Topics A to Z
Although this tab includes Topics A to Z, with many resources for improving your indoor air quality, it also addresses other healthy home subjects. Here’s the list:
- AC window and wall units
- Air exchange
- Air Krete
- Air fresheners
- Allergy supplies
- Antique furniture with mold
- Art supplies
- Bathtub surrounds
- Bedrooms and other rooms
- Biological agents, other than mold
- Car exhaust
- Carbon dioxide
- Carbon monoxide
- Carpet cleaning
- Caulk, VOC-free
- Cell phones
- Chemically sensitive
- Chlorinated bleach
- Cleaning products
- Combustion products
- Compact fluorescent lights
- Diatomaceous earth
- Dry cleaning
- Duct cleaning
- Dust mites
- Earthing sheets
- Electricians/Electrical engineers
- Electromagnetic fields
- Energy savings
- EPA registration number
- ERMI testing
- Exhaust fans
- Fiberglass insulation
- Fire retardants
- Fluorescent lights
- Foam insulation
- Food and beverages
- Fragranced products
- Fresh air
- Green building supplies
- Green board
- Gum, chewing
- Indoor air quality
- Healthy homes
- HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning)
- HVAC filters
- Meat, organic
- Microwave ovens
- Native plants
- Natural gas
- Office machines
- Oil and gas heat
- Personal care products
- Pesticides and herbicides
- Petri dishes
- Relative humidity
- Room air purifiers
- Shower curtain
- Space heaters
- Storage of toxic materials
- Swimming pools
- Talcum powder
- Vacuum cleaners
- VOCs (volatile organic compounds)
- Washing machines
- Websites to explore
- Wood smoke
And now for the Topics A to Z:
AC WINDOW and WALL UNITS
- Proper cleaning of a window or wall AC unit would involve removing it, removing the insulation, sealing off the electrical components, steam cleaning the unit, steam cleaning it a second time a day later, and putting in new insulation.
- In addition, consider installation of filters on the air intake of a new or recently cleaned unit, that is, on the vent where room air is drawn into the unit, not where the cooled air leaves the unit. The purpose of these filters is to better protect the cleaned coils from dust, on which mold could grow. 3M Filtrete offers an allergy reduction filter.
- Some units are designed so that these additional filters cannot be used unless they are taped on the outside of the unit.
- If purchasing a new unit, look for one where the coils are accessible for cleaning…and, preferably, one that allows in fresh air (option of an open vent).
- If having to send out the units for cleaning, it may be less expensive just to start fresh with new EnergyStar AC units, but again, cover the intakes with the filters for future protection.
- If these filters were installed on the cleaned units, the units might not have to be cleaned each year, because the coils should remain cleaner from then on. (The compartment is not air-tight, so we are not talking 100% effective here.)
- See “Fresh Air,” “Ventilation”
- Avoid room air purifiers, deodorizing sprays, and plug-in devices. These often contain noxious chemicals.
- Air Krete is a least toxic insulation that bonds to the wood or concrete, eliminating drafts from the exterior. It is an award-winning, mold-resistant, no-VOC (see Volatile Organic Compounds section) cementitious foam insulation. For more information, go to www.palmerindustriesinc.com and click on Special Preview, or call 800-545-7383. Or, do a search under Air Krete for suppliers in your area.
- One issue during application is that lots of dust is released.
- Another issue with Air Krete is if it gets wet, it dissolves. This happened in one client’s home after there was a plumbing leak. It cost too much to send Air Krete personnel for a patch job, but the company was cooperative in sending pieces of hardened foam for a handyperson to piece together at my client’s home.
- My client has nevertheless been happy with Air Krete. Between this superior insulation, a type of sandwiched insulation in upstairs walls, and geothermal heating, she pays only about $150 a month for heat, cooling, and electricity.
- Some on-line stores specialize in products for those with allergies and asthma, such as
- Allergy Buyers Club, 888-236-7231, www.allergybuyersclub.com
- National Allergy Supply, 800-522-1448, www.natlallergy.com
ANTIQUE FURNITURE WITH MOLD
- The most conservative approach would be to contract with a fine furniture restoration company for cleaning. The restoration department in a museum may also have advice.
- One remediator told me that they steam-clean such furniture – but whether that would damage finishes is unknown. However, the surfaces of most concern for mold would be unfinished surfaces, because it is easier for mold to grow on rough wood than finished wood.
- A possible do-it-yourself approach would involve HEPA-vacuuming (on all surfaces, including drawers, inside cabinets, and inner framing holding drawers. This might better be done outside. Always wear a respirator when working, because Aspergillus is a common mold on old furniture.Then, for unfinished surfaces, sprinkle a little Borax on a sponge and wipe off surfaces as best as possible. For finished surfaces, wipe with whatever you would use for polish. Feel free to send me some tape samples to monitor progress.Encapsulation may be a plus on unfinished surfaces as long as it doesn’t affect the value of the furniture. Please contact me for information on a clear encapsulant.
- Some ants like sweet bait, others protein or grease bait. Experiment – mix various materials (peanut butter; butter; honey) separately with boric acid, or try a bait trap for sweet-eating ants from a hardware store. There are least-toxic boric acid bait traps or toxic ones, such as Combat.
- The way a bait trap works is that the poison is carried directly to the nest, not sprayed around. Spraying chemicals does little good if the nest is not found. Unless the nest is knocked out, the problem is not resolved.
- Avoid placement of traps where children or animals can access them.
- Spraying is to be avoided if at all possible. Many people have gotten sick from sprayed and fogged insecticides.
- Bait traps may or may not work with carpenter ants. I’ve had success, but one client didn’t. These ants often live in gutters that haven’t been cleaned out, or under sliding glass doors, so keep up with maintenance.
- Dust outside areas with diatomaceous earth, which can pierce the insects and dehydrate them.
- If you have older decking, picnic table and chairs, or an older wood playset, suspect that the wood has been treated with arsenic as a preservative against insects and fungus. “Pressure-treated wood” is no longer permitted in the U.S. for most residential uses. A test kit is available on-line at Amazon.com.
- Applying sealants is insufficient. Even if a good sealant were found, it would have to be applied 2-3 times per season.
- Arsenic leaches into the soil around treated play sets (and around pressure treated wood for gardens). More than half of tested samples had arsenic levels above those allowed for federally designated Superfund cleanup sites.
- Children between the ages of 1 and 6 playing on treated play sets 3X a week have a 1 in 500 risk of cancer, compared to a 1 in 100,000 risk of cancer.
- Painting over the arsenic is a band aid approach but better than doing nothing. Avoid skin contact with arsenic-treated wood. Ideally, have the offending material removed. Arsenic is a neurological toxin.
- At the least, have children wash their hands after exposure. Prevent food from coming in contact with wood.
- The mother of one exposed child testified at a Consumer Product Safety Commission hearing “urging the panel to order the removal of decks, picnic tables and play equipment built of lumber treated with chromated copper arsenate.” Her child had gnawed on CCA deck railing and had lost the ability to pick up things. Her hand also curved in, and she has ongoing neurological problems.
- CCA was being phased out of consumer uses as of the end of 2003.
- You may have some older CCA at decks and in wood bordering vegetable gardens. That wood picnic table may be made of pressure-treated wood. An organic community garden where I used to have a plot had treated wood bordering the plots.
- Don’t sand a pressure-treated deck. Don’t burn pressure-treated wood.
- If working with pressure-treated wood in handyman projects, take precautions such as wearing a respirator and gloves and cleaning up with a HEPA vacuum cleaner.
- Dissolved arsenic may be present in drinking water. Many common compounds of arsenic can dissolve in water. See the water section for information on water treatment for dissolved heavy metals.
- A hair analysis may reveal arsenic toxicity. These are available in some states from medical practitioners. Otherwise, you can order one on the Internet, such as from www.kingjamesomegatech-lab.com. Hair analysis measures exposure within the last 6-12 months.
- Arsenic is a frequent contaminant at toxic waste sites.
- Exposures to higher than average levels of arsenic often happen in the workplace (copper or lead smelting, wood treating, pesticide application).
- Some geographic areas have high levels of arsenic in water or soil. If you live in one of these areas, either treat your water or use cleaner sources of water and limit contact with soil.
- EPA has set an exposure limit of 0.01 parts per millions (ppm) for arsenic in drinking water. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) set a permissible exposure limit (PEL) of 10 micrograms of arsenic per cubic meter of workplace air for 8 hour shifts and 40 hour work weeks.
- Water testing is available through National Testing Laboratories, Inc., 800-458-3330, either for arsenic alone ($40) or a full panel of toxins in the WaterCheckTM test kit for about $150.
- The Environmental Working Group, www.ewg.org, offers arsenic test kits, plus additional information on arsenic. They post papers relating to arsenic (and other toxins) and human health, such as one linking arsenic from treated playgrounds to childhood cancer.
- Hybrivet, the manufacturers of the LeadCheck swabs, also offers arsenic test kits, 800-262-LEAD (5323).
- Information about arsenic was supplemented here from a fact sheet by the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s ToxFAQs for Arsenic, www.atsdr.cdc.gov/tfacts.html.
- Fact sheets about other toxic substances are listed at the CDC website, www.cdc.gov, with a search for “ToxFAQs.” There is also an information hotline: 888-422-8737.
- The urine test is most accurate for recent contact (few days) with arsenic.
- See also “Food” and “Clothing”
- Check the information and resources at ACTS (Arts, Crafts, and Theater Safety), www.artscraftstheatersafety.org. Monona Rossol also has a brochure on least toxic art products for children, “Selecting Children’s Art Materials.”
- Asbestos is a known carcinogen, causing lung and stomach cancer. Asbestosis is a scarring of lung tissue by asbestos.
- While fiberglass is a controversial product from a health standpoint the conservative approach is to treat loose fiberglass as you would asbestos. See “Fiberglass” below.
- Breathing in asbestos fibers has been associated with lung cancer and mesothelioma, a cancer of the lung lining. Asbestosis is a scarring of lung tissue from asbestos. No one knows how many asbestos fibers would be a problem for any individual.
- The booklet, “Asbestos in Your Home,” is free from the EPA. The EPA indoor air quality hotline is at 800-438-4318, or www.epa.gov/iaq.
- You can get your state or regional government contact number for asbestos issues from 202-554-1404. The number for PA is 717-772-3396.
- A bulk sample of suspected material can be sent to Microbac Lab, 4359 Linglestown Road, Harrisburg, PA 17112, 717-661-9700, for examination and a report. The cost is around $20 but call first. If snipping a piece of loose material that may contain asbestos, take precautions such as wearing a P100 or N95 respirator and gloves. HEPA-vacuum the area afterwards.
- Asbestos could be in drywall and drywall tape manufactured through 1988.
- There is a mixture of opinions regarding whether asbestos pipe insulation in good condition could be encapsulated or should be removed. Removing it may release fibers, which should not be an issue as long as the contractor does a professional job according to industry standards. However, encapsulation is a band aid approach, which may become an issue at the time of house sale or a plumbing leak.
- If desiring asbestos air testing, seek out an asbestos-certified inspector, contractor, or laboratory. Either call your local health department for a referral or check the phone book.
- If requiring an asbestos contractor, arrange for independent follow-up testing for assurance that all is well. Keep a copy of the paperwork with the permanent record files for your house.
- If you have an older house that might have once had a boiler or pipes covered with asbestos, ask the question, “What happened to the asbestos insulation?” If a former owner had it improperly removed, asbestos fibers could still be floating around your home. For peace of mind, consider arranging for air testing. Or, assume that there is some asbestos residual and have a few “spring cleaning” sessions in the basement, with a quality HEPA vacuum cleaner and damp-dusting. Wearing a respirator for the first few sessions may be a good idea.
- If you are buying an older house where there likely had been asbestos around steam or hot water pipes at one time, ask what happened to the insulation. If it was removed, ask for documentation that it was professionally removed and that an independent laboratory conducted air quality testing afterwards.
- Sometimes unknowing homeowners remove the pipe insulation themselves, spreading asbestos fibers throughout the house. If there is a possibility that this happened at this house, arrange with a local asbestos laboratory for an air test.
- A whole house clean up of asbestos fibers can be very costly. If no documentation exists, arrange for asbestos air testing. Keep a copy of the results for your permanent records.
- Asbestos may be present in older building materials, such as drywall tape, stucco-like ceiling, 9″ x 9″ floor tiles, 1’ x 1’ floor tiles, fabric-like sleeves in ductwork near a boiler, old plaster, etc. Assume that in an older house, asbestos is somewhere.
