Ask Your Questions About Toxic Free Living
and Get Answers From Me and My Readers

I’ve been doing this Q&A blog for about ten years, so there are literally thousands of questions and answers here. If you’ve got a question, there’s probably an answer, and if there isn’t post a question of your own. It’s free.

Toxic Products in Dollar Stores

February 2015, released the results of testing done on 164 products purchased at four major discount retailers—Dollar General, Dollar Tree, Family Dollar, and 99 Cents Only—in six U.S. states.

Eighty-one percent of the products contains at least one hazardous chemical above levels of concern, and 49% contains two or more such chemicals.

Some of the products with the highest level of chemicals included mini lights, rubber ducks, USB cables, adhesive gem strips, artificial nails. Click on product names to find out the brand, country of manufacture, and level of tested chemicals found in the products. Products were tested for arsenic, bromine, cadmium, chlorine, chromium, mercury, lead, antimony and tin.

Read the study results here.

Here is an article from a UK newspaper about this study that gives a more visual perspective of the toxic products:

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Our Chemical Lives


Question from Emily

Hi Debra,

My Australian sister-in-law sent me a transcript of a wonderful TV program that aired a few weeks ago on Australia’s ABC, similar to our PBS.

The program is called Catalyst and the segment is “Our Chemical Lives”.

As an American I was surprised that a topic like this was allowed on mainstream media. I applaud their efforts of course and thought you would like to see this.

Debra’s Answer

Thanks Emily. This is a very good and simple presentation of the problem of toxic chemicals in our world.

Also see the links to other shows about toxic chemicals.

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Emfs & Solar Electricity

Question from DB

Hi Debra,

Thanks for the info on inner springs & emfs.

We hear things in our community, sometimes from people who are supposed to be “experts” in certain areas. We also get much conflicting info from such experts, some of them baubiologie trained.

I recently was told by one expert that $1500 I spent to have a grounding wire & other electrical work installed based on info from another expert who was trained to use the various meters to measure emfs & radiation, etc. was useless, & was given a whole other protocol to do.

At that point, I declined to have more work done til I know it’s valid & useful. The question is, how can we know the info & protocols we’re given are based on sound science?

My other question is: is solar electricity harmful & if it is, how can we protect ourselves when it becomes the only option for power in our neighbourhoods & towns, which is rapidly becoming the case here. Thanks so much.

Debra’s Answer

These are very good questions that I am not qualified to answer.

My field of expertise is toxic chemical exposure, not EMFs, though I get many questions on the subject.

The only way I know of to make an informed decision is to study a subject for yourself. And then you will know if the “expert” is saying something useful and correct. But we can’t all learn every subject and that’s why we have experts.

About your solar and EMFs question, I did a quick search and found that many people are saying that solar energy does have EMF problems. But is it more or less than grid energy? I don’t know. Anything that has anything to do with electricity involves EMFs. Just search on “EMFs and Solar” and read the different viewpoints.

As to what to do to protect yourself, that would require a solution for a specific installation.

Readers, feel free to answer if you are more knowledgeable on this subject.

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New Refrigerator Off-Gassing

Question from Dee Downing

Hi Debra,

Your book Non-toxic and Natural became the cornerstone of the filtration system for “all things entering my domain” in my first home as a mother back in the early 90’s.

It is still my reference point as I evaluate products. The “alternatives” sections became the recipes that I still use. THANK YOU.

I have been in my current home for 12 years with the same refrigerator that was here when we moved in… I’m considering a new refrigerator, yet am stalling, due to the off gassing of new units. (I’ve been “considering” a purchase for 6 years!)

I have searched the web and found very little discourse and no refrigerators that are manufactured with materials that do not off gas.

Are you familiar with with any manufacturers addressing this issue? Frankly, I am blown away that with all the discourse (finally) about our polluted food system that no one is talking about how we put our “locally grown organic” produce in a toxic box whose vapors infuse this clean food with toxic gases.

I am considering purchasing a new refrigerator before my existing ‘fridge poops out. I thought I could set it in the sun for a few months–before I need it.

Any other suggestions?

Thanks in advance and thank you for your enduring work.

Debra’s Answer

I wish I could give you the brand and model of a safe refrigerator, but unfortunately there are no “toxic free” refrigerators.

I bought a new refrigerator ten years ago. It’s a Kenmore “Trio” and I love it. I bought it new but it was a floor model so it had more time to outgas.

