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Gently green conversations with Trudy Dujardin, FASID, LEED AP

Sailors for the Sea

 

I have always loved the sea. The ocean is a source of peace and strength for me. The beauty of its waves, beaches, animals and plants has been my design inspiration for years. My love for our oceans is part of my passion for creating homes that support our health and well-being, and that respect the fragile ecosystem around us.

 

 

My eco-elegant color palette often includes the infinite blues of sea and sky, the velvety greys of the fog, the bleached white of seashells, the sandy beige of the beaches, and the soft greens of pine trees and bayberries for island or coastal homes.

 

 

No wonder, then, that when I learned about the organization Sailors for the Sea, I knew I had to support their work, and share their message. A new friend who serves on their Board of Directors, Vin Cipolla, introduced me to Sailors for the Sea, explaining that their mission is to unite boaters to save the ocean. According to scientists and environmental groups, our oceans are in trouble:

 

 

The 8 million tons of plastic waste that enters the ocean each year? That’s the equivalent of about 1.5 million cars. While battling these problems is a formidable task, Sailors for the Sea refuses to be daunted by the challenge. Through four primary programs, Sailors for the Sea is working to reverse the tide of destruction.

 

CLEAN REGATTAS

 

The Clean Regatta Program unites sailors by offering support and resources to protect and conserve the ocean. Regatta organizers are equipped with a sustainability plan to reduce the environmental impact of their event. A “green team” is assembled to plan sustainable initiatives. The number of best practices followed determines a regatta’s certification level.

 

KELP

 

Kids Environmental Lesson Plans help children understand the oceans’ influence on them, and their influence on the ocean. The goal is to help today’s children become empowered as tomorrow’s ocean stewards. Lesson plans include topics such as Catching Fish; Beaches, Bays and Rivers;  Living Underwater; and Aquatic Animals. The KELP program wants children to know and love the ocean before we ask them to save it.

 

OCEAN WATCH

 

Ocean Watch is a resource where dozens of informative articles on topics such as ocean wind power, boat disposal, the loss of Lion fish, and how to save turtles are made available to the public. Knowledge is power!

 

GREEN BOATING GUIDE

 

Sailors for the Sea provides a free, downloadable guide for boaters, filled with critical information for everyone from the smallest boaters to the largest mega-yachts. Topics include: Pollution Prevention, Reducing Your Impact, Eco-Friendly Products, Greening Your Getaway, Wildlife and Habitat Protection, and Boat Maintenance. As someone famous once said, “When we know better, we do better.”

 

 

There are all kinds of ways to get involved and support Sailors for the Sea. My husband, Frank, and I have contributed as Ocean Guardians. Our participation with this wonderful organization is part of our commitment to give back to the ocean communities that sustain us, and that we love.

 

 

The American naturalist Henry Beston once said that “The three great elemental sounds in nature are the sound of rain, the sound of wind in a primeval wood, and the sound of outer ocean on a beach.” Sailor for the Sea’s wish–and mine–is that everyone who hears the sound of the ocean may one day be assured that the water rushing to shore is clean, and remains a rich environment for all the wild things under and around its waves.

 

 

I hope you’ll join the more than 1.3 million people engaged with Sailors for the Sea. And “be the change you want to sea.”

 

 

Flowers from a “Green” House

When our thoughts turn to love, we often turn to flowers. Long established as a romantic gesture, there is nothing like a bouquet of blooms to melt your loved one’s heart. Many people do not realize, however, that hothouse flowers are grown in greenhouses filled with pesticides, and the blossoms you bring into your home have been repeatedly treated with toxic chemicals.

There is a wonderful company that has changed the way we grow and buy flowers, however. Organic Bouquet is the largest online provider of organic floral arrangements and gifts. All of their flowers, from select farms in California, Colombia, and Ecuador, meet stringent standards for environmental safety, monitored by multiple certification agencies and associations.

Their eco-friendly flower arrangements include roses, calla lilies, tulips, gerbera daisies, hyacinths, sunflowers, alstromeria lilies and blue iris, and are shipped nationwide to all 50 states.

CEO Robert McLaughlin remembers the effect of synthetic chemicals on the environment and workers in the horticulture industry when he began his career in 1984. “I watched our head agronomist die at an early age from toxic chemical exposure,” he says. “He rarely wore protective gear and seemed to always return to the packing shed soaked in the chemicals that would eventually end his life. There had to be a better way.”