- If there is old 9” x 9” vinyl asbestos flooring in good condition, do not remove it. When ready to put down a new floor, put the new floor covering over it. If the old tile is in bad condition or if you need to remove basement carpeting glued to the old tile, call in an asbestos removal company.
- If asbestos pipe insulation is in poor condition, it should be professionally removed. This is not a homeowner do-it-yourself job, even though a HEPA vacuum cleaner will pick up asbestos particulates.
- Avoid use of a whole house fan if there is loose asbestos or fiberglass present.
- Wear a respirator, eye protection, gloves, and disposable clothing if handling suspected asbestos-containing material. Not everything that looks like asbestos is asbestos, and surfaces not appearing to be asbestos may contain asbestos.
- I can remember years ago sweeping in a basement where a cat had sharpened her claws on asbestos pipe insulation. I wonder how many thousands of asbestos fibers I inhaled and which are now in my lungs? Except for outside broom-work, forget sweeping in the basement. It raises too much dust. HEPA vacuuming is much safer for lungs.
- Some older air ducts are lined with asbestos. If you see a grayish material inside air ducts, you may need to have them professionally removed by an asbestos contractor. The same recommendation stands if you see yellow or pink material inside the air ducts. The yellow or pink would be fiberglass.
- Download the government brochure, “Asbestos in Your Home,” www.epa.gov/iaq.
- 202-554-1404, EPA program, provides information on school regulations, as well as state and regional contact numbers for individuals.
- EPA Asbestos and small business office: 800-368-5888
- Scope of Inspection: The EnviroHealth asbestos screening is a visual check for some of the more obvious potential asbestos locations and is not a comprehensive, certified asbestos investigation, which would be costly and would entail laboratory fees. Clients may send samples of possible asbestos-containing material to a laboratory for identification. See above or check in the phone book under “Asbestos” and anticipate fees of about $20-$50/sample.
- If fixtures in a bathroom are infrequently used, run the plumbing weekly to flush out bacteria. Legionella bacteria could grow.
- Unless you have a laminated sink cabinet (or shiny hard oak), put a shelf liner in the sink cabinet. This goes for the kitchen sink cabinet, too.
BATHTUB “TUB” SURROUNDS
- These one-piece bathtub/shower units cut down on maintenance (re-grouting), thus reducing the risk for mold growth.
BEDROOMS and OTHER ROOMS
- The bedroom is the most important room to keep toxin-free. When we sleep, our bodies are in a state of rest and repair, and we don’t do as well if we are trying to combat toxins at the same time. Crack open a window every night for fresh air. There is usually less pollution outside at night.
- Keep books, magazines, and stuffed or live animals out of your bed. There are no types of cats or dogs that are non-allergenic. Store books and other printed materials in glass-enclosed cases.
- Simplify your home and keep furnishings to a minimum.
- A common telltale sign of bedbugs is three bites in a row. If you suspect bedbugs, look in the crevices of your mattress. Sprinkle diatomaceous earth around. One client said that that hadn’t worked, and that they had had to call in a pest control company.
- A conventional bed may off-gas toxic chemicals and be a site of elevated electromagnetic fields of various sorts. When changing to a healthier bed, consider these points:
- Healthier beds are available at multiple websites. You might pay a visit to the Organic Mattress Store, 866-246-9866, 1075 Main St., Hellertown, PA, www.theorganicmattressstore.com.
- When innersprings are manufactured, they become permanently magnetized, which means that anyone sleeping on them sleeps in extra electrostress from exposure to chaotic magnetic fields. Ideally, avoid metal in the bed you are sleeping in. To gauge the amount of magnetization of your bed springs, place a compass on a clipboard and drag it across your mattress, observing the deflection of the compass.Metal also serves as an antenna for electromagnetic fields. Anything steel can become magnetized and give off magnetic fields.
- Alternatives to innerspring mattresses are natural latex mattresses, futons, and organic cotton mattresses. An organic pillow-pad can soften the hard cotton mattresses. Natural latex mattresses do not get softer in time, so choose the firmness that you want from the beginning. One colleague who bought a firm wished she had bought a medium.
- Beds to avoid for the synthetic foam: TempurPedic, Sleep-Number, and Select Comfort. On Select Comfort mattresses manufacturered before 1994, mold grew on the membrane. This has been corrected.
- For the same reason as avoiding innerspring mattresses, avoid metal bed frames. Metal can get magnetized during manufacturer. Plus, it can serve as an antenna for AC electric fields and radiofrequency fields. If you have a metal bed frame, part of the exposure can be reduced by grounding the bed frame. How to do this is described at the EMF tab.
- Unless the bed is hypoallergenic foam, there is a potential for dust mites. Many individuals are allergic to mites and their feces. Mattresses should have dust mite covers, as should pillows (unless pillows are synthetic or washable). Wash pillows and bedding periodically in hot water. Cold water will not kill dust mites.
- Replace old mattresses and pillows with untreated organic cotton and/or wool ones. Avoid easy-care, permanent press and stain-resistant finishes on upholstery, fabrics, bedding, clothing, carpeting, and rugs.
- Significant electric fields can occur even when electrical equipment is plugged in but not in use. Do not run electrical cords under your bed or chair. Unplug electric devices near your bed and use a battery-powered alarm clock and light. Kmart sells a battery-powered camp light for $10. Battery-operated LED lights are offered on-line.
- Speak with your doctor about the advisability of a mattress without fire retardant chemicals. With futons, often the fire retardant can be left out if there is a doctor’s note. One client believes she was reacting to the higher level of fire retardant in a newer memory foam mattress. She learned that since 2004 there are higher levels of brominated biphenyls in mattresses. After changing to a healthier mattress, her sleep noticeably improved.
- Wait an hour or so in the morning prior to making the bed to give the bed a chance to dry out from nighttime perspiration. Our bodies give off about a pint of water during the night, moisture which is appreciated by dust mites.
- Benefect is a recommended, least-toxic sanitizer. Check out www.benefect.com. It has an herbal base but, even while least toxic, should not be used in fogging. Benefect can be used in an area that has had a sewage back-up.
BIOLOGICAL AGENTS, other than mold:
- These include dust mites, ants, rodents, etc. Biological agents have their own sections, i.e., “dust mites,” “ants,” etc.
- An allergen screen run on a vacuum cleaner dust sample is available from Aerotech Laboratories, 800-651-4802, covering dust mite, cat, German cockroach, and dog allergens. A similar screening panel is available for mold.
See “Green building supplies”
- Candles (except for smoke-free) give off numerous particulates to room air. Even smoke-free ones use up oxygen, so a window should be cracked if burning candles. See VOC section prior to candle purchase. Check out the web site, www.fpinva.org, for information on candles, incense, and synthetic fragrances.
- Fine particles from car exhaust and power plants can damage the heart and lungs in much the same way cigarette smoke does, by clogging arteries, increasing inflammation, and raising heart rate and blood pressure (The Week, Dec.28, 2012-Jan. 4, 2013). If you drive a lot, consider an air purifier for your car – but remember, you need oxygen, too, so crack a window and leave on the air intake. Roll up the window and close the air intake when passing through smoke and road construction sites.
- Levels of carbon dioxide in an unventilated, occupied bedroom, with the door closed at night, rise, as levels of oxygen decrease. Elevated levels of CO2 can “make you dumber,” as reasoning skills and leadership abilities decrease (The Week, Dec. 28, 2012-Jan. 4, 2013). High levels, such as 2,500 parts per million, are easily found in buildings, including schools, that are in “perfect compliance with current ventilation codes.”
- If your house has ductwork, set the fan to “on,” instead of “automatic.” This will reduce risk of build-up of toxins, including carbon dioxide in the bedroom at night. Crack a window for some oxygen, unless you have a mechanical fresh air source.
CARBON MONOXIDE AND COMBUSTION GASES
- Carbon monoxide is a killer. Do not neglect proper placement of a carbon monoxide (and smoke detector) in the basement, in the kitchen, and where you would hear them at night, as well as in a room next to an attached garage in case someone forgets and leaves a car engine running. People have lost their lives when they ran for a phone and forgot the car was running in the garage.
- Digital detectors can be bought at home supply stores. These detectors may be sensitive to 30 ppm, with an alarm that goes off at 50 ppm. “Sensitive to 30 ppm” means that the number might not show up on the detector until it is 30 ppm or higher. You might not know if you are breathing carbon monoxide below 30 ppm.
- Either battery-operated or plug-in models are available. Unless you have outlets a few feet above the floor, choose the battery-type. Test the unit, and replace batteries annually.
- Choose a date to replace batteries, such as when clocks are turned ahead or back, or New Year’s Day.
- Read the instructions for guidance on how often to replace these units. Some have a lifespan of only 5 years.
- If using an attached garage for vehicle storage, make sure the door to the house interior is weather-sealed. A local home supply store should have Frost King door sealers. Bring the door’s measurements with you when you shop.
- You are fortunate if your home has a detached garage.
- Consider installation of an exhaust fan on a timer to run for a half-hour or an hour when the car exits or enters. An air intake vent should also be installed on the opposite side of the garage. Use an exhaust fan to the exterior whenever a gas stove or oven is used. Gas stoves give off combustion gases and carbon monoxide when operating, especially when first turned on. Unvented exhaust fans are useless. If your stove has no exhaust fan, open a window and place an exhaust fan in it. Many people are sensitive to combustion gases and cannot tolerate a gas stove.
- Monitor the flame of a gas stove. If you see a yellow color (except for the very tips of the flames), call for service. The yellow is a sign of incomplete combustion, giving off more CO.
- If you have a gas room air heater, check to make sure it is exhausted to the exterior. Many models release combustion gases into room air. At a training session, the instructor called these the “stoves that kill people.”
- Download from the EPA website: Combustion Appliances and Indoor Air Pollution and Protect Your Family and Yourself from Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
- Ideally, avoid carpeting. From a health standpoint, carpeting is one of the worst investments in a house, because carpeting harbors dust and mites, mold, bacteria and other contaminants tracked in from outside, such as lead, asbestos, pesticides, and animal feces, and, even with a HEPA vacuum cleaner, you can never get it totally clean. If you must have carpeting, the best choices are 100% nylon, wool, or cotton and not treated with stain-resistant chemicals, mothproofing, or toxic dyes.
- Replace old carpets with natural flooring such as pre-stained, UV-treated wood, cork, bamboo, tile or real linoleum (or Marmoleum).
- If requiring carpeting, buy GreenLabel-type carpeting, which has less chemical off-gassing. The GreenLabel is a designation of the Carpet & Rug Institute. These carpets are available at many stores.
- Carpeting is not recommended on a basement slab. Do not put natural carpet in a basement, because mold likes natural fibers.
- Have a carpet professionally steam-cleaned if suspicious of mites. Another option is to purchase a dry vapor steam cleaner, which uses much less water than a conventional steam cleaner. Do a web search under “vapor steam cleaner” or “dry steam cleaner.” You can find a comparison chart at www.allergybuyersclub.com. Click on “steam cleaners” and then scroll to the bottom of the page.
- If working with a professional carpet cleaning company, provide your own non-toxic cleaning solutions or specify that only water be used. Realize that if you have the carpet professionally steam-cleaned, there is always risk that an inexperienced worker will apply too much steam, causing mold growth.
- One client noted that she got a VOC-free caulk at Amazon.com. Home supply stores are carrying more low-VOC products.
CELL PHONES – see EMF tab
- Some companies specialize in products for chemically sensitive individuals. For example:
- AFM for paints and other surface finishing products
- N.E.E.D.S., an on-line mail order site for a variety of products
- E.L. Faust, room air purifiers customized to personal needs
- Marilee Nelson, the House Doctor, offers consultation services on healthier building materials for new construction and renovation. Marilee may be reached at 830-238-4589, Texas, email@example.com.
- Children are more at risk from chemical exposures than adults, for these reasons:
- A child is closer to ground-level toxins than adults.
- A child breathes at a faster rate, inhaling more toxins.
- A child’s body weight is less, so the toxin:body ratio is greater.
- A child is still developing neurologically.
- A child is prone to hand-to-mouth contact.
- The website of Grassroots Environmental Education, www.grassrootsinfo.org, has a list of certified least-toxic cleaning products, including Benefect as a disinfectant. Other helpful information can be found at www.neighborhood-network.org.
- The website of the Environmental Working Group also has a list of least-toxic cleaning products (www.ewg.org).
- Check out the least toxic products at a health food store or the health food section of your supermarket. Choose fragrance-free. Symptoms can result even from citrus smells, which may not be natural but rather chemical.
