Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Green Chemistry

Green chemistry is chemical philosophy encouraging the design of products and processes that reduce or eliminate the use and generation of hazardous substances. It has well established principles just waiting to become routine practice.

The news is that California just released its report on the Green Chemistry Initiative. The report is comprised of six policy recommendations which include:

  • Expand Pollution Prevention to assist California businesses to lead the world in greener design and production
  • Develop Green Chemistry Workforce Education and Training, Research and Development, and Technology Transfer to meet global demand for greener materials and product
  • Create an Online Product Ingredient Network to disclose chemical ingredients in products sold in the state to allow consumers and businesses to make safer choices
  • Create an Online Toxics Clearinghouse to increase our knowledge about toxicity and hazards for chemicals
  • Accelerate the Quest for Safer Products to make the transition to more sustainable, safer products more quickly using science-based alternative analysis and lifecycle thinking
  • Move Toward a Cradle-to-Cradle Economy to leverage market forces to produce products that are “benign-by-design””

Very little is known about the thousands of chemicals that are in use without prior research of effects on human health and this initiative could be a promising start. However, let's not forget that this year California lawmakers rejected two important bills (Corbett’s bill and Migden’s Bill ) that would have banned the use of two harmful chemicals: PFOA from food packaging and BPA in products used for children under 3 years of age. But let's keep our hopes up!

Monday, December 15, 2008

New Green Team

President Obama has announced his new environment and energy team. This is going to shape our life for the near future and, hoping that this is a change for the better, for the long term. Here is a recent NYT article and an interview with him and he sounds like a pragmatist; I hope he will prove to be a great leader, this is a great time to take that position -- I happen to believe that there's a great opportunity in any crisis, and we're not lacking the latter :)

I truly hope this is the start of a new era and things will get better.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Green Christmas – Choosing the Tree

The Christmas is fast approaching and the first thing to do is to get the tree decorated. At least this is what I do; I know I should have starting shopping already as I promise myself every year – but that is coming after the tree. The first thing has to be the tree ;-). So, how am I going to choose the tree to keep it the natural way and still be green? Here is the conclusion I came after searching and searching and looking around.

There are tree kinds of tree you can purchase:

  1. The artificial tree – For me this does not make any sense at all; I dislike “fake nature” so there is no way for a plastic tree in my house. However, usually they are made of PVC and probably contain phthalates to soften the plastic; they are not biodegradable. They may be durable (it seems like they last more than 10 years) and you can save money every year by not buying a natural one, but they're still made of plastic.
  2. The fresh cut tree – this is a very nice solution and one that I practiced always. It is all natural, it is recyclable (it can be composted and used as sand and erosion barriers on beaches, streambeds, and lakes and it can be sunk into private lakes and ponds, where it provides refuge for fish). One disadvantage can be the pesticides sprayed on them. To find an organic farm closed to you you can go here.
  3. The tree with roots – this is the most eco-friendly solution. You can buy (errrr, "rent"?) the tree and after use it can be re-planted, comes in a big pot and you return it in the new year. This can also be sprayed with pesticides though and there are few places where they are offered.
My choice was again number 2 – the tree without roots. Wish you all a Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Melamine Found in U.S. Infant Formula

What is safe anymore? The FDA said Tuesday that it had discovered the toxic chemical melamine in infant formula made by an American manufacturer. While few details were available late Tuesday, agency officials said they had discovered melamine at trace levels in a single sample of
infant formula. It was also discovered in several samples of dietary supplements that are made by some of the same manufacturers who make formula. For the full article go here.

Melamine was found in Good Start Supreme Infant Formula With Iron made by Nestle, and cyanuric acid was detected in Enfamil Lipil With Iron infant formula powder made by Mead Johnson.

I am not sure if this is news to make mothers become scared, but as a mother I am very concerned about the safety of my kids. Uffff...scary world!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Good Guide

A friend of mine just sent me a link to the Good Guide, happy that it has an iPhone applications; it is all new to me (I am talking about the guide) so I already spent one hour browsing through their web-site.

The Good Guide provides information on the health, environmental, and social impacts of the products in your home. The database contains about 60000 personal care and household chemical products for which they list their ingredients, certification (if available), manufacturer information and they also provide some advice on things to consider when you chose a particular product. This last one is an excellent source of finding out which ingredients are bad and you need to avoid when you buy personal care or household products.

GoodGuide partners with the top socially responsible investment research firms, as well as with leading non-profit organizations with high quality data on specific issues or industries. It also has a handful of advisors.

It is an excellent source and the only one I know so far that provides information on personal care and household products. It is worth trying it …. and it has an application for iPhone ;-)

Friday, November 14, 2008

#5 Plastic (polypropylene) Not Safe Anymore?

I was away from the news for a while but thanks to some readers, I found out about a new study saying that #5 plastic (polypropylene) was discovered (almost accidentally) to leach two types of chemicals. The study is described in a little depth on the EWG website. It is not clear under which conditions the chemical leached -- was it the enzyme used in the experiment, was it under normal conditions?? -- and whether it is dangerous or not

This is very sad news especially because that are many foods wrapped into #5 plastic (considered safe) and most of these foods cannot be avoided. Even the medication is packed in #5 plastic containers. It is not easy to get rid of it; yes you can eliminate from your house everything that is made from plastic but you cannot stop buying certain foods whose nutritional value is very important for a healthy diet.

This type of plastic was considered safe until now; however even now nobody is arguing that it is bad, the study found that the plastic is leaching chemicals. But what chemical is safe? I do not believe in chemical safety. I would not be surprised at all if one day they will find that the other two types of plastic (#2 and #4) considered safe now will be found to leach chemicals.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

"Frankenstein Food" - Could Lower Fertility

Well, I have not find the time to write for a while because the cold season started earlier this year and with kids you feel like it never ends...

Here is a very interesting article worth sharing: it is saying that genetically modified (GM) food could lower a women's fertility. Infertility became such a big problem and I was always thinking (even there are not enough studies to prove it) that it is caused mainly by all our "modern" way of leaving (GM foods, the pesticides from the food; the chemicals found everywhere around and so on). Every time I read news like this I become so upset and sad...

