to, how do we lessen our exposure to chemicals? And solvent is one thing we need to be mindful of and lessen our exposure to.

DEBRA: So tell us about the nature of solvents. Where do we find them, et cetera?

DR. STEVEN GILBERT: We find solvents everywhere. For example, water is a solvent. So we got to think very broadly about solvents. I keep my hummingbirds here in Seattle. So I dissolve sugar into water. So you drink water as a solvent.

Actually, water is a very powerful solvent. When you heat it up, you depend on water being a solvent when you extract your coffee or tea and get the caffeine and other chemicals out. So you’re dissolving these chemicals into the water. Most people think of solvents as something that evaporates, that when it comes out of the water, you would inhale. But water is a solvent too. When you heat it up, it’s more of a solvent.

Another example of a solvent is alcohol. Many of us drink alcohol. We take it in orally through alcoholic beverages. But alcohol is a very powerful solvent. You can tell that by knowing that it is exhaled. When you exhale in a breathalyzer test, it’s alcohol that moves from the lungs out into your breath. And we calibrate that breathalyzer, so we can extrapolate it from the alcohol in our breath to the alcohol in our blood streams.

Alcohol is a very potent solvent. Even [inaudible 00:05:50] where you could inhale alcohol instead of drinking it. Alcohol and many solvents pass readily in and out of the lungs. That’s why solvents are so potent. You can take them into the lungs and they go right to the brain.

Solvents are very potent chemicals. They cause a lot of neurological disorders. You all recognize these problems with alcohol. Many people have been [inaudible 00:06:15] even and that’s due to alcohol being a solvent in their nervous system.

So those are just a little bit of examples of some of the solvents that we encounter every day in life and we bump into all the time.

And alcohol, just some of the more common alcohol. They’re made from yeasts. The yeasts produce the alcohol by chewing up sugars. It’s converting sugars into alcohol. And we depend on that. Washington state, for example, is a big wine-producing state. That’s where a lot of fermentation goes on.

The alcohol is actually toxic to the yeast. You get your alcohol concentration on wine or other beverages around 12% and then you can kill the yeast (although there are some varieties of yeast that can tolerate higher levels of alcohol). But that’s an example of it killing your cells. The yeast cells [inaudible 00:07:02]. So this is around and thinking day to day basis, our encounter with solvents.

DEBRA: Well, some places that we find solvents in consumer products are places like when we pump gas at the gas station or change the car oil or paint your house. There are a lot of solvents on glues and things like that when you’re smelling things, they are very volatile.

People are very familiar with being poisoned by eating or drinking something. But solvents go right into your blood stream and right to your brain. That can go right through any part of your body very instantly when you breathe them.

DR. STEVEN GILBERT: Yeah, usually a solvent is fat-soluble and basically, our brain is one big ball of fat. And one place where [inaudible 00:07:56] solvents (you mentioned glues and other things) is when you’re filling up the gasoline in our cars. You go in the gas pump, there are many solvents in gasoline. One of them is hexane, a rather potent toxic chemical. You can inhale those by filling your car up with gasoline.

Think about it. When it’s warm out there, it evaporates more quickly. And we’ve all smelled the smell of gasoline. The trick is to try to keep away from that odor. One thing you can do when you fill your car up is to get the gasoline pump started and step away from it so that you’re not inhaling those solvents.

One thing that’s always bothered me was in Oregon, you can’t fill the gas tank up yourself. They have an attendant fill the gas tank up. I think that’s a bad thing to do because those attendants are repeatedly exposed to solvents in gasoline. If you fill your own gas tank up, you’re exposed a little bit, but you’re spreading the exposure across a much larger number of people.

So I actually would argue from a top point of view that it’s really bad to have the attendants chronically fill your gas tank because of the solvent exposure from gasoline. And there has also been people that sniff glue and the solvent exposure, looking for the high from solvents.

DEBRA: I was thinking about what you just said about the gas station attendants. It just continually amazes me that we know these things about the toxicity of chemicals and yet that they continued to be allowed. Why aren’t those attendants saying, “We should be wearing gas masks” or something?

DR. STEVEN GILBERT: It is amazing. Again, we’re not using the knowledge we have. It goes back – this will be history here. Ether was once used quite often as an aesthetic agent. It was discovered in 1275. Ether was discovered in 1275 by Raymundus Lullius. He discovered it, but wasn’t recognized as an anesthetic agent until the mid-1800s.

