Noteworthy excerpts from Adria Vasil's book, "Ecoholic"
Genetically modified cotton: cotton naturally produces its own insecticides and is being touted as a way to reduce pesticide use. However, evidence suggests that these crops actually encourage the emergence of ‘superbugs’ that are resistant to the plants.
“Human rights abuses are common, and child labour is a serious issue. According to Human Rights Watch, over one million children pick leafworm from cotton plants in Egypt alone every summer for 11-hour days, seven days a week.”
Organic Wool: “Sheep have not been dipped in toxic pesticides to kill off lice, nor have they had a square of their flesh near the tail cut away to prevent infection, a process called mulesing. Wool is also naturally fire retardant.”
Bamboo: “said to be naturally antibacterial and very breathable.”
Hemp: “Hemp is much gentler on the earth than cotton, growing faster and not stripping the soil as it grows. An acre of hemp absorbs five times more carbon dioxide than an acre of forests.”
In 2006, Environmental Defence tested children in BC, New Brunswick, Ontario, and Quebec for chemicals. They found an average of 23 chemicals in each child, including carcinogens, hormone disruptors, respiratory toxins and neurotoxins.
“Childhood cancers are up 21% and asthma rates are four times higher than they were in the 80s.”
Environmental Working Group: extensive report on baby creams, oils and washes
“Wash all new clothing before you dress your kids in it, because it could have a layer of wrinkle-resistant formaldehyde.”
Diapers: One child will use roughly 5000 to 7000 disposable diapers. Disposables contain potentially asthma-inducing chemicals and plastics such as super-absorbent polyacrylate, the very material that causes toxic shock syndrome in tampon wearers. About 250,000 trees go into making the cellulose filling in American diapers every year.
How to wash: toss the used diapers in a sealed pail after flushing any solid poop down the toilet. As an alternative, you can also fill up the pail halfway with water, plus ¼ cup vinegar and ¼ cup baking soda. Wash an entire pail of diapers at least once every three days. Diapers and diaper covers should not be washed with other clothes.
Toys: Action figures and dolls are often moulded from PVC, considered the worst of all plastics. PVC can also be softened with potentially hormone disrupting or carcinogenic phthalates, which also off-gas into the air. Canada has prohibited its use in soothers and teethers and the E.U. banned it altogether.
Mattresses: Filled with polyurethane-foam-stuffed padding, mattresses off-gas air-polluting volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Fire-retardant chemicals (PBDEs) are also applied, the entire class of which Environment Canada considers toxic. Finally, box spring frames made of plywood or particleboard often contain off-gassing formaldehyde.
“Most candles are made of paraffin, a waste product of the petroleum industry. Some can actually emit black soot made up of polluting polyaromatic hydrocarbons. Canada has yet to institute a ban on lead candles, but Health Canada says one is in the works. In the meantime, consider throwing out any candles that puff black soot when you snuff them, and note that tea lights, pillar candles and candles that create wax puddles are more likely to contain lead.”
Beeswax: “Long-lasting beeswax is said to actually clean the air by releasing calming negative ions that cling to dust, making particles so heavy they fall.”
“Wood furniture in general is teeming with toxins. It’s coated in varnishes, glues, waxes and paints that release smog-inducing, lung-irritating VOCs. Pressed woods such as particleboard, fiberboard and even some plywood are the major culprits.”
“According to Greenpeace, most Canadian lumber comes from ancient forest systems such as the boreal. Look for wood products that are old-growth free. The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) logo is trustworthy.”
“The average adult uses nine personal care products a day, containing a grand total of 126 chemical ingredients, according to a report by the Environmental Working Group.”
“Only about 11% [of the roughly 10,500 chemical ingredients in cosmetics] have been tested for safety, according to the EWG. And those tests aren’t done by Health Canada but by the cosmetics companies themselves.”
Dandruff shampoo: “Mainstream dandruff shampoos are loaded with super-toxic ingredients such as coal tar – the black liquid distilled from coal.”
“Ironically, lots of dandruff hair washes contain a notorious skin and scalp irritant: sodium lauryl/laureth sulfate (SLS). It actually dries out your skin. Before you buy a dandruff shampoo, make sure your regular shampoo doesn’t contain SLS, which might be at the root of your problem.”
Antibacterials: “By now you may have heard about how antibacterial mania is lowering our defences against germs. But there’s also accumulating evidence that our obsession with these ingredients could breed drug-resistant big strains…Triclosan and trilocarbon, the active ingredients in a lot of antibacterial soaps, are scarily finding their way into rivers, streams, and lakes, according to a US Geological Survey. When these chemicals are exposed to sunlight in water they create a mild dioxin (a carcinogenic hormone disruptor that accumulates in the food chain even at low levels). British supermarkets decided to ban the substance from their products in 2003.”