Friday, October 31, 2008

REACH SIN List of Chemicals

REACH (Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals) was created in June 2007 by E.U. to make chemicals safer for human health and the environment and to stimulate innovation in the sector. These days, together with ChemSec they came out with the first-ever list of chemicals called REACH SIN list which is roughly comprised of 270 chemicals that need to be submitted for EU regulatory approval. The first list of hazardous chemicals to be submitted contains only 15 chemicals; all the other chemicals will be submitted in their order of hazardousness.

Among the 15 chemicals that are on the list, brominated flame retardant HBCDD is a common environmental contaminant used in plastics, textiles, electronic goods and three plastic softeners (the phthalates DEHP, DBP and BBP). These plastic softeners are suspected to seriously affect human fertility and are present in glues, inks, cosmetics and toiletries, and in many products made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Many companies have already started to phase them out, including major companies in the electronics sector that have eliminated the uses of brominated flame retardants and PVC.

These substances are used heavily in American industry as well and none of them is regulated. I hope that this E.U. initiative to regulate the chemical substances in consumer products will set in motion the U.S. government institutions to do the same. I hope so much for that day!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

How Natural Is The Bamboo Fiber Anyway?

I keep hearing these days that I should use textiles made of bamboo fibers because is environmental friendly and the bamboo is a natural fiber. “Made of bamboo” is a mainstream buzz-word these days as is preferred among fashion designers in the race of becoming greener. For me - truly natural fibers are cotton, wool, hemp and linen. (and they are the most used as well, for now).

Well… I am tempted to call this another green-washing trend. Environmentally friendly on one segment of the crop-to-store does not mean that is healthy for people as well. Of course the bamboo itself is natural, is renewable, but the natural part of it is destroyed by the caustic soda and other chemicals used in the process of transformation from wood to fiber. (Before you jump in defense of all things natural, consider this: the asbestos fiber is natural as well and it is already proven that it produces cancer; naturally occurring is not the litmus test for healthy.) . So, not everything that is natural is good for our health.

The argument of “natural” fiber should not fool us. The bamboo is environmentally friendly because is growing fast and therefore, it can be produced on a large scale which reduces the cutting number of other trees. Also, does not require pesticides and fertilizers. The wood is beautiful, and they make lots of uses from it - hardwood floor, plywood for various uses (some processes may use the chemical known as formaldehyde but they make it without too). There are voices that even criticize the bamboo farms: there are few examples of sustainable bamboo farming, because bamboo farms are mono-cultures and do not maintain biodiversity.

But when it comes to clothes the bamboo fibers are becoming rayon – which is very similar to the synthetic fiber except the cellulose is extracted from bamboo. There are too many chemicals involved in the process and they pose health risks. And this should be the most important issue when choosing clothes or other textiles made from bamboo fibers.

The fiber is well known for its soft feel and natural antibacterial properties. It looks to me like other synthetic fibers rather than natural. Searching on the web, I found a very detailed description of the process of transforming the bamboo into the so-claimed “natural fiber” and I think is worth reading it.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Humidifiers - A Short Review

I always felt the climate in the winter as being dryer than in the summer. And the ventilated warm air coming through the heating system makes it even dryer. I use the humidifiers more often in the winter that I do in the summer. The National Institutes of Health recommends the use of humidifiers to help relieve congestion from the flu, common cold, and sinus infections. However, the humidifiers can also help alleviate the symptoms of dry and itchy skin, dry eyes, eczema, dry nasal passages, cracked lips and nosebleeds due to dry air, allergies or even asthma. I made a search thinking that maybe I need to change the humidifiers I have and although I decided that what I already have works very well for my family I will still make a short review of what I found.
Either you chose a portable or a whole-house humidifier, the main difference comes truly when choosing between a warm air and a cool air humidifier.

Warm Air Humidifiers
Cool Air Humidifiers
The water is boiled before it enters the air.
Advantages: the boiling kills the bacteria and the mold from the water.
Disadvantages: they present a burn risk and fire hazard issues.
Don’t boil the water (they just vaporize it),
Advantages: they are more
energy efficient;
they don’t have the burn risk and fire hazard issues
like the warm mist models so they can safely be used around children.
Disadvantages: they make more noise;
sometimes require changing the filter.
Warm mist
- creates steam that cools before leaving the machine. This may reduce the risk of burns.
Vaporizer/Steam - the water is boiled and sent out as a steam.

Ultrasonic humidifiers- use the ultrasonic sound waves to vibrate the water and produce the moisture. They are probably the most efficient ones.
Impeller humidifiers - use high-speed rotating disk to produce the moisture.
Evaporative humidifiers - use a fan to blow air through a wet wick. It is the most noisy because of the sound of the fan.

Based on the advantages and disadvantages of each combined with your needs, it is probably a good idea to get an humidifier. There are many descriptions coming with the humidifiers like "germ free operation", "Cleans as it Humidifies", etc, but I think they are not worth the money unless someone has respiratory problems and the doctor recommended it. The prices vary considerably based on such characteristics. The main thing is to clean it often to impede the forming of mold and the spreading of bacteria.

In my house we use cool air ultrasonic personal humidifier in each bedroom and it works perfect; however, at night I turn off the air heating system and I use electric oil heater which does not make the air so dry as the air heating system does.

Friday, October 24, 2008

How to Avoid Greenwashing

The urge of people to become green brought, of course, lots of marketers “going green” in the other sense of word and mislead the consumers while the regulations are still waiting to be defined and clarified. Greenwashing is the word for these types of scams ("marketing techniques" :) , that is). Many products are claimed to be “all natural”, or “environmental friendly”, or “non-toxic”, etc while there is no standard established. Luckily, the ingredients on the cosmetic products and on food have to be listed now so people can decide for themselves whether to use that product.

Here are some tips on how to avoid greenwashing:
  • Always read the labels and try to draw the meaning from them. For lists of meaningful labels you can go here.

