July 11, 2008

Watch What You Buy to Help Decrease Risk


For years, DuPont used "Better things for better living . . . through chemistry" as its advertising slogan.

The post-World War II catchphrase trumpeted the arrival of nonstick, easy-clean, disposable living.

But the synthetic chemicals that make products so easy to use have toxic components that trigger potentially dangerous reactions in humans and pets, according to "The Toxic Consumer - Living Healthy in a Hazardous World" by Karen Ashton and Elizabeth Salter Green (Sterling; $12.95).

The postwar years were "a time of incredible regulatory laxity combined with high-profit, quick-fix invention and a consumer market keen for the next 'new and improved' product," Salter Green told The Times-Dispatch.

There are potentially harmful chemicals in almost everything we bring into our homes, according to the book. Ashton and Salter Green chronicle several major villains and the products in which they're found.

One example is formaldehyde, a compound strongly associated with sick-building syndrome. It can be found in synthetic carpeting, permanent-press draperies, particleboard (cabinets, furniture, plywood paneling and shelves), paints and varnishes.

The good news, if you read to the end of the book's scary parts, is that many of the chemicals either have been encapsulated, strictly regulated or banned.

The book emphasizes how important it is to read package ingredients, research products and follow directions carefully. Opening windows occasionally, using natural flooring instead of carpeting and choosing organic paint and non-toxic furniture can help your family breathe easier.

"We can all take action by adapting our purchasing patterns," Salter Green said.

Here are some examples:

Choose alternatives to PVC flooring, carpeting

Instead of PVC flooring or carpeting, which contain flame retardants, stain resisters, antimicrobial treatments and formaldehyde in glue backing, use:

-- Wood flooring, particularly species from sustainable forests. Select low- or zero-emitting boards and low-VOC (Volatile Organic Compound) finishes.

-- Linoleum. It's naturally antibacterial, antistatic, durable and made from renewable materials.

-- Bamboo, a highly renewable resource with good durability and sound absorption.

-- Rugs, particularly sisal, coir or seagrass. Choose those with vegetable fiber content that aren't sprayed with pesticides. Look for a tight weave for natural flame retardance and a natural backing.

Be discriminating about mattresses, bedding

Instead of sleeping on mattresses and bedding with flame retardants, stain guards and water resistance:

-- Look for organic cotton mattresses, natural latex, wool and melamine bedding, which give off fewer emissions than those made with polyurethane foams and vinyl coverings. If you can't buy new bedding, a hypoallergenic cover can create an added barrier between you and what you're sleeping on.

-- Buy from manufacturers that use alternatives to brominated flame retardants, which are synthetic chemicals added to numerous consumer goods to slow their burn ability.

Myriad options exist for cleaning, cooking

Instead of household cleaners and solvents, use:

-- White vinegar. Mixed with water, it's an effective cleaner for windows, tiles and other surfaces.

-- Baking soda. Mixed with water, it becomes an all-purpose cleaner for sinks, baths and refrigerators, and it's a carpet deodorizer.

-- Salt. Use it for scouring pots and pans.

-- Lemon juice. Use it as a bleach for laundry.

-- Olive oil, which can be mixed with vinegar to create a furniture polish.

In the kitchen:

-- Maintain low cooking temperatures and high ventilation when using nonstick cookware. Throw away pans that show signs of degradation.

-- Use glass and ceramic food containers instead of soft plastics.

-- Avoid formaldehyde-emitting particleboard in cabinetry if possible.

-- Don't microwave in plastic.

-- Use exhaust fans instead of air fresheners to eradicate smoke and cooking smells.

Sources: "The Toxic Consumer," www.goodcleanair.net

Contact Julie Young at (804) 649-6732 or [email protected]


Originally published by Times-Dispatch Staff Writer.

(c) 2008 Richmond Times - Dispatch. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.