Generation Zapped

You may have noticed that wireless devices seem to have just exploded into a myriad of different forms lately, and our exposure to Radiofrequency Radiation has increased just as much. A new documentary, Generation Zapped, is out on this subject, and I urge you to watch the short trailer and support the filmmaker if you can.

 

How to prevent mold

Keep mold out of your home and prevent it from coming back

When clients come to me with a mold problem, usually the situation is extreme and in need of dire help. Inhabitants may be experiencing severe respiratory problems, brain fog, and other health issues. While in many cases the mold problem is due to some sort of building failure, there are many cases where common habits (or lack thereof) make the problem much worse. It’s really a shame that we aren’t all educated on how to prevent mold problems in our homes since living with mold can be so detrimental to our health! Prevention, in many cases, can be easy. So here are a few tips for preventing mold in your home.

1. Ventilate after showering.

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Mold grows behind wallpaper in a shower lacking ventilation

Bathrooms tend to be the top spot to find mold. Why? Bathrooms have higher humidity from the showering that goes on in them. Mold spores float about in the air hoping for prime conditions to live out the lives they were intended to live – as decomposers. If you keep the humidity in your bathroom high, you will likely give these guys the opportunity they are looking for. And they will try to start decomposing the grout in between your tile, the drywall behind your wallpaper, or the sealant around your tub. If you have very high humidity in your bathroom or say an additional source of humidity such as an outdoor wall with improperly installed vapor barrier, you might just end up with a big mold party. The solution is to open a window or use your bathroom vent to remove some of this humidity. In dry climates, you might instead be able to simply keep your bathroom door open for a couple of hours after showers. This will help humidify the rest of the house. If you don’t use your ceiling vent because it’s too noisy, consider installing a quieter one. And hang your wet towel outside of the bathroom to dry!

2. Don’t let a leak go unchecked.

If you think that teeny, tiny leak under your kitchen sink isn’t going to do any damage, think again. I have seen kitchens polluted with mold because of simple, small leaks. Get any leaks fixed asap, and replace any moldy materials such as drywall or wood cabinetry. And before you get to that point, keep an eye on your sinks for leaks so you dont have to go through the pain of tearing out mold-ruined materials. The other bonus of fixing leaks quickly is that you will save a crazy amount of water from being wasted. Seriously!

3. Avoid having thick vegetation close to your house. 

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Mold grows in a window frame where vegetation grows close to the house

You may be one of those people who enjoy living nestled into a woodsy little nook. It may look darling, but vegetation that is too close to a house can cause high humidity levels that may encourage mold growth inside your home. To see if you might have a problem, look at your outside walls. If you have siding, it may have mold growing on it or if you have a brick house, the bricks may have moss growing on them or discoloration. Do you have mold growing on any of the walls inside your house? Or on the back of any furniture that is against outer walls? This may be one cause of such mold. Cut back vegetation around the house or plant it with more room in the first place. The distance you need to have between your trees and shrubs and the walls of your house will depend on your climate, but in general, if it is touching the house, it’s too close.

4. Don’t store a lot of clutter in damp basements.

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Moldy insulation slumps and mold grows on cooler in a moldy basement

Basements tend to stay damp and if you have a damp basement, you should avoid storing porous materials in them. Why? Again, mold’s purpose on this planet is to decompose. Mold spores are already floating around in the air through no fault of your own, so if your basement is humid enough, mold will celebrate and gladly take up residency. Unfortunately, the air in your basement can easily end up inside your house. So keep your unfinished basement clutter free, and preferably, unfinished. Mold also likes to grow underneath basement carpet. And if your basement is damp, if could be causing problems for you even if it is empty, but the clutter will certainly make things worse.

5. Don’t put a band-aid on a mold problem.

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Mold grows in a finished basement

If you have mold in your house, you’re going to want to get rid of it, both to save your health and to avoid having your house damaged. Putting a band-aid on it won’t do either. Usually the band aid involves painting directly over mold to cover it up, and that’s about it. Unless the conditions that caused the mold magically disappear (they rarely do!) this will not help, and may make things worse. So if your roof is leaking, you’ll need to find out WHY, not just paint over the unsightly stain on the ceiling. Fix the roof leak first, and then paint the ceiling. If you can’t discern why you are having a mold problem, that is when you need a professional! Make sure you get help from someone who is NOT in the remediation business first, so that you have an objective opinion of what the problem is and not a sales pitch in the making.

Now you are armed with some good strategies for keeping mold out of your home. Go forth and prosper!

 

Reframing your stress

I’ve been getting closely acquainted with a new environmental stressor lately, one that goes by the name of “Low Frequency Noise” or infrasound. Like many of the other invisible toxins, this is one of those things that not everyone hears or feels. Being the only one in the room that feels like there is an impending earthquake is rather unnerving – not only are you pushed into alert by strange noise and sensations, but you start to question your senses.

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CC – Infrasound or LFN

Luckily I know that there are simply certain individuals who are more environmentally sensitive than others and that I’m one of them. It doesn’t really surprise me that in addition to being able to smell mold when no one else can, I can also hear deep throbbing noise that others are blissfully ignorant of.

If you are curious what it feels like to experience LFN (low frequency noise), which is noise, after all, that humans are not supposed to be able to hear, my experience of it reminds me of hearing distant music with extremely heavy bass, only in this case, causing strong vibrations felt all over the body and uncomfortable pressure on the ears.

In my current location I had become accustomed to hearing these noises for one night every 3 months or so. It was uncomfortable but knowing that it was temporary made it bearable. This time around, when the noise didn’t stop the next day but continued day after day, night after night, I became highly distressed. The sensations of this noise put me on high alert and made it impossible to sleep.

After going a week without sleeping, I realized the stress of not sleeping was worse than the actual noise and that I had to find a way to reframe the noise and allow myself to get some sleep. Meanwhile, I have contacted the operator of the suspected source (nearby oil wells) and am looking into measurement and mitigation possibilities. I’m not giving up on finding a solution to end the noise, but in the meantime, I am determined to get my usual night’s sleep.

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CC – Infrasound monitoring array in… Greenland!

I tried this reframing idea a couple of times unsuccessfully. It only worked once I was able to imagine a realistic situation that could both account for the noise and appeal to me as a situation in which I could relax. My replacement scenario is being on vacation in Greenland, staying at a hotel that happens to be next to a port with freight ships loading and unloading. This works for me because the excitement of a vacation in a new place helps to balance out the stress of unwanted noise.

I decided to share this because I know that many of you are trying to cope with stressors that you can’t avoid or can’t totally avoid. Sometimes the best solution requires a move to a new home, a major renovation or some other action which you may not be capable of taking just yet. In the meantime, it is quite probable that being aware of the stressor is an additional form of stress in itself! Since you don’t need that extra little bonus dose of stress, my advice to you is to be creative and try to reframe your situation until you can resolve it. If you are able to manage your stress, you will protect your health and regain a feeling of power over the situation.

 

Resources on LFN:

http://www.salford.ac.uk/computing-science-engineering/research/acoustics/psychoacoustics/low-frequency-noise/frequently-asked-questions

http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.691.4907&rep=rep1&type=pdf

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infrasound

What’s missing in holistic healing?

How A Low-EMF Environment Can Improve Holistic Health Treatment

Spa still life of air plant and towels in bathroom

I’m a fan of holistic and alternative healing methods. They have helped me find healing when conventional medicine has let me down, and I bet you could say the same. What would we do without chiropractic care, acupuncture, massage, and naturopathy, not to mention many other alternative healing methods? We’ve experienced real relief provided by these practices and sometimes, disillusionment with the elusive promises of prescription medicine.

Practitioners of holistic health care are focused on the mind, body and spirit connection. However in my experience there is usually something missing and that is the electromagnetic sphere.

Just as natural essential oils provide a healing alternative to VOC-filled artificial fragrance, quieting EMF’s to allow the patient contact with the natural frequencies of the mind, body, spirit, earth and cosmos is a powerful healing mechanism.

Unlike these natural frequencies, data-loaded Wi-Fi and cell phone waves cause anxiety and stress in many individuals. Exposure to these combined with habit-forming technology are causing social isolation and widespread insomnia, as well as rising cancer rates.

Practitioners offering alternative and holistic treatments should remember the electromagnetic sphere and provide beneficial electromagnetic conditions, that is to say, a low-EMF environment.

How to create a low-EMF healing environment

  1. If internet is required at your location, opt for a computer with an ethernet (wired) internet connection. Keep Wi-Fi turned off or disabled, if not permanently, as much as possible.
  2. Have a landline installed instead of relying on your cell phone. If that’s not an option, keep your cell phone in airplane mode while with patients.
  3. Ask clients to turn off their cell phones during treatment. Resistance to this request is probably a big sign that a cell phone break is needed!
  4. Avoid using electrical equipment on patients while it is plugged in (electric heating pads, etc).  Keep electrical equipment to a minimum in the treatment area.
  5. Avoid fluorescent lights, including CFL’s. Incandescents provide the most natural lightbulb. Even LED’s can cause problems for sensitive individuals. Natural daylight is the best option for health and environmental efficiency, so rethink your decor to harness the healing power of natural daylight.
  6. Have an EMF inspection to uncover other harmful sources of electromagnetic radiation that may prevent healing. Such culprits may include cell phone towers, smart meters, high tension lines, and faulty wiring.

A low-EMF environment will help remove some of the obstacles to healing, allowing the natural frequencies or mind, body, spirit, earth and cosmos to flow uninterrupted.

 

Wireless Radiation Impacts on Children

Whether you’re a parent, a grandparent, or just a concerned member of society, I’m sure you want the kids in your life growing up to be healthy. One of the obstacles to this healthful life is becoming more and more pervasive and is associated with breast cancer, ADHD, and autism in young people: exposure to wireless technology.

If you are dubious, or just want to understand the health effects better, I ask you to take an hour and watch this video, which includes a great discussion of the psychological impacts of cell phone habits on kids.

If the health effects involved in exposure to Wi-Fi, cell phones, and other wireless technology can be prevented, wouldn’t you want to know about it? Spread the word and encourage healthier habits amongst your loved ones. Thanks.

NYTimes article on CDC recommendations for cell phone use

A New York Times article from January 1, 2016 addresses recent changes in CDC language regarding cell phone use and health:

“When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published new guidelines 18 months ago regarding the radiation risk from cellphones, it used unusually bold language on the topic for the American health agency: ‘We recommend caution in cellphone use.'”

“Within weeks, though, the C.D.C. reversed course. It no longer recommended caution, and deleted a passage specifically addressing potential risks for children.”

hands-coffee-smartphone-technologyWhat happened in the meantime to motivate the CDC to change language? Apparently concerns about liability. If cell phones and Wi-Fi present a health risk, what does this mean for libraries who offer free Wi-Fi and allow patrons to use cell phones?

Investigations into the change brought to light division in the scientific community on cell phone use and health impact. However, the most cited study on cell phones, the one which according to many researchers, does not imply clear risk association, was based on usage rates that are laughable compared to how most cell phone users interact with their phones.

“The median call time in the study was two to two and a half hours per month. A Nielsen study in 2014 found that Americans used smartphones more than 34 hours a month, on average, though more often for games or social media than for communications.”

When you consider the fact that many Americans sleep with their cell phones on their night stands, just a foot or so away from their heads, and many children sleep with their cell phones under their pillows at night, exposure time is much much higher than 34 hours a month for these users. Many people have their cell phones on their bodies nearly 24/7. Even when not in direct use, smart phones are connecting to cell phone towers all day long, searching for updates and just establishing connection signals, so exposure is constant.

Whether governmental bodies like the CDC are ready to issue warnings or not, it is important for concerned individuals like ourselves to be proactive in protecting ourselves through reduced exposure.

10 Tips for Safer Cell Phone Use

 

What’s up with the menstrual cup?

cupWhen I first heard of menstrual cups, my immediate reaction was, “Ewww, gross!” Everything about it sounded unpleasant: it was a silicone or latex “cup” which you inserted into the vagina to catch menstrual blood. At the time, it brought up memories from a scene in Mutant Message Down Under in which the author observes aborigine women collecting their menstrual blood in little vials then drying it out and using it for some strange secret purpose. I wasn’t sure I was ready to get that intimate with my period, which just seemed like a huge hassle in my life. 

However, every time I went to buy my organic cotton tampons, I remembered how outrageously expensive they are and the more the menstrual cup started to sound like a good idea. I thought about switching to reusable pads but have never been a fan of bulky, uncomfortable pads anyway, so I nixed that idea. (Oh, don’t we ladies get to suffer in so many different ways when it comes to our periods?) The menstrual cup sounded a lot better from an environmental point of view too, being non-disposable and reusable. I decided to give it a try.

