Saturday, December 29, 2012

All-Purpose Cleaner with Love

I don't even remember when I started using nontoxic cleaners.  I was using them unconsciously as I grew up as my mother used them.  She may have been using them to save money.  After all, she had five kids to raise, and a gallon of vinegar is a lot cheaper than a manufactured product.

When you make your own cleaners, you should always start with a clean container.  If it's a previously used container, make sure you don't have residue from the previous contents still in the container when you put it to reuse.  Clearly mark your container so you don't confuse it with something else.  Just take a sharpie, permanent maker and write on the container.

For my all-purpose disinfecting cleaner, I use a spray bottle that can be purchased in the gardening section of many stores.  The nozzle is adjustable to regulate a misting spray to a straight shot.

I have been cleaning my apartments with a nontoxic, home-made cleaner for many years.  It's very simple and the recipe follows:

All-Purpose Disinfecting Cleaner
1 tablespoon liquid soap
1 cup warm water
2/3 cup white vinegar

In a spray bottle, mix the soap and water first to prevent clumping.  Then add the vinegar and mix gently. 

Why Use a Home-Made Cleaner?

When you make your own cleaner, you really, really know what's in it.  When you buy a cleaner, you can't be sure all of the ingredients are listed.  The U.S.  EPA gives a warning about commercial all-purpose cleaners:

       When using [commercial] all purpose cleaners, follow these safety steps:

  • Wear rubber gloves to protect your skin
  • Be sure that there is good air circulation in the room. Open several windows or keep a fan running.
  • NEVER mix two cleaners of different kinds together, especially if one contains ammonia and the other contains chlorine. This can produce a gas called chloramine, and breathing its fumes could be fatal.
You could buy a commercial cleaner containing bleach to kill germs, but white vinegar also kills germs.  So, why pay more for a cleaner that can harm you?  Just make your own.


Thursday, November 15, 2012

Just a Few (of the many) Things I Didn't Know

I live on the border of New Hampshire and Vermont where there are several e-mail list serves to connect residents who have lost a dog, want to sell a dresser, or share whatever information they choose.  After seeing an e-mail from someone saying, "Dishwasher Now Runs Clean: Want to THANK whoever it was that suggested putting a 1/2 cup of white vinegar sitting on the top shelf in the dishwasher.  That has made all the difference in the world!   I now buy the vinegar by the gallon."

I actually never saw the original e-mail and I've never owned a dishwasher, but it was gratifying to read that vinegar once again had saved the day in someone's home.  Less money, less toxic output.

I then decided to see what else people in my area know about nontoxic cleaners, so I put out this notice on three local list serves:  "If you have any recipes or experiences with nontoxic cleaning, I'd love to hear them."

Well, I received many responses.  Most were ones that are already addressed on this blog either in the posts or on the Recipes page.  But again, it was great to hear that other people are using simple, nontoxic recipes to clean their homes.

There were a few recipes I had never heard before--and I'm sharing them below.

Weed and Grass Killer

"Pour straight white vinegar on the weeds to get to the roots, but don't get it on anything you want to keep."

I sent out an e-mail to a group in a Household Hazardous Waste Committee and received a confirming response that vinegar actually kills weeds!  My friend, Joanne said she had her granddaughter spray a section of weeds growing up in her gravel driveway.  They had to do it twice as the weeds were thick and well established, but she lives on a lake so it's great she found a non-toxic way to kill weeds.

Photo Credit Link

Fruit Fly Trap

"Put about an inch of apple cider vinegar into a small jar with a little water and a drop or two of liquid dish washing liquid.  The fruit flies will be attracted and drown in the liquid...you'll have to dump it out and make a fresh batch every now and then if you have a lot of fruit flies."

I'm not sure what the point of the dish washing liquid is, but who can argue with success.  Personally, I just use my kitchen compost can and put the lid on it to trap the fruit flies.

Tub and Sink Cleaner

"A mixture of Borax and Dr. Bronner's Sal Suds is very effective, good smelling, and makes everything shine."   

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Ode to Vinegar

Oh white vinegar,  how do I love thee, let me count the ways....  If ever there was a multipurpose nontoxic product, it is white vinegar.   It is used in cooking, gardening, health remedies, automotive cleaners, air fresheners, laundry cleaning, and general all-purpose household cleaners.  Visit Vinegar Tips for a more thorough explanation of the 1001 uses of white vinegar.

White vinegar is made by allowing a distilled alcohol to undergo acid fermentation. The typical store-bought white vinegar is 5% acetic acid which makes it a great cleaner.   Michael Mullen of the  Heinz Company referred to several studies to show that vinegar has properties to destroy 80% of viruses, 82% of mold, and 99% of bacteria.  Thus, as it should be, vinegar is a common household product used for cleaning bacteria laden surfaces like kitchen stoves, toilets, sinks, and floors.   Vinegar is a much better option than the chemical cleaners available in stores as vinegar does not have the harmful health effects of most commercial cleaners (read the tiny print on the labels for a good scare).


Personally, I use vinegar in a homemade all-purpose cleaner made with white vinegar, liquid soap, and water (see the Recipes page of this blog).  For an air freshener, I put a bowl of white vinegar on the counter.  (I do this with baking soda as well.)  I use vinegar as a toilet bowl cleaner by pouring straight vinegar into the toilet bowl, scrub the toilet with a brush, and let is sit until the next use of the toilet.  I use simple vinegar and water to mop the linoleum kitchen floor as well as the bathroom floor.  Vinegar and water can be sprayed on to windows and mirrors, then wiped off with crumpled newspaper for sparkling glass.  Oh, white vinegar, how do I love thee....

The last time I bought vinegar at the local grocery store, it cost me less than $3 for a gallon.  That's a lot of cleaning power for less than three bucks.


Give vinegar a try in cleaning your home.  It's cost-effective, it works, it kills the microbes you want to kill without causing you and your family harm.  The smell is much more appealing to me than commercial cleaners especially realizing when I smell those cleaners, I'm inhaling toxic fumes.  Add several drops of your favorite essential oil to your vinegar cleaner if you'd rather smell peppermint or citrus.


Go forth with the rightly esteemed white vinegar....


Photo Credit Link 

Friday, October 19, 2012

Hidden Time Bombs in Schools

For over a week, I was at a conference on household hazardous waste in Los Angeles, California.  It turns out, I am definitely not an L.A. girl.  I arrived back home to Vermont, and I am relishing the chill of the oncoming autumn.   The conference was put on by the North American Hazardous Materials Management Association (NAHMMA).  It was excellent!  They did a fabulous job--especially the discussions about hazardous products in public and private schools.  Products are found throughout the schools in chemistry labs, art classrooms, and maintenance closets.

