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Gently Green

Don’t Just Sit There

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Whenever we sit down, to work, to eat, to meet with others, or to relax, we don’t tend to think much about what we’re sitting on. A sofa or a chair or an ottoman all have been engineered for our comfort over the years, with fabric, foam filling, and a sturdy structure to support our bodies as we rest. And since 1975, according to the Green Science Policy Institute, upholstered furniture has been designed for our (supposed) safety as well, with the introduction of flame retardant chemicals.

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The chemicals intended to keep our homes from going up in flames have been linked to cancer, neurological defects, developmental problems, and impaired fertility. Manufacturers first began adding fire retardants to furniture due to a California law that required foam cushions to withstand a candlelike flame for 12 seconds. A now defunct group known as Citizens for Fire Safety, led by chemical manufacturers, was instrumental in getting the law passed, according to a Chicago Tribune article. (Read it here.)

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In 2004, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) warned of high levels of toxic fire retardants found in house dust, in every single home sampled. The average level of brominated fire retardants measured in dust was more than 4,600 parts per billion (ppb). Like PCBS, the fire retardants known as PBDEs (polybrominated biphenyl ethers) are persistent in the environment and build up in people’s bodies over a lifetime. In minute doses they impair attention, learning, memory and behavior in animals.

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Recently the EWG released a new study done with Duke University, where they found evidence of exposure to a cancer-causing fire retardant, TDCIPP, in the bodies of all 22 mothers and 26 children tested. The children had an average of nearly five times as much as the mothers of a chemical formed when TDCIPP breaks down in the body.

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I’ve shared my concerns about chemically laden upholstered furniture before. In addition to PBDEs, your furniture likely contains formaldehyde, polyurethane and dioxins. All of these toxins infiltrate your home and the air you breathe through “offgassing,” the release of chemicals into the air through evaporation.

Today, we can choose soy-based versus foam cushions, recycled filling for pillows, water based stains and organic upholstery fabric.

In addition, the EWG shares these tips:

  • Do your homework before buying baby products. Many kinds of baby products still use harmful chemicals. Find out before you buy.
  • When buying a new sofa, choose one made without fire retardants. New regulations make it much easier for furniture manufacturers to sell products that have not been saturated with chemicals. Contact the manufacturer to ask if fire retardants are in its furniture.
  • Want to reupholster your sofa? Replace the foam, too. The old foam likely contains fire retardants. Ask your upholstery shop to find retardant free foam, or choose an organic filling.
  • Inspect foam cushioning for damage. Exposed foam can cause fire retardant chemicals to leach out more quickly. Items such as car seats and mattress pads should always be completely encased in protective fabric.
  • Use a vacuum fitted with a HEPA filter. These vacuums will remove more contaminants and allergens from your home.
  • Be careful when removing old carpeting. The padding is typically made of scrap foam that contains fire retardants. Old carpet padding can become somewhat pulverized by the time it is exposed for replacement. Isolate the work area from the rest of your home.

There’s a petition to the Consumer Product Safety Commission asking for national furniture flammability standards that do not encourage or require fire retardants. Find it here, and get toxic chemicals out of our couches!

Please Join Me

So Long, Summer

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Summer passes so quickly by. Join me for a last look at the season we love!

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Photo courtesy of David Fingerhut

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“Bees do have a smell, you know, and if they don’t, they should, for their feet are dusted with the spices from a million flowers.”–Ray Bradbury

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“Summer, after all, is a time when wonderful things can happen to quiet people. For those few months, you’re not required to be who everyone thinks you are, and that cut-grass smell in the air and the chance to dive into the deep end of a pool give you a courage you don’t have the rest of the year. Summer just opens the door and lets you out.” Deb Caletti

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“One benefit of summer was that each day we had more light to read by.” Jeannette Walls

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“The cure for anything is salt water–tears, sweat or the sea.” Isak Dinesen

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“A beach is not only a sweep of sand, but shells of sea creatures, the seaweed, the incongruous objects washed up by the ocean.” Henry Grunwald

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“Hark now, hear the sailors cry, smell the sea and feel the sky…” Van Morrison

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So long, Summer. It’s hard to say goodbye but a new season is right around the corner, and there’s always something to look forward to. I have new things to share with you then.  I can’t wait to tell you about them!

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What I Love

Dominique Browning and Moms Clean Air Force

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There are many activists today who I refer to as my “environmental heroes,” individuals who are stepping out and speaking up about the important issues facing our planet.  I’ve long been a fan of Dominique Browning’s Mom’s Clean Air Force, founded in 2011 with the Environmental Defense Fund. Today, it’s a community 340,000 strong of moms, dads and others fighting for clean air and our kids’ health. The mission of MCAF is to show that air pollution isn’t just dirty, it is toxic. and that there is a connection between pollution and disease.

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photo courtesy of MCAF: George Washington Bridge in heavy smog before Clean Air Act; 1973

Now MCAF has a new free  E book , called Extreme Weather & Our Changing Climate. They’re requesting all of us to help promote the book and share it with each other. Here’s what they say about it:

“Everyone across the country is talking about how the weather is changing. And the weather is changing because the climate is changing. Our weather is unfolding in the context of a warmer earth, caused by greenhouse gas emissions. Climate scientists have shown that extreme rainfall, more likely as the weather warms, is already becoming more common across the country.”

