Tuesday, December 2, 2014

"Do" No Triclosan  (L) vs. "Don't" With Triclosan  (R)


 It's time to wash our hands of triclosan, the active ingredient in most antibacterial liquid hand and dish soaps, as well as some toothpastes, deodorants and even children's bubble baths. Triclosan has been linked to a number of adverse health effects as well as to the growth of antibiotic resistant bacteria, which is a major global threat, according to the World Health Organization.   If ingested, triclosan can cause nausea and vomiting. But most recently, on November 17, exposure to  triclosan was linked to the growth of  cancerous liver tumors in mice, in a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  A nice summary for the layperson appears in Science Daily.

 For more than a decade, environmental and health advocates have been urging that the FDA and EPA ban triclosan.  Back in 2002,  in a report for the Council on Scientific Affairs of the American Medical Association, doctors warned that triclosan had not been shown to be any more effective than plain soap in removing bacteria, while it carried the extra risk of contributing to the risk of antibiotic resistance in bacteria.  Luckily,  conscious consumers don't have to wait for government agencies. We can act on our own behalf by simply reading labels and buying products whose ingredients lists do not include triclosan.

Manufacturers have gotten the message, even if FDA and EPA apparently have not. Witness the Ajax dish soap in the photo above.  It does not contain triclosan, and instead of making antibacterial claims, the label boasts:  "Washes away bacteria from hands."  That's a good truthful summary of what plain soap and water does, and that's all a body needs, unless you're in a hospital. The Dawn dish soap, on the other hand, still bears the "Antibacterial" claim and lists triclosan among its ingredients. Talk about outdated!

Triclosan has been on GreenerPenny's Top  Chemicals to Avoid Lists for personal care  and home cleaning products, such as dish soaps, since I founded  this blog in 20007.  When I discovered it in Colgate toothpaste, I was truly gobsmacked.  Since then,  EWG has done an excellent summary of various studies regarding triclosan's presence in the urine of 75 percent of Americans tested, and triclosan's  contribution to worsening of asthma symptoms and other respiratory problems.   A study in June, 2014 in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology found links between allergy risk and antimicrobial agents in children's urine.  

For more information, check out the practical triclosan tips from the Tufts Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics
For handy reference, see my shopping guide for liquid dish soaps that are free of triclosan and other toxic and irritating ingredients, and my evergreen personal care products list. 

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Best drinking water filters

 A reader asks:
It was quite a schlepp to haul bottles of water up 4 flights of stairs to our NYC apartment before Hurricane Sandy. Now it’s storm season again, we’re looking for a faucet-mounted water filter, so we can fill our own.
I also hate throwing used Brita-type filters away.
What kind of filter is best to protect our health and the environment?
You need a filter that removes everyday contaminants so the drinking water you store will be pure.
And you’ll also want your filter to remove any pathogens carried by storm runoff into reservoirs.

Brita, Pur, and Zero Water carafes and faucet-mounted filters use activated carbon, which removes most microbes that can contaminate your water supply during storms.

What are your everyday contaminants? You can check your utility’s water quality report to find out what, if any, are contaminants of concern. Renters can request one; the Natural Resources Defense Council provides helpful guidance. Then check NSF’s certification listings for filters that best remove those contaminants.
But there’s drinking water and then there’s your tap water.
Aside from your muncipality’s drinking water supply, contaminants can leach into water from your building’s pipes.
Old pipes are often lined with lead, the toxic heavy metal which is the single greatest environmental health threat to the developing brains and nervous systems of babies and children, and should be strenuously avoided by pregnant women. http://www.childenvironment.org.

The only way to find out if there’s lead in your water is to have it tested by an EPA-certified lab. http://water.epa.gov/drink/info/lead/lead1.cfm

Tip:  Warm water will have more lead in it than cold water, so if you’re not sure, let water run for 60 seconds to flush out pipes and chill out before drinking. (Collect for plants or washing dishes.)

While carbon filters such as Pur claim to remove 99 percent of lead, that doesn’t necessarily mean they meet new lead reduction standards, according to Richard Andrew, general manager of the Drinking Water Treatment Unit of National Sanitation Foundation (NSF), which certifies water-filtration systems.  Standards for filtering lead in drinking water were updated in July 2012 after the revised Safe Drinking Water Act in 2011. http://www.shedthelead.com

Andrew says that more complicated, expensive reverse osmosis water filtration systems are best at removing heavy metals, such as calcium, arsenic and  lead.

