Friday, December 31, 2010

Green Isn't Always Healthy...Did You Know?

Did you know that "green" and "eco-friendly" aren't always the same as "healthy?" We're in a time now when everybody's rushing to buy products that are sustainable and green, with the idea that surely what they're buying is better for the environment, and the assumption that these products are also healthier, too. But the truth is, green isn't always healthy.

Almost seven years ago, my mom succumbed to breast cancer. It was a recurrence of the cancer that she'd battled and defeated (we thought) almost five years before, and on March 5, 2004, we lost her. It was my mom's battle with cancer that made me wonder...what exactly was the cause? I've realized over time that it probably wasn't just one thing. I've done a fair bit of reading on potential carcinogens and causes of cancer, and as a result, I've taken action in my life to reduce my own exposure as much as possible without going overboard (I could go on and on about what "overboard" means, but suffice to say, I believe that enjoying life is just as important as taking care with your body and your environment).

Back to green and healthy...I learned a long time ago that sometimes green and sustainable products aren't the same as healthy products. For example, I could buy a nightstand for my bedroom that's made with reclaimed wood- this makes it a "green" product. But most of these tables are covered in polyurethane varnish, which typically offgasses toxic and carcinogenic particles for up to seven years. 

And since my bedroom has been on my mind lately, let's look more closely at that room in particular. You spend 7-8 hours a night sleeping in your bedroom. That's a lot of time, especially if you've painted the walls with regular paint, used an average carpet on the floor, have bedding you picked up at Bed, Bath & Beyond, bought regular furniture and a regular mattress, plus standard IKEA're in an offgassing nightmare with literally hundreds of VOCs (volatile organic compounds).  And on average, you're breathing on those toxins 2,758 hours per year that you're spending sleeping in that room.

But what if you went green? So you bought low-VOC paint. You bought bamboo flooring. You bought a natural latex mattress and organic cotton sheets. You bought reclaimed furniture for the bedroom and darn it, you're green.

Believe it or not, though, there are still hazards for you in that room. Your low-VOC paint is still offgassing VOCs, your bamboo flooring and reclaimed furniture are covered in polyurethane, your latex mattress just might be held together with glue and stabilizers, and your sheets are probably smooth because of chemical agents used in the processing. So you're still breathing in that stuff. Sure, you've reduced your carbon footprint and you can feel good about that. But you didn't really do much for yourself or for your health.

It's only in the last few months that I've seen green, sustainable, and eco-friendly manufacturers using words like "indoor air quality" and "non-toxic," words I used six years ago when I remodeled my house and befuddled my contractors by ordering my own materials, hardwood floor stain, and zero-VOC floor varnish and wall paint.So it certainly is easier to find both green and non-toxic products and materials now, but it's still a challenge...less so, if you've educated yourself.

As we move forward with a market of more and more green and sustainable products, keep your eyes open and pay attention to what you're investing in for your home. If your health is at all important to you, ask yourself if your cleaning products, your furniture, your clothes, your bedding, everything around you is both green and non-toxic. While you don't need to go overboard, it would serve most people well to at least question what's in the immediate household environment and ask, "Is this good for me?"

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