Healthy, Wealthy and Wise

The Environmental Links to Breast Cancer

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

Listen to my June 17th interview on Progressive Radio Network with Dr. Sabrina McCormick, sociologist, documentary filmmaker and author of the new book “No Family History: The Environmental Link to Breast Cancer.” (more…)

Honey Laundering

Monday, March 16th, 2009

I love honey. I love that it is a natural product that has been around forever. So, I found it upsetting to learn that much of the honey sold in stores is contaminated with antibiotics like Chloramphenicol, which is banned by the FDA. US bee keepers aren’t using antibiotics, but two-thirds of the honey Americans eat is imported and almost half of it, regardless of what’s written on the label, comes from China. This was reported in the Seattle Post Intelligencer, which did an investigation. (more…)

Cell Phones and Kids: Not a Safe Combination

Friday, December 7th, 2007

Studies from around the world are now being released with some startling news about using cell phones. A Swedish study reports that radio waves from mobile phones penetrate deep into the brain not just around the ear. Researchers found that using your cell phone for 10 years or longer will double the risk of getting an acoustic neuroma – a tumor on a nerve connecting your ear to your brain – and children, because they have thinner skulls than adults and nervous systems that are still developing, are particularly vulnerable to it. (more…)

Making Sense of Scents

Tuesday, November 13th, 2007

If you are buying scented air fresheners and household cleaning products, chances are you are exposing yourself to chemicals that are bad for you. For example, The NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) recently found that 12 out of 14 popular air freshener brands contained phthalates, chemicals that can cause hormonal abnormalities, birth defects and reproductive problems. The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) reports that “95 percent of the ingredients used to create fragrances today are synthetic compounds derived from petroleum, including benzene derivatives, aldehydes, and many other known toxins and sensitizers.”

Most of us, unwittingly, buy such products containing ingredients that are either poorly studied, not studied at all, or are known to pose potentially serious health risks. Of the roughly 17,000 chemicals found in common household products, only 3 in 10 have been tested for their effects on human health. Why? Because the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission does not require manufacturers to test household cleaning products before they appear on store shelves.

While it shouldn’t be assumed that because an item is on the shelf it has been tested for safety, you also shouldn’t assume that if it says “natural” it’s safe. The word “natural” is undefined and unregulated by the government and can be applied to just about anything. So, if you’re standing in the grocery isle holding what appears to be a natural, nice-smelling cleaner for example, know that its label provides only limited information at best. According to the Children’s Health Environmental Coalition, a national nonprofit that educates the public on environmental toxins that affect children’s health, labels often omit inactive or inert ingredients that can make up as much as 90 percent of a product’s volume. These include solvents, dispersal agents, dyes and fragrances, some of which can pollute the air and water. Other ingredients that are not mentioned can be carcinogens or worsen existing health problems like allergies and asthma. And because no standards exist, claims like “eco-safe” and “environmentally friendly” are also meaningless, says the Consumers Union.

Here are some ways to keep you and your family safe from dangerous, artificially scented household products:

  • Use products with scents from natural or botanical sources or labeled as essential oils. These are different from fragrance oils which are created with synthetic chemicals. Examine the list of ingredients to check that the word “fragrance” does not appear.
  • Scented candles may release mercury and other toxins into the air you breathe. Candles that have shiny metal wicks are made of lead which can be released into the air and turn into dust that settles on you and your furniture. Try unscented soy or beeswax alternatives, or those scented with essential oils.
  • Avoid scented aerosol sprays, liquids that emit a continuous scent, and solid air fresheners. Instead, use: a non-aerosol citrus spray containing only citrus peel extracts, an open box of baking soda, essential oil on a piece of cotton or in a diffuser, or try opening a window.
  • Fabric dryer sheets and potpourri that list “fragrance” on the label mean that synthetic chemicals were used, and they should be avoided. A non-toxic alternative to dryer sheets: put one or two drops of an essential oil on a washcloth and put it in the dryer with your laundry.
  • Since only food and herbs can be certified organic, the word “organic” on the label of a scented dish or laundry soap, for example, doesn’t mean much.
  • Most conventional dish and laundry detergents are made from petroleum, a nonrenewable synthetic resource, so look for naturally derived or plant-based formulas that are biodegradable and contain no phosphates.
  • Choose “non-chlorine bleach” cleaning solutions and scouring powders. Fumes of cleansers containing a high concentration of chlorine can irritate the lungs, which is dangerous for those with asthma, emphysema or a heart condition. The risks are compounded when the cleansers are used in small, poorly ventilated rooms, such as the bathroom. Fragranced chlorine bleaches are even worse because the odor is disguised, which can lead to dangerous overexposure.
  • White vinegar, borax, salt, herbs, olive oil, cornstarch and lemon juice have been used as cleansers for decades and have proved to be effective and safer for humans, pets and the environment.
  • Recipes to make environmentally safe cleansers from oven cleaners to mildew removers can be found online at:, (hit the Food button, then scroll down to “Kitchen Tips and Tricks” and click on the “helpful advice and handy kitchen hints link”) and
  • Information about safe cleaning products can be found at:, (Children’s Health Environmental Coalition), and
  • You can find environmentally safe products from Bon Ami, Ecover, Seventh Generation, BioShield, Earth Friendly and Greenwood Naturals, a lavender-based essential oil product produced by EO Products.

