“Do you smell fumes? Are you allergic to the 20th century?”
In the ´90s movie Safe,
Julianne Moore’s character reads these lines on a flier and is
convinced to explore whether her suffering could be an environmental
illness. Watching the film, I was never quite sure whether her problem
was one of affluence, paranoia or a true chemical sensitivity, but it
was the first time that I ever really thought about someone being
allergic to our environment. Todd Haynes, the film’s director, had
thought a lot about the disease and saw it as a by-product or our
“Environmental illness has a known origin—chemicals. It is a disease
that is embedded in the very fabric of our material existence.”- OutSmart magazine, August 15, 1995
Chemicals for baby
I don’t want to let pregnancy turn me paranoid, but I’m not alone in my concern that a fetus, or a young child, receives pound-for-pound “greater exposures to environmental toxins than adults” (Center for Children’s Health and the Environment). With the birth of her daughter, actress/singer Olivia Newton-John suddenly became tuned in to our synthetic world.
“Until I had my daughter, Chloe, I never really understood how vulnerable our babies are to toxins in our environment. I was horrified to learn that there are now around 80,000 chemicals that we live with. Ninety percent of these have never been tested for safety.”
Kelly Preston and John Travolta blaim carpet cleaners for their son’s medical problems.
“When bringing a new baby home, we think we are doing the right thing by scrubbing the nursery spotless or cleaning the carpet. When doing this, we are actually inviting dangerous chemicals into our baby’s world.“
As spokeswomen for the Children’s Health Environmental Coalition, both
Preston and Newton-John are actively involved in getting the word out
about the very real and tangible results of chemicals on children.
Olivia warns that, “many of the health problems that we face today,
like childhood cancers, asthma, nervous disorders, ADD, autism, and
birth defects, may be preventable.” She’s backed up by doctors and
“It is estimated that nearly 12 million children (17%) in the United States under age 18 suffer from one or more learning, developmental, or behavioral disabilities… Animal and human studies demonstrate that a variety of chemicals commonly encountered in industry and the home can contribute to developmental, learning, and behavioral disabilities”.
This is usually where I just get depressed and figure everything causes
cancer so it’s almost just better not to know, but according to
researchers with the National Institute of Environmental Health
Sciences, that’s not true.
“On the basis of our analyses we predict that less than 5-10% of the 75,000 chemicals in commercial use might be reasonably anticipated to be carcinogenic to humans.”
How to make your home safe
Luckily, we don’t have to try to sniff out good fumes from bad, there are celebrities and a healthy home campaign
to the rescue. The Children’s Health Environmental Coalition, with the
help of actresses Laura Dern and Amy Brenneman, have launched the Blue
Butterfly Campaign to gently guide all of us toward a safe home with
just 5 easy steps.
Step 1: Avoid use of all pesticides and insecticides.
They advise to switch to a non-toxic, pesticide-free product.
Step 2: Use non-toxic or natural household cleaners & products.
Both Kelly and Olivia told us this one, but what I didn’t know: “Prior
to WWII, most household cleaning tasks were accomplished using
relatively safe ingredients like baking soda and vinegar to disinfect
and deodorize… Everyday ingredients like baking soda, vinegar, salt,
lemon juice, vegetable oil, soap, borax, hydrogen peroxide and washing
soda can do the job as they did in years past.”
If you want to use something out of a bottle, they recommend products labeled “nontoxic,
bio-based, chlorine-free, organic, phosphate-free, natural fragrance,
and/or biodegradable”, and avoiding anything that says POISON, DANGER,
WARNING, or CAUTION.
Step 3: Clean up indoor air.
Apparently, indoor air can be “hundreds, even thousands times” more
polluted than outdoor air, and “typical products like cleaning agents,
aerosols, air fresheners, and disinfectants greatly contribute to the
problem. These products may also contain hidden cancer-causing
ingredients.” To clean up your home’s air, they suggest (among others):
• Ventilating your home by opening windows periodically
• Changing your air filters for AC and heating units
• Cleanse air with help from indoor plants
• Avoid carpets where possible or use natural fiber carpeting (organic cotton, wool, jute, or sisal)
• Look for non-toxic, naturally derived, and “low VOC” alternatives to paints, carpets, and furnishings.
• “Air out” new carpets and home furnishings before indoor use, especially newly painted and newly carpeted
Step 4: Eat more organic food.
We’ve heard this many times, but they site research I hadn’t heard
before: “One study of Seattle school children showed that children fed
an organic diet had one-sixth the levels of pesticide in their urine
compared to children fed a non-organic diet.”
Step 5: Use plastics products wisely.
I had been warned against putting Tupperware in the microwave and had
heard rumors that plastic water bottles could be contaminating my
mineral water, but I didn’t realize this warning extended to cling
wrap. They suggest using waxed paper or paper towels to cover food, and
not to dishwash plastics (I’m assuming that means handwashing your
When choosing a baby bottle or sippy cup (I assume this
extends to your own plastic water bottles, etc), avoid polycarbonate
and polystyrene (#3 and #6) and choose “safer plastics – polyethylene
(#1, #2, and #4) and polypropylene (#5) – which require the use of less
toxic additives and are non-chlorinated.”
If you’re still confused by all this and would prefer a more specific
gameplan, you can model your home after John Travolta’s. The
Travolta-Preston home is now chemical-free: they clean, or their help
cleans, with natural alternatives- and they seem to have found a solution for everything.
Natural Product Used What It’s Used For Where to Buy
Ecover Glass Cleaner To clean glass Whole Foods
Ecover Toilet Bowl Cleaner To clean toilets Whole Foods
Ecover Nonchlorine Bleach Multipurpose Whole Foods
Ecover All Purpose Cleaner Clean countertops, bathtubs, etc. Whole Foods
Ecover Dishwashing Liquid For the dishwasher Whole Foods
Ecover Natural Floor Soap To clean the floors Whole Foods
Planet Dishwashing Liquid When hand washing in kitchen Whole Foods
Citra-Solv Cleaner and Degreaser Stove hoods and areas with grease Whole Foods
SA8 Gelzyme Washing clothes Amway
Planet Solution Cleaning everything – mold to ants 888-480-9949
Mystical Carpet cleaning 800-221-3078
Sanitizer Softener Clothes softener 323-754-2842
Pacific Floor Cleaning All wood floors and wood furniture 323-291-0677
Lemon Mate Mist All natural air freshener Whole Foods
Whitney Farms Natural Organic Lawn food Whole Foods