- Avoid lemon-freshened or pine-scented wood cleaning products. These scents could be manufacturers’ attempts to cover up bad chemical odors. Try Bonakemi wood floor products, available in Bed, Bath, and Beyond.
- Enzyme cleaning products can make good cleaners, but again, some individuals are sensitive to enzymes. Montreal school district outlawed enzyme cleaning products.
- Or better still, make your own household products by using lemons, baking soda, vinegar, etc. Recipes can be found on-line, as well as in books such as Annie B. Bond’s Better Basics for the Home.
- SuperClean is a good all-purpose cleaner. It can be ordered in gallon containers from N.E.E.D.S., 800-634-1380, www.needs.com
- In addition to N.E.E.D.S., catalogs are available from:
- Allergy Buyers Club, 888-236-7231, www.allergybuyersclub.com
- Janice’s, 973-691-2979, www.janices.com
- These catalogs carry hypoallergenic products, but in a local supermarket, Cheer, All, and Tide have hypoallergenic, scent-free laundry versions, as well as their conventional laundry detergents. Sun and Earth brand has a detergent, softener, dryer sheets, and more. There is a mild citrus odor but it is tolerated by many sensitive individuals.
- Since no product is safe for everyone, be on the alert for what might set off symptoms.
- Supermarkets carry products such as chlorine-free BonAmi and Borax.
- Review the Household Products Database for health & safety information on household products. Go to the website of the National Institute of Health and then search for “household products database.” This is treasure trove of information.
- Read labels carefully. Avoid chlorine, ammonia, methylene chloride, phenol, nitrobenzene, formaldehyde, cresol, naphthalene, ethanol, xylene, propane, nitrous oxide, paradichlorobenzene, toluene, etc.
- Avoid unnecessary chemical gases, such as all chlorinated products, in the home. The former head of the Environmental Protection Agency tried unsuccessfully to get chlorinated bleach banned in this country. In some European countries, you cannot buy it over the counter. The chlorine lobby is very strong.
- In the laundry, use hydrogen peroxide in place of chlorinated bleach.
- Chlorinated bleach is mediocre for mold clean-up, compared to Borax solution. Further chlorine reacts with organic materials (wood, mold) to form carcinogenic compounds.
- In strong concentration, chlorine may be worse for your lungs than the mold.
- Organic arsenic compounds are used in pesticides, primarily on cotton plants. Wash new cotton clothing prior to wearing.
- In addition to allergenic components, roaches can carry Salmonella and Staphylococcus aureus (“Staph”).
- Deal with a roach problem using least-toxic means. Many buildings with roach problems are sprayed and sprayed and sprayed and never get rid of the roaches. At one IPM (Integrated Pest Management) conference, I learned that it is possible to completely rid a building of roaches – even a large hospital or apartment building. This can be done using sticky traps, boric acid, and other least toxic means (and also correcting any septic leaks in the ground). Look first for an organic pest control company. Failing that, look for an Integrated Pest Management company.
- Integrated Pest Management (IPM) means different things to different companies. Generally speaking, it means the company is trying least toxic methods and minimizing use of chemical pesticides.
- Put boric acid powder, such as Roach Kil, in any cracks whereby roaches gain entry or caulk the cracks. Several IPM speakers felt it was better to leave some cracks open for powder application.
- Unless the roaches have been brought in on packages, if the American roach is a problem, the cause frequently is a sewer leak.
- Put boric acid powder in drains if roaches (waterbugs) are living there.
- Set out traps for roaches. You can get boric acid ointment from a pharmacy and then add sugar for a homemade treatment. Boric acid takes about 5 hours to kill a roach that has ingested it.
- Sticky traps are also effective and should be placed in the pathways of the roaches but not where children or animals can access the traps.
- If looking for an apartment rental, avoid apartments next to the garbage disposal or above the trash compactor room.
- Direct-vent all combustion exhaust to the outside, including gas stoves, gas fireplaces, and gas dryers. Keep all vents and ducts clear of debris.
- When cooking on a gas stove, run an exhaust fan to the exterior. Natural gas by-products, including carbon monoxide, are always released. The better choice for stoves is a flat-top electric stove.
- Some individuals cannot tolerate natural gas. Monitor symptoms when cooking with a gas stove.
- Sniff for gas leaks around gas pipes. Bubbly water can be painted on joints to look for bubbles from escaping gas. Call your gas company if you smell gas. Natural or propane gas leaks will not be picked up by smoke or carbon monoxide detectors.
- Gas heat is healthier than oil heat, though many individuals cannot tolerate either. Oil heat produces more volatile organic compounds and particulate matter.
- Some electrically sensitive individuals cannot tolerate the motors in heat pumps.
- Do not use wood burning fireplaces, kerosene lamps, oil space heaters, and other fuels for lighting, heating, or cooking indoors. They all give off combustion gases and smoke.
- From an air quality perspective, electric stoves and electric heating systems are healthier than gas ovens and gas or oil heating systems. If you must use a gas stove, get one with a pilotless ignition. Use a ventilating hood, which vents to the outside.
- Never use a charcoal grill in your home or use your oven to heat your house.
- Maintain smoke and carbon monoxide detectors on each level with a fossil fuel appliance, as well as where you would hear an alarm at night. If your house has an attached garage, place a carbon monoxide detector in the room next to the garage, in case someone forgets and leaves a car running in the garage by accident. Change batteries when the clock is put back every fall.
- If you have an attached garage that is used for car storage, know that car exhaust fumes can pass into the house. Seal openings in the ceiling and walls of the garage. Install an exhaust fan on a timer to run for an hour or so after a car enters or leaves the garage.
- Avoid heating your car up in the garage, leave the garage door open as much as possible to dissipate combustion gases, and seal up vents and ducts that may allow bad air into your home. Make sure the door between the garage and the house is well sealed, and install a carbon monoxide detector in the room closest to the garage.
- Avoid a space heater that discharges exhaust gases back into room air. These can be death traps. A space heater should discharge exhaust gases to the exterior, such as up a chimney.
COMPACT FLUORESCENT LIGHTS
See “Fluorescent lights”
- The website of the Environmental Working Group, www.ewg, offers a list of least-toxic and cruelty-free cosmetics.
- If requiring a dehumidifier because you have a finished basement, use only an Energy Star dehumidifier. Check with www.efi.org for what they have to offer.
- A dehumidifier can reduce the production of mold gases but it will not solve a mold condition.
- Dehumidifiers are a mixed blessing. They can control ambient relative humidity, but they also draw moisture through the foundation wall. Lime, which is like the glue that holds the concrete together, is water-soluble. So over a long time, use of a dehumidifier may leach lime out of your foundation, compromising its integrity, especially for a block foundation.
- If your home is in a damp location and the house has ductwork, consider a whole house dehumidification system, such as by Carrier, Aprilaire, etc.
- Before purchasing a dehumidifier, check the section below on “Wave.” The Wave may be a better option – certainly using much less energy.
- Diatomaceous earth is comprised of exoskeletons of very tiny ancient diatoms which lived in the sea. Under a microscope the edges do not look sharp. Nevertheless this common product has the reputation of being able to pierce the bodies of bedbugs and other unwanted insects, while not hurting worms in the garden. DE is used against ticks, too, but its effectiveness is not known.
- Food-grade diatomaceous earth is available at Amazon.com. I bought mine from www.howtousediatomaceousearth.com. I learned at a gardening lecture that we can take DE against GI parasites. There is some evidence that it strengthens the hair, too. If you have health-related questions, please refer them to your health care professional.
DRY CLEANED CLOTHING, BEDSPREADS, etc.
- Where possible, avoid materials that require dry-cleaning.
- If requiring dry-cleaning, search out least-toxic dry cleaners.
- With conventional dry cleaning, air out clothing and do not store clothing in your bedroom. Harmful dry cleaning solvents can be released into your air.
- Do not have rugs and curtains chemically cleaned.
- Read through the EPA brochure on duct cleaning. Go to www.epa.gov/iaq and then search on “duct cleaning brochure.” Avoid the “blow and go” guys who take your money but do an inadequate duct cleaning job. Here is what to look for in a duct cleaning service:
- A service that cleans the whole system, not just the ductwork.
- A service that offers containment protections when cleaning a moldy system.
- A service that adheres to the standards of the professional group, NADCA, North American Duct Cleaners of America. (Some NADCA members do not adhere to their own standards, and some companies that are not NADCA members may do fine work.)
- A service that uses mechanical cleaning but will not spray or fog biocides or other chemicals in your ductwork.
- A service that recognizes that flexduct usually cannot be adequately cleaned and must be replaced. The exception may be when there is just construction dust in the flexduct and the dust can be air-puffed out.
- A service that will replace any ductwork that is fiberglass-lined.
- If you have old lined ductwork, the lining may be asbestos, and you may need to call an asbestos contractor.
- Local HVAC (“duct”) cleaning services:
- NY – EnviroBliss, Pierre Cajuste, 917-755-8387
- Pennsylvania – Reading-Lancaster areas, Robert Ranck Plumbing and Heating, www.ranck.com, 717-397-2577, Randy Miller.
- See also “Room Air Purifiers,” “Fresh Air,”
- Elevated particulate levels are associated with asthma and other respiratory conditions, as well as increased mortality.
- Be conscious of the need for fresh air. Every cell in your body needs oxygen.
- Diesel buses, cars, smokestacks, fiberglass, asbestos, lead dust, cigarettes, candles, oil heat, kerosene lamps, wood-burning stoves and fireplaces all increase particulate levels in your home. If you live near an airport or in a flight pattern, particulates from airplane fuel can be elevated.
- If you must use your fireplace, make sure it has a tightly fitted screen and that your chimney is clean. Never burn papers, plastic, and household waste in your fireplace.
- To keep dust levels minimized:
- Keep possessions streamlined and put away so that the home is easier to clean.
- Minimize numbers of dust-collectors.
- Avoid bedspreads and curtains that require dry-cleaning. They are dust collectors.
- Damp-dust or use a clean microfiber cloth for capturing dust.
- Use a true-HEPA vacuum cleaner. This can be used regularly on wood floors, too, or use a scent-free Swiffer-type mop.
- Avoid carpeting if possible.
- Clean regularly, weekly or more often if there are furry animal companions. Rule out allergies to pets.
- Follow the worthy old-fashioned practice of spring and fall in-depth cleaning.
- Use only a pleated media filter in the HVAC system.
- To measure dust particles in air, a MetOne laser particle counter sensitive to 0.3 microns (the size of mold spores) is used.
- Consider use of a portable HEPA room air purifier to be moved from room-to-room as a room is cleaned. Honeywell offers low-end units. A higher end, quieter model would be from IQ Air. ($150 vs $800) EL Foust offers custom purifiers for chemically sensitive folk.
- Store books in a bookcase with glass or wood doors. IKEA and The Organizing Store carry reasonably priced units. (Inquire about formaldehyde-free furniture.)
- If you have a controlled indoor environment (closed windows but with an Energy Recovery Ventilator), consider use of a good quality air purifier for additional particulate reduction, especially in metropolitan areas. In addition to dust, biological debris, plant debris, etc., particulate matter may also include second-hand smoke, airplane exhaust, airborne debris from burning of medical waste at hospitals or incinerators, vehicle exhaust, industrial sources of burning, and so on.
- Confer with the manufacturer of the ERV. The ERV may have to be turned off if a neighbor is using a wood-burning stove.
- Dust mites and their excrement are among the most common allergens in a home. They are associated with asthma and other respiratory complaints.
- I had my run in with dust mites when I tested dust from a cotton futon after feeling stuffy in the morning. Dust mites like cotton and natural fibers but eat skin flakes.
- If you can tolerate natural latex, dust mites do not grow in latex. Many chemically sensitive people cannot tolerate latex.
- Dust mite testing is available from available from DACI Laboratory, Johns Hopkins University. Call 410-550-2029 to order a test kit. Or, an on-site RapidTest dust kit is available for around $30 from Indoor Biotechnologies, www.inbio.com, or other suppliers found through an Internet search.
- You can also order an allergen panel test kit from Emlab P&K Laboratories, 800-651-4802. Depending on the kit, you could get a panel for dust mites-roaches-dog-cat-dander or mold.
- Allergy supply catalogs have low-odor dust mite covers, not plastic. I have seen no scientific studies to prove that fabric covers on mattresses can keep out dust mites. The evidence appears to be anecdotal, i.e., company representatives report that customers say the covers help. Just putting on a dust mite cover without taking other steps to reduce dust mites in the environment (such as removal of carpeting in the bedroom) may not do too much.
