Greening that “first home” means safety too…

(I typically don’t do “guest posts”, but sometimes there are important topics I simply know very little about… asbestos is one of those topics. Today I am allowing a guest post by Ben Stillwater, freelance writer for Asbestos News, an online resource on asbestos and mesothelioma cancer.  I believe you’ll find the information both informative and important.)

asbests hazzI remember that moving into the first home we bought, excited kids in tow, was a huge step towards the family stability that all of us trek toward one step at a time.  If you’re like most parents, there are fixer-upper projects that become on-the-job training for us and like many OJT tasks, research is the difference between an acceptable job and a restart.  In homes built before about 1975, remodeling can also be a safety issue because prior to that date, homes were built with many products that contain asbestos.  What tens of thousands of twentieth century industrial workers learned the hard way is that inhaling asbestos fibers can lead, decades later, to asbestos cancer, which in its most lethal form, is known as mesothelioma.

Asbestos fibers are generated in the form of microscopic particles that drift in those dust clouds we generate in projects that involve removing old housing materials.  They are generated by crumbling, deteriorating asbestos products or by the cutting, sanding, or scraping that goes on in any remodeling task.  If possible, the first thing you want to do is have tests done on any household product you intend to remove for asbestos content.  Most states have their own asbestos abatement programs, and they are a good source of information about removal and about getting materials tested.  A list of state agencies responsible for asbestos is a good place to start, as is this list of EPA regional offices.asbests imprvmt

Here are some products to be concerned about: ceiling tiles, floor tiles, old linoleum, floor adhesives, wall joint compound, roofing tiles, siding, cement, textured paint, spackling and home insulation.  Pipe insulation in older homes is often wrapped in asbestos blankets.  Here is some good general information from the EPA on household asbestos and also some suggestions for moms and families who are living in an older home going through a rejuvenation program:

Keep the dust from your remodeling under control. If you’re dismantling, scraping or cutting old, crumbling stuff, wear breathing protection and clean up the dust after every session in order to minimize exposure for your kids.  If your wall insulation is forty years old and adequate, leave it in place.  Undisturbed asbestos products won’t give off fibers. If you’re in a home with old, blown in insulation (particularly vermiculite) consider having a professional asbestos abatement company remove it.  Loose, deteriorating asbestos products require professional management.

asbests fbrThe only known cause of mesothelioma is asbestos, which finds its way into the body through inadvertent inhalation.  While most victims were exposed on multiple occasions on job sites, some cases have resulted from brief exposure.  The insidious thing about the disease is that mesothelioma symptoms don’t begin to manifest for decades after the exposure has occurred.  Protecting your household from asbestos dust today is really protecting your family from catastrophic health problems well into the future.

(Thanks for the terrific information, Ben!)

Simple conservation tip: Put your “greywater” to work…

Greywater may be a new term to you… once again, this one was recently a new one for me too!

buckt grnGreywater is defined as the “waste water generated from bathing, showering, dishwashing and laundry”.  Initial thoughts might sound something like “well… ick.”  Sure, I certainly don’t recommend you grab a glass(!), but there are plenty of household uses for this water (as long as you aren’t using harsh cleansers and detergents).

Think about watering your indoor plants, outdoor plants and shrubbery, or washing your car.  This water is ideal.

All you need to do is add a handled bucket to your shower, scoop out a bucket or watering can full from your bath, or add the bucket to your utility tub when your washer is draining.  Plants will actually thrive from the content of this water and your car happens not to care if the water has a bit of added body wash or laundry detergent.

Considering this greywater accounts for somewhere between 50%-80% of residential water waste, conserving and using it will certainly amount to a lot more than just “a drop in the bucket”.

Using palm oil = harm and destruction (here’s why…)

palm plnttnUntil recently I had never really heard much about palm oil… but as soon as I did, everything changed.

More and more, palm oil is commonly being used as an ingredient in everyday products including margarine, shortening, baked foods, cookies, candies and even soaps, candles and personal care products. Its main purpose, aside from its “binding properties”, is to replace trans fat that we’re all trying to avoid, however, there is also a great sacrifice being made through the acceptance of palm oil as our alternative to such things as hydrogenated oil…

… The sacrifice is vast amounts of rainforests and the animals that make the rainforest their home. These forests are being cleared at alarming rates to make way for palm plantations and to keep up with the demand for the product. Malaysia and Indonesia account for 83% of the production and 89% of the export of palm oil.  Within these countries the threat is enormous for endangered species including orangutans, tigers, elephants and rhinoceroses.  The threat is the greatest for the orangutans, as they live ONLY in these areas that are being cleared to make way for the palm oil plantations.  As you can imagine, the occurrence of hunting and poaching these poor animals has dramatically increased as well, and it is estimated that 50 orangutan are being killed each week.  At this rate, their existence is limited… and I find that absolutely heartbreaking and unnecessary.orang tans

It’s also important to realize that when this deforestation occurs and the rainforests are burned, they release decades of stored carbon back into the atmosphere, contributing to the tragedy of global warming.