Today McLaughlin has created a company that positively effects the environment, the floral industry, and the people on the farms. They make choices every day to support responsible commerce, environmental stewardship, and the health of the people who work for them.

“All plants, flowers, vegetables, and livestock were grown or raised for thousands of years organically. Only in the last 100 years have we discovered synthetic chemicals and begun to overuse them,” he says. “This phasing out of synthetic chemicals and returning to natural methods proves that chemicals have been a brief but damaging fad, that hopefully will never be repeated.

Good things to know about Organic Bouquet:

  • Each time you make a purchase, the amount of carbon emissions from that shipment is offset by rolling funds into a project that reforests abandoned pasture land with native tree species.
  • Shipping boxes are made from recycled and recyclable materials.
  • Boxes are printed with water-based ink, naturally non-toxic.
  • Their glass vases are made from 100% recycled glass.

 

If that doesn’t convince you, consider this: the company is USDA Organic-Certified, follows America’s VeriFlora sustainability certification program, and is Fair Trade Certified, an international movement which ensures that producers in poor countries get a fair price for their goods.

For more information and to order your Valentine’s Day flowers, visit them at www.organicbouquet.com. 

 

 

Home ~ Health ~ Humanity

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A recent column by Nicholas Kristof entitled Are You a Toxic Waste Disposal Site? raised some disturbing issues. None of it, sadly, was news to me. The United States has delayed appropriate testing of industrial chemicals over and over again, largely due to the influence of lobbying groups. Mr. Kristof’s column said that “Scientists have identified more than 200 industrial chemicals–from pesticides, flame retardants, jet fuel–as well as neurotoxins like lead in the blood or breast milk of Americans, indeed, in people all over our planet.”

 

Tractor spraying soybean field at spring

Tractor spraying soybean field

 

As the pioneer of the sustainable design movement, I have spoken out for years in favor of non-toxic, chemical-free built environments to support our health, and the well-being of our families. I believe that your home, your health, and the future of humanity depends upon it. My clients know that whenever I can use a “green” alternative in fabric, upholstery, paints and floor finishes, wood furniture and cabinetry, that’s what I choose. I created the phrase “eco-elegant (TM)” to demonstrate to people that homes can be beautiful, sophisticated, and serene, and still maintain their health through clean air and furnishings that do not off-gas potentially dangerous fumes.

 

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My philosophy is simple: to live in a way that shows respect for all life on earth, we must be open to questioning the impact of our choices. One of my environmental heroes, Chief Oren Lyons of the Iroquois Confederacy, described to me the tradition of tribal leaders in making decisions: Not only do they consider the impact on the next generation, they also examine the consequences all the way to the seventh generation.

 

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I wrote my book, Comfort Zone: Creating the Eco-Elegant Interior, to show a healthier way of living. I urge anyone who cares about their health and a holistic approach to lifestyle and the earth to read it. On pages 232-233, you’ll find an easy-to-reference listing of green products that is the culmination of my lifetime of work selecting the most eco-friendly products. It includes everything from bedding and carpeting, to duct work and adhesives, to vacuum cleaners and products for your pets.

 

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I promise you, there’s a healthier way to live, and the changes are not difficult to make. Ready to protect yourself and your family, friends, and companion animals from a poorly regulated industry? I want to help. Click here to take the first step toward the Eco-Elegant Life.

 

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Small Shifts Cause Large Waves: Paris 2015

Gulls on the side of the Seine [url=http://www.istockphoto.com/file_search.php?action=file&lightboxID=4328606][img]http://www.erichood.net/paris.jpg[/img][/url]

The 2015 Paris Climate Change Conference, also known as COP21 (Conference of the Parties 21) is the twenty first meeting of what is now a near-universal membership of 195 countries. Begun in response to climate change at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, the “Rio Convention” included the adoption of the UN Framework on Climate Change. That was the first framework for action aimed at stabilizing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases. 

The COP meetings exist to review the Convention’s implementation. The first COP took place in Berlin in 1995. COP3 was where the Kyoto Protocol was adopted, COP11 produced the Montreal Action Plan, COP17 was in Durban where the Green Climate Fund was created.

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Ed Mazria is the founder of Architecture 2030, an organization committed to protecting our global environment by using innovation to develop bold solutions to global warming. He has called COP21 in Paris “an end to the fossil fuel era.” The historic agreement signed there is a long term goal committing almost 200 countries, including the U.S., China, India and the EU nations, to keep the global average temperature increase to “well below 2 degrees centigrade above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees centigrade.”

