Well-Being in the home

Being good to the environment starts at home with your well being. We look into several ways in which you can make your home a safer environment for you and your family.

Well-be•ing pronounced [wel-bee-ing]

a good satisfactory condition of existence; a state characterized by health, happiness, and prosperity; welfare: to influence the well-being of the nation and its people.

American Psychological Association (APA):well-being. (n.d.). Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1). Retrieved January 25, 2010, from Dictionary.com

If you thought drinking bottled water was safer and healthier than tap water, think again! Not only can bottled water contain small amounts of contaminants, the bottles themselves are energy intensive to produce; they use valuable fossil fuels in their distribution and can take over one thousand years to degrade! Combine that with seeping chemicals from one-time-use-only bottles and the cost of small bottles of water (one of the most abundant substances on the planet) - we think that it's time to learn some hard facts on this subject.

Improving air-quality

What's the issue with air-quality at home? Are there really toxins lurking in every corner? Is there anything that we can do? Most of us would argue that our homes are a safe environment to live in. After all, we don't have cars driving through our kitchens, factories expelling fumes into our bathrooms or a landfill degrading under our doorsteps - do we? No, but there are many different toxins in the home that you breathe in everyday and should be aware of.

Avoiding toxins in the home

The vast majority of household toxins can be found in home furnishings, cleaning products, personal care products, gardening products, home/building products, even in fruits, vegetables and water.Let's be realistic, it wouldn't be a practical or economical to change all of the items listed above at once. You should consider making small changes when products are finished and need to be replaced. Start by going through the bottles under sinks and those hiding at the back of closets. Throw away anything you haven't used in the past year, if you haven't used it by now - ask yourself if you will be using it in the near future?

What is a toxin?In the traditional sense: toxins are poisonous substances produced by living organisms/cells. Generally toxins are proteins, which in varying degrees can cause disease when in contact with living tissues. Recently: the word 'toxin' has been adapted from its original meaning, (and adopted by many) to describe a non-biologically produced poison. In many cases, when we read about poor air-quality and similar topics, the authors using the word ' toxins' are generally referring to 'poisons'. On our website, we too have made the decision to use the word 'toxin' in order to retain familiar terminology. Why has 'toxin' become used in this manner? Who knows? Maybe, no one wants to label his or her products with 'poison'; ironically 'toxin' has become the more palatable choice.

It may be surprising to learn that so many harmful substances are being allowed into the home. We all assume that if the products we use on a daily basis can be sold for use in the home, then we should have nothing to fear. This may be the reason why so many of us spend little time reading the label, searching for potential hazards in common household goods. More manufacturers are becoming increasingly savvy about the products and services they provide. As a result, many companies are opting for products that are less harmful to you and the environment. Many bottled products from household cleaners to personal care now have 'green alternatives'. We need to make educated choices, in order to prevent all of the increased cases of: allergies, asthma, immune problems and cancer brought on by exposure to household cleaners and even beauty products!

Harmful substances such as:

Volatile Organic Compounds ~ off-gassing (as the name suggests, invisible particles disperse into the air of your home) from many man-made carbon based agents
Formaldehyde ~ off-gases from materials such as: particleboard, wood-based products stuck together with adhesives, carpets and cushions. Most kitchen cabinets use this product.
Phenols ~ found in e.g. disinfectants, perfumes, mouthwash, glue and air-fresheners
Benzene ~ solvents
Vinyl chloride ~ stagnant water in PVC piping, new car interiors
Arsenic ~ pesticides
Carbon monoxide ~ un-serviced gas or oil furnaces
Hydrofluoric acid ~ rust remover
Lead ~ old paint, old pipes

Go to the National Toxicology Program it contains a lot of interesting data from medical findings through to lists of identified carcinogens. Toxins can also be found in certain foods, we shall discuss this further in the section 'Choosing Organic Products'

Choosing Organic Produce

The preservation of the planet and our health go hand in hand. Conventional agricultural practices release toxic chemicals that contaminate our ground water and leave residues in our food.
In order to produce bigger and better crops many farmers use pesticides, fertilizers and herbicides. Growth hormones, steroids and antibiotics ensure livestock grow bigger faster. Ultimately, it doesn't matter how much you wash, scrub or cook your food, there will always be traces of certain chemicals at the cellular level. Opting for organic foods will reduce the amount of chemical residues consumed. It will also reduce the number of toxic chemicals that have been seeping into our ground-water supplies and contaminating the soil.
Many of the substances used in conventional farming have been linked to headaches, fatigue, and nausea, to more serious effects such as cancer and neurological disorders.
This is a huge topic, we suggest reading non-biased reports such as those provided by the Consumer Association and Organic Trade Association who advocate and protect organic standards.