And was quite surprised! Yes, there is a bit of a learning curve to figure out how to insert and remove it, but remember your first time inserting a tampon? That also required a bit of practice. One of the biggest advantages in using a menstrual cup vs tampons is that the menstrual cup respects your body’s natural lubrication. Tampons absorb blood, but they also absorb the natural lubrication present in the vagina – and which is there for a purpose! Why would you want to let a tampon ruin your happy vibe down there? Menstrual cups don’t affect your natural moisture, they just catch and hold menstrual blood, which you then empty as needed.

Apparently a menstrual cup can hold more blood than a tampon, so there is also a measure of liberation involved, with less worrying about leakage. I’ve been using one for a couple of years now and would never go back to tampons! And though this type of statement use to make me roll my eyes, meanwhile I have come to get more acquainted with my feminine cycle. I no longer cringe at the idea of facing a tablespoon of my own menstrual blood.

If you aren’t quite ready to make the leap toward a menstrual cup, make sure that you are using organic cotton tampons and pads. Conventional tampons contain pesticides such as glyphosate and dioxins from the bleaching process. Since the vaginal lining is highly absorptive, there is a much higher risk of exposure to chemicals. Synthetic fibers in conventional tampons also alter your vaginal microbiome in an unhealthy manner, which is just another reason to avoid using them.

Our lives are full of health risks and sometimes these seem overwhelming. On the positive side, though, there are many alternatives out there when you do want to make health-conscious and conscientious decisions. I wanted to share my experience with this because it is an often overlooked area of chemical exposure. I also find that we women can learn a lot from each other’s experiences dealing with our cycles –  but this is not always an area that we feel comfortable talking about amongst ourselves, perhaps because we are often uncomfortable thinking about our periods and cycles, period! I’ve come to understand that being aware of one’s cyclical hormonal fluctuations is actually extremely empowering. But more on that next time!

Here’s wishing you much chocolate to assuage your PMS, and a healthy low-pain period!

Calming protocol for kids with autism

autistic childOne of the things I was very excited about learning at the recent IBE Conference was a calming protocol for children with autism. Actually, this protocol is very similar to most of our standard building biology recommendations to any family or individual wishing to protect themselves from EMF’s. The exciting part was to learn how effective this has proven to be for some families dealing with autism. Peter Sullivan, a former Silicon Valley CEO turned environmental health philanthropist brought his own health and that of his kids’ back from the brink through a combo of detoxing from heavy metals and dramatically reducing exposure to EMF’s. He recommends this protocol, originally proposed by MD Toril Jelter:

Turn these four common sources of constant wireless radiation and electrical noise off at night for at least 12 hrs:

1) Baby monitors: Unplug for the duration of the trial.

2) Cordless phone base stations: Unplug the cordless phone base station (the largest unit that usually has the answering machine and physical phone line going into it.) Some people put this on an electrical timer.

3) Wi-Fi: Use a timer for the plug or software configuration to turn off at night.

4) Bedroom electrical circuit breaker: Find the circuit breaker that controls the electrical outlets in the child’s bedroom.  Turning that off at night will reduce the majority of exposure to field effects and electrical noise (commonly called “dirty electricity”).

Whether it is autism you are struggling with or other health concerns, I highly recommend giving this protocol a try for two weeks! If you have other wireless / smart devices in your home, you’ll probably want to give those a break too.

Questioning the logic of the “Nocebo effect”

noceboeffectIf you aren’t familiar with the term, while a placebo is an inert source (such as a pill) that causes a positive health outcome, the term “nocebo” is often used to describe an “inert” source that produces a negative health outcome. In other words, it’s all in your head.

The nocebo effect is sometimes used to explain the functioning of environmental sensitivities such as food sensitivities (notably to gluten), multiple chemical sensitivity, and electromagnetic hypersensitivity. If you believe it’s going to make you sick, it’s going to make you sick…and it’s actually your belief that’s causing the harm.

I question the good faith and logic of many who use this term to dismiss, for instance, someone’s negative reaction to Wi-Fi. If the mind is so powerful to create repeated, unwanted sensations in the body, why isn’t it just as powerful to heal?

I happen to believe in the power of the mind to both heal and to harm. Mental and psychological stress is a prime example of the latter – it weakens our immune system. However, just because the mind has the power to change our health for better or worse, does not exclude other factors from affecting our health as well. Just because sources are not widely understood or their impacts widely accepted does not mean that they are inert.

So the next time someone tells you it’s all in your mind, maybe ask them if they would trust in solely the power of their own mind to heal themselves from cancer? Our mind is inside of our body after all. Our bodies can tell us when we encounter harmful elements when we are tuned in enough to pay attention.

Sustainable & Healthy Design at Islandwood

I just returned from the International Institute for Building Biology and Ecology‘s 2015 Conference and am excited to share with you some important new information on healing through the built environment. But first I wanted to give you a look at our lovely conference location, which was specially chosen with Building Biology principles in mind.

Islandwood, on Bainbridge Island in the Seattle, Washington area is a pretty unique location. It was built as a spot to host outdoor experiences and environmental learning for kids, but is immensely pleasing for the child-at-heart as well. The founders and maintainers of Islandwood took many measures to ensure that the location is a safe, healthy and sustainable environment.

The staff of Islandwood were highly accommodating for our demanding group – we have high expectations for indoor air quality: excellent ventilation, water-damage free environments, and minimal VOC’s. These needs were largely met as the buildings of Islandwood were designed with numerous operable windows to ensure natural ventilation and low or no-VOC finishes were used throughout. Sometimes wood was left unfinished which contributes to a favorable indoor climate as well.

While the site usually has Wi-Fi in use, the staff were very accommodating, turning it off for the duration of our stay to provide a healthier electromagnetic environment. We were happy to learn that the center had previously rejected an offer for a cell phone tower on the property.

This is a great location for events such as conferences, weddings and the like for those who want to keep sustainability and health at the forefront. I hope you’ll enjoy seeing some snapshots of this lovely location!

My native plants

One of my priorities for my home was creating sustainable landscaping. I’ve added as many native plants as possible to meet the needs of the Central Piedmont climate and to provide resources for native wildlife. This is what things are looking like now – at the beginning of July after several weeks of drought followed by just a couple of good rains. Not too shabby!

Some of these got a start three years ago, many were planted this spring – with the exception of the black walnut, which has been around for quite some time. I selected many of these for their edible and medicinal qualities as well – an added bonus! There is a range of flowering times, providing food for pollinators throughout the spring, summer and fall, so not all of them are looking particularly showy at the moment. However, I will update with photos of flowering when the time comes as some of these have unique flowers that aren’t very common in the urban or suburban landscape!

What does “home” mean to you?

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A tiny home – photo by Tammy Strobel

Home is not just where you live, it has a singular meaning and emotional status for us. Americans in particular have a funny relationship with “home.” Part of the american dream seems to be constantly upgrading to an ever bigger and more luxurious home. On the other hand, an astounding number of people are embracing the tiny home movement, taking a 180 away from the McMansion. What does it all mean?

In addition to the physiological relationships we have with our homes, I’m inviting my clients and readers to delve deeper into the psychological component of home. By analyzing our motivations, desires, and expectations regarding the home, we can break out of the cycle of constantly moving to “bigger and better.” We can find out what we really want and need: a home that nourishes our psyches and protects our health.

Here are a few questions to get you thinking in this way. Feel free to share your responses and reactions with us!

  • What was your favorite place to be as a child? Think about that place. What was the light like? Do you remember any smells? Any colors or shapes or textures? What was it about this place that felt good to you?
  • Do you have a place like this in your life now? If not, how can you create one?

In case you need some guidance, I’ll go first.

My favorite indoor place when I was a child was my grandmother’s art studio which was a sunroom. It was bright and full of light, yet also made cozy by the leafy trees that surrounded it. There was a large table full of arts and crafts supplies where I was allowed to play and create. I see a reflection of this place in my own desire for large windows and green vistas, and my desire to have my office in a sunroom. When I search for my next home, I will look for one with a sunroom for my office. I have also always wanted a table dedicated to artistic endeavors and think this place is at the root of that longing. Adding a small art table to my home shouldn’t be too difficult. I’m making it a goal for this month!

Everyone has a different childhood relationship with home and place. I’d love to hear about yours!

 • • •

And If you’re enchanted by this topic as much as I am you might want to check out the fascinating book House as a Mirror of the Self.

Stay healthy while dealing with sensitivities

barefootHi friends! I know many of you out there in blog land, like me, suffer from environmental sensitivities. You are not alone! While my sensitivities have not disappeared, I have learned to cope with them better and keep them under check to a certain degree. I wanted to share with you what has worked well for me.

– Yoga.

The psoas muscle has a large influence over the fight or flight response. If you are sitting for much of the day, your psoas muscle becomes shortened. Yoga will help lengthen it out. I immediately started to feel a difference with my reactions when I started practicing yoga.

– Acupuncture and chinese herbs

I am lucky enough to have a fantastic acupuncture provider here in Charlotte and have had a huge amount of help dealing with some of my symptoms with Chinese herbs. If you go this route, make sure your herbs are organic and that your practitioner has rave reviews.

– Organic food

Organic food contains more nutrients. Why? Because the plants have a better developed immune system, having to fight off disease and pests on their own. You will have less exposure to chemicals this way as well.

– Nutrient dense food

We environmentally sensitive ones seem to need greater stores of nutrients. A heard an EHS friend say that he needed nutrient dense food and realized I had been seeking out the same thing but had not put a name to it. Avocados are my favorite nutrient dense food.

– Fermented foods

The first time I heard about fermented foods and gut health I felt thrilled, like a missing puzzle piece finally fell into place. And suddenly it seemed like everyone is talking about this incredible health breakthrough. If you haven’t heard the news, this is it in a nutshell: Microbial cells outnumber human cells on the human body 10 to 1 and researchers are starting to understand that the bacteria in our guts helps us digest, helps our immune system and in short is essential for good health. The problem is, most people eating a typical american diet have poor intestinal flora. Fermented foods will help set that straight! So eat some raw sauerkraut, drink some kombucha, eat some kefir. I’ve been fermenting my own sauerkraut and kombucha. It’s lots of fun!

– Cut out caffeine

Caffeine raises cortisol levels in the body, a stress hormone. We don’t need additional stress when our environments are already stressing us out! If you’re hooked, I recommend transitioning to a weaker form of caffeine (green tea for instance) before eliminating it completely. The transition will make it easier. I eliminated all caffeine except that found in chocolate, and I now recognize that caffeine really just made me feel bad.

– Give yourself time to recover

If you have to take part in activities that stress you out, allow yourself the time to recover. Perhaps that means avoiding scheduling two social events in one week. Or perhaps that means seeing one friend at a time instead of a group. Just recognize your limits and allow yourself to respect them. When I follow this rule, I do great. When I don’t – it turns into a great reminder!

– Get barefoot and try Earthing

Connecting to the earth’s energies is healing and grounding. Literally. Many environmentally sensitive folks have experienced relief with this method. If using an Earthing sheet, use the grounding rod instead of the outlet ground. Earthing helps me sleep peacefully, and when I sleep well, I feel good.

– Dig in the dirt

And if you haven’t heard about the importance of the gut, perhaps you’ve heard that digging in the soil is a natural antidepressant. Facing life with the burden of chemical or environmental sensitivities is enough to get anyone down. Don’t let yourself stay down. I always feel better after getting my fingers dirty.

– De-stress your relationships

If your relationship is a source of stress, try to find a solution to change this. Many of us who are environmentally sensitive seem to also have a Highly Sensitive Person physiology, meaning it takes us longer to recover from stress. Stress depletes the body and will make it harder for you to stay healthy. Just say no to living with constant stress!

 • • •

I’ll be giving a workshop soon on precisely these topics – coping with sensitivity. Perhaps some of you would like to join us? Find out more about it here.

Why do I have mold?

FEMA Warns Against Mold IssuesAhhh…yes. That musty smell, those unsightly splotches. You’re finally starting to suspect that you might have a mold problem. But should you be concerned? And what should you do about it?

Mold is a serious issue, so yes, you should be concerned! Not only is mold very destructive to the materials in your house, it can have harmful health effects, even on previously healthy individuals. Those with more fragile immune systems are even more at risk.

Mold spores are actually present in all environments. However some conditions allow mold to grow and multiply. So what causes mold to grow?

– Leaks

Leaks are a common instigator of mold growth. Many leaks go unnoticed when they are under sinks or toilets, behind bathtubs or in crawlspaces.

– Flooding

If you’ve experienced flooding that did not dry out within 24-48 hours, mold can result, especially if porous surfaces such as drywall were effected.

– High humidity

Say your bathroom gets put through 4 showers daily and you don’t have or don’t use your bathroom fan. The humidity in the bathroom may stay elevated, providing mold the conditions needed to thrive.

– Poor drainage

Many times, rainwater will run along your yard, into your crawlspace and stay there due to poor drainage and grading.