According to Ed, “the Paris Agreement introduces a new world, one that envisions an end to fossil fuel emissions and secures a strong mechanism to address climate change.”

paris

photo courtesy of Architecture2030.org

COP21 attracted nearly 50,000 participants, including 25,000 official delegates. Multiple forums were held on a variety of related topics. In addition, thousands of demonstrators were permitted to gather on December 12, in spite of France’s tightened security after the recent terrorist attacks. 

The following is a guest post by architect Veronica Schreibeis Smith, of Vera Iconica Architecture in Jackson, Wyoming. Veronica attended the Sustainable Energy for All Conference at the 2015 Paris Climate Conference, held from November 30 to December 12, 2015. I asked her to share her thoughts here.         –Trudy

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photo courtesy of Architecture2030.org

We’ll begin with a few questions:

Q: Veronica, what part of the Paris Climate Conference did you attend?

A: I attended Sustainable Energy for All.

(Referred to as SE4all, “Sustainable Energy for All is a call for both revolution and reform; a radical vision where everyone can access and afford the reliable energy they need to live a productive, healthy, secure life, while respecting the planetary constraints that we all face as a result of climate change.” –Rachel Kyte, SE4All CEO/Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General)

Q: Why did you attend the Conference?

A: “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Many times, our good intentions have unintended consequences. As the SE4All initiative focuses on powering the world, we need to simultaneously be working on initiatives that empower (people) to make the right decisions on how to use the energy once they receive it.

Buildings consume almost half the world’s power production. If we deliver power to exponentially more people, while only focusing on doubling the efficiency of the infrastructure and doubling the amount of of sustainable energy, we likely have not made a positive impact, but rather have continued on a track of more consumption.

My focus is how can we implement grass roots movements in Third World countries that educate people on how to have healthy and sustainable homes, and make healthy decisions for their families regarding consumption and preservation of culture, once they receive the energy.

To date, my role has been as a participant in think tank type of discussions to brainstorm what initiatives and actionable steps could be viable for making this come true.

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photo courtesy of SE4All.org

Q: What was your takeaway on the most actionable steps?

A: To get involved. Not just wait and see what others are going to do, but to donate your time or money; if you have an idea, to reach out to the United Nations Foundations and share (what) you want to put into practice and just need financing for; to promote and encourage yourself and others to get involved as a public + private relationship to make meaningful change.

What do you think were the key accomplishments?

A: For the Paris talks in general, the level of unprecedented participation from around the globe. There was a social media survey from the UN that was mostly electronic, but in some areas they had paper ballots hand-delivered to UN outposts, and tallied by staff there. For every one thousand humans on this planet, one person responded to the survey. That is 7 million people from around the world uniting to create change and a better life for a healthier planet. That alone is huge. Good will follow–in exponential increments!

From that survey, the UN defined the 17 top priorities for the 21st century. The top five are:

  1. Poverty
  2. No Hunger
  3. Good Health
  4. Quality Education
  5. Gender Equality

The movement asks all of us to become a global citizen. This video explains more:

Veronica continues:

  • Nature is integral to human wellbeing, and a shift in the realization of our interconnectedness to the environment is continually growing. We can see this vast change in only six short years since the unsuccessful climate talks in Copenhagen in 2009. Last month, an unmistakeable belief in a successful outcome for the Paris Climate Talks was clear after the first week.

 

  • There is no doubt that alterations in timing and logistics played a part. Most notable was the change from the world leaders’ involvement as the negotiators in 2009 to their limited role as speakers and advocates early in the first week, followed by relinquishing final negotiations to environmental and policy professionals. The greatest contributing factor came from outside the closed doors, and even outside Paris.

 

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photo courtesy of United Nations Conference on Climate Change

  • The Earth to Paris movement reached an unprecedented number of people across the planet. The Internet allowed access for all, which diminished the chasm that has distanced us in the past, such as residing in a developed versus developing countries, age gaps, social and economic backgrounds, and more.

 

  • Thousands of videos hosted by celebrities grabbed our attention on social media, surveys invited us to express our opinions, and finally, the call for Love Letters to Paris invited our thoughts to be hand delivered to leaders behind those closed doors. And it worked.