There were rumors that Paracelsus who [inaudible 00:10:07]. It was in the 1500. He enjoyed using and enjoyed the effects of ether. He was actually inhaling it for pleasure, some of the solvents that we discovered. So we’ve known about solvents for a long time in our history over almost 800 years.

DEBRA: I said this on a show this week already, but I want to say it again. I would really like to see the toxic products be properly labeled as toxic products. But if they’re going to be there, instead of having warning label on the back of the label, it should be just right on the front. There should be a skull and cross bones or something, so you can just walk down the aisle and see all the toxic products.

I think that a lot of the problem in doing something about this is that people just don’t know how to recognize these toxics. They look at a product. How are they going to know that it’s in there?

DR. STEVEN GILBERT: Yeah. And do we really need it there? I think that’s a great question particularly with cosmetic agents. Do we need the solvents?

The New York Times just did a great series on nail salons and the poisons in the nail salons. We can talk more about that too. All the chemicals that are used, the solvents used in those nail salons. Who’s exposed and who’s vulnerable? You’ve got to ask who’s vulnerable to that exposure? Kids have a very important vulnerability. They’re going to eat more, drink more. They eat more than adults do. So if they’re breathing those solvents (and gasoline’s one of them), they tend to inhale more and can intake more into their lungs than adults though. Adults are also up higher, so they’re not breathing a lot of the solvents.

So it’s really important to remember our vulnerabilities to solvent exposure, our exposure to solvents.

DEBRA: When I go to the mall, I can smell the nail salon all the way down many feet away as I’m approaching it. But we need to go to break. Actually, I’d like us to talk about nail salons when we come back.

You’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd. My guest today is Dr. Steven Gilbert. We’ll be right back.


DEBRA: You’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd. My guest today is Dr. Steven Gilbert. We’re talking about solvents and the toxicity of solvents.

Tell us about nail salons. First, I just want to say I think that the New York Times is doing a really good job. They’ve had a whole series of different investigations into the toxicity of things. I think they don’t always tell us what could be done instead, but they’re doing a really good job of telling us what’s toxic.

DR. STEVEN GILBERT: Yeah. I think the series on the nail salons is just excellent. I encourage your listeners to take a look at that in New York Times.

There are other groups that has done quite a bit of work on nail salons in the last decade trying to point out the hazards of these. And Women’s Voices for the Earth, they’ve done a great job too working on the nail salon issue. A number of other non-profits are really trying to bring attention to the solvents-using salons and the worker exposure.

But before jumping into that, I just want to point out a great example of solvents and the vulnerabilityof kids. Alcohol, again, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome or Fetal Alcohol Effect is not uncommon unfortunately. That’s vulnerability of kids in utero. So they’re born with facial deformities, reduced IQ and neurological disorders. That’s because alcohol is a very powerful solvent and it essentially helps dissolve a little bit of the brain.

Many solvents produce neurological disorders and peripheral neuropathies. So you can have tingling in the toes, for example. And hexanes are a very powerful neurotoxic agents. Many of these solvents produce headaches, produce dizziness, lightheadedness. They certainly look a little bit like being drunk because they all are [inaudible 00:15:48] solvents to the central nervous system.

Nail salons are the same way. They use a lot of solvents to dissolve the nail polish like toluene. When you evaporate a paint in nail salons on your nails, you’re evaporating those solvents. So the workers are exposed to excessive amounts of solvents in the air. And that’s where the exposure comes from in nail salons.

So the nail salons often don’t have good ventilation systems and are commonly in industrial settings. You would expect that when you’re exposing solvents to the air, you would have something that would suck away the air around the solvent exposure and vent it outside. Now, I am not crazy about venting all these solvents outside either, but that’s to reduce individual exposure.

So if your nail salon is operated by women [inaudible 00:16:34] work many hours bent over fingers and toes with the solvents removing nail polish or applying nail polish. There are better ways. We have non-solvent based paints for polishes like paint colors in nail salons.

The other thing here with nail salons, they also have phthalates. They use phthalates, which are fragrance carriers. They help to harden nail polishes. It provides flexibility to the polishes put on the fingernails. It helps them not crack and last longer.

So we put all kinds of chemicals in these products and your point before, we often don’t know what’s in these products. It’s really important. We need better labeling. We need to move away from these solvents as best we can and provide proper ventilation for people that are chronically exposed to the solvents in the workplace.