You’ve probably noticed a connection: water. Yes, it is inadequately dealing with water, moisture or humidity in our living environments that gives rise to mold growth.

There are many other examples through which water or humidity can lead to mold growth in your home. If you’re concerned you may have a problem, call on a professional such as myself to help you determine the cause, so that you can put an end to your mold problems and protect both your investment and your health.

 • • •

Get help with your mold problem!

Get an eco-friendly garden

IMG_4674If you’re trying your best to live sustainably, I’m sure you’ll want to take that commitment to your garden too.  For the past three years I’ve been carrying out in experiment in eco-gardening and wanted to share what’s worked for me so far.

Here are some of the techniques I use for an easy, eco-friendly approach to veggie gardening. Whether you are just getting started gardening or are already gardening and want some suggestions for upping your garden game, you might want to try some of these too!

– Raised beds.

IMAG1787
I used untreated southern yellow pine for my beds.

One advantage of raised beds: it’s easier to build up soil in beds. Since they are elevated from the ground in many cases they are less accessible to rabbits and the like. Being higher can be more comfortable for your back. Also, since you never walk in your raised bed, you won’t compact the soil.

– No-till.

For better soil health I never till, I simply add more compost to my beds. Tilling compacts your soil and brings weed seeds to the surface. It also disturbs the microbial life and earth worms that are beneficial to your plants. There are tons of specific no-till techniques, and all of them make the same claims: being an easier, lazy way to garden and creating better soil.

– Square foot gardening.

Instead of rows, plant in squares. You can grow more this way. Just know how many seeds or plants per square foot and you’re ready to go! Here’s a free square foot reference guide that helped me.

stagger
Staggered planting guide

– Stagger plants instead of planting them in grids.

You can plant more plants in less space with you stagger them along triangular lines rather than planting on a grid.

– Make your own compost.

Buying compost is expensive! You may want to do it when you’re first getting started, I had a huge load delivered. But now I use a lazy compost system and try to make it meet all my composting needs. The most efficient compost system I’ve used is not an enclosed bin, but a circle of chicken wire, filled with leaves, into which I place my food scraps in the center. The food waste is surrounded by leaves and covered by leaves. Earth worms get in through the bottom and help with the decomposing. I moved to this system after a disappointing 2 year wait for compost that never matured in my tumbler bin. This cheaper method has been infinitely more successful – and nope, no rats or raccoons or possums in my compost.

– Plant what grows easily.

I have a couple different types of tomatoes (Matt’s Wild Cherry tomatoes and Yellow Pear) that keep reseeding every year and are resistant to blight, require low water, and taste delicious. Last year my squash and zucchini were decimated by squash vine borers so this year I’m planting a different variety of squash that is resistant to that aforementioned little nasty. Okra grows easily for me in the southern piedmont, so I’m planting more of that this year.

– Plant perennial fruits and veggies.

IMG_4818
Passion flower, aka, Maypop

Getting some of your food from perennials just makes sense. I’ve planted jerusalem artichokes, passionfruit, blackberries, blueberries and tons of perennial herbs. And that is just the tip of the iceberg as far as perennial food sources go.

– Plant living mulches.

I use nasturtium and other companion plants as living mulches. This keeps weeding down, keeps water in and creates a cooling effect.

– Companion planting.

IMG_4655
Nasturtium

Some plants thrive together. Some examples of companion plant combos are: corn, pumpkins, beans (the three sisters); beans, tomatoes, peppers; onions, potatoes, nasturtiums. My favorite companion planting book is Companion Planting for the Kitchen Gardener.

– Rotate your crops.

Move your different vegetable families around from bed to bed or spot to spot. Why? Planting the same thing year after year will deplete nutrients from the soil (this is less of a problem if you keep adding new compost) and pests will be more likely to return.

– Plant a polyculture

IMG_4663
A polyculture with frisee endive, shiso and kale

You can grow more vegetables in a given area if you plant a polyculture. Each plant has different requirements and will take different nutrients from the soil, so you are distributing your soil nutrients more evenly when your plantings are diverse. Also you will confuse insect pests if you plant a polyculture. Planting just one crop is kind of like putting up a flashing “Free food now!” sign for insect pests.

– Hand water.

Instead of using a sprinkler or a drip line, I water by hand with a watering wand. Less water is wasted this way – you only need to send water to the plants roots, not give it a shower. I don’t have to water very often during most of the season, and when I do, it gives me a chance to see how things are doing and do some light weeding. (Which, if you stay on top of it, could be the only type of weeding you have to do!)

– Plant some non-food plants to attract pollinators and insect predators. 

IMG_4808
Native mountain mint: a boon to the pollinators

It might be helpful to think of your garden more as an eco-system supporting a variety of life with a bonus of food rather than just food for you. It’s should be a mutualistic situation – you provide resources for pollinators and insect predators, and they help you out by pollinating your plants and keeping your insect pest populations in check. So far I have not used a single product for pest control and I’ve had enough food to give away or trade during the growing season.

There are certainly some other helpful techniques I’ve neglected here, but these are the main tenants of my eco-gardening ventures!

Happy gardening – here’s wishing you a little dirt under your nails!

How to create healthy habits

798px-Forest_path_in_Yvelines_-_France_public domainIf you’re struggling with the idea of creating a healthier home, or eating better or starting an exercise routine, it turns out that a big part of the solution is pretty simple and can be summed up in one word: habit. Our lives are defined but what come to be our habits. That’s why being selective about them is so important!

The reason we end up doing these things in the same way every time is because it uses less brain power to do so. It turns out that a habit is a pathway you have stamped out for yourself… literally. Neuroscientists have found that the more you do a task, the stronger the neural pathway will be in your brain for this activity. This means it’s literally easier for you to keep repeating a habit – good or bad – than to do something new. The good news is that if you’re able to turn a healthy lifestyle choice into a habit, it will not be a struggle anymore, just a well-worn pathway. You just do it, you don’t have to convince yourself or have an internal dialogue about it.

To replace a bad habit with a better one, there are a few things to consider:

1) Deprivation doesn’t work. If chocolate is your achilles heel, telling yourself “I really have to stop eating chocolate!” is actually only reinforcing the chocolate habit in your brain, because you’re still thinking about it, focusing on it.

2) Adding a positive habit is a good way to start getting rid of a bad one.  Instead of telling yourself you’re not allowed to eat carbs anymore, ever again, instead try adding more vegetables and protein to your meals. Create a new healthy habit and your older “bad” habits will begin to lose their power.

3) Recognize your triggers and rewards. Sometimes what is rewarding in a habit isn’t the thing in itself. Having a cigarette break, for instance, might come with getting out into the sun, chatting with friends or strangers. The outdoor break and social interaction may be just as rewarding for you as the cigarette itself. How can you get those good benefits in a healthier way? And what is triggering your need for the habit in the first place?

Does it sounds too easy? Maybe, but it works. At the beginning of 2015, I took stock and realized I’d created some good habits for myself over the last year using the above approach:

Despite my love of reading literature, I hadn’t read a book in months and felt that I just couldn’t find the time. But I did have time to watch TV shows or a movie almost every night! I kept making excuses for myself. What was my reward with TV? Relaxation, taking a break from reality. Reading could do this for me too. I finally decided to have a reading night every once in a while. At first it was uncomfortable… it would be easier to just watch something. But after just one time forcing myself to read instead of watch, the next times were easier and easier.

My yoga practice, while I enjoyed it, still required me to check the schedule, see who was teaching, maybe think about going to another studio, and then decide whether I would finally end up going or not. That was a lot of mental effort, so much so that sometimes I ended up missing class. Luckily I found a few classes that I really love at a nearby studio, and so I decided to stop trying to force myself to go everyday and to instead just go to these few that I love. Now going to these classes is such a habit that if some social engagement comes up, it’s an effort for me to not go to yoga.

Another “better” habit I am happy to have cultivated is cutting down on social media time. When you are working from home it can be easy to fall into the social media rabbit hole in the name of “research.” Social media can give you the feeling that you are doing something yet leave a very dissatisfying feeling when you suddenly realize you’ve spent an hour scrolling. To me it feels very much like cluttering my mind… each individual thing may be important or interesting, but when you put them all together you can’t really deal with them. Now I give myself a few minutes to check in only at designated times of the day and otherwise keep facebook closed.

I’m quite sure that if you let this info sink in, you will be able to use it to create better habits in your life too. Opening your windows every morning for just 15 minutes, folding down your bed covers to air out your bed, these are simple habits that you can adopt into your everyday routine to make your home healthier. If your eating habits aren’t nourishing you, try cooking with fresh food on the stove instead of depending on microwavable meals and takeout. All it takes is one time to start putting down a new pathway in your brain!

Most of this great info on habits I first learned from Charles Duhigg’s “The Power of Habit.” If I’ve made you curious about how to harness habit for good in your life, you should probably check it out! 

How to attract birds to your backyard

Last weekend I took a class on birds. It was a great crash course in ornithology and I was delighted to learn all sorts of interesting things about our feathery friends. The main purpose of the class though was to learn how to attract birds to our backyards with native plants. Because I love to share, here are some of the basics!

Northern Cardinal  cc - Stephen Wolfe
Northern Cardinal – cc – Stephen Wolfe

If we want to attract birds to our yards, first we need to understand what birds are looking for and what we can help provide for them. (We also need to know what type of birds we want to attract, but I’ll come to that later.)

In our urban, suburban, or countrified yards, we can provide birds with:

  • food resources
  • nesting materials
  • suitable habitats

Here are a few tips on how to better provide these needs:

Wood Thrush - public domain
Wood Thrush – public domain

FOOD

You can certainly attract birds with a bird feeder, but not all birds eat seeds, and those that do eat seeds are sometimes hunting for other types of food. Another thing you can feed the birds is mealworms, available at bird supply or pet stores. Birds that like soft-bodied insects will go for these, as will birds that are feeding their babies. With spring around the corner, I plan on finding some mealworms to put out this spring.

A holistic approach to providing food for birds in addition to these is to add plants to your yard that will:

  • attract larvae and insects
  • produce good nectar
  • provide fruit

Food alone won’t increase the number of birds in your yard… Also important are materials needed for:

Brown-headed Nuthatch - public domain
Brown-headed Nuthatch

NESTING 

For birds to want to breed in your yard, birds need nest-building resources. Where do nest-building resources come from?! Mostly plant detritus. This means that if you have a spotless grassy lawn with no or little natural areas, birds aren’t going to want to hang around. Instead, rake plant detritus into natural areas under trees and shrubs (as they decompose, this also provides important food for those trees and shrubs).

To build nests, different species may use:

  • branches and twigs
  • pine needles 
  • grass clippings
  • animal hair (from pets or wildlife)
  • leaf litter
  • spiderwebs!

This last one is used by hummingbirds. I’ve never met a person who didn’t like hummingbirds, so how about leaving those cobwebs around your house and let the hummers reuse them? Also some birds nest in tree cavities, and even in the tops of dead tree trunks. So you might consider leaving a rotting tree trunk standing and create a home for an owl. By the way, even if you have bird houses out, birds still need to collect materials to build a nest. Wood chip mulch apparently isn’t a useful nest-building material, so if you have the choice between wood mulch and pine needles, now you know that pine needles are more helpful for the birds. If you want a variety of birds, you’ll need a variety of nest-building materials.

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Eastern Towhee – public domain

HABITAT

And this brings us to the key point here: diversity. Since a variety of food choices and nesting materials just won’t be there if your yard only contains 2 or 3 types of plants (grassy lawn, monkey grass and crepe myrtles, anyone?), the more plant diversity you have in your yard, the more likely you are to attract a diverse bird population.

Think polyculture. A field of corn is a monoculture. An interplanted vegetable garden with several types of plants, herbs and flowers is a polyculture. (And this isn’t just good for the birds!) Same goes if you are landscaping rather than vegetable gardening. The more diverse a yard you have, the more species can use it.

And that’s not only because different species are going to eat different things. You will actually produce more nutrients in your yard the more different plant species you include. Why? Because different plants use different nutrients and minerals in the soil. Not sure how that works? Here’s a silly analogy: Let’s say you invite your friends to a painting party. You offer them 10 colors of paint but everyone wants to use just blue. You’re going to run out of blue quickly, and be left with the other colors. Next time invite friends to paint who have different color preferences so that you will more evenly use the resources at hand. And thus it is with your garden. Choose a diverse selection of mostly native plants to created an attractive backyard habitat.

Gray Catbird - cc - Peter Massas
Gray Catbird – cc – Peter Massas

NATIVE PLANTS

Why are native plants important? I’ll let a pro tell you: “Native plants, which have co-evolved with native wild birds, are more likely to provide a mix of foods – just the right size, and with just the right kind of nutrition – and just when the birds need them.” Stephen Kress, National Audubon Society

You can find a list of good plants, native to NC’s piedmont region, for providing different types of food and habitat for birds here in this pamphlet by Audubon NC.

