Posts Tagged ‘air quality’

why i think mrs. meyer’s stinks

February 10, 2011

Mrs. Meyer’s does not smell like this.

I generally don’t like to slam products. I’d rather focus on solutions than problems. But when there’s a general perception that something is eco-friendly or healthy, I want people to know the whole story.

This is a post I’ve been wanting to write for a while, and a friend’s recent query spurred me on to finally do it. Said friend asked me to offer some advice on choosing an eco-friendly house cleaning service. There were a few contenders on the table, including both nationally known and local companies. To me, aside from all of the obvious criteria for choosing a service (reliability, trustworthiness, thoroughness), the biggest question that would set cleaning companies apart is this: which products do they use?

There are a lot of green cleaning products on the market, and even more jumping on board every day. It’s incredibly easy to fall for the claims made by many of them, especially when they’re as enticing as: “biodegradable,” “not tested on animals,” “chlorine free,” or “phosphate free” (since last year, all dish detergents are now phosphate free). And while these are all respectable traits, they don’t say everything you need to know. Here’s what I think you should know. Many companies either choose to ignore or simply cannot claim this of their products: “free of synthetic fragrance.”

I’ve always suspected Mrs. Meyer’s soaps included artificial fragrance because a) the scent on my hands did not go away quickly b) I could taste the scent through my nose, c) the scent made me nauseated. While in the privy of one of my favorite restaurants (lots of local & sustainable NYC restaurants love Mrs. Meyer’s), I decided to peek at the label to confirm my suspicions. Right there, plain as day, was the ingredient I was looking for: Fragrance (Parfum). When I see that ingredient without any footnotes explaining its derivation, I begin to question the validity of the rest of the product claims.

Mrs. Meyer’s says:

“Our fragrance compositions use a combination of natural essential oils and safe synthetic ingredients. This allows for the most pleasing, quality, and intriguing scents – inspired by the garden – that you’ll want to use again and again. This approach provides consistent performance, quality, and safety in every bottle. All fragrances are phthalate-free.”

Why do I care so much about synthetic fragrance?

1. The fragrance/perfume industry is protected by patent or trade secret laws which allow them to hide any and all ingredients in their formulations. I don’t know about you, but I like to know what’s in the stuff I’m washing my hands with or spraying on my kitchen countertop.

2. Fragrance can be made from any combination of petroleum and non-petroleum derived substances, including formaldehyde, benzene, and toluene (I don’t think Mrs. Meyer’s includes any of these).

3. This potentially toxic soup can have any number of untoward effects on human health, including reproductive and endocrine disruption, immune system effects, and neurotoxic effects.

To learn more about the dangers of artificial fragrance, read Get a Whiff of This: Perfumes (fragrances) — the Invisible Chemical Poisons
by Connie Pitts.

I trust my senses first, but when I want a little confirmation for my concerns, I turn to the Environmental Working Group (EWG) cosmetic database. It’s not without its flaws, but I find it helpful when I’m unsure about the safety of particular ingredients. In their assessment, Mrs. Meyer’s products range from 3 to 6 on their 10-point hazard scale (that’s moderately hazardous). The caveat here is that, without knowing the actual composition of the fragrance chemicals the Caldrea company (maker of Mrs. Meyer’s) use, EWG applies the worst-case scenario fragrance to all products.

It’s easy for me to unfairly single out Mrs. Meyer’s (as I did in the title) because she’s got a friendly name and image. But sadly, she’s not the only green game in town that has this vital flaw. Her partners in crime also include Simple Green and Method (whose products also include artificial colors). Just because something is Green Seal certified (ahem, Simple Green) does not mean it is healthy, it just means it is not considered to be detrimental to the ecosystem. I care a heck of a lot about the ecosystem, and the one I care most about is yours.

Here are some others who share my concern:

Green Cleaning Seattle

Real Green Girl

The Smart Mama

In this last post from the Smart Mama, she refers to a study where Mrs. Meyer’s was found to contain high levels of 1,4 dioxane, a carcinogenic solvent. Mrs. Meyer’s has since corrected this problem. You can read about it here.

