Are your cleaning products toxic?

jbcurio / Free Photos

When you look at the label on your jar of peanut butter or bag of chips, you will see all of the ingredients in the jar or bag listed. (You might not be able to tell if they used GMO corn in those corn chips, but you will see corn listed.)  You see it is mandatory to show all of the ingredients on labels in all food, cosmetics and drugs sold in the U.S.  That way,  you can choose to nix the face cream that is loaded with parabens and pass on the hydrogenated oil filled crackers.

Not so for the products you use everyday to clean your dishes, clothing, sheets and showers.

There are no requirements to label ingredients in cleaners.

Hence,  only 7 percent of companies adequately disclose the ingredients of their products and it is common to list just a few of the ingredients or describe them in vague terms such as “surfactant” and “solvent.” Well that “solvent”  might just be a known carcinogen. Once again, the Environmental Working Group has come to the rescue of the modern consumer.  They recently  created the first online guide that rates more than 2,000 household cleaners with grades A through F for safety of ingredients and disclosure of contents.

“Keeping your home clean shouldn’t put you and your family at risk, and with EWG’s new online guide you won’t have to,” EWG senior scientist Rebecca Sutton, Ph.D, said. “Quite a few cleaning products that line store shelves are packed with toxic chemicals that can wreak havoc with your health, including many that harm the lungs. The good news is, there are plenty of cleaning products that will get the job done without exposing you to hazardous substances.”

EWG’s staff scientists spent 14 months researching and compiling the guide.  They found that even some “green” brands do not disclose ingredients adequately.

I decided to check the cleaners I use to see how well they fared. I do most of my cleaning with baking soda and vinegar (this inexpensive, simple disinfecting spray works better than most commercial cleaners)  but I do buy dishwasher detergent, dishwashing soap and laundry detergent.  I tend to buy whatever “green” brand is on fact  there was a great sale on Seventh Generation Automatic Dishwashing Gel the other day so I  just bought five bottles.  Well, according to the EWG guide, those five bottles got a big fat F!  The funny thing is that Seventh Generation Automatic Dishwashing Powder, Free and Clear got an A.  Looks like I will be doing an exchange!   Obviously it is important to look at the specific products that you are using and not just the brand.  So how did my other cleaners do?  The Planet Ultra Dishwashing Liquid  got a “D” and the Trader Joe’s laundry detergent I have been using received an “F”!                                        Time for some changes.

According to a post on the EWG site, the day after their guide came out they were contacted by many of the manufacturers of poorly rated products.The manufacturers said they had added new ingredient information to their product labels, changed the ingredients – or both.  They were eager to give the EWG their updated information and, hopefully, get a better score on their products.   (Speaks to the power of information and why some companies fight so hard to avoid transparency.)  Weak disclosure or potentially harmful ingredients were two of the big reasons why many well known product lines ended up with low grades.  EWG responded:

We’re happy to get the new information and will use it to update the Guide on a regular basis, but for the most part, the original scores will stay.


Unlike a tomato or a banana, cleaning products don’t go bad in a hurry. If you’re like most consumers, you probably have bottles of window or floor cleaner under your sink or in your cleaning closet that have been there for months – if not years. In stores, too, it can take a long time before old inventory sells out and gets replaced with the “new, improved” versions.

I took a look at the Seventh Generation website to see if they had anything to say about the guide, and found that they did. While they were very supportive of the EWG and the guide, they took exception with some of their findings.  EWG considered ingredients listed as “essentials oils” or “preservatives” as “incomplete disclosure” but Seventh Generation said that the exact ingredients were also listed. They had differing opinions on other ingredients such as methylisothiazolinone with Seventh Generation explaining, “There’s also the sticky wicket of methylisothiazolinone, a synthetic preservative used to maintain freshness in our plant-based products. (Natural microbes love to eat our natural plant-based ingredients!) EWG gives this ingredient a D, though it meets our rigorous safety and environmental standards.”    In any case the end result is that Seventh Generation promised to continue improving their products and hope to eventually get an “A” rating on all of them.