If you don’t feel like clicking through, here are a few that tend to be easy to find:

  • Purple coneflower
  • Flowering dogwood
  • Viburnum
  • Black-eyed Susan
  • Bee balm
Purple coneflower - cc- Diego Delso
Purple coneflower – cc- Diego Delso
Bee balm - cc - Joe Schneid
Bee balm – cc – Joe Schneid
Flowering dogwood
Flowering dogwood -public domain

DON’T SPRAY

Also important: don’t use pesticides in your yard. Most pesticides don’t target specific insects, so if you spray for mosquitoes, you will probably end up killing lots of other types of insects. Insecticides will accumulate in the dead insects bodies, be eaten, then the toxins will accumulate in the birds. Use of DDT was one of the reasons for the decline of the bald eagle. Since DDT has been phased out, these birds have been able to re-establish their populations.

PLAYING FAVORITES

Scarlet Tanager - public domain
Scarlet Tanager – public domain

The above advice is for generally attracting more birds to your yard. If you want to attract specific birds, click on one of the photos of birds here, all native to the Charlotte Mecklenburg region, which will take you to the beautiful Audubon site. Information on habitat, diet, feeding behavior and nesting is available for a huge array of birds and you can use this information to try to recreate the characteristics preferred by specific birds in your region. Or ones who are just passing through!

When we encourage native birds to be part of our life, we are fighting extinction and helping maintain or improve biodiversity. And who knows… the beauty of a surprise bird visitor might lift your spirit just when you need it the most in exchange for taking some of these simple steps.

Additional resources:

http://www.audubon.org/

http://nc.audubon.org/

http://www.ncwildflower.org/

https://www.wildflower.org

Good electromagnetic hygiene

kid cell phoneYou many have heard that EMF’s are dangerous even if you don’t understand what they are exactly or know how to avoid them.

Here’s a quick primer for you on avoiding electromagnetic pollution:

Avoid constant exposure to cell phones, Wi-Fi and other wireless energy. Turn that stuff OFF at night, at the minimum.

Make sure you aren’t living with high levels of alternating current Magnetic or Electric fields. Don’t sleep near breaker boxes, fridges, or anything else with a motor or transformer. Some sources are invisible so if you have doubts, have it checked out.

Avoid metal in the sleeping area. Metals sometimes become magnetized in a way that will be anomalous for your body. Metal will also act like an antenna for any AC electric fields.

Are you living next to a high tension line, substation, cell phone tower or other such health risk? I highly recommend having a building biologist come out and take measurements for you to assess concern.

Moving on (either figuratively or literally) to a healthier environment may be inconvenient and stressful, but not nearly as much so as getting sick.

Stay healthy and good luck practicing healthier electromagnetic hygiene!

What’s it like living with electrical hypersensitivity?

Ever wonder what life is like when you are electrically hypersensitive?

Peter Lloyd’s situation is like that of so many others suffering from EHS (Electrical Hypersensitivity) and MCS (Multiple Chemical Sensitivity). Click the photo to read the Wales Online article and learn more about his sad circumstances and difficulty to lead a normal life because of electromagnetic pollution.

electrical sensitivity

While not all EHS individuals are effected to such an extreme extent, his story is, sadly one that I have heard many, many times.

The best way to avoid developing this type of illness is to practice healthy electromagnetic hygiene (yes! that’s a thing!).

Interested in learning what exactly what that entails? Read on!

 

 

 

Healthy slow cooking

If you’re interested in creating a healthy home, you are most certainly going to want to focus on your kitchen!

There are so many important ways we can reduce our exposure to harmful chemicals in the kitchen. But I’m here to tell you about one device which has proven to be a healthy, useful workhorse for me.

I used to eat rice pretty much everyday and while I have now added some variety to my weekly, vegetarian menu, I still use my rice cooker religiously. And I use it for much more than just rice!

vita clayBehold the Vita Clay! I discovered this combo rice cooker / slow cooker a few years ago when I went on a quest for a rice cooker that did NOT have a non-stick coating on the bowl. It was a long, hard search! Finally I decided to try this baby, despite my reservations that I might drop and break the bowl and have a hard (ie, expensive) time replacing it.

Well, it’s been three years, and I have never dropped either the bowl or the lid – in face, the terra cotta bowl has such heft to it, its own personal gravity, perhaps – that you probably would not drop it as easily as a lighter bowl. Three years later and being used at least three times a week, it is still working beautifully.

I use it to cook grains such as rice, quinoa, and buckwheat, and delicious soups and stews. I absolutely LOVE throwing a few ingredients in it, bopping off to yoga, and coming back to a savory delicious meal.

There may be other brands that incorporate a terra cotta pot – I haven’t checked – but I can vouch for the high performance of this one. I love the terra cotta bowl, and have never noticed any chemical scents from any of the components (though you should always wash before using!).

If I’ve gotten you all worked up about this beauty of a rice cooker, you can buy one here, and your purchase will support a local animal rescue. That’s just how I roll.

Happy cooking and bon appétit! 

Take a Wi-Fi break

free wifi health effectsWi-fi, wi-fi everywhere… and not a place to think?

Some of you might applaud the widespread and overreaching waves of a wireless internet connection and relish the opportunity to connect “freely” to the internet.

What you may not realize is that this “free” connection comes at a cost – the pollution of our natural electromagnetic spectrum with data-carrying radiofrequency waves.

Some individuals, an estimated 18-25% of the population, are electrically hypersensitive, and experience negative side effects from exposure to such waves. Many of us may experience these side effects without being aware of the cause. Common symptoms include anxiety and inability to focus or brainfog.

Whether we are electrically hypersensitive or not, this “background noise” may affect us anyway. Dr Martin Blank, in his book “Overpowered” explains that the DNA strand has an electrical component that may explain why we are vulnerable to the effects of electromagnetic pollution.

Many more of us can recognize the detrimental social side effects of pervasive Wi-Fi. How much harder is it to strike up a conversation with a stranger when they are immersed in the diversions of their cell phone or tablet?

While we might not be able to turn off the Wi-fi in our favorite coffee shop, we certainly have the power to do so at home. 

So this is my recommendation to you – take a Wi-Fi break. Use an ethernet connection for internet if you still need it (but make sure to turn off the airport and blue tooth on your computers). Maybe try it over the weekend. Or just start turning it off at night.

A client recently told me that she’d finally turned her Wi-Fi off and could really feel the difference. Maybe that difference is something that you can feel too – one that might make the difference between getting a good night sleep or not, or feeling an underlying stress, or an underlying peacefulness.

Good luck taking your home Wi-Fi break… Let us know how it goes!

*Your purchase of Overpowered from the above link supports North Mecklenburg Animal Rescue. Isn’t that wonderful?

Easy way to reduce allergens

Dust Mite
by Allistair Burt – Hole In My Pocket

When I work as a building biologist (baubiologist), folks tend to think that I’m going to give them lots of bad news about how unhealthy their houses are. This really makes me laugh – who needs someone to give them bad news without proving solutions?

While assessing the situation is important, my purpose is to provide helpful advice on how to make the home healthier, not just shine a light on the problems.

Here’s an easy trick you can use – starting tomorrow morning! Dust mites are a common allergen and thrive in beds. Why? Dust mites like dark humid environments – and that’s just what our beds are! We humans lose moisture at night while we sleep. Then we jump out of bed in the morning and cover the sheets right back up, keeping in the humidity, preventing our mattresses from drying out.

So an easy trick from the books of Baubiologie is to UN-MAKE your bed every morning. Instead of making your bed, just fold back your sheets and covers and let the bed air out while you’re getting ready in the morning. They still do this in many places in Europe – they just don’t know that they’re fighting dust mites when they do it. Make sure you open blinds or curtains to your bedroom and let some sunshine in. Unmaking your bed everyday is a super easy way to take your home one step closer towards healthy!

Edgar Allan Poe and the madwoman in the attic

Were you a lit major, or just an avid reader? Did it ever seem odd to you that there are so many literary references to madness in the 18th century? Edgar Allan Poe’s work is full of it, of course, and then there’s the archetypal madwoman in the attic.

In McKay Jenkins “What’s Gotten Into Us“, he speaks with toxicologist Albert Donnay, who suggests that all this madness was actually due to Carbon Monoxide poisoning. Why? The widespread use of natural gas lighting in homes in the 1800’s.

Carbon Monoxide can cause brain damage… which might have been interpreted as madness in those cases.

Do you have risks for Carbon Monoxide poisoning in your home? Read below to learn what you need to know.

poeposter

What’s “toxic black mold”? Is it dangerous?

stachy doll
Stachy plushy!

 

Earlier this week a friend asked me about “toxic black mold.” As with many health subjects, there is a lot of confusion as to whether mold is truly dangerous, or if this is all just hype perpetuated by mold remediation companies.

So here’s a little clarification. Some molds produce toxins (called “mycotoxins”), and some of these molds are black. However, some toxin-producing molds are not black, and some black molds don’t produce mycotoxins. The important point here being – you can’t look at a mold growing and know for sure what type it is. This is why we collect air samples and have them analyzed by a certified laboratory.

When you hear the term “toxic black mold” usually what is meant is a species of mold called Stachybotrys Chartrum, known to us mold geeks as simply “stachy” (pronounced “stocky”).

Stachy gets a lot of attention because it has associations with some extreme symptoms. Those of us who have experienced this mold personally know that it has very powerful effects, especially neurological ones.

Since specific illness related to Stachy has not yet been definitively proved in the opinion of the Center for Disease Control, they do not say “Stachybotrus causes such and such symptoms.”

However, they do say, “All molds should be treated the same with respect to potential health risks and removal,” and that “people with allergies may be more sensitive to molds. People with immune suppression or underlying lung disease are more susceptible to fungal infections.”

Mold is a decomposer – its job in the ecosystem is to decompose wood and other substances. It will decompose the wood in your house too, which, without considering the health effects, is reason enough to take it seriously and remediate it properly when you have a problem!

That doesn’t mean there aren’t unscrupulous mold remediation companies. If you have a mold problem you need to get help identifying the source of the problem. If you do nothing about the source of the problem (leaks, flooding, excess humidity, etc), the mold will keep coming back. The best way to choose a mold remediation company is to pick one that doesn’t handle both mold testing and remediation, as this represents a conflict of interest.

I look for moisture problems and mold growth in homes as part of a holistic approach to inspecting a home for potential health hazards. You can’t have a healthy home without keeping mold in check!

Non-toxic nail polish

My make up routine has always been pretty simple. So several years ago when I decided to “clean up” my make up routine, I didn’t have that many products to switch out. I’ve found a few products that I love and keep going back to the same ones.

The transition has not been so easy for nail polish. Summer is when I usually get the urge to see those dabs of color on the tips of my toes, so a few weeks ago I started yet another search for some non-toxic nail polish that doesn’t smell like solvents. Because the somewhat-healthier-options I found at Whole Foods, Earth Fare, etc? Yes, I tried them. They stink. They smell just as bad as the nail polishes that do contain formaldehyde, toluene, etc, so the only improvement was knowing they were less toxic. This might be reassuring, but if you are sensitive to smells, this might not help much when it comes time to get busy adorning your tootsies.

Good news! I finally found a couple of brands that are less toxic AND less smelly. I present you with…Keeki Pure And Simple and Piggy Paint.  Neither of them are exactly odorless, but they are huge improvements over some of the other “non-toxic” brands I’ve tried.

Here’s the lowdown….

keeki nail polishI was expecting something less like nail polish and more like nail stain. Nope! Both are just like nail polish.

Both actually are easier (for me) to paint on – less messy than the nasty nail polishes of my past!

As far as smell goes, I have a highly sensitive nose but can only smell them if I put my sniffer right above the jar. Keeki smells better than Piggy Paint – more like food, a sentiment which my dogs would second. They scoot up next to me and sit patiently, drooling, as if they think a treat is coming, while I’m applying Keeki.

piggy paintPiggy Paint is marketed for kids, so the colors follow suit in colors like “Mac and Cheese, Please!” or “Ice Cream Dream.” Personally, I’m a leaning to Keeki’s more grown up palette, though you can still get your trendy blacks, blues and yellows from them, you eco-conscious fashionistas, you!

And as far as staying power goes… I tried them on both my fingernails and toenails and these both seem to last about as long as what a conventional nail polish would last on me… which is, maybe a DAY without a chip. But hey, I cook, I garden, I use my hands! If your nail danger is limited to holding a glass of wine, I bet it will hold up better for you than for me! Unless of course that wine glass gets refilled too often…  Uh-hmm!

What’s Your Body Burden?

What is body burden? How do chemicals end up in your body in the first place? Why do chemicals get passed to infants through breast milk? What can you do about it?

These and other questions are answered at chemicalbodyburden.org.

Also available en espanol…

After learning more about your body burden, come back and find out more about chemicals.