- Dust mites can live in upholstered furniture, stuffed animals, pillows, curtains, and carpets. Minimizing the numbers of these products is a good step toward health, especially if anyone in the home has asthma or allergies.
- Buy only washable stuffed animals for children. Dry the stuffed animals thoroughly in the dryer.
- Buy synthetic or washable pillows. Dry thoroughly in the dryer.
- See also “Carpet Cleaning.”
- Go to the EMF tab on Body Voltage/Grounding.
- Two electrical engineers are experienced in trouble-shooting electrical concerns, particularly for electrically sensitive individuals. Sal LaDuca lives in Phillipsburg, NJ, and Spark Burmaster lives in Wisconsin but travels around the country doing inspections periodically.
- Sal LaDuca. Environmental Assay, Inc., www.emfrelief.com, 1-908-454-3965, NJ
- Spark Burmaster, Burmaster Environmental Options, Wisconsin, 608-483-2604, firstname.lastname@example.org
- In NYC, Matt Waletsky works with an electrician to troubleshoot EMF issues.
- Please refer to the EMF tab.
- Please refer to the Energy tab.
EPA REGISTRATION NUMBER
- If you wonder if a benign-sounding product really contains a hidden pesticide, look at the label and see if there is an EPA registration number. If there is, go to www.ppis.ceris.purdue.edu, click on PPIS, and then insert the registration number. Then, search on the chemical name. Bio-Flex, for example, contains a long chemical whose name ends in “carbamate.” Carbamates are a class of pesticides. For more information, do a web search on “carbamate + health effects.”
- The EPA does not “approve” products. It registers them.
- Please go to the Cutting Edge information tab in the Mold section.
- If you cook with a gas stove, you should run an exhaust fan to the exterior when cooking.
- A bathroom exhaust fan exhaust pipe should pass through the roof and not terminate in the attic. To check the strength of such a fan, hold two squares of toilet paper against the fan to see if the fan is capable of sucking up the toilet paper. If not, upgrade the fan. Check out the Panasonic Whisper-soft bathroom exhaust fan.
- An exhaust fan can easily be installed in a double hung window to move stale air to the exterior.
- A whole house exhaust fan can clear heat out of a house in a matter of minutes.
- If your attic gets overly hot in the summer, consider installation of an attic exhaust fan or other means of reducing heat.
- See also “Carbon Monoxide” relating to exhaust fans in garages.
- Wear a respirator, eye protection, gloves, and disposable clothing if handling fiberglass. Handle it as you would asbestos.
- Fiberglass is a product that doesn’t belong in a healthy home – yet it is widely used for insulation in attics, walls, crawl spaces, and basements, and we do not have a low-cost alternative. The general recommendation is to leave it alone in non-living spaces. Disturb it as little as possible. Seal exposed fiberglass in attics and garages with brown paper. Wash your hands after any contact. If extensive contact is necessary, wear a respirator and disposable coveralls and shoe covers. That said, we have no inexpensive substitute insulation for fiberglass.
- Look for an eco-type of fiberglass or other alternatives, such as at www.CertainTeed.com.
- Use a true-HEPA vacuum cleaner, with the power nozzle turned off. Do not use a conventional vacuum cleaner or a central vacuum system when cleaning up fiberglass or asbestos.
- Avoid blown-in foam insulation and foam board insulation, unless it is fire-retardant-free styrofoam. To my knowledge, most foams and foam boards contain fire retardants which can show up in room dust. Fire-retardant-free foam board may not be allowed under your local building code unless covered. Check for regulations.
- Flexduct has fiberglass with a plastic liner. If the liner becomes perforated, fiberglass could be disseminated through the vent to room air. Flexduct cannot be adequately cleaned. If cleaning is required, flexduct should be replaced with new flexduct, or preferably, have metal ductwork installed.
- Unless there is microbial contamination or dust left over from construction, ductwork generally does not need to be cleaned. There is a self-cleaning aspect with a good pleated media filter in place.
- See also “Air Krete.”
- Try to avoid clothing, bedding, and beds with fire resistant chemicals. These chemicals have been showing up in breast milk.
- See also “Foam Insulation” and “Beds.”
- Place an incandescent light directly over a plate of water. The fleas will jump for the light and fall into the water.
- Flexduct is flexible, tubular, fiberglass-lined (with a plastic covering) ductwork. Flexduct is common with forced warm air heating systems and with central air conditioning systems because it is easier to install and costs less than metal ductwork.
- The downside is that if flexduct is contaminated with mold, it may not be able to be sufficiently cleaned and may require replacement. Discuss this with your duct cleaning service. Sometimes, if there is not too much debris in the flexduct, they can clean it with high pressure bursts of air.
- It should not be vacuumed and mechanically disturbed. Not only could that damage the lining, thus releasing fiberglass fibers, but the inner surface is not smooth so vacuuming would be inadequate.
- For more information on duct cleaning, go to www.epa.gov/iaq and search on “duct cleaning.” “Duct cleaning” should include the entire HVAC system, not just the ductwork.
- Lined ductwork should be replaced, because it cannot be adequately cleaned. A stop-gap measure might be to encapsulate it with Caliwel for ductwork. Discuss this option with your cleaning service.
FLUORESCENT LIGHTS (including Compact Fluorescent Lights)
- Fluorescent lights give off radio frequency radiation, as well as AC magnetic fields. They also give off dirty electricity (see appendix on EMFs). Avoid them. Halogen lights (except for torchiere halogens, which can get too hot) avoid this issue.
- Transformers of low-voltage lighting and ballasts in fluorescent lighting can emit high magnetic fields. Both these types of lighting should be avoided in areas where occupants spend a lot of time and should not be located on a ceiling below a bedroom.
- One sensitive client said that wearing amber glasses in stores helps.
- Please refer to the tab on Water.
- Foam insulation is about the best insulation for energy efficiency. The problem is the fire retardants added to the foam. Fire retardant chemicals are often found in breast milk and human tissue.
- Styrofoam foam board may come without fire retardants. Styrofoam may be acceptable as long as something covers it, such as drywall. Check with your local building department for code requirements.
- Even the soy-based foams have fire retardant chemicals.
- See also “Air Krete,” “Asbestos,” “Fiberglass”
- Fogging is a popular offering by remediators, since it is inexpensive and easy to use. Plus, the fog particulates may attach to mold spores and bring them down to the ground, making for good air sample results. Here are my objections to conventional fogging:
- It will not eliminate sources of mold growth.
- The national mold remediation guidelines state that it is ineffective.
- After the active ingredient is used up, who knows what growth the residual chemicals might support – bacteria? Viruses? We don’t have a science on this.
- Some individuals have had to leave their houses because of adverse affects from supposedly benign chemicals in fogging products.
- That said, a specialized fogging may be recommended as part of a mold remediation project to remove suspended inflammatory microparticles. For more information, go to the Mold tab, Cutting Edge Information.
FOOD and BEVERAGES
- Follow careful food preparation in the kitchen to minimize the risk of bacterial or fungal poisoning. For example, plastic cutting boards that can be put in the dishwasher are safer than wood cutting boards that may be hard to clean, especially for raw meats and fish.
- Do not heat or store food, especially hot food, in plastic wrap or plastic containers. Do not buy food in plastic-lined cans, metal, or aluminum cans. Store food and water in glass or stainless steel containers. Use glass bottles for baby formulas and avoid microwaving food, especially in plastic.
- The Environmental Working group, www.ewg.org, provides guidance for which produce has the most or the least amount of pesticide:
- Dirty Dozen: Buy these organic – apples, celery, strawberries, peaches, spinach, nectarines, grapes (raisins), sweet bell peppers, potatoes, blueberries, lettuce, kale/collard greens
- Clean 15: Lowest in Pesticides – onions, corn, pineapples, avocado, asparagus, sweet peas, mangoes, eggplant, cantaloupe, kiwi, cabbage, watermelon, sweet potatoes, grapefruit, mushrooms
- Familiarize yourself with the concept of neurological toxins known as “excitotoxins.” Search on Russell Blaylock and his book, “Excitotoxins – the Taste that Kills.” Implicated foods are diet sodas, synthetic sweeteners, hydrolyzed proteins, MSG, chewing gum, and autolyzed yeast common in low-fat foods and many other places.
- Eat only organic poultry and eggs, because organic arsenic is being put in some poultry food to put meat on birds faster.rces include: US Wellness Meats, www.justtomatoes.com. Also recommended is the GAPS diet (www.gapsdiet.com).
- This noxious gas can be given off by new furniture, fabric, cabinets with pressed wood, etc. Formaldehyde has a half-life of a year, so every year that goes by, the formaldehyde is half as strong as the previous year, given reasonable ventilation. Amazon carries formaldehyde testing kits.
- Research has determined that household plants do not substantially reduce formaldehyde from indoor air.
- Either purchase formaldehyde-free furniture and cabinets or apply a least-toxic encapsulant to seal in formaldehyde from a green home supply store.
- Formaldehyde is a sensitizing chemical. That is, it can make you sensitive to chemicals that didn’t bother you before. I experienced this sort of sensitivity from formaldehyde, when after living and working in new or newly renovated areas, I started experiencing near-migraines. These bad headaches could start from a simple exposure to a product such as Lysol. Going into a clothing store or a home supply store could bring on flu-like feelings that would take 15 minutes or so to clear once I left the store.
- Underlying this sensitivity was mercury toxicity from silver amalgam fillings and systemic candida. After replacement of these dental fillings, detoxifying, and an anti-candida diet, the migraines gradually left. It has now been close to 20 years since I’ve had a bad headache.
- Laminates generally seal in formaldehyde. If there are surfaces that are not laminated, paint with a formaldehyde sealant, available from a green building supply store (see “Green Building Supplies”)
- One client and her son got ill from formaldehyde off-gassing from laminated furniture in the son’s bedroom.
- Avoid pressed wood and wood products as much as possible.
- Formaldehyde can also be found in many cabinets, insulation, particleboard, easy care fabrics, products with stain resistant treatments (such as carpets, upholstery, and home fabrics), adhesives, caulking, and permanent pressed sheets.
- Humidity increases out-gassing.
- Many of the trailers provided for displaced New Orleans’ residents had unacceptably high levels of formaldehyde. Some residents got sick, others slept outside.
- Resources include:
- An Update on Formaldehyde, download from www.epa.gov/iaq.
- PF-1 formaldehyde air test available with laboratory fee, from 919-918-7191 (or check on Amazon).
- Live in a fragrance-free house, except for boiling a cinnamon stick or use of essential oils (though some individuals are sensitive even to pure oils).
- Avoid air fresheners, plug-in room purifiers, and petroleum-based candles. Information on synthetic fragrances can be found at www.fpinva.org, Fragrance Products Information Network of Virginia. “Natural” may be just an advertising ploy.
- Always be on the watch for symptoms that develop as a result of some change made. No product suits all. If anyone complains of itchy skin, rule out an allergy to the laundry detergent. Betty Bridges, RN, (www.fpinva.org) had to give up her career as a surgical nurse when a new ingredient was introduced to many disinfectants and her body couldn’t process that ingredient.
- If in doubt, go slowly. Rather than paint a whole room, paint a spare board. Let the board dry outside and then put the board on the floor near the head of your bed for an overnight trial. Use your ingenuity to try a small exposure first.
- Consider the need for fresh air, particularly in the bedrooms at night. Every cell in the body requires oxygen, and if there is little or no air exchange, the percentage of oxygen decreases as the level of carbon dioxide increases. Individuals feel sluggish in such an environment.
- “Stuffy houses” are common in this inspector’s experience. In most dwellings, there is no method of ventilation other than opening doors and windows, and many people never open windows. Older, drafty houses are not typically stuffy and have adequate air exchange.
- Residential central air and forced warm air systems typically recycle stale air. They do not have mechanisms to bring in fresh air, as would be the case in newer commercial and institutional buildings.
- The need for fresh air is often more important than the need for reduced particulates. This is why I do not recommend room air purifiers as a rule, although there are some useful specific applications for them. On the other hand, if you have a mechanical fresh air source, such as discussed below, then you can have the best of both worlds: fresh air plus reduced particulates with an optional room air purifier.
- Keeping the HVAC fan on continuously would at least refresh bedroom air with air from the rest of the house and therefore dilute toxins in the bedroom. On your thermostat, change the fan setting from “automatic” to “on.”
- Keeping a bedroom window open a few inches at night is recommended. On a still air night, a window fan may be needed. This will help bring in necessary oxygen and dissipate exhaled waste gases.
