My good friends were kind enough to let me stay at their home a few weeks ago and we inevitably started talking about toxic chemicals in their home. They know a lot about toxic chemicals and is already running a scent-free home, uses non-toxic cleaners etc.
I offered to go through their house for an “avoid toxic chemicals 201” session to see if there were any other concerns about toxic chemicals in products and places they weren’t expecting. A few questions came up as we went about our journey. I did some research that I thought I’d share with you all, pulling heavily from my friends and colleagues.
Avoid toxic chemicals 201:
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Tick and flea prevention: Alternatives to Frontline
Martha was right to be concerned about the health of her dog and children when she used Frontline flea and tick spot treatments. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, applying pesticides directly to your animals can pose a threat to your pet and family’s health.
Check out the health concerns with Frontline topical application. It is a possible carcinogen, linked to hormone-disruption and neurological harm. No thanks!
Safe alternatives to Frontline:
- Food-grade diatomeacous earth from The Soft Landing (sprinkle on the coat of the dog to prevent fleas and ticks). You can buy Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth here.
- Apple cider vinegar (either add less than 2 Tbsp. to a bowl of water, or mix a 50/50 vinegar – water solution and spray on your dog)
- Lori Alper from Groovy Green Livin also said that the product Ticked Off! looks promising
Search your tick/flea treatment for health and safety information via NRDC.
Lead in old bath tubs and kitchen counters
Martha’s bath tub was tested with an XRF analyzer a decade ago and was found to have 5.09 mg / 1.00 cm2. I asked my friend Tamara Rubin of Lead Safe America and she noted this was a high level of lead. Most tubs installed or build before 1978 test positive for lead.
Find out if your tub has lead: You can hire someone to use an XRF analyzer, or buy a chemical swab test at your local hardware store. The simple solutions to a toxic tub are: replace your tub or have it resurfaced.
Resurfacing a bathtub is arguably less expensive. That said, it requires the use of toxic chemicals plus sanding, which will release lead dust. Work with a tub finisher who understands your lead concerns and will work hard to contain dust.”
Other options to reduce lead exposure from your bathtub:
- Use the shower instead of bathing.
- If your tub is peeling or cracking you can wear flip flops in the shower (an option for people renting who can’t refinish/replace a bathtub).
- Insert a no-slip grip lining in your tub to create a barrier between your feet and the tub.
- Avoid bathing in tubs with cracked, etched, crumbling or chalky glazing.
- Refurbish your tub – According to the CDC, the chemicals used to refurbish tubs are highly toxic and you can expose yourself to more lead if not done properly. Please read this information if you’re considering this option. You will need to hire an expert to do this safely.
- Avoid using harsh abrasive cleaners and scrubbies on glazed surfaces.
- Do not let children drink bath water.
- If children are young, you can put a large plastic tub in the existing ceramic tub to wash them.
- Replace older tubs and sinks. If it’s in your budget you can hire someone to replace your tub or put a plastic one-piece insert over your existing tub and shower. Check with your local hardware store for estimates.
More information from the Vermont Housing Board can be found here.
“Organic” potting soil
Soil: Just because potting soil is labeled as “organic” doesn’t mean it’s safe. Unlike the USDA food label for organic, soil is (naturally) an organic substance and companies can put whatever they want on the label.
To ensure you’re getting the cleanest soil for your garden look for the OMRI label (Organic Matter Review Institute is a non-profit who certifies organic matter). The OMRI label means it’s approved for USDA organic agricultural purposes.
Mulch: Similar to what I wrote above, not all mulch is created equal. Many are treated with chemicals, colors and other synthetic substances.
Check the OMRI list of certified mulches to find the safest product for your yard.
Need organic compost? Try Black Gold Garden Compost Blend.
Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth is very fine silica rock, which has naturally sharp corners and can be used to prevent ticks and fleas as I mentioned above. It’s also great to control pests in your garden and bed bugs. Unlike other chemical-based killers, the mechanism for killing with diatomaceous earth is physical.
“Safe” non-stick pans
There are several brands that claim to make safe non-stick pans. You may remember that conventional non-stick pans are coated with PFCs which have been linked to health effects like: cancer, thyroid disease, kidney disease, heart attack/stroke and liver disease. Yikes.
But what about the non PFC alternatives? There are several and not all are created equal.
- Calphalon ::: The popular company Caphalon introduced a “safe” non-stick pan in 2013, that uses ceramic rather than PFCs (a good thing). What concerns me about this brand however, is their website states definitively that non-stick coatings (PFCs) are safe and goes as far to say that the FDA and EPA have raised no concerns about the coatings. Here’s the kicker: the EPA and FDA don’t have the authority to ban or regulate these chemicals under our broken federal laws and there are endless studies showing harm from PFOA and similar chemicals. I emailed the company asking about the safety of their non-stick pans and they went as far to say that PFOA coatings on pans were of no concern. Disappointing.
- Unidentified non-stick coatings ::: Some other brands that claim to have safe non-stick pans are using similar fluorotelomer coatings, raising red flags for health and safety. Make sure your non-stick pans don’t use fluorotelomer coatings of any form.
- Ceramic finish non-stick, lead-free ceramic and enamel-based cookware ::: are all safer options, but have some downsides. Debra Lynn Dadd wrote up a good description of the difference between two of these types of pans, the main difference being that the ceramic non-stick finish wears off after a couple of years and you need to replace them (both a hassle and questionable environmental footprint).
My suggestion: Based on the best available information, considering hassle of returning pans for a new ceramic finish every year etc, I prefer simple stainless steel cookware. It is easy to use, lasts a lifetime, is non-toxic, has no finishes and is relatively non-stick if you use the right oils and fats when cooking. Cast iron is the second best option if you prefer, safe and easy to maintain. I prefer stainless steel over cast iron since I think it’s easier to cook with.
Rainbow looms: latex-free rubber bands
Fellow non-toxic crusader Lori Alper from Groovy Green Livin’ researched the rubber bands used for Rainbow Looms and found some good news. They are free of: lead, chromium, phthalates and BPA. The Washington Post wrote about the rubber bands environmental impact and found there are perks and drawbacks between synthetic latex (like the silly bands made from silicone) and natural latex, which has an environmental pollution problem at factories in Asia. The biggest threat they found was to pets in the home (ingesting them) and wildlife at end of life disposal. The Post concluded,
You can teach your children the importance of throwing elastic bands into the trash can, and the value of snipping them open before discarding them. Make that your child’s first act of environmentalism, and maybe it will be the beginning of a lifetime of good habits.
Non-stick spray oil (i.e. PAM)
Chemicals are used to propel the oil from the can, according to my research I wouldn’t recommend using store bought oil sprays. Some say that the chemical is only used for propelling the can and doesn’t end up on food…
There is however an alternative option that allows you to use your best olive oil and drastically reduces waste: Misto Olive Oil Sprayer. This product is very cool and allows you to refill a spray bottle with your oil of choice.
You can purchase Misto here!
Phew! That’s a lot of information.
At the end of the day you shouldn’t need to read blogs like this to have a safe home. Please take a moment to sign this petition to Congress asking for real reform of our toxic chemical laws. We need government leadership to help rid our products, homes and communities of toxic chemicals. The burden should not be on us to do endless research to simply buy pans to cook our family food on, or bracelets for our kids to make with their friends.