A few months ago I was contacted by Kirsten McCulloch of Sustainable Suburbia fame to see if I would be willing to contribute to a book she was writing about reducing and eliminating the toxins we take in. That was a complete no brainer. I said yes!
Well, Kirsten's dream has come true and Less Toxic Living: How to Reduce Your Everyday Exposure to Toxic Chemicals – An Introduction For Families goes on sale today. In an extraordinary act of generosity, the eBook is completely free. Printed copies are also for sale at US$12.99. There is bonus content available for anyone who buys the book or downloads the free version prior to Tuesday, 3rd December 2013. Please use the code QUEENB for the special bonuses. Yes, free and bonuses. Who's your mamma?!
As I planned this blog post, I asked Kirsten with two questions. Following are her responses:
1. We all lead busy lives, if you had to prioritise 10 things that someone can do for maximum impact to reduce everyday exposure to toxic chemicals, what would they be?
1. Avoid the most pesticide laden food.
Get to know the "dirty dozen" and "clean fifteen" and the Australian version released by the Friends of the Earth last year (though it's not based on as much research as the US version, but useful as a guide). For the worst offenders, grow your own or buy organic.
2. Remember that your skin is your largest organ and think about what you are putting on it.
Anything you wear daily, or that you use over a large area (like body lotion or sunscreen) those are your first cosmetics to consider. There are lots of safer brands (check out www.safecosmeticsaustralia.com.au for some options), or if you really want to know what you are putting on your skin, you can make your own. If you want to try that, the book contains a few easy products to start you off.
3. Open the window
Unless you live in a really polluted area, open your doors and windows. For more Australians, the build-up of toxic chemicals in your house, including volatile organic compounds (VOCs) like formaldehyde, is much higher than that outdoors. You can also grow houseplants to help reduce VOCS.
4. Vacuum regularly with a HEPA filter.
Again, the typical build-up of toxic chemicals in the dust, including brominated fire retardants from your mattress, couch and carpet, is fairly scary.
5. Take off your shoes
Along those same lines, take of your outdoor shoes when you enter your home. You'll be amazed how much less dust comes in.
6. Switch to non-toxic cleaning products.
Start with one: whichever cleaning product you use the most, switch it out for something non-toxic. An all-purpose spray cleaner is really easy to make, for instance. Almost everything in the house can be cleaned with baking soda, washing soda, vinegar and soap, and again there are some easy recipes in the book to start you off.
But again, if you don't want to make your own, there are some commercial brands that are quite good. I would choose one product and find out what the typical nasties in that one are (I cover this for a selection of products in the book, but The Chemical Maze is great for this - it even has an app now, which I have on my phone), then check your chosen "safe" brand and make sure those ingredients aren't in it.
7. Stop eating processed “foods”
Look, I am not a purist and I don’t pretend to do everything “right” even close to all the time. The occasional processed food isn’t going to kill you. But make it occasional, not part of your daily diet. If you eat a lot of processed food right now, then choose one meal a day to cut it out.
8. Choose plastics with the recycling symbols #4 & #5.
Avoid phthalates and BPA leaching into your food and skin by avoiding those plastics. There is more detail about this in the book. Some other plastics can be okay, but those are the safest.
9. Get rid of synthetic fragrances.
That means in cleaning products, air fresheners, candles and cosmetics. Fragrances are considered “proprietary knowledge” and therefore the individual chemical components don’t need to be listed. But there are thousands of chemicals that can be included, and when the US National Institute of
Occupational Health and Safety evaluated 2983 fragrance chemicals they found that 884 were toxic.
10. Switch out your candles!
Of course, if you use a lot of candles, you must stop using paraffin-based, scented or coloured candles now! Go with 100% pure beeswax for a healthier glow!
I'm not sure why candle come in 10th given every home has them and most people use them, but that's beside the point (and I may be just a smidgen biased in thinking that this is a BIG issue and we need to be having the conversation loud and fast given the explosion in toxic, scented, paraffin and soy sludge candles that are being sold).
and, the next most obvious question:
2. What is your background and what inspired you to write this book?
I’ve been on a journey to reduce the toxins in my life, and my family’s, for a while now. Part of how that started was when I was trying to get pregnant and had been told I might miscarry a few times. I figured whatever I could do to decrease that risk would be good, and I started to really focus on what I was putting in my body.
Then having kids of course you start to think about more than just what you are putting in your body. What are they being exposed to through their toys, the water, the air they’re breathing?
Added to that, a little over 12 months ago, my cousin was diagnosed with breast cancer. I suddenly had another motivation to take this journey a step further. She’s three week’s younger than me, and we’d both recently turned forty, and joked about how it’s all downhill from here. When my sister, and then step-father, were both diagnosed with bowel cancer a matter of months later, it was time to take action.
Did you know that 75% of the chemicals in everyday use in Australia have never been tested for human or environmental toxicity? Well, of course you do if you have read my book! And it’s just astounding to realise how many of the products on our supermarket shelves contain known and suspected carcinogens. They may be in small doses, but when they are all added together, and combined with other chemicals, how small is the dose then? And how do those chemicals interact in our bodies? The answer is, we just don’t know.
I was prompted to write this book partly by how overwhelming I found it when I started doing some solid research. I wanted to provide a way for people to start making changes without needing to feel overwhelmed. That’s why I called it Less Toxic Living, not non-toxic. There’s no such thing as non-toxic living in Australia today. But there are plenty of ways to reduce our exposure to nasty chemicals, and some of them are quite simple.
And at the same time, there’s a mass of information out there, in in-depth books, blogs and magazines. So I wanted to bring some of that together to give people some easy ways to change their lives, and some resources for where to go if they want to get more in-depth."
I hope you find the book interesting reading... certainly food for thought.