The guide, it seems, is already having a positive influence.  Consumers can better understand what might be in the cleaners they buy and manufacturers are feeling the pressure to improve the transparency of their products.

So take a look at what is in your cupboard. See how your favorite products fare.  Think about whether you really need them at all.  Check EWG for their recommended products. Then vote with your pocketbook next time you buy a cleaner. Support a company that is making safe products.

…  and don’t forget to vote on the ballot for the other “information to the people” initiative  California Proposition 37, Mandatory Labeling of Genetically Engineered Food.

If you liked this post and want to receive more green living tips… Subscribe! (just click telios talk next to the orange rss box on the upper right hand side of the blog)

Green homes sell for 9% premium

According to a recent article by Kenneth R. Harney posted on

A new study involving an unusually large sample of homes sold in California between 2007 and early 2012 has documented that, holding all other variables constant, a green certification label on a house adds an average 9% to its selling value. Researchers also found something they dubbed the Prius effect: Buyers in areas where consumer sentiment in support of environmental conservation is relatively high — as measured by the percentage of hybrid auto registrations in local ZIP Codes — are more willing to pay premiums for green-certified houses than buyers in areas where hybrid registrations were lower.

The study found no significant correlations between local utility rates and consumers’ willingness to pay premium prices for green-labeled homes.

The 9% average price premium from green-rated homes is roughly in line with studies conducted in Europe, where energy-efficiency labeling on houses is far more commonplace. Homes rated “A” under the European Union’s system commanded a 10% average premium in one study, while dwellings with poor ratings sold for substantial discounts.
It is well understood that greening your home is the prudent and responsible thing to do for your personal health and well-being and that of the planet, but it has been greatly debated whether or not it pays economically.  In my opinion, if you look at the broader economic impact of home building and ownership, taking into consideration all of the negative externalities (costs of production and consumption not factored into prices, such as the health impacts of exposure to toxic materials) then the economic benefits of green building are stunningly obvious.
Even without factoring in all of the more comprehensive benefits,  this study finally demonstrates that greening your home is good for your pocketbook as well as your karma ;)


So be a smart investor!   Go green with Telios Environmental.


photo credit: Alan Cleaver via photopin cc

Say hello to great biceps…and a healthier kitchen

I know, I know, you LOVE your handy teflon coated non-stick pan. It makes the “over easy eggs” in the morning, well…so easy!   But  that quick flip comes at a potentially high toxic cost.  According to a report by the Environmental Working Group, “In two to five minutes on a conventional stove top, cookware coated with Teflon and other non-stick surfaces can exceed temperatures at which the coating breaks apart and emits toxic particles and gases…at least six toxic gases, including two carcinogens, two global pollutants, and MFA, a chemical lethal to humans at low doses.”

I say, no thank you!  I prefer my eggs with a little salt and peppa!

The truth is,  you can get a great non-stick surface on most stainless steel or cast iron pans by seasoning them yourself.  The process basically entails cleaning the pan,  coating it with oil,  and then heating it,  to form a carbon non-stick surface. Here are some detailed instructions.  I have seasoned my own cast iron pans and they work beautifully.

What to do with your Toxic Teffy?

  • Some cities will recycle them, so call and find out if you can put yours in the bin.
  • Call the manufacturer and ask if you can send it back (along with a sweet note about their responsibility to STOP making these mess makers in the first place!)
  • For really good quality pans, you might be able to have a local sandblaster remove the offending coating, leaving you with pristine pan ready to be properly seasoned.

So there you have it, turns out that sexy sculpted arms are not the only  benefit to using grandmas old cast iron!

