Saturday, March 10, 2012

Spider control without pesticides

A humane reader asks, "How can I get rid of spiders in my house w/o using chemicals?"

Indeed. There is no need to fear or kill spiders, which are mostly beneficial insects, as any child can tell you thanks to Charlotte’s Web. In addition to being natural artists, spiders eat insect pests such as mosquitoes and flies.

As for our health, incomparably worse than insects are synthetic chemical insecticides used in homes have been linked to cancer,and can harm children’s development as well as provoke headaches, asthma and other ill health effects in all of us.

By contrast, “Most spiders pose no threat to humans,” biting, like most animals, only when provoked, according to Beyond Pesticides, a respected non-profit organization specializing in Integrated Pest Management (IPM), which relies on least-toxic removal methods and treatments in home, garden and farming, and allows synthetic chemicals only as a last resort. That said, no one likes waking up with a bite on sensitive areas from active hunting spiders like the brown recluse who can crawl under, and up into, a bed.

The answer? Here are some tips from Beyond Pesticides and my own experience.


*Dust (use a long-handled dustmop for ceiling corners) or vacuum to remove webs and egg cases. Remember to clean under furniture and in closets.

*Keep clothing and shoes off the floor and shake them out—carefully, and outdoors. Most spider bites happen when cleaning out closets or storage areas. Place in sealed plastic bags.

*Capture and release (outside). Trap spiders with a wide-mouth jar, sliding stiff paper or cardboard underneath. Invert jar so spider drops in. Or sweep the spider into a grocery bag.

Kill without chemicals.

*Swat hard with a magazine or shoe.
* The tax-time solution: Freeze, for 48 hours, boxes/ files/ containers filled with old papers & receipts you need but suspect spiders may be hiding in. Ditto old clothes and other stuff from cleaning out the closet.
*Or put things in sealed plastic bags and spiders will die for lack of oxygen (although freezing is kinder).

Keep spiders out.

*Seal openings, which also weatherizes and saves on energy bills. Think: door sweeps, caulking gaps around electric openings, windows and vents; make sure screens are intact.

*Keep 2 feet of clearance between shrubs and the walls of your home. This also helps keep termites out.

*Draw curtains or shades at night so spiders (and other insects) won’t be attracted to windows.

*Ventilate and dry out moist, humid areas, where spiders like to lurk.

*Cut down on clutter, which will also discourage roach infestations.

There! Spider monitoring is also a good way to get your spring cleaning underway.

Got eco-questions? Ask away on my home page, . More green living facts and tips can be found there and in my book, .

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Risks of nonstick & water-stainproof "Teflon" chemicals

Polyfluoroalkyl chemicals, or PFCs, used in nonstick,water/stain-repellant coatings such as Teflon, Gore-tex and Scotchgard, are found in cookware, clothing, and many other daily consumer products--as well as in our bodies. One especially worrisome PFC, known as perfluorooctanaoic acid (PFOA), is found in more than 99 percent of Americans, according to findings by the Centers for Disease Control.

Below is a summary of the science finding possible risks of PFCs, followed by how to choose PFC-free products.


Weakening children's immune systems
A startling new study finds that children exposed to PFOA and PFOS may have weakened immune systems, making it more difficult for their bodies to fight off infection and disease. Researchers tested for the PFCs in the blood of 587 children in Scotland's Faroe Islands from pre-birth to age seven, and discovered that those exposed to the chemicals had built up lower levels of antibodies to tetanus/diphtheria vaccines, reducing their immunity by up to one-half. Lead researcher Philip Grandjean, MD, DSc, told the Harvard Gazette that PFCs may pose a greater threat to the body's immune systems than the very toxic chemicals known as dioxins, which are classified as "likely human carcinogens" by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). And, chillingly, he noted that American women and children have higher levels of PFCs in our bodies than the Faroe Islanders have. The study is in the January, 2012 Journal of the American Medical Association.

Learning deficits in children

Children with higher blood serum levels of PFCs also have higher odds of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), according to a 2010 study of 571 adolescents ages 12-15 published in Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP).
Infertility in Women
Women with higher levels of PFCs in their blood had a harder time getting pregnant, researchers at the UCLA School of Public Health reported in 2009.


EPA has not yet completed a risk assessment of PFOA, but the agency’s Scientific Advisory Board has said that PFOA cancer data were consistent with its guidelines for likely human carcinogens.


