Gently Green What I Love Please Join Me
Gently Green

Clean Slate

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My commitment to living sustainably is a 365 day a year endeavor, and I know that’s true for many of you, too. Earth Day, though, provides us an annual opportunity to reflect on our connection to to the earth, and to make a fresh start with a clean slate. Andy Goldsworthy, a British sculptor and environmentalist, says, “We often forget that we are nature. Nature is not something separate from us. So when we say we’ve lost our connection to nature, we’ve lost our connection to ourselves.”

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One of the ways we lose that connection is through the use of pesticides and dangerous chemicals. Warning people about the dangers of these toxic materials has been a large part of my life’s work; you can read some of what I’ve written before here, and here. My book, Comfort Zone: Creating the Eco-Elegant Interior, offers several helpful resources, from a guide to green products, to a recommended reading list, to my own personal stories of being exposed to pesticides and other chemicals, beginning as a small child. We have options rather than resorting to dangerous and toxic products. Learning more is the first step.

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The half life of some pesticides is over 500 years, and the drift when sprayed can be over a mile. There are surprising ways to be exposed to pesticides, for instance, an alarming number of pesticide ingredients can be found in ordinary house dust.

Pesticides and fertilizers can also find their way into groundwater over time, in one of two ways. Chemicals can enter groundwater through a stream after a rainstorm as runoff. Or they can reach groundwater by leaching, which is the downward movement of a substance through soil. Not only does this result in algae bloom, which removes oxygen from the water and results in “dead zones,” but the 75 million pounds of pesticides Americans spray on their gardens each year can be ingested by fish, who become diseased. Once we eat those fish, the cycle of pollution has come full circle.

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According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), pesticide use has increased over 50% in the past three decades, and today totals 8 pounds for every man, woman, and child in the U.S. Approximately 875 pesticide ingredients are formulated into 21,000 different products. Our children are most at risk, according to the The National Academy of Sciences, due to their immature systems and a more rapid metabolic rate. In addition, children frequently consume fewer different types of food, possibly leading to higher exposure through their diets.

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Good news! A highly toxic pesticide and known carcinogen used primarily in strawberry fields, methyl iodide, has been withdrawn from the market by its manufacturer.

If that isn’t enough to concern us, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), has identified at least ninety six different pesticide ingredients registered for use that are potential human carcinogens. The link above will take you to a page where you can order the booklet that lists them.

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We also know more today about products that include parabens, known to be endocrine disruptors, that are commonly used as preservatives in many popular cosmetics. They are also used as food additives. Dr. Frank Lipman, a leading holistic physician, offers an overview of dangers and tips on how to avoid them here. We all need to read labels. Whole Foods has wonderful, safe, clean products for your hair, skin and face. I also like Nurture My Body products, available online.

I have been stirred to action by leading environmentalists, scientists and authors who have spoken out about the dangers we face. One of the books I often recommend is Our Stolen Future, by Theo Colborn, Dianne Dumanoski, and John Peterson Myers. Rachel Carson, in Silent Spring, published in 1962, said, “Can anyone believe it is possible to lay down such a barrage of poisons on the surface of the earth without making it unfit for all life? They should not be called ‘insecticides,’ but biocides.”

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Rachel Carson

She went on to explain that the pesticide industry grew out of World War II with chemical testing. Once scientists realized they had the ability to kill insects, they envisioned a new and better world for people.

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A book titled Our Daily Poison: From Pesticides to Packaging, How Chemicals Have Contaminated Our Food Chain and Are Making Us Sick, by Marie-Monique Robin, is also a film by the same name, a documentary that reveals a broken safety system. You can watch a three minute video about the film here.

Being aware of the dangers of pesticide use is not enough to protect us. Unfortunately, we can be exposed to very toxic chemicals without our knowledge or permission. Several years ago, I lived in a beautiful apartment in Greenwich, Connecticut with stunning views of Manhattan and Long Island Sound. My apartment was pristine and clean and chemical free, so at first I was puzzled about my dizzy spells.