Chemistry Labs  

I already knew chemicals in labs were  a problem (because I'd watched a webinar by NAHMMA).  But it absolutely fascinates and horrifies me that outdated and unknown chemicals found in  schools can cause fires, explosions, spills and toxic human exposure. These incidents from poorly stored chemicals present a risk to children in addition to thousands of dollars in cleanup costs. 

These may be products that are currently in use, but also ones that are languishing behind other bottles of laboratory chemicals--waiting, just waiting for something bad to happen.  Those bottles have often been there for decades.
Picric acid really intrigues me because it is sensitive to sudden movement, heat, or friction.  So, if someone were to say drop a bottle of picric acid in the high school laboratory, there is potential that it could blow out the room.  Here's a YouTube video of an detonation of just 14 grams of pitric acid.  Imagine if there were a jar of this in the school!  (Pitric acid also intrigues me because they used to put it in vaginal suppositories.  What were they thinking?)

An ethyl ether YouTube video shows a violent explosion of another common chemical found in schools.  I guess a good chemistry laboratory may need some dangerous products to teach, but many schools overbuy or hoard dangerous products.  And with teachers leaving and new teachers coming in, the toxic load can increase.

Schools may or may not realize what they have.  Some schools go so far as to do a chemical inventory and obtain a cost estimate to get rid of these products from the school, but when they find out how expensive it is (it could be $4,000 for just one bottle of something especially dangerous), they leave it all where it sits.   So it's back to out of sight, out of mind--and the disposal cost is not going to go down by pretending those chemicals are not there. 

Schools have budgets like everyone and chemical disposal can be very expensive.  A "triage" might help the schools select the most dangerous chemicals to get rid of first so they don't bust the annual budget.

King County, Washington provides a Rehab the Lab program to help schools sort out their chemicals and keep the labs safer for kids.  They also provide lab safety videos.

Art Classrooms

Oil paints, pastels, acrylics, charcoal & graphite dust, markers and inks, spray adhesives, and clean-up solvents are part of the artistic and sometimes toxic potpourri in the art classroom.   

Art supplies can be so dangerous that the  California and Illinois  have legislation to limit toxic art supplies in schools.  They recognize that children cannot read the labels of products to see what they should be exposed to or not.  Paints and other art supplies can produce some of the most eloquent and thought-provoking art, but they can also be carcinogenic or cause allergic reactions while the artist is making her beautiful creations.

Photo Credit Link 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency provides guidance in purchasing nontoxic art supplies as does the Art and Creative Materials InstituteKing County, Washington provides great information on art supplies and selecting less toxic alternatives.



Maintenance

There are a lot of kids tramping through the school and going in and out at recess.  The cleaners tend to be more "heavy-duty" or toxic than at home.  But these cleaners do not have to be so toxic that they cause health problems such as aggravating or even causing asthma. 

For maintenance and other cleaning products, schools have resources such as the Green Schools Initiative, Cleaning for Healthy SchoolsGreen Clean Schools, and  The Environmental Working Group.  There are many web sites and resources for schools to green up their act and clean with nontoxic cleaning products that are not hazardous to children's health.

Photo Credit Link  

General Resources for Change

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recognizes these problems and has developed the Toolkit for Safe Chemical Management Program. You can also check out the Green Schools Initiative

We can keep the kids safe while providing a good--and healthy education.


Thursday, August 30, 2012

Nontoxic Fingernails

Today, I had a message at work from a woman asking if she should put her fingernail polish in with her husband's hazardous waste pile to take to a hazardous waste collection.  I called her back and told her that most nail polish is hazardous and that yes, she should add it to the pile.

I had nail polish on my list of articles to write for this blog, and the call this morning has spurred me on to write about nail polish and nail polish removers.

Nail Polish

I don't paint my nails very often, but when I do, I try to use a non-toxic polish.  I say "try" because in April 2012, the California Environmental Protection Agency published results of testing they did on reportedly "nontoxic" nail polishes to find that many of them are indeed toxic.  The story was picked up by ABC, CBS, and NBC networks.

The California Agency bought 25 products and sent samples to an independent lab to text for the "toxic trio" often found in nail polishes: dibutyl phthalate, toluene, and formaldehyde.  Dibutyl phthalate is absorbed through the skin and can cause developmental defects of fetuses, especially males.  Toluene can cause occupational asthma.  Formaldhyde is a probable carcinogen.  No wonder nail polish is so stinky.  Imagine painting people's nails for a living.  Not a healthy profession, and those paper masks aren't going to help.

What the Agency found from the tests is that some of the nail polish with labels that claimed the product to be "nontoxic" contained at least one of the toxic trio.  And some of the products that did not make any claims to be nontoxic, were actually nontoxic with none of the toxic trio.  So, there is no telling what is in the nail polish without accurate labeling requirements. So, once again, we are buying unregulated products that can be harmful. 

Nail Polish Remover

And then you have to take the polish off at some point.  I once had a pedicure and the nail polish lasted for over a month until I got sick of it and removed it.  My nails didn't look very good after being deprived of oxygen for so long, and the remover really stunk.  I actually used polish remover once to clean a part on a car--I can't remember the details now, but found that it worked quite well.

Most nail polish removers are highly toxic containing acetone.  Acetone poisoning
symptoms are described in a National Institutes of Health document including lowering blood pressure, nausea, vomiting, sweet taste in the mouth, acting as if drunk, difficulty breathing, among many other symptoms.

A common alternative, which is also hazardous due to its flammability, is ethyl acetate.  The US EPA considers it to be relatively nontoxic even though it can cause vomiting, headaches in large amounts.  I suppose vodka could have the same effect.  Hmmm...is vodka a hazardous product?  That could be another post another time.  Choose your poison...preferably vodka to nail polish remover, I think!

Nontoxic Alternatives

Check out various nail polish and removers products at the Skin Deep cosmetics database.   I do know of some supposedly nontoxic nail polish brands that are not on this database.  In my bathroom, I have Peacekeeper and Sante polishes and Suncoat nail polish remover.  The Sante and Suncoat nail products on not in the database.  The Peacekeeper nail polish (2006 formula) does not sound good.  I bought this one more recently so, again, I don't know what's in it.

On the Peacekeeper web site it says, "Rated by the Environmental Working Group as the Safest Paint-Based Natural Nail Polish! Natural Nail Polish at its best! The Environmental Working Group's Cosmetics Safety Database (www.cosmeticsdatabase.org) has independently rated our Eco-Smooth Nail Paints on a scale of 0.0 (for nontoxics like water) and 10 (for products with the highest toxicity). Our polishes, at rank 3, are the highest rated paint-based nail polish.  AND they're 100% Vegan! Who could ask for anything more?"