The best I can tell you with all appliances is to buy used or floor models that have had time to outgas.

And yes, putting a refrigerator outdoors in the sun with the doors open will help it outgas faster.

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Pesticide Use in Hotels


This week a story has been in the news about a Delaware family who was poisoned by pesticides sprayed in their Caribbean hotel room.

Delaware family poisoned in Caribbean condo

The family began having seizures after methyl bromide was used to fumigate a nearby room in the condo complex. They were taken to island hospitals and then airlifted back to America for further treatment.

Methyl bomide is an odorless pesticide that can be fatal or cause serious central nervous system and respiratory system damage. Use of this pesticide is restricted in the United States and it’s territories, which includes the Virgin Islands.

It was applied by Terminix, a USA company that should know that the pesticide is not for indoor use.

While this is an isolated incident, it brings attention to the fact that pesticides are routinely used in hotel rooms, especially in areas like the Caribbean where there are a lot of insects.

Pesticide use is something to ask about when choosing a hotel.

EMFs and Innerspring Mattresses: A Correction

Last week I posted a very long and detailed explanation about EMFs and innerspring mattresses. Following my interview with Professor Olle Johannson on Toxic Free Talk Radio, I’m replacing what I wrote last week with this shorter version.

Since July 2010 there has been an idea circulating on the internet that the metal in innerspring mattresses amplify EMFs. I have been asked about this in the past and since it has recently come up again, I decided to do more research.

This idea that innersprings may be connected to EMF in some situations was first was presented as a hypothesis by Professor Johannson and his co-author in their article in the journal Pathophysiology. This possibility was then taken out-of-context and presumed to be fact by a number of bloggers. To the best of my knowledge, no scientific testing was ever done by anyone to see if this idea realistically had any merit.

I personally have seen actual EMF testing on innersprings. It’s absolutely clear that innersprings do not create or amplify or change the EMF that exists in the surrounding environment. And if you have any question about this, you can get a gaussmeter and test for yourself, right in your own bedroom, with your own mattress.

Since I knew Professor Johannson from previous correspondence, I contacted him and asked him about this. Here’s what he said on my Toxic Free Talk Radio Show “Innerspring Mattresses and EMFs: The Rest of the Story”:

As you [Debra] so very elegantly have identified, the real culprit here is of course not the mattress as such. It’s the electromagnetic fields.


From a public health point of view, it’s a little bit like putting filters on cigarettes. If you’re throwing away your metal spring mattress, maybe you haven’t gained very much. Smokers using filter cigarettes still will get lung cancer and people with different other types of mattresses maybe still will get these types of cancers. The culprit could be something else. And above all, naturally, all the electromagnetic fields as such, which are everywhere, it’s a 24/7 exposure, it’s a whole body exposure. And as I’ve said before, the type of fields we are talking about, the levels of them are astronomical. They are very, very high exposures.

So we see that the problem is not innerspring mattresses, but rather EMFs in your home that are present just the same, with or without innersprings. We could eliminate all the innerspring mattresses in the world, and we would still have the same problems with EMFs regardless.

How To Reduce Your Exposure To EMF’s in Your Bedroom

If you are concerned about EMFs (and you should be), there are some things you can easily do to reduce your EMF exposure in your bedroom. Since you spend one-third of your life there, it’s a good room to start with.

These are the real EMF problems in your bedroom.

EMFs come from the live electrical lines in your home. It spreads throughout your home from the electrical currents in your walls, ceilings, and floors.

If you are near lamps, computers, TVs, heating pads, clock radios (near your head all night), baby monitors or anything electric or wireless, then there is EMF all around you and you’re getting zapped. Start by removing anything electric or wireless from your bed and nightstand.

I once had professionals come to my home and measure my EMF exposures. The strongest one was the base of my cordless phone that sat right next to me all day on my desk. I immediately trashed it and got a corded phone.

Also your cell phone and tablet computer emit a lot of EMFs. These should not be beside your bed at night while you sleep.

Then find out where the electricity is coming into your home, because the EMFs will be strongest at that spot.

  1. Walk outside and around your house or apartment building and see where the electricity is entering your residence. The electricity line will usually enter your structure on one particular wall, or perhaps at one corner of the structure. All you have to do is walk outside and look. If your electric lines are all underground, it may be more difficult to see, but the electricity is entering the structure somewhere, and you can find that spot.
  2. Locate the elevation of where the electric line is hitting your structure. Is it at or near the roof, or is it halfway down the wall, or where?
  3. Find the breaker box in your structure. It might be in a closet, or a basement if you have one.