Also keep in mind that, though the health effects of palm oil may be a BIT less with palm oil as a substitute, it is NOT a heart-healthy food or adequate hydrogenated oil substitute, like olive, soy or canola oils.  It is only a smoke-screen used by manufacturers because it is a cheap substitute and keeps the words “trans fat” off of the content label.

Sadly, the demand for palm oil is expected to double in the next 10 years… IF we continue to support the products that are using this oil as a “new” substitute.  This is NOT an option.

When you are shopping, DO NOT PURCHASE products containing palm oil.  By NOT buying, and selecting products without palm oil, it speaks loud and clear.  It means you will not support this product and the harm and destruction it is creating!

(* Note: the image above shows a palm oil plantation as it butts up to a rainforest that has been cleared for this crop.)

Eggs and all the confusing “terms” that go with them…

eggzEvery time I visit the organic dairy case, I get more and more overwhelmed by the classifications and categorizations of eggs.  Too many terms… too many confusing terms!

They can also be misleading and aren’t always as “dreamy” as they might seem, so take a look at the real deal on these most common terms in the   “egg world”:

  • Organic – these eggs come from hens that are free of hormones, steroids and antibiotics.  They are fed an organic, vegetarian, pesticide-free diet.  Organic eggs are said to include three times more omega-3 fatty acids, twice as much vitamin E and 40% more vitamin A than non-organic eggs.  This label is regulated by the USDA.
  • Cage-free – while cage-free sounds more humane, the reality isn’t always as great as it sounds.  While the hens aren’t confined to tiny individual cages, they are often placed in much larger common areas with other hens, but have no more individual space than a single cage… so no, cage-free does not mean they have ample space to spread their wings either.  Also keep in mind that this “label” is not regulated and cage-free does not mean organic unless it says so.
  • Free-range – these hens are raised with “access” to the outdoors, but sadly it doesn’t mean they spend their life prancing around the grassy hillside.  The reality is that they still spend much of their life in a cage-free environment, but are supposed get some time outdoors.  Since this term isn’t regulated eitchikn field2her, some reports say that free-range hens may actually spend little to NO time outdoors despite the claim.  Again, free-range does not mean organic unless it says so.

There are plenty of other terms –- “natural” which essentially means nothing (all eggs are natural!), “pasture-raised” which means they do peck around outdoors or “grass-fed” meaning they do get outdoors and eat grass, insects and all that nature intended (so these eggs contain the most nutrients, but you will pay for them… dearly!), “certified humane” meaning they live indoors, but are confined much less densely –- so all you can do is know what the terms mean and choose what matters to you.

I haven’t even touched on conventionally-raised hens but believe me, they are often fed cheap, disgusting grains and foods (including the by-products of other animals), kept in the smallest of cages with deplorable conditions, and have the tips of their beaks burned off so they don’t peck one another… sure, the dozen eggs you purchase may be 99 cents, but I cannot condone or support those practices.

We’re an “organic, free-range” family because, aside from raising my own chickens (no, not likely!) or knowing someone who does (unfortunately, I don’t!), I’m hoping that the eggs come from somewhat happy chickens that maintained a healthy diet and drug-free life!

(There you have it…  and I didn’t say “egg-cellent”, even once!…)

…Because she melts my heart faster than global warming…

I may be a “green mom” but I am also a “proud mom” and nothing, I mean NOTHING, melts my heart faster than my family! That is why, today… I am going to be a little indulgent and share an incredibly proud moment…

My precious, “just turned 8-years old” daughter and my husband performed in her elementary school’s Talent Show this past weekend.  She sang “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” and Daddy accompanied her on ukulele and I couldn’t be more proud!  They were both amazing and she was (and to me, always will be) a star!  THIS is the reason we “do what we do”… to leave our amazing kids a better, safer, more viable world to live in…

Take it away, sweetpea…

No, this had nothing to do with being green, but again… she and my son are exactly why I spend time and energy to make our home, our community and our world better.  They are affected by every choice we make… xoxo…