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.

Silica, Silicon and Silicone

I decided to write this post after receiving a comment from Bobby on Q&A: Silicone Baking Mats vs Parchment Paper

Wow, I don’t even where to start with this entire conversation. Debra: your entire explanation of silicone is almost verbatim of what we were told about breast implants. I had reconstruction surgery after cancer and began getting sensitive to chemicals. I told anyone who would listen I suspected the implant. I was told exactly what you said: it’s an inert product, it can’t possibly be making you sick, etc. This was the 80s with no knowledge of the toxicity of silicone and no computers. Eventually we all found out about silicone toxicity, hence, the lawsuits. I have MCS because of silicone. Why the human body reacts to it, I couldn’t really tell you. Perhaps Dr Rae has an explanation. If I eat anything that comes in contact with silicone I react to it, same as nonstick cookware. I don’t really care if something sticks a little. I cook everything in old glass bake ware. I use custard cups on a baking sheet for muffins and cupcakes and a large glass roasting pan for my cookies. They work fine. I can’t tell you how much I would never recommend anything made with silicone. Please, reconsider. No one believed us when we first became ill from it and I’m sure there will be skeptics reading this. Please, don’t kill the messenger!

With all due respect and honor for Bobby’s experience, and with acknowledgement to the many women who have been harmed by silicone breast implants, which are known to be toxic, there is a very large difference between silicone breast implants and the silicone that is used on parchment paper and silicone baking sheets.

There is an extremely comprehensive book about silicones free online called Safety of Silicone Breast Implants by the Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on the Safety of Silicone Breast Implants; Editors: Stuart Bondurant, Virginia Ernster, and Roger Herdman.

Let’s put aside for the moment any conclusions it may make about the safety of silicone breast implants or lack thereof (I don’t know the conclusion, I haven’t read the entire book), and just look at the factual information about silicones provided there.

Silica is the basic foundation of silicone. It is the most common substance on earth and is found in most rocks. Quartz crystals are silica in it’s purest form, and beach sand is made up mostly of bits of silica mixed with other various materials. Glass is made of silica. The molecular formula for silica is silicon dioxide, which is a network of silicon atoms connected to oxygen atoms. It has no ill effects. Quartz crystals and glass are among the safest materials known. [There is, however, for crystalline silica in the form of dust in occupational environments].

Silicon is one of the basic elements of life, found on the periodic table. It is a semimetallic element that is not found in nature in it’s elemental form. It is best known as the material used to make computer chips. Silicon is made by heating silica with carbon at high temperatures. [And, just to be clear, the problem with high-tech production in Silicon Valley wasn’t silicon itself, it was the process of refining silicon to the needed level of purity (read more about silicon processing)]

Silicone is a large family of polymers (made up of a chain of repeated units). There are so many of these I can hardly sort them out. And it would have little use to consumers because product labels do not note which silicone is being used. Many have a long history of safe use in a variety of consumer products.

This book devotes an entire chapter to breast implant types. The first sentence of this chapter is “There is no such thing as a ‘standard’ breast implant” and then goes on to refer to more than 240 U.S. made breast implants, each of which has it’s own combination of silicones.

It’s unfortunate but true that as long as silicones are identified as a group instead of as individual silicones, we can’t know which is which.

It’s also unfortunate but true that individuals can develop sensitivities to various substances by being exposed to them. And that is a very individual thing.

Because Bobby had the experience she did with silicone breast implants doesn’t necessarily mean that the silicone used on parchment paper and silicone baking mats is harmful. It may be a completely different type of silicone altogether.

But I appreciate that Bobby wrote. It spurred me to do more research on silicone, and I will do even more and start asking manufacturers what type of silicone they use.

When the day comes that I can associate silicone in parchment paper and silicone baking mats with a negative health effect, I’ll reverse my recommendation. So far I have found nothing.

I’ll do my best to bring more understanding to silicones.

I personally will continue to use my silicone baking mats, parchment paper and silicone-coated muffin pans. But if you are uncertain about silicone products, don’t use them.

Add Comment Financial Help for People with Chemical Injuries

I just want to post this for any of you who are having financial challenges as a result of chemical injuries and need some help…or if you know anyone who needs help.