 

Recommended Reading: Allergic to the 20th Century

Allergic to the 20th Century – Peter Radetsky

allergic to the 20th centuryIf you think have Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, know someone who does, or just want to learn more about it, Radetsky provides a highly informative (though somewhat dated -1996) read on the subject.

He examines who tends to be effected. In one survey of the general population, 33 % were reported to be sensitive to chemicals. A typical MCS patient is “white, 30-59 yrs old, middle to upper class professional, and female.” 80% are female.

The National Academy of Sciences has suggested that some 15 % of Americans may experience ‘increased allergic sensitivity to chemicals.’

A 1991 survey by the EPA found that approx. 1/3 of inhabitants of sealed buildings reported sensitivity to one or more common chemicals.

Throughout his book he follows several individuals and families coping with MCS, Sick Building Syndrome and Gulf War Syndrome. He tells the stories of the toxic events of overexposure to chemicals which have since left them sick.

Some of the typical common symptoms of those suffering from the above three illnesses are: headaches, fatigue, rashes, itchy eyes and stuffy nose after exposure to pools with chlorine, nausea from car exhaust, joint pain, tiredness, loss of motivation, muscle aches, memory difficulties, diarrhea,  abdominal pain, stiffness, tingling fingers and toes, concentration difficulties,  frequent urination, recurrent infections, numbness, weak arms, weight gain, chest pain, muscle cramping, depression, problem focusing eyes, grogginess, nausea, weight loss, spreading sensitivity to solvents, fragrances, loss of equilibrium and coordination, etc

By way of these sick individuals come a few recommendations on how to create a safe place to live in.

  • If the individual must create a safe space for themselves, create 2 different spaces instead of just one, so as not to be breathing the same air all the time.
  • Avoid skylights – they leak, mold potential.
  • Let air circulate around furniture.

Exceptionally interesting are Radetsky’s interviews with several medical practitioners who work with MCS patients, whose approaches to treatment he describes.

Dr William Rea of the Environmental Health Center in Dallas is perhaps the most well-known doctor treating MCS, at least in certain circles.

In a nutshell, Dr. Rea’s approach is 1) avoid exposure 2) nutritional therapy 3) immunotherapy 4) heat therapy – sauna.

Dr Rea has his clients use a rotation diet to find food instigators, and warns to get rid of synthetic clothing. Dr. Rea also talks about a masking effect in which the body adapts to the problem chemical(s), resulting in nagging headache, fatigue, and fuzziness.

While many in mainstream medicine may try to discount Dr. Rea’s primary method of avoidance therapy, Rea points out avoidance therapy is completely mainstream medicine, including such things as quarantining and washing wounds!

Another element of MCS is the synergistic effects of certain compounds. A widely known example of harmful synergistic effects is cigarette smoke and radon. Both have harmful effects individually, but together their combined effects are worsened. With synergistic effects, 2+2 =5 instead of 4. Radetsky recounts a research experiment with chickens who were given Deet, permethrin, pyridostigmine. Given any one of the chemicals, the animal was ok. Given a mix of any of the 2, Gulf War-like symptoms developed. Gulf War Syndrome and MCS have a highly paralleled list of symptoms and possibly the same root of a problem.

Just as infectious disease includes ailments that have little in common except the fact that they’re caused by microbes, might MCS similarly include maladies that have nothing in common except the fact that they’re caused by chemicals?

The author details some of the theories being explored by researchers as to the causes or mechanisms behind MCS. Here are some of those theories:
  • Toxic chemicals may induce white blood cells to commit suicide.
  • There is an effect of chemicals on thymus, thus passing on defective cells, eventually causing autoimmune disease.
  • Toxic chemicals may damage DNA enzymes or produce oncogenes (the cells that cause cancer).
  • The inhaled chemicals may inflame an important nerve, leading to an allergic type reaction followed by a domino effect whole body reaction.
  • Yet another deals with the sense of smell having a direct effect on the limbic system in the brain. “Whatever the nose smells makes a beeline to the brain via this nonstop superhighway.” Chemicals then sensitize this route. One scientific experiment showed rodents being more sensitive to cocaine after exposure to formaldehyde.
  • Regarding a limbic effect, chemical exposure may activate the fight or flight system which then won’t shut down.
  • Early life stress may also be an indicator.

One researcher thinks MCS may be a precursor to cancer or autoimmune disease, thus the grave importance of treating MCS.

’MCS patients are articulating what’s happening to all of us. …It’s probably related to the cancer problem, which is also largely chemically induced, despite the efforts to make it genetic.’ – Kaye Kilburn

Many people who I speak to about MCS have the same reaction – that it must be the fragile of nature who get MCS and that it’s probably better to expose yourself to toxins regularly in order to build up an immunity. However, exposure to produce immunity does not always work. Radetsky tells the story of Prince Alfred of Monaco trying to create antidote for sea anemone sting. They injected the venom into dogs. The 1st dose didn’t have an affect, but with the 2nd dose the dogs died. Thus, sensitivity is sometimes increased rather than decreased, and this seems to be the mechanism with MCS.

Radetsky does dedicate some time to researchers who discredit the chemical causes of MCS in favor of psychological causes. MCS is generally referred to as “idiopathic environmental intolerance” by those with this viewpoint. However, Radetsky points out that there is no strength to the scientific evidence of a psychological based cause, and the main proponent of this viewpoint has a serious conflict of interest.

Though MCS is not widely recognized by the medical community, HUD (Dept. of Housing and Urban Development) recognizes MCS as a disability. This is at least a start at official recognition, and a small source of help for those with MCS who end up losing much of their financial resources due to the debilitating nature of the illness.

MCS is controversial because if chemicals are making us sick, whoever produces those chemicals is to blame. This is yet another case where the powerful wield the right to do as they like… until enough of us band together out of sincere concern for our collective present and future!

Guide to Plastics

Navigating the vast plastic waves of packaging is more complicated these days than just Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

When you realize that some plastics are more toxic than others, you want to be careful about which ones you reuse and what you are reusing them for.  And obviously you might want to rethink the ones you buy in the first place!

Should we need a guide to make sure the packaging our food and beverages come in is non-toxic? There’s something not quite right about that!

Yet, the FDA is leaving this one up to us for now, so here’s a helpful guide from Toxic Nation to help you steer your way to the safer plastics in our wasted world. Just click on the image for the pdf.

Hope this helps you reduce plastic in your life – both for the sake of your health and that of the planet!

Home Ecology for Foodies – The Next Level

So you’re on your way to eating more local, more seasonal, more organic or pesticide-free food and less of it comes from animals. Good for you! I thank you for the positive impact you’re having on our earth and on your own health! Pat yourself on the back!

Now moving on from food habits to cooking habits, let’s open the cabinets and find some other areas where your kitchen can impact both your health and the environment.

Plastic schmastic

While plastics 2, 4, and 5 are safer for food storage than other plastics, they aren’t exactly durable choices for kitchen use. Plastic cracks, shrinks, warps, and stains… and then needs to be replaced.  When it comes to utensils, you might not have any way of knowing what kind of plastic was used or whether there are unwanted toxins added.

So when you have the choice, and in most cases you do, opt for plastic free items. For spatulas and spoons, choose bamboo or wood. Glass and stainless steel food storage containers are pretty easy to come by, as are plastic-free stainless steel utensils (can openers, graters, garlic presses, etc). Plastic will age, stain, start to break down and just generally look ugly whereas stainless steel will keep its spartan good looks for much longer. Choosing an item that will last longer, even if it is slightly more expensive to start with, will leave a lighter overall impact on the planet and on your wallet.

The non-stick heart to heart

yum! like some teflon flakes with that stir fry?

Are you stuck to your non-stick pans? This type of cookware comes with health risks (teflon flu, anyone?), is easily damaged (I know you’ve had that house guest that left his mark, scrambling eggs with a fork), and is coated with PFOA, a persistent organic pollutant that bioaccumulates in the body (though it’s being phased out, not much of a relief to the polar bears who are stocking it in their body fat). If you can’t ditch the non-stick habit for fear of cleanup catastrophes, worry no more. Help follows. Or if you are hoping to stave off the extra fat used to coat a regular pan, take a deep breath. Haven’t you heard? The 1/2 teaspoon of olive oil you use to coat a pan WON’T make you fat. (Point that finger at your low-fat foods laden with extra sugar instead!)

There are some “non-toxic” “eco” non-stick pans available now, but I wouldn’t recommend them. Why? That houseguest. Coated pans are still more vulnerable to scratching, no matter how hard you promise to handle them with care. But the main reason not to keep buying this type of pan is that a ready alternative awaits. Which you will only need to buy once…

Stainless steel is the real deal

Stainless steel will do the job for you whether it’s frying, sautéing, or deglazing. And if you get distracted and your browning gets blackened before you can throw in that half cup of wine, NO WORRIES. You may have ruined your meal, but you have not ruined your pan and you will NOT need to spend half an hour scrubbing with steel wool.  All you need to do is scrape off the excess gunk with your fabulous bamboo spatula, add some water to the pan, let it cool, pour off any excess water but make sure the surface is still wet, then sprinkle liberally with baking soda. Let sit as long as necessary (you will get the hang of it). Then, the burned gunk will wipe right off. Seriously, it will wipe right off! If it’s not wiping off easily, you need to let it sit longer. This works whether it’s burned on, caked up, any kind of food stuck to the surface of your pan. I predict you will be crying tears of joy at what good buddies your stainless steel and your baking soda will become.

Smart Meters: How to Send Health Complaints

1916home-SmartMetersAn individual experienced with lodging complaints about Smart Meters suggests:

“See these sites for where to send complaints about health problems from wireless devices, especially transmitting utility meters.

http://smartmeterhelp.com/

http://www.electricalpollution.com/smartmeters.html (near bottom of page)

Make sure you include type of product, product number, if it is UL certified or not (if you can find out), when you were/are harmed, dates, etc.  Without many, many official complaints nothing will change.”

Good luck and check back in with us and let us know what you did!
• • •

 

Real Estate: Tips for Choosing a Healthy Home Location

Looking for a new home to buy or just to rent? Aesthetics are important, but your home’s health potential is too! Check out these tips for choosing a healthy home location. Prevention is the best remedy!

A 115 kV to 41.6/12.47 kV 5 MVA 60 Hz substati...
electrical substation – image via Wikipedia

1) Make sure there are no substations or high voltage power lines nearby. Being close to these can increase your exposure to Electromagnetic Fields. How do you know if a power line is high voltage? The taller the pylons are, the higher the voltage. This does not mean that all low power lines are harmless!

mobile phone mast
mobile phone mast – image via flickr creative commons

2) Check to see that no cell phone antennas are in line of sight. Cell phone antennas emit Radiofrequency Energy. Search antennasearch.com to identify the closest ones or future plans for new cell phone antennas.

Interior of home in the Gentilly section of Ne...
mold in home after Hurricane Katrina – image via Wikipedia

3) Avoid proximity to flood risks such as creaks, rivers and streams. It should go without saying that flood risks in coastal properties are elevated! Along with the huge monetary damage that flooding can bring about, health risks from mold happen when flood damage isn’t handled properly. In NC check floodmaps to see if your location is at a high risk for flooding.

image via luxecoliving

4) Consider the area surrounding the home for sources of frequent pesticide, herbicide and fungicide use. Conventional farms are the most obvious user of these products but golf courses may also pose a risk.

Panneau A23 de signalisation de traversée d'un...

5) Look for sources of noise pollution. Is that great deal so cheap because it’s right next to the airport, a major intersection or plans for a new construction site? Noise pollution can be a serious stressor.

Environmental pollution 02

6) This is the toughest because it is the hardest to control. Are there factories or other industrial sources polluting the water sources? Or are there other forms of extreme environmental pollution? Think Erin Brokovich or Living Downstream. Think Camp LeJeune. Research the area you are thinking about relocating to and be aware of any warning signs like high percentages of rare diseases.

Hidden hazards in baby nurseries

Concerned about your baby’s exposure to toxins? This infographic from HealthyChild.org on health hazards in the typical baby nursery shows that your concerns are not unfounded! Biodwell LOVES to assist new or expectant parents with guided help for creating a healthy baby nursery!

baby nursery

Seeing stars

rio milky way
Cities with stars? – artist Thierry Cohen shows what the cities of the worlds would look like without light pollution

When’s the last time you saw the milky way just by looking up at night? I’ve only seen a sky like this a couple of times – both were in Greece. (Yes in my past life I was lucky enough to vacation in Greece). Now I live in an urban area where I get excited by just a star or two!

Besides preventing us from seeing beautiful night skies like this, light pollution is harmful to wildlife, particularly birds, disrupting their built-in navigation system. Living without a dark night sky also has an unhealthy effect on the human circadian rhythm.