  • Read carefully the ingredients on the cleaningproducts and cosmetic products. I know that you feel like reading foreign language sometimes – but in time you learn them, at least you will know which ones are good and which ones are bad. From my experience, if there are ingredients hard to read – it means that they are chemicals in general, so I avoid them.
  • Read reviews on the internet; I tried many products based on consumer’s reviews (not company reviews!) and I was satisfied most of the time.
  • ALWAYS look for certification. Many products have the “certified” word on them, but they do not display the name of the certifying organization. Personally, I am skeptic about that and I talked about this many times in my posts. If companies have a certification for something they should be proud of that and display it on the product. If you can't verify that the product is certified it probably isn't.
  • NEVER rely on the sincerity of the manufacturer or the seller. Be aware on what are you spending your money.

Friday, October 17, 2008

EPA Sets U.S. Air Quality Standards for Lead 10 Times Stronger

Not a moment too soon: after 30 years of (lobby induced) silence, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets new limits for lead in the air in an attempt to improve public health protection, especially for children.The previous standards, set in 1978, were 1.5 ug/m3; the new standards are 0.15 ug/m3 - 10 times stronger. To read the entire article go here .
This NY Times article has the digest (and a little whine from the lead recycle industry that may have to move away from kindergardens).

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

38 Pollutants Found in 10 Brands of Bottled Water

One more study came out to prove that bottled water is not as good as people may believe. The study, released by the EWG, tested 10 brands of bottled water and found that Wal-Mart's Sam's Choice contained chemical levels that exceeded legal limits in California and the voluntary standards adopted by the industry. The names of the other 8 brands were not released by EWG. In the EWG study, the University of Iowa Hygienic Laboratory screened for 170 possible contaminants and found 38 pollutants in 24 samples from 10 major brands purchased in California, Washington, D.C., and eight other states (an average of 8 contaminants in each brand).

It was found that the levels of disinfection byproducts exceeded safety standards established by the state of California and the bottled water industry:

  • Walmart’s Sam’s Choice bottled water purchased at several locations in the San Francisco Bay Area was polluted with disinfection byproducts called trihalomethanes at levels that exceed the state’s legal limit for bottled water (CDPR 2008). These byproducts are linked to cancer and reproductive problems and form when disinfectant react with residual pollution in the water
  • Also in Walmart’s Sam’s Choice brand, lab tests found a cancer-causing chemical called bromodichloromethane at levels that exceed safety standards for cancer-causing chemicals under California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986 (Proposition 65, OEHHA 2008). EWG is filing suit under this act to ensure that Walmart posts a warning on bottles as required by law: “WARNING: This product contains a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer."
  • These same chemicals also polluted Giant's Acadia brand at levels in excess of California’s safety standards, but this brand is sold only in Mid-Atlantic states where California’s health-based limits do not apply. Nevertheless, disinfection byproducts in both Acadia and Sam’s Choice bottled water exceeded the industry trade association’s voluntary safety standards (IBWA 2008a), for samples purchased in Washington DC an 5 states (Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, and California). The bottled water industry boasts that its internal regulations are stricter than the FDA bottled water regulations(IBWA 2008b), but voluntary standards that companies are failing to meet are of little use in protecting public health.

Other contaminants found include fluoride, fertilizers, drugs (e.g., acetaminophen and caffeine), synthetic chemicals (e.g., acetaldehyde, hexane, toluene, etc.), bacteria, arsenic, and radioactive pollutants.

What to do?

The EWG recommends:

  • Drink filtered tap water. Carbon filters (pitcher or tap-mounted) are affordable and reduce many common water contaminants, like lead and byproducts of the disinfection process used to treat municipal tap water. Install a reverse osmosis filter if you can afford it, to remove contaminants that carbon filters can’t eliminate, like arsenic and perchlorate (rocket fuel).
  • Change your water filters on time. Old filters aren’t safe – they harbor bacteria and let contaminants through.
  • Forgo the plastic bottles
  • Use safe water for formula. Use filtered tap water for your baby’s formula. If your water is not fluoridated, you can use a carbon filter. If it is, use a reverse osmosis filter to remove the fluoride, because fluoridated water can damage an infant’s developing teeth.
  • Consumers can urge policymakers to improve and adequately fund source water protection programs

In my house, we use filtered water and occasionally buy (sparkling) mineral water in glass bottle which can be found at Costco, Trader Joe's, Whole Foods.

For more information you can read my previous posts about tap water and bottled water.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Pixel Organics Scam: Mattress Bait and Switch

So, we've been had: we did buy the mattress that Pixel Organics advertises, but we got something completely different that's not even close. This is bait and switch, not green-washing or other light stuff.
Take a look at the picture above, that shows on the left what's advertised and on the right what we got in the box: the mattress comes in without any certification or warranty, we read the compulsory labels to find that it's made by a company that's 35 years old and makes truck mattresses; not 90 years old and they don't claim to make any organic mattress. It is labeled as an Ecobaby or Pure Rest mattress. In summary: not certified, no manufacturer's warranty and not 90 year old tradition. A mattress manufacturer that matches that description is Vivetique, meets all the claims but Pixel Organics is not even listed as a dealer.

We contacted CSN Baby (where we bought it) and told them about the scam; they fixed their page to a certain extent (see picture to the right), and offered a full refund for return; we did return the mattress and we're looking for one with less "creative" salesmanship...

But it bugged me that such a blatant bait and switch scam is possible: you advertise a nice product, with fine craftsmanship and you swap it with something with much lower quality. I googled left and right and found no-one that complained about it. Then I wrote to the owner of Pixel Organics (which contacted us for the original post to tell that we got the manufacturer wrong...) Here's his response:

"The mattress you received was from a manufacturer Pure-Rest uses
(Flexus). I purchased the mattress from them because my supplier was
out of stock. It is a very very very similar mattress. We are trying
not to do this but supply is not meeting our demand from our preferred

Does this sound like "We're trying not to deceive people, but we do"? I wonder if anyone ever got the real thing, because in my 2 experiences the mattresses were Pure Rest and not the advertised one (remember the store where we kept on saying Pixel and they kept on saying Pure Rest? that's the 2nd one.). So I did write to Chris about it, here's the whole, unedited thread:

ABunchOfGreens: "No matter the explanation, it's still bait and switch and deception;
Vivetique has indeed 90 years of experience and certifications, and...
and... (all the good things that make customers buy their mattress),
and they do buy, but they get instead a mattress made by a fine
establishment that makes truck mattresses. I can go around town in the
stores that distribute pixel mattresses and see how many are
knock-downs and how many the original.