And you got to ask people [inaudible 00:17:35] nail salon workers. If a woman’s pregnant, what’s happening to that fetus, what developmental disorders might result from solvent exposure? If you inhale those solvents, it goes right through the lungs and [inaudible 00:17:46] blood and into the placenta and into the child, developing child.

DEBRA: My great aunt owned a drugstore many years ago. She’s my great aunt, so this was 50 years ago. I remember as a teen when I first started wearing nail polish, she immediately grabbed my hand and she said, “Don’t wear nail polish.”

She told me that she would see women coming into the pharmacy who would hurt their fingers. Their fingernails were actually cracked and bleeding because they were wearing fingernail polish. She said, “Your nail needs to breathe.” And when you put fingernail polish on your nail, then it stops it from breathing and it actually harms the fingernail.

So I have never worn nail polish since I heard that because it made sense to me. It’s not about how toxic or nontoxic the nail polish. There are a lot of new nail polishes now and I don’t think that any of them are nontoxic enough for me. There’s that whole idea.

Do you remember? In the Wizard of Oz, I remember hearing a story about the actor that played the Tin Man. Actually, I think it was a different actor who was supposed to play it before. They covered his whole body with paint to be tin and he got really sick.

Our body needs to be able to breathe. Every part of our bodies needs to be able to breathe. And nail polish is just unnecessary. It’s toxic, unnecessary. It stops your body from breathing.

DR. STEVEN GILBERT: Yeah. Like that 007 movie where they [inaudible 00:19:35] I think.

DEBRA: Yeah.

DR. STEVEN GILBERT: You’re absolutely rate. We’re not built to be painted and covered up.

And remember, perfumes depend on solvents to evaporate. You smell the perfumes because the chemicals carry it and evaporate it. So you’re essentially applying solvents when you apply a perfume.

Phthalate is one of the carriers of the fragrances that come off from these products. So you got to ask what solvents are in perfumes and all cosmetic products that have some fragrances attached with them.

If you put fragrance things in your bathroom and they’re dissolving their solvents, they’re out-gassing those fragrances. And remember, they’re just dominating the other odors that might be in the bathroom. They’re not removing odors. They’re just overwhelming our sense of smell by throwing out a lot more solvent-based perfumes.

So really, solvents are everywhere. They are used in all kinds of things – paints, glues, gasoline. We touched on a few of them. Solvents are everywhere. You got to ask, “Do we really need them? Do we really need some of these solvents on our fingers and toes?”

DEBRA: I think probably there are some products that we probably do need and then there are other ones that we don’t need. One of the strategies about removing toxics is sometimes to find the less toxic products, but sometimes it’s to remove the product altogether.

We need to go to break again. We’ll talk more about this when we come back. You’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd. My guest today is toxicologist, Dr. Steven Gilbert. He’s the author of A Small Dose of Toxicology. He has a great, great, great website called that looks at toxics from all different directions. We’ll be right back.


DEBRA: You’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd. My guest today is toxicologist Dr. Steven Gilbert. He has a wonderful website called And he’s the author of A Small Dose of Toxicology, which you can get free and I really think everybody should read this book. It’s written in a way that is very easy to read and has a lot of great information about toxics.

Dr. Gilbert, I wanted to say, I remember when I was first studying toxics and looking up, I used to look up every ingredient in a dictionary. What is it called? The Condensed Chemical Dictionary. I’ve had that dictionary for 30 years. I used to look up every ingredient because I had no idea what any of this stuff was.

DR. STEVEN GILBERT: Good for you.

DEBRA: Thank you. That’s actually how I learned it, looking up each chemical in the chemical dictionary. And then, I started reading toxicology books and all these other things.

There is something that you’ll see in the label called petroleum distillates . I just wanted to mention what I learned about petroleum distillates because I was trying to find out what individual chemicals I am being exposed to.

The way they make petroleum distillates is that they just see the cheapest solvents that are available that week and they throw them all in a barrel. And it’s called petroleum distillates. So when you see that on the label of a pesticide ( maybe pesticides have petroleum distillates in them) you can never know what’s in that. You can never know.

DR. STEVEN GILBERT: That’s a really great point, Debra. That’s really true. They’re in a lot of pesticides. And as you started, I was thinking that they’re called inert ingredients.

