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Free and Clear: Cleaning Up Your Environment And Your Lifestyle

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By Mia Bolaris-Forget

As I drove home from work the other day, grumbling about the amount of garbage along the L.I.E (and its service road), I waxed (and waned) poetic about days gone by when Long Island was a much cleaner and fresher environment to live in; days when you could smell fresh cut grass and cow manure rather than smog, smoke, and car fumes. And, I remembered that that serene, safe environment was the reason we moved out here “in the boonies” to begin with. And, it got me thinking that with all the emphasis on going “green” we should start seeing less pollution, not more. And, according to the experts the best place to start making changes is with our own habits and right in our own homes.

· Forget about entering at your own risk: Unless you are entertaining, in which case I firmly believe that removing shoes is a BIG no-no, since they do complete the outfit, leave your footwear at the front door. Shoes are notorious for tracking in dirt and toxins, including pesticides (especially if you cut through the grass), which can get trapped in your floor crevaces and carpets and contaminate children. It’s also a good idea to wash up as soon as you walk in the house, particularly by washing your hands.

· Let the sun shine in: Open window as much and as frequently as you can, airing out your environment, which, believe it or not contains three to four times the pollutants and particles that our hazardous to our health. Experts assert that indoor air quality has significantly deteriorated as homes have become more insulated and airtight, and with the use of more and more commercial products ranging from cleaning solutions to heavily perfumed and scented candles to freshen the air we breath; all which contain chemicals that are often noxious and hazardous. Keeping windows open allows fresh air to freshen our inner environment from the outside in (naturally) and it allows any possible poisons in our homes to make their way out.

· Create a delicious living environment: While personally NOT a big fan of plastic containers at all, they are fine for refrigerating cold foods such as some fruits, salads, etc. However, it’s best NOT to heat thing up/microwave them in plastic containers, since they contain harmful chemicals that seep slowly and in minute amounts into your food. Consider instead transferring to a microwave safe plate, ceramic or glass container or on a paper towel before heating. Better yet, go old-school and use the oven.

Replace sponges frequently or throw them out and use dishcloths in their place, making sure to wash them, using bleach at least weekly.

Try fresh rather than canned foods, but, by all means DO NOT allow canned foods to sit in open cans for too long, risking them to exposed chemicals from epoxy resin and aluminum, making them taste metallic. Also note that canned foods contain Bisphenol A, which mimics estrogen and is leached from the can liners into your food.

Use boric acid and a good wash down to rid your home pesky insects without exposing you and your family to toxic sprays and chemicals.

Clean your oven with a baking soda/water solution and make sure that any cleaning products you “do” use are kept WAY out of reach of children.

Rather than plastic bottles filled with water, buy each family member a small water thermos and fill it with filtered water.

Opt for natural dish soap and dishwasher soap without phosphates, cholrine, or nonylphenol ethoxylate (NPE), commonly referred to as a gender-bender because it tends to feminize fish in the waters where human waste is carried and dumped. You’ll also want to make sure that the product you use is biodegradable and non-toxic so the little ones won’t be harmed if they choose (by accident) to take a drink. But, make sure to keep even safe, natural soaps and cleaners out of the reach of anyone who may spill it or take a swig, even if it won’t do much or any harm.

· Refresh your bathroom/washroom: Guard your skin by filtering your water with a carbon filter that takes out the chlorine and other “not-so-good-for-you” elements. This is especially important when it comes to water, such as that in your shower of tub, that satiates your body for more than a few seconds. This includes baby’s bathwater and your bath and hair-rinsing water.

Refrain from freshening up with antiperspirant, since seating is normal and blocking the pores is not. If you must, use deodorant instead, but opt for natural alternatives that do not contain aluminum, which found in high quantities in the brain plagues have been linked to Alzheimer’s disease. Also, even with deodorants, it’s imperative to read the label and to avoid those containing phthalates, or plastics used to ensure the scent stays on your skin, blocking endocrine function, especially in the male fetus. Parabens, used as preservatives in may of these products, should also be avoided, since they have been linked to breast cancer.

Install a fan or window in your washroom if possible and air it out that way. Air fresheners contain gaseous chemicals similar to those found in moth balls.

· Better Boudoir Picks: Protect pillows and mattresses from dust mites using products that guard them from these “invisible” pests whose excrement can build up over time leading to asthma.

Commercial brands of carpet and clothing-spot cleaners are for the most part glycol ethers, easily inhaled or absorbed through the skin potentially causing blood disorders, as well as liver and kidney damage. Instead use a combination of natural oils, alcohol and oxygen-based cleaners.

· Closet capers: Besides keeping them organized (that’s my 2-cents worth) you should avoid hanging your dry-cleaning directly in your closet. Dry- cleaning, which by the way should be kept to a minimum and reserved only for items that REALLY require it, contains toxic chemicals that can be dangerous. For items that have been dry-cleaned, remove from plastic and air out in the open air before putting away. Also, you’ll want to look for a dry-cleaner that has stopped using either trichloroethylene or perchloroethelyene (PERC), chemicals that have been associated with nervous system damage and cancer (both in the people wearing them, and the person cleaning them).

Avoid preserving your wardrobe by using moth balls. They contain naphthalene or p-dichlorobenzene which are too potent for killing insect but ARE carcinogens. Use cedar chips instead.

· “Build” a better basement: And, we don’t just mean aesthetically. Make sure to have radon levels checked. The should be less than four picocuries of radon per liter of air, or 4 pci/L, measured using a kit you can obtain from the National Radon Safety Board.

“Temper” wet environments with a dehumidifier to keep mold at bay. Make sure to keep humidity at below 40 percent.

· Dynamic duct work: Choose a HEPA (high-efficiency particle air filter) for your home and make sure to replace your air-conditioner filer or filters, annually, cleaning ducts every three years. Note that only partially cleaning ducts can actually make matters and air quality worse, so be thoroughly about it. Lastly, make sure to clean humidifiers frequently since they harbour toxins.


· Caring for your “car port”: While you may not “live” in your garage, your car does and you likely, like most of us spend A LOT of time in your car.

Keep in mind that while that fresh new car smell may be appealing to your senses it’s simply NOT good common sense, neither are most air fresheners. Ripe with chemicals they can be dangerous to your health.

Old chemicals, such as paints contain toluene, a powerful reproductive toxin and should NOT be stored in your garage. Experts suggest getting only what you need and getting rid of the rest.

· All hands on deck: If you’ve to a porch or a deck where you unwind and do some entertaining, including some serious grilling, you’ll want to thing about limiting your exposure to charred meats. They contain PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons). Instead, marinate meats for at least 15 minutes in a vinegar and olive oil mix which decreases toxicity by over 90 percent.

Note that citronella is about as useful and effective as the neurotoxins generally found in insect repellents.

· Outer limits: Statistics show that hundreds of thousands of children come in contact with toxic levels of toxins such as lead paint (your home can be in danger if it was last painted prior to 1978), even if just around the windowsill, which normally doesn’t get painted along with the rest of the house; respiratory complication due to exposure to freeway and highway traffic. In fact, exposure can result in lung complications and a higher rate of asthma.

It’s also a good idea to wipe your pet’s paws when he or she comes in the house, eliminating any toxins from being brought into the home.

Lawn and garden pesticides, as well as herbicides don’t always stay confined to the areas they are applied, and can result in contaminating groundwater as well as indoor air. Opt for organic toxic-free products that include corn gluten for lawn week control. While weeds are not the prettiest to look at, they are non-carcinogenic.


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