Well, I could ask that they update their website because I don't find that information on the Skin Deep cosmetics database.  And there are nail polishes in the database that rank at "1" or "2" in toxicity which is lower than Peacekeeper.  And the Peacekeeper I do find is rated as a "4."

You could just eliminate nail polish and removers from your life--and go green.  Your nails will be healthier and your indoor air quality will improve.  Naked nails can be sexy.  Check out this article on buffing.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Teen Angst & the Pharmacy

Prescription drug availability is a real problem.  We keep our drugs on the counter, in the kitchen cupboard, on the dresser, on the night stand, in the medicine chest....  This may be quite a temptation to someone in your household, especially teens.  (Those people that are between childhood and adulthood are going through incredible physical, mental, and emotional change and turmoil.) Would you notice if a few of your pills were missing?  Maybe there are old prescriptions you've saved that you're not using anymore.  Do you know how many pills are in the bottle?  Is there a prescription that you only use when you're in pain and not on a regular basis?  Do you know how many pills are in that bottle?

I think I told you how old I am in the first post, but in case you've forgotten, I'm 54--still.  And since I am a dinosaur, I feel comfortable (well, almost) telling you about my teen years which were a very long time ago, but memorably less than stellar.

I used to be incredibly depressed as a teen.  There are things about my teen years that I don't fully understand even now, but somehow cutting myself with a razor on my wrists put me in control of all the pain.  I was in my mid-teens, maybe around 14 or 15.  School was difficult, relationships at school were difficult, there was peer pressure to have a boyfriend and have sex, and there were abundant drugs available.  Smoking pot during the school lunch hour was very common, and it was out in the open.  Pregnancy looked like a contagious disease, and the adults were not responsive to a request for sex education.  I can still think of at least 10 girls who were pregnant during my tenure at high school in northern New Hampshire.  It was a relatively small school.  I think there were about 60 kids in my graduating class, so the percentage of pregnant girls seems very high to me--and those were the ones I knew about. 

All the cool kids would go to the high school dances across the river in Vermont.  And by "cool," I guess I mean the ones whose parents were clueless or had raised their kids to be more responsible than I was.  My parents were clueless.  I was not a bad kid, I was unhappy, and I wanted to feel better.  I don't remember kids using prescription meds then.  We were more into the over-the-counter meds like No-Doze for an upper and liquid cough medicine for the alcohol.   How stupid, you say?  Well, yes, this is the point.  But we didn't care!  Pop some over-the-counter pills?  Sure, why not.  Life is so boring/confusing/traumatic, why the hell not? At the Vermont dances, there was a lot of activity in the restrooms and the parking lots getting high. 

My parents let me go to the dances because my best friends' father would take us and pick us up.  What my parents didn't know and I never told them is that Mr. X was usually a bit wasted himself with alcohol.  It seemed like everyone was trashed, so why would it feel like a problem?

I'm telling you some of the gory details of my youth to make a point.  And I hope that you, reader, will consider your past and the confusion you may have experienced in growing up.  The teenage years are tough!  They can be really tough.  I'm not a parent, so I can't preach at anyone about parenting, but there seems to be a huge problem about kids and drugs.  I'm not even talking about the illegally produced street drugs, but the ones in your medicine chest. 

So conjure up your teenage angst to help you relate to the following.

Pharm Parties

My nephew being a great sport to pose.
How about some trail mix?  No, not that kind!  OK, how about some Skittles?  The recipe for either is to steal prescription drugs from someone's medicine cabinet (easiest to get your parents' drugs -- they won't notice), then go to a pharm party where all the other kids have done the same thing, take the drugs out of their labeled containers and dump them into a bowl and mix.  Now, grab a handful and wash them down with an alcoholic beverage.  Adderall, Xanax, OxyContin, Vicodin, morphine, whatever....  Trashed, baby, trashed.  Just not the painful normal. 

Oh my gosh, now imagine you're the ER doctor who gets one of these kids who is unconscious and foaming at the mouth.  If you knew what the kid had taken for a drug, maybe you'd know what to do.  But you have no idea--it was a "pharm party" with any prescription drugs they could get hold of.  What do you do?  Damn!  Or maybe you're lucky, and it was a kid who was more savvy about which drugs gave her the high she was looking for and you can find out what she had access to at home or school.  Have a look at this clip from The Drs.

While there has been a marked decrease in the use of some illegal drugs like cocaine, data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health show that nearly one-third of people aged 12 and over who used drugs for the first time in 2009 began by using a prescription drug non-medically.  Check out this ABC News Report video from 2010 on pharming and prescription drug addiction in teens.

And This is My Problem How?

If you live alone and no one has access to your home and therefore your prescriptions, maybe you're just fine.  But if you live with others, in particular those people who are going through hormonal changes, are moody, think you're stupid, and are just generally not having fun, not really, then you should be locking up your medicines and keeping track of how many pills you have.  Yeah, you locked them up, but teenagers are tenacious about getting what they want.  Do you remember?  I remember.  Make sure you do a really thorough job of locking them up.  You don't leave a loaded gun lying around.  Don't leave your drugs lying around either. 

And yeah, you should talk to them about this.  I wish someone had talked to me, but I think I scared my parents so badly that they just watched my downward spiral from afar wishing they knew what to do and just hoping it would pass.  

Dispose of Unwanted, Unused, or Expired Medicines

If you have prescriptions that you no longer need or that have expired, dispose of them properly so they're not a temptation.  First, find out if there is an unwanted medicines take back program in your area.  There have been a few national take-back events in the last couple years.  Have a look at the Federal Office of Diversion Control web site to see if your town is participating.  The next collection is on September 29, 2012 from 10 am to 2 pm.  Who knows how many more collections will be provided if any.  The feds are trying to figure out a more efficient method of collecting unwanted medicines so we'll see.  Also contact your local pharmacy, your town office, your police department, your regional planning commission, or your solid waste management district to see if they have information about a collection.  Check out Dispose My Meds on-line to see if there is a pharmacy near you that has a meds take back program.

Do not throw meds down the drain or down the toilet.  Those drugs end up in our drinking water!

If there is no collection, mix liquid meds with something dry and throw it in the trash.  It's recommended that meds be combined with something disgusting like used kitty litter so no one will want to pull it out of the trash.  I don't have the mind-set of a drug addict, but I've read this so many times, I have to assume there is valid purpose to doing this.



"What is happening to our young people? They disrespect their elders, they disobey their parents. They ignore the law. They riot in the streets inflamed with wild notions. Their morals are decaying. What is to become of them?"
Plato, 4th Century BC

Hmm...Guess it is biological.  Have pity.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Is Your Home Safe for Children?

You want to provide a clean home for your children.  You use cleaning products that promise all kinds of benefits like killing 99.9% of all germs while making your home smell like a tropical jungle.  All surfaces will sparkle, your kids' clothes will be ultra-clean, spot-free, and fragrant.  It sounds great, but is it really? 