DEBRA: Inert ingredients, yeah.

DR. STEVEN GILBERT: It’s just a euphemism for just a bunch of stuff, carrier agents for the active ingredients in pesticides. Most of the pesticides active ingredients are around 1% or less. It’s very small amount in pesticides. But they’ve got carrying agents which are mostly solvents or some chemical that helps the active ingredient penetrate the oil on the leaves of the plant or on the skin of what you’re trying to kill or harm.

So yeah, pesticides are horrible things. And just eliminating pesticides from using active ingredient is really important. But equally while you’re removing all those solvents and all those, as you pointed out, petroleum distillates because who knows what’s in them?

DEBRA: Yeah. It’s just another one of those things when I look at the whole situation about toxics. I’m being more philosophical today because I’m just thinking about these things in my life right now. I’m looking at the whole situation and saying, “I’ve spent 30 years just identifying these things” and telling people that they’re there.

But I’m getting to this point where I want everybody to be more active. I want consumers to be more active. I want manufacturers to be more active. I want the government to be more active. I want everybody to recognize there’s a problem and we all have to work together to handle the problem. We’re not recognizing there’s a problem.

DR. STEVEN GILBERT: Yeah, we’re not. And one of the problems is the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA, it’s called, which was passed in 1976), there are efforts in congress right now trying to change TSCA to build Toxic Substances Control Act that would demand more testing of industrial-based chemicals.

We have a very precautionary approach when we put drugs on the market. So a lot of our drugs are very carefully tested. So we seem to understand the toxic properties of drugs and that’s required by the FDA. But we don’t have a similar program to test industrial chemicals.

The pesticides, for example. We test the pesticides and the active ingredients as required by an act called FIFRA, but we don’t test the product and all the solvents and other chemicals that are in the pesticides very well. So it really is a problem. We got to test more chemicals that we put out on the environment. And really, from an industrial standpoint, to come up with ways to reduce the use of solvents and then to use a solvent, we have to dispose of it. Universities, businesses collect this material. What do you do with it?

So the big challenge is reducing the amounts of solvents used, things like hexane, benzene, toluene, [inaudible 00:31:32], ether, chloroform and all these chemicals that are very toxic to the liver, to the central nervous system and to the peripheral nervous system.

How do we go about it? I really encourage less use even if so many solvents are really cheaper to use.

Just one quick story on this. When I was growing up in ’50s and ’60s, my dad worked on cars. I helped him worked the cars. And we use degreasers to clean the car parts with. I’m sure I was exposed to all kinds of solvents. And we got gasoline and at that time, we had a lot of lead. So who knows? I might have been a full professor if I hadn’t lost my IQ points to lead.

DEBRA: Yeah, absolutely. I remember when I was a child, when I would go to my grandparents, my grandfather drove a truck. He had his own business as a truck driver and he had his truck. So he was always tinkering with the engine on his truck. So gasoline cans are just sitting around there, degreasers and all these things.

Nobody paid attention to anything. I remember what that smelled like. I remember it’s just like this gasoline smell. How much did he get exposed to? And my grandmother died of cancer. And I was just walking around there as a baby smelling this stuff.

DR. STEVEN GILBERT: Yeah. As you pointed out earlier, when you’re a baby and you’re walking around, you’re often closer to the source of the solvents. So you’re inhaling more because you actually inhale more if you’re younger. So you’re getting a bigger exposure, a bigger dose of those solvents when you’re young than you’re older.

We’ve done a little bit of a better job of cleaning up our use of solvents. I’m not sure [inaudible 00:33:20], but we’re a little bit more careful with them. But we could be a lot more careful.

One thing we have improved on though is we’ve moved away from oil-based paints, which are solvent-based products like paint. So use some more water-based paints, which is an important change. For example, we don’t have a good way to return our paints, what we do with old paints. So that’s a problem. We need a better way to dispose of our used products. We don’t have a policy where the paint manufacturers have to take these products back.

We can’t open up the paint can and let it evaporate because that’s going to bring solvents to the atmosphere. That has huge consequences. It can change the ozone, breathing patterns. It’s not good for the animals, in the environment, as well as humans.

DEBRA: When I lived in Northern California, in the San Francisco Bay area, in our local community, we had paint recycling. So if we had cans of paints that were half full or whatever, we could take it to the paint recycling place and then people could come and just get free paint. I thought that that was a great thing to do.