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The book covers The Big Three, the main issues related to climate change: heat and mega-heat waves, heavy rainfall, and drought. We are breaking temperature records, worldwide, at unprecedented rates.

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A warmer atmosphere holds more moisture: there’s more vapor up there. So we get heavier rainfalls. And during a drought, the air bakes the soil, and the earth warms up even more.

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The heavy rain that eventually falls doesn’t help the soil at all: it just runs off, causing flash flooding.

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Dominique Browning also has another blog, the very lovely Slow Love Life, described as a place to share ways to practice daily mindfulness in the midst of our busy, productive days. That approach provides the perfect balance to concern for our planet. We all need to be restored and refreshed to do our best work in the world.

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Dominique kindly agreed to answer some questions about her motivations and passion for the earth. Her interview with Holistic House follows:

Trudy: What was the inspiration behind Moms Clean Air Force? You’re a mom of two grown sons, so there’s that, of course. it’s grown and developed so much since its inception. What were you hoping for when you began?

Dominique: The inspiration is my two sons–and a love of home, quite honestly. As I’ve gotten older, I have expanded my idea of what is “home” beyond the walls of my house. First into the garden and then into the natural world in which we all really live. I have so many moments during the day that I think, what a blessing, a gift, an honor it is to be here, to watch that hummingbird, or to stand in awe of what humankind has accomplished…and I think: I want my children to enjoy this. I’m really thinking a great deal about what we are leaving behind for our loved ones, whether they are our own children or nieces and nephews, or simply, other small beings who count on us to protect them.

Trudy: To borrow from your interview with Michael Oppenheimer: optimist or pessimist? Knowing how enormous the problems are that we face, how do you get out of bed in the morning?

Dominique: I have chosen to be an optimist, because the alternative leads to depression and paralysis. And I’ve learned: I have a choice. I have a choice in the actions I take, what I do–so whether or not in my heart of hearts I think, we’re cooked, I act in the belief that we can make things better.

Trudy: You spent much of your life immersed in the design world, you wrote beautifully about the house where you raised your children, your garden there, and how you felt when you sold that home. You’ve moved again recently. I know you said you could write a book on creating a new home at this stage of life! What creates a sense of home for you? How do you define home today, versus earlier in your life?

Dominique: For one thing, I haul fewer things on the moving barge. But, there are still WAY too many things that I’m attached to, or rather, there are very many things, not too many. The things I love tell the story of who I am, what I care about, and they hold memories of love affairs and friendships. This wasn’t true when I was younger. So my sense of home comes from the things I love all around me, and from having spaces that I can read and rest in, and cook simple dinners for friends and family; home is where I feel I can express myself. 

Trudy: You wrote once that you feared you were becoming a curmudgeon because you saw balloons and all you could think of is that they would end up gagging a goose. What small (or large) thing do you see that you would like for the world to change today. I am a fierce opponent of of pesticides and lawn and garden chemicals, among other things! What is your current pet peeve, or pet project?

Dominique: I agree with you, Trudy: We’ve gotten way too dependent on chemicals to do the jobs that nature used to do with various plants and bugs. We wipe out the creatures who would eat pests for us, for instance. But worse: I’m increasingly agitated about all the natural habitat we are wiping out. People buy houses in the country because they fall in love with the beauty of the place–and then they proceed to neaten everything up, cut down hedgerows, mow away meadows and lose Joe Pye and Milkweed, and manicure the lawns, and leave lights on all night. Pretty soon, we aren’t in the country anymore. And we’re losing, all over the East Coast, all those ground nesters: killdeer, meadowlarks, bobolinks, pheasants.

Let’s start seeing the beauty in a tangle of branches, and the vivid play of color in a stand of what we should not think of as weeds, but rather as native stands of plants! Let’s enjoy watching the grasses ripple in a meadow.

Trudy: You’ve given so much time, energy and talent to making this world a better place for all of us. Where do you find sustenance, and the desire to keep working for what you believe in?

Dominique: Love is my sustenance. I know that sounds impossibly cornball. It is. Every moment of love that floods me–in what I see around me, or in the voice of a child, or a friend, or when I gaze at a painting I especially admire, whatever it is, every breath of love makes me stronger. It does for all of us–if we stop long enough, those few seconds or minutes of being open, to let it happen…

Trudy: Thank you, Dominique! We’re so delighted to showcase you, Moms Clean Air Force, and the new e-book, Extreme Weather.

Dominique: I wrote the Extreme Weather book because, as a gardener, I started noticing how strange things were getting. All of us talk about the weather, and how it is changing because of the warming of our globe. I wanted to understand that, because it is a good example of how something as abstract as “climate change” touches our lives in a very real way.

Trudy: I want to help share the e-book and your message, because it’s so important. This interview has such deep meaning for me. I hope that all my readers take the opportunity to download the free book, and then share it, too.

Let’s all act in the belief that we can make things better!

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