Friday, January 27, 2012

VOCs in Paint: Greenwashing

New baby on the way? Looking to spruce up your home? If you're a holistic-minded parent, you are likely looking out for low- or zero-VOC paint to start your project. But buyer beware: like so many other products in the "natural" marketplace, paint brands have taken to confusing labeling practices to attract the green consumer even when their products don't actually meet the desired goals. So let's talk about greenwashing interior paints.

Volatile Organic Compound (VOCs) are chemical compounds and solvents used in paints, including formaldehyde and benzene. Pigments used to color paints can also contain additional chemicals, such as lead and cadmium. When applied to your walls and left at room temperature, these chemicals "off-gas" and release into your indoor air. VOC exposure can trigger asthma attacks, respiratory issues, eye or skin irritation, dizziness, and nausea, while high levels of exposure may be linked to liver and kidney disease and cancer. VOCs are present in conventional paints at very high rates and may release into the air for more than a year after application.

Changing standards in the industry have created many low- or zero-VOC brands which will provide a less toxic option. However, there is a considerable degree of variation among brands and many confusing labeling practices. Water-based paints will contain fewer VOCs than oil-based paints, but beyond this there are many opinions about what low-VOC actually means. Low odor or low-VOC paints will have lower VOC levels than conventional counterparts, but whether this is assessed from the base or after adding the pigment is tricky. Larger paint brands may label low-VOC paints as such but consumers should ask if these include the addition of pigment.

Zero- or No-VOC paints will contain even fewer VOCs, but there is some question about whether VOC content and VOC emissions are clearly linked. Because VOCs combine with other particles in the air and form different compounds, even zero- or no-VOC paints may release more VOCs into the air than anticipated.

The most natural, least toxic paints you will find are non-toxic or natural paints formulated by a select number of alternative paint companies. These are derived from more natural raw ingredients and will provide the best option for green consumers. Old fashioned milk paints are free of VOCs and are a great option for people with chemical sensitivities, as are the few non-toxic paint brands.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Perfection, Quitting and the Sanctimonious

I don't have much time for drama. As a busy mom to two special children and partner to one very busy husband, not to mention a full-time career attempting to help thousands of other parents find support, community, and learn about natural living, there is little room for theatrics. But it is drama over parenting that caught my attention this week, via the world of blogging. Two blogs, two different authors, one annoying proposition about perfection. And so they inspired today's rant.

Both involve parenting. Both involve the demand for perfection and, consequently, the intolerance of others. And both rail against sanctimony, particularly with regard to attachment parenting.

First is an attack on a popular blogger who was called out as a false representative of attachment parenting because she has referred to her children disparagingly on her blog. As parents, especially ones who champion a philosophy of respect for children and preaching empathy, we must never, ever feel anger, frustration, or, even jokingly refer to our children in anything but the most positive light. Our children are our angels. No matter the tantrums or backtalk, the vomit or coloring on the walls, we must smile - always - and insist that our darlings are the center of our universe. More importantly, we must be critical and judgmental of all those around us who dare to show genuine frustration, get angry, or have a difficult day with parenting. Clearly, that doesn't happen to attached parents.

Another blogger finds this sanctimony to be too much and instead proclaims herself an attachment parenting dropout. Interestingly, I have never found reference to kale chips or organics among the organizations that advocate for attachment parenting. Even the 7 Baby B's of Dr. Sears fail to mention this as a criteria for attachment parenting, although I will say that these are common among holistic parents, as can be the sanctimonious attitude. Holistic, attached, green, or organic - whatever you want to label your parenting - there is no need for self-righteous behavior. Judging other parents for their vices does not make you "more" of anything, other than intolerant and critical. Each of us is on our own parenting journey and there is no one right road for all. We are all doing our best with the resources and tools that we have in this moment, on this day, with these circumstances. If we opt to eat junk food today or lapse into a moment of anger or frustration with our children, are we then to be banished from the realm of attached, holistic, or positive parenting forever? And who shall be our judge? Who among us is the perfect parent to cast out the rest? What does such intolerance serve, other than our own insecure egos?

Intolerance and perfectionism will destroy our own self-confidence and inhibit us from coming together as parents. It will create obstacles for supporting each other, prevent us from feeling empathy, and divide us on our parenting journeys. It will create an air of false superiority and judgment. And it will give all of these parenting styles a bad name.