Here's an analogy: you go and choose a BMW X5, you're charged $80,000
for it and you get this in return:;
the CEO of BMW assures you it's a very very very similar car and he
tries his best, but the Munich plant was busy for you.

Hope you see my point; when can I get my BMW mattress? (The clone is
still in the box, you can make still it right). The mattress I've
selected and I've already paid full price for it was not delivered.
Getting anything less is deception and maybe even fraud.

Regards, etc..."

Chris: "Of coarse I see your point. We should be able to replace your mattress
next week with as you call it" BMW Mattress"."

So I contemplated the idea of arguing about shipping, replacements, the possibility that I'll get yet another deceiving product (what's the probability that someone that lied twice will lie again? Huge, I'd say.) So I decided I don't even want to do business at all with Pixel Organics. We returned the mattress and we're looking for a "real" one in store, any other brand. I'm no Erin Brockovich to dig the fraud and save the world, I just hate being lied to.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Californians Are the Leaders in Flame Retardants Contamination

A new study, published in the Environmental Science and Technology today, shows higher levels of flame retardants in California residents when compared to other U.S. states and Europe. The study compared dust samples of PBDE from 49 homes in two California communities (Richmond and Bolinas – for the Californians interested in the subject) with 120 Massachusetts homes and with other published studies. It also compared regional PBDE serum levels across the NHANES sample.

The dust concentration of PBDE in the California homes were 4-10 times higher than levels in Ottawa, Canada, Cape Cod, MA, Boston, MA, Washington, DC, and Texas and were 200 times higher than those reported from Germany. The dust concentrations were higher for Richmond - predominantly a low-income, urban community with oil refineries as the main city industry and frequently in the local news with pollution stories.

The BPDE serum levels were higher for the Western region (including California) compared to Eastern region. Interestingly, the U.S. residents born in other countries had lower levels compared to U.S. born residents.

Although the study needs a larger sample size distributed across various California communities in order to generalize the results – it still raise a flag about California flammability standards that requires furniture to be fire resistant to an open flame for 12 seconds. The California agency that promulgated the TB117 is now planning to extend the flammability requirements to the bed clothing.

Although penta-PBDE has been phased out, deca-PBDE is still on the market and the new chemicals have not been studied for safety.

What to do to minimize this contamination:

  • avoid PBDE's in electronics; next time when you need to purchase new electronics look for companies that ban brominated flame retardants in their products.
  • avoid PBDE's in foam; all furniture that has foam in it has also flame retardants. Vacuum your furniture and carpet often; be careful when removing old carpet (ventilate well). When purchasing new products, ask the manufacturer what flame retardants are they using. Ikea is always a good place to shop, since they phased out all PBDE's many years ago.
  • do not reupholster your old furniture.
  • the alternatives of PBDE's are not fully tested for their health effects so try to buy products made from natural fibers (wool and cotton) because they are naturally flame resistant. However, be careful when purchasing organic furniture; it still can have flame retardants.
  • wash your hand often and make a habit for the kids as well; their hands seem to be more full of dust since they spend more time playing on the floor.
I'd say that the main think the study shows is that you should consider Hanover Germany over Richmond, CA; true geographical comparisons need much larger study samples collected and analyzed in the same way to provide accurate comparisons.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Cotton Crib Mattresses - Update 1

Update: What you see is not what you get: read about the Pixel Organics bait-and-switch scam we experienced.

The founder or Pixel Organics Chris Svensrud got back to us in the comments of the previous post; he announces a new mattress from Pixel Organics for 2009 and sets the record on who's manufacturing what:

I should set the records straight about the manufacturing of our mattresses. Our mattress are not made by Pure Rest, since contrary to your investigation, Pure Rest does not actually make or manufacture their innerspring mattress... nor do we. We are a distributor of organic mattresses for mattress manufacturing company which has been manufacturing organic mattress for the last 13 years and had been in the mattress business 77 years prior to that. This is total of 90 years in the mattress business, not to mention that they are still family owned and run. This is the only source we use.

This is the same manufacture that Pure-Rest gets some of their mattress from. We occasionally will have Pure-Rest send a mattress for us if our stock is low or our manufacturer is back logged. It's worth mentioning that Pure-Rest uses a few manufacturers for their range crib mattress, but is by no means a manufacturer of those mattresses.

So, there's a 3rd party, yet to be named, that really makes these mattresses... Oh well, let's hope that the mystery hides, for good reasons, a good name.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Cotton Crib Mattresses: Green Is the Only Way

Update: What you see is not what you get: read about the Pixel Organics bait-and-switch scam we experienced.

We started searching for a cotton crib mattress (one that has no vinyl or plastic cover) because the youngest of the family is finicky and can't sleep on plastic (same as the father, by the way). These are not unheard from in Europe: this summer we've got a cotton cover mattress in 3 out of 3 places we've been: the Hilton we stayed in Edinburgh, the apartment we rented in Barcelona and the one borrowed from a friend back home. We thought this search was going to be easy, but... Apparently all kids smoke in bed and besides flame-retardant pajamas they also need a flame-retardant bed. When they do not smoke, they soil the bed so hard that waterproof cotton can't handle it and the mattress has to be hosed down (hopefully the baby is hand washed separately...).