This is a crowdfunding site that focuses on “compassionate crowdfunding” to support humanitarian causes and bring kindness and community to those in need.

The organization does not charge anything for this service. 100% of the funds received are transferred to the person or organization in need as soon as they are received (the donation processor for funds transfer does take a fee, however).

The categories are: medical expenses, memorials and funerals, emergencies and disasters, adoption, education and schools, team fundraisers, pets and animals, volunteer and service projects, nonprofits, missionary work, and veterans.

Click on “Support a Fundraiser” and choose a subject to see the fundraisers that need support. You can also create a fundraiser on that category page.

Add Comment

Smoke Alarms

Question from Mira

Hi Debra,

I’m wondering what brand of smoke alarms are safest, both wired and not wired. I need some new wired ones for my condo.

In this article I was surprised to see a radiation risk associated with one type of smoke alarm. Evolving Wellness: Alarming Toxic Safety Risks Associated with Your Smoke Alarm

Thank you.

Debra’s Answer

I’ve been writing about this for many years. I just looked it up and I first mentioned this in my book The Nontoxic Home in 1986.

You should definitely get a photoelectric alarm, as the author of your cited article recommends. She did a great job of outlining this whole issue.

In years past these were difficult to find, but now they are common.

Here’s a list of photoelectric smoke detectors you can order from amazon or find these brands at your local hardware store.

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Dust Prevention

Question from Jan Harris

Hi Debra,

We get a LOT of dust coming through our air-co. Is there something we can put over the air vents or any other thing to help have less dust? (Our air-co ducts are metal. Could that be a factor?)

Debra’s Answer

I’m not an air conditioning engineer so I can’t answer your question, but am posting it here so someone else can answer it.

The only solution I know of would be to use a freestanding air purifier to reduce the amount of dust in your home.

You may want to have someone check your unit to see if it is pulling in dust from somewhere other than your home living space.

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GMO Soy: More Formaldehyde and Less Glutathione for Cell Detoxification

A new study published July 14, 2015 in the peer-reviewed journal AGRICULTURAL SCIENCES discovered the accumulation of formaldehyde, a known carcinogen, in GMO soy, and a dramatic depletion of glutathione, an anti-oxidant necessary for cellular detoxification.

Formaldehyde in soy? Now isn’t this interesting, because there are many soy-based substance such as resins and adhesives that claim to be formaldehyde-free. Now since 93 percent of soy is genetically modified, anything made with soy is probably GMO soy. So does that mean it contains formaldehyde? I don’t have enough information for a definitive statement, but I would say this is another reason to stay away from soy.

Systems Biology Group, International Center for Integrative Systems: GMO Soy Accumulates Formaldehyde & Disrupts Plant Metabolism, Suggests Peer-Reviewed Study, Calling For 21st Century Safety Standards

New York City Bans Styrofoam

New York City’s ban on Styrofoam products in food service establishments, stores and manufacturers went into effect July 1.

Products such as trays, cups, plates, clamshell containers and even packing peanuts cannot be used within the five boroughs.

Yay New York City! May others follow.

Styrofoam food service ware leaches toxic styrene into foods and beverages. Studies have determined that all humans have styrene in their blood.

Read more about the health effects of toxic styrene and how to remove it from your body at Toxic Free Body: How to Remove Toxic Styrene From Your Body

Cotton Window Shades

Question from Melissa Mazer

Hi Debra,

I am having a hard time finding cotton window shades (I would prefer not to have anything made custom for a child’s room). I have found cotton roman shades with a polyester backing. These are not a cotton/polyester blend, but, rather two separate layers of fabric. Would you be comfortable with something like this, or will I still have off-gassing from the polyester layer?

Thank you very much for your help!

Debra’s Answer

The problem with polyester is not the polyester itself, but rather the finishes that are commonly applied to them.

Find out if any finishes are used. If not, there shouldn’t be any significant outgassing. Personally though, I would be more comfortable with a 100% cotton shade.

Add Comment

Sleeptek Mattresses

Question from Melissa Mazer

Hi Debra,

Thank you for your wonderful site! I am in the process of decorating my daughter’s bedroom.

