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Living Green: A Practical Guide to Simple Sustainability
by Greg Horn

Global warming. High gas prices. The organic boom. Climate change. Celebrities driving Priuses. Killer storms. Drowning polar bears. Skim the headlines of any newspaper or turn on the television and it's undeniable. We are using irreplaceable resources at an alarming rate and poisoning our environment. It can't go on and we know it. Going green is the new big issue—for some, it is the ONLY issue.

So what can you do to make a difference? Here are some ideas. Pick one that interests you and begin taking practical steps toward sustainability.


Personal health is a good first step. What is good for you is ultimately good for society and our world. For example, eating organic foods reduces your exposure to harmful pesticides. Eating sustainably caught wild salmon gives you a great source of good fats, while reducing demand for farmed salmon, shown to be contaminated with a variety of industrial pollutants.


What you put on your body is as important as what you put in it. Many of us don't realize how permeable the skin is. Think of it more as a sponge than a barrier. So what you apply to the largest organ of your body will be absorbed and may cause serious health problems.

The thin skin of your scalp, made especially vulnerable to absorption by pore-opening warm water, is a great example. Shampoos, hair dyes, and other hair care products are commonly made with formaldehyde as a preservative and often listed on labels as quaternium-15. This known carcinogen can be an irritant to skin, eyes, and respiratory passages. The government requires some products containing quaternium-15 to carry a warning label; however, shampoo is exempt.

And while hair can't directly absorb toxins, the root of the hair follicle, where the 20-some chemicals used regularly in permanent and semipermanent hair dyes (according to Consumer Reports) are applied, allows toxins to easily enter the blood stream. Lead, often found in slowworking hair dyes, is a hormone disrupter and carcinogen that is easily absorbed through the skin and accumulates in the bones. One study from Xavier University in Louisiana shows that the amount of lead present in some hair dyes is 10 times the level allowable in paint. And with an estimated 22 million American women and one in eight American men using some type of hair dye, it is fortunate that there are more non-toxic and natural hair colorings on the market than ever before.

Especially vulnerable is the delicate mucous membrane in which most feminine hygiene products come into direct contact. Yet most commercial tampons are made from rayon, a petrochemical-based fiber or cotton, which contains pesticide residue. Sanitary napkins and tampons are also made of fibers bleached with dioxin. Tetrachlorodibenzodioxin (TCDD) is one such toxin and has been called the most toxic chemical ever produced. British studies show 130 parts and 400 parts per trillion to be found in sanitary napkins and tampons, respectively. Small amounts, but considering these products come in contact with delicate tissue and are in close proximity to vital reproductive organs, a small amount can accumulate quite significantly over time. Tampons labeled "no super-absorbent fibers" are safer.


Sustainability extends to household cleansers. An example of a major source of water pollution is commercial laundry products. The soaps contain surfactants (which change the surface tension of water), standard bleaches contain chlorine (which forms dangerous compounds that store in fat cells and breast tissue), dryer sheets contain chloroform, camphor, and ethylacetate (all of which are listed as hazardous waste), and almost all contain petrochemical-based fragrances.

Another example is hand dishwashing detergents. These often contain petroleum-based surfactants, naphtha and chloro-phenylphenol (both metabolic stimulants), and diethanolamine complex phosphates (a possible liver poison).

Natural cleaning products are just as effective, widely available, and more economical than the commercial. White vinegar, baking soda, lemon juice, borax, vegetable-based liquid soap, and washing soda clean just as thoroughly, if not better, and leave no unpleasant scents or residues.


There is a portion of the population that now suffers from Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS). MCS develops in some people when pollutants cause them to react to even minute levels of toxins in their environment. Reactions include headaches chronic coughs, dizziness, sensitivities to odors, achy joints, fatigue, and worse, and are generally associated with the buildings they occupy, even their homes.

In addition to the tips already provided, there is equipment available that can help improve your home environment. An activated carbon air-filter system in the most occupied rooms will absorb gases and pollutants that other high-tech filters might miss. Similarly, an inexpensive carbon filter attached to showerheads and bath spickets can significantly reduce exposure to chlorinated water. Those who shower in chlorinated water have a 93% higher risk of all types of cancer that those who don't. Both small investments with long-term benefits.

So the next time nature catches your attention, make a positive change for your health, and you're one step closer to having something to pass along to the next generation.

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