The Organic Foods Production Act was established in 1995, it defines 'ORGANIC': "Organic agriculture is an ecological production management system that promotes and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles and soil biological activity. It is based on minimal use of off-farm inputs and on management practices that restore, maintain, and enhance ecological harmony."


Having unknowingly inhaled, been exposed to and ingested a wide variety of harmful substances from the world around us, it makes sense to consider some form of detoxification. 'Detoxing' has become very popular recently, some remedies being rather extreme and relatively ineffective. However, if practiced in a sensible manner, detoxification can be considered as a powerful tool to prevent disease.
The best detoxification practice is to limit your exposure to or to avoid toxins altogether. That's not possible to do this overnight - if even at all. Our approach is to make small changes gradually. Successful detoxing will provide you with increased energy, better sleep patterns, improved mental clarity, reduced aches and decreased bloating!
Spring is a great time to start a 'detox' program. Before embarking on such a program you should consult your doctor to see if this is something that will work for you.
We suggest by starting with an 'audit' of your lifestyle. Keep a journal of your sleep patterns, your exercise and what you eat for the next month. Your detox program will depend on your lifestyle, your weight and your fitness level. One thing you can do straight away is to reduce the amount of alcohol, cigarettes, coffee and fried food that you consume. If you are disciplined enough, then by all means stop now, but most of us find it difficult - so a step-by-step approach is more successful.
This is a huge topic, in which we will cover on a regular basis in our newsletter register for eco-newsletter.

Grow your own

Unfortunately not all of us have large plots of ground on which to grow our own produce. If you only have limited space use a small window box to grow a range of your own organic herbs. We highly recommend that you grow organic produce. Stop putting weed killers and pesticides on the soil and avoid getting to close to buildings and fences. This prevents any chemical residues from running off into the soil. Prepare the soil, covering it with organic compost. Preparing your own organic compost is easy and better for the environment than commercial fertilizers. Using compost not only improves the soil structure, but also its texture. The aeration and the soil's water-holding capacity are greatly enhanced too. The soil's fertility increases and as a result it encourages healthy root growth.
Incredibly, it is very easy to make good compost; it just takes a little time and some preparation.
Organic compost contains a Carbon to Nitrogen ratio. We shall call this the Brown/Green ratio. The ratio is 25:1 brown to green. This will produce the fastest most successful results.
'Browns' consist of carbon rich organic matter such as pine needles, oak leaves, sawdust, woodchips, newspaper, cardboard and dryer lint etc.
'Greens' are nitrogen rich organic matter such as seaweed, coffee ground/filters, hair, dried weeds, manure (not dog/cat/bird/human), old vegetable and fruit scraps, etc.
You should avoid kitchen scraps such as: dairy produce, meat, fish, oils and bones; herbicide treated grass/plants; disease/insect infested vegetables and plants and weeds that spread via their roots/ have gone to seed.
Construct or buy a compost bin and add all components together in the correct ratio. Moisten with water and mix within two days. You will need to mix the pile periodically when it cools down, adding a little water to keep it moist (but not soaked).
Within approximately 4 weeks it becomes a dark earthy ready to use mixture. This method has been used for many years, it is safe, easy and provides healthy produce for years to come.


How do you choose an air-purifier that's right for you? - With so many to choose from it can be a daunting task. Air-purifiers can specialize in: smoke/chemical control, prevention of severe allergies and the killing of bacteria and viruses.Many purifiers operate differently, you should choose one that is specific to your needs. Before purchasing - do your research!

Mechanical Air-Filters

-Controlling Allergens:
Mechanical air-filters require fans to pull the particles into the system and this can be noisy. Many mechanical air-filtering purifiers are fitted with a HEPA filter this stands for 'High Efficiency Particulate Arrestance'! A HEPA filter is one that is 99.7% efficient in capturing a particle that is 0.3 micron in size. A micron is one millionth of a meter and cannot be seen by the naked eye. Pet dander for example, is 0.5 to 100 microns in size. 10% of particulates are 0.3 microns or smaller and these are the ones most dangerous to your health - they may also be referred to as 'lung penetrating particles'; these include: smoke, fumes, soot, dust mite allergens and bacteria/viruses.

-Controlling virus and bacteria:
In order to sterilize micro-organisms some filters are fitted with an ultraviolet light.

-Controlling gas and odors:
Gas e.g. formaldehyde and odor particles are smaller than 0.01 microns and require a gas filter in order to be successfully removed. An activated carbon filter or a chemical absorber (such as potassium permanganate) is able to remove these smaller particles.