So if you try to search for "cotton cover crib mattress" you see that the offering is small and, between the fully plastic and fully organic there is no product in between. There are 2 choices:

- Naturepedic offers a cotton cover mattress as their top of the line product; they also offer many versions of waterproof ones, probably for those that have never heard of waterproof cotton or with babies that smoke in bed...
- Pure Rest offers many mattresses, including the baby one (and you'll see that they have a large number of resellers that do not acknowledge where the mattress comes from, but you'll see the picture I've included, a picture that comes from the Pure Rest website. Most notably, the Pixel Organic mattress is made by Pure Rest; we know because we visited a store that thought was selling a Pure Rest and we though we were seeing a Pixel Organic. The Pixel Organic website does not say it directly, they slip and they mention Pure Rest on the guts of the web page:

"Natural rubber core:
Known for its hypoallergenic qualities being resistance to molds, mildews and dust mites our natural rubber is the only commercially available rubber that is 100% chemical free. No other latex meets our high expectations of freedom from chemicals. Only natural vegetable based soaps are used for washing. To support this claim Pure-Rest used an independent testing lab available to confirm all used rubber was 100% chemical free."

Aha: Pure Rest...

There is a Canadian company (SleepTech) but we have not figured out whether they distribute their mattresses in the US and we did not bother calling. There are probably others. Please leave comments with your source and I'll update the post.

The cotton covered mattresse come in 2 main models: with coils (like your mattress, only smaller) and with latex core (like the ones we've seen in Europe); we've got the one with coils because it's cheaper and firmer. This is the store with the good deal and availability: CSN Baby and with the decency to tell exactly what they're selling. (I got annoyed by the fact that most resellers try to hide the producer name and that the descriptions are so contradictory; no serious seller on, all descriptions sound made up; the prices sound better in places, but who knows what you get?). These are expensive ($300) compared to the hose-down smoke-in-bed filled plastic bag you get everywhere. And, sadly, Ikea is not any better either.

We did not intend this to be necessarily green, plastic-free would have been enough. Apparently we've all been so brain-washed that there's no middle ground and none sells a decent cotton cover mattress; so, a green one it is.

What's your experience? Leave a comment, if there are good finds I'll do an update to this.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Lobby Over BPA: FDA Gets Defensive

As more studies are coming out revealing a link between Bishenol A and various diseases, FDA still considers that BPA is safe for humans. I am so frustrated and I have a very hard time understanding the logic behind its decisions... the only reasonable explanation is lobby or they get some sort if bribes from the industry. I cannot why FDA would continue to put people at risk. Our government amazes me more and more. If you like to read the whole article, go here and here.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Going Green - Product Review Of The Week - Clorox Green Works

After using different green products, I decided to try several products marketed under the brand Green Works (a Clorox brand as you can see from the link). I was reticent in the beginning - given the history of Clorox and even the name that is now associated with green – I was not so sure that it can be that green. In fact, according to a study made by Organic Consumer Association, it is greener than many other famous green products that have been around for a while. The ingredients are natural at least 99% (plant-based ingredients derived from coconuts, as well as essential oils) and biodegradable; they do not smell strong; and I am amazed how well they work. The price range is between 2.99 - 3.59, and can be found almost in any store that sells house cleaning products.

The ones that I liked most and I continue to use arethe Green Works Natural Toilet Bowl Cleaner (99.99 percent natural; ingredients: Filtered water, coconut-based cleaning agent (alkyl polyglucoside), citric acid, lactic acid, essential lemon oil, natural thickener (xanthan gum), colorant) and Green Works Natural Glass Cleaner (99.84 percent natural; ingredients: Filtered water, coconut-based cleaning agent (alkyl polyglucoside), soda ash, corn-based ethanol, glycerine, fragrance with essential lemon oil, colorant).

Why not try it next time? They are cheaper than other green products and they work so well - another little step on your green path.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Flame Retardants in Mothers and Their Toddlers

A new study released by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found that the levels of flame retardants were 3 times higher in toddlers than in their mothers. The flame retardants are hormone-disrupting chemicals and they build up in our bodies. They are found practically everywhere around us – in the sofas, chairs, mattresses, carpet, curtains, laptops, computers and other electronics, etc. It looks like they are also found in dust and the researchers are not sure how it gets there.

The researchers examined 20 American families and they found that in 19 of them, concentrations of the chemicals known as PBDEs were significantly higher in 1.5- to 4-year-old children than their mothers. In total 11 different flame retardants were found in these children, and 86 percent of the time the chemicals were present at higher levels in the children than their mothers.

Two forms of PBDEs known as Penta and Octa are banned in the U.S., but are still found in furniture and foam items made before the phase-out was complete. The largest volume of PBDEs are used in electronics in a form known as Deca. Deca is banned in European electronics and in some U.S. states. Deca was found in higher concentrations in kids than in their mothers as seen in the figure (adapted from EWG). For the full report go here.

Although there are safer alternatives, the industry continues to use them on a large scale.

What to do:

  • avoid PBDE's in electronics; next time when you need to purchase new electronics look for companies that ban brominated flame retardants in their products.
  • avoid PBDE's in foam; all furniture that has foam in it has also flame retardants. Vacuum your furniture and carpet often; be careful when removing old carpet (ventilate well). When purchasing new products, ask the manufacturer what flame retardants are they using. Ikea is always a good place to shop, since they phased out all PBDE's many years ago.
  • do not reupholster your old furniture.
  • the alternatives of PBDE's are not fully tested for their health effects so try to buy products made from naturally fibers (wool and cotton) because they are naturally flame resistant. However, be careful when purchasing organic furniture; it still can have flame retardants.
  • wash your hand often and make a habit for the kids as well; their hands seem to be more full of dust since they spend more time playing on the floor.
  • some additional advice can be found in a previous post.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Carpet and Wool Rug Cleaners: The Green Ones

We had to clean an area rug recently to have it ready for the winter months (we like the feel of the hardwood during the warmth months), so we started looking at Craig's List to see what local offers we can find. So after a few days of searching and asking, we learned that there are many carpet cleaners that are Green Seal Certified (see my previous post on the value of certifications) and we learned that, when it comes to carpets, there are other certifications, here's an excerpt from one of the site of the cleaner manufacturer we've chosen:

“Green” Hotels Association: is committed to encourage, promote and support ecological consciousness in the Hospitality industry. For over ten years, “Green” Hotels Association is releasing a very comprehensive Guidelines and Ideas book revealing how to reduce bills as well as the hotel’s impact on the Environment. Evolut-Ion Carpet Cleaner is approved by “Green” Hotels Association. click here for more information...