What do you think of this mattress? (the Sleeptek Classic 1000).

I have seen others at the same price-point that are Greenguard certified (this one is not), but those others contain latex, which I am trying to avoid. I was wondering if you were familiar with sleeptek and would be comfortable with this mattress.

Debra’s Answer

This mattress looks good to me. I haven’t listed it on Debra’s List Beds Page because it’s in Canada and my policy is to list only USA websites, unless there is a site where the products are so unique they are not available in the USA.

I would be comfortable with this mattress.

Add Comment

Breathable Crib Mattresses

Question from Susan Quigley

Hi Debra,

What do you think about these “breathable” crib mattresses?

Is this something I really need to be concerned about?

Debra’s Answer

The thinking behind “breathable” mattresses is concern about risk of suffocation when the baby is lying face down. Years ago there were baby mattresses constructed in ways that were so flimsy that perhaps a baby could sink into the mattress face down and potentially suffocate. But today that’s not an issue, and certainly not with the better mattresses. The Consumer Product Safety Commission advises that all baby mattresses be firm and flat. When a mattress is firm and flat, it’s impossible for a baby to go head down into the mattress.

But there is certainly nothing wrong with providing extra air surrounding a baby, provided it’s done in a safe and responsible manner.

The problem I have with “breathable” mattresses is they allow the baby to breathe through the mattress cover and into the interior of the mattress, forcing the baby to breathe stale air that has been sitting inside the mattress. If baby has had an accident or milk has been spilled, and, for example, urine vapor has entered the interior of the mattress, then bacteria and mold would be inside the mattress, and the baby would breathe it.

One breathable mattress is constructed so you can wash it. However, this takes up to 6 hours to properly wash and dry the mattress completely, and meanwhile baby is without a mattress. Yes, it’s washable, but if I were a busy mom, I’m not sure I would want to be repeatedly taking the mattress apart and washing it and reassembling it. I’m just not willing to do that kind of maintenance.

And if any toxic chemicals were used in the construction of the mattress, baby would be breathing these as well.

Lullaby Earth (and Naturepedic) have a different solution. They offer a separate “air flow” pad that can be placed on top of a mattress, just like you would use a typical mattress pad. This pad provides fresh air from the room for baby to breathe. The baby doesn’t have to breathe into the inside of the mattress. The parents don’t have to disassemble the mattress and wash it by hand. Instead, the airflow layer can be removed at any time to be washed and dried in a washing machine, while baby still has his mattress available. This pad can be added to any crib mattress for an extra layer of breatheability. You can order the air-flow cover separately or on their lightweight crib mattress in white and four different colors at Lullaby Earth Breeze Crib Mattress.

Add Comment

Storage Facilities

Question from Susan Lander

Hi Debra,

Thank you for all you do.

I’m planning to move from NYC to Florida (West Palm Beach) and will need to put my belongings in storage for 6 months. I’m really apprehensive about how to protect my new White Lotus bed, part-soy sofa and all of my pristine books and other belongings if I put them in a storage unit. I have severe MCS and mold allergies, not to mention I’m sure they spray pesticides in these places. Or am I better off selling everything and starting over (very expensive and new item issues)?? What would you do?


Debra’s Answer

I have some experience with this.

Typically storage facilities DO spray pesticides. I once surveyed all my local storage places about this because I needed a storage space. So just call around and ask them
  1. if they spray pesticides
  2. what the pesticide is
  3. how frequently they spray
  4. where they spray (some spray only around the outside of the units and not inside them)

When I put my things in storage, I put everything in big polyethylene bags, not garbage bags, but like big sandwich bags with ziplocks and handles. This is more airtight than putting things in cardboard boxes. And you can easily see what is in the bag. I had no problems with this. All my blankets and towels and everything came out perfectly after storage.

For the bed, I suggest wrapping it in Reflectix, which is aluminum foil sandwiched between layers of polyethylene plastic. Seal it with aluminum foil tape to be air tight. Nothing will get through this.

Be sure to tape the wrap with aluminum tape to make it airtight.

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Healthy, Green Cookware: No PFOA, No Leaching