Most common household cleaners are harsh.  They can cause all kinds of problems: laundry detergents can cause skin irritation; cleaning product fumes can cause indoor air pollution which can cause airway problems and irritate eyes; the chemicals that make the lovely fragrances have possible links to disrupted hormone levels; and some cleaning products can kill you or your child if used improperly.

Chemical companies are not required to include all ingredients on their cleaning product or air "freshening" labels, and most products have not been thoroughly tested for human health impacts.  However, there are words to look for:  "Caution," "Warning," "Danger," "Poison," and "Keep away from children and pets."

In addition to the indirect dangers of cleaners, many children have been poisoned by sampling these products.  In 2010, U.S. poison centers answered nearly 2.4 million calls about human exposures to poisons.  In children, about 40% of poisonings involve medicines; the other 60% involve products such as plants, cleaning supplies, cosmetics, pesticides, paints, and solvents.  Poisoning is the fourth leading cause of death among children with peak incidences in children between the ages of one and three.  About half of all poison exposures occur to children under the age of six.

According to the Center for Disease Control, every day, over 300 children in the United States ages 0 to 19 are treated in an emergency department, and two children die, as a result of being poisoned. It’s not just chemicals in your home marked with clear warning labels that can be dangerous to children.   It includes the everyday toxic products we purchase and don't think of as hazardous such as cleaning supplies

What Can You Do?

Make sure your cleaning products and other poisons are not accessible to your child.  REMEMBER, many poisonings occur when a product is in use and the parent is occupied with cleaning or when the parent is cooking a meal.

Switch your cleaning products to low or nontoxic cleaners.  There are many cleaners on the market that are much safer--however, beware of "greenwashing" of products.  Some companies use words like "natural" and "nontoxic," but do not prove it on their labels.  Make sure the product states that all ingredients are listed, and you understand what those ingredients are.

These products are pricier, but they may be worth it to a busy parent.  You may want to consider making your own, simple cleaning products with white vinegar, baking soda, and liquid soap (see the Recipes page on this blog).  They take just minutes to make.

When You Have Hazardous Products In Your Home

The Center for Disease Control suggests:

Lock them up. Keep medicines and toxic products, such cleaning solutions, in their original packaging where children can’t see or get them.
Know the number. Put the nationwide poison control center phone number, 1-800-222-1222, on or near every telephone in your home and program it into your cell phone. Call the poison control center if you think a child has been poisoned but they are awake and alert; they can be reached 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Call 911 if you have a poison emergency and your child has collapsed or is not breathing.
Read the label. Follow label directions and read all warnings when giving medicines to children.
Don’t keep it if you don’t need it. Safely dispose of unused, unneeded, or expired prescription drugs and over the counter drugs, vitamins, and supplements. To dispose of medicines, mix them with coffee grounds or kitty litter and throw them away. You can also turn them in at a local take-back program or during National Drug Take-Back events.

Note, these national programs will probably disappear when the federal government finds a better solution--which I hope will be soon.  Never pour medicines down the drain or flush them down the toilet.  They end up in our drinking water as treatment facilities and septic systems do not remove them.

There may also be a household hazardous waste collection in your area for the toxic products you have in your home if you're not going to use them.  Call your town or the solid waste management district to find out.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Pristine Toilette


We clean our homes to rid it of bacteria, but there are some places where there is constant bacteria, and no amount of cleaning will change that for any significant length of time.  I'm talking about our toilets.  If you clean the toilet with a harsh chemical to rid it of all bacteria, someone in your household will then use the toilet and you're right back where you started.  Is it worth using a hazardous cleaner which threatens your health for the fleeting moments of a pristine toilet.

The most intimate we get with our toilets is sitting on them (unless we have the flu).  It's really not necessary to kill every possible germ.  And cleaning with simple and safe ingredients such as vinegar can get rid of most if not all bacteria without jeopardizing your respiratory system.

If you read the back of a toilet bowl cleaner--really read that tiny print that covers the manufacturer's butt, you might think again about using those products in your tiny, poorly-ventilated bathroom:


     DANGER: CORROSIVE.  Causes irreversible eye damage and skin burns.  Harmful if swallowed. Do not get in eyes, on skin or on clothing.  Wear protective eyewear (safety glasses/goggles), protective gloves and protective clothing.  Wash thoroughly with soap and water after handling and before eating, drinking, chewing gum, using tobacco, or using the toilet. Remove and wash contaminated clothing before reuse.  Do not breathe vapor or fumes.  Keep out of reach of children.


It may sound like you're suiting up for a Superfund site, but it's just cleaning your toilet.  Do you really think this is necessary?  Is the threat of these chemical toilet bowl cleaners worth the hour or so of a bacteria-free toilet?  Could you consider using vinegar instead of a toxic brew to keep your family safe and keep your toilet just as clean?















Safer Alternatives

If you are a busy person who does not want to bother making your own cleaners, buy a nontoxic brand like Seventh Generation or Mrs. Myers.  They're a bit pricier than the chemical variety, but way safer.

There are many recipes for low cost, safe toilet bowl cleaners.  If you do a search on-line, you'll come up with oodles.  I simply pour some white vinegar into the toilet bowl (maybe a couple cups--I don't know), scrub the bowl with the toilet brush and let it set until the next use.  Close your toilet brush handle under the toilet seat so the brush drips into the toilet bowl before storing the brush.  You can also add some vinegar to the tank of your toilet for a clean rinse next time you flush.  For an extra flourish, add baking soda to the vinegar--oh that is so much fun!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Make Your Own Hand Soap


Have you noticed that more and more products are no longer antibacterial, but instead are advertising that their product washes away bacteria instead of killing it?  I have, and it kind of irritates me because we never needed the antibacterial chemicals added to our soaps, dishwashing liquid, or what not.  The most common additive to make a product "antibacterial" has been triclosan--a pesticide.  There are still many products out there that have triclosan or some other pesticide in them.

I know I should be grateful that fewer products contain triclosan, instead of grouching about it, but I know it's all about people getting suckered into buying something that's touted as "safer," "improved," "better for the baby," and it's not going to stop now.


There has been a lot of hoopla about these added chemicals, which I expect is causing the removal of them from products.  Some studies claim that the triclosan and similar chemicals can actually make super-bacteria: the bacteria that is not killed off by the pesticide reproduces bacteria that is resistant to pesticide.  Other studies say this is probably not true.  But either way, why should I expose myself needlessly to a pesticide?  Rub my hands in it, for Pete's sake!

There are good bacteria, neutral bacteria, and bad bacteria (pathogens) that cause illness.  But note the good bacteria.  It helps build our immune systems.  It's everywhere.  Stop trying to kill them--they're our own adorable bacteria, and they make us stronger.  Don't be a bacteria bigot!