I also know I’m not the only one who can’t stand these synthetic fragrances. A few user reviews:

As I mentioned, I like to use my senses. In our culture of sensory overload, it can be difficult to distinguish harmful from healthful. It’s easy to dismiss the way we feel (our gut or intuition) because there are so many external influences affecting us. The good news is, once we start eliminating these influences, including all of the artificial scents and flavors, the line between what’s toxic and what’s not becomes a bit clearer. Life begins to smell (naturally) sweet again.

Stay tuned for part 2 of why I think Mrs. Meyer’s stinks: synthetic fragrance-free solutions!

expounding on hot grease

December 5, 2010

In a shipping container in the backyard of Roberta’s restaurant in Bushwick, Brooklyn is the home of Heritage Radio Network – an internet radio station dedicated to spreading the good food gospel. My friend Nicole Taylor (aka Food Culturist) hosts a show on said station. It’s called Hot Grease (knowing she’s from Georgia, it’s apropos).

A few weeks ago, I was on her show, with an air date TBD. Well, while I was off on my digital detox, the program aired. I only found out after sifting through my emails last night. You can listen to the interview from the Heritage Radio Network site or via podcast on iTunes.

Expounding on Hot Grease

Since it’s only about a 15 minute interview, we didn’t dig too deeply into some of the subjects. So after you give it a listen, see below for more info on some of the stuff we discussed.

Natural Living Skills

For more on the Eco Libris Green Books Campaign, check out the review I wrote of Participating in Nature: Wilderness Survival and Primitive Living Skills.

No New Clothes

Read all about the Brooklyn Green Team’s No New Clothing Challenge here.


An entire radio station could be dedicated to all things permaculture, let alone an entire show. Here are a few places to start:

Permaculture Principles (the site is inspired by one of the founders of Permaculture, David Holmgren)

Permaculture Institute

Permaculture Activist Magazine (one of my very favorite publications)

The New York Permaculture Meetup Group. Anyone can go to one of their meetings, held the first Tuesday of every month. Meet some great people and learn about the cool ecological projects happening in and around NYC.

To see my design project for the Permaculture Design Certification, check out this post.

Healthy Home Consulting

This is what I do.

Make-it-yourself Parties

Okay, I don’t think we discussed these, but we should have. 😉 I’m now offering make-it-yourself beauty and cleaning product parties. You supply the people and place and I’ll supply the rest ($30 per person). Everyone walks away with 3 customized products and recipes to try at home. Email me for more info: liz (at) raganella (dot) com.

The Hot Five

Five simple things you can do to lead a healthier, more ecological lifestyle.

5. Take off your shoes as you enter your home. Easy enough.

4. Bring in plants. Learn more about the amazing filtering ability of plants.

3. Swap out your cleaning products. Check out the Berkeley Ecology Center’s simple cleaning recipes or try these botanically based formulas from the Herb Companion.

2. Swap out your beauty/hygiene products.Earthly Bodies & Heavenly Hair by master herbalist Dina Falconi is a book I constantly refer to for inspiration in making my own beauty products.

1. Compost. Check out the NYC Compost Project for tips on composting. Find all the places to compost in Manhattan on the Compost Green Map. This site isn’t quite populated with enough data yet, but FindAComposter has potential to offer people across the country with a go-to source for finding a place to compost.

committed to a non-toxic lifestyle

June 10, 2010

I urge you to watch this series of important videos by Dr. Sanjay Gupta about how toxins are pervasive, persistent, and impacting us all, everyday.

An initial reaction to this might be easy to become paralyzed and perhaps feel helpless. But I see this as an opportunity to highlight the importance of our choices, especially what we choose to surround ourselves and our loved ones with. We all have the power to make these choices:

  • Choose organic and sustainably grown food and fibers
  • Opt for non-toxic cleaning supplies, beauty products, and furnishings
  • Advocate for improved energy efficiency, for alternative non-polluting fuels, and against the burning of fossil fuels
  • Support local businesses who source their goods responsibly
  • Buy used goods and think before purchasing new ones (whether they are really ‘needed’)
  • Help others find non-toxic solutions for their home and self care

Collectively, our actions have the power to shape our world. As the oft-quoted Gandhi said,

Almost anything you do seems insignificant. It is very important that you do it.
You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”

I’m taking this opportunity to reaffirm my commitment to act as responsibly as I can to protect myself and others from toxic pollutants by making these choices. Are you with me?

how do you ring in the spring?