Food and food packaging
Researchers in the Harvard study think that the mother's and children's PFC exposures came mostly from consumption of fish, which is a staple in the islanders’ diet. PFCs are released in the environment during manufacture and accumulate in animals' bodies, rising in the food chain.
House dust and leaching
Two studies released in 2011, conducted in Catalonia, Spain and Vancouver, Canada. Like many other toxic chemicals, such as phthalates in PVC plastic, PFCs can leach/migrate out of fabric finishes and nonstick coatings as these surfaces erode and break down in light, heat, and wear and tear. The EPA refers to how PFOA, specifically, can be released by breakdown of coatings made with it.
These findings underscore the importance of removing PFCs from manufacture, which is the source of contamination of our waterways and food. By stopping our purchase of products coated with these chemicals, such as nonstick cookware and rain/stain repellant clothing, bedding, upholstered furniture, carpeting, and even dental floss, we send a clear message to manufacturers, who respond to reduced demand.

Avoid nonstick-coated cookware
For what to choose, see my Green Cookware List. For how to safely use nonstick cookware to avoid "Teflon flu" and bird-killing fumes, click here.

Fabric finishes

For a rundown on fabric finishes to avoid in clothing, furnishings and bedding, with some greener bedding choices, see my Whole Living Econundrums blog.

Personal Care

Steer clear of Teflon nail polishes and curling irons; do keep flossing your teeth :), but try to use unwaxed rather than "Glide" type coated floss, EWG advises.

For more on "Lose It" toxic chemicals in daily products, and "Choose It" greener, healthier products and ingredients, check out my book, Do One Green Thing: Saving the Earth Through Simple, Everyday Choices. And do visit my home page for seasonal green living choices at Got an econundrum? Just ask me at I promise to reply.

Best green bouquets now

Who's the fairest? The Valentine who picks certified fair-trade, organic or locally grown flowers. That's because conventionally grown blooms are so unfair: 70 percent of U.S. flowers are flown from abroad, where workers often do not receive fair wages and laws do not restrict the use of dangerous pesticides. A 2006 Harvard study found that children born to women working in the Ecuadorian flower industry had impaired brain development due to prenatal exposure to pesticides. So have a heart! Give your loved one better blooms and invest in safer conditions for workers, ecosystems and consumers alike.

Then there are the wasteful carbon emissions from all the fuel miles those flower shipments consume!

A big green bonus: Fair trade, organic bouquets are now priced competitively with regular ones! Here are some fair floral tips.

1. Buy Local

Talk to the flower farmers: Your best bet is a farmers' market. Buy local fresh or dried flowers from growers who, if not certified organic, can assure you that they don't use pesticides and treat workers fairly. Ask your florist shop for contact info for growers. Search your zip code for the nearest growers and farmers' markets at Local Harvest.

When shipping flowers, order through your local florist shop, and ask them to choose a shop in your recipient's zip code that sells locally grown blooms. That way, you support two locales!

2. Look for verified green/fair trade labels In a rush? Who isn't. Look no farther than your nearest Costco (hint, hint, Valentine!) See below.

*Certified Fair-Trade flowers are grown on farms that receive financial incentives for providing fair wages, safe, clean housing and workplaces, and protecting rainforests by farming sustainably.
*Certified USDA Organic flowers are grown without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers (a boon to farm community health as well as ecosystems).
Veriflora uses third-party certifier Scientific Certification Systems (SCS) to make sure that workers and natural resources are protected.
*Rainforest Alliance Certified follows Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN) standards limiting pesticides and ensuring farm families health care and education.


Costco sells gorgeous long-stemmed Rainforest Alliance certified roses in a tropical sunset's worth of shades, from yellow and orange to pink and red.

FTD offers Fair-Trade Certified roses and lilies in its Eco Flowers line.

One World Flowers sells fair trade bouquets at fair prices.

Organic Bouquet carries a great variety of flowers, all certified organic.

California Organic Flowers grow year-round domestic blooms, available through Local Harvest.

Texas growers Arnosky's Specialty Flowers. supply Central Market, Whole Foods and HEB (Texas' own grocery chain) with beautiful cut flowers grown with environmentally sensitive practices.

Want to add some organic, fair-trade chocolates to your sweet package? Use GreenerPenny's mobile-friendly Chocolate Shopping List.

More practical green, healthy solutions for your daily life, from food and water to cleaning, energy, cosmetics and more, can be found in my book, Do One Green Thing: Saving the Earth Through Simple, Everyday Choices. For more info and tips, see our home page,!