The only carbon filter currently NSF certified for lead removal by NSF is Zero Water’s, Andrew says.

But you know what? I vote for being prepared for storm surges with any filter rather than none, and a carbon-activated faucet and/or carafe picher is the easiest way to do it.

Recycling carbon filters

Happily, recycling carbon filters is a growing trend, Andrew says, and NSF has added “sustainability evaluations” to its certifying criteria. “We continue to raise the bar over time,” he says.
You can send Brita filters to be recycled through the company’s partnership with Preserve, Filter for Good. You can mail or drop off your Brita cartridges (along with yogurt containers and other #5 plastics) at participating Whole Foods Markets and other locations. Preserve makes the plastic into post-consumer food tools and tableware, and the carbon is “regenerated for alternative use or converted into energy,” according to Brita’s website. Participants also get discount coupons for Preserve’s bright, durable, ultra green products.
Zero Water also has a recycling program for their pitcher and faucet carbon cartridges. You mail them at your own expense, and the company gives you a $10 coupon towards your next cartridge purchase.
More About Reverse Osmosis (RO)
RO systems are best at removing heavy metals, such as calcium, arsenic, and especially lead, Andrew says.
But because RO membranes collect dirt and bacteria and can develop holes, RO systems need to be inspected annually, and the membranes either cleaned or replaced, according to the green homeowners’ bible, Prescriptions for a Healthy House.
For more information, check out NSF’s consumer home drinking water treatment guide.

Green Bargain! For carefully researched and vetted lists of products, what to choose and what to lose when it comes to ingredients and labels, see my book, Do One Green Thing:  Saving the Earth through Simple, Everyday Choices!

Got a question? Post a comment on the blog or through our home page at GreenerPenny.com . Or, if you like, like GreenerPenny on Facebook and ask me a question there.

Follow GreenerPenny on Twitter for more tips.

Thank you!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

What's greener, glass or recycled plastic?

A reader asked: What’s the greener container: recycled plastic or glass?
For bottled drinks or preserved foods), I'd choose those packaged in glass, which is almost infinitely recyclable. Eighty percent of glass containers that are recycled are made into new ones, whereas plastic can only be recycled 2-3 times before it loses its strength.
Best of all, glass is free of the phthalates and bisphenol-A that can leach from plastic.  Acidic substances like tomatoes, colas and citrus, or fatty foods, promote the leaching of plastic chemicals, which they absorb. So does heating any food in plastic.
However, you might not want to use breakable glass bottles around children. And even though plastic is made of fossil fuels, its light weight requires fewer fossil fuels in shipping than glass. 
Just be sure to choose plastic marked "post-consumer recycled" (PCR) or "post-consumer waste" (PCW). Regular "recycled" plastic is usually made from factory scraps, which only encourages the continued production and waste of new plastic.

D.I.Y. household cleaning ingredients

Shopping List 
With these 15 items, you can clean just about anything.
■ Baking Soda: scrubbing, whitening
■ Beeswax: polishing wood
■ Borax (sodium borate): removing stains/disinfecting
■ Club Soda (or any unflavored fizzy water): lifting stains
■ Cornstarch: absorbing stains
■ Hydrogen Peroxide: disinfecting, removing stains
■ Lemon: removing stains and odors
■ Liquid Dish Soap:  sudsing power
■ Olive Oil: polishing wood
■ Pine Oil: cleaning soft wood floors
■ Plant Essential Oils: chemical-free fragrance (do a sniff test before buying to make sure you’re not sensitive to the fumes)
■ Salt: scrubbing
■ Toothpaste: polishing metal
■ Washing Soda (sodium carbonate): scrubbing, removing stains and cutting grease
■ White Vinegar: disinfecting, removing stains