April 13, 2010

Weather warming. Trees greening. Birds chirp-chirping. Flowers blooming. All signs point to Spring! Mother nature is awakening her creatures from Winter’s slumber – that includes you, too!

What do you do to signal the arrival of Spring?

It’s a reminder of vitality, of becoming active after a dormant season, so maybe you join a gym or take up jogging.

It’s a time to shake things up, a season of drastic change, so maybe you clean out your closet and donate clothing to Goodwill or sell it on eBay for some extra dough.

It’s a time to wake up the body and spirit, so maybe you do a juice cleanse or yoga immersion (the latter’s what I did!)

It’s a time to clear out the cobwebs, shake out the rugs, clean the curtains, so maybe it’s time for a new Spring cleaning routine.

If that’s the case, here are a few tips to brighten your home without harming your health:

Keep it simple
Just a few key ingredients are enough to clean your whole house: vinegar, lemon, baking soda, borax, and soap. Some great recipes available here.

Read the labels
If there’s a precaution, warning, or other such exclamatory phrase on the back of the bottle, think twice about shining up the counters or mopping the floor with it. You have to breathe the air in your home, ya know!

Use your senses
Do you get a headache after cleaning the bathroom? It could be the products you’re using to clean, as well as poor ventilation. See the first tip for less toxic cleaning materials.

Learn more!
Next month (May), I’ll be leading a workshop (the first in a series!) to help you identify household products that may be doing more harm than good. Stay tuned, full details coming soon!

Happy Spring!

how can we improve the air quality of our cities?

September 28, 2009

Find out on my new post on!

big cities: exhausting and exhilarating

In the big city, on any given day, anything seems possible. Millions of thinkers, dreamers, and doers exchange ideas, creative sparks, and currency. There are plenty of reasons to be a city dweller – more jobs, much inspiration, more opportunities to help people who need it. But there’s one big drawback to city dwelling, especially New York City dwelling: dismally poor air quality.

Some might argue we just can’t help it. In a city of millions where almost all of our goods are trucked in and 12,000 tons of residential trash is trucked out every day, how could we fight the beast of diesel exhaust? When coal-burning power plants in the MidWest are emitting mercury and other harmful pollutants that drift our way with the air currents, what are we supposed to do to stop that?

Keep reading…

oooh that smell!

July 29, 2009

[Image: Lexington, Mass. Town website]

Have you ever walked into an elevator, a subway car, or any other crowded confined space and been smacked in the face by a toxic cologne cloud?

There are times when this overpowering scent actually makes its way up into my nasal passages, down my throat, and onto my tongue. Excuse me, Stinky, I already had breakfast, I don’t want to taste your perfume bath!

I lovingly call these offenders Personal Air Polluters (PAPs). To be fair, I’ll assume they’ve dulled their precious olfactory senses so much that they’ve become “smell blind,” and as such just keep adding more and more fragrance as a result of their nasal numbness. After all, our senses can become dulled when they’re overexposed to stimuli.

So-called “good” scents like certain beauty products and cleaning solutions set off an alarm in my brain: Danger! Danger! Step away from that stink! And for good reason, these fragrances are actually bad for us.

Whether it’s the noxious fumes of cologne or perfume, the petrochemical laundry detergent emanating from clothes, or the synthetic fragrance wafting from just-shampooed hair – the deluge of synthetic fragrances in this world culminates in a harmful chemical cocktail.

get the stink out: antidotes to air pollution
Once I eliminated the culprits in my own home, I became acutely aware of these terrible odors. Here are some simple switches to help reduce your exposure to the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) causing the toxic stench.

