Archive for Lawn & Garden

Growing a Greener Garden

Gardens are used around the world as places of contemplation and healing. Whether your outdoor space is a balcony, a few windowsill pots or a large yard, a little green can make everything healthier for mind and body.

According to the EPA, we spend 90 percent of our time indoors, which makes any outdoor space all the more essential.

At the healthy home project, decades of overgrowth in the yard needs to be cleared to make way for some fresh plants. We’ll also be creating spaces for the kids to play and adults to relax.

Clearing out the overgrowth has taken over two and a half years, even with calling in landscapers twice to help with the larger bushes and haul away truckloads of debris. In the yard, just beyond “the field” there’s “the jungle,” a grove of invasive bamboo-like plants that are nearly impossible to eradicate. Not using pesticides means digging them up by the roots season after season to first thin out and then ensure nothing grows back. The plumber just happens to have a roto-tiller and has been enlisted to ready the space for a fresh start.

Fitting in landscaping to an already full schedule just means getting things done in small steps. Here are a few ideas for maximizing time and resources:

-Skip the pesticides – Whatever the gardening challenge, there is a natural, toxin-free solution. BeyondPesticides.org features DIY instructions to create a lush lawn without the chemicals.

-Reinvent and Reuse – Found objects such as old wooden shutters or antique windows are easy, low or no-cost ways to add interest to a garden. Habitat for Humanity ReStores and Goodwill are treasure troves of ideas for accent pieces. Our garden bench came from a local Goodwill, which means this piece is reclaimed and recycled, and cost about 75% less.

– Water right – HealthyStuff.org tested garden hoses and found that many contain toxins like lead and plasticizers, which can leach into the water especially in hot weather. I’ve bought many hoses over the years from big box stores and all have ended up in the trash. Rather than create more waste, I sprung for the WaterRight hose, made in the USA. It’s 100% lead-free polyurethane that’s also phthalate-free, BPA-free and PVC-free from a family-owned business.

– Tap into the Neighbor Network – Freecycle.org has groups all over the country where neighbors regularly offer (and request) plant clippings, pots and other gardening items, all for free.

Playing It Safe: Grass V. Turf

By Erin S. Ihde, MA, CCRP

Communities across the country are facing the decision of whether to install artificial turf in parks, playing fields and even private yards. Toxicity in the materials used is a major concern for many involved in the decision process. Even if one’s own yard is maintained organically, kids still may spend countless hours playing on town or school fields for organized sports, or at the local playground.

The topic of risk assessment in children’s health ties into everything from what playing field surface is best, to what paint to use for a home renovation. Because children are exposed to multiple toxins every day, no one can know for sure which exposure will trigger an adverse health outcome, but lists of potentially harmful chemicals do help. Some of those chemicals are in crumb rubber infill used on synthetic playing fields. Others are in pesticides used on grass fields and home lawns. These chemicals have known health effects from neurological impairments to endocrine (hormone) disruption to cancer.

The goal for many communities is to find a balance between the fiscal health of the community and the potential health effects to children. On first glance, some studies on conventional turf playing fields appear promising, with reduced injuries and minimal adverse health outcomes reported. However, the studies are short-term and don’t measure the long-term health effects of children playing on these fields day after day, week after week, year after year. No study has followed adults who played on these fields as kids, to determine any long-term outcomes. We need to know our kids will be healthy 30 years from now, not just 30 minutes from now. With this in mind, two more benign options are maintaining a grass field using organic methods or choosing a synthetic field with toxin-free grass blades and organic infill, though this technology is used more often in Europe and has more recently been introduced in the U.S.

Exposure assessment in kids is a unique proces. Children are not little adults. Pound for pound of body weight, they take in more air, water and food.  Rapid cell division, both in the prenatal/infant period and during adolescence, means greater opportunity for cells to mutate, and in some cases for cancer cells to proliferate, due to exposures to environmental triggers. Frequent hand-to-mouth activity also increases the number of exposure pathways. Additionally, children have a longer latency period for which diseases can manifest. Some diseases take decades, so exposures during childhood play a critical role.

Artificiall turf fields are rife with toxins, particularly chemicals in crumb (vulcanized) rubber infill, including SBR – styrene-butadiene-rubber (recycled tires), EPDM – ethylene propylene diene monomer (M-class) rubber (usually new), volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and hydrocarbons. There are multiple carcinogens according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), part of the World Health Organization.

The VOCs alone are apparent when sitting in the stands near a turf field on a warm day. These chemicals can offgas into the air and waft from the field to the stands, and the teams are the first ones to breathe them in.

The World Health Organization states that environmental risk factors play a role in more than 80% of major diseases. With the stage “set” in the body, one or more environmental exposures can trigger disease onset. Will enough crumb rubber from a synthetic playing field enter a child’s airways or be absorbed dermally to cause short or long-term damage? Each child is different, but the toxin – the trigger – exists.

What’s more, toxins rarely, if ever, exist alone. Children are exposed to a “chemical soup” on a daily basis. For that reason, it’s critical to avoid exposures whenever possible, including pesticides currently sprayed on the fields, and the toxins in conventional turf fields. Synthetic playing surfaces produced with only organic fill such as coconut husks don’t present these same hazards.

Every day, kids are exposed to toxins in everything from food to personal care products, to where they play sports, and materials used to remodel homes, and all of these can affect children via multiple exposure pathways. Every exposure contributes to a child’s “total load.” Exposure thresholds set by government agencies don’t take multiple exposures, or “total load” into account.

What one child’s system can handle, another’s may not. Kids need either a natural grass field not coated in toxic pesticides, or a synthetic field with grass blades free of heavy metals, and all-organic infill. The Northern NJ Safe Yards Alliance and Beyond Pesticides have practical resources for maintaining grass organically. Kids deserve healthy play on a healthy surface.

Day One: Family Safety During Reno

We closed on the house today!  As a single mom, I’m grateful and blessed for this opportunity.  After all the formalities, my first trip was to the hardware store to get “outfitted” for reno this afternoon with protective goggles, face masks, and heavy-duty gloves. The EPA covers the basics of what’s needed in protective gear in their “Good Work Practices During Remodeling” — definitely a must-read before starting any home reno project.

Children need special protection from the pollutants lurking in old homes because pound for pound of body weight, they take in more air, consume for food and drink more water, according to the Alliance for Healthy Homes, an essential resource for parents thinking about remodelling. Kids also tend to play close to the ground, where toxins such as lead often settle.  Frequent hand-to-mouth activity also places children at greater risk than adults.

In short, kids should not come in contact with any remodelling or construction work area.  Despite their curiosity, they need a safe space until both the work is done and completely cleaned up, whether that means living with family or friends temporarily, or sealing away the work area according to EPA standards.  Keeping kids completely off the property is the family rule for the Healthy Home Project.

With this house, the asbestos was thankfully removed several weeks ago when the boiler leaked and had to be replaced. I got the certification papers at the closing showing that the house is now asbestos-free.  When choosing an abatement contractor, the company must be licensed and have a good reputation…to avoid surprises. I asked for certification of their work on company letterhead documenting what was done.

This afternoon I took down drop ceilings in four rooms.  Two of the rooms had two ceilings each…one over another. It wouldn’t have happened without assistance from a young man who works at the local hardware store and was an amazing help!

Recapping Day One…have in place a safe family living arrangement during renovation, keeping children away from the work area, get proper protection for the job at hand, and accept help when needed!