The wall area from the point where the outside electricity hits your structure, to the breaker box, is the area of your structure where the EMF is very high. So along the inside wall of your structure, between the point where the outside line hits and the breaker box, is not where you want your bed. Stay away from the wall where the major electrical line is entering your structure.

Another hot spot might be where a strong EMF source is on the other side of a wall. An interior wall might have a refrigerator or a cordless phone on the other side. An exterior wall might have the electrical meter. These are also spots to stay away from.

The best thing to do—if you want to rest easy on this subject—is to buy a [gaussmeter]=(link to my gaussmeter post). Then you can simply walk around your home and see where the EMF is highest and where it is lowest. This is important if you really want to minimize your EMF, because many times an area that would seem to be a low EMF area may actually not be because of some wiring in the ceiling or floor that you’re just not aware of.

If what you want to do is reduce EMF exposures, reduce EMF exposures at their source. Don’t be concerned about your innerspring mattress because the innerspring will have no effect on the EMF levels. Address what actually does matter. Address the EMF sources directly and you will take an effective step towards reducing your overall exposure.

Couches Without Flame-Retardants May Still Contain Toxic Chemicals

Last week I received a new post from the O Ecotextiles blog regarding Environmental Working Group’s recent post about couches without flame retardants.

As the sisters who founded O Ecotextiles pointed out, while it’s good that California revised their law about flame retardants, shame on EWG for simply going along with the flame retardant free message being promoted, and failing to talk about the other toxic chemicals in the handful of sofas they mentioned.

This is exactly the problem with any claim of being free of a single chemical, whether it be lead-free, fragrance-free or flame-retardant-free. Products could certainly be free of one chemical but contain many others, as pointed out in the blog post from O Ecotextiles.

Of course, you can find the real toxic free sofas on Debra’s List on my Interior Decorating | Furniture page

Read the post at O Ecotextiles blog for more info on toxic chemicals in sofas: The Environmental Working Group’s recent post about “five couches without flame-retardants.”

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Safety of Mineral Oil/Baby Oil

Question from Susan Ramares

Hi Debra,

Is mineral oil/baby oil safe? As a petroleum distillate, I wouldn’t think so. What would be a safe alternative?


Debra’s Answer

You are correct. It is pure petroleum. It’s like rubbing motor oil on your skin, but more refined.

Mineral oil is not generally recognized as being toxic see MSDS, but adverse health effects are known. Here is a great article that explains it all: GreenMedInfo: Crude Awakening: Mineral Oil Contaminates Everyone’s Bodies.

Any natural oil would be fine to use on your skin, such as coconut oil or olive oil. Many natural oils are sold for skin use. Organic is best.

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Mattress for Young Child

Question from Melissa Mazer

Hi Debra,

Many thanks for your wonderful site!

We are in the process of setting up a new bed for our 4 year old and are trying to decide between a Savvy Rest Tranquility (using talay latex) or the Naturepedic organic cotton quilted deluxe model (an innerspring). I know that there are some concerns about latex (and I wonder if it can break down over time and create a harmful dust in our home). However, I have also read concerns about EMFs with innerspring mattresses.

The Naturepedic is Greenguard certified, but I notice on some parts of the site that they wrap the coils in a polyester fabric and that they use a PLA fabric (supposedly made of corn and soy).

Here is a link to the Naturepedic Mattress and one to the Savvy Rest.

I know you advocate wool mattresses, but we are not crazy about the feel of those. Between a Naturepedic Greenguard certified innerspring and Savvy Rest that is natural latex, which do you think is the least toxic option?

Thanks in advance for your help on this.

Debra’s Answer

First, I am no longer concerned about innersprings and EMFs. And the polyester and PLA fabrics are not toxic.

I can tell you from personal experience that latex does break down over time and start to become dust. I don’t know that the dust would escape the cover of the mattress, but it most definitely does break down.

I have known the founders of Naturepedic for many years and trust them to choose only materials that are not harmful to babies.

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Low- or Zero-VOC, Non-Toxic Exterior Paints?

Question from Ellen

Hi Debra,

Can anyone recommend an good non-toxic exterior paint that is hopefully also durable? I’ve been putting off various painting jobs for fear of exposure to fumes. I’d be especially interested in hearing any experiences.


Debra’s Answer


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