Occupy Our Food Supply

Today an alliance of food justice groups, environmental organizations and the Occupy movement are calling for a Global Day of Action to Occupy Our Food Supply.  It is a call to resist corporate takeover of our food supply and to create and support a sustainable healthy food system for all.  A recent op-ed piece  by Willie Nelson and Anne Lappe highlights the importance of this issue:

 Our food is under threat. It is felt by every family farmer who has lost their land and livelihood, every parent who can’t find affordable or healthy ingredients in their neighborhood, every person worried about food borne illnesses thanks to lobbyist-weakened food safety laws, every farm worker who faces toxic pesticides in the fields as part of a day’s work.

When our food is at risk we are all at risk.

Over the last thirty years, we have witnessed a massive consolidation of our food system. Never have so few corporations been responsible for more of our food chain. Of the 40,000 food items in a typical U.S. grocery store, more than half are now brought to us by just 10 corporations. Today, three companies process more than 70 percent of all U.S. beef, Tyson, Cargill and JBS. More than 90 percent of soybean seeds and 80 percent of corn seeds used in the United States are sold by just one companyMonsanto. Four companies are responsible for up to 90 percent of the global trade in grain. And one in four food dollars is spent at Walmart.

What does this matter for those of us who eat? Corporate control of our food system has led to the loss of millions of family farmers, the destruction of soil fertility, the pollution of our water, and health epidemics including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and even certain forms of cancer. More and more, the choices that determine the food on our shelves are made by corporations concerned less with protecting our health, our environment, or our jobs than with profit margins and executive bonuses.

This consolidation also fuels the influence of concentrated economic power in politics: Last year alone, the biggest food companies spent tens of millions lobbying on Capitol Hill with more than $37 million used in the fight against junk food marketing guidelines for kids.

 The wellbeing of much of our planet is now at the mercy of companies like Monsanto which created  DDT, Agent Orange, Roundup, Bovine Growth Hormone, and PCB’s, just to name a few.  Not very reassuring!   We must take back control. It is going to take more than buying organic and going vegetarian. In his excellent piece “Big Food Must Go”  Christopher D. Cook, author of Diet for a Dead Planet: Big Business and the Coming Food Crisis,  writes “to truly ‘occupy the food system’ we will need nothing less than a fundamental restructuring of the economics and policies that currently enable our corporate food system.”  This would include “a radical overhaul….of how our tax dollars are spent on food”  and reforming anti-trust laws “so these companies can’t control entire food and seed markets.” So let’s get going. The time is now. This IS urgent.


  • GO to the Occupy our Food site facilitated by the Rainforest Action Network and see the list of events and actions that they are promoting including Occupying Cargill
  • GET POLITICAL  Contact your  representatives. Here is a list of them. Let them know that this is a crucial issue and that you expect them to do everything they can to create policies to support and promote a healthy and sustainable food system. Call back frequently!
  • Use your purchasing power. Stay informed and only buy products from companies with sustainable practices. Boycott huge agribusiness.
  • Support your local farmers. Buy your food from the farmers market and/or join a CSA. Here in Santa Barbara we are very lucky  to have many wonderful organic farmers growing a huge variety of food. Enjoy It!
  • Plant organic edibles. Support biodiversity and buy and grow heirlooms seeds. Island Seed and Feed is a great resource. Save and Share your Seeds.
  • Look into the Occupy Movement.  Read some of their declarations.   As Eric Holt- Gomez, Executive Director, Food First/Institute for Food and Development Policy, writes recently in the Huffington Post,  “The food justice movement has no strategy to address the inter-institutional (i.e. structural) ways that inequity is produced in the food system. By openly protesting the excesses of capitalism, Occupy does address this structure. This is why the convergence of Occupy and the food justice movement is so potentially powerful — and why it is feared.”

There is a power in working together. We can take back our health.  In the words of Santa Barbara beloved farmer and educator Michael Ableman, “We need to focus on what we are for as much as what we are against; occupying our land, our soils with life and fertility, our communities with good food. We need to work to rebuild the real economy, the one based on seeds and sunlight and individuals and communities growing together.”