The U.S. Green Building is the nation’s foremost coalition of leaders from across the building industry working to promote buildings that are environmentally responsible, profitable and healthy places to live and work.
click here for more information...

Orbeco Inc. has joined Hospitals for a Healthy Environment, supporting the National Movement for Environmentally Sustainable Health Care. H2E is a voluntary partnership program sponsered by the American Hospital Association, the US EPA, Health Care without Harm and the American Nurses Association. H2E organizations are committed to the virtual elimination of mercury, general waste reduction, and the minimization of toxic substances used in healthcare. H2E supports the design, construction and cooperation of healthcare facilities that significantly improve our collective impact on human and environmental health.
click here for more information...

If you need to clean a wool rug (like we did), Woolsafe has alist of cleaning substances that are safe for wool (neutral PH, low foam, all the things that are keeping the carpet looking nice). A few (very very few, I can say) are "green", and I'm listing here ALL of them from that list: Orbeco makes Evolut-ion carpet cleaner, Chemspec makes ECOgent and DFC105 and EnvirOx LLC make a line of products called H2Orange2; From the last link you'll also see they have a line of household (as in: consumer) cleaning products besides the industrial ones.

We used a cleaner that is using Evolut-ion by Orbeco; the rug looks clean but not perfect (in all truth, I don't think any cleaner will take coffee stains out of wool :)). We have another rug and we're considering buying the cleaning solution and trying with the carpet cleaning machine we never used, at that time we'll be able to somewhat compare the efficiency. In any way, the rug did not have ANY chemical smell whatsoever.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Going Green: Product Review of the Week - Glass Food Storage Containers

Although some of the plastic is considered safe (#2(HDPE), #4(LDPE), and #5(PP), I am gradually replacing most plastic containers in the kitchen with ones made out of glass. I still keep some large containers made from plastic #5 (polypropylene) to use them when we go out barbecuing

I bought Pyrex containers (I found them on Amazon at a good price but they can be found in Target stores as well, if you need them "today"). The containers are made from glass but the lids are made from plastic. The containers will not react to foods as plastic ones are believed to do. They are also safe to use in the oven, microwave, freezer and dishwasher. The plastic lids are dishwasher-safe on the top rack.

I recently had a little incident, though. One of the bowls cracked on the lip and a little piece of glass felled into the container. Luckily (ahem!) it was my bowl with food for that day and I noticed the piece of glass in the food and not the kids food. Now I search all the time to see if there is any missing piece, but I am also searching for other glass containers to try it out. I assume that because it is glass is breakable, but I would like something more resistant. I wonder if it's a problem with these Pyrex bowls or it's general to these bowls. I have glass bowls 15 years old (brought over from Europe) and they never broke and these were only few months old….I'll keep searching for alternatives.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Inescapable Pesticide - In Our Toothpaste, Soap, etc.

A report released by EWG last month, suggests levels of triclosan in almost everything in our home and our surrounding. Triclosan, a pesticide with antibacterial and antifungal properties, is classified by EPA as toxic with highest scores regarding risk to both human health and the environment. It is linked to cancer, developmental defects, liver and inhalation toxicity, and allergies in children.

Triclosan is used in commercial, institutional and industrial premises and equipment (conveyor belts, fire hoses, dye bath vats and ice making equipment), residential and public access premises (brooms, mulch, floors, shower curtains, awnings, tents, mattresses, toothbrushes, toilet bowls, urinals, garbage cans, refuse container liners, insulation, concrete mixtures, grouts, air filter materials, upholstery fabrics, and rugs/carpets), and as a material preservative (in adhesives, fabrics, vinyl, latex, plastics, polyethylene, polyurethane, synthetic polymers, styrene, floor wax emulsions, rope, textiles, caulking compounds, sealants, coatings, polypropylene, rubber, inks, cellulosic materials, slurries, films and latex paints). Triclosan is found in cord blood and breast milk, in rivers and streams.
*This picture is adapted from the EWG report.

The EWG advise to do the following to avoid the triclosan:
  • Forgo antibacterial soap. The American Medical Association says not to use it at home. Watch for triclosan (and triclocarban) in personal care products.
  • Read ingredient labels or use Skin Deep to find products free of triclosan and triclocarban, its chemical cousin. On the Skin Deep you can also find products that have triclosan and/or triclocarban in the ingredients.
  • Avoid “antibacterial” products. Triclosan is used in everyday products like toothbrushes, toys, and cutting boards that may be labeled “antibacterial,” or make claims such as “odor-fighting” or “keeps food fresher, longer. Several studies showed that antimicrobial soap does not work better than plain soap and water at preventing the spread of infections or reducing bacteria on the skin.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Amazon Green

It is not new, probably, for many of you but as a friend of mine suggested, I would like to mention about Amazon Green. I like Amazon a lot, especially for the good prices, and now with its Green line, I like it even more.

From their website:
"Amazon Green is a team of Amazonians dedicated to presenting the Greenest products available, sourcing new products and helping our customers better understand the myriad, and sometimes confusing, Green standards in the marketplace today.
Green Tech, Biodiesel, Hybrid autos, CFLs, LEDs, Certified Organic, ENERGY STAR compliant, water saving, Carbon Footprint reduction, Green Architecture and sustainable living for everyone".

It is a great place to start looking for green products. It is not very diverse though. It has a blog and a forum where people are sharing great green ideas. I like it a lot.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

California Rejected the PFOA and BPA Bills

California lawmakers rejected on Monday the two bills (Corbett’s bill and Migden’s Bill ) that would have banned the use of two harmful chemicals: PFOA from food packaging and BPA in products used for children under 3 years of age. It is clear that this was influenced by the FDA statements that BPA is safe that came out Friday, just in time for the votes. Both chemicals were identified as potential carcinogens. I wonder how long it takes until the safety of people will prevail over the lobby money of unscrupulous industries that care about the customers only after it kills a few with their products. And, probably the brains of our lawmakers are already damaged by some chemicals since they don't seem to care about our health.

