CREATING A HEALTHY HOME
1. Get Rid of Conventional Cleaners
The problem: Many household cleaners contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs)* such as formaldehyde, harsh acids, and endocrine disrupters, which may be linked to: cancer; endocrine disruption; and eye, throat and lung irritation.
The solution: Use nontoxic, biodegradable cleaners free from synthetic fragrances. Or save money and go easy on the earth by making your own.
2. Use Care with Paints & Stains
The problem: Conventional paints contain three groups of chemicals worth worrying about: VOCs, fungicides, and biocides. Some paints have toxic pigments too. VOCs are the primary solvent in oil-based paint and a component in water-based paint. Biocides and fungicides are chemicals designed to extend paint’s shelf life and prevent mildew once applied. Problematic ingredients can include mercury, arsenic disulfide, phenol, and formaldehyde. Paint containing lead levels greater than 660 parts per million is no longer legal in the US, but homes painted up to the 1970s may still have lead paint. These toxins may be linked to:
reproductive toxicity, neurotoxicity (lead paint) and developmental damage.
The solution: Use super-low or zero-VOC paints and stains. Look also for "biocide-free" paints with natural pigments. If your home was built before 1970, test your home and your children’s blood lead levels. Paint over lead-based paint to minimize dust and chipping.
3. Look for Sustainable Furniture
The problem: Some wood furniture can release VOCs from adhesives and finishes. Urea formaldehyde is used in particle-board furniture. Most upholstered furniture is treated with flame-retardant polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs). These toxins may be linked to: cancer, endocrine disruption, neurotoxicity and respiratory irritation.
The solution: Seal exposed edges of particle board and pressed wood with a zero-VOC sealant (like AFM Safecoat’s Safe Seal sealant). Consider buying all-natural furniture, made from solid wood or natural, organic ingredients like organic cotton or hemp. Look for furniture made without toxic flame retardants.
4. Find the Right Flooring
The problem: Wall-to-wall carpets are notorious for harboring allergens and trapping toxins like pesticides that get tracked in from outside. Most synthetic carpets and their adhesives also emit VOCs. Carpeting may be treated with benzyl benzoate or other chemicals for mothproofing or to repel moisture. These toxins may be linked to: cancer, endocrine disruption, neurotoxicity and respiratory irritation.
The solution: Don’t put down new wall-to-wall carpeting, and consider removing any current carpet, especially if any family members have breathing problems. You can apply AFM’s nontoxic Carpet Seal to lock in off-gassing toxins from newer carpets. Use a HEPA vacuum weekly to remove allergens.
Four Steps to a Healthy Kitchen
1. Avoid Pesticides; Go Organic
The problem: Many conventional fruits and vegetables carry pesticide residues. Twenty-three of the world’s 28 most commonly used pesticides are suspected carcinogens, and several are possible
neurotoxins and endocrine disruptors.
Consuming conventional dairy products and meat can expose you to the
hormones used on food animals, which may be linked to endocrine disruption.
The above may be linked to: cancer and endocrine disruption.
The solution: Buy organic foods, grown without toxic pesticides, when you can. If you’re on a tight budget, avoid conventional fruits and vegetables that carry the highest amounts of pesticide residue: apples, bell peppers, celery, cherries, imported grapes, nectarines, peaches, pears, potatoes, raspberries, spinach, and strawberries. Eating organic also gives your immune system a boost. A study at the University of California-Davis found that organic produce has 19 – 50 percent more cancer-fighting anti-oxidants than conventional produce. If you eat meat, buy local humanely-raised products such as grass-fed beef, and pastured poultry and pork.
2. Be Fussy about Your Fish
The problem: Some fish can contain mercury and polychlorinated biphernyls (PCBs). Some experts say that FDA and EPA fish consumption limits, established to keep pregnant women and children safe, are too lax. May be linked to: cancer and developmental disorders.
The solution: To find fish low in mercury and PCBs, and to avoid supporting fishing practices that harm the environment, see our "Safe Seafood" List on our web edition at healthygreenpages.com Also, look to plant sources of the healthy omega-3s found in fish, including walnuts, flax seeds, and oils.
3. Ban Plastics #3, #6 & #7
The problem: Hard-to-recycle plastics often contain toxins that can leach into food and water, especially when heated.
#3: These polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastics contain plastic-softening phthalates like DEHP. Some plastic wraps are made from PVC, as well as vegetable oil bottles and some flexible plastic containers.
#6: Also known as polystyrene, styrofoam take-out containers are often made from #6, which is considered a possible human carcinogen by the World Health Organization.