Photo found here

Say goodbye to styrofoam food containers…hopefully

I have pretty much trained myself to carry my beloved ceramic travel mug with me for the times when the desire for a latte is too strong to ignore, but  I still periodically succumb to the 7:00 pm,  there is no food in the fridge,  let’s get Thai take-out.  Much to my chagrin I usually fail to follow through on my best intentions to bring some sort of container from home to transport  those yummy Phad Thai noodles, which means they often end up  in some sort of styrofoam container.

Have a nice century...this could be polluting the planet for hundreds of years!

There may be help on the way!

A bill (SB 568) passed the California state Senate on Thursday which would prevent food vendors and restaurants from using containers made with polystyrene foam (commonly known as Styrofoam).

So what are the repercussions of  using these containers anyway?

Polystyrene foam is made from petroleum, a non-sustainable resource. It’s manufacture is heavily polluting. It uses benzene, a carcinogenic chemical in its production.  It’s main building block is styrene, a suspected neurotoxin and a substance which is classified as a possible human carcinogen  by the EPA. According to the Earth Resource Institute when we use it to contain our food, toxic chemicals leach into the food.  After its one time use,  it is either thrown away, or possibly recycled.  Styrofoam advocates tout this ability to be recycled as one of its great attributes, but the truth is that most styrofoam simply does not get recycled. The market for used styrofoam is very small mostly because its large volume per unit of weight makes it cost prohibitive to recycle.   This is especially true if it has been used for food packaging, which requires the added cost of cleaning in order to be recycled.  Here in Santa Barbara, recycling centers do not take styrofoam food containers.  So if it is not recycled it is thrown away. It either ends up in a landfill, or it becomes urban litter and marine debris.

 Polystyrene comprises 15% of storm drain litter  according to the CA Dept of Transportation and according to a study by So.CAl Coastal Water Quality research Project it is the 2nd most common type of beach debris.  Animals are commonly killed from choking on it or having their digestive tracks clogged after ingesting styrofoam.  Here is the big catch, Polystyrene foam does not biodegrade.  It can last thousands of years, if not longer, and we make a lot of it.   Approximately 166,135 tons were produced and sold in one year in California for packaging and food service according to the Ca Integrated Waste Management Board. While styrofoam does not biodegrade, it does break down. The smallest of these pieces are called styrene monomers. Research has indicated that styrene monomers are carcinogenic to mice.  Styrene monomers seem to be widespread in the worlds oceans.   Samples of ocean water taken in the Pacific by Nihon University contained styrene monomers along with other products of Styrofoam breakdown.   According to researchers from the University of California in Santa Cruz, styrofoam can pose a threat to marine life even at the molecular level.

Seems like  it is high time to get rid of it.

The California bill is headed to the assembly this month with a floor vote by the end of August.  Let’s hope it does not go the way of  the California plastic bag bill which had passed the assembly in 2010 and had the support of then Governor Schwarzenegger but ended up failing after heavy industry lobbying.  It might be helpful to let your representative know of your support for this bill before the final vote.

Solar Chandelier

Virtue of Blue is a chandelier by Jeroen Verhoeven. It is made with a hand-blown glass bulb surrounded by 502 butterflies cut from solar panels. The wings of the butterflies collect energy from the sun during the day to power the light they adorn.

Isn’t it gorgeous!!!!!!!   Currently on exhibit at the London, Uk gallery Blain/Southern. 

via:  mocoloco

Breathe a little Easier…with the help of these 12 plants

I recently tried a new workout that was really great. It was fun and went by quickly and I was the  perfect amount of sore the next day.  Much as I liked it, I can’t go back. You see it was a brand new studio, built with typical construction materials and new carpet. The “new room” smell was so strong,  it felt a bit like taking a toxic steam bath.  Every time the teacher reminded us to breathe deeply,  I sort of cringed.  The nasty effects of indoor air pollution are certainly cringe worthy.  Of course it is best to avoid toxic materials whenever you can, but indoor pollutants are introduced into our homes and workspaces in ways we don’t often recognize.  Common pollutants such as formaldehyde  are found in common items such as paper products, inks  and furnishings. Happily there may be some help in keeping our air clean and it is beautiful.