Monday, April 15, 2013

D.I.Y. Green Cleaners

Commercial cleaning products have been shown to trigger asthma, headaches and more.  Below are some task-specific recipes that won’t lead to teary disaster.
Toilet Bowl  
Scrub with 1/2 cup of borax to brighten and disinfect. For daily maintenance, brush the bowl with baking soda and let it sit for a bit before flushing. Add white vinegar for a little extra stain-lifting fizz.
All-Purpose Cleaner  
Use on any non-wood surface.
1/2 cup borax
1 gallon hot water
Mix until borax is dissolved; mop or spray and wipe surfaces.
Floor and Wall Cleaner
Use this on any floor, including wood, and on walls.
1 cup white vinegar
1 gallon hot water
1 tablespoon to 1/4 cup liquid soap (optional) 
1 to 2 tablepoons pine or lemon oil (optional) 
For extra cleaning power, add liquid soap. Add pine or lemon oil (essential oil of lavender or rosemary are less-intense alternatives) to condition unlaminated wood floors. Mix all ingredients and clean floor or walls with mop or damp rag. Follow with a clean-water mop if you use soap.
Glass Cleaner  
Shine on without toxic ammonia-based products.
1/4 cup white vinegar or 
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 cups water
3 to 4 drops liquid soap (optional)
Mix and spray or wipe on; for the best shine, use old newspapers!
Encrusted Gunk Buster  
Avoid chlorine-based scrubs by making your own scrubbing bubbles.
Baking soda, washing soda or salt
Wipe surface with hot water; sprinkle on soda or salt. Let sit for a few minutes, then scrub with a rag, sponge or brush.
Fume-Free Oven Cleaner  
Avoid caustic lye-based products and still make your oven sparkle.
1 cup baking soda
1/4 to 1/2 cup washing soda
1 tablespoon liquid soap 
Hot water
Few drops white vinegar
Make sure oven is off and totally cool. No need to disconnect power. Wipe off surface soot and any fresh spills. Combine dry ingredients and gradually add hot water until you have a thick but malleable paste. For greasy ovens, add an additional 1/4 cup washing soda. Add vinegar (watch it fizz!). Coat all oven surfaces and leave overnight. Wipe off with warm water.
Soft Scrub  
Use this non-scratching, chlorine-free paste on enamel or porcelain.
1 cup baking soda or borax 
Warm water 
2 to 3 drops liquid soap
Combine baking soda or borax with enough water to form a paste. Add liquid soap. Apply to surfaces, let sit at least 5 minutes, and scrub with a non-abrasive sponge. Rinse and wipe off residue.
Grout Cleaner  
Kill mildew and whiten grout without chlorine.
Baking soda
White vinegar or hydrogen peroxide
Combine ingredients to make a paste. Let stand 30 minutes or more, then scrub.
Lye-Free Drain Cleaner  
For a clogged drain, use a plumber’s snake or an untwisted coat hanger to pull out as much gunk as possible. Pour 1/2 cup baking or washing soda down the drain; gradually add 1/2 cup white vinegar. Let fizz and dissolve. Carefully pour in boiling water from a tea kettle. Wait half an hour. Repeat as necessary. Before calling a plumber, let things cool off and snake again.
Before you roll up your sleeves, remember, even all-natural cleaning ingredients can be irritating. Open windows to ventilate rooms while you clean, and wear gloves. Store all cleaning products, including homemade mixtures, in sealed containers in a cool, dry place.

Hello Green Mattress, Goodbye Toxic Hotbed

Spring cleaning should include our indoor air.  A reader recently asked me, “I’m looking for a green healthy mattress. What do you recommend?”

Because we spend about half our lives in bed, I recommend a  mattress made of natural materials and free of chemical treatments.  Alas, most conventional mattresses are stuffed with petroleum-based, polyurethane foam that can release, or “offgass,” volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that have been linked to cancer, allergies, asthma and harm to nervous systems and children’s development.  These chemicals include toxic fire retardants that migrate into the air we breathe.

Greener Penny has long advocated against these synthetic chemicals. In 2010, we spoke with Heather Stapleton, a professor of chemistry at Duke, who warned against the health threats posed by widely used mattress fire retardants,  such as tris, which a study led by Stapleton found in house dust.   

In March, California proposed new rules  for fire retardancy in furniture and baby products that, if passed, will likely render these chemicals obsolete. Recent tests commissioned by the Chicago Tribune found that popular baby mattresses were hotbedsof toxic flame retardants

What to look for

Choose mattresses made from natural, renewable and untreated materials:  wool, cotton (in either, certified organic is greenest) and latex from rubber trees.

Mattresses wrapped in wool, a naturally fire retardant material, can meet the current  U.S. Consumer Safety Products Commission (CPSC)  “open flame” flammability standard (based on the California standard that the state is now poised to change).  standard without adding chemicals.

If you want a wool-free mattress that’s untreated with fire retardant chemicals, you’ll have to provide the retailer with a prescription from your doctor. Here’s a form you can download

There are now many companies selling greener mattresses in adult and crib size. They also sell less expensive futons or mattress toppers. All are available in a range of natural materials and prices. Here’s a list

See Playing With Fire,  The Tribune’s excellent investigative series on the chemical and cigarette industries