How do you choose an air-purifier that's right for you? - With so many to choose from it can be a daunting task. Air-purifiers can specialize in: smoke/chemical control, prevention of severe allergies and the killing of bacteria and viruses.Many purifiers operate differently, you should choose one that is specific to your needs. Before purchasing - do your research!

Electronic air purifiers Vs Mechanical Ones

There are four types of electronic air purifiers: An electrostatic precipitator, a media-charged filter, a negative ionizer and an ozone purifier. Don't be confused or blown away by the names of the technologies, we explain everything clearly.

Simply put, the electrostatic precipitator air purifier charges particles as they enter the machine. The particles are given a negative charge using an ionizer as they enter the purifier. An ionizer uses electricity to charge particles, creating 'ions'. An ion is a negatively or positively charged particle. The particles are then attracted to the positively charged metal plates in the purifier, similar to the way in which metals stick to magnets, polar opposites attract. The plates collect particles as small as 0.1 microns in size. You don't need to replace filters, however the blades require regular cleaning. These units operate using a quiet technology, as these do not require a fan to attract particles. These types of purifiers also emit a small amount of ozone.

In a media-charged filter air purifier particles are collected in an electrostatic filter as opposed to plates. Particles are charged on entry into the purifier by an ionizer. Particles of up to 0.1 microns are collected in the filter. This type of air-filter is quiet, however you will need to replace the filters regularly.

The negative ionizer turns particles in the air, (e.g. dust, pollen, pet dander etc.) into negatively charged ions. Once charged, the particles tend to stick to positively charged surfaces, such as the floor, walls and furniture. As the particles loose their charge, they eventually make their way back into the air, unless removed during cleaning. This system does not require any replacement filters or any cleaning of blades. It is nearly silent, as it does not require a fan to attract particles. However, you will notice more 'sticky dust' located on the furniture around the ionizer, this will require regular cleaning. These also create ozone.

The ozone machine does not filter particles from the air; it uses ozone to clean the air. Ozone is very reactive; it breaks down other chemicals, such as odors and gases. It mainly removes odors. The current EPA guidelines following an 8-hour exposure to ozone is 0.08ppm. Above this can cause respiratory problems.

The Dangers of Ground-Level Ozone: Ozone in our outer atmosphere protects the earth from the harmful effects of radiation. Ironically we are destroying the protective layer of ozone that keeps us safe. Ground-level ozone is a harmful air pollutant. It occurs when volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and oxides of nitrogen react chemically in the presence of sunlight. These are produced by e.g. cars, buses and trucks; by large industrial sources; consumer products e.g. paints and cleaners etc. It can affect human health causing a range of respiratory problems. It has been proven that ozone damages lung tissues.

Food labeling

There is a strict labeling convention in place to ensure the products labeled as organic are really organic. Meat, poultry, egg and dairy products that are organic do not contain any growth hormones or antibiotics. Crops that are grown organically do not use conventional pesticides or fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge and have not been bioengineered or produced with ionizing radiation.

A product that has 95% organic content has the right todisplay this USDA Organic seal.

Any Processed products that contain 70% of organic ingredients can use "made with organic ingredients" on the main display panel. Three of the organic ingredients or food groups may also be listed.
Don't confuse the word 'organic' with 'natural'. Many companies use the word 'natural' to give the impression that their product is made without using certain harmful chemicals. To meet organic standards the product labels will display the 'USDA Organic' seal. Companies that are not organically certified may not use the seal; if they do they will be fined.
Go to the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) website for more information.

Household Cleaners

- What's out there?
Many conventional household cleaners contain some of the most toxic and harmful chemicals in the home. Unfortunately they are not always printed on the label. Some cleaners contain substances that can cause cancer, reproductive illnesses and emit volatile organic compounds which contribute to ground-level ozone.

Cleaners vary in their degree of eco-friendliness; the worst products are non-biodegradable, petroleum-based, highly toxic and contain carcinogenic compounds. On the other hand there are many products out there that are eco-friendly and vegetable derived.In the next few months, we will evaluate the effectiveness of these 'green' household cleaners, comparing them to their not-so-green counterparts as well as age-old remedies.
Using databases from various online government sources and health institutes we will show how 'green' your current household products are.
It will then be up to you to evaluate the results and to make a decision. What you purchase today has a huge impact on you and your families future health.

Product Evaluation


This month we will be cleaning glass surfaces and windows. Comparing:

- Windex Original (a well-known window cleaning brand)

- Shaklee 'Basic H2' (a green alternative)

- Method All Purpose Cleaner (another green alternative)

- Vinegar and warm water (old remedy hiding in the back of the kitchen)

Results coming soon.

Coming soon

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