- On a still air night, you might run an exhaust fan in a bathroom or nearby unoccupied bedroom window. If your bedroom window is open, the exhaust fan will draw fresh air through your bedroom.
- Do not put the exhaust fan in your bedroom, or you will be drawing the stale air from the house through the bedroom.
- Several clients have recommended the Wave as an alternative to dehumidification in the basement. One noted that the musty smell was eliminated. This unit is very energy efficient and costs little to run. Go to www.wavehomesolutions.com.Since basement or crawlspace air is being discharged, there must be an avenue for adequate make-up air or make-up air may be drawn from an attached garage (with car exhaust fumes) or not drawn from anywhere and create a carbon monoxide issue. Make sure your installer is clear on where this make-up air will come from.
- Another option is an HRV (heat recovery ventilator, up north) or an ERV (energy recovery ventilator, down south). This is an energy efficient method of ventilation. With an HRV or ERV, fresh air is brought in and stale air exhausted. In cool weather, heat is transferred from the stale air to the fresh air. In hot weather, incoming air is cooled by outgoing stale air.A downside of this technology is that it brings in damp air in humid weather and wood smoke in the winter. The unit can of course be turned off during rain or when the neighbors are using their wood stove.
- Energy Foundation Incorporated is a non-profit group in MA that offers energy-related devices for the home at a discount or wholesale to an installer. Go to www.efi.org.
- If your home has no ductwork, look into a window heat exchanger unit. One source is http://www.freshairventilation.net/id83.html.
- Another method of ventilation during warmer weather is use of a whole house fan, with other windows opened throughout the house.
- Bear in mind that dust is stirred up and moved out with such a fan. If your basement is moldy or has loose fiberglass, deal with that before turning on a whole house fan.
- As time passes, more attention is being given to the need for fresh air and air exchange in houses, particularly in tight newer houses, more so than in drafty old houses. Speak with your HVAC contractor regarding other possible options for introducing fresh air.
- Some houses in damp areas may benefit from a whole house dehumidification system.
- If someone in your home is allergic to pollen, HEPA filtration may be needed at the fresh air source.
- Then there is the question about positive indoor pressure or negative indoor pressure. As a general guideline, down south, positive pressure is recommended so that outside humidity is not drawn into the wall cavities. Up north, the reverse is true, so that positive pressure inside the house does not drive moisture into the wall cavity.
- One Connecticut contractor said that he aims for neutral pressure by using a heat pump and a heat recovery ventilation unit. He says that heat pumps have greatly improved from the earlier models.
- A low-energy cost combination may be the Wave in the basement and a whole house fan upstairs.
- Purchase upholstered furniture with natural batting, such as wool, cotton, kapok, or down, unless you’re allergic to any of these materials.
- Purchase solid wood furniture and kitchen cabinets instead of laminated wood, pressed wood, particleboard, medium density fiberboard, or plywood, which can all outgas significant levels of toxic formaldehyde over long periods of time.
- When placing furniture, check for magnetic and electric fields to avoid placing your easy chair, bed or baby’s crib in a hot spot. Watch what is plugged in on the other side of the wall, because fields penetrate walls. Beware of placing your bed near sources of radiation such as house electric services or meters, TVs, clocks, heating units, refrigerators, microwave ovens, computers, cellular phones, WIFI devices, electric baseboard heaters, and radiant systems. Keep your distance from all electric devices.
GREEN BUILDING SUPPLIES
- Note that “green” does not necessarily equal “healthy.” We need a marriage of green and healthy.
- Some green building supply stores:
- MD – Kensington – Americus Green Building Supplies, 4040A Howard Ave., 310-571-8590
- NJ – Newark – Green Depot, 6 International Way, 973-824-2620
- NY – Manhattan – Green Depot, 222 Bowery, 212-226-0444
- NY – Brooklyn – Green Depot, 1 Ivy Hill, 718-782-2991
- PA – Lancaster – Fresco Green Building Supplies, 1520 Commerce Dr., 717-519-8860
- PA – Philadelphia – Green Depot, 6951 New State Road, S. 4, 215-333-3810
- VA – www.ecosupplycenter.com, 800-883-7005 – on-line shipping
- WA – Environmental Home Center, 800-281-9785, www.environmentalhomecenter.com
- Greenboard is commonly thought to be mold-resistant. However, mold can grow on it, and it is not recommended. Better choices are James Hardie cement board, WonderBoard or other cement backer board, Dens Armor, and DragonBoard (with magnesium oxide).
- DragonBoard is often used by chemically sensitive individuals who cannot tolerate drywall.
- Conventional gum may contain xylitol (see Russell Blaylock’s Excitotoxins – The Taste that Kills). Glee Gum (natural ingredients) is used successfully by some but sticks to my teeth.
- Redecorating or moving to a new home is an opportunity to purchase healthier products. “Least toxic” products are increasingly available locally and from specialized stores, such as at the Green Building Supplies list above.
- Look in local stores for products labeled “no VOC” or “low-VOC,” though “low-VOC” means different things to different manufacturers.
- IKEA has some furniture that is formaldehyde-free. Check also Crate ‘N Barrel. A floor model has had more time to off-gas.
- Educating yourself prior to purchases can save many costly mistakes.
- Helpful information can be found in Lynn Bower’s book, The Healthy Household. Lynn has chemical sensitivities and had to learn how to avoid bringing on symptoms. The Healthy Home, by Dave Wentz, Dr. Myron Wentz, and Donna K. Wallace, was published in 2012.
- The Natural Home Magazine is an ongoing source of useful resources, www.naturalhomeandgarden.com.
- Another valuable option may be consultation with a specialist in healthy product selection or interior design. Some clients provide a list of planned purchases to the Healthy Home Doctor, Marilee Nelson, and then get her feedback and suggestions. 830-238-4589, Marileenelson11@hotmail.com. Marilee works with a lot of seriously sensitive individuals and is a busy lady.
- Several books addressing healthy construction practices and materials are available and typically have resources listed at the backs of the books.
- Too much moisture in air can foster mold growth, especially Penicillium.
- Some types of humidifiers promote mold and bacteria growth.
- If requiring a humidifier, get either a steam-based humidifier or one that has silver ion disinfection. The Slant Fin with ultraviolet light tests out good. Avoid cool mist and ultrasonic humidifiers. Avoid wagon wheel-type humidifiers. Avoid humidifiers that require the addition of biocides.
- Unless you know that your HVAC system is pristine clean and that you have a quality pleated filter on it, avoid an attached humidifier. Adding water to dusty ductwork can foster mold growth.
- When upgrading a furnace (forced warm air) or boiler (hot water heat), ask for a direct vented unit. Such a unit takes in outside air and discharges exhaust to the outside, so no inside air is used. A chimney is not needed.
- Inspect and maintain all fuel-burning equipment and appliances, as well as chimneys and flues, regularly. See also “Oil,” “Gas Heat,” and “Duct cleaning.”
- Avoid the inexpensive blue or white fiberglass furnace and central air filters.
- The recommended filter is a pleated media filter.
- 3M (Filtrete) is a good brand, as is Arm and Hammer. The Filtrete 3M Ultra-Allergen filters have less resistance than many competitors, but even this resistance may be too much for an occasional central air conditioning system. 3M has three choices of resistance levels with their filters, so you may want to speak with them first, 888-364-3577, or with your AC contractor.
- A “Cadillac” of pleated media filters is the April Air 5200, SpaceGard, or similar filter, available from heating contractors for about $250-$300.
- Change filters according to manufacturer’s instructions.
- Electrostatic filters and electronic air cleaners have controversial effectiveness. They work fine until they are coated with dust, however long (or short) that may take to happen. Electronic air cleaners also measurably increase electric fields throughout the house whenever they are running and are not recommended.
INDOOR AIR QUALITY
- Many topics in this resource list refer to indoor air quality. For additional information, go to www.epa.gov/iaq and explore the brochures there. The website of the American Lung Association also offers valuable educational material.
- Beware that synthetic foam mattresses, polyester-stuffed upholstery, chemically treated fabrics and draperies, vinyl wallpaper and paste, carpet and carpet adhesives, wood paneling, and insulation can all off-gas significant amounts of toxic substances, especially when new.
- Check out Insect Shield Repellent Technology, www.insectshield.com, against ticks.
- Avoid conventional insect repellants, because they are designed to attack living cells. Avoid mothballs.
- See: “Air Krete,”” Asbestos,” ” Fiberglass,” “Foam”
- The balance of positive and negative charged particles makes air fresh near the shore or near a waterfall. We could have this balance in our homes, too, by opening windows … except we use materials that attract the ions and take them out of circulation, leaving the air stale.What are the materials that attract ions? Plastics and other synthetics, such as synthetic carpeting. Natural fabrics and carpeting do not attract ions.
- An ionizer can freshen the air (though it adds no oxygen), making us feel more alert. However, some ionizers give off ozone as a by-product, and ozone is not healthy for lung tissue.
- If anyone complains of itchy skin, rule out an allergy to the laundry detergent.
- Go scent-free for laundry products. Results of air testing at dryer vents were unacceptable. You don’t need to be breathing those chemicals under your nose in bed.
- Most wash loads would be fine with using just a fraction of the amount of detergent recommended. Too much detergent makes clothes rough and promotes the sale of softeners and dryer cloths. In place of softeners, vinegar could be used. Chlorinated bleach does not belong in a healthy home. Use hydrogen peroxide instead.
- If someone wakes up feeling stuffy, by process of elimination rule out dust on the bedspread, allergy to detergents or other laundry products, allergy to wool or feathers, or dust mites.
- A color detection lead testing kit is available at www.leadcheck.com, 800-262-5323. You rub the yellow solution on the suspect surface and, if it turns red, it’s lead. LeadCheck does not work on dust, though.
- The most significant area for lead dust is a friction area, such as a painted runner in an older window that releases lead dust when the window is raised or lowered.
- Leaded exterior paint in poor condition means that lead paint chips and dust will be in nearby soil. Children should not play in soil within 3-4 feet of the house or garage. Avoid planting food crops in this area. The soil may need to be replaced. A certified lead contractor should prepare the surface for painting.
- Not only paint or solder, but also chinaware, embossed mugs, and other glassware can be tested for lead.
- Check any suspect surfaces for the presence of lead prior to disturbing them during renovation, window removal, or scraping or sanding paint.
- A bulk sample of paint (or other suspect leaded material) can be sent to Microbac Lab, 4359 Linglestown Road, Harrisburg, PA 17112, 717-661-9700, about $20.
- If lead paint is covered over with layers of non-leaded paint, it would not be a concern, unless someone decides to sand the surface.
- Professional lead testing uses XRF technology (X-rays). This technology would tell you if there is lead anywhere on walls but would not differentiate which layer of paint it is in. If arranging for XRF testing, stand away from the radioactive “gun” used by the technician.
- Lead paint was the more durable paint. Hence, lead paint may be found in kitchens and bathrooms, on windows and doors, on base molding and stairs/banisters. Because lead paint cost more, it was found in higher cost houses. Lead paint was outlawed in 1978 but painters were allowed to use up their supplies.
- Lead can be found in places other than indoor paint, for example:
- Lead solder on older water pipes (including municipal pipes (leading up to the house)
- Exterior paint and/or trim
- Gold rims of wine glasses; leaded glass decanters
- Scratched china dinner plates
- Embossed mugs
- Leaded crystal decanters
- Imported toys; lead sinkers for fishing
- Stained glass crafts
- Sand boxes near heavily traveled highways, especially with truck traffic
- One of my early clients lived near the FDR Drive in NYC. Her child’s elevated lead levels may have come from the sandbox. Some months after the inspection, I received a postcard from her from San Diego, with the words, “Best decision we ever made. Come and visit!”
- Check with a pediatrician regarding testing your child for lead levels, perhaps regularly until at least age 6. Blood tests show exposures within the last month, but not cumulative levels, which may be revealed through hair analysis or urine testing. I have used the King James Medical Lab, 800-437-1404, for hair analysis, though I would not know how labs compare.
- A hair analysis would also reveal elevated levels of mercury or other heavy metals. If you have or had silver amalgam fillings in your teeth or eat seafood, you may have elevated levels of mercury. Mercury and lead are both neurological poisons.
- An easy do-it-yourself method to check for lead paint is color detector swabs, such as LeadCheck, 800-262-LEAD (5323). Prior to sanding walls or any demolition or renovation activities that might release lead dust, rule out the presence of lead paint with one of these inexpensive swabs.
- In my experience, even if windows had been stripped of lead paint, the LeadCheck swab will still register positive for residual lead. The better plan in dealing with older windows/frames may be to replace them.