We need to go to break again. You’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd. My guest today is Dr. Steven Gilbert, author of A Small Dose of Toxicology. His website is We’ll be right back.


DEBRA: You’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd. My guest today is toxicologist, Dr. Steven Gilbert. And he’s the author of A Small Dose of Toxicology. His website is

I’m making all these mistakes talking today. It must be too many solvents, but I don’t know if there are solvents in my house. Something’s affecting my brain today. Geez! My nervous system is not functioning well.

DR. STEVEN GILBERT: You filled up your car today with gasoline and you got some solvent exposure or something.

DEBRA: No. I actually haven’t been out of my house today. But I do leave my house every day and go places. I’m exposed to solvents all over the place. But we can do all these things to reduce our exposure in our own homes, but then we go outside and the toxins are also there. I’m just getting more and more aware of the need to clean things up everywhere and not just say, “I’m going to stay in my house.”

DR. STEVEN GILBERT: That’s so true. I think when you go out – I just want to point this out about the things we can do. If you are using nail salons, getting your fingers and toes done, it’s important to patronize nail salons that are protecting their workers, that have ventilation systems and even look for those air purifiers – not purifiers, but air scoops that are moving air away from the solvents being used. It’s important to patronize nail salons that are working and protecting workers or investing in protective products.

DEBRA: What if we just eliminate nail salons altogether?

DR. STEVEN GILBERT: I feel that way too, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. 

The other place where we’re really depending on solvents is anesthetic agents. They’re very important obviously for people having surgeries. It’s really critical. That has been going under quite a revolution in products.

And the way [inaudible 00:40:47]. It’s a commonly used anesthetic gas that we inhale that cause anesthesia. But I think the curious thing about these anesthetic agents, they really don’t know how they work.

As a toxicologist, I’m also a little hesitant about products that we don’t know how they work. We really don’t know. A lot of these solvents are broad-acting on the nervous system. But we really don’t understand exactly how they work, how they affect and change the iron transports in the nervous system, how they produce anesthetic effect. There are, in some ways, where obviously, anesthetic agents are very desirable. And yet when we drink alcohol as a solvent because we want to have the high from the alcohol, you’re depending, again, on solvents for that.

We use solvents and depend on solvents a lot. It comes back to trying to reduce exposure to solvents like benzene and hexanes. I remember industry agents use a lot of solvents [inaudible 00:41:53] around the country. They contaminate our drinking water. Carbon tetrachloride is one of them. They’re used in products to make printed circuit boards [inaudible 00:42:06].

So we never know. Solvents are used everywhere and we’re very careless with them.

DEBRA: Don’t solvents evaporate?

DR. STEVEN GILBERT: Yes, they do. They evaporate usually very fairly readily and we inhale them. When you pump gasoline, hexane and benzene are evaporating from the gasoline. That’s what you’re smelling. It’s a whole array of different petroleum distillates and petroleum products, greases, glues and other products. One example is charcoal lighter for doing barbecue things.

DEBRA: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.

DR. STEVEN GILBERT: Try and move away from that. Use a plug-in electric device or use a little powered thing where you put your paper in. It takes a little bit longer to get your fire started, but I never use a charcoal lighter fluid because that’s just a solvent. It’s basically a watered down gasoline. It’s gasoline that’s less volatile, but you’re burning and releasing a lot of solvents in the area. You’re smelling the solvents from that as well as all the by-products when it’s burned.

So try to stay away from things like that and try to reduce our use. I think consumers have a big impact on things like that.

DEBRA: Yes, I absolutely agree. So you’ve actually got this little list here in your book of different products that contain solvents. We’ve got about six minutes left. So let’s just look at this and see what kind of suggestions that we can give for people to do something else besides use these solvents.

I’m looking at adhesives. Adhesives have a lot of solvents in it. So something like rubber cement has a lot of solvents. But white glue doesn’t. So you could use white glue instead of rubber cement.

DR. STEVEN GILBERT: Right, absolutely. Try to use ones that are more water-based products. [Inaudible 00:43:58]. They’re not dependent on these solvents.

[Inaudible 00:44:02] will be high like plastic glues. There can be a lot of solvents in there. That was one thing that people did. They put glues in bag and sniff them to getting the high of [inaudible 00:44:13].

So you want to be careful with some glues and adhesives and really go for the ones that are water-based. I think that’s huge, looking for water-based products. You’re evaporating water and hardening and that way, you’re not evaporating solvents.