When I spoke to other tenants in the building, they affirmed that many residents were being made sick by something in the air. I hired an Industrial Hygienist to investigate, and found that the building management was using a rodenticide that had been banned from use for over fifteen years, since it had been linked to kidney cancer. The force of air from the elevators was pushing the vapors of this toxic chemical from the basement onto each floor.

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On April 9th of this year, the Philadelphia Inquirer published an account of a Wilmington, Delaware family that was poisoned after being exposed to a banned pesticide at a vacation condo in the U.S. Virgin Islands. A couple and their two teenage sons were hospitalized after occupying a condo one floor above a space that was sprayed with an odorless pesticide called methyl bromide, that can cause convulsions and coma. It was banned for us in residential settings in 1984, but it is still marketed for some agricultural uses.

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Two weeks later, the EPA reported that there is evidence that methyl bromide has been used improperly at locations in Puerto Rico. In addition, Virgin Islands newspapers have reported that companies on two other islands, St. Thomas and St. Croix, had stocks of the pesticides.

It’s easy to become frightened and even overwhelmed by what’s happening on our planet, but knowledge is power. I have always believed in the Power of One, the ability each of us has to make a difference. By being informed, and by informing others, we can protect ourselves and our planet. Let’s start today!

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Please Join Me

The Search for Sustainable Communities

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A hot topic among Baby Boomers, empty nesters, and my friends these days is the best place in the country to downsize and enjoy a freer lifestyle, perhaps more so this spring because of the long, snowy winter in the northeast and midwest. Some of those conversations have focused on the availability of not only beautiful places to enjoy warmer weather or have a second home, but communities that honor sustainable living and “green” practices. My husband, Frank, and I have made our own Connecticut property pesticide and chemical-free for over twenty years (the former owner kept the property chemical-free, too), and we’ve been searching for a completely green community for years.

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 The Inn at Price Tower, Bartlesville, Oklahoma.Bartlesville ranks high on the list of great places for affordable living with many cultural offerings.

Unfortunately, although you do hear about “green” developments, many of them simply have the word green in their name. Many others incorporate a few sustainable elements, but what I hoped to find, a comprehensive green community with LEED certified buildings, energy efficient air filtration systems, and chemical-free zones aren’t yet on the drawing boards. Perhaps the time is right to push harder for some of the eco-friendly features we’d prefer.

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Charleston, South Carolina: photo courtesy of Forbes.com. Charleston was voted America’s Number One City for the third year by Conde Nast Traveler.

Many publications offer a “best places to retire” list. Forbes Magazine recently published their own list of top 25 places that fits what most  Americans consider desirable features. Among them are a reasonable cost of living, a mild climate, a low crime rate, the ability to easily keep fit, with places to walk, bike and hike, good places to shop, and cultural activities. Of course, what appeals to one person may not appeal to another, which is the reason for lots of options. When you add a sustainable lifestyle to the mix, the options are narrower.

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Sustainable features may include water and energy conservation, access to public transportation or shops within an easy walking or biking distance, use of recycled or local materials, and indoor air quality. The LEED rating system offers points for walkable proximity to stores, schools, and churches, which is more common in urban centers. There is a movement back to the cities for empty nesters, to be closer to culture, restaurants and nightlife. A few places where walking is definitely part of the lifestyle are Capital Hill in Seattle, Short North in Columbus, Ohio, and Highlands in Denver.

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Short North Arts District, Columbus Ohio: photo courtesy of groupmv.com

Finding the perfect spot, sustainability aside, means choosing among the many welcoming towns scattered across America. Beaufort, South Carolina has gotten high marks from almost every magazine that has reviewed “best places to live,” including Coastal Living, Travel and Leisure, CNN Money, and Smithsonian Magazine. Located on Port Royal Island in the Intercoastal Waterway, its history reaches back 300 years, with the Historic Beaufort Foundation responsible for preserving much of its original architecture. If the Mandevilla-scented breezes don’t entice you, then perhaps the shrimp and sweet tea will.

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Beaufort, South Carolilna: photo courtesy of Coastal Living. Ranked America’s Happiest Seaside Town by Coastal Living, 

Nestled in between two of the South’s most beautiful and historic cultural centers, Beaufort and Charleston, South Carolina, is Spring Island. An island community in a 3,000 acre nature preserve and Live oak forest, Spring Island features unspoiled islands, undiscovered inlets, and stunning water views.

