Toxic Free is a consumer guide to the hidden health hazards of everyday household products. But even more importantly, Toxic Free is a how-to book for detoxing our homes and bodies, one practical step at a time.
Author Debra Lynn Dadd was the first to speak in the national media about toxics in our homes. Debra’s now an internationally recognized consumer advocate.
By the way, Debra was my first toxic-free product advisor for my own health-based cleaning service. That was in 1985, before anything green was cool. And we became fellow travelers in our detoxing journeys.
I still rely on Debra’s work for researching products, for myself and my cleaning service. And here’s why. Aside from knowing her stuff, Debra’s one of the few toxic-free experts advocating natural ingredients over petroleum-based or synthetic.
Toxics in your home, the environment, and your body
Toxic Free is written in four chapters: Toxics, Home, Environment and Body. But there are often no real boundaries between our homes, the environment and our bodies, as Debra shows.
Many of us have gotten the wake-up call to go toxic-free. Just about everything in our modern homes can cause health effects — short and long term— from cleaning and personal care products, to furnishings and decorations.
If you’re like many consumers, you’ve switched to a few “eco-friendly” products. But you may still have dangerous products throughout your home, knowingly or not. Because who has time to figure out what, or how much, is safe?
So at the end of the day, you and your loved ones may be still exposed to toxic chemicals. Day in and day out. With more profound health impacts than you may realize.
But aren’t we protected by safety laws?
As Debra writes, over 80,000 modern chemicals are in use today, but most have never been fully tested. And most labels ignore long-term health effects, along with pollution. And that’s not all.
Almost no tests have been undertaken to evaluate the possible synergistic reactions that occur when chemicals are combined in food, water, or air, or when chemicals interact with other chemicals in our bodies.
Don’t get me started on cleaning products, since I’m in the cleaning industry. As you’ll read in Toxic Free, complete ingredient lists are not required. For some ingredients, “…even the government and poison control centers can’t find out what they are”.
This chapter starts by summing up “conventional” toxics you’re most familiar with. Like cigarette smoke, alcohol, drugs and poisons. And how to safely dispose of your toxic products.
Indoor air pollution
It’s sometimes hard to believe. But something we can’t see or touch can have profound effects on our health. That’s the case with indoor air pollution. As Debra writes,
According to The American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, half of all illnesses are aggravated or caused by polluted indoor air.
OK, you’re keeping toxic products tightly sealed, and away from the kids. But as Debra points out, toxic fumes can still be released, and linger in your indoor air. That means your body’s constantly absorbing toxic gases. The effect is all the worse if your home is tightly sealed for energy efficiency.
It’s not only cleaners and pesticides. “Most home furnishings are made of materials that give off toxic fumes”, Debra writes. Even some plastics can vaporize, absorbing into our skin and lungs. And most paints offgas volatile organic chemicals.
I love Debra’s preventive approach, which is basically this.
- Replace all the sources you can with toxic-free alternatives. The very next sections detail how.
- Ventilate more.
- If you can’t immediately remove enough sources, or ventilate enough, use an air filter. You’ll find buying tips in the Home chapter.
Here’s a common response about toxics. “Everything causes cancer”. Or, “I don’t have time to research products”. Either often amount to “So why bother at all”?
But not everything causes cancer. And Debra’s done all the research for you.
Debra’s approach is to gradually replace the most toxic products in our homes. One product at a time. For most of us, it’s the only practical way to create a healthier home for ourselves and our loved ones.
For common product types, Debra offers safe, simple solutions. With something for every budget.
But which products to start with? Toxic Free starts with the ones that seem most obvious:
- Beauty and hygiene
Followed by perhaps the less-obvious:
- Interior decorating
- Home office supplies
Of course, manufacturing, shipping, using and disposing of toxic consumer products translate into polluting our water, soil and food. That’s easy to forget— at least when belching factories and toxic waste dumps are out of view.
It all comes back to making gradual—but impactful—choices in our everyday shopping. Conveniently, shopping tips in the Home chapter offer a good, strong start. Included, too, are sensible tips about energy use and transportation.
With resources listed in this chapter, you can also find out what chemicals your community is exposed to. Maybe where you least expect it— schools, shopping centers, office buildings, and more. And what you can do about it.
