You might expect that only people who work in
occupations that expose them to myriad chemicals or people
who live adjacent to Superfund sites would be found to have
high levels of chemicals in their blood and urine. But research
done by the Centers for Disease Control and the Environmental
Working Group in Washington D.C. shows that measurable levels
of 148 chemicals have been found in ordinary Americans of
all ages, in all places. The measure of pollution in people
is called "body burden."
Going ... Going ...
More than 100,000 chemicals are in use today in the United
States. What percentage would you guess have been tested to
determine their effects on human health? Fifty percent? Thirty?
No. Only 10 percent of these chemicals have been tested to
determine how exposure to them affects people's health. Human
bio-monitoring holds the most promise for unlocking the complicated
task of determining which chemical exposures are the most
harmful to humans.
Until scientists unravel the mysteries of environmental
factors and health, it makes sense to look around your home
and think about the ways you can limit chemical exposure to
your family, especially to your children who are typically
more vulnerable to toxins than adults. After all, the home
place is where most people spend the most time.
Perhaps the only way to have a truly "green" home is to
start from scratch with the least toxic producing building
materials, products and methods of construction, hiring a
"green" contractor and a "green" decorator. That is just not
feasible for most homeowners. With the school district setting
the example for eliminating the use of pesticides and toxic
cleaning materials in our schools, we wondered, "How can the
average family cut their risks of toxic exposures at home?"
We turned to Laura Weinberg, president of the Great Neck
Breast Cancer Coalition and an advocate for healthier homes
and healthier communities. We thought if anyone had taken
steps at home to limit exposure to harmful chemicals, it would
be she. So we asked her for a tour of her home.
Ms. Weinberg is quick to say, "My home is a work in progress.
I don't hold my home up as a perfect example of a green home.
It began with my concerns about the use of pesticides used
so freely in gardens. I searched until I found someone who
uses an organic approach to pest control ... I am always searching
for safe, yet effective products. It takes much research and
reading the small print." It is a one-step-at-a-time process.
We sat at Ms. Weinberg's kitchen table. Even it had a story.
When she had needed to replace her old table, she deliberated
not just on shape, style and size, but the degree to which
the materials used would "outgas." Formaldehyde, considered
a likely carcinogen, is used in many products such as glues
and adhesives, lacquers and finishes. Ms. Weinberg felt it
was a safer bet to choose a glass-topped table.
From there, we checked out the household cleaning products.
A disclaimer is in order. Ms. Weinberg is quick to note that
she does not sell or distribute any of the products she personally
uses. This article is not to be considered an endorsement
of any products. It is what it is, a recounting of what Ms.
Weinberg has researched and feels comfortable using in her
She says, "The more the public demands 'green' products,
the more companies will manufacture them and the selection
will be even better. But be careful when you purchase them;
some companies still use the same chemicals but water them
down." She adds, "Some people are addicted to that strong,
cleaning product smell. They are used to it, but even my cleaning
lady became a convert to green products. She had had regular
bouts with bronchitis and she liked the products I use so
much that now she insists on using them in other households
that she services."
A heavy duty scouring cleaner made by Shaklee "smells like
you could rub it on your face." Ms. Weinberg says it is gentle,
but does the job.
Ms. Weinberg stores food in glass containers in the frig
and has "chucked all my Teflon pans. I have to use more elbow
grease to clean them, but it's well worth the effort." She
also avoids using plastic wrap on food in the microwave. In
fact, she rarely uses the microwave. And did you know that
the microwave popcorn bags are coated in a Teflon product?
Ms. Weinberg shops for organically produced goods and supports
locally grown fruit and vegetables whenever possible.
Naturally, she does not use bottled water. First, the water
from her water company, Manhasset-Lakeville Water District,
is strictly tested while bottled water is not. (The same holds
true for the Water Authority of Great Neck North.) In addition,
volatile compounds can migrate through plastic into the water.
People who store their bottled water supply in the garage
where the exhaust from cars can pass through the plastic do
themselves no favors. And ongoing research is pointing toward
breakdowns of chemicals from the plastic itself into the water.
She does, however, have a filtration system installed to
remove the chlorine from the water.
It is easy to develop the habit of airing clothes brought
home from the dry cleaners in a well-ventilated area before
popping them into closets. Ms. Weinberg recommends making
small changes at first, just one step at a time.
Ms. Weinberg is most proud of her home entertainment cabinetry.
It took her awhile, but after much searching, she found a
company that built a cabinet for her without using formaldehyde
in any of the finishes or adhesives.
Benjamin Moore now carries a line of paint with low volatile
compounds (VOC) in every color. It is called Eco-Spec. Other
companies are following suit; a GreenSeal certification is
a stamp of approval that is given to a relatively non-toxic
paint. The EPA states that VOCs can outgas from paint and
into the air for up to 11 months. When Ms. Weinberg replaced
a mattress recently, she purchased one without a flame retardant.
Flame retardants, polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE) have
been banned in Sweden and California and legislation banning
its use is before the legislature in Washington State. Bio-monitoring
for PBDEs reveal that it is showing up in breast milk. Ms.
Weinberg says, "I think it is more important to have working
smoke detectors than flame retardants in clothing and furniture
... think about how many hours you spend in bed and how exposed
you are to PBDE ... I feel that whatever I do to protect the
health of my daughters will protect the health of my grandchildren."
In her search for a mattress without PBDE, she found that
Ikea and Ethan Allen carry mattresses that do not have fire
Wool or cotton area rugs are preferable to carpets which
not only use toxins in their manufacture and installation,
but trap allergens too. Ms. Weinberg did have carpet installed
on her stairway, but insisted that it be stapled down instead
of glued, another compromise in attempting to limit exposure.
Meanwhile, Ms. Weinberg's home is gracious, lovely and quite
comfortable. And as she says, "It is a work in progress ...
I'm still searching for a green detergent for washing the
clothes that is environmentally friendly and also effective."
And what about green beauty products? Well, that's another
For more information about going green: www.thegreenguide.com
or phone 212 598-4910; www.maggiewood.com
Citizens Environmental Coalition in Albany publishes a booklet,
A Household gGuide to Healthy, Affordable Building Materials.
You may visit them at : www.cectoxic.org or www.ecothreatny.org
or call 518-462-5527
There are some bills before the New York Legislature of
note as well: Public Health Protection Act, Assembly bill
# A7256 (DiNapoli et al.) Senate Bill S4545 -(Marcellino)
require state and local agencies to take a precautionary approach
when making decisions that may have significant effect on
public health or the environment;
Safe and Sustainable Procurement Act, Assembly bill A7257
(DiNapoli), Senate Bill S 4544 - (Marcellino) - requires state
agencies to buy safe and sustainable products, services and
technologies that minimize potential adverse impacts on public
health and the environment according to specified criteria
Environmental Health Tracking System Act, Assembly bill
A969 (Koon et al.), Senate Bill S2626 (Alesi et al) - Establish
a statewide health tracking and biomonitoring program which
would gather human health data and environmental data and
compare them on a geographical basis to track cancer and other
Great Neck Record May 12, 2006