It is no better to proclaim yourself a "dropout" either. You brand yourself a failure even though you are parenting within your own personal ideals. Good parenting is not an all-or-nothing proposition. "If you can't embrace all of it, why bother embracing any of it?" will get you nowhere, fast. If you can't eat healthy every day, why not indulge in junk food all the time and say the heck with it? If you lose your temper or don't feel like wearing your baby at the moment, let's drop all pretenses about connection and throw in the towel. Let's show our kids that quitting is the optimal solution when you're not perfect. There's an example they can live by.

Sarcasm aside, it's time parents - and particularly mothers - get off each others' backs. Most of us are trying to do the best that we can. We don't have perfect information, unlimited resources, or idyllic lives. We have real, authentic parenting experiences. We have days when our kids are our angels and days when they are brats. We have days where cheese poofs make us happy, no matter what their ingredients, and days where kale chips are a delight. And none of these days indicate a failure on our part. It simply means that we are human.

Forget the drama and the dropping out. Exercise a little tolerance - for each other and for ourselves. Kumbaya.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Rotten Apples

The following guest blog was written by Melinda Hicks, holistic mom and co-founder and president of Little Me Tea.

It took us all by surprise. The announcement on The Dr. Oz Show: “Your child’s apple juice may be contaminated with arsenic.” Considering how many of us have given our children copious amounts of this liquid gold, it’s no wonder parents everywhere panicked. Arsenic affects the nervous system and causes cancer—of all types. Dr. Oz himself was shocked and felt duped because he had been a proponent of using apple juice in place of cane sugar.

Should we be worried—or was this just another ruthless ratings scheme inflicted on a gullible public?

First things, first. Scientific results have merit. Dr. Oz and his folks broke the news and I have little doubt that the findings of their extensive testing are accurate. Of course, it caused controversy and some even said it was “scaremongering.”

Shoot the messenger, right?

But stalwart publication, Consumer Reports, echoed the Dr. Oz Show results in their January, 2012 issue. Consumer Reports’ thorough investigation is an eye-opener and well worth the read.
So, what do you think?

Should we blame the beverage manufacturers? After all, it’s their product and their responsibility. How could they not know that their juice was laced with arsenic? Maybe they did. Maybe they didn’t. The bottom line is this: if you’re not testing for arsenic, you won’t find it. Beverage manufacturers test for things like nutrient levels and use analyses to determine caloric and sugar content; unless they were concerned about the safety of their beverage—and in particular, arsenic—they would not test for it.

The real question is this: how did the juice become tainted with arsenic in the first place? As Consumer Reports stated, arsenic is prevalent, both as a naturally occurring element and through a number of man-made sources. Lead arsenate insecticides, pressure-treated lumber, coal-fired plants and smelters; they’re all culprits, tripling the amount of natural arsenic existing in the environment. Arsenic is plucked out of the soil by plants and trees and makes its way into the fruit, in the same way that a baby in the womb absorbs the substances that its mother ingests, regardless of how unhealthy those substances may be. Arsenic in the soil = arsenic in the fruit = arsenic in the juice. It’s that simple.

This isn’t scaremongering; it’s simply the facts. Houston, we have a problem.

Blame can be spread across the board: on the pesticide companies, the farmers who sprayed the fruit, and even our own country whose lax regulations allow potentially dangerous products on grocery shelves.

But is that where the blame should end?

We are part of an agricultural blueprint that has taken us far from our roots, toward a cheap and easy model of abundance at any cost. As consumers, we will not tolerate scarcity. At some point during the year, apples cease to grow in the U.S. and yet there they are—right in front of us on in the produce aisle—fat and happy throughout the year. Most of us don’t care how they got there; we’re just glad to see them. We also won’t tolerate imperfection. No spots on my apples, please. How many times have you picked up an apple, noticed a blemish, and flippantly tossed it back to its teetering stack?

We forget that Mother Nature is imperfect. She is also a tough adversary who likes to throw her weight around. Drought, disease, insects; more often than not, the odds are against us. We respond in kind, brandishing our own potent weapons. Chemical warfare is fought on the very fields that are meant to nourish us. The result: bright, spotless apples and plenty of them. While they look pretty and taste even better, they’re quite possibly hiding a dark secret.

