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!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Gravestone Cleaning

As Memorial Day approaches, we will be thinking of those we lost and visit their cemetery sites. We will plant geraniums, lobelia, and pansies to make a statement about those we loved…that we still remember them and they are in our hearts, and we honor them by maintaining the site that is a memorial to them.

We will also want to keep the family stone clean free of lichen and moss.  It may add some character, but it can also fill up the incised lettering and start to deteriorate the stone.  This is a very easy cleaning job as I found out when visiting my family’s stone in a nearby town cemetery with my aunt.  We poured water over the stone, and then easily scraped off the lichen and moss with a simple car windshield scraper.  It worked great.  The one we used had a hard plastic handle and a softer plastic scraper. 

You could use other types of scrapers as long as they are not as hard as the stone such as wooden craft sticks, or a wooden or bamboo spatula.  Do not use metal.  If you use metal or something with metal edges or even a metal-bristle brush, you are likely to do a great job removing all the lichen, moss, and algae, but it might also damage the stone making it more susceptible to future damage.  Power washing is not recommended, and do not try to clean a stone that is already flaking or delaminating.  You may want to get professional help to maintain the stone.  

We also used a nylon bristle brush to get into the lettering to remove the lichen.  We were not able to remove the flat growth that clung to the stone, but most of that was on the rougher sides of the stone and not where the lettering had been made.

Most household cleaners are more acidic than the stones, so if you use them to clean the headstone, you may be causing a chemical reaction that will eventually show up as the stone erodes.  Bleach will do just that and change the color of the stone, and possibly make the stone porous and rough to the touch.  Plain water works just fine.

Memorial Day also reminds us to tend to our flags as we lower them to half-mast for the day.  If you have a flag that has been frayed over the winter, have a look to see if it’s cotton or nylon or some other synthetic material.  Cotton flags are fine to give to the Boy Scouts or Veterans of Foreign Wars for ceremonial burning on Flag Day in June.  However, the synthetic versions of the American flag should not be burned as they produce toxic gas and pollute our air. 

American Flags, Inc. is providing a flag-recycling program.  There is a small fee depending on the size of your flag, and you do have to mail it to the company.   I sent my neighbor’s torn nylon flag in for recycling after he died.  I folded it into the traditional triangle and mailed it with a $4 check to Wisconsin.  I know my 101 year-old neighbor Joe would have approved.  (Note on 10/16/13:  I found the above link to be broken and can only find the following service for recycling an American flag:

Remembrance Day in Canada is in November to recall the end of WWI.   Canada Day in July is Memorial Day in Newfoundland and Labrador.  I just found a site for recycling Canadian Flags.  I don't see any details, but you can contact them Monday through Friday from 9am to 5 pm EST at 1-800-565-4100 or 

Friday, May 18, 2012

Laundry Line

I love doing laundry.  I know it sounds crazy--and I even have to use the laundromat because my apartment is so tiny.  OK, I don't like the laundromat part, but I love hanging my laundry to dry:  in the winter, on my drying rack in my apartment; in the three warmer seasons, in the sun on the laundry line.  I'm not sure what it is about it, but it makes me feel content to know my laundry is drying on the line--even while I'm at work.

When I hang my damp laundry out in the sun and fresh air, it smells so delicious when I bring them in--especially the sheets.

I could just bring in my dish rag and throw it over the faucet to dry, but there are some bacteria-fighting properties in the sun's ultra-violet rays, as well as bleaching properties for mild stains or yellowing on white clothing.  If you don't have a backyard like I do to hang out your clothes, have a look at the Urban Clothlines for options.  If you are having trouble being allowed to hang out your laundry, have a look at the Project Laundry List site for ideas.  They also have a calculator to see how much money you would save by not using your dryer.