Both bills were granted reconsideration; I hope the legislators will reconsider their votes despite lobbying efforts.

Monday, August 18, 2008

FDA Released New Draft: Says "Bishenol A is Safe"

It looks like we never learn. After asked to review its decisions about Bisphenol A, FDA came last Friday with a new draft stating that Bisphenol A is safe. Their review is funded by research made by the industry, and as expected it was acclaimed by the American Chemistry Council (a lobby group for chemical companies) which defended the chemical’s safety.

After National Toxicology Program came out with a study earlier this year, stating that BPA can lead to prostate and breast cancers, Canada made public its intention to ban the use of BPA in baby products. Wal-Mart and Toy’ R Us announced their intention to take out from their shelves bottles containing the chemical. Now, in the U.S., 12 states are considering bills to restrict use of BPA. California could become the first state in the nation to ban Bisphenol A in certain products. I hope their decision will not be influenced by the FDA report which, oddly, came out just now – before the California lawmakers are preparing to vote the proposal.

Despite FDA decisions (which were kind of shaken lately), I will continue to avoid any plastic that will contain BPA. My previous posts provide a more comprehensive review of BPA, tips on how to avoid it, and a review of baby bottles free of BPA. This latest decision reeks of lobby...

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Cell Phones Radiation

We are bombarded lately by news saying that the cell phones are emitting radiation levels that could be linked with cancer. There is continuous debate about the issue as there is a need of data to make the cell phone-cancer correlation significant. It is hard to tell at this moment; although neurosurgeons firmly sustain that there is a link. On the CNET website it is a list with the phones and their radiation levels. Not all the models are tested, but the nice part is that you can request the SAR information from the manufacturer or your carrier. You'll need the model number and FCC ID number, which is usually but not always listed in your owner's manual or under your phone's battery (you must pop the battery out).

From the CNET website:

“According to the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA), specific absorption rate, or SAR, is "a way of measuring the quantity of radiofrequency (RF) energy that is absorbed by the body." For a phone to pass FCC certification, that phone's maximum SAR level must be less than 1.6W/kg (watts per kilogram). In Europe, the level is capped at 2W/kg while Canada allows a maximum of 1.6W/kg. The SAR level listed in our charts represents the highest SAR level with the phone next to the ear as tested by the FCC. Keep in mind that it is possible for the SAR level to vary between different transmission bands and that different testing bodies can obtain different results”.

For an exhausted list, you can go here.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Going Green: Product Review of the Week: Drain Treatments

After getting rid of all the nasty chemicals in my house, it was time for the drain remover too. I do not use it often, only if needed, and probably this happens about once or twice at every two years. However, the time to use it just came recently so I was looking for a greener alternative. I found various on the internet, but since I barely need it I decided to buy one that is not expensive, but not the cheapest either. I ended up getting the Citra Drain Natural Enzymatic, as I am a big fan of products made with enzymes. I used it and it worked very well! It uses powerful natural enzymes to rid drains and pipes of grease, clogs, and build-up. It is perfect for most organic blockages, including grease, oil, soap residue and more.

Natural enzymes, natural bacteria cultures, biodegradable cleaning agents, natural citrus extracts and trace preservative (.0005%).

It is available in 22 fl.oz, Valencia Orange fragrance.

I got it from MotherNature (where I found the best price) but you can find it in many places. For stores in your area you can look here.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Radon Found in Granite Countertops - Updates

I wrote earlier about this New York Times article; following the link provided in the article, I called the radon technologist in my area and asked for a quote of measuring radon on my granite countertop. He was a very nice guy, willing ang able to provide information, and I the details I got from him helped a lot. Here's a summary of what he told me:

There is no standard established for measuring the radon in the granite countertops as there is no technology for doing it. As read in the New York Times article, this is done only for scientific purposes. The thing the technicians do is to measure the radon in the kitchen using tests approved by EPA. Given that I had my house tested for radon already, he said that the test should have picked up the radon from the granite too. Well, by following the EPA recommendations, I had my house tested at the lowest level; so it would be wise to make another test in the kitchen (situated a level higher) and compare the results.

The quote I received was up to $400 to test the entire house (every room) and this was depending on location as well (I live pretty far from the closest certified technician).

In the winter, I used an EPA certified test which costs me about $20. The technician said that it is perfectly reliable to do this again for the kitchen, and after that if I still have doubts, I should go for testing the entire house. (As an aside: nice guy, he never tried to push for a sale, he was merely providing the information).

Before running out for your radiation physicist friend with a Geiger Counter or paying a lot, you can use a simple test and do it for yourself! If you suspect the granite countertop (or the cutting board :), place the test above it.

Going Green: Product Review of the Week - Clothes Washers

Clothes washers have come a long way here in the US to catch up with European counterparts, front-loading washers seem to be the norm nowadays. What has helped in the process was a bit of smart policy: utilities distribute rebates on new appliances, the more energy- and water-saving the appliance, the bigger the rebate.

What to look for in a clothes washer? First off it has to wash properly, without tearing apart the clothes or ruining them -- but you knew that already. Read reviews around, get a brand with good reputation, ask a friend that owns one you'd like; it really does make a difference, some of the cheap models will force you to update your wardrobe often. On the green front, look for the energy consumption and water usage.

#1 Energy: Energy star rates washers on both, and you can find a Energy Star Clothes Washer ratings and you can compare all models in gory details. Look for the "percent better" column and choose the one with the highest percentages for the biggest energy consumption (for example, some of the Bosch models rate more than 100% better). Then check the prices and choose one you can afford, as you can see, you can get a well reputed LG for half the price of a purist's dream Miele. Search for Energy Star partners that offer rebates here or check the list and offerings at your local Home Depot, Lowe's, Best Buy or other major appliance store. Call ahead the utility and ask whether they still have money for the rebates. Compute your final cost and shop around. (You're probably aware of this, all appliances carry a yellow label like the one you see in the picture: the arrow has to be more to the left for a better machine. The table I link in the beginning of the paragraph is a better tool (and for the really compulsive, the website has excel and CSV versions).