#7: Also known as polycarbonate, clear, hard #7 plastic is often used in sport water bottles and baby bottles. This plastic often contains bisphenol-A. (#7 is a catch-all category, so plant-based plastics are labeled #7 as well, but do not contain bisphenol-A.)
The above may be linked to: cancer and endocrine disruption.
The solution: Get rid of #3, #6, and clear, hard #7 plastics, especially those that might be used by children. Single-use beverage bottles are typically made from #1 (PETE) and #2 (HDPE) plastics, which are generally considered safe for one-time use. However, studies indicate that DEHP may leach from PETE bottles after repeated use. Most plastic food storage containers are #5 and are considered safe.
All plastics can leach in the long term, so it’s best to avoid plastic altogether and choose glass or ceramic containers instead. When you do use plastic, avoid microwaving foods or putting hot food or drinks in them; heat promotes leaching. Instead of plastic water bottles, try a reusable, stainless steel bottle.
4. Be Cautious with Your Cookware
The problem: Non-stick pans with Teflon or Teflon-like coatings contain polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which break down into the air at high temperatures. Aluminum can also find its way into your food through cookware. Though exposure to aluminum has not been linked definitively to any adverse effects like Alzheimer’s disease, it is thought wise to avoid extra exposure. Linked to: cancer.
The solution: Stainless steel and cast iron are both safe alternatives to non-stick and aluminum pans. Non-stick anodized aluminum pans have a layer of aluminum oxide to prevent aluminum leaching.
Three Steps to a Healthy Bathroom
Body Care Products
The Problem: More than one-third of all personal care products contain at least one ingredient linked to cancer, and very few products are tested for safety. Some products contain phthalates, which don’t appear in the list of a product’s ingredients. Instead, they are covered by the general term "fragrance." Other troublesome ingredients include coal tar, which is made from petroleum waste; diethanolamine (DEA); 1,4-Dioxane; and parabens. These toxins may be linked to: endocrine disruptions, skin problems and cancer.
The Solution: Look for body care products from one of the 600 retailers that have signed the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics’ Compact at www.safecosmetics.org/companies/signers.cfm. These companies have pledged to phase out the 450 chemicals banned by the European Union in 2005 because they’re strongly suspected of being mutagens, carcinogens, or endocrine disrupters. You can also search the EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database at www.cosmeticdatabase.com to learn about the products on your shelves.
2. Avoid Chemical Air Fresheners
The problem: Air fresheners can contain dangerous ingredients like dichlorobenzene, naphthalene, and formaldehyde. Conventional scented candles aren’t much better. Many are made from petroleum-based paraffin wax, which releases carcinogenic soot when burned, and some have lead-core wicks, which release toxic lead into the air when burned. Linked to: respiratory irritation, cancer.
The solution: Avoid candles and air fresheners with synthetic fragrances. Instead, leave out a bowl of baking soda to absorb odors, and switch from paraffin to 100-percent beeswax or soy candles with cotton wicks. To test a candle wick for lead, rub the tip on a piece of paper. If it leaves a mark, there’s a lead core in the wick. This method doesn’t work with candles that have been lit already, so when in doubt, throw them out.
Purge PVC from your Shower Curtain (and elsewhere)
The problem: Polyvinyl chloride, also known as PVC, or the "vinyl" in your vinyl shower curtain, is a plastic that’s dangerous to people and the environment at every stage of its lifecycle. DEHP, an additive used to soften many vinyl products, is a phthalate. These toxins are linked to: endocrine disruption, reproductive toxicity and cancer.
The solution: Avoid PVC products for your bathroom or anywhere in your home. PVC is often recognizable by its distinctive odor (think that "new shower curtain" smell). When shopping for a shower curtain, look for a non-vinyl one. Ikea (www.ikea.com) and Vita Futura (www.vitafutura.com) both make polyethylene vinyl acetate (PEVA) liners, which are PVC-free. You can also get a hemp shower curtain from green product suppliers such as the Green Store in Eugene.
Two Steps to a Healthy Bedroom
1. Choose Better Bedclothes
The problem: Toxic chemicals that resist flames, water, moths, stains, soil, and wrinkles are sometimes added to textiles like bedclothes. Labels such as "permanent-press," "no-iron," "water repellent," and "flame retardant" may indicate fabric treatments that off-gas chemicals like formaldehyde and perfluorochemicals (PFCs). These toxins may be linked to: respiratory and skin irritation, cancer and developmental damage.