     While researching how to create breathable environments in space NASA began testing common houseplants as air cleaners.  In their study, various plants were put inside a sealed chamber into which chemical  toxins were injected.  After 24 hours, under these controlled conditions certain plants were found to remove up to 87% of the indoor air pollutants.
An increasing amount of corroborating research also indicates the benefit of live plants to improve indoor air quality.  In his own research,  Kamal Meattle used Areca Palms, Mother-in Law Tongue, an Money Plants in his office building. He found after adding the plants there was  a 34% reduction in respiratory problems, a 24% reduction in headaches and a 52% reduction in eye irritation amongst the employees who worked there. There was also a 15% drop in energy usage since the need for air conditioning equipment was reduced.   According to studies have shown that English Ivy placed in a container of moldy bread removed 60% of airborne mold in 6 hours and 78% was gone after 12 hours.

Here are a some of the top air cleaning houseplants:

1. Boston Fern
Boston Ferns are most effective at removing formaldehyde. Studies have also shown that they can remove heavy metals such as mercury and arsenic from the soil
2. Spider Plants
Removes carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide as well as formaldehyde
3.  Areca Palm
Removes formaldehyde and is a great air humidifier

4. Peace Lily

Very easy to grow with beautiful white blooms. Effective at removing benzene and trichloroethylene

5.  Philodendron

Excellent at removing formaldehyde

6. Snake Plants or Mother of Law Tongue

Removes benzene and  formaldehyde

7. Bamboo Palm

Removes benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene

8.  Dracaena

Removes formaldehyde, benzene and trichloroethylene

9. Rubber Plant

Provides moisture, suppresses air based organisms and removes voc’s

10. Gerbera Daisy

Removes benzene

11. Chrysanthemum

Removes benzene

12. English Ivy

Removes benzene and airbased mold and feces

For more information read B.C. Wolverton’s ” How to Grow Fresh Air, 50 houseplants the purify your home or office” Wolverton is a scientist who originally worked on the air cleaning research at NASA,  and has continued work on air and water quality through his own company.    

More on Water

Courtesy of National Geographic

Just thought I would let you know that  National Geographic’s new  issue  “Water Our Thirsty World”  is dedicated to the single issue of, you guessed it,  water.  From  World Water Day until April 9 you can download a free copy of the magazine.

Green Kitchens, a great place to start

Innovative green kitchen by Ekokook

In our house, everyone is  always congregated in and around the kitchen.  I can’t tell you how many parties we’ve had where the beautifully decorated, comfy living room with the pretty views, will be empty, while everyone is standing around noshing in the kitchen. The wonderfully organized desk we built into the kid’s room,  eschewed, in favor of doing  homework at the kItchen table.   I guess it is because the kitchen is quite literally the room that provides us nourishment.  It is a place where we connect with each other, where we can be creative and where we foster  our own good health, and potentially, that of the planet.  We are facing huge problems surrounding our current production and consumption of food, with negative ramifications being experienced in our economics, politics,  the environment,  and our health.  We have an incredible opportunity to reexamine our modern relationship to food and redesign our kitchens to nurture more sustainable practices.  So, if you are going green, the kitchen is a very good place to start.   A green kitchen should be  designed  to maximize energy efficiency,   incorporate smart water use,  utilize the most eco-friendly and sustainable materials and support good health.  Whether you retrofit an existing kitchen or start from scratch,  there are lots of decisions to be made. Here are a few of the things you need to think about.