DEBRA: And there’s another one on your list here, correction fluids. Listeners, these are all the things, when you smell, you can smell these solvents. These are all the smelling products.

So correction fluid. I think there’s actually water based correction fluid, but I use correction tape. I’m not typing, but I just have it on hand because sometimes I am writing with a pen and I need to cross something out. But those little correction tapes don’t smell like anything.

DR. STEVEN GILBERT: Yeah. That’s right. Marker, I got markers on there?

DEBRA: Markers. That’s not on your list, but that’s the first one I said at the beginning of the show. I think that those are the worst things and they get advertised. Here are all these pretty colors and you can use them for so many things. They’re just poisoning people.

DR. STEVEN GILBERT: Yeah, my grandchildren, the parents bought a product that had fragrances in it. So you have different fragrances. I said, “[Inaudible 00:45:24]…” Really, if they have a fragrance, there’s a solvent involved because they have to be volatile, you have to inhale that and your olfactory system has to smell it.

If you’re smelling something, that means something else is evaporating, carrying that fragrant chemical, that chemical that’s stimulating olfactory system to your nose, so you’ve got solvents involved somehow.

DEBRA: Somehow.

DR. STEVEN GILBERT: [inaudible 00:45:46]

DEBRA: Yeah. Let’s see. What else? We have on the list ‘spot removers’. What else can we do instead of spot removers?

DR. STEVEN GILBERT:Spot removers, because they have solvent, they tend to dissolve [inaudible 00:46:09]. But again, I think you want to start with simple things like cleaning up your spill with paper towels, things like that. So mop up as much as you can. You can revert to a solvent when we’re trying to clean up. You do have it, but don’t start with the solvent. Try to minimize the use of that material.

And you look again for other products. Know what you’re cleaning up. Do you really need to use a solvent?

DEBRA: I think one of the things we could just say in general is that the people often will just go for the chemical first thing. They just reach for the chemical and don’t even think about what else might be available. So there are so many ways to use spot removers.

I spill things on my clothes, so I’m always looking for spot removers and there are a number of less toxic spot removers on the market that you can just go to places like – oh, Bed, Bath and Beyond has some. Just look around. There aren’t chemical spot removers.

But you can just also go online. If you spilled red wine on something, look up red wine spot remover and things like that. There are a lot of tried and true home remedies for removing spots.

I do occasionally need to use a chemical spot remover to get something out if I want to save the garment. And if I do need that done, I’ll just take it down to the dry cleaners and hold my nose when I walk and don’t breathe and give it to them and say, “Here, take this spot out.”

We haven’t talked about dry cleaning at all, but we should say that solvents are used for dry cleaning. If you bring your dry cleaning clothes at home, take the plastic off. Hang them off outside. Then all those dry cleaning solvents will actually evaporate away. The problem is people get their clothes dry cleaned, leave the plastic on and stick it in the closet. And then they put them on and all those solvents just are right there.

DR. STEVEN GILBERT: Yeah, that’s the same thing with your shower curtains. When you get plastic shower curtains, you definitely air it out. I really caution people to get cotton shower curtains because they’re washable that way. The shower curtains have a lot of phthalates and chemicals that are volatilizing off of the product.

It’s really important to be thinking about products like that that do have a lot of chemical exposure. It’s the same thing with new cars. There are cars that have a lot of [inaudible 00:48:45] formaldehyde or glues are used. Formaldehyde outgases fairly readily.

With Katrina, the big kerfuffle about all that were these homes, these trailer homes where formaldehyde-based products and they’re very toxic – basically toxic for the people that were in there. They’re inhaling the formaldehyde which has long term health effects.

So we were still, as much as we know, being really careless with our solvents.

DEBRA: Yes. I think that more and more people need to be not only aware of the toxic dangers, but decide to do something about it. And even if you just take one simple step and find out about one thing, if you just don’t wear nail polish after listening to today’s show, then that’s a step to the right direction.

Thank you so much, Dr. Gilbert. We only have a few seconds left before we get to the end of the show. I always learn so much from you when you do these shows. It’s great to have you.

DR. STEVEN GILBERT: Great! Thank you.

DEBRA: You’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd. You can go to and learn about other upcoming guests and also listen to all of the past shows. They’re in archives, many with transcripts. So Be well.


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