If all this seems overwhelming, think about just one “healthy” scented cleaning product you can purchase today and commit to buying it. This small, simple act could have a major effect on you and your family’s health.

This Halloween: Know Where Your Chocolate Comes From

Saturday, October 13th, 2007

Sure the costumes are cute, and the house decorations clever, but let’s face it, for kids, Halloween is all about the candy. If you’re like me, and your kids bring home way too many treats, you might want to consider mailing the chocolate ones back to Nestlé, M&M/Mars and Hershey. Why? Because, according to media reports, these and other chocolate makers buy cocoa from plantations that use child slaves in the harvesting of cocoa beans. The reports have unveiled stories about boys, as young as 9 years old, who were tricked or sold into slavery, to work on cocoa plantations in the Ivory Coast (Cote D’Ivoire) in West Africa. This small country is the world’s major supplier of cocoa, providing 43% of the world’s supply. (more…)

Safe Makeup

Thursday, September 13th, 2007

By the time you walk out the door in the morning, after slathering, and spritzing yourself with toner, moisturizer, eye cream, foundation, blush, eye shadow, eyeliner, mascara, lipstick, gloss and perfume, you may have put enough chemicals onto your body to be hazardous to your health. Many of the chemicals in makeup have been linked to cancer, hormone imbalances and skin irritation. (more…)

Eggs Aren’t All They’re Cracked Up to Be

Monday, August 13th, 2007

It’s not so simple to buy eggs anymore. Choices abound, from organic, cage-free, farm-raised, free-range, omega-3, biodynamic, local, pastured, fertilized, vegetarian, and natural, to the other end of the spectrum – irradiated. Then there’s shell color: white, brown, speckled, and if you’re lucky enough to find them, blue. What’s an omelet-eating, soufflé-making, frittata-loving, eggs-over-medium person to choose? (more…)

My Farmer

Friday, July 13th, 2007

Most of us have our own doctor, dentist, and lawyer – so why not a farmer? Many locally owned farms offer fresh, organic fruits and vegetables, eggs from free roaming chickens and beef that has been raised on a green pasture instead of in a crowded, manure-filled feedlot. (more…)

It Really Bugs Me

Wednesday, June 13th, 2007

Imagine picking a fruit or vegetable from your garden, spraying it with bug spray, and then handing it to your child to eat. Does that seem absurd? Well, that’s exactly what we do each day with store-bought non-organic produce. The chemicals are invisible, odorless and tasteless. We do it because most of us are unaware. For example, the teenage daughter of a friend of mine babysat for my eight year old for the first time the other night. I felt comfortable leaving my child with her; I told her to please feel free to help herself to any food she wanted in my refrigerator or pantry. The next day I touched base with her mom who said all went well, except that her daughter had phoned her from my home and exclaimed: “Mom, everything in their kitchen is organic. It’s so weird!” I was stunned that a 16 year old would find a kitchen filled with healthy, organic* food to be weird and then I realized that “weird” to a teenager usually means something they haven’t seen before, or been told about. (more…)

Squeaky Clean, But Is Your Soap Safe

Friday, April 13th, 2007

Most of us don’t realize how the chemicals in the bottles that are lined up on our sinks and shower stalls impact our health. For example, here’s a dirty little secret about soaps and shampoos: most that are commercially made contain chemicals called parabens used as antimicrobial preservatives. The Environmental Protection Agency states that all parabens – methyl, propyl, and butyl – are endocrine disruptors. In other words, they interfere with the function of the endocrine system (the thyroid, pituitary, adrenal glands, pancreas, ovaries and testes) which regulate hormones. The Center for Children’s Health and the Environment at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York says that endocrine disruptors have been suspected of contributing to reproductive and developmental disorders, learning problems (like ADD), and immune system dysfunction. (more…)