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Spring Island, South Carolina. Photo courtesy of spring island.com

Charleston, South Carolina offers Camellias blooming in February, fabulous low country food, historic buildings that have survived the Civil War and the marvelous Spoleto Festival that takes place for 17 days and nights every spring. It’s a natural choice for me, as many members of my family call South Carolina home, and it takes me back to the days on the family farm with my grandparents.

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Charleston, South Carolina: photo courtesy of harbourviewcharleston.com

With tides rising and more frequent, severe storms due to climate change, however, the fact that the Battery is one foot below sea level should be considered. But then there’s the  charming beach on nearby Sullivan’s Island…weighing pros and cons can be so difficult!

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 Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina: photo courtesy of city-data.com

Kiawah Island is only 23 miles from Charleston, and is another on the list of Coastal Living’s Happiest Seaside Towns in America. Open space abounds on the island, but so does luxury, with some of the country’s most stunning beach residences found there.  It’s ten miles of unspoiled beach, five award-winning golf courses, thirty miles of paved trails for walking, running and biking, and home to egrets, herons, and bald eagles, among other seaside wildlife. Sitting in the shade of a magnolia tree there could give a whole new meaning to relaxation.

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Kiawah Island, South Carolina: photo courtesy of frontdoor.com. Located only 23 miles from Charleston, and a popular choice for second homes. 

For year-round living, Rowayton, Connecticut has it all. I speak from experience since I lived there for nine years. Surrounded by Long Island Sound and Five Mile River, it’s a lovely waterfront community with all the related water sports, boating, and fishing. There’s an active Historical Association, a lovely church, and a civic center in a stone library. It’s a small town community just a short ride from the Big Apple!

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 Rowayton, Connecticut

 Of course, for me as for so many of my friends, “all roads lead to Nantucket.” With its history, charming architecture, and the Nantucket Historical Association’s Whaling Museum, voted one of the ten places you must see before you die, it’s a destination for some of the most fascinating and accomplished people on earth. Its island setting makes it a very “green” community. Few pesticides are used there as people are aware of the fragility of the eco-system. What’s dumped in the landfill ends up in the water supply very quickly. A downside to any seaside community is mold growth, with the constant moisture in the air. Still, island living offers quite a trade-off.

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 Nantucket, Massachusetts

Another popular feature  is being surrounded by a wildlife-friendly habitat. Not only does it provide beautiful scenery, but it offers a green oasis for birds and other wildlife. The National Wildlife Federation recognizes eighty three communities that have worked to be certified as wildlife habitats.

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Charlotte, North Carolina has over 17,000 acres of parks, 21 nature preserves, and 33 miles of greenways. Photo courtesy of aga.org.

Sweetwater in the Foothills, Arizona is a planned community whose organizing theme was to create a community that is harmonious with its natural upper Sonoran desert setting. It provides critical habitat for birds, reptiles, rabbits, javelina, bobcats, and coyotes.  Landscaping is committed to low water usage and retaining the native desert plants.

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Sweetwater in the Foothills, Arizona

 As the second largest city located south of San Diego, Chula Vista has long been recognized for residential design and environmental innovation. There are over fifty miles of gorgeous coastal landscape, rolling hills, mountains and canyons. Hundreds of miles of trails attract hikers, bikers, birdwatchers and outdoor enthusiasts. There is a thriving downtown with a historic district known as Third Avenue Village, making this one of the most desirable places to live in the U.S.

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Chula Vista, California

Another lovely choice that celebrates progressive thinking and sustainable living is The Pinehills, a planned community of 1,700 homes in Plymouth, Massachusetts, located in the world’s third largest pine ecosystem. A commitment to environmental stewardship resulted in setting aside 2,200 acres (70 % of the total area) as preserved open space, homes are carefully sited to harmonize with the woodlands, roads follow–rather than alter–the natural valleys and contours, and a village green serves as the heart of the community.