- A true-HEPA vacuum cleaner will pick up lead dust particulates on floors and in window wells. Damp-wipe window wells.
- In areas of New York City and some New Jersey communities, there is lead pipe connecting building water systems to the water mains. It is likely this is true of other communities as well. See the Water tab for more information.
- If you have a carbon water filter, run the water for a few minutes in the morning to flush out lead particulates prior to using it.
- Check out resources from www.epa.gov/iaq:
- Protect Your Family from Lead in Your Home
- Reduce Lead Hazards When Remodeling Your Home
- Finding a Qualified Lead Professional for Your Home
- Lead in Your Drinking Water – Actions You Can Take to Reduce Lead (Does not address water filtration)
- (800) 426-4791 – EPA Safe Drinking Water Hotline
- Avoid LED lights that screw into lamps that have to be plugged in. The power source produces dirty electricity (see the EMFs tab).
- LED battery-operated desk lamps are good and use little energy. Use them as your primary light wherever possible. Local stores may carry them, and they are easy to locate on-line. Some are brighter than others.
- The energy fields of “therapeutic” magnets are huge compared to the subtle energy fields of the body. Further, an early researcher on magnetic therapy for recalcitrant bone healing warned that if too much magnetic therapy was used, it may promote cancer.
- Some individual are sensitive to DC magnetic fields (including magnets) and get brain fog or other symptoms, which can take months to go away.
- If a magnetic mattress pad was ever used on a bed with innerspring mattresses, the innersprings would have greater magnetization than prior to that use.
- The discipline I originally studied under (Institute for Bau Biology, with “Bau” being German for “building”) recommended getting metal away from sleeping areas, including innerspring mattresses.
- Check out www.grasslandbeef.com, as suggested by a client.
- Mercury is a preservative (thimerosal) in flu shots. If getting a flu shot, call your doctor ahead of time and ask for a mercury-free flu shot. This preservative has been linked with autism in vaccinated children. Even though a report has come out discounting this, the subject remains controversial.
- Mercury causes similar neurological disturbances to lead, yet mercury is still being put into people’s mouths, in the form of dental silver amalgams, which are 50% mercury. An integrative medicine physician believes that mercury toxicity is at the bottom of many chronic diseases. See. “Formaldehyde” for my experience.
MICROWAVE OVENS – see EMF tab
- There are cleaning products, and there are encapsulants (sealants)
- A cleaning product removes mold temporarily but does not remain around to protect the surface against further growth of mold.
- Borax – available in the grocery aisle of a supermarket (40 Mule Team Borax). I sat next someone from the microbiology division of the EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) who told me that they had tested Borax, hydrogen peroxide, and chlorinated bleach for wiping mold off a porous surface and found that Borax was far superior to the other two, which were “mediocre.”Of course, if you used a high concentration of chlorinated bleach, it would be effective but also damaging to your health. Chlorine reacts with organic matter (mold, wood) to give off carcinogenic compounds. In some European countries, you cannot buy chlorinated bleach in stores because of its toxicity.There are plenty of other cleaning products on the market. Some are “green,” while others contain pesticides (biocides). When Borax is inexpensive and effective, why bother looking elsewhere? Plus, avoiding pesticides where possible is always a good idea.
- Encapsulant: An encapsulant is more permanent than a cleaning product. An encapsulant should kill mold on contact and then remain on the surface to protect it from future re-growth.Caliwel – www.alistagen.com. For technical questions or to order, call 212-317-0100. Caliwel is also available from www.homedepot.com. Caliwel costs about $70/gallon or $345/5 gallons. To make spraying easier, a little water can be added to the Caliwel. Set up ventilation, because the paint smell is strong until the product dries.For unfinished surfaces such as ceiling joists, studs, and subflooring, use Industrial Caliwel, 2 coats. If you would rather have a white paint look, instead of an opaque coating, order Caliwel Guardian (also called Architectural paint). Other colors are available as well.Caliwel has a product that can be used as a room paint but there must be a good quality primer between it and conventional paint.
- Mold remediators who have worked with some of my clients successfully include:
- Eastern PA and western NJ – Sykes Brothers, Contact: Jacques Bezuidenhout, c: 610-597-2395 – use Randy’s team
- NY, NJ, CT – will travel – EnviroBliss, Brooklyn, Pierre Cajuste, cell: 917-755-8387, email@example.com – Pierre worked with one of the largest remediation firms in NYC for close to 10 years before striking out on his own. He is also experienced in HVAC cleaning. Pierre is used to working with Caliwel and least-toxic products. Pierre is responsive to individual concerns.
- NJ – Tom Peter, CIH – Monroe, NJ, 800-634-0261 – 24/7 Emergency Response, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.irs-restoration.com. Tom says he personally trains each worker. The latest report is that this company is very busy with Sandy work.
- What are the possible consequences for having a mold remediator use conventional biocide cleaning or encapsulation products at your home?
- There may be off-gassing of chemical pesticides for a long time to come. This may be of less consequence in a well-ventilated attic.
- One client had a mold remediator work on his house with “benign chemicals” and then turned out to be super-sensitive to the chemicals. Eventually he had his home knocked down because he could not tolerate it. He and his wife rebuilt on the same land. They were suing the remediator but not hopeful of recovering much.
- When I took a mold remediator class for enrichment, the instructor told us how he had gotten sick from the chemicals his workers used and so he no longer visited his own remediation sites. Further, he advised us to have a disclaimer that the customer would sign, that the remediation company would not be held responsible if the customer had any adverse health effects from any of the products used on-site. Take a lesson.
- Front-loading washing machines have been criticized for mold. You might review this link to see if this approach might be worth trying. If you do try it, please let me know the results. The site claims to offer a permanent fix, noting the others as band aids. http://housewares.about.com/od/majorappliances/fr/Washerfan-Fix-For-Front-Load-Mold-Review.htm
- Assume there is stagnant water on your property, and find it. Even a small puddle in a piece of plastic bag or a birdbath where water has not been changed recently is sufficient for mosquito larvae to grow. Monitor and eliminate mosquito-breeding areas.
- Don’t use insecticides. As one IPM speaker put it: “The ‘drop dead’ method of testing is being used. If you don’t drop dead today, the substance is probably ok.”
- One physician client noted that West Nile Virus is just another virus, similar to many that are already here. Add this virus to the list. Some at-risk people will die from it, as they die from other viruses. He remarked that pesticide spraying might turn out to be far more dangerous than the virus.
- Enter the fascinating world of native plants. Check out www.meadowoodnursery.com, 717-566-9875.
- Natural gas is an organic product made of similar elements to our bodies. It is harder for the body to recognize and eliminate organic pollutants. As far as I know, there is no natural gas detector on the market for homeowners. Natural gas has an additive to make it easier to smell a leak, but not everyone can pick up a leak by the additive and not every leak smells.
- If you sniff gas, call the gas company. You can also spray bubbly water onto the pipe joints to see if gas is bubbling through the water.
- Noise is a pollutant and can increase stress levels at home. The open plan design of many homes often results in higher and more pervasive noise levels. Plan for a quiet area where folk can go to rest and get away from the sounds of TV, traffic, etc.
- Computer printers and copiers should not be used in a bedroom, because they release pollutants. Ideally, your office should have an exhaust fan to the exterior. If not that, open a window and use an overhead fan if making many copies.
OIL AND GAS HEAT
- Gas burns cleaner. However, with oil or with gas, the orifice through which the fuel flows can be too large in order to sell you more fuel. With oil heat, you may notice more dark dust in your home. Try to find a trustworthy heating contractor who can check the size of the orifice.
- See also HVAC systems.
ORGANIC GARDENING VS PESTICIDES
- Avoid chemical pesticides, fertilizer, and herbicides. Seek out organic lawn and garden care.
- In the Philadelphia area, tune in to Mike McGrath’s “You Bet Your Garden,” Saturday mornings at 11. This program is available at www.whyy.org. Click on previous shows for an alphabetical list of topics.
- Check the website of Gardens Alive, www.gardensalive, and Organic Gardening, www.organicgardening.org.
- The website of the Environmental Working Group, www.ewg.org, offers pesticide information.
- Explore recipes for guarding against bugs, such as this organic pepper spray: http://www.ehow.com/print/how_4867549_make-organic-pepper-spray-plants.html.
- I have met individuals who swear by ozonators for certain situations:
- Helping them to tolerate a moldy environment temporarily
- Helping them to tolerate an environment likely with elevated VOCs (volatile organic compounds), such as a travel trailer
- The EPA tells us that ozone is harmful to lung tissue and that we should not be breathing ozone. The EPA has sued and regulated manufacturers of ozonators. For information on this subject, go to www.epa.gov/iaq and search on “ozonators.”
- Ozonators are not capable of killing mold, not at allowable ozone levels.
- Ozone can interact with toxic compounds and form other substances that have equal or more toxicity, such as formaldehyde.
- Paint has gotten less toxic over the years. Most manufacturers offer low- or no-VOC paint. “VOC” stands for “volatile organic compounds.” Since they are organic, and we are organic, it can be harder for our bodies to recognize and eliminate such toxins.Typically most of the VOCs are in pigmented paint, more so than white paint (though white paint should also be VOC-free). Benjamin Moore claims that their Aura line has no VOCs, even in the color paints.
- Once opened, it is not possible to totally re-seal a paint can. Here’s a trick from Jeff May, author of Jeff May’s Healthy Home Tips and My House Is Killing Me. Before putting the top on the can, cover the can with plastic wrap. Then tamp down the top. Store upside down.
PERSONAL CARE PRODUCTS
- Seek out least-toxic products, because our skin can absorb what we put on it. For example, a good, least-toxic deodorant is the rock, available in health food stores. Avoid deodorants with aluminum.
- Avoid soaps that are anti-bacterial. Unnecessary use of anti-bacterial products can build resistance in our bodies.
PESTICIDES AND HERBICIDES:
- Many individuals have gotten sick from exposure to many of these chemicals. Symptoms vary, often including neurological difficulties and cancer. I was sensitized to formaldehyde years ago (and am much better now) but was told that getting poisoned by pesticides is “the worst.”
- Children are more susceptible to harm than adults.
- A consumer can buy pesticides in a supermarket that pest control operators have to be licensed to use.
- Herbicides can be as bad as pesticides.
- Beneficial soil organisms are killed by pesticides and herbicides.
- If you have the EPA registration number for a product (found on the product label), you can discover what the pesticide is. Google “product search EPA registration number.”
- Keep your yard free from chemical pesticides and herbicides. If hiring a yard crew, look for one practicing organic methods.
- Avoid using over-the-counter pesticides and herbicides in your home, on your lawn, or in your garden. These products may contain noxious substances that can get tracked into the house and deposited on the floors where children play. These chemicals kill the beneficial soil organisms and earthworms, as well as the objectionable insects. Quebec outlawed weed-and-feed-type of products years back.
- For more information on organic methods of lawn and garden care, go to www.grassrootsinfo.org and www.neighborhood-network.org. Check sites such as www.saferbrand.com for least toxic products.
- Sources for organic gardening information and products include:
- Bountiful Gardens, 707-450-6410, CA
- Gardens Alive, 812-537-8650, IN
- Necessary Trading Company, 703-864-5103, VA
- Agway – local
- Acres – books, etc. – 800-355-5313
- www.organicgardening.com, Rodale
- For heirloom seeds, etc., go to www.bountifulgardens.org, www.seedsavers.org, or search on “heirloom seeds.”
- See “Food” above for which produce is better eaten organic.
- View the video, Our Children at Risk, from Grassroots Environmental Education, 516-883-0887. This video examines contributing factors to asthma, developmental disorders, and childhood cancers.
- Explore the site, www.chemtell.com.
- Request a copy of Organic Lawn Guide from the Neighborhood Network, www.neighborhood-network.org, 516-541-4321, Long Island.
- Be aware that the term “integrated pest management” is very loosely defined and includes companies that use chemicals, only in lesser amounts. For example, IPM companies may be using pyrethroids, which are natural or synthetic chemicals based on the chrysanthemum plant. Many individuals are sensitive to pyrethroids. Preferably, look for a company that uses organic methods, rather than IPM.
- If you are sensitive to pesticides, ask your physician to send in a certification form for the Pesticide Hypersensitivity Registry (Dept of Agriculture). Pest control operators are required to provide prior notification to sensitive individuals in the area prior to spraying.
- Be aware of pesticide drift. Keep windows closed if you know when your neighbor is spraying pesticides.
- Encourage your municipality and school district to go green.
