Saturday, January 30, 2010

Avoiding toxic chemicals in mattresses & bedding

Conventional mattresses, made with petroleum-based polyurethane foam, have routinely been treated with brominated fire retardants including polybrominated biphenyl ethers, or PBDEs, while conventional bedding is covered with fabric treatments that may be contaminated with formaldehyde. Water- and stain-resistant Teflon- and Scotchgard-type coatings are manufactured using toxic perfluorinated chemicals that are widespread in the environment and our bodies.

To avoid these chemicals, you can choose a mattress made with a natural latex core padded with cotton and surrounded with wool, which is naturally water-repellant and flame retardant. Look for labels that say it meets the CPSC and State of California fire retardancy standards for mattresses. To benefit your personal health, it need not be made with organic cotton or wool, which are more of a benefit to the environment; and, non-organic mattresses--and especially futons--are more affordable. Since crib mattresses are so much smaller, organic versions are less pricey.

If you don’t want to pop for a new green mattress, you can block a lot of VOCs—and allergenic dust mites—in your old one by encasing it in a tightly woven barrier cloth, or covering it with a wool or cotton mattress pad. Mattress pads are not advised for cribs, which shouldn’t contain any padding, but can be given extra protection with a flat wool “puddle pad.” For extra adult luxury, choose a topper with a natural latex core.

Below is a list of companies who make greener bedding, mattresses and top pads without PBDEs* or PVC**. Where noted, they also are good sources for untreated sheets, comforters, pillowcases, and bedcovers. (the $ indicates most affordability):

Acorn Innerspring from The Natural Bed Store $ (organic cotton, wool)
Duxiana: Their breathable latex-and-cotton top pad is dreamy.
Earthsake (organic cotton and PureGrow wool); comforters, bed linens, pillows.
Greensleep (organic cotton, wool and silk)
Lifekind (organic cotton, natural latex); comforters, pillows, sheets, blankets, duvet covers
Magniflex memory foam with some greener options (bamboo, wool, latex)
Natural by Colgate crib mattresses(coconut coir fiber, organic cotton, regular cotton)
Naturepedic $ (organic cotton, regular cotton, polyethylene)
The Futon Shop wool mattresses and toppers
The Organic Mattress bedding, mattress toppers (organic cotton, natural latex, also toppers and bedding)
Room and Board lightweight down duvets(natural latex, no springs)
Shepherds Dream wool comforters (wool)
Vivetique (organic cotton, hemp, and PureGrow wool) bedding all-season wool comforter encased in unbleached cotton, softest touch.
Gaiam kapok-filled organic cotton comforter; kapok is the fluffy white fiber in the seed pod of the Asian ceiba tree and is harvested sustainably without cutting the tree. organic cotton covered and filled comforters cat=Double%2FQueen+Comforters+and+Covers

*Shown to cause behavioral and developmental problems in animal studies, PBDEs are pervasive in the environment, found in women’s breast milk and the fat of harbor seals, and easily migrate out of products into house dust and air. Environmental health advocates call PBDEs “ the new PCBs,” referring to the now-banned industrial chemicals that caused lower I.Q.s in the children of women who ate PCB-contaminated fish. See Washington Toxics Coalition's excellent summary of possible health risks,.

**Although PVC was banned from being used in crib and children’s mattresses in late 2009, it may still be present in mattresses made before that time, and new mattresses, as well as bedding, may be treated with water- and stain-repellants that can release formaldehyde, another toxic and volatile chemical that readily evaporates from products.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Will Green & Black's organic chocolate lose taste with Kraft?

A sour Valentine for lovers of chocolate from Green & Black's, the small British concern that makes its bars of bliss from certified organic, fairly traded cacao. American multinational Kraft is swallowing G & B's parent Cadbury, beloved British chocolate for the masses. The New York Times reported that Cadbury, after putting up a valiant fight, has accepted the $19 billion deal.

What of Green & Black? Despite initial worries, Cadbury did not perceivably lower G & B's standards, at least in taste tests by this blogging chocoholic and by Arthur Lubow, who warned about the pending takeover in a Times Op-ed last fall.

Reflecting on when Hershey swallowed Scharffenberger, Lubow writes, "The company...promised not to change the quality of the brand. ..Soon I began noticing a marked deterioration in my beloved 82 percent bar. The texture was chalky. The cherry notes had vanished. It was becoming just another mediocre American chocolate."

Will the same happen to Green & Black's? Think Cheese Whiz,and be forewarned.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Risks of early puberty and hormone disrupting chemicals

Winter chapped lips need soothing? We'll get to that below, but first, here's some important news: Women who enter puberty before age 12 may be more likely to develop cardiovascular disease and die of stroke, heart attacks or cancer, according to a new study of 16,000 middle-aged to elderly women published in the December Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. According to researchers at Cambridge University, women who had their first menstrual period before age 12 had a 28 percent higher risk of dying from cardiovascular causes and a 25 higher risk of dying from cancer. Reuters quoted the researchers as saying there may be a connection to body fat, since heavier girls tend to start menstruating earlier.

No reason to be glum about things we can't change, of course, but the study is a good reason to be mindful of factors such as excess body fat that have previously been linked to disease. We can also reduce exposures to suspected hormone disrupting chemicals in cosmetics and plastics, some of which have been linked to early puberty and other reproductive system anomalies. For a good summary of the science on hormone disrupting chemicals and the trend towards ever-earlier puberty, see this study by the Breast Cancer Fund.

So shop defensively! It's easy; I've done the research for you. For more information, click on the links below for my articles and lists concerning:
*top cosmetics ingredients to avoid ,
*recent studies on hormone disrupting chemicals linked to breast cancer
* greenwashing in cosmetics
* avoiding the toxic chemicals Bisphenol-A and phthalates, which may also, I kid you not, be implicated in our obesity epidemic.