Just washing our hands with plain soap and water gets rid of most bacteria anyway without help from pesticides. 

If you feel the need for an antibacterial soap, put a few drops of Tea Tree oil in your soap.  The Australian aboriginals have been using it for centuries to heal wounds and clear up infections.  I have not heard of Australian aboriginal men growing breasts from using tea tree oil, but there may be a connection between boys growing excess breast tissue and the use tea tree oil or lavender oil products.  Good grief!  What next?  Will we grow tails for eating too many bananas?

Here's an easy recipe for liquid hand soap:

1/3 cup liquid castile soap
2/3 cup water
5 - 10 drops of your favorite essential oil

If you like foamy soap, put the mixture in a bottle with a foam pump dispenser.  It mixes air with your soap to make the foam.  It's magic.  I bought my bottle at a food cooperative for $2.  You could also reuse one that you already have from another product.

You can buy liquid castile soap in many stores, especially health food stores and cooperatives.  The liquid soap may seem pricey, but it lasts a long time.  Dr. Bronner's soap is more concentrated than some of the others.


Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Scented Room


I like many different smells.  I love citrus and pine and lavender and any number of scents.  I think they're lovely.  But sometimes room scents are just too much, or they can smell a bit chemical-like.  When you notice that the scent is a bit overwhelming or doesn't quite have a completely natural scent, it probably is not natural.

When I was a teenager, it was the rage to have scented candles and incense in our bedrooms.  I had the little brass incense burners from India and big fat, scented candles.  When I was feeling morose (which was most of my adolescence), I would sit in my room becoming saturated with the smells of whatever I'd chosen to burn.

Today, products to create scent are a hot item for gifts and a little "me" time in the bathtub.  Women are the primary purchasers of these items and all the accessories such as holders for candles, incense sticks and potpourri.  We buy these for aromatherapy, mood-enhancements, covering up unpleasant smells, sometimes for a ceremony, a fashion accent, or event for lighting in the case of candles. The market is so good, there are specialty stores that just sell these items.

So, I used to like these smelly products--especially the berry-scented ones as I recall, but now that I'm older than dirt and I hope a little wiser, I don't like these strong smells anymore.  I pretty much don't want to smell anything unless I know it's truly natural and harmless.  When I go into a home with air fresheners, burning scented candles or incense or even potpourri, I don't find it appealing--I just wonder what I'm breathing.  I don't consider myself a paranoid person (though researching for this blog may lead me in that direction), but I am cautious about my health.

When you can smell it, you're inhaling it into your body.  Something to always keep in mind.

Air Fresheners

According to the U.S.  Environmental Protection Agency, air fresheners have four basic ingredients:  formaldehyde, petroleum distillates, p-dichlorobenzene, and aerosol propellents.  They are typically highly flammable and a strong irritant to eyes, skin, and throat.  And they report that the solid versions usually cause death if eaten by humans or pets.   I'm guessing these are young children who are drawn to the pretty colors and smells, and are more susceptible to poisonings.

Prevention magazine reports a study which has shown that more frequent users of air fresheners have an increased link to reduced heart rate variability--which is linked to heart attack and high blood pressure.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) did a study of several air fresheners which uncovered that 12 in 14 of the tested air fresheners contain phthalates--this included the unscented varieties and the ones claiming to be "all natural."  Phthalates can cause hormonal abnormalities, birth defects, and reproductive problems.  A study by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences-National Institutes of Health determined that a chemical compound found in many air fresheners, toilet bowl cleaners, and other deodorizing products may be harmful to the lungs.

Those air fresheners are not sounding that good!  So how about a pretty candle?

Scented Candles

The U.S. EPA did a study on candles in 2001.  The conclusion for candles is that many candles used to have lead wicks.  Metal wicks were banned several years ago by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission--but candles with metal wicks can still be found in stores.  Burning lead wicks can generate indoor airborne lead concentrations of "health concern."  Check the wick to make sure there is no metal wire in the middle of it. 

Most candles are made from paraffin unless they state otherwise.  Paraffin wax is a petroleum by-product created when crude oil is refined into gasoline. It is a white, odorless solid that is formed into slabs, and it is the most commonly used wax for candle making.  Burning paraffin candles causes indoor air pollution.  A study by the University of South Carolina showed that paraffin candles emit toxic chemicals like benzene and toluene.  The study mentioned that soy candles do not emit these nasty by-products, but bees wax was not mentioned.  (I could not find the full study on-line for a look.)  An associate professor from the New York University School of Medicine advices to use caution burning any candles in enclosed spaces. 

Scents in candles are also mostly made from petroleum.  These oils can make the candle burn inefficiently so that black soot results.  This soot has particulate matter that can be breathed in to the lungs.

If you want to set a mood, burn unscented natural candles.  My favorite candles are made from bees wax.  I love the smell even when they're not lit.  I do have some soy-based candles scented with essential oils, but some of them have put soot on my slanted wall--I'm guessing because of the oils.

Incense

A study of temple workers in Asia showed that sustained exposure to incense smoke can result in damage to DNA and greater susceptibility to cancer.

A respiratory tract cancer study in 2008 showed an association of substantial incense use with respiratory tract cancer including nasal/sinus, tongue, mouth, laryngeal and other cancers, but not lung cancer.

Most people in North American are not exposed to incense on a frequent basis, but it's something to keep in mind, especially for people who smoke.  The combination of the two could cause more irritation to the respiratory tract and increase chances of various cancers.

Bouquet of dried lavender
Potpourri

Potpourri often consists of any decoratively shaped dried plant material (not necessarily from scented plants) with strong natural and synthetic perfumes (and often colored dyes) added.  Other vegetative materials with no scent may be added for bulk and a pretty mixture.   There are spray scents to use in potpourri--these are typically synthetic.

If you want to know what is in your potpourri (and thus what you are inhaling), you can make your own.  If you dry flowers or buy dried flowers, herbs, and spices and the fragrance is not strong enough, just add a few drops of essential oils.  There are many recipes available on-line if you do a search. Many health food stores sell dried flowers such as roses or lavender in bulk as well as many herbs and spices (including orris root which is used as a scent fixative).

Safer Alternatives for Freshening the Air

soy candle from WayOutWax.com
If you can improve your ventilation for more fresh air when it's reasonable, then that's a start.  Instead of covering up a smell, get rid of it, if you can, by cleaning.  If you still want some scent in your home, consider the following:

-  Use a natural air freshener that provides all ingredients on the label for you to check and does not have aerosol propellents
-  Make an air freshener spritzer with vodka, white vinegar, or just plain water and several drops of essential oils
-  Use pure bees wax or soy candles with cotton wicks
-  If someone stinks up the bathroom (not you, of course), just light a match and hold it in the air for a few seconds
electric Aroma Stone
-  Make your own potpourri so you have control of what's in it
-  Buy an electric or clay diffuser for essential oils

Don't let anyone else tell you what smells best.  Use your head as well as your nose.



Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Stinky Shower Curtain

When I moved into my apartment about 12 years ago, I bought a new shower curtain.  Since I only have a shower stall, I cut the curtain in half length-wise to save the second half for when the first half wore out.  (I am a frugal New Englander, afterall!)  The curtain had a strong smell in my bathroom for a long time.

After eight years, the first half was ripping off the shower curtain rings, so I discarded it, and pulled the second half out of the original plastic packaging.  The smell was intense.  After all those years, the shower curtain was still outgassing its chemicals because it had been folded up and stored in plastic holding in the toxic fumes--only to be released when I removed it from the package.

A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency study in 2002 said the toxic fumes could be smelled in a house for over a month.  In 2008, the Center for Health, Environment, and Justice performed another study which confirmed the approximate length of time the fumes remain in the home.

Key findings of the Center's report include that PVC shower curtains:

-   release over 100 chemicals into the air
-   contain high levels of phthalates
-   contain high levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
-   contain organotins
-   contain lead, cadmium, and other metals
-   release an increase of chemicals with the rise of heat and humidity
-   are being phased out by retailers

Recommendations for consumers:

-   Avoid shower curtains made with PVC, as well as other PVC products, especially those that are flexible. These products are not always labeled although some may be labeled as “vinyl” or “PVC.”   This includes toys!!
-   Do not buy shower curtains that are not labeled.
-   Purchase PVC-free shower curtains made out of safer materials including organic cotton.


It can be confusing to know the difference in types of plastics since the name "vinyl" is often used for more than one kind of plastic.  The universal recycling symbol for PVC is the number "3."  (Note that very little recycling of PVC goes on.)  And when you're only given acronyms for plastic materials, it's the "C" for chlorine that should clue you in that it will be outgassing in your home.  When is "vinyl" not PVC?  The Healthy Building Network provides a quick primer on plastics.

I know more about this PVC plastic now, and I'd never buy a PVC curtain again! I figure I've got another four years to use the PVC curtain I already have.  It's already outgassed into my apartment a few years ago.  I like the idea of a fabric option as I could toss it into the wash and then hang it to dry.

And when my PVC curtain is worn out as a shower curtain, I won't throw it into the trash right away this time, I'll use it as a tarp for something else--like hauling autumn leaves into the woods.



Monday, June 25, 2012

Bountiful Button Batteries

Aren't those flashing sneakers that kids wear adorable?  Every step they take, the sneaker lights up at the heel.  And those little stuffed animals, toys, and children's books that make realistic sounds like various birds--hawks, blue jays, robins....  And the greeting cards we can purchase now.  You open one up and it sings to you.  How cool is that!

Fast forward--the sneakers are no longer blinking, the birds are no longer squawking, and the song from the card is waning--if you keep your cards that long.  Now what happens to those products that no longer function properly.  The batteries inside have died, so of course you'll just throw out the product, won't you?




The tiny, worn out button batteries inside these products are hazardous waste.  Does this surprise you?   It seems like there should be instructions about what to do with the batteries when they're spent--but there are not instructions or warnings with most of these products.

Most button cell batteries  contain mercury, silver, cadmium, lithium or other heavy metals as their main component.  Button cell batteries can contain up to 25 ppm (parts per million) of mercury. Mercuric-oxide batteries may contain up to 50% mercury by weight. Mercury can cause nerve damage and can bioaccumulate in fish and other aquatic species.   Cadmium can damage the lungs and kidneys.

Remember the saying, "Mad as a Hatter"?  This is a historic expression going back to the 19th century when mercuric nitrate was used to shape and convert fur into felt hats.   In those days, hatters commonly exhibited slurred speech, tremors, irritability, shyness, depression, and other neurological symptoms from mercury exposure.  And thus was born the expression, “mad as a hatter.”  Lewis Carroll used a "mad hatter" character in his story, "Alice in Wonderland."

When we throw button batteries into the trash, we are adding to the air pollution from the waste incinerators and contributing to the hazardous concoctions leaving landfills as leachate.  The leachate is treated similarly to sewage wastewater and then eventually put back into our water systems.

Button batteries are incredibly common these days, they're not just in children's products.  We have them in our cameras, penlights, hearing aids, watches, calculators, electronic tea candles, flashing jewelry, remote control devices, fever thermometers, and lots more.

What To Do If Someone Swallows a Button Battery?

There are other dangers of button batteries.  In the United States, more than 3,500 people of all ages swallow miniature disc or “button” batteries--every year.  A CBS News Report tells us that the battery may lodge in the throat or esophagus where body fluids can erode the battery within two hours releasing its toxic metals which can damage the body's tissue.  

Information about the symptoms after swallowing a button battery are similar to the flu according to the MedLine Plus fact sheet from the National Institutes of Health.  If someone swallows a battery, immediately call the local 911, the National Button Battery Ingestion Hotline at 202-625-3333 or the National Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222.

What Do I Do with Spent Batteries?

Keep in mind that when batteries no longer operate a product, it does not mean the battery is completely dead.  So, there is a possibility that they could start a fire if stored together.  You might consider putting tape on the batteries so they do not short each other to potentially explode or cause a fire.  They can also explode when exposed to extreme heat as shown on a YouTube video (everything's on YouTube).  This is an extreme example, but I also found that batteries can explode when in metal containers such as trash cans left in direct sunlight.

Many recycling sources recommend taping the terminals on batteries prior to storing in preparation for recycling or disposal.  In the case of button batteries, you should tape the entire battery.  If you have several button batteries, you can also lay out a strip of tape with the sticky side up and place a number of button batteries on the tape so the batteries do not touch each other, and then cover them with another piece of tape--sticky side down to sandwich the batteries between the tape strips.  Place taped, spent, button batteries in a child-proof container such as a prescription bottle and store out of reach of children. 

Sometimes, retailers such as pharmacies will accept spent button batteries back.  If not, contact your municipal government or solid waste management district to find a household hazardous waste collection for your batteries.

Maybe we could live without so many button batteries, by choosing products without hazardous parts.  Want to give a singing greeting card?  Hand-deliver it and sing a tune yourself!





Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Family Camp & Greenwashing

Grammy & Grampa taking a break while building our camp
Today, my family met out at our lakeside camp in New Hampshire.  My grandparents built the camp in the 1950s.  Some of the lumber used to build the camp was made at my father's sawmill.  When my grandparents died, my parents bought the camp and later deeded it to my siblings and me.  It's a spectacular place right on the lake with a mountain and lots of conserved land on the other side of the lake.  This year there are two baby loons, and we heard the loons calling on and off all day.