“An FDA panel and the American Medical Association have said that antibacterial soaps and washes don’t reduce household infections any more than washing with regular soap.”
Hand sanitizers: “Sanitizing gels don’t generally have triclosan in them; ethyl alcohol (a grain alcohol used for hundreds of years as a natural antiseptic) and synthetic isopropyl alcohol are the main germ killers. Alcohol-based hand gels kill germs without contributing to antibiotic resistance, as triclosan might.”
Antiperspirants: “[Aluminum] closes our pores and reduces the amount of perspiring we’d normally do. Although government bodies such as Health Canada say there’s nothing to worry about, the jury is still out on whether the mineral contributes to Alzheimer’s disease, since aluminum is found in higher concentrations in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.”
Deodorants: “Chemical fragrances are only one of a number of ingredients in deodorants that can often cause allergic skin reactions, and coal tar-based colours like the Yellow No. 6 that goes into blue-based gel sticks pose possible liver toxicity and cancer hazards.
Formaldehyde, an air-polluting, lung-irritating volatile organic compound (VOC) and probable human carcinogen, can be found in many deodorant preservatives. VOCs may evaporate as the product dries and off-gas as sweat beads on your skin.”
Teflon: “Over-heated non-stick pans can release toxic fumes. Teflon says such high-temperature burning doesn’t happen under normal circumstances, and the stuff is perfectly safe otherwise. Nonetheless, 95% of humans have the chemical in our bloodstreams. Nearly a dozen studies have tied it to thyroid damage and a scientific advisory panel to the US Environmnetal Protection Agency concluded in January 2006 that PFOA (the compound used to make the coatings) is a ‘likely human carcinogen’”.
Switch to stainless steel.
“Natural Resources Canada estimates that Canadians dump more than 272,000 tons of computer equipment, phones, TVs, stereos and small appliances in landfills each year.”
“If you have on old laptop or PC you want to get rid of, get in touch with Computers for Schools. The Industry Canada program refurbishes over 100,000 old computers a year and donates them to schools, libraries, and not-for-profit learning organizations across the country. ReBOOT Canada is a non-profit that will fix your old computer, then hand it over to other deserving charities, or recycle it properly if it’s beyond help. More and more computer companies, such as Apple, Hewlett-Packard, and Dell, have take-back programs of their own.”
Batteries: “Roughly 35% of the mercury in the Canadian environment and 50% to 70% of the heavy metals found in landfills come from household batteries. Bring your old batteries to your hazardous waste depot. There are thousands of places where you can bring your old rechargeable batteries from cellular phones, power tools, or camcorders. Just stop by your neighbourhood Zellers, Radio Shack, Canadian Tire, Home Depot, Mountain Equipment Co-op, or call 1-800-8-Battery for the collection site nearest you. One rechargeable can replace up to 300 single-use batteries.”
“We’ve got cupboards stocked with toxic soups that are often the most dangerous products in our homes. They’re major contributors to indoor air pollution (which can, shockingly, be anywhere from two to 100 times higher than outdoor air). Anyone with asthma or chemical sensitivities can tell you just how harmful these products can be to your health.”
“Some surfactants used in degreasers, disinfectants and general cleaners break down into hormone-disrupting agents that have been shown to feminize fish. And nearly 70% of American streams tested positive for this stuff!”
“Products with the word ‘warning’ could make you really sick but won’t kill you. ‘Caution’ means slightly toxic. Stay away from anything labeled ‘danger’, ‘poison’, or ‘corrosive’ – they’re the most toxic.”
“Exposure to household germs isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it bolsters our immunity to them.”
“Make your own cleaner by tossing one part vinegar to one part water in a spray bottle. In tandem, a vinegar-dampened sponge and tossing down a sprinkle of salt make a good all-purpose grease-cutting scouring agent.”
Toilets: “Pretty much every bathroom product comes with the cleaning power of chlorine bleach. Too bad chlorine is a hazardous air pollutant that can react with chemicals in the environment to form dioxin, a particularly nasty hormone disruptor that builds up in our tissues. Then there are all the corrosive ingredients in toilet bowl cleaners, some of the most toxic in your house, which can burn your eyes, skin, and lungs.”
“Even for tough jobs, you can pour 1 cup of borax and ¼ cup vinegar, let sit for a few hours, then scrub. Calcium stains will come off if you drop a 1,000 milligram tablet of vitamin C into the bowl overnight.”
Wood polish: “Furniture polishing sprays may not have the same notorious ozone-destroying CFCs they used to back in the day, but they still contain air pollutants that fill your home with fumes. And lots of them have ingredients, such a phenol, that have ties to cancer. Why risk it, when you can make your own with a simple mix of 1 cup olive oil and a squirt of lemon?”