  1. Choosing the most energy-efficient appliances to meet your needs
  2. Lighting. Making the best use of  natural light and supplementing with energy-efficient lighting
  3. Water use strategies.  Low water use fixtures. Greywater systems
  4. Choosing materials that are durable, non toxic and environmentally responsible for cabinetry, countertops and floors
  5. Choosing non-toxic paints and finishes
  6. Incorporating strategies to encourage recycling and composting
  7. Incorporating food production
  8. Choosing non-toxic cleansers and food storage systems

Santa Barbara Green Home Makeover

Door Before

New Front Door and Skylights Allow More Light

Outdoor Shower

By Robin Bisio

When Harold and Dorrie Powell suggested some simple, fast strategies to spruce up my beach house, I accepted their leadership. I had seen their award winning green houses over the years, especially a beach house they renovated across the street on Shoreline Drive in Santa Barbara.I had house envy of their stylish, harmonious and beautiful abodes. Now it was my turn. Here is what happened in a month!

1. First step. Gulp. My girl is off to college so out went her backyard hogging trampoline. Harold and his crew replaced the play area with river rocks lined with large beach stones. Now when we go to the beach, we look for shells and stones to the to the backyard gathering spot. The plants have all been cut back (bringing more air and sunlight) and the mulch has been spread. (and the irrigation system fixed) so water use is much more economical. Some plants have been moved and I have been instructed not to over water next to the wooden house which can cause mold. We spread the stone motif to the front and side of the house over previously raked ground. (which tended to get muddy) Not only does everything look beautiful and beachy, there is much less sand and dirt tracked inside. Oh and we now have an outdoor shower conveniently attached to an existing fence  over the new river rocks with an elegant bamboo water line running from a preexisting water heater. It is amazing that just the presence of an outdoor shower invites more surfing, snorkeling, beach walks and kayaking.

2. Ah Yes. Mold. Ask anyone who lives by the beach– this is a big problem. Here are some of our solutions. We changed out a solid front door for a door with windows to bring in more light. We trimmed back light blocking bushes and vines next to windows and, in some cases replaced the plants with white roses redolent of shore front Maine cottages. Workers also scrubbed the dirty and somewhat moldy exteriors with a simple soapy solution. The house looks so clean now that the new paint job I was contemplating is off. Just certain areas that show weather damage will have to be addressed with a new coat of no VOC paint.

3. In the mold fight, we paid special attention to our attached guest cottage which had shown itself to be especially vulnerable to the seafront blight. First step was to throw away the futon which had a surprising but awful rim of mold where it had rested directly on the tile floor. In its place is a bed  designed by Harold made with reclaimed wooden corbels as legs which beautifully lifts the mattress off the ground and with the use of a slatted platform allows air to flow around all surfaces.  We replaced closet doors and cabinet fronts with fresh curtains to allow air to circulate. Banished was the toxic vinyl shower curtain. In its stead is a washable natural fiber curtain that does not output gas. Harold also put up a high curtain between the bedroom and bathroom to block steam from entering the room wholesale and contributing to the mold party. Everything was scrubbed clean with vinegar and repainted with no VOC paint. The results are so fresh and cheerful it is nothing short of a miracle.

4. Harold adjusted the washing machine to agitate properly and cleaned out the dishwasher with vinegar and other solutions to guarantee better use of utilities and power. He also refocused some vents so they do not blow directly against the house with their humid enterprises.

5. Now that there is so much light flooding into the house, we do not need the artificial variety all day long. Dimmer switches and energy efficient light bulbs are part of the new deal here. THe worm composters my daughter made for her senior project are in full kitchen use with another compost pile in the yard for leaves.

6. And I almost forgot the piece di resistance…a clothes line. It is portable so it can be taken down for a party, say, but everyday it reminds me of the past when family grandmas hung their wash out. It feels good to see this line in use just for those memories.

7. I look forward to our next phase which will be glassing in the front overhang to make a new sun porch. This will allow for more heat and light, and a place to hang hammocks. In the meantime, the house is renewed, a beacon of light on the coast that invites play and reflection.

8. My long-term to do list: as time and funds permit, there will be additional skylights, solar panels, bamboo flooring and a changing of the guard to more energy efficient appliances.

9. Your turn! Surely you will find the process as fun and educational as I did.