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.
Question from Paula
I’m concerned about long-term health dangers in biocides. I’m having work done on my bathroom that will include sheetrock, joint tape, joint compound, primer and paint.
My contractor recommends using the mold-resistant or moisture-resistant version of all those products, and adding a mildewcide to the paint.
Debra, I realize that you prefer plaster walls, but if you were using the above materials,
would you choose mold-resistant products…or would you take the risk of future mold problems?
Thanks, Debra. Your help is very appreciated!
The problem with answering this question is that biocides are not one chemical, but a class of chemicals of varying degrees of toxicity. Where I wouldn’t want you to use triclosan, for example, there would be no harm in using a product that used silver as the antimicrobial because silver in a paint, for example, doesn’t outgas.
The first thing we need to know is what are the biocides used in each of the products and then I can answer your question. Feel free to write back with that information.
Click on the image Debra’s Guide to Creating a Green Bathroom to see how I remodeled my bathroom in 2007. No biocides. No mold problems.
Question from Jenny
We recently moved in with family to save money. We are contemplating what might be a safe area to live in -in the future:
What distance is ‘safe’ to live from a natural gas plant up to 550-600 megawatts. It’s hard to understand how much can travel in the air. We’ve been told the power plant will be like adding 60,000 more people in the area. Is 4.5 miles or even 11 miles far enough?
This is a difficult question, because in an urban or suburban area, if you go out 4.5 or 11 miles you’re likely to run into another pollution source.
The question is where do you have to be in relation to the pollution source to not be affected by it. And the answer to that is more than distance.
When I was a little girl, there used to be a coffee roasting facility on the San Francisco waterfront, right at the San Francsico end of the Bay Bridge. As my family would drive across the Bridge into the city, there was a point where we would smell the coffee roasting.
I’ll tell you that we had to be practically on top of it before we could smell it. Less than a mile. And it also depended on which way the wind was blowing.
So when I look for a place to live, I check around for pollution sources, but I also find out the direction the wind is blowing. Where I live now, virtually 100% of the time it’s blowing in from the Gulf of Mexico. No agriculture, no factories, just blowing over a sleepy little downtown and residential streets. And beyond that, miles and miles of open sea.
There are usually government agencies in local areas that are tracking wind directions. In the San Francisco Bay Area it’s called the Bay Area Air Quality Management district. Look for a place like that in your area and they should have maps of wind directions and how many days per year the wind is blowing from that direction. This kind of information will help a lot to determine toxic exposures from environmental sources.
Question from Bonnie Johnson
I noticed Dr Weil has put his name on a new mattress. It is supposed to be natural and is made by Beautyrest. So far I have not been able to get any answer about if it has fire retardents. Although it is not organic I was looking at the fact that it can be put on a frame that will adjust. I could use that for my breathing problems. Any info that you have on it Debra?
I went to the Comfortpedic IQ website to take a look. With all due respect to Dr. Weil, he endorses products for various different health reasons, and not necessarily toxics.
They don’t give much information about the materials of this mattress, except to say that it is made with memory foam. I have no reason to believe it’s anything other than standard memory foam, which is polyurethane foam. It needs to pass the flammability law requirements, so I imagine it has chemical fire retardants, since they don’t state anything else. Why do you think it’s supposed to be natural? I didn’t see anything about that on their company website.
Question from Emily
I’m researching Iwako Japanese erasers and they claim they are lead, phthalate free and made with recyclable non-pvc materials. They say their erasers are made from four materials: base, softener, filler, and stabilizer. They don’t mention what is in these materials. What is your opinion on their toxicity.
In the more than thirty years that I have been researching toxic chemicals in products, this is the first time anyone has asked about erasers.
Just a little history, because it’s interesting…before there were erasers, people would remove pencil marks from paper by rubbing them with bread. Then it was discovered accidentally that natural latex rubber (
produced by a tree called Hevea Brasilienesis) did a better job. The first commercial erasers were made from natural latex rubber.
The problem was that natural latex was perishable. Then in 1839, an industrial process called “vulcanization” was discovered. This adds sulfur or other equivalent additives to natural rubber to make it more durable. Rubber erasers then became more common.
Today most erasers are made from synthetic rubber, which is made of many different chemicals including styrene and butadiene.
Pink rubber erasers are made from synthetic rubber, iron oxide colorant, and probably some other ingredients.
Soft white erasers are made from vinyl, which is why Iwako is saying “no PVC.” Since phthalates would be present in the PVC, that’s why they are saying “no phthalates.” Same with lead, lead is often an ingredient in PVC.
Iwako erasers are made from synthetic rubber, which I found at
While synthetic rubber erasers are not generally considered to be a health hazard, there is quite a bit of concern about synthetic rubber used in other applications, such as this report from New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene
Iwako is claiming its erasers are “nontoxic,” or at least some of their resellers are. I can’t agree that SBS synthetic rubber is nontoxic.
So that’s the story on most common erasers.
Read more about how erasers are made at www.madehow.com/Volume-5/Eraser.html
Question from shema
Is a high chair made of “E-1 multi layer poplar wood” acceptable/safe?
Question from kdragonrider
I am wondering if you would ever purchase any furniture that is Certified Formaldehyde Compliant Phase 2. Just curious what your thoughts are ? Thank You for your help and all you do :).
E1 is the European formaldehyde emissions standard. So I wouldn’t buy this because it has emissions. You want zero emissions. Look for a high chair in an unfinished furniture store.