- If chlordane contamination is suspected in an older house, arrange for an air quality test through a local testing laboratory. Chlordane was used for termite treatments and has been outlawed for years. However, chlordane contamination can last for hundreds of years so still can be an issue. Do you smell a chlorine-like odor in the basement when there is high humidity? There is an individual on-line who offers a do-it-yourself chlordane test. I have no experience with his service.
- See also “Ants” and “EPA Registration Number.”
- Check out Children’s Health Environmental Coalition, www.healthychild.org – user-friendly information on pesticides, etc.
- National Pesticides Information Center, (800) 858-7378 – provides information about pesticides, www.npic.orst.edu.
- On Long Island, both the Neighborhood Network and Grassroots Info have spearheaded public education in the areas of organic lawn care and organic golf courses, 516-541-4321, www.neighborhood-network.org and www.grassrootsinfo.org.
- GC-MassSpec is a lab test for pesticides in air sampling. Not all pesticides can be included, because there are a multitude of pesticides that have been used in the past. Just 20 or so of the most common are likely to be included in a scan. Call a local indoor air quality lab.
PETS (Animal Companions)
- Use a true-HEPA vacuum cleaner or a scent-free Swiffer-type mop to clean up pet dander and hair.
- Keep pets out of bedrooms. Pets can harbor parasites.
- Do not permit cats to walk on the kitchen table.
- Teach children to wash their hands after touching a pet. Teach children not to allow pets to lick them on the lips or face. Be alert to added risk for parasites.
- If you have allergies to your pet, decide if your health can afford this exposure. Or, maybe there are ways to build up your immune system to reduce allergies or ways to desensitize your body. See “Resources” for homeopathic remedies for allergies.
- Keep pets and their areas clean. Avoid dog and cat beds that cannot be washed. Or, put a washable quilt in the bed for the animal to lie on, and then wash the quilt regularly.
- Areas that incontinent pets frequent can be rife with bacteria. Running a $150 bacteria panel may be recommended. Call me for emailed instructions, 888-735-9649.
- Areas around caged birds, especially if cages are not well maintained, can have viruses and mites.
- PEX pipes are a newer type of plastic pipes. They are gaining in popularity.
- Houses have PEX pipes may avoid junctures in walls, thus cutting down on the risk of plumbing leaks. One pipe runs from the water intake to a specific fixture, such as the hot water pipe at the bathroom sink. Thus, along that run, there are only two places where a leak could happen – at the beginning or the end of the length of pipe.
- Do not overwater plants.
- If you experience allergies at the same time each year, you could be allergic to pollen from a particular nearby plant. This can be explored, so please call me, 888-735-9649.
- Plastic food wrap leaches xenoestrogens (estrogen mimickers associated with breast cancer) into food. Avoid it as much as possible. Do not use plastic wrap in a microwave oven.
- Replace vinyl shower curtains with cotton, nylon, or hemp ones. Vinyl and plastics offgas more VOCs in the heat and humidity of a shower.
- Replace plastic and Lucite furniture, lamps, storage furniture, and plastic kitchen appliances with solid wood, glass, metal, and stone furniture.
- Avoid plastic toys, teething rings, and do not coat your child’s teeth with plastic resins. Limit your use of plastic and paper diapers with acrylic gels.
- Protect the baby, not the bed, and replace vinyl, plastic and rubber mattress protectors with a naturally waterproof wool pad.
- As with mold spores, pollen spores are everywhere. They are part of nature, but some people have severe allergies to pollen.
- Keeping all windows closed without a mechanical means of bringing in fresh air may result in oxygen deprivation and stale air. See “Fresh Air” above.
- If you are sensitive to pollen, track the seasons or times of day when symptoms are worst. Perhaps one particular tree or bush on your property is a major culprit.
- Do not expose yourself to chemical toxins during pregnancy. This includes toxins associated with nesting, i.e., new paint.
- Do not use a laptop on your abdomen.
- Do not surround your baby’s bed with plastic bumper pads that off-gas toxins and cut off air circulation. Now there are Velcro fabric pads that leave space for air circulation.
- Inexpensive radon tests are available from www.radon.com.
- A colleague referred me to Festa Radon Technologies, 800-806-7866, for a good quiet radon system. Festa may have distributors/installers in your area. This colleague installed his own system, running it through the roof. With the fan on high, there was no motor sound at the house.
- If you have high levels of radon in your home and also have well water, have your well water checked. Radon.com sells kits for measuring radon in water. After you get your results, call for information if needed.
- Monitor your home’s temperature and relative humidity with an inexpensive gauge. The ideal relative humidity for living areas is about 30%, which is too low for mold and dust mite growth but high enough for mucous membranes. In a basement, the ideal relative humidity is 50% or lower. Adding heat to a basement lowers the relative humidity because warm air holds more moisture.
- Choose water-based, zero or low-VOC and solvent-free or low-solvent paints, caulking and adhesives, floor and furniture finishes. Test for personal tolerance first.
- Deal with rodent problems promptly, because rodents and their excrement can carry viruses, parasites, bacteria, and fleas.
- Rodents can carry hanta and other viruses. Clean up of rodent-infested spaces should be handled by trained pest control operators.
- Mice carry ticks with Lyme disease spirochetes. See information on “Ticks” below.
- Harmony catalog has a reasonably priced humane mousetrap, Pro-Ketch, #16-0083, 800-869-3446, www.gaiam.com.
ROOM AIR PURIFIERS
- A quality true-HEPA vacuum cleaner and a pleated media filter in the HVAC system reduce dust levels. Despite that, some individuals require additional air filtration. Here are some choices:
- The IQ Air is a quality HEPA room air purifier, about $700-$800, with the option for specialized filters.This unit can also be adapted with a hood to make a safe room for an extremely sensitive individual. That is, a duct would pass from the hood to the exterior. Fresh air would enter through this duct. The fresh air would be filtered (but not dehumidified or heated). The filtered fresh air would pass through a second duct which passes through the wall to the neighboring room, which would be the safe room. The safe room therefore has filtered fresh air, even though all windows and doors remain closed.
- Austin Air – This is a carbon-based room air purifier. Carbon adsorbs odors, until it becomes saturated and dumps the gases. Then it can have a foul smell. Do not use a carbon-based air purifier below grade, because bacterial and mold can grow in carbon, and then the air purifier would be part of a mold concern.
- Honeywell HEPA room air purifiers are available in local home supply stores. They are lower end but still HEPA. They may smell of plastic for awhile and run louder than the IQ Air.
- EL Foust specializes in room air purifiers for sensitive individuals. If someone reacts poorly to carbon, EL Foust can send samples of different types of carbon to see what works for the particular individual.
- Room air purifiers should not be run in the bedrooms at night, because the motors add electrostress to the sleepers. If medically necessary, plug in across the room from the bed.
- Be on the watch for symptoms that develop as a result of some change made. No product suits all.
- Many individuals have MCS, which stands for “Multiple Chemical Sensitivities.” There are countless sites on-line for information on this condition, as well as suggestions for products, etc.
- The typical progression for MCS is to start with allergies. Then, as the body takes on more toxins through environmental exposures, chemical sensitivities may develop. If the body suffers trauma (a new serious exposure to toxins, a debilitating flu, tragedy in life, a move to a new home with new building materials, an accident), those sensitivities may turn into serious EI (Environmental Illness) where the most sensitive practically become allergic to the 21st Century. Such individuals can face grave difficulties in finding a suitable place to live, food that they don’t react to, and the wherewithal to support themselves.We speak of each of us having a cup inside ourselves. Gradually that cup is filling up with toxins – depending on our environmental exposures and also on the ability of our body to excrete toxins. Some of us are impaired in that area, such as having the genetic issues of not being able to excrete mold toxins as well as other people’s bodies can.The purpose of an environmental home inspection and this list is to give you tools for reversing this process by reducing exposure to environmental toxins. In addition to what you can do to make your home healthier and how you can help yourself through a healthy lifestyle, your physician may provide guidance in counteracting the toxic exposures you have had.
- Individuals who are chemically sensitive and sensitive to mold typically have electrosensitivities as well. In fact, we are all sensitive to electromagnetics. Why? Because our bodies are electric. So, though we would all be better off living out in a field away from the modern electronic world, that is not going to happen. We have to do what we can to live in the modern world, even while keeping our exposures as low as we can.
- Vinyl shower curtains and shower liners gives off toxic gases in the heat and humidity of a shower. Instead choose nylon, cotton, or other non-off-gassing material.
- Mold that grows on a shower curtain is commonly Cladosporium, a well-behaved mold which doesn’t typically give off spores to the air from the curtain. Launder the curtain, with ½ cup of hydrogen peroxide to help bleach it. Cladosporium contains melanin, which may result in dark staining, even after the mold is gone.
- Home shop chemicals once opened cannot be adequately resealed. Storage areas can become mini-toxic waste sites. Call the town for instructions on proper disposal, or store off the premises.
- Oil-filled radiator-type heaters use less energy and are silent.
STORAGE OF TOXIC MATERIALS
- Chemical solvents, gasoline, paints, turpentine, and pesticides should not be stored in your living space. This includes the basement, because fumes would spread out from the storage area.
- Contact your town office for information about safe disposal of toxic materials.
- It is important to get outside every day for more oxygen and natural sunlight. Sunlight is necessary for manufacturing vitamin D, for boosting the immune system, for synchronizing our biological clock, for a good night’s sleep, for regulating hormones, and promoting a healthy attitude and mood. Open your blinds and curtains during the day and let natural daylight into your home. Use full-spectrum incandescent lighting, because it mimics outdoor light.
- Seek advice regarding water treatment methods that minimize use of chlorine or bromine.
- Use of talcum powder is not recommended. On-line, do a search “talcum powder + health risks.”
- The general public does not know how many individuals struggle with Lyme Disease. Taking precautions against tick bites beats having to go through prolonged treatment. My thanks to Gail Sheffer, the co-founder of the York, PA, Lyme Disease Support Group, for her recommendations of these least toxic tick repellents.She also sent me a tip sheet from the Lyme Disease Association of Southeastern PA, Inc. – which states that the tips are informational and not an endorsement, and not a substitute for medical advice from your physician.
- Cutter Advanced (with picaridin repellent) – Gail said she loves this one and that it works also for mosquitoes, gnats, fleas, etc. She refers us to http://lancaster.unl.edu/pest/resources/insectrepel.shtml for information on insect repellents.
- Gail alternates between Cutter Advanced and Skin-So-Soft™ Bug Guard Plus IR 3535 by Avon
- Other options for personal repellents are:
Burts Bees repellent
Herbal Armor Insect Shield, www.insectshield.com
Kiss My Face repellent
Ticks N All Insect Repellent, ticks-n-all.com – DEET & chemical free – Terry at 973-591-2001, email@example.com
- For the yard, Gail plans to make her own cardboard tubes filled with cottonballs soaked in permethrin (www.TickTubes.com). The point of these tubes is for mice to pick up the cottonballs for nesting material. The permethrin then kills the tick nymphs in the nest. Mice are significant carriers of ticks.Other options for the yard are:www.TickTubes.com
Select TCS Tick Control System (Contact www.tickboxtcs.com for certified installers – small plastic boxes containing bait to attract mice. Enclosed insecticide fipronil kills ticks on mice.
Yard spraying – available from lawn care businesses and as homeowner hose-on applicators from Home Depot, Lowes, etc. Available as permethrin, bifenthrin, deltamethrin, cyfluthrin, cypermethrin, cyhalothrin, or Seven. Generally the shady yard and woods, fence rows, and fields border is the main area treated. Grassy areas greater than 9 feet from the border and in full sun contain few ticks.
Pets – “Products available for dogs and cats, e.g., Fiproguard, Certifect, K9Arvantix, Preventic collars, etc. Caution: not all dog products are safe for cats. Read labels carefully. Obtain online or from your veterinarian. Consider keeping pets either inside or outside as even treated-outdoor pets can bring ticks into your home and to your children. It is not advisable to have your outdoor pets sleep with you.”
- She refers us to these websites for information and protection:
- Personal Protection From Ticks http://www.maine.gov/agriculture/pesticides/gotpests/bugs/ticks.htm
- Also for the yard: Maxforce baiting system, Tick Tubes/Daminix tubes, timed sprays w/permethrin
Question: What about the Insect Shield Repellent technology, that is, permethrim on clothing?
Gail: I personally do not use it, because, there are still ways for ticks to crawl under your clothes, get in your head, neck etc. My friend however treated her family’s clothes before they went to Germany & no tick attachments happened. If I was submerging myself hunting, hiking, etc. then I would have my clothes treated. http://www.insectshield.com/ourTechnology/
- As soon as a cigarette is lit up (or a piece of toast is burned), particle counts go way up. By using a laser particle counter, I can tell when someone has smoked in the house.
