Is your home healthy and green?

While we’re on the topic of eating and living green and healthy, have you considered the others things that you’re putting into your body?  What about the actual air you breathe?  Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it is actually clean!

Recently I was totally shocked when we were cleaning our home and my husband removed the air filter from our furnace and saw how dirty it was.  There were literally bugs and dust blocking it entirely.  We then grabbed a flashlight and looked into our vents and saw how that dust was everywhere!

There’s a very good blog post about this here:

Top 5 Air Duct Issues & How To Fix Them

To summarize the top 5 duct issues they are:

  1. Leaky vents, which can raise the cost of heating and cooling your home because of lost air in the ducts.
  2. Dirty ducts, which can irritate allergies and spread smells throughout the house.
  3. Restricted air flow, which can actually cause your furnace blower to burn out as well as cost you more money because the air flow of hot or cold air is not getting throughout your house efficiently.
  4. Inefficiency, like mentioned above this will cost you and not allow your home to be at the proper temperature.
  5. Poor Design.  This is also like inefficiency.  With a poorly designed duct system with unnecessary bends and corners can further reduce the efficiency of your HVAC.

So this spring think about eating clean and being healthy in your home by getting your air ducts cleaned.

Hoo! Hoo! and Meow! Crackers for the Munckin (and his Dad)

A few day ago I was finally inspired to make the cracker recipe published at the Green Phone Booth a few months ago. Baby Green Me has discovered bunny crackers and I am hesitant to not only feed him a snack on a regular basis that is lacking in nutritional value (no fiber, just carbs) and that is also quite pricey per ounce. On the flip side, who can pass up cute animal crackers?

The first time I made the recipe I followed EnviRambos recipe, except for substituting sesame seeds for rosemary. The second time I made the crackers I increased the nutritional yeast to 4 tablespoons for a cheesier flavor, increased my sesame seeds to two table spoons and I added an extra 2 tablespoons of water to make the dough work (with the extra yeast & seeds).

Both times I used my mini kitty and owl cookie cutters to make animal crackers that my son would love. Not only did the crackers work, but Baby Green Me loves themhe might eat them in exclusion of any other foods if I let him! And these crackers are filled with fiber, protein, and a little extra calcium and B vitamins thanks to the nutritional yeast and sesame seeds!

I wont recreate the recipe here as the original is a perfect starting point; however, I have included a few photos of my cracker making experience. Enjoy!

If you have a cracker fiend in your home or just need some healthy on the go snacks for your kiddos I highly recommend trying out these crackers. They were super easy to make (it took less than 10 minutes to mix up the dough), easy to handle, they cook in 15 minutes (or less) and then are ready to go!

Flame Retardant in PJs?

I believe that one example of government regulation making things worse (not better) was the decision in the 1970s (by the entity which turned into Consumer Product Safety Commission) that loose fitting infant and child PJs must be treated or made with flame retardant material. This decision was made after several little ones died in house fires and or fires in which their PJs caught on fire. And, the decision was initially made before fire alarms and sprinkler systems (in apartments) were common place and often even part of the building code, nevertheless fires scare us, so the rules have become more detailed and received increased enforcement over the years.

Accidents do happen, but frankly I would prefer to dress my son in Flame Retardant FREE PJs and keep a functioning smoke/fire alarm right outside his bedroom door.  Our house is well maintained, we dont smoke or use candles (except the occasional candle with dinner) and we dont store excess fuel in the garage. So barring an odd electrical fire or an errant lightening strike I would not consider our home to have a high fire risk. In addition to working smoke alarms, we also keep a CO2 and gas detector, which is insanely effective at waking one up at 3 am (inevitably the batteries run out in the middle of the night).

For years there has been concern over the human body’s ability to absorb the chemicals in fire retardant fabrics and this is why in many cases it is no longer used. In fact the only commonly used flame retardant in the US today, is the ubiquitous PBDE found in infant pajamas, mattresses, car seats and more. I mentioned in my brief post yesterday that the Environmental Working Group will be releasing a study that shares results regarding how mothers and toddlers absorb the chemicals in the PBDE flame retardant used in foam mattresses and other consumer products. (Here is an article on Falcons and PBDE absorption, which indicates flame retardants might be bad for animals and the environment, not just humans!)