E1 and E0 are the European formaldehyde emission standards. E1 emission standards have been used for years in the flooring industry. Wood flooring adhesives that meet E1 formaldehyde standards have less than 0.75 ppm formaldehyde. That’s not zero. The tricky thing is that a product could be labeled E1 and have zero formaldehyde because zero is less than 0.75 ppm, but products with 0.74 ppm could also qualify.
E0 is an updated version of E1. The standard is much more stringent, requiring formaldehyde emissions to be equal to or less than 0.07ppm. Therefore, composite wood products such as bamboo flooring, laminate flooring, or engineered hardwood flooring that meet E0 standards would be safer than those that only meet E1 standards.
To put this in perspective, both the California Air Resource Board Phase 2 CARB Formaldehyde Emission Standards and the Japanese Emission Standards JIS/JAS F**** are even more stringent, so any product that meets one of these standard would be preferable to products that meet the European standards.
Formaldehyde was designated as a toxic air contaminant (TAC) in California in 1992 with no safe level of exposure.
Question from shema
Debra, these people sell food grade polyelthelene mattress wraps for $40.
Yes, this will block outgassing of toxic chemicals from mattresses, but it feels like you are sleeping on plastic and makes noise as you move around in bed.
It will do the job, but is not the optimum solution. Better to buy a naturally nontoxicmattress that doesn’t need a wrap. See Debra’s List | Textiles | Beds
Question from Stacey
I am looking for reasonably priced blinds for a bathroom and kitchen window. I see Home Depot has Aluminum blinds which are pretty cheap. Are these safe? If not, do you have any other suggestions? The windows are not standard so any other “natural” shades can be expensive…
Aluminum blinds are fine.
Question from Angelique
Has anyone found a tolerable version of painters’ tape? The blue and green tapes make me really sick. I wonder if there’s an alternative in case our remodeling job really needs something like that.
Readers, any suggestions?
from Debra Lynn Dadd
Last week an article in the New York Times reported, “A panel of experts convened by the National Academy of Sciences found sufficient evidence from human studies to declare formaldehyde ‘a known human carcinogen’ that causes nasopharyngeal cancer, sinonasal cancer and myeloid leukemia. It also cited evidence from studies of animals and of carcinogenesis suggesting that formaldehyde may cause a much wider array of cancers than just those three.”
In 1981, the National Toxicology Program listed formaldehyde as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.” In 2011, they upgraded the listing to “known to be a human carcinogen.” After opposition from industry, Congress had the National Academy of Science review the evidence. Their review determined that, indeed, formaldehyde does cause cancer in humans.
from Debra Lynn Dadd
After making a comment in a recent post about not using paper towels because they contain formaldehyde, I received this shocked email from a long-time reader
I can’t believe that I have been trying to be as toxic free as possible for many, many years and I am still using paper towels daily! Your website as had lots of information through the years about paper towels, including your comments regarding Cathy’s question on August 11 about non-toxic lining for drawers.
I contacted Bounty (Procter&Gamble) and this is the list of ingredients sent me. What do you think?
You can post that information if you think it would be beneficial to others in you Q&A section.
Thank you very much.
Thanks for contacting Bounty, Stephanie.
Below is the ingredients for the Bounty Towels & Napkins
|INGREDIENT LIST||MATERIAL FUNCTION|
|Processed Wood Pulp||Used to make paper from softwood trees
(Pine & Spruce) and hardwood trees (Oak/maple.)
|In NA we use virgin wood pulp.||Our products don’t contain recycled fibers|
|Wet Strength Polymer||Added to increase strength during wet use.|
|Adhesive||Hold pliestogether Present in trace amounts
(special type of glue)
We do not intentionally add formaldehyde to our products, and we check that our raw materials do not contain any formaldehyde either.
Since we don’t add or use formaldehyde in the processing of the product, we don’t test for it in the finished product.
It may be helpful to know that formaldehyde is a naturally occurring substance, and can be detected in wood pulp at very low concentrations
Hope this helps.
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At first glance this paper towel seems to not contain formaldehyde, however, it does contain “Wet Strength Polymer.”
What is that?
According to Paper Functional Chemicals- Wet Strength Resins, papers such as filter papers, hygienic papers, papers for bags, label papers, wallpapers, laminate base papers, and packaging papers for moist goods can only fulfill their function if they have adequate “wet strength” (the ability to hold together when exposed to water.
The way wet strength is achieved is by using wet-strenth resins (WSR).
“the most common WSR are urea formaldehyde resins (UF-resins) and melamine formaldehyde resins (MF-resins), These chemicals need acid pH conditions and the presence of alum in the papermaking process. For neutral pH conditions polyamide-epichlorohydrin resins (PAE-resins) are mainly used (e. g. for hygiene and laminate papers); polyethylenimine products are used for specialty papers such as industrial filter papers and shoe board.”
This article notes that urea-formaldehyde resins are the least expensive (so likely to be most common). They can be added to the wet mix, “but they can be also used via surface application in the paper machine.” That means the resin is lying right on the surface of the paper.
I don’t know enough about the chemistry of how this works to make an evaluation of how these chemicals interact with the cellulose. I do know that chemicals can react and turn into something else entirely, such as fat and lye make soap.
I also don’t know how much, if any, formaldehyde emissions come from paper, but they are well-known from urea-formaldehyde foam insulation and composite wood products. I first heard about formaldehyde in paper towels years ago from people with MCS who reacted to paper towels.
Click through to the article if you want to learn more about what is used to make paper. This is an industry website with lots of information.