If you miss seeing the stars at night, there are actions you can take to reduce light pollution:

  1. Turn lights off in your home when not in use.
  2. Prevent inside light from leaking outside (use curtains, blinds or shades) at night.
  3. Look for IDA (International Dark Sky Association) approved lighting fixtures, which are designed to reduce glare. Bulbs that are covered and face down are better than those that face out and up.
  4. Use warm (yellowish) lights rather than cool (white-bluish) lights. If you’ve ever looked head on at a car with LED headlights you don’t need me to tell you that cool lights have more of a piercing effect than do the warmer, yellow ones.

You might also decide to use motion detecting lights, but if you do, opt for motion sensors that don’t use wireless (radiofrequency) technology as this is an additional form of pollution.

Read the IDA’s Good Neighbor Guide to Residential Lighting

 

Green Your Garden

Spring time is here for many of us, or just around the corner! Before you head to your local big box store for a flat of showy annuals, consider these few things you can do for a greener, more sustainable, yard or garden, and save some cash too!

– Use native or adapted plants which need less or no irrigation and will demand less pest control. Plants like these evolved for your region’s climate and conditions – that’s why they will need less care.

– Start transforming grassy sections of your lawn into planty sections! Use the above mentioned native plants for best impact. Grassy lawns use up a lot of water, gas for the mower and time. Using weed killers and other pesticides on your lawn may accomplish a short-term goal but adds toxins to your home environment, bad for your kids or grandkids, pets and yourself!

– Go with permaculture principles when planting your veggie gardens. Plant fruit trees and bushes that will remain in the ground year after year – berry bushes, apple trees, pear trees, pomegranates, figs! Decide what will grow in your region with the sun and soil requirements you have. How much do you plan to spend on veggie plants or seeds this year? Why not spend half that amount by investing in a blueberry bush or two which will pay off year after year…in bushels!

– When raking up leaves and plant debris, use them as mulch rather than throwing them away. Decaying leaf matter is the perfect mulch – why buy packaged mulch when you already have some in your yard?

– Xeriscape your yard green! Use plants that require no extra irrigation

Here are a few resources to help you get started:

NC Native Plants – Browse recommended species, consult lists and galleries of natives and non-natives
Native Plant Database – Search by common or scientific name, view recommended species by state, or – the macdaddy – search using several different criteria to find just the plant you need for your situation.
Plant Native – allows you to search for regional plants but even better, to search for nurseries that sell native plants in your state.
Lawn to garden. Convert!
Permaculture Institute
Xeriscape

 

The Elusive Organic Sofa

While finding organic beds these days is getting easier, at least on-line, finding a truly organic, chemical-free sofa or armchair is a veritable challenge.

What’s wrong with a “normal” sofa in the first place? Well “normal” in this case means the foam used to fill the cushions is petroleum-based, and then flame retardants are added to the highly flammable polyurethane foam. (A petroleum-based product flammable? Weird, huh?)  The health hazard: as the synthetic foam in the cushions breaks down, it sends fire-retardant laden dust into your air. Flame retardants are environmental toxins and are found in wildlife, breastmilk and other human body fluids. Low level exposure to flame retardants has been linked with all manner of illnesses we’d all like to avoid. You can read more about flame retardants in this NY Times article.

So why is it so hard to find a healthy, eco-friendly sofa? One of the reasons for this is because of some gooey greenwashing in our midst. Googling “organic sofa” brings up regular sofas that happen to have organic cotton upholstery (while nothing else is healthy about them), but mostly it brings up sofas made with soy foam. What’s wrong with soy foam? “Soy” and “foam.” The lovely ladies at O Ecotextiles have written a great article on the issues, summed up succinctly in the statement that soy foam is actually “polyurethane based foam with a touch of soy added for marketing purposes.”

The biggest challenge, though for an informed buyer, comes on the purse strings. There are few truly organic couches out there, and what’s rare dears, is cher. As more of us demand sustainable and healthy furniture for our homes, there will be more options and gentler prices. In the meantime, those of us who don’t want to settle for the chemical couch will either have to invent ourselves a sofa hack or sit on the floor. If you, however, are feeling splurgy there are here are some healthy, sustainable choices in sofas and such.

rowan sofa by eco-terric

eco-terric – Ecoterric has 7 style lines, including sofas, chaises, chairs, ottomans, benches, and beds.  All items in the collection use FSC-certified hardwoods, chemical free natural upholstery, non-toxic rubber latex, organic cotton, sustainable wool, vegetable or low impact dyes. Fabrics have been laundered with chemical-free detergent. A building biologist helped designed this collection, so both environmental impact and health impact were upheld as criteria. Sofas around $3000 and up.

alfred sofa by furnature

furnature – Furnature has been making organic sofas since the early 1990’s so it seems like a good bet that they know what they are doing! Their styles and fabric selection look rather traditional, but they do offer custom designs as well. Quoting from their website, Furnature offers “the worlds only complete line of mattresses, bedding, fabrics, and furniture specifically designed for individuals with multiple chemical sensitivities.” The sofas are made with natural rubber, organic textiles, FSC and non-aromatic woods and water based glue. Prices on request. 

camille sofa by eklahome

eklahome – Nine smashing models to choose from, the materials include FSC and reclaimed wood, organic natural latex, organic wool, zero or low-VOC wood stains, non-toxic adhesives, organic cotton, recycled steel springs and staples. I appreciate that they have their price list on-line. $2000-$6500 for sofas.

cleo sofa by ecobalanza

ecobalanza – Here’s a design-focused company with high standards in health and ecology. Eight models to choose from, EcoBalanza offers seating made with FSC certified wood, natural latex foam, recycled polyester – hemp – organic cotton – or organic wool, and no-VOC adhesives. These sofas are made with steel coils. Pricing not yet available. Bummer!

If you know of another company not listed here that makes ecologically sound, non-toxic upholstered furniture, speak up! We’d love to hear from you! Or if you already have one of these and want to brag, well, that’s ok too!

• • •

Additional tips for lowering your exposure to flame retardants

Five quick and free tips for a better night sleep

ImageIf you’ve spent any time at all watching TV in the past several years you know one thing, Americans don’t sleep well and big pharma has plenty of little pills for that!

Rather than turn to medication, why not try preventing the cause of the problem in the first place?

I look at the bedroom as the place where one should be getting a restful night of sleep, but also the place where our bodies replenish themselves, heal and fight off illness. As a building biologist, I look for culprits in the bedroom that can prevent your body from doing just that! Much of this work involves taking measurements with sophisticated equipment, but there are some quick and free actions you can take right now to improve your sleep quality by tweaking your bedroom!

1) Reduce the amount of light entering your sleeping environment. Do you have bright flood lights shining into your windows? The bright blue glow of an LED display? Exposure to light at night adversely affects your circadian rhythm, so remove or cover any light sources. Before you go about buying black out shades, experiment with what you’ve already got on hand. Remove or turn off glowing electronics and use tape to cover bright lights on security systems. Turn your flood lights OFF before going to bed.

2) Remove plug-in alarm clocks from right next to the bed. Electric alarm clocks generate AC magnetic fields and can disturb your sleep. Move them several feet away from the bed or replace them with battery operated versions. Likewise, cell phones should be placed in airplane mode, turned off or placed away from the bed.

3) In the same effort to reduce your exposure to AC magnetic fields while sleeping, make sure there are no major appliances or utility boxes on the other side of the wall from where you lay your head at night. Refrigerators are common culprits!

4) To stay warm at night, use blankets rather than your thermostat. Keeping the heat turned up will dry your already dry winter air further, to the grand discomfort of your respiratory system. You should be turning your heat down at night rather than up or keeping it at the same temp. What temperature you decide on will depend on your comfort level and if you sleep alone or not.

5) What mental distractions do you see when you lie in bed? Is there a TV right across from you? A mirror? A stack of unpaid bills or photos that make your mind wander? Experiment with purging your bedroom of distractions. You might be surprised at how your sleep quality improves!

And with that…Bonne nuit! Sweet dreams…

Recommended Reading: Healthy Child, Healthy World

hchwThrough a surprising chance acquaintance recently I encountered an important non-profit group dedicated to environmental health.

Healthy Child, Healthy World was founded by a couple after they lost their 5 year old daughter to environmentally-caused cancer and decided to turn their pain into passion. They have lots of resources on their website, but even more interestingly have published a book for “creating a cleaner, greener, safer home,” with a foreword by none other than Meryl Streep!

The book is an easy-to-use and very practical guide to healthy green choices for cleaning, food choices, beauty care, kids clothes and toys, yard care, indoor air quality, water quality, pet care, during pregnancy and for home improvements. Almost everything that effects the health of your family at home!

There are several reference pages intended to be photocopied and folded to carry around with you in your wallet, for instance a guide to plastics by number. (Remember, number 3 is the worst!)

The star-dazed will enjoy a peek into the experiences of well known actors and actresses creating healthy green homes for their families. A parent who lost a child after using pesticides for lice removal has an important message, and Devra Davis discusses the little known fact that most cancer is not genetic.

Do you know how to make your own cleaning products yet out of baking soda, vinegar and borax? If not, the classic DIY cleaning recipes are here, along with recipes for natural DIY air freshener and play dough! Even if you don’t have kids, Healthy Child, Healthy World is a pretty thorough guide to a healthy green home. Even EMR’s are mentioned though their discussion is brief. No worries though, for EMR help, you have biodwell… ; )

Tips for reducing exposure to flame retardants

FlameRetardantSymbolFlame retardants are part of our toxic body burden. They are associated with cancer, neurological deficits, hormone disruption and impaired fertility, to name a few. They get inside us when we inadvertently ingest flame-retardant laden dust, or breathe it in. Flame retardants are everywhere, it seems, but it is possible to reduce your exposure to them. Here are a few tips:

1) Replace upholstered furniture likely to contain flame retardants with FR-free furniture. Choose an organic sofa if your budget permits, or create your own flame retardant-free sofa hack. I did this by using second hand bamboo sofa frames, then taking the cushions and replacing the foam with denim insulation. This insulation is safe to handle and uses non-toxic borates as the flame retardant.

Please beware, sofas that use soy foam are not flame retardant free!

2) Invest in an organic mattress. Flame retardants are required in mattresses unless they contain wool which is a natural flame retardant. Again, soy foam does not mean flame retardant-free!

3) Reduce the number of electronics in your home. Flame retardants leach out of electronics, becoming part of your household dust.

4) When housecleaning, damp dust. Dry dusting or feather dusting propels finer particles into the air while damp dusting will allow dust to adhere to your cleaning rag.

5) If you have a baby in your home, seek out organic, non-plastic baby products. Look for products made of wood and wool.

6) Again, for your baby, look for organic wool clothing. Not all wool clothing is hot, there are light wool fabrics for warmer days or for layering. Wool actually allows the body to self regulate temperature, so your baby will be comfy cozy in his or her woolies.

7) Use a HEPA filter on your HVAC system and change it when needed. HEPA filters filter out the smaller particles from your air, so that your lungs won’t have to.

8) Also use a vacuum with a HEPA filter. Miele and Nilfiske are two vacuum brands that come highly recommended for their ability to do the job right.

9) Consider replacing any carpeting in your home with hardwood floors, cork flooring, or other non-toxic flooring options. They will be easier to keep clean of both short term dirt and long term toxins.

10) When insulating your home, choose a non-toxic choice free from chemical flame retardants. See the denim insulation mentioned above. Wool insulation is also available.

Safe and effective air purifiers

air purifierFolks who care about their air quality often purchase air purifiers to help improve their air. What most don’t realize is that they may unintentionally be making their air quality much worse.

Some air purifiers directly use ozone to remove pollutants from the air while others may create ozone as an unintentional byproduct. In both cases, this is precisely the type of ozone that you will get warnings about in the weather report – while the ozone layer is a good thing, when it is in breathing range, it is a pollutant that should be avoided! The EPA tells us that “relatively low amounts can cause chest pain, coughing, shortness of breath, and, throat irritationOzone may also worsen chronic respiratory diseases such as asthma and compromise the ability of the body to fight respiratory infections.”

If you have an air purifier, don’t fret. Check out these two lists right now from the California state EPA to get a list of approved air purifiers. If yours isn’t on there, check their list of Potentially Hazardous air purifiers. If your air purifier ends up on the unhappy list of high ozone producers, I strongly recommend you responsibly dispose of it and find your self one from the good list.

Ready for more help improving your indoor air quality? Get in touch with me!

Coping with chemical sensitivities

k monemvasia

As I walked to pick up a few groceries today, I got caught at an intersection for what seemed like an inordinately long time. I resisted my Parisian urge to jet through the red hand and patiently waited for the white walk symbol, watching the cars rush by. There was a young couple behind me waiting, and I admit, their patience waiting for the change in signals was probably the only thing keeping me from rushing through when there was a brief let up of traffic.

When the walk signal (finally!) appeared, I walked along the crossing with the couple and their conversation a few feet behind me. My ears perked up when I heard her say, “…smells… I’m just sensitive…” Yes, another sensitive one in our midst.