beauty regimen

  • Read labels. Avoid products containing phthalates, benzyl acetate, hydroquinone, formaldehyde, or the catch-all term “fragrance” (also: parfum). These products have been associated with neurotoxicity, endocrine disruption, and cancer
  • Look out for other ingredients that may induce similar health implications (eg, neurotoxicity, endocrine disruption, and immunotoxicity) – read more
  • Some of my favorite brands:
    Kiss My Face (Obsessively Organic line)
    John Masters Organics
    Dr. Bronner’s
    Simply Divine Botanicals

cleaning solutions

air fresheners

laundry & dry cleaning

  • For laundry: Switch to a less toxic alternative such as Ecos or Seventh Generation. Or try a laundry ball like this one from True Green (I tested it on my sweaty yoga towels – it really works!)
  • For softening: Skip the fabric softener and use 1/8 cup vinegar in the wash. The vinegar smell does not stick around, I swear
  • For scent: Add a few drops of essential oil to the wash. I use Tea Tree Oil or Eucalyptus – so fresh and so clean! (and also antibacterial)
  • For dry cleaning: Opt for handwash with a product like The Laundress or visit a dry cleaner using CO2 such as Green Apple Cleaners

paint & furnishings

  • No or low-VOC paints like Mythic offer high-quality coverage without the noxious fumes. Or try American Clay, a wall covering that adds beautiful texture while actually filtering the air
  • Check for formaldehyde and other off-gassing VOCs in furniture & carpeting. Stick with natural floor coverings made from wool or seagrass. Check the Sustainable Furnishings Council for brands that don’t emit VOCs

Aah, now let’s all take a breath of fresh air!

clean up indoor air pollution

June 22, 2009

The air inside our homes and businesses is often more toxic than the air outside, even in big air-polluted cities like LA and NYC. This is due to several factors, including off-gassing chemicals in furniture, toxins in cleaning products, and artificial fragrances and other chemicals in our beauty care regimens.

In spite of this barrage of airborne toxins, there is an amazingly simple way to clean up the air while increasing the amount of oxygen we breathe. Learn about three common house plants that work wonders on air quality from Kamal Meattle in the video below:

Grow your own fresh air with one (or all) of these plants:

green apple cleaners, in my ‘hood!

April 10, 2009

As I walked, still half asleep, to my subway stop this morning, I noticed a bright green smart fortwo covered in advertisements for Green Apple Cleaners (the non-toxic, CO2 based dry cleaners) parked just by the entrance to the station. Oh, look at that, they’re advertising in Brooklyn, I thought.

This shot’s is as blurry as my vision was.

I had heard from David Kistner, CEO of Green Apple Cleaners, last year that there would be a Brooklyn store opening this year. For some reason, I imagined it in Brooklyn Heights or Carroll Gardens. But much to my delight, it’s right next door in North Park Slope. Hurray!

It’s the little things that get me excited. Now I can take all of those delicates, sweaters, and dress shirts out of the “handwash” pile that’s been accumulating for months — I’d been handwashing with The Laundress in lieu of the nasty chem bath of traditional dry cleaners — and walk on over to the new Green Apple. Oh, happy day!

The new Brooklyn location of Green Apple Cleaners is located at:

78 7th Ave (nr Berkeley)
Park Slope BKLYN

empire state building retrofit

April 6, 2009

One of the most iconic structures in NYC is about to get a makeover. When it was built, it was a model for engineering ingenuity. Now, it’s going to serve as a model for energy efficiency. A retrofit is in order. It’s estimated that the building’s energy consumption will be reduced by 40%.

Video and blurb from Rocky Mountain Institute, one of the partners in the project, below.

In February 2008, project partners Rocky Mountain Institute, the Clinton Climate Initiative, Johnson Controls, Inc., and Jones Lang LaSalle began working with existing and newly created modeling, measurement, and projection tools to fully analyze the Empire State Building’s energy use. RMI’s Built Environment Team then provided realistic recommendations that would help increase the building’s energy efficiency without harming bottom-line performance.

According to RMI’s Chief Scientist Amory Lovins, “In order to make cities cleaner and more energy efficient, there is a real need for a replicable model for retrofitting existing buildings. This visionary example will help to significantly reduce carbon emissions and conserve energy in buildings all over the world through these initiatives.”

The Empire State Building team will undertake improvements, including window retrofits, daylighting, a radiator insulation retrofit, and a whole-building control system upgrade that will achieve a projected $4.4 million in annual energy savings while reducing energy consumption by close to 40 percent and cutting the building’s overall carbon output.

Beyond the numbers, the process that the partners used made this project unique and the improvements possible. The program currently underway at the Empire State Building is the first to provide a comprehensive modeling approach to help capture energy savings on existing buildings. Over time, these breakthrough methods will make the Empire State one of the most efficient pre-war buildings in the world.

Learn more about the retrofit