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The Pinehills at Plymouth, Massachusetts

Powder Mountain, Utah, in development now by Summit.co, a group of young entrepreneurs with a modern vision for mountain living, is designing a number of homes limited to 1,000 square foot dwellings, and capping the size at 4,500 square feet. One of their goals is to stop the “mcmansionification of mountains,” according to Thayer Walker, Summit’s chief reconnaissance officer. Part of Utah’s Wasatch Mountains, less than an hour from Salt Lake City, Summit is building their development on 10,000 acres on the southern side of Powder Mountain and leaving most of it open space. They plan to use locally sourced, reclaimed and recycled materials that conserve energy and comply with LEED specifications. When complete, it will consist of 500 ski-accessible homesites with cultural amenities and miles of walking, biking and nordic trails.

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A comprehensive guide to green retirement communities doesn’t exist yet, so it’s important to be wary of “greenwashing,” the practice of presenting a product or building as green when it doesn’t meet many of the requirements for a true sustainable community. Some of the features to look for include:

  • Meets the EPA’s Energy Star standards
  • Achieves high standards of indoor air quality
  • Uses locally produced or recycled building materials
  • Incorporates water conservation
  • Achieves a minimal footprint on the land
  • Has renewable energy sources or efficient building envelopes
  • Preserves natural resources
  • Built with non-toxic materials
  • Eschews the use of pesticides in favor of Integrated Pest Management

The original experiment in environmental accountability is Arcosanti, the self proclaimed “laboratory” of mixed-use buildings and public spaces where people live and work together. It operates as a not-for-profit educational organization devoted to urban planning research.

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Arcosanti: photo courtesy of the Cosanti Foundation

No individual town or development listed here should be taken as an endorsement of their suitability by me. I recommend that you carefully investigate any community before purchasing a home there. You may find that you agree with some practices, and disagree with others. You are the only one who can choose the right location for you and your family. 

I’m curious to know what places you’re looking into, and why. I’d love to know what pros and cons you’re considering. Let me know what you find!

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 Cape Coral, Florida: photo courtesy of Forbes.com

What I Love

Our Brother’s Keeper

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It’s impossible to honor Earth Day without reflecting on the animals that share the planet with us. Although great strides have been made in animal protection and endangered animal conservation, we still have a long way to go. In our rapidly overpopulating world, where habitat is disappearing and animal species are declining, we have no choice but to see the animals as our brothers, and to do what is in our power to protect them.

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(image: fightforrhinos.com)

One of the more disturbing news items was reported by The Huffington Post on April 14th, with a story about Sudan, the world’s last male Northern White Rhino.The Northern White Rhino has been on earth for 50 million years, but poachers in search of their horns have reduced this once plentiful animal, a subspecies of rhino, to only five left on earth. The last male and two female rhinos of his subspecies are cared for under 24 hour armed guard at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. Two other females live in captivity.

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To make Sudan less of a target for poachers, his horn has been removed, and he has been fitted with radio transmitters. It is hoped that the forty year old Rhino will one day be able to produce progeny, and save his species from extinction. Ground rhino horn is considered a health aid in Chinese medicine, and is particularly popular in Vietnam. There are just 1,037 rhinos of all subspecies still roaming wildlife parks and national conservancies.

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There are many ways to help animals this Earth Day, from contributing to Save the Rhino, the World Wildlife Fund, or The Humane Society. Or you can do something closer to home, perhaps even in your own backyard.

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If you’re using pesticides and herbicides on your lawn and garden, you’re using them on your pets, too. Whatever chemicals collect on your dog’s or cat’s paws and fur stay there until the next time you give them a bath, although unless you bathe them immediately, they have more than likely been absorbed into their bloodstream. Those chemicals also get tracked inside, where they don’t break down, due to the absence of water and sunlight. If you love the look of a vibrant, weed-free lawn, but you also love your companion animals, consider the following:

  • According to a study conducted over a six-year period at the Foster Hospital for Small Animals at Tuft University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, a dog’s exposure to lawn pesticides–specifically those applied by professional lawn care companies–raised the risk of canine malignant lymphoma (CML) by as much as 70%.