It’s not surprising though. Some sources estimate the percentage of the general population suffering from chemical sensitivity to be around 15% while others estimate 33%. My understanding, from listening to various experts speak on the subject, is that as our environmental stressors increase, the affected population also increases. My observations also tell me that food sensitivities and MCS goes hand in hand; if you’re a regular reader of magazines or blogs on food and health you’re no stranger to the notion that food sensitivities are on the rise.

So, as our minority of the chemically afflicted becomes slightly less off the radar, I’d like to ask you, my readers, how do you cope?

I’ll tell you how I cope. Yoga, though that comes with its own challenges. Healthy, nutritionally dense food (lots of greens, nuts and avocados). Sleeping grounded seems to help enormously. Living in an artificial fragrance free home, an absolute must.

Yet, as with any challenge, I’m sure that living with this obstacle also leads to inventiveness and innovation. For those of you who are chemically challenged, what are your tricks for coping with the real world?

Yoga for the olfactory impaired

If you’ve ever practiced hot yoga, you know that heat intensifies any smells in the yoga studio. The smaller the space, the harder those smells are to escape. But hot or not, it can be a challenge practicing yoga (pranayama! breathe deeply!) for those of us who are sensitive to smells.

yoga maskYou probably started reading this thinking I was going to complain about body odor, the (sometimes) rank detoxing of the body as we sweat and strain. Well, believe, me B.O. smells like nectar compared to fabric softener, fruit punch scented hair product, and eau de hydrocarbone yoga mats. If you are the type of person who has allergic type reactions in the presence of smells that others think are “nice,” you’ll know what I’m talking about.  Sometimes, mid flow, I’ll imagine myself practicing wearing a mask, and not the kinky kind!

Now, I know this is a problem for me, so I tend to try a strategy of avoidance: I attempt to position myself so that I’m not tightly surrounded by others (when possible), I avoid tight corners or walls where there is less air movement, and yes, I have been known to pick up my mat and move it if someone too smelly plops down nearby (how rude of me!). In truth, I rarely experience a yoga class free from obnoxious chemical smells. Usually, off the mat, these types of smells ignite an adrenal response, fight or flight, in me. On the mat, I power through it, but not through a simple trick of mind over matter.

Recently I learned of the incredible, wonderful, beautiful psoas  (“so-az”) muscles and the incredible, beautiful, wonderful things that yoga does for them. This, I believe, is the magic behind me tolerating situations that would otherwise make me have a meltdown. A yoga instructor recently explained that tightened psoas muscles (our normal, un-exercised, seated state) are associated with the flight or fight response, while relaxed psoas muscles (as in ones lengthened and relaxed through asanashelp keep us calm and out of that adrenal reaction zone. Which also explains why everybody seems to feel so blissed out after a yoga class!

This was a pretty powerful insight for me. It turns out there’s even a book on the subject, called (duh), “The Psoas Book.” Since I’m not a yoga teacher,  a medical professional, or a psoas specialist, I won’t attempt to elucidate this connection for you, but I will encourage you to read an article about it by the psoas specialist, Liz Koch, who literally wrote the book on the psoas!

More importantly, I will simply allude to the healing nature of relaxing the psoas muscles as an excuse to strongly encourage you to try some yoga. If you are suffering from chemical sensitivity so badly that you can’t leave the house, look up some videos on youtube and try it at home. Otherwise, find a local yoga studio and maybe start with some gentle classes. See if you feel a difference. Yoga might not cure you but it will probably make you feel a whole lot better on a day-to-day basis.

Want some tips on how to be a healthier, greener yogi? Yes, I have those for you. Of course!

Don’t know what the hay I’m talking about when I say olfactory impaired? Just an annoying little thing called Chemical Sensitivity….

Show some love for the chemically afflicted

noseIf you have a loved one who is environmentally ill, chemically afflicted, suffering from multiple chemical sensitivity or “allergic to smells,” here are a few steps you can take to help them out and show them you care.

1) Believe them. They know how they feel. Many doctors say the best way to diagnose a patient is to let the patient tell you what is wrong with them. The first step towards helping your chemically afflicted loved one is to believe them. Feeling oneself overreact to chemicals is alienating enough in itself, it is even more debilitating when your loved ones think your disorder is of a psychological nature.

2)  Accept their need for avoidance. Understand that continued exposure to what bothers them won’t allow them to “get over it” but will instead make things worse. The chemically sensitive react to much smaller doses of offending chemicals than others. Avoidance is what they need, and will eventually be their main road to recovery.

3) Use detergents that are non-toxic and scent-free. Conventional, unscented detergents aren’t enough. These contain masking agents to numb the nose. Your nose may no longer smell the cloud of strong chemical agents that clings to your clothes, but those of us who are sensitive will smell it like an evil plague. Ditto for fabric softeners (which you can truly do without). Need brand guidance? This chemically sensitive gal prefers Ecover.

4) Ditto for home cleaning products. Four words: baking soda and vinegar.

5) Use non-toxic, unscented personal care products. This includes shampoos, conditioners, soaps, deodorants, aftershaves, perfumes, lotions, moisturizers, etc. Sounds like a lot, yes, but by using non-toxic personal care products you will also be doing yourself a favor. If you aren’t ready to switch out your entire beauty routine, start with the most odorific. And yes, you’re right, you aren’t going to find an unscented perfume, though some natural perfumes may (or may not) be more tolerable.

6) Ask. If you are unsure whether a certain product will bother the person, ask! We would love for you to show you care in this way! Many of us have been able to ascertain which products are “safe” through trial and error, and probably already know which products we can tolerate and which we can’t. Some may be ok with natural fragrances in non-toxic products while others may be sensitized to natural scents as well.

7) Understand that any chemicals might bother them. This includes chemicals in glues, shoe polish, fingernail polish, hairspray, paint – the list is endless. Products containing solvents (hairspray, nail polish, paints) are especially vicious. If you open up a container of one of these products in the house, expect a major breakdown. Please apply them outside or better yet, find a less toxic alternative.

8) Get rid of air fresheners, scented candles etc. Glade, Febreze, any spray or plug-in “air freshener” is especially atrocious to many of us chemically afflicted souls. If you want to see me jump through a window, just spray me with Febreze. These products aren’t harmless, by the way. They contain high quantities of VOC’s, can contain masking agents, and contain “fragrance,” which could contain any number of carcinogens. The same applies to scented candles and other “home scents.”

9) Help them get fresh air. If you witness your chemically sensitive loved one in the middle of an adrenal reaction, ie, fight or flight response, in reaction to exposure, help him or her get fresh air. If the person uses a mask, help them get their mask on. Use a piece of clothing as a makeshift mask if needed. Expect the person to have trouble communicating. Learn to recognize the panicky signs of the adrenal reaction. Refrain from telling the person they are overreacting, their biology isn’t functioning in the same ways yours is.

10) Help them seek medical treatment. Many general practitioners may be unfamiliar with the condition or may even be dubious. Few medical practitioners are able to help the chemically sensitive detox from such states and begin recovery, but they do exist.  The most renowned one in his field is Dr Rea, practicing at the Environmental Health Center in Dallas Texas. Patients at his clinic live in “safe” rooms free from chemical contamination while undergoing their treatment. He helps patients identify their triggers so that they can begin recovery.

Thanks for reading this, which is in itself, a sign of love and compassion. We the chemically afflicted thank you for your kindness.

• • •

Find out more about Chemical Sensitivity.

 

Get a healthy night’s sleep with a natural organic mattress

If you want to make a hugely positive impact on your health, invest in a healthier mattress and bed. 

How many hours do you sleep a night? The average person sleeps 8 hours, meaning that roughly 1/3 of our lives are spent in our beds! When you put it that way, it doesn’t seem extravagant to move a little more of your capital into the sleep department, does it?

When my husband and I moved not that long ago from France to the States, we left all the furniture behind and had to start from scratch. This meant we had to actively make a choice about what to buy. After a couple months sleeping on a hand-me-down sofa bed, I scoured my local resources and the internet to find the best solution for a healthy bed.

These were my criteria:

– NO Flame retardants in the mattress. Flame retardants leach out of the petrochemical foam they are applied to, accumulate in our bodies and are associated with cancer, neurological deficits, hormone disruption and impaired fertility.

– Mattress made WITHOUT petrochemicals. Synthetic foam doesn’t “breathe” which means a less comfortable sleep experience. I used to wake up drenched in sweat every night. Not pleasant! Not to mention the fact that synthetic foam comes from petroleum…heavy footprint.

– NO metal springs in the mattress. Sleeping on metal isn’t recommended from an electromagnetic viewpoint. Metal will act as an antenna, picking up any electric fields nearby, the springs can generate magnetic fields, and the metal itself can be or become magnetized in a way that can interfere with the body’s polar orientation.

– MINIMAL metal in the bed support. This meant a wood bed platform rather than box springs and metal bed frame. See above!

In other words, I was looking for a mattress and bed that would have a positive impact on our health and would not have a negative impact on the environment.

What I ended up looking for and eventually buying was a natural latex and wool mattress (wool is a natural flame retardant) and a plain, unfinished wood platform. 

Why not soy foam? Soy foam is only partially soy while still being mostly petrochemicals. Soy foam mattresses still contain flame retardants. Soy foam mattresses tend to be manufactured by companies who make conventional mattresses but are trying to get a share of the “green” market. Did I want to buy something from a company NOT dedicated to ecology and health? NO! On the other hand, companies that make natural latex and wool mattresses are for the most part extremely dedicated to both health and ecology. They have become experts at creating a healthy, ecological product.

Why wool? Wool, despite the cozy warm images it conjures up for most of us, actually does a great job at helping you regulate your body temperature, winter, summer or in between. Whereas synthetic materials don’t allow for humidity to go anywhere, wool wicks it away. An indirect result is that dust mite colonies will be reduced since they need higher relative humidity to thrive.

Why natural latex? Natural latex is a renewable, sustainable material. It is also dust-mite resistant, which is great for those of us who are allergy and asthma prone. Most importantly, it provides that comfortable “give” that we are used to sleeping and sitting on. Pure wool futons without the latex provide a much more dense, firm sleeping support.

The result: I have yet to re-experience waking up in the middle of the night drenched in sweat. (Thank God!) Thanks to this change and a few others, I sleep better than I have since I was a kid. No more waking up at 3am, no more restless hours trying to fall asleep in the first place. And when the dogs and cat don’t wake me up too early, I wake up feeling refreshed and ready to go!

To complete your healthy bed you’ll also need…

Sheets! To go along with this great bed set up, I recommend 100% cotton (organic if possible) sheets with a thread count above 200 as an added dust mite control. Cotton will breathe, synthetics and poly-cotton blends will not!

A comfortable comforter! A wool comforter is oh-so-delightful and comes in different thicknesses depending on your climate and tendency to be hot or cold.

Pillows! Natural latex or wool are both wonderful. Go into one of the showrooms listed below and try them out!

Pillowtop or not! Some of the mattresses are sold with a built-in wool pillow top, but you can always buy these separately so that you can remove it during the summer if you find it too warm.

A wool mattress protector! If you’ve ever slept on a bed that had one of those vinyl-plastic-hospitalish peepee pads on them, you know just how horrible they are. Who wants to hear plastic crinkling underneath them all night? And might I mention again that breathable materials are key to a good night’s sleep? Plastic simple doesn’t! A wool mattress protector is cozy, will help regulate heat and moisture, and is washable in cold water.

If you’re thinking of making the change, take your time and make sure you don’t get bamboozled by a greenwashed mattress. It just won’t be the same!

For my local readers, here are the best organic mattress sources I have found so far in NC:

Trusleep Organics – Charlotte

Nest Organics – Asheville

If you’re in Asheville, stop by to test out an organic mattress in person. Nest carries mattresses by Savvy Rest which are produced nearby in VA, meaning you also get the peace of mind of a low footprint. If you call them up to place your order, they might give you a better deal than the prices listed on their website!

The Organic Bedroom – Raleigh

They have 11 organic mattresses on display and are dedicated to a stress-free mattress shopping experience!

For those of you outside of NC, here are just a few other companies that I happen to like who also sell organic mattresses and pretty much everything you’ll need to create a deliciously healthy bed and years of sound sleep.

Holy Lamb – WA

Lifekind – CA

Shepherd’s Dream – CO

The Organic Mattress Store – PA

• • •

Like this post? You might want to read about the Elusive Organic Sofa!

Cure for gluten sensitivity: Let them eat sourdough?

Gluten-free eating may seem to be just the latest diet trend…

I‘ve noticed the words “gluten-free” on (really crappy, unhealthy) candy, and I can just imagine the corporate board room discussions behind these marketing decisions (“Check into this gluten thing people, see how many of our candies are technically gluten-free…after all, most of the ingredients aren’t actually from food anyway…”). Gluten free labeled foods used to be found only in a small section of the local health food store. Now “gluten-free” is starting to sound a lot like “low carb” or “fat-free” – something that doesn’t necessarily indicate healthful food.

