Great Neck Breast Cancer Coalition
Great Neck Breast Cancer Coalition

Going ... Going ... Green

It All Starts at Home

By Carol Frank

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."

Laura Weinberg
gives us a tour of her work in progress
... a green home.

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 home.

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 retardants.

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 story.

For more information about going green: or phone 212 598-4910;

Citizens Environmental Coalition in Albany publishes a booklet, A Household gGuide to Healthy, Affordable Building Materials. You may visit them at : or 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 diseases.



Great Neck Record May 12, 2006