Now for a little lip service. First, read this helpful new Rodale blog on nontoxic, natural lip soothers (full disclosure, it does quote me!).
For products, see GreenerPenny's top green lip sticks and balms.

If you'd like to get more daily green living and product tips, please subscribe to our FREE monthly e-newsletter at Do click on the "Ask" link if you've a question for me. Join the fun dialog on our Facebook page, and follow us at



Sunday, January 10, 2010

Tips on avoiding plastic chemicals linked to obesity and reproductive harm

Sixty-six percent of us are overweight, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Indeed, the CDC dubs us an "obesogenic" society. It can be hard enough to control how many calories we consume and burn, but what's really irksome is the possibility that we are involuntarily ingesting fattening chemicals that migrate out of plastics and cleaning and personal care products. Yes, studies are linking chemicals in everyday products to obesity.

Chemical “Obesogens"

Exposure to phthalates--chemicals widely used as synthetic fragrancing agents, as well as in plastics--correlates to abdominal obesity and insulin resistance in U.S. adult males, according to a March, 2007 study in Environmental Health Perspectives . And in 2008, Bisphenol-A (BPA), used in baby bottles and other food and water containers, was connected with greater likelihood of diabetes and cardiovascular disease, a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported.

More worrisome yet, maternal exposures to both chemicals have been linked with abnormal development in offpspring. BPA and phthalates have been been found to be prevalent in our bodies in representative population samples by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, and fetuses The CDC says that all Americans have phthalates in our bodies, and previous studies have linked the chemicals to subtle genital and reproductive hormone changes in male infants. As the babies were exposed in the womb and through breast milk, women would be wise to avoid phthalates, too.

Obesity itself can lead to other health problems, of course, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Breast cancer risks include the onset of menstruation at an early age, younger than 13, as noted by the Breast Cancer Fund, whose excellent site also includes studies finding connections between exposure to hormone-disrupting chemicals and early puberty in girls. A Danish study last year, reported in the New York Times "Well" column, advanced the chemical culprits thesis.

Early menarche has itself been linked to excess body fat in young girls. A troubling new study, reported in Reuters, found that early puberty meant women were more likely to suffer heart attacks after reaching middle age. Cambridge University researchers said that higher amounts of body fat at puberty appeared to be a contributing factor, as well. Read about how one mother is coping with health concerns for her young daughter in this frank and informative blog.

Enough fatty plastic, already! To avoid "obesogenic" chemicals, steer clear of:

*Steer clear of Polycarbonate plastics (BPA): See our list of BPA free items here. And here!
*Consume less Canned food and liquid baby formula (can linings contain BPA) Diets heavy in canned food can expose us to unhealthy levels of BPA, according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), which advises using powdered rather than liquid canned infant formula because BPA migrates more readily into fluids.

The exceptions: Eden Foods says its cans are BPA-free, except for the tomatoes. For more tips on cans & aseptic packaging, see our blog inspired by a traditional canned food recipe, and this advice from EWG.

*Don't Use Personal Care and Cleaning Products with "Fragrance" on their ingredients lists, using this all-inclusive term rather than disclosing specifics. "Fragrance" is a trade secret term allowing the coverup of synthetic scents that use phthalates and other toxic chemicals. What you want to see: "Fragrance derived exclusively from organic rose, geranium, and lavender essential oils."

See our list of phthalate-free personal care and air freshener products.

*Don't Use Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) raincoats, cosmetic bags, backpacks, shower curtains, flooring, etc. Vinyl is also the least recyclablel, in addition to being the most toxic, plastic, according to Greenpeace. Help keep our landfills from gaining weight!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Safer, sustainable beef: organic, grass-fed, humanely raised

Meat is among the top 10 food issues we'll be contending with in 2010, nutritionist Marion Nestle predicts. We certainly can't be careful enough about avoiding foodborne illness through contaminated meat, especially ground beef, a recent investigation by The New York Times makes clear. The newspaper discovered that E. coli and salmonella pathogens have been found dozens of times in Beef Products ground beef, 5.5 million pounds of which were served in U.S. schools last year. The testing was performed by the school lunch program arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Beef Products "fatty beef trimmings" are also widely used in burgers for fast food restaurants, including McDonald's and Kroger's. But does the USDA test Beef Products meat that goes to other outlets besides schools? No. The agency accepts the company's self-testing that shows its ammonia treatments are effective in killing bacteria.

A whopping 35 million lbs. of meat was recalled nationwide in 2007, and 7.5 million lbs. in 2008, according to Food Safety News.We've yet to find a total count for beef recalls due to E. coli in 2009, but the website reported there had been 11 recalls totalling 575,000 lbs. of ground beef by mid-October. That, however, was before 545,000 lbs. of contaminated hamburger was recalled for E. Coli in several states in November, although it was sold in September. Even if 2009 recalls total "only" a bit over a million lbs., it's an unappetizing, intolerable and dangerous situation.

What to do to protect the burger lovers in your life? Buy true quality: USDA certified organic, grass-fed or certified humane ground beef. Why? Because these labels guarantee that food can be traced back to the source, that is, the actual farm and cow. This makes for greater accountability and responsibility in the food chain. While any animal product, organic or not, can become contaminated with pathogens, the cleaner diets and more careful handlng of animals raised according to these labels provides a healthy buffer. Plus, they're free of antibiotics and added hormones.

Philosophically, we favor humane animal welfare labels that guarantee the creature had had freedom to move about, clean quarters, fresh air, a vegetarian diet, and was slaughtered with minimal suffering. The most reliably humane labels are certified humane, food alliance ,animal welfare approved. To find grass-fed meat and dairy products in your locale, search the Eat Wild Guide by zip code.

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