In the meantime, if you are concerned about your kiddos PJs read this article over at the Green Guide (National Geographic) that discusses the history behind the issue. Bottom line is that most PJs made of synthetic fabrics (which tend to be highly flammable) will be treated with flame retardant or made with fabric woven from thread that has been treated. Only tight fitting cotton PJs tend to be fire retardant free and in most cases you can be confident that your organic PJs are also flame retardant free.

From the Green Guide:

Your choices, then, from worst to best are 1) nylon or acetate treated with fire retardants, 2) inherently flame resistant polyester with fire retardants built into the polymer or 3) snug-fitting cotton garments. The healthiest safe choice with the lowest embodied energy and lowest ecological impact would be snug-fitting, organic cotton long johns or union suit-style pajamas with the Wear snug-fitting. Not flame resistant label. These common sense choices conform to the CPSCs standards, give the environment a break and provide your child with safe and comfortable sleepwear.

Occasionally, you may find looser fitting Organic PJs that are not marketed as PJs, but perhaps as buntings or footies or what not that are not treated either. Hanna Anderson used to sell PJs in that way a few years back (but I was told not confirmed truth or fiction) that they had to stop selling them because the CPSC tagged them as PJs. Now, you will only find tight fitting organic PJs at Hanna Anderson.

What about my babys mattress and sheets?

One more reason to go organic or by a natural latex mattress or organic mattress pad is that most crib (and adult) mattresses are also fire retardant.  If you’d like to read Consumer Product Safety Commissions proposals and rules regarding mattresses here are a few links to various standards and proposed standards for mattresses:  16 CFR 1633; 16 CFR Part 1632 (this standard effective of July 1, 2007 is crazy even thought I dont smoke the CPSC thinks that it is only safe to sell me a mattress that will not burn when confronted with 18 lighted cigarettes! Now this rule may be good for those who live in apartment buildings with smokers, but for those of us who live in stand alone homes that is outrageous!)

Here is another link to search any CPSC Product Safety Standard that you may be curious to learn more about. Also, if you have a specific product that you are concerned about your best bet is to contact the company directly and get a straight answer from them regarding the make up of the PJs, mattress or mattress pad.

Green Mes Opinion:

This issue is particularly irksome to Green Me given the current political climate and situation. Here I am as a Democrat who according to the GOP believes in heavy handed government intervention in our daily lives. And yet, I can not stand the idea that the government regulates the addition of chemicals to my household products as a protective measure in case some one out there is stupid or careless. Folks (mostly Republicans and Libertarians from what I can tell) do not want to pay taxes to give someone elses children a solid education or to provide someone elses grandmother, mother or child with adequate health care. And yet, at the RNC or on CSPAN I never once hear any of these folks crying foul at the government standards of the Consumer Product Safety Commission that require toxic chemicals to be added to our household goods specifically our childrens pajamas and or every-ones mattress, because it might prevent a few tragic accidents.

In the US fires are the the fifth most common cause of unintentional injury deaths in the United States (CDC 2005) a fact that initially makes fire retardant mattresses and PJs sound necessary, until you read the next statistic that says Most victims of fires die from smoke or toxic gases and not from burns (Hall 2001). Furthermore Smoking is the leading cause of fire-related deaths (Ahrens 2003) and Cooking is the primary cause of residential fires (Ahrens 2003). So, if you dont smoke or live in a building with smokers and you have effective (and functioning) smoke alarms in your home the likelihood that your mattress or PJs need to be coated with fire retardant any more than you everyday clothes or other materials goods is not a solid argument! *

When it comes down to it what is a better investment of our tax and private dollars? Is a dollar spent providing preventive health care more effective at saving lives and saving society money than a dollar spent researching and testing the most effective flame retardant mattresses? Fire deaths are horrific, shocking and frustrating, because in many cases they appear to have been preventable. Deaths, disorders, environmental destruction from chemicals, such as PBDE fire retardants are slow acting, difficult to pin-point and seen by some as a necessary evil. And, yet in the long run I wonder if the use of PBDEs will cause more damage and destruction than it will have saved lives? Frankly, Id prefer to live with out the addition of PBDEs, BPA and other avoidable endocrine disruptors, carcinogens and God knows what else!

*CDC, Fire Deaths and Injuries. Fact Sheets August 08, 2008 1. 6 Sep 2008 <http://www.cdc.gov/ncipc/factsheets/fire.htm>.

Bug Off!!!