 

 

  • What keeps me going back to the United Nations Foundation discussions is the focus on how public and private sectors can unite to transform ideas into reality, to move from talk to walk. We heard success stories from Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, examples of how companies like Phillips Petroleum are leaping toward carbon-free operations and incorporating holistic, circular economy strategies, and how start-ups are innovating solutions, such as Mobilsol, which delivers off-the-grid solar energy via drones in Africa.

 

  • A subtle shift in perspective and an increase in awareness, followed by one actionable step after another is the catalyst needed to inspire individuals, companies, and economies of scale to make meaningful change, toward better husbandry of the earth.

 

  • Small shifts in perspective can cause massive ripples. After all, thoughts are things, and the unification of humanity’s thoughts will certainly cause waves. A connected world is powerful. A united world is power. Join in the efforts. Do your part. You make a difference as a collective part of the whole.

 

Veronica

Veronica Schreibeis Smith is the CEO and Founding Principal of Vera Iconica Architecture. Veronica’s entrepreneurial half is driven by the vision of creating company structures that support and empower individuals to reach their highest potential, while the architect in her is driven to raise awareness of the profound effects our surroundings have on our wellbeing. She has practiced architecture on four continents, and continues working internationally. She chairs the Wellness Architecture Initiative for the Global Wellness Institute, and recently founded Designed Developments, a B Corporation that invests in a new model of building to inspire and perpetuate the celebration of the richness of culture, pay homage to the natural landscape,and create environments that nourish our wellbeing and feed our souls. 

 

Tell the Good Stories

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There’s a wonderful quote by Howard Thurman: “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

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I felt doubly blessed after reading those words, because I’m convinced that what makes me come alive is also just what the world needs. I recently had the privilege of attending two multi-day conferences–The Nantucket Project, on Nantucket Island in September, and The Design Futures Council’s  (DFC) Leadership Summit on Sustainable Design in Dallas, Texas in October.

The speakers were among the most renowned politicians, business leaders, philanthropists and artists in the world. The topics they spoke on were self-selected, and reflected their deepest beliefs and best work.  It’s easy to become discouraged when we focus on the world’s problems, but it’s also possible to focus on solutions. Pete Seeger once said: “The key to the future of the world is finding the optimistic stories and letting them be known.”

everyone has a story phrase handwritten on chalkboard with heart symbol instead of O

At both conferences, I was completely captivated by the number of intelligent, thoughtful, creative and dynamic thought-leaders and life-changers on this planet, and the optimistic stories they told. I was uplifted, inspired, and re-invigorated in my desire to keep spreading the word about sustainable design. I want to do everything I can to help make the earth a cleaner, healthier place to raise our children and grandchildren, and take good care of our elders, too!

having fun in the waves

The Nantucket Project bills itself as a convener of thinkers and ideas, a think tank and an academy of learners. If you believe in being a lifelong learner, as I do, then I hope you’ll attend one of their annual island gatherings. Steve Wozniak was there, from Apple Computer, Inc., and Ben Carson, a Republican presidential candidate. Regardless of your political leanings, it’s always good to be exposed to the thoughts and ideas of people on the public stage.

nantucket projectBen Carson

Tony Blair, Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland for ten years, spoke on the Africa Governance Initiative, designed to challenge the African continent with needed reform and reduce poverty. Neil Young introduced the concept of PonoMusic, bringing high resolution music to music lovers around the world.

After that experience, I couldn’t imagine anything that could compare to what I had just seen and heard, or that any other event could match that one for integrity. But then I headed southwest, to Dallas, and to the Design Futures Council’s Leadership Summit on Sustainable Design.

dallas

The first Leadership Summit on Sustainable Design was held on Nantucket, 14 years ago. I had long had the desire to to have an “awareness-raising” conference for architects, landscapers, designers and contractors, to provide a platform for knowledge and understanding for an environmentally-conscious built environment. My friend and colleague Jim Cramer was the first to make that conference a reality by supporting it with his following in the Design Futures Council.

nantucket 2

I am deeply gratified to have been a part of this movement from the very beginning. At our first gathering we established The Nantucket Principles, offering a path for a strategic approach to sustainable design. Every year for the past fourteen, design leaders from around the world have convened to share their thoughts and ideas, to challenge outdated beliefs, and to make a positive contribution to the world.

DFC Sr Fellow right way up

At the Sustainable Design Summit, I was honored as a new Senior Fellow for the DFC, an unsought recognition that I treasure as a firm believer in the DFC’s mission.