This last chapter of Toxic Free focuses on detoxing our bodies.
As it turns out, our bodies come with their own detox systems. Debra describes how toxic chemicals progress through, and impact, each system. The line drawings throughout this section are especially helpful.
The part about supporting your body’s detox systems is consistent with staying in good overall health. Debra describes a healthy, anti-inflammatory-like diet; certain whole food supplements; regular exercise; and quality sleep.
Cleanse cocktails and zeolite— Debra’s take and my take
Yes, there’s a “cleanse cocktail”, proposed for helping you detox from heavy metals. Debra herself takes, and sells, activated liquid zeolite. Zeolites, says Debra, are minerals made naturally by volcanoes.
I can’t say I’ve tried cleanse cocktails, or zeolite for that matter. As Debra and I observe, too many people use these as “magic bullets”. As substitutes for fundamental approaches like avoiding toxics to begin with; eating a healthy diet; and getting more exercise and sleep.
Having said that, I wonder if we can detox from “normal” levels of heavy metals, by avoiding toxics, and maintaining a good diet, exercise and sleep, alone.
I say “normal”, because it seems health agencies are always lowering allowable limits of everything. And I’d rather be on the safe side, before they discover the fact too late. So I might consider trying zeolite, after further research on my own.
But I’m in no rush. At 60sh, my health is in a consistent upward spiral, without zeolite. In every department! True, I’ve been religious about my whole-foods diet, exercise and sleep since age 22. And minimizing my exposure to toxics, with help from Debra’s books, since age 30.
Still, Debra urges everyone to take zeolite. “There just are more exposures than our bodies can handle”, she says. Even with a good diet, exercise and sleep. So we need to do all the above. In Toxic Free, Debra offers a personal testimonial about how zeolite makes a big difference in her own health.
Well-chosen health care professionals can help
If you’re detoxing all you can on your own, and still have concerns, hire a health care professional.
Among the types listed in Toxic Free are my personal favs— naturopathic doctors and functional medicine practitioners. Both are about removing causes of diseases, vs waiting to treat symptoms. And doing the least harm when treatment is absolutely necessary.
Appendices — a gold mine of self-help tools
The appendices alone are worth buying this book for.
For example, Appendix A outlines how toxic chemicals can harm our bodies’ systems. Case in point: Our endocrine system regulates hormones, which in turn affect other systems. And too many modern chemicals are endocrine disruptors.
In Appendix B, learn how to “Be Your Own Toxicologist”. That means learning how you’re exposed. And evaluating your own relative risks.
One of my fav guidelines is the Precautionary Principle. Here’s how Debra defines this in Appendix C.
It’s about making decisions that are most likely to result in supporting life. It basically suggests that if an action is suspected to cause harm to health or the environment, its better to err on the side of caution. … A willingness to take action in advance of scientific proof of evidence if there is reason to believe the action would be harmful to health or the environment.
In Appendix D, you’ll find a table called “Signal Words for Toxic Products”. These words appear on product labels. I use this table every time I check out a new or unfamiliar product.
But product labels don’t tell the whole story. So in Appendix E. Debra talks about Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS). Here you can often dig up ingredients that are often omitted from labels. In this section, learn how to access MSDS, and how to read them.
Toxic Free is meticulously researched. But despite the complex issues, Debra’s warm and caring style make it easy to read. Debra also shares her personal experiences, and guides her readers through concerning topics like a trusted friend.
But why take time to read a book at all, when you can read about the latest chemical scares on social media, and in blogs?
Here’s why. New scientific findings catch us all by surprise. But with a deeper understanding of the nature of all toxics, you can practice the Precautionary Principle.
With Toxic Free, that means you can learn how to easily spot all the red flags. And therefore avoid exposure to most household toxics, across the board. That’s the most time-efficient approach, in the big picture.
In other words, reading Toxic Free can simplify your shopping, because Debra’s done all the research for you. When you’re ready to switch a product, you’ll have trusted solutions at your fingertips.
But no book can cover every type of household product. Especially when new types of products pop up on store shelves.
No worries. Debra now has “The largest website on toxic free living” that expands on her books. Included are websites that sell only toxic-free products.