Yet, I seriously doubt that the many people buying gluten-free products are doing it for insincere reasons. I don’t usually buy or look for gluten-free labels when doing my grocery shopping even though I am conducting my own private gluten-free eating experiment. After noticing that every time I eat bread, pasta or pizza I would feel uncomfortable, tired, simply not as good, I have been keeping my meals wheat free, and have been feeling consistently better. However, I’ve also noticed that one particular brand of pasta, made from an ancient wheat called Einkorn, has no ill effects on me when I eat it.

I’ve been wondering about this, wondering why so many people are becoming gluten intolerant (they are, it’s not just better detection), and why this other form of wheat would be any different. Today I came across an intriguing article on this very subject. I was immediately drawn in by the story of a baker in CA whose white wheat sourdough bread is very popular with the gluten sensitive. It turns out that the wheat used in most of the products we consume today is very different from the wheat we consumed in the past (thus the rising incidence of sensitivities). The wheat used in the USA is even different from the wheat used in France. If you are gluten intolerant, celiac, suspect that wheat is troubling you, or are interested in all things food related, Our Daily Bread will be an enlightening read.

Perhaps more importantly, this is the familiar story of how tweaking nature for reasons of convenience resulted in unwanted health consequences. This can and should be a reminder to include our long-term health needs among the goals of innovation.

Now gimme some of that long-fermented sourdough!

Better Home Ecology for Foodies

Who me, foody? Why yes! Living in France for over a decade changed me from a vegan food lover into a vegetarian food snob. Even though junk food, the low fat trend and loss of seasonal local produce has taken a solid foothold in France, there is still a strong, cultural tradition that says “everything in moderation, but especially the high quality stuff.”

I’ve adopted that tradition as my own, and while I’m very discerning with my food choices, I don’t have the slightest feeling that I am missing out on anything. Just because you’re a foody doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice your ecological values. And just because you have those values doesn’t mean you can’t be a foody!

Here’s a few tips for remaining loyal to your ethical beliefs while still indulging in the finer things!

1)Plastic? Ew. Your food will look, taste and keep better if you store it in glass containers instead of plastic. I’m talking leftovers in the fridge, bulk products in the pantry, and countertop canisters. Ever put tomato sauce into a plastic container only to have it NEVER wash off completely? That tomato sauce is acidic, and acidic foods will leach chemicals out of plastics very easily. In fact, plastic bonds easily with other compounds, while glass doesn’t.  So to keep plastic chemicals out of your food, store food in glass, which will also last longer (provided you turn off clutz mode before handling) since those plastic lids tend to shrink or get lost. And this advice goes for cups and plates too… you don’t use plastic cups do you? How gauche! If you must use plastics, use the safer ones.

2)Buy organic, buy local, buy sustainable. Um, which is it? When strolling the aisles of produce in your local grocery store, you might have a choice between buying an organic bell pepper from Mexico or a conventional bell pepper from your own county or an organic bell pepper from a neighboring state or a conventional bell pepper from the other side of the world. Right, you will NOT pick the latter! Which one you do decide to pick is up to you, depending on the best combination of factors…Or if you can’t find the produce you are looking for in a local, organic option, why not buy choose something else, something that is in season locally? My recommendation is look at the bulk of your buying habits and try to make those make the most ecological sense while for the occasional splurges (papaya anyone?), don’t sweat it, just enjoy.

3)Quality over quantity. Meat eater are you? Well, I won’t judge. A vegetarian or vegan lifestyle may be more sustainable, but some individuals just don’t seem to flourish on a vegetarian diet (no, if you’ve never tried, I’m not excusing you…). However, most people in the western world eat too much meat, too often, while many other food cultures use meat as an accompaniment to a meal made up mostly of grains and vegetables and fruits. If you are a staunch carnivore, here’s my challenge to you. Eat less of it, but buy better quality. Make sure it’s organic, or local and sustainably raised, and eat it less often. I bet you’ll notice a difference in quality too.

4)Grow your own! Plant some berry bushes along the side of your fence, start an herb garden, plant a fig tree. There are plenty of options for providing yourself with some of your food needs straight from your back yard. Favor a permaculture approach, planting more of the plants that will grow back year after year and require less watering and maintenance. For inspiration, check out this lovely BBC documentary, A Farm for the Future.

5)Find a local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program and sign up for weekly deliveries or pickups. Over the winter I signed up for a weekly delivery of in-season produce grown by local, organic farms. Yes, I said, “over the winter,” which meant a lot of kale, sweet potatoes and cabbage! This certainly stimulated my creativity as I had to find a way to keep things interesting and varied. I liked knowing that I was helping local organic farmers, and liked knowing that the bulk of our food was in season and locally grown.

Take it to the next level...

Stain Treatment Sheet

The best place to start reducing chemicals in your home is by finding replacements for your conventional, chemical filled cleaning products. Here’s a handy guide to stain removal to get you started:

Download a printable version at Wellness Mama.

Death of a Hairdresser

Jacques Romano, 1951-2012

Yesterday I learned that a dear friend died during surgery for tracheal cancer. The death of this friend was a rude and rough reminder of mortality, and engulfed me in a tsunami of regret. As I looked at Jacques’ memorial photo, what rose to the surface was how incongruous were the word “cancer” and the mischievous smile on this man’s face.

Last night, unable to sleep, I kept thinking about his cancer, wondering “why? how?” He wasn’t a smoker. I remembered sitting in his Paris salon where I gave him English lessons, watching him mix his colors and chat with his adoring clients. And as I lay there in bed, my environmental health mindedness took over and I saw the scene differently –  as the product was dabbed on the client’s hair follicles, the VOC’s from the product would waft up into the air, some of them being inhaled through his nose and mouth. All day long, 6 days a week over 40 years (minus a few weeks a year vacationing in Crete or Malta). It sounds like a very plausible case for occupational exposure to me. I’m not claiming I know for sure that Jacques’ constant exposure to the chemicals in hair coloring products caused his cancer, but basic logic suggests they could have, couldn’t they?

I checked the CDC, the Center for Disease Control, and found this mentioned:

Among cosmetologists, elevated PMbR’s [proportional morbidity ratios] were observed for cancer of the digestive organs, respiratory system, trachea, bronchus and lung, breast, and genital organs.

So there are statistics on higher cancer death rates for hairdressers. Should we be surprised? Conventional hair color products contain known or probable carcinogens. Shouldn’t we be concerned?

As I work through my grief and anger at Jacques’ loss, I am sure of one thing. The way we go about dealing with cancer as a community is obviously not working. The medical community focuses on finding cures rather than on preventing illness.  This way of thinking has transferred to popular culture as well. Every time I see a cancer benefit event or campaign the slogan is “find a cure!” What if prevention was the cure?

Medical practitioners receive little emphasis on environmental health in their training, so it’s to be expected that there is little guidance from our doctors on keeping ourselves free of environmental health risks. And if you think the government has your back, think again. Over 62,000 chemicals are in use that were approved without safety testing. The branch of the EPA that oversees chemical safety is grossly underfunded. In essence, the burden of proof is on the consumer to prove that a chemical is harmful rather on the manufacturer to prove that it is safe.

Which means that you have to look out for yourself. Or rather, we have to look out for each other. At home or in the beauty salon, there are always better choices to be made. There are safer, less toxic hair products on the market, which some salons embrace, so we can vote our conscience on these topics by giving them our business. We can also try to help our beloved hairdressers convert to using safer products, both for their health and for our own.

Jacques’ lifelong partner told me his doctors said they lacked statistics to identify a cause for his cancer, but that Jacques thought it might have been breathing the chemical products he used in his work. I feel that Jacques was able to come to a more honest assessment of his situation than his doctors, identifying a probable cause where his doctors were unable or unwilling to.

If our doctors are unable to provide us with this kind of insight, how are we to protect ourselves? We need to listen to our intuition. Not only listen, but also stop letting ourselves be dissuaded by outside sources of “authority.” If you’re considering spraying pesticides in your home despite a nagging inner voice saying “it can’t be good for me or my family,” or pick up a bottle of moisturizer and see a long list of ingredients on the back that makes you cringe, or if you have always been wary of what happens when you “nuke” your food in the microwave,  maybe you should take a moment, listen to that voice, and empower yourself to make the choice that you truly feel to be the better one. Maybe it’s time to give some consideration to that intuition telling you to protect your health.

Jacques was a healthy, happy guy. He was diagnosed in April and now, in the beginning of June, he’s gone. His death makes me sad and angry, but it also makes me reaffirm my commitment to helping people create healthier environments for themselves and their loved ones. How can I help you?

References:

CDC

Lack of Environmental Health Training

Proposed Safe Chemicals Act

What’s Gotten Into Us?

• • •

In memory of Jacques, some eco inspiration.

Safer sunscreens

Sunscreen season is upon us again! But like many other beauty products & personal care products, sunscreens can be loaded with junk (potential hormone disrupters & nanoparticles, among others) or may simply not do their job! Another concern is that using a sunscreen with a very high SPF creates a false sense of security, allowing us to stay in the sun longer than we should or at times when UV rays are the strongest (the middle of the day).

For an informed discussion of these topics, see the Environmental Working Group has posted a thorough discussion of the problem at Sunscreens Exposed.

The EWG also has a searchable sunscreen database and a list of their top sunscreen picks for environmental and health safety. Sunscreens have been rated according to UVA Protection, UVB Protection, UVA/UVA Balance, Sunscreen Stability, Health Concerns & Other Concerns. Among their top rated beach & sport brands are: Aubrey Organics, Badger, Eco Skin Care, Elemental Herbs, Loving Naturals, & Tropical Sands. Keep those brands in mind when you’re standing in your natural foods store looking at their selection of sunscreens!

 

Pet-Friendly Plants for Indoor Air Quality

Plants are a great way to improve the quality of your indoor air, but if you have fur-babies like we do, you’ll want to make sure that you aren’t creating a health risk in case Fido decides he needs some greens with his kibble!

Some of the most common houseplants (Snake Plant, Peace Lily, Pothos, Philadendron, Ficus) are TOXIC to cats and dogs when ingested, so if you have these plants, try to put them out of reach of your four-legged friends.

Nelly the nibbler with catnip
Leo the chomper. “Who me? i’m an angel!”

Our cat just loves to rub her nose against plants and will occasionally take a tiny nibble. Now, I knew this was nota non-toxic plant for her to be rubbing against but she wasn’t eating the plant, just biting into it, and only did this when we were brushing her, thus, supervised.

However, when I saw our dog watch her do this then chomp a leaf of my Pothos plant, I knew it was time to make some changes. The Pothos is going up, out of chomping and nibbling reach!

Since I was doing some research on which common beneficial houseplants are safe for cats and dogs (Nelly needs a new plant to rub against!), I thought I’d share my findings with you. Here’s a selection of easy to find houseplants that improve indoor air quality* and are also non-toxic to both cats and dogs according to the ASPCA.

Bamboo Palm – Chamaedorea elegans (Miniature Fish Tail Dwarf Palm, Parlor Palm, Good Luck Palm, Neanthe Bella Palm)

Banana Plant – Musa acuminata (Edible Banana, Plantain Tree, Banana Palm)

Spider Plant – Chlorophytum comosum (Ribbon Plant, Anthericum, Spider Ivy)

Areca Palm – Dypsis lutescens or Chrysalidocarpus lutescens (Golden Cane Palm, Golden Butterfly Palm, Cane Palm, Golden Feather Palm, Yellow Palm)

Kentia Palm– Howea forsteriana (Thatch Palm, Forster Senty Palm)

American Rubber Plant – Peperomia Obtusifolia (Pepper Face, Baby Rubber Plant)

African Violet – Saintpaulia (Cape Marigold)

Dwarf Date Palm – Phoenix acaulis

Pygmy Date Palm – Phoenix robelenii (Miniature Date Palm, Robellini Palm)

Hoya – Hoya kerrii – (Wax Hearts, Valentine Hoya)

and

Orchids – Orchidaceae – Many orchids are listed as non-toxic to cats and dogs, but since there are so many different kinds, check your particular variety to be sure.

If you have amazing inside light, ie, a sunroom, certain herbs might also work. Nelly’s catnip didn’t survive very long in that location, but now she spends most of her time in a sunroom and her temporary “rubbing plant” is dill, albeit, a very scraggly dill.  Even in coastal North Carolina, it is winter!

* Some individuals who are mold sensitized may not be able to tolerate potential mold growth in the soil of houseplants. Using terra-cotta pots instead of plastic ones should encourage proper moisture evaporation for those of you who are not mold sensitive but wish to optimize health conditions.

ASPCA searchable database of toxic and non-toxic plants

NASA report on Indoor Air Quality and plants