DFC Sr Fellow 2

Here I am being honored as a Senior Fellow, with Scott Simpson, Managing Director, Greenway Group, and James P. Cramer, Chairman and Principal, Greenway Group, and President, Design Futures Council!

I was enthralled by the speakers there: Jason McClennan spoke on Living Buildings for a Living Future (watch his TED Talk here); Dame Ellen McArthur educated us on “The Surprising Thing I Learned Sailing Solo Around the World” (watch her TED Talk here), and we talked about the Building Blocks of a  Circular Economy.

dfc circular economy

Those two conferences changed my life, not by altering any of my values, beliefs or passions, but rather, by reaffirming what I already knew: that there is a world filled with possibility, that the right time to give up hope is never, and that together, we can create something beautiful. Both conferences told me a story that I could believe in: that we can change the world.

As Tom Scott, co-founder of The Nantucket Project says, “If you want to be good at making outcomes, you’d better get really good at telling a story. And you better make sure that story has integrity.”

We can all do this in our own lives. Let’s find the good stories, stories with integrity, and tell them to each other, every day.

This is Impossible Concept with Graffiti on Gray Cement Street Wall.

The great thing in the world is not so much where we stand as in what direction we are moving. –Oliver Wendell Holmes

Design Futures Council: Senior Fellow

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This has been an especially gratifying year for me. In the past twelve months, I’ve published my design book (Comfort Zone: Creating the Eco-Elegant Interior), I’ve been named to the College of Fellows for the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID), and I have just received word that the Design Futures Council has named me a Senior Fellow.

dfc

Ed Mazria reporting on the climate, 2014

The Design Futures Council (DFC) is an interdisciplinary network of leaders in design confronting global challenges. I’ve been a longtime member and contributor, happy to join with my friend and respected colleague James P. Cramer, who became the DFC’s primary founder and facilitator of information and inspiration throughout the organization.

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To be named as a Senior Fellow by this highly esteemed group of professionals is recognition for “significant contributions toward the understanding of changing trends, new research, and applied knowledge that improve the built environment and the human condition.”

Jim Cramer says, “The leadership role of design is of critical importance toward the creation of a healthier and happier planet. The new Senior Fellows of the DFC have been selected for the tremendous impact they have had on our world.”

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A happier, healthier planet is what I’ve worked for throughout my career. I’m proud to join the other Senior Fellows in that endeavor.

 

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.”

Silhouette of Man Raising His Hands or Open arms when sun rising up

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.

Beautiful child with sunflower

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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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.

rhino  photo world resouces

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.

get well

  • 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.

itchy dogs

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.

 

 

Don’t Just Sit There

seat

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.

flame

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.)

Broom, Dust & Fur Ball on Parquet Floor

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.

baby

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.

seat 2

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!

Pets and Pesticides

Dog Scratching Flea

Spring brings warmer weather, and with it, the re-emergence of our pets’ worst tormentors: fleas and ticks. Pet owners can spend more than $200 per year per pet on flea shampoos, flea collars, and topical flea and tick controls. The hidden cost isn’t in the damage to your bank account, however, but the potential damage to your pet’s health.

The Humane Society of the United States has added its voice to the The Center for Public Integrity (CPI) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in warning that some flea and tick products contain chemicals, specifically permethrins, that not only can cause the death of your dog or cat, but are likely to be carcinogenic to humans.

At least 1,600 pet deaths related to spot on treatments with pyrethroids were reported to the EPA over the last five years. They account for more than half of major pesticide pet reactions, including brain damage, heart attacks and violent seizures.

Little sad dog

The Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC) has a report entitled Poisons on Pets that details the risks to both pets and children. Because children’s bodies are still developing, they are more sensitive to the effects of toxic chemicals than adults. Toddlers’ hand to mouth behavior makes it easy for toxins to be ingested, for example, and children spend time where toxins from pet products tend to accumulate: crawling on rugs, playing with pet toys and holding their much loved pet dog or cat.

As bad as the products are for people, they’re worse for pets. The NRDC says that based on the available data, hundreds and probably thousands of pets have been injured or killed through exposure to pesticides. Just like small children, pets can’t tell us when they’re being poisoned at low doses.

Sleepy kitten

Flea control products on the market include seven specific organophosphate insecticides (OPs). OPs work by blocking the breakdown of the body’s messenger chemical, acetylcholine, and interfering with the transmission of nerve signals in the brains and nervous systems of insects, pets and humans. In the presence of OPs, acetylcholine builds up in the body. The resulting interference with nerve transmissions is of such a magnitude that it actually kills insects. But even at normal doses, it can also harm pets and children (from the NRDC’s Poisons on Pets.)