Personally, I try to steer clear of bugs and bug repellent to the best of my ability. My husband is not very fond of bugs either especially mosquitoes! I wish that I had a video to share of him running from a swarm of mosquitoes in Yosemite (on our Honeymoon) waving his arms, shaking his head, and generally looking like he was a mad hatter. Unfortunately mosquitoes are more than just a nuisance, they can also transmit disease. In much of the US there is concern that mosquitoes might transmit West Nile and ticks might transmit Lyme disease.

When it comes to ticks the most important thing to remember is to check yourself (and your kids) thoroughly (from head to toe) after an outdoor outing, especially in areas with brush or tall grasses. Ticks that have been properly removed within 24 to 72 hours of attaching are unlikely to transmit Lyme disease (so it is important to check early and often).

Mosquito bites are unfortunately unforgiving, and once bitten there is not much you can do! So the goal with mosquitoes is to keep them away!

Avoid the bugs: Get rid of the stink, whether it be salty sweat or sweet perfume, bugs like smells, so if you want to be bug free, keep it clean and clear. Mosquitoes are attracted to lactic acid and CO2, so dont run or breathe when you are outside. Just kidding. It might actually work better to get the bugs to avoid YOU. Several different companies are working on formulations that keep mosquitoes from populating grassy areas, basically natural insecticides using ingredients like soybean oil (suffocates the buggers) and garlic oil (keeps them away). One such product that appears to get good reviews is Mosquito Barrier. Ive not tried the stuff myself, but their site looks fairly convincing!

Stay inside at dawn & dusk: A good suggestion is to avoid being outside at dawn or dusk in mosquito infested areas as these are the littler buggers prime biting times. This is especially good advice for the very young and the elderly in areas with West Nile Virus.

Standing water eliminate it or Mix-it-Up: Mosquitoes lay their eggs in standing water. If you have a pond, puddle, bird bath or other small (or large) body of standing water near your home mix-it-up on a daily basis (or at most every 2 days) or eliminate it completely. If you have a pond or pool look into other safe ways to eliminate mosquito larvae. I am also certain that Ive both heard and read about some sort of soy based product that can be put in ponds or standing water that interrupts the larvae development, but I could not find any good info online. If any readers are familiar with this, please send the information my way or comment below!

Use an insect repellent outdoors: The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends an EPA-registered insect repellent such as those with DEET, picaridin or oil of lemon eucalyptus. Personally, I do my best to stay away from DEET although I have been known to use it in generous amounts while camping. Hopefully, in the future I will be able to steer clear of DEET. If you do choose to use a DEET based product, beware that DEET can cause toxicity if it is over applied, especially in kids under the age of 8!!! Whatever you do please do not apply any sort of insect repellent to children under 6 months!

Picaridin was developed by Bayer and it supposedly surpasses DEET in being non-irratating and odorless (I do not have personal experience with Picardin). In addition, unlike DEET, Picaridin does not dissolve plastic! Nonetheless, Picaridin is another artificially derived chemical that comes with a list of precautions, so I found it rather encouraging to read numerous reviews that indicate repellents containing oil of lemon eucalyptus are highly effective.

The following non-toxic bug sprays get good marks:

Repel – Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent gets good reviews in regards to keeping away the skeeters.
Herbal Insect Repellent by Burts Bees also seems to be effective against mosquitoes, but may attract some other bugs

Our family has actually used All Terrain insect repellant and found it to be somewhat effective. It wasnt perfect, but it was much better than no application at all! And, they even offer Kids Herbal Armor that is supposed to be effective for children ages 6 months to 6 years.

Permethrin treated clothing: I also read recently that Permethrin treated socks and shoes are very effective at preventing ticks from jumping on to kids (or adults) while frolicking in the outdoors. And Permethrin treated clothing is effective at eliminating mosquitoes; however, Permethrin must never be sprayed directly on the skin and clothing treated with the stuff should only be worn after it has completely dried! Personally, Id consider it wise to keep away from anything that cant be sprayed directly on the skin. Checking for ticks is not such a big deal (Ive had a tick bite and lived to tell). And, there are other ways to avoid mosquito bites (Ive had Malaria and lived to tell.)

Further Reading: There are a lot of sites and articles on bug control, but I found a few that Id recommend:

Natural Mosquito Relief

Insect Repellent and your Kids

Colorado State Extension on West Nile & Mosquitoes