The solution: Choose organic fabric sheets and covers without any chemical finishers. Most bedclothes will not be labeled with information about finishers, so call the manufacturer and ask, or choose bedclothes that advertise as "chemical-free." Also, avoid fabrics with a "new" smell that may indicate chemical treatments.
2. Mind Your MattressThe problem: Federal laws require mattresses to be fire resistant, so many manufacturers treat the mattress foam with flame-retardant chemicals. The most dangerous are polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), which some
manufacturers are phasing out voluntarily. Mattresses and pads made of petroleum-based polyester, nylon, and polyurethane foam (including "memory" foam) can off-gas VOCs. The water-repellants and stain-resistant finishes used on many mattresses, and on some plywood or particleboard boxsprings, may offgas formaldehyde. These toxins may be linked to: endocrine disruption, cancer and neurotoxicity.
The solution: Choose mattresses stuffed with natural, nontoxic, and organic materials, and untreated with flame-retardant PDBEs or other chemical finishes. (If this information is not on the tag, call the manufacturer.) Mattresses with a layer of flame-retardant wool may be more affordable than all-organic mattresses. If you can’t replace your mattress, minimize off-gassing fumes by covering it with an impermeable encasement intended for allergy sufferers, by vacuuming frequently, by ventilating the room, and by using a HEPA air filter.
Four Steps to a Healthy Home Exterior
1. Avoid Vinyl (PVC) Siding
The problem: Home siding can be the single largest use of PVC plastic in a home. Vinyl siding often contains DEHP, an additive and a phthalate. The manufacture and incineration of PVC releases dangerous pollution. May be linked to: endocrine disruption, reproductive toxicity and cancer.
The solution: When it’s time to buy new siding for your house, choose one of the many non-vinyl siding alterna-tives available, from aluminum to polypropylene.
2. Take Care with Exterior Paints
The problem: Like paints used indoors, exterior paints can off-gas volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and may contain fungicides or biocides. In exterior paints, VOCs are less likely to be inhaled, reducing the paint’s health risks, but these VOCs can still cause smog and damage the ozone layer.
The solution: Pick a zero- or very low-VOC exterior paint, which are now made by several northwest companies. All exterior paints need fungicides to prevent mold, so choose an exterior paint that contains the least-toxic paint fungicide: zinc oxide. Avoid oil-based paints and choose instead an acrylic, latex, or recycled water-based paint.
3. Reduce Your Pesticide Use
The problem: Too many homeowners needlessly use hazardous chemical on their lawns, and these chemicals can drift into their homes and pollute indoor air. Of 30 commonly used lawn pesticides, 19 are linked with cancer or carcinogenicity, 15 with neurotoxicity, and 11 with hormone disruption, according to the National Coalition for Pesticide-Free Lawns. Many also pollute groundwater and streams, and most are toxic to fish and wildlife. These toxins may be linked to: cancer, reproductive toxicity, neurotoxicity and endocrine disruption.
The solution: In many American yards, pesticide use is unnecessary and excessive.
4. Watch Your Wooden Deck & Playsets
The problem: Until a few years ago, pressure-treated wood for decks and play equipment was routinely covered in chromium copper arsenate (CCA) to kill insects and prevent rot. CCA leaches arsenic that sticks to hands and is absorbed through skin. The wood industry voluntarily agreed to stop selling CCA-treated wood for most residential uses in 2005, but older decks and playground sets may still be coated in poison. These toxins may be linked to: cancer and developmental damage.
The solution: If your wooden deck or play equipment was built before 2005, obtain a test kit from the Environmental Working Group at www.ewg.org. If there is arsenic present, consider replacing the items, or at least the parts like handrails and steps that people most often touch. Using a table cloth on older wooden picnic tables, applying wood sealant every six months, and regular handwashing after playing outside can limit arsenic exposure. (Clear sealants are most toxic. Look for a wood sealant with the darkest pigmentation.)Also test soil surrounding older wood decks or play equipment. You may need to replace it with a safer ground cover if the soil contains unsafe levels of arsenic. Avoid storing any tools or toys outdoors near arsenic-treated wood.
Adapted and revised from an article first appearing in Co-op America Quarterly, parts reprinted are done so with permission from Co-op America, a national nonprofit harnessing economic power—the strength of consumers, investors, businesses and the marketplace—to create a socially just and environmentally sustainable society. To learn more and receive a copy of the National Green Pages™, a directory of over 3000 green business, visit www.coopamerica.org or call 1-800-58GREEN.