For washing my laundry, I am currently using Seventh Generation Natural Laundry Detergent.  It is biodegradable, hypo-allergencic, and free of perfumes and dyes.  My kind of cleaner.  But the truth is that I've never really noticed the difference in any of the laundry cleaners that I've used--regular or natural--except I don't like a perfume smell on my clothes.  I've even used Soap Nuts, and they worked just fine for me.  I guess soap nuts are actually berries grown in Nepal and India, but you throw those babies into the wash and they clean your clothes.  Go figure.

For stains, I simply wet the stained area and rub it with soap as soon as I can after the stain is made, and then toss the article into the laundry bag.  It works for me.  I think the variety of fabrics, the types of stains, and the different minerals and chemicals in our water make it difficult to know what would work best for a particular stain, but there are a lot of recipes out there.  Here is one recipe from a busy mom's blog that works for her.

I don't use a softener, but if I did, I'd just use white vinegar--my friends swear by it!  Sometimes I add a bit of Borax or Washing Soda to my wash if I remember to take it to the laundromat.  It's supposed to boost the detergent, but like I said--I'm not that fussy.

Consumer Report is fussier than I am.  In a study they found that the only "green" cleaner that worked well enough for them is Seventh Generation.  Maybe I don't notice much difference because I don't get that dirty--I don't know....

But there are many reasons to use a natural laundry detergent instead of the many petroleum-based ones in the store.  And I will leave you here, as this gets a little too technical--and I need to check my laundry line.

The US Environmental Protection Agency lists the key characteristics of laundry detergent by materials in laundry detergents, and it ain't pretty:

Surfactants:  Toxicity to aquatic organisms, like fish (vertebrates), daphnids (invertebrates) and algae; persistence in the environment; toxicity of biodegradation byproducts.

Builders:  Potential to cause eutrophication in fresh water (eutrophication is the process by which a body of water becomes rich in dissolved nutrients, diminishing oxygen levels and a water body's ability to support various forms of aquatic life).

Bleach:  Inherent toxicity and toxic byproducts.   Examples:   Sodium hypochlorite, which can form hazardous gases and chlorinated organic byproducts; may also damage fibers in clothing and fabrics, which can lead to the generation of excess lint, a potential fire hazard during drying; Sodium perborate, which can present both human health and ecological concerns; and Dichloro-isocyanurate may form toxic gas, nitrogen-trichloride, a threat to human health.

Colorants:  Toxicity. Studies indicate that certain colorants may cause cancer or other adverse health effects in humans (e..g., Rhodamine B). Metalized dyes present health and environmental concerns.

Optical Brighteners:  Potential toxicity to humans.  Examples: Aminotriazine- or stilbene-based whiteners. Toxicity data indicate that these compounds may cause developmental and reproductive effects, but additional testing is needed to confirm these concerns.

Solvents:  Toxicity to humans and aquatic organisms.  Examples: For human health concerns, ethylene glycol monobutyl ether; for environmental concerns, d-limonene.

Wash Water:  Highly caustic or acidic wash environments; may cause severe irritation or burns to living tissue in humans or aquatic organisms.  Example: High alkaline breaks, low pH sours. Highly alkaline ingredients can lead to alkaline hydrolysis on polyester fibers, shortening linen life. Extreme pH effluents may also damage pipes and sewer lines.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Chemical Pneumonia

Several years ago I lived in Mississippi.  It's a long story why a New Englander was down south, but the short version is that my brother was in New Orleans and he became ill.  The closest I could get to him was to move to Mississippi where I got a job in Jackson.  My boyfriend at the time and I rented a house in Hazelhurst.  This town was the setting for the story and movie, Crimes of the Heart by Beth Henley.  It's an oldy but goody film with Diane Keaton, Jessica Lange, and Sissy Spacek.  There were some eccentric characters in that movie, and there were still some eccentric characters in the town when I lived there.  The landlady of the house we rented had a shrine to Elvis in her living room, she was about 80 years old, still had a figure to die for, and drove around in an old Cadillac.  She said her daughter had shot her once, so perhaps they were part of the inspiration for the Crimes of the Heart story.