I'm not really focusing on the electrical versus gas choice because it's not a choice for many of us; you need to get what you have in your home. If you can choose, gas is generally a cheaper option -- unless your state or utility regulates the price or energy.

#2 Water: there's less difference here on the modern front loader designs, you see in the table that 3 cubic feet front loading washers consume about 5000 gallons of water per year. If you've chosen 10 models at #1, narrow it down to the ones with the best volume/yearly water use ratio. Here's where the quality of the wash comes into play, read reviews and compare as well, don't go for minimum water consumption if the reviews are bad.

Last but not least, choose based on the producer's experience. European manufacturers are doing this for at least 40 years (yes, that's how old front loading machines are :)). Miele and Bosch are 'royalty' in Europe, Japanese and Korean makers have good experience as well -- don't know much here. Color is not that important, the machine is hidden in the laundry room anyway.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Congress Banned Three Phthalates in Children’s Toys

Good news parents! Congress has banned the use of three dangerous phthalates that are used in products for children under 12 years of age. Finally! The ban will take effect in 6 months so toys containing these chemicals may still be sold during the coming holiday season. Couple of years back, Europe banned six of the phthalates; in the U.S. the other three phthalates require extensive testing and is part of a major piece of legislation overhauling the Consumer Products Safety Commission. Arghhhhh! OK, let's focus on the positive: 3 down!

For getting tips on how to chose safe toys, go here!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Labeling of Organic Textiles

Are organic labels on textiles green washing or not? It turns out they're legit and fairly regulated in the US, here's the facts:
According to the National Organic Program (NOP) regulations, USDA regulates the term “organic” as it applies to agricultural products through 7 CFR Part 205. The regulation covers the raw natural fibers (such as cotton, wool, flax, etc.), as being agricultural products covered under the NOP crop/livestock production standards. Therefore, the off-farm treatment of raw organic fibers is not covered under the NOP crop/livestock production standards. Although the NOP has no specific fiber or textile processing and manufacturing standards, it may be possible for fibers grown and certified to NOP crop/livestock standards to be processed and manufactured into textile and other products which meet NOP standards.

Only textile products certified to the NOP production and processing standards are eligible to be labeled “100 percent organic” and “organic.

So what's in a name? There are three main categories:

100 percent Organic

  • 100 percent organic fiber content.
  • Only organic processing aids.
  • USDA Organic seal may be displayed on final product, in marketing materials, and in retail displays—in proximity to certified products only.
  • All operations producing, handling, processing and manufacturing the final product must be certified.


  • Minimum of 95 percent organic fiber content.
  • 5 percent non-organic substances, as listed in Section 205.605 of the NOP regulation.
  • No non-organic fibers.
  • USDA Organic seal may be displayed on final product, in marketing materials, and in retail displays—in proximity to certified products only.
  • All operations producing, handling, processing, and manufacturing the final product must be certified.

Made with Organic Ingredients

  • Must contain a minimum of 70 percent organic fibers. However, all fibers identified in these textile products as “organic” must be produced and certified to NOP standards.
  • May identify specific fibers as being organic if certified to the NOP crop/livestock standards.
  • May state the percentage of organic fibers contained in the final product.
  • May not use the USDA Organic seal.
  • May not imply or lead the consumer to believe that the final product is certified organic.

What Organic Means?

Organic fibers (cotton, hemp and linen) are grown without the use of toxic and persistent pesticides or fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation or genetic engineering, and are certified by an accredited independent organization. Strict laws and regulations are enforced by US Department of Agriculture and have been in place since 2002.
Organic wool
must be produced in accordance with federal standards for organic livestock production and this include:livestock feed and forage used from the last third of gestation must be certified organic; use of synthetic hormones and genetic engineering is prohibited; use of synthetic pesticides is prohibited; and producers must encourage livestock health through good cultural and management practices.
Organic leather
means that the hides used are from animals that are organically fed and humanely raised, and the tanning process uses plant tannins, vegetable tannins or smoke to cure the leather. This means that there is zero toxicity from the run at the tanning facilities.

Some brands and designers that are using organic fiber, wool and leather are:

C&A (Europe) Disney Nordstrom Gaiam Hanna Andersson
Hess Natur (Germany) Nike Macys IKEA Indigenous Designs
Howie's (U.K.) American Apparel REI Gap, Inc. Linda Loudermilk
People Tree (U.K.) Patagonia H&M Eileen Fisher Bloomingdales
Monoprix (France) Marks & Spencer (Europe) Levi Strauss Diane von Furstenberg and many more....

Friday, July 25, 2008

Going Green:Product Review of the Week - Hardwood Floor Cleaners

I am using Bona (by BonaKemi) for almost 2 years and I am still very happy about the results. It keeps my floor looking like new; it does not leave any residue and it cleans the dirt from the floor very well. It works well on the ceramic floor also. The product is non-toxic and most importantly is Greenguard certified since 2006 (it was the first-ever hardwood floor finishing company to earn The Greenguard Indoor Air Quality Certification for their products).

You can find a list with the dealers on their website but the best deal I found is on Amazon.

“From effective dust containment to low-VOC, high performance waterborne finishes without harmful fumes, to non-toxic floor care products and systems, the Bona system offers the cleanest and healthiest hardwood floor finishing system available.”

I strongly recommend this product; it is a good one to add to your green collection.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Radon Found In Granite Countertops

Update : Radon Found In Granite Countertops

A friend of mine pointed me to this article in New York Times talking about radon emissions from granite countertops. I had no idea that the granite can emit radon and of course, the first thing I thought about the granite countertop in my kitchen. Is it safe or not? I just tested the house for radon last winter and it was fine, but I did not test the kitchen. I wonder how far should we go with the testing around the house; probably everything is emitting some levels of something that is risky for our health. However, I think the article is worth to read – if not, just to find out that there is something more to add up to the pile of chemicals and gases that impacts our health. Should I will have my granite countertop tested too?