The lake is precious to us, and we want to protect it and keep it clean.  But somehow toxic products pop up at our camp every year--potential threats to the cleanliness of the water--not to mention our own bodies.  Septic systems (and sewage treatment plants) are not designed to remove all toxins.  So these chemicals can end up in our water supplies.  Lakefront properties are more likely to pollute as there is a shorter distance from leach fields to water.  And old camps are notorious for having archaic septic systems such as holding tanks that can overflow, or even an old car body for the septic tank--really!

We were gathered on this gorgeous day at the camp to clean it and do repair work before my cousins arrive for a visit.  My mother was cleaning with a commercial cleaner that stunk up the camp.  She taught me to clean with vinegar and yet there she is with a toxic, pine-perfumed cleaner she'd found under the sink going at all the kitchen cabinets.  I acted indignant which did not help (I regress about 30 years in her presence), and I stayed outside weeding until she was finished.  There was also white vinegar which I mixed with water and used to clean walls, floors, and windows.

Poster Product for "Greenwashing"
When I looked under the sink, all kinds of toxic products had grown there since last year.  This included fabric deodorizers, furniture polish, chlorine, and ammonia.  All unnecessary in my opinion since there are nontoxic alternatives (see recipes page).   Another product under the sink was "Simple Green All-Purpose Cleaner."  I think of this product as the poster product for "greenwashing."  Doesn't this name sound wonderful?  "Simple" implies that there are very few ingredients so it should be good for the environment.  And the word "green," well, nuf said.  They do not list their ingredients on the label, but it does say, "Non-Toxic" and it has the Good Housekeeping seal which provides a warranty for effectiveness, not safety.

I looked up the MSDS (materials safety data sheet) for Simple Green and found it is mostly water with other ingredients of 2-butoxyethanol, ethoxylated alcohol, tetrapotassium pyrophosphate, sodium citrate, fragrance, colorant.  There's nothing simple or green about this product which is labeled as "non-toxic." 

I'll just stick to the first ingredient after water--which is plentiful fodder for this discussion as you'll see.  The ingredient 2-butoxyethanol has several other names including butyl cellosolve.  Many products use this chemical including glass cleaners.  The U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety & Health Administration states that 2-butoxyethanol exposure can produce a variety of symptoms, health effects, and can affect eyes, skin, respiratory system, the central nervous systems, hematopoietic system (production of blood), blood, kidneys, liver, and lymphoid system.  I know there may be a relatively small amount of this chemical in Simple Green, but I don't know at what point it will affect me.  And if I am exposed to a bunch of other cleaners with similar or reactive ingredients, my chances of becoming ill from exposure increase.

"Greenwashing" is defined as a company spending lots of money on advertising and trying to convince us that a product is green, while they spend very few resources on trying to actually be green.

A 2010 Greenwashing Report by TerraChoice states that more than 95% of consumer products claiming to be green were found to commit "greenwashing."  Products that are tested and certified by a reliable third-party such as EcoLogo and Green Seal, make it easier to know which products are safe for you.  Careful, however, as it is possible to actually buy a "green-sounding seal" on-line for as little as 15 bucks.  How about "Green as a Frog" seal, "Pure as the Driven Snow," seal or "Sunshine in a Bottle" seal?  We could make up all kinds of catchy names for a seal that sound environmentally friendly, but don't mean a thing!  When a reputable seal is not available on a product, note if they provide a list of all ingredients--they'll tell you if it's a complete list if they have nothing to hide.  You can also check out the National Institutes of Health Household Products Database.  And of course, you can search for the MSDS on line to see for yourself what ingredients are in the product.  Can't pronounce an ingredient?  Don't buy the product unless it explains what it is and it sounds safe.

Check out the recipes page on this site to find recipes for nontoxic cleaners made with simple, green ingredients that work and won't kill you.   Vinegar, baking soda, and glycerine soap just aren't that scary! 

Next time I go out to camp, I won't be cleaning, I'll be swimming, canoeing, or just sitting on the deck enjoying the sounds and view.





Monday, June 11, 2012

Mothball Madness

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I just went out by my landlord’s shed looking for my cat.  The stench from mothballs was incredible.  And there lay my kitty next to the shed inhaling those noxious fumes. 

So, I asked my landlord why he has mothballs in his shed.  He said there were so many mice in there, he had to do something.  Mothballs for mice?  Are they also "miceballs"?  I don’t think so, and even if they were, they’re still nasty, noxious poisons that I don’t want to smell.  I don’t want my cat to inhale them, I don’t want my landlord’s dog to inhale them, I don’t want the foxes that have been outside doing their weird scream inhaling them.

The National Pesticide Information Center says that mothballs, flakes, crystals, or bars are all insecticides.  (This website very clearly states that mothballs are not snake repellent—so somewhere out there, people are thinking that mothballs are actually "snakeballs.")  They are solid, but slowly release a toxic gas to kill moths and other insects.  Mothballs in the U.S. are either primarily naphthalene or paradichlorobenzene.  They’re meant to be in enclosed containers to trap the insecticidal vapors and kill any moths or moth eggs or larvae on fabric.  If mothballs are in the open (like a drafty shed), they can harm people, pets, and wildlife if they touch them, breathe the vapors, or eat them.   It is illegal to use mothballs in any way other than those for the intended use of fabric protection.  (Would someone please come arrest my landlord!  Maybe he’ll lower the rent.  Okay, I just called and talked to him, and he was very reasonable about cleaning up the shed.  I will take the mothballs to a hazardous waste collection.)

Naphthalene exposure can cause headache, nausea, dizziness, and breathing difficulties.  Eating just one mothball containing naphthalene can damage a young child’s red blood cells.  Just the length of the word “Paradichlorobenzene” should scare you!  In humans, this chemical is distributed in the blood, fat, and breast milk.  While the World Health Organization considers paradichlorobenzene to be a possible carcinogen, the Environmental Protection Agency says it is “not likely to be carcinogenic to humans.”   The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences has found relationships between mothball use to several other chronic diseases such as Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma.  I don't care what the EPA says, insecticide is poison, and it can't be a healthy thing to breathe.

OK, this is important: if you can smell mothballs, you are inhaling the insecticide.  This can cause long-term health affects.  Place these deadly orbs in an airproof container like a can with a lid and take them to a hazardous waste collection for proper disposal.

Alternatives to Mothballs

Cedar smells lovely, but it does not keep the moths away.  Cedar chests only keep moths away from your cloths because you close the chest lid to keep the moths out.  