The seven OPs are chlorpyrifos, dichlorvos, phosmet, naled, tetrachlorvinphos, diazinon and malathion. Another commonly used pesticide in a popular topically applied product is fipronil. According to Virginia Dobozy, a veterinarian at the EPA, fipronil products are classified as carcinogens, producing malignant as well as benign tumors in laboratory tests. Exposure to these insecticides can more than double the risk of Parkinson’s later in life. For pregnant women exposed to pesticides, their children were 250% more likely to be diagnosed with brain cancer before their fifth birthday.

children and pets

We want to believe that all of the products available for sale have been tested and proven safe. But that’s just not so. According to the CPI, “The EPA cannot make its own assessment because unlike the regulations directing the FDA’s approval of human products, the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act does not require pet products to undergo field trials prior to approval.”

What should you do instead? There is no question that ticks carry dangerous diseases that are transmitted to humans, including Lyme Disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Babesiosis, Ehrlichiosis, and Tickborne relapsing fever (TBRF), among others.Some of these are transmitted by ticks in their nymph stage, or even at full grown size, but are no larger than a poppy seed. Here are some of the non-toxic alternatives available:

  • Earth Animal, a holistic pet care retail store and website begun by a veterinarian and his wife, offers a natural flea and tick prevention program that is based on adding powder and drops to your animal’s daily diet. A combination of vitamins, minerals and herbs helps to change the odor of the pet’s blood chemistry, so fleas, ticks, mosquitos and black flies do not like either the odor or taste of the blood. The odor is undetectable by humans. During the flea and tick season, you can mist your dog’s belly, paws and coat daily with an organic bug spray to help repel insects.
  • Another safe, environmentally friendly product I use is Damminix Tick Tubes.  Since Lyme Disease begins with mice, not deer, Tick Tubes rely on the natural nesting instincts of mice to fight the battle. Placed on your property in areas where mice frolic, the biodegradable, cardboard tubes are filled with permethrin treated cotton balls. Mice collect the cotton to build nests in their burrows. Young ticks feeding on the mice are killed by the mild insecticide before they can spread Lyme Disease to you and your family. It is important to use this only on the perimeter of your property, in safe places that are not accessible to pets or children. Even mild insecticides are poisons, and must be used carefully and responsibly.
  • I use organic cedar mulch as another layer of protection in my garden beds. It’s a natural pest repellent, but does not harm beneficial insects such as butterflies and bees. You can even place a small amount in an open container in your pantry or closets for a pleasant cedar aroma that will deter indoor pests.
  • Buck Mountain Parasite Dust, available only through veterinarians and pet stores, can be used to rid animals, gardens and buildings of flies, fleas, ticks, mites, ants and more. Its active insecticide is a chemical derived from the Neem tree, which is both a repellant and provides disinfectant and healing properties. You can sprinkle the dust on your pet’s back from head to tail, and brush against the hair to bring the dust into contact with the skin. A teaspoon of the dust can also be placed on a window sill to eliminate fleas, flies and other bugs in your home. It is safe for use in your garden as well.
  • Essentria IC3 Insecticide Concentrate (formerly labeled as Eco Exempt) is USDA National Organic Program (NOP) compliant, so it can be used in restaurants , schools, animal clinics and healthcare facilities without danger. Recommended by Chris Baliko, Accredited Organic Land Care Professional (AOLCP) of Growing Solutions LLC, Its active botanical ingredients include rosemary oil, peppermint oil and geraniol (found in many essential oils). These act as octopamine blockers, disrupting insects’ central nervous systems. Because mammals, birds and fish do not have receptors for octopamine, botanical oils are very safe to use.

I’ve written extensively about non toxic flea and tick control:  read more here. 

In addition, follow these steps:

  • Wash your pet with a pesticide-free shampoo, and brush or comb frequently.
  • Vacuum carpets and upholstered furniture on a regular basis. Dispose of the bags immediately after use.
  • Keep your lawn mowed.
  • Cats should be kept indoors at all times.
  • The NRDC has reviewed the ingredients of more than 100 products and published a guide called Greenpaws Flea and Tick Products Directory.  Make informed choices, and keep your pets, your family and the earth safe from harm.

dogs and the sea