The house we rented from our sweet, eccentric neighbor was a lovely old bungalow, but one of the rooms had mildew all over the walls.  I was told that cleaning the walls with a mixture of bleach and water would get rid of it.  While cleaning the walls, I tended to hover over the bucket.  This was a really bad thing to do as when I had finished cleaning, my lungs started to hurt when I breathed.  I kept going to work, but I decided to call the poison control center.  A very helpful woman told me that I had chemical pneumonia.  I described the severity of my symptoms, and she said it didn't sound too bad.  It did clear up after a few days, but I've never wanted to work with bleach since that experience.

An article about cleaners causing lung issues is on the New York Times Health web page:  Chemical Pneumonitis.  And I found an article on 3 Ways to Kill Mold Naturally by Care2. Since I don't live in such a humid climate anymore and my apartment tends to be dry, I thankfully can't try out these recipes.  But, they include two of my favorite cleaning ingredients: tea tree oil and vinegar.  I've never tried the grapefruit seed extract, but I have heard it's a good non-toxic cleaning ingredient.

Friday, May 4, 2012

My Windows are calling....

It's a rainy, gray day here in Vermont, and yet I can see very clearly that my windows are in need of spring cleaning.  The idea of using smelly ammonia-based window cleaners in my tiny apartment is not appealing.

Fortunately, there is an easy alternative that is much cheaper and much more environmentally friendly.  I was taught by my mother who was probably taught by her use white vinegar and water to clean windows.  You can put a mixture of half water and half white vinegar in a spray bottle or a bucket.

Unfortunately, if you have been using commercial cleaning products on your windows, it has probably left a waxy film on the glass.  You must use a bit of soapy water to clean this off before you can use the simple vinegar recipes.

The smell of vinegar is potent, but it dissipates after a few hours.  As does ammonia I suppose, but vinegar doesn't scare me...ammonia does.  I don't want it on my skin, I don't want to breathe it.

To dry the windows, I use crumpled up newspaper to make them streak free.  This also works great on mirrors too!

So, what's in the commercial window cleaners other than ammonia?  Since the federal government does not require cleaning companies to put all the ingredients on the label, it's hard to say.  Windex-like products typically contain detergents (petroleum-based), the ammonia, a chemical-based fragrance to moderate the odor of ammonia, and some form of dye to make the product blue or green.

That's a lot of chemicals just to clean a window!

Remember the movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding?  The dad thought Windex could be used for anything, even body ailments.  I actually believe vinegar is the great "fix-it."

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

About those medicines...

Today a woman asked me how she could get rid of her cancer medications.  This is such a tough issue.  The US federal government tells people to mix it with something noxious and throw it into the trash.  This is better than dumping it down the drain or flushing it down the toilet where eventually it could end up in our drinking water.  Septic systems and wastewater treatment facilities don't remove everything, ya know.  But, geez, shouldn't they be telling people to look for a medicines collection first?

There are many medicines collections throughout the US and other countries.  Unwanted medicines are everywhere in people's medicine chests and on their counter tops.  These can be a real temptation for junior and his buddies.  Or they can be a disaster for an elderly person who can't read the labels anymore.  Drugs are also a leading cause of poisoning for pets.  Do they demolish the pill bottle and eat the contents?  Hmmm....

The US Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Agency has provided one-day collections in the last few years every few months across the country.  Check to see if there is an upcoming collection at DEA Drug Takeback Schedules.  This web site will tell you what towns have signed up for the 3-hour collection.

However, they will probably stop once the feds figure out a collection system that is more convenient and provided on a regular basis.  But until they do that, keep all your drugs out of reach and hidden.  For unwanted drugs, look for a medicine collection in your area--call your town, the state, or solid waste management district, talk to your druggist.  If there is no collection, put your drugs in the trash.

The reason you might want to mix your solid drugs with something liquid and nasty or your liquid drugs with something like used kitty litter before tossing into the trash is potentially a drug addict could rifle through your trash looking for drugs to take.  I don't know how valid that concern is, but there it is.