If you're concerned about moths, place your natural fiber clothing in airtight containers or bags.  Moths don’t go for synthetics.  (I don’t either, by the way.)  But they do go for natural/synthetic blends and stains from animal sources—like blood, gravy, sweat, so don't store dirty clothes.  For existing infestations, vacuum out drawers, closets, and upholstered furniture with a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate arresting) air filter vacuum cleaner.  Lint and pet or human hair that has been undisturbed can be breeding areas for moths—a really good reason to keep a clean home.

And remember, these are mothballs--they're not "miceballs," "snakeballs," "deerballs," "slugballs"...they're mothballs.  Repeat after me...........And stop snickering about all those balls--what are you, 12?


Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Carmelized Enamel Pot


Have you ever been cooking something and had the urge to multi-task?  Maybe you think you could just slip outside for a minute to take out the trash while you have something brewing on the stove.  Sometimes, it turns out OK, and other times you might wish you'd hung around the stove for just a minute longer.

My friend and co-worker Pat was cooking up some hummingbird sugar water on her stove, but she got distracted.  The sugar and water burned up into a lovely caramel mess stuck to her pan.  The pan is a Le Crueset which is rather expensive.  She wondered if she had destroyed her lovely pan, but she did an on-line search and came across several suggestions from e-How.  First she tried the denture cleaner method which didn't do much.  She then tried the following recipe and it removed almost all of the burnt sugar.  She did it a second time to make the pan pristine, and back to its lovely self.

I personally am a multi-tasker and have destroyed more than one tea kettle.  I will remember this recipe for the future.


Enamel Pot Cleaner Recipe
Pour two tablespoons of baking soda into the burnt enamel pot. Add two tablespoons of hydrogen peroxide, two drops of dish soap, and one cup of water. Place the pot onto the stove and turn on to low. Gently boil the solution for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove the pot from heat and let it cool before using the scrub brush to remove burned-on material.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Is Your Pet Being Poisoned?

There is a lot of controversy right now about flea and tick protection products for cats and dogs.  I guess it's been going on for a few years, but I have been oblivious until I became the owner of my cat, Heidi.  She entered my life about a year ago when my lovely neighbor, Winona passed away.

Heidi P. Rascal
Heidi is a "special" kitty with lots of emotional and physical issues.  When she first arrived, her fearful behavior and lack of fur in places indicated that Heidi must have been abused before she arrived into Nona's capable and loving care.  Heidi got her name, not for the little Swiss girl in the Johanna Spyri story, but because she is such a good little hider.  She lived in the basement for about three months after arriving at Nona's.  It took a long time for Heidi to learn to trust Nona.  And longer still for Heidi to trust me, though Nona insisted I get well acquainted with Heidi to take care of her if anything happened to Nona--who died at the age of 80.

So, I took my new neurotic charge to the vet to make sure I was doing everything possible to make her safe and healthy.  She's on steroids for irritable bowel (not happy about that, but the alternatives were allowing her to lose weight rapidly), she eats special food, and she has her flea and tick prevention--Frontline Plus--a monthly application.    This chemical brew includes fipronil and (5)-methoprene as the active ingredients.  The inert ingredients make up over 78% of the content-- wonder what those are!  Oh, that's right, I can look at the Materials Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) available on-line!  It says Frontline also contains 58-73% (is the recipe whimsical?) Diluent, Viscosity Modifer/Spreading Agent, and Solvation Aids.  My, that was helpful.  There's also 10-15% ethanol, so a great fire starter for the wienies.

At the very end of the MSDS, it states "Final determination of suitability of any materials is the sole responsibility of the user.  All materials may present unknown hazards and should be used with caution.  although certain hazards are described herein, Merial [the product maker] cannot guarantee that these are the only hazards that exist."  Phew, I will sleep much better tonight. 

Clyde, King of the Neighborhood
Ironically, I am trying to eliminate chemicals from my home, and I am applying Frontline Plus to my precious Heidi by instruction of our veterinarian.  I was told it is a better option than allowing fleas and ticks to make her sick.  But then I learned that cats rarely if ever get Lyme Disease from ticks.  I confirmed this with my vet!

I have just begun learning about the pesticides in the flea and tick preparations for pets.  It's frightening actually.  There are websites devoted to people's pets having succumbed to the poisons in the very products supposedly meant to help these pets.    Many of the lethal products are over-the-counter, but it gives me pause to wonder if I should be using one of the "safer" poisons available at the vet's on my precious kitty.  A news report by ABC News Channel 5 is an example of the concern about even the vet-provided products.  I don't want fleas and ticks in my home, but neither do I want to poison Heidi or cause her more pain.  And I don't want to poison myself either.  When we touch our pets, we are transferring the poisons to ourselves--and when our children pet them, they are being exposed to poison as well. 

I am researching other pest control methods, and I found the Tiny Timmy website.  This site began due to a heartbreaking story about a kitten, Timmy, being poisoned by over-the-counter spray and suffering permanent neurological damage.  The good news is that Timmy is in a loving home and is well cared for now.  The operators of this web site offer a nontoxic pest control bath application, but I can't imagine giving Heidi a bath with any product.  Heidi does a "Jekyll and Hyde" thing when confronted by unwanted attention--and I expect a bath would fall into the unwanted category--she changes from Heidi, my precious little muffin to Hell Cat in a flash.  (Seriously, she ripped my shirt once when I just wanted to introduce her to someone--in my apartment.)  Claudia (Under Secretary for Timmy Affairs, Division of the T.O.Y. Army) wrote that they are working on a nontoxic pest spray for cats.  That would be so much appreciated!

Stay tuned, but beware of the pesticides for your pet.  Talk to your vet.  Certainly do NOT assume that if a pet spray, powder, or other application is sold in a store that it is safe.  It is probably not.

Check out the product database for pet pesticide products at the Natural Resource Defense Council's Green Alternatives for Flea Control web page.  Look up your product on their product database to see how safe it is.  Also see their How to Control Fleas and Ticks Without Chemicals page for nontoxic alternatives.  Hmmm...would Heidi let me sponge her with lemon juice.  Well, safer for me than trying to give her a bath!  Ticks are rampant here in Vermont this year due to an oddly mild winter--so I'm feeling flummoxed.  I really don't want those blood-sucking arachnids in my home! Grrrrr........

Note dated July 15, 2012:  I switched Heidi's vet, and I switched from Frontline to Revolution as a monthly application.  In my state of indecision, I'd let the Frontline lapse for 20 days and the new vet found lots of fleas on Heidi.  I hadn't noticed them.  My new vet suggested that Revolution is less toxic than Frontline and since Heidi has a lot of problems, it's not a good thing for her to have a flea infestation.  I put the Revolution on her, and suddenly I was being bitten by fleas at home.  I took all of the bedding and any other fabrics in my bedroom to the laundry and hung them out to dry.  I vacuumed the mattress and flipped it over.  No more flea bites for Heidi or me!