- How many of us smoked our parents’ cigarettes as little children when they lit up in the house or car?
- Make your home a smoke-free haven. The EPA has several informative brochures on tobacco smoke:Secondhand Smoke: What You Can Do
Respiratory Health Effects of Passive Smoking: Lung Cancer and Other Disorders
Setting the Record Straight: Secondhand Some Is a Preventable Health Risk
- Most standard vacuum cleaners recycle the smallest particulates, including dust mite parts, dust, mold and bacteria spores, and particles of lead dust and asbestos.
- A central vacuum system is fine.
- If needing a vacuum cleaner, a true-HEPA canister vacuum cleaner is recommended. A true-HEPA vacuum cleaner is a necessity, not a luxury, for routine cleaning. HEPA stands for “high efficiency particulate arrestor,” i.e., it snags tiny particles. A true-HEPA vacuum cleaner is the best offense against particulates, because particulates settle to the floor and horizontal surfaces.
- When measured with a laser particle counter sensitive to 0.03 microns per cubic foot, a true-HEPA vacuum cleaner measures zero or close-to-zero particulates in exhaust air.
- Two suggestions are the Nilfisk GM 80 and the Miele Calima or comparable model. Miele has a retractable cord. Nilfisk doesn’t.
- Avoid power nozzles for carpeting. A “turbo” nozzle is mechanically driven, not driven by a motor. Power nozzles have vents down by the motor. The power nozzle does not have a HEPA filter, so your vacuum cleaner could be capturing almost all the dust…while at the floor, the power nozzle is releasing tiny particles of dust back into room air.
- The Dyson vacuum cleaner has HEPA filtration though sometimes a little chassis leakage is discovered at the gasket of the hose. (Wet your hand and run it over the chassis to see if you feel any leakage.) Empty a bagless vacuum cleaner outdoors, standing upwind from the canister. Wear a dust mask if necessary when emptying it. Bagless vacuum cleaners are not recommended.If requiring an upright, look at the Nilfisk Spectrum or a Shark sealed chassis with HEPA filtration.
- Many manufacturers offer HEPA vacuum cleaners. Not all vacuums marked “HEPA” turn out to be true HEPA units, unfortunately. Sometimes the design of the vacuum cleaner is such that I cannot confirm whether it is a true-HEPA unit.
- Shop vacs are not true-HEPA vacuum cleaners (i.e., quality HEPA filter plus sealed unit). Water-based vacuum cleaners are not recommended unless they have an attached HEPA filter.
- Avoid vacuums that claim to be hypoallergenic or “removes allergens” or “removes 99.97% of ragweed.” Ragweed is much bigger than mold spores.
- One vacuum cleaner advertisement claims the product never, ever returns dirt to room air — yet my laser particle counter told a different story about their product.
- If using a conventional vacuum cleaner, wear a dust mask, and vacuum the last thing before vacating your home for at least several hours. Do not vacuum around children. Conventional vacuum cleaners typically leave the air dirtier after vacuuming than it was before.
- Do not permit cleaning people to use their vacuum cleaners in your home, unless you confirm that their vacuum cleaner is a true-HEPA unit. The chances are they don’t have a true-HEPA cleaner and may spread animal dander, mold spores, or other pollutants around your home.
- One client was off her asthma medication within a week after providing the cleaning service with a true-HEPA vacuum for her house. She was extremely allergic to dogs. The cleaning service cleaned another house where dogs lived before coming to her house, and their conventional vacuum cleaner then spewed dog dander around her house.
- Air out any car that has been sitting in the hot sun. Plastics off-gas chemicals into the air.
- Maintain a distance from the exhaust of the vehicle in front of your car, especially when waiting at a red light.
- Close the air intake when in heavy traffic, waiting on line with idling cars, or passing through smelly or smoky areas.
- Avoid car deodorizers.
- For your information, hybrids may have elevated levels of magnetic fields in the back seat because of the proximity of the battery.
- Some gaseous pollutants are unavoidable, even in a healthy house. These pollutants need to be exhausted to the exterior through adequate ventilation. “Sick building syndrome” is usually associated with poor air exchange and pooling of toxic gases.
- Download EPA booklets:
- The Inside Story:A Guide to Indoor Air Quality
- Ventilation And Air Quality in Offices
- Indoor Air Quality Basics for Schools. www.epa.gov/iaq.
- See “Fresh Air” for suggestions about introducing fresh air and improving ventilation.
VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds)
- VOCs are carbon-based chemicals derived from petroleum that off-gas at room temperature. Since they are organic in nature, they are “like us,” i.e., easily absorbed by the body and difficult for the body to recognize and excrete.
- Indoor air is likely to be much more polluted than outside air because of the products that humans introduce into their homes.
- To check out chemicals in common household products: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/databases.html
- Women exposed to gasoline and benzene have higher risk of miscarriage. Their children have higher risk of birth defects. Other studies show that male chemical exposures also play a part in the risk of birth defects.
- See also “Formaldehyde”
- Health effects, including asthma, linked with exposure to synthetic fragrances are found at www.fpinva.org, Fragrance Products Information Network of Virginia. These fragrances are found in conventional cleaning and air freshener products, laundry products, after-shave lotions, colognes and perfumes, candles, etc.
- Information on ingredients in thousands of cosmetic and personal care products has been gathered at www.ewg.org, click on “Skin Deep.”
- Noxious gases come from common products, such as perfumes, toiletries, underarm deodorants, room air fresheners, dry cleaning chemicals, auto and diesel exhaust, wood and wood products, carpeting, plastics, pot pourri, candles, toilet deodorizers, polyurethane, and paint. There are healthier alternatives for all these conventional products.
- One man had to vacate his home after he reacted adversely to a well-advertised room air “freshener.” At the time he called me, three months had passed, and he was unsure whether he would ever be able to return to his home. One commercial had a mother spraying the family room couch for her children.
- Client-operated VOC air testing equipment is available. Call Aerotech Laboratories for details, 800-651-4802. Ask about the Summa canister.
- VOC-scans are pricey laboratory tests of indoor air quality that occasionally are done for a client. Typical findings from these tests include chemicals from carpets, paint, cleaning products, personal care products, and vehicle exhaust – in just about every test done.
- If you’re trying to identify an unknown odor, you might end up with a list of chemicals and then not have a clue where the chemicals came from, or whether any of them could be causing the odor. VOC testing is the last resort in my opinion.
- Many people are chemically sensitive. Whole industries address the needs of these people. Generally speaking, products for the chemically sensitive will be the healthier products. They are available from catalogs such as Allergy Buyers Club, www.epinions.com; Janice’s, 973-691-2979; Priorities, 800-553-5398; and N.E.E.D.S., 800-634-1380.
- Chemically sensitive individuals need to test any product prior to use. One chemically sensitive individual had her new house painted and sealed with products manufactured “for the chemically sensitive” – and still couldn’t enter the house after two years of airing out. No product suits everyone.
- Two newsletters relating to chemical sensitivities are The Human Ecologist, 770-389-4519, and Our Toxic Times, 406-547-2255, www.ciin.org. Both are available for a nominal fee.
- Choose products wisely, such as cosmetics and perfumes, aftershave lotions, air fresheners, moth repellents, cleansers and polishes, office correction fluids, hobby and craft supplies, adhesives and caulking, paint and floor finishes, among many others.
- When I started working with the physician who treated me for chemical sensitivities, he didn’t want me to put any product on my skin, because the skin absorbs chemicals, and even natural products might be processed with toxic solvents.
- Avoid purchase of drinking water in soft plastic containers, because xenoestrogens may extrude into the water.
- Room air fresheners have limited effectiveness in removing odors from air. They override the original odor with synthetic fragrances and dampen your sense of smell. Many of the chemicals in these products are inadequately studied and may be carcinogenic. Avoid them.
- Leave the top open to help dry out the innards, reducing the risk of mold growth.
- Front-loaders are known for a mold issue. There is a type of fan presented on-line as the only permanent fix for this issue. If you try this, please give me feedback. Search “front loader washing machine + mold.”
WAVE (formerly, Humidex)
- The Wave (www.wavehomesolutions.com) is a low-energy alternative to a dehumidifier. The Wave costs about $1000, plus installation, and is basically a vertical sheet metal conduit for damp air near the basement floor to be conducted upwards and out of the basement. There is a fan which does this, plus a relative humidity setting. This damp air is then replaced by drier air from other areas (typically upstairs). I have had a couple of clients tell me that their unit works fine and they think the Wave is a better choice than a dehumidifier which uses a lot of electricity. Though the initial outlay of funds is more, the unit would soon pay for itself over a dehumidifier in energy savings.
My only concern with the Wave is where the make-up air comes from. When you exhaust air at the unit, replacement air has to flow in from somewhere. With the original Humidex unit, they used to say that a vent would be put on the opposite end of the basement to the 1st floor of the house, so that dryer air from upstairs would flow into the basement. Then, where does air comes from to replenish the air taken from the living areas of the house? Would a window be cracked at some location? Their representative told me that just normal opening and closing of doors through the day would provide the make-up air.
This latest client with the Wave said that the installation personnel did not mention putting a vent in the floor for make-up air. So, if the make-up air doesn’t come from upstairs, where does it come from? Here are some possibilities: from the exterior or from the garage. My client nodded her head and agreed that sometimes she smelled garage fumes. Another client who had the wave had an industrial trash compactor on the other side of her backyard, and fumes from sanitizing products were drawn into her home, sending her on several occasions to the ER.
Another concern might be if too much of a negative pressure is made in the basement, might carbon monoxide be released from the heating unit? HVAC people, as one told me, don’t like negative pressure. I spoke with a technical person at AirTech, 888-533-1348, who confirmed that they have had calls about carbon monoxide and that in such cases they sell a fresh air intake to be installed by the furnace.
So, if you understand the principle of make-up air and think that a reasonable solution can be found for your house, then the Wave may be a better investment than a dehumidifier.
WEBSITES TO EXPLORE
A great deal of useful information is available from sites and publications such as:
- UL Environment and Greenguard product certification, www.aqs.com, www.greenguard.org
- American Lung Association – healthy house information
- Arts, Crafts, and Theater Safety, www.artscraftstheatersafety.org
- Building Analyst Training, www.bpi.org – for training to become an energy rater of houses, or to find a BPI-certified energy rater
- Building Science Corporation, www.buildingscience.com – regarding green building practices
- Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp, www.cmhc.ca
- Chemical Injury Information Network, publication: Our Toxic Times, www.ciin.org
- Climate change, www.350.org
- E Magazine, www.emagazine.com
- Healthy schools score card, $79. If you try this, please report back. http://www.healthyschoolcommunities.org/HSRC/pages/reportcard/index.aspx. However, there are free plans, too, such as from Michigan Department of Education, http://www.mihealthtools.org/hsat/
- Solar equipment and information, reducing dependence on the electrical grid, products and consultants, Real Goods, www.realgoodssolar.com (Don’t put in solar without having an energy rating done first and plugging up air leakage.)
- Gardens Alive, www.gardensalive.com
- HEAL, Human Ecology Action League, www.healnatl.org, publication: The Human Ecologist
- Kahn Academy, free U-Tube videos on a multitude of subjects, based on intuition and connections of concepts; explains the “why,” allows children to develop their own creativity. Salman Khan’s book is “The One World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined.”
- Mother Earth News, www.motherearthnews.com
- Natural Home and Garden magazine, www.naturalhomes.org
- Organic Gardening magazine and website, www.organicgardening.com
- “You Bet Your Garden,” Mike McGrath’s Saturday 11 a.m. WHYY radio program, Philadelphia, www.whyy.org/cms/youbetyourgarden (to listen any time)
- US Department of Energy, www.doe.gov, EnergyStar information.
- US Environmental Protection Agency, www.epa.gov/iaq (“iaq” stands for “indoor air quality”)
- Many chemically sensitive individuals or individuals with asthmatic or damaged lungs cannot tolerate wood smoke. A laser particle counter may register, say, 30,000 particulates 0.3 microns and larger per cubic meter in room air. Start a wood fire, where you can smell the smoke, the readings can easily jump to 150,000 particulates. Measure outside if a neighbor is burning wood, and similar readings will be gotten. Our lungs have to process that.
- See also Fresh Air, because even if we close our homes against wood smoke, we still need fresh air.
Now that you have reviewed Topics A to Z, click to return to Indoor Air Quality.