 

  • Dogs at highest risk for acquiring CML were over 50 pounds, living in homes where pesticides and herbicides were professionally applied, and where owners used lawn care products containing insect growth regulators (killing agents).

 

  • A 2004 study from Purdue University showed that dogs exposed to chemically treated lawns had a dramatically increased risk of Transitional Cell Carcinoma (bladder cancer). Breeds at highest risk include Scottish Terriers, Shetland Sheepdogs, West Highland Terriers and Beagles.

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Many of our ideas about having a perfect, green lawn are leftovers from an era when pesticides were considered safe, and water was plentiful. The ideal of having a lawn like a green carpet began in the mid-1950s, but we’ve learned a lot about the dangers since then. If you don’t have pets yourself, consider that pesticide poisoning kills 60-70 million birds each year in the U.S. alone. Those chemicals also end up in our groundwater, through rainwater runoff, or by leaching through the soil.

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I love animals, especially my three Bichons, G.G., Tuffy and Ellie, and want to give them the best possible life that I can. Lawn chemicals aren’t the only way we can unintentionally harm our pets. There are dangers from flea and tick products, and the marketplace is full of low quality commercial food that is not only unhealthy, but can even be contaminated with toxic chemicals, or melamine.

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Here are my Ten Tips for keeping your furry friends healthy:

  • Instead of using commercial pesticides and herbicides on your lawn, hire an organic lawn and garden company that can feed your grass without endangering your pets or family. I use Growing Solutions, an organic lawn and plant care company that is dedicated to maintaining safe, healthy environments for their clients. The owner, Chris Baliko, is knowledgeable, helpful, and very responsive to his customer’s needs.

 

  •  If you choose to do it yourself, begin by establishing a base of healthy soil. Healthy soil has a high organic content that discourages weeds and disease. You may have a few weeds, but some are actually beneficial, such as clover, which adds valuable nutrients. The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection offers helpful information.

 

  • Before you apply commercial flea and tick products, be aware that at least 1,600 pet deaths related to spot on treatments were reported to the EPA over the last five years. The EPA assigns risk levels to all pesticides, and has said that  some flea and tick preparations contain ingredients that are likely carcinogens to humans. Serious medical reactions for your pet can include heart attacks, seizures, and brain damage.

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  • Alternatives exist! The best pest repellent is a radiantly healthy dog or cat. Fleas are less attracted to healthy animals.

 

  • In the house, sprinkle floors with a borate powder (such as 20 Mule Team Borax), then sweep or vacuum it up. It kills flea larvae very effectively without risk of toxicity.
  • A bath with any kind of shampoo will drown fleas.  Just leave the lather on for 3-5 minutes, and you don’t need to use a flea preparation.

 

  • Comb your pet regularly with a flea comb to remove fleas from his fur, and dunk the comb in a glass of soapy water to drown any fleas you find.

 

  • One of my favorite stores in Westport, Connecticut is Earth Animal. Founded by Dr. Bob and Susan Goldstein to offer products for pets that are pure and natural, they offer a complete holistic flea and tick prevention program. By simply adding powder and drops to your pet’s daily diet, a combination of vitamins, minerals and herbs will change the odor of your pet’s blood chemistry to repel pests. At the same time, it builds their immune system. And it’s available online.

 

  • The Goldsteins are also advocates of a home-cooked diet for your dog, and so am I. I like Dr. Harvey’s Canine Health Organic Pre-Mix. You simply add hot water, a protein source such as chicken, beef, turkey or even fish, and a small amount of quality oil. Add a daily vitamin supplement, and your pet will thank you for making her healthier than she’s ever been.

 

  • Animals can be easily sickened by toxic household cleaning products, too. You can clean with ingredients from your kitchen, such as lemons, vinegar, and baking soda, or use organic cleaning supplies, such as those made by Seventh Generation.

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I have many more tips for keeping your pets safe, including using Bucks Mountain Parasite Dust, among other methods. You can find my previous blog posts here and here. “The greatness of a nation can be judged by how its animals are treated,” said Mahatma Ghandi.  We can do a great deal of good by giving all animals the respect they deserve.