But much as I would like to think the problem begins and ends with apples, the alarming fact is that our entire approach to the environment is fraught with reckless abandon toward the consequences of our actions. Leaded gasoline has left soil tainted with lead, which now shows up in our food and beverages. A flame retardant chemical has infiltrated everything on the planet, showing up in the blubber of whales and shockingly, in mothers’ breast milk. Coal plants emit mercury, which rains down from our blue skies and poisons our waterways, making the fish in our oceans risky to eat.

Arsenic in apple juice is yet another symptom of a sick planet. With all the mounting evidence of our self-prescribed poisoning, why are we so shocked to find that a simple bit of nourishment given to our children has also been tainted? Maybe because as mothers, we know that first and foremost, our job is to protect our children. And so when someone lifts the veil and reveals the true picture, we are angry—at those who delivered the message, at those we feel deserve the blame, and at ourselves for putting our children at risk.

What do we do about it? As an advocate for organics, my first question upon hearing the arsenic news was to wonder if organic apple juice contained dangerous level of arsenic. Fortunately, according to Dr. Oz, the levels of arsenic in organic apple juice samples did not exceed the 10ppm limit that the FDA sets for water (a bellwether for how they determined what constitutes dangerous levels). So the first thing that you can do is to buy organic, in all cases; not just apple juice. The idea of purity in this modern age is absurd; we must now deal with the lesser of evils and organic, while not perfect, is the cleanest food you can get in an unclean world. Memorize the Dirty Dozen list, and don’t buy a single conventional item that’s on it. Second, limit the amount of juice your children drink. Most children drink far more juice than is recommended. There are other options: water, milk, herbal teas.

But even more importantly, take action. Some ships have already sailed, but every day, we get the chance to vote with our wallets, to choose a cleaner environment. When we purchase conventional foods, we are giving power to the chemical companies who poison not just our environment, but also our bodies. When we buy caustic cleaners that flow down our sinks and into our water supply, we are in essence saying, “My clean house is more important than my clean body.” When we turn a blind eye to any environmental degradation, we are betraying our children’s future because we know that somewhere down the road, we will have to pay the price.
And make no mistake: we are paying the price. Whoever would have thought that an apple—such an elemental symbol of life itself—would become a representation of so much that is rotten in our world?

Melinda Hicks co-founded Big Time Tea, the parent company of Little Me Tea, in 2008 with her husband, Michael, when their daughter Julia turned four and they realized with great frustration the lack of healthy, low sugar drink options for kids. An avid tea drinker and advocate for an all-natural, organic lifestyle, Melinda began experimenting in her kitchen and created blends of drinks for Julia using caffeine-free teas splashed with organic juices. Julia loved Melinda’s concoctions and so did her friends who came for play dates. Other moms gave such great feedback, support and encouragement that Melinda created Little Me Tea.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Ditch the Resolutions

I am going to lose 15 pounds. I am going to get more sleep. I will spend more quality time with my kids. I will give up coffee.

Did your new year start off like this? So many of us make resolutions at the start of each year. Some of us succeed, many of us fail. And we may not be achieving our goals in part because we are not setting up our intentions correctly.

This year, instead of resolutions try to set some positive affirmations for yourself. Affirmations are different from resolving to do better because they focus on the end result or goal in a present-tense format. By doing so, affirmations "get their energy by producing feelings. It is this energy which extends outward to create change," according to certified life coach Danea Horn. By impressing their energy on your subconscious - and on the world around you - positive affirmations will attract or change the world around you to help you achieve your desired goals. Of course, they need to be said with intention and conviction, followed by positive action in the right direction.

Ms. Horn offers some simple suggestions for creating powerful affirmations for the year ahead. First, start in the present tense. Instead of "I am going to lose 15 pounds" try "I am fit and healthy." Keep your affirmations short and sweet, and keep your affirmation positive. Rather than saying "I am not in debt" focus on "I am prosperous and successful" to stay in the best tone possible. Here are some positive affirmations for 2012 that may be useful:

  • I have a lot of energy.

  • I am calm and relaxed in every situation.

  • I have all the time I need.

  • I radiate love and happiness.

  • I am nourished by my food.

It's a new year and it's the best one yet!