Elizabeth: A non-toxic kitchen can be hard to come by

by Elizabeth Saunders, Legislative Director for Clean Water Action

My housemates and I have had some toxic relationships.  No, I don’t mean with each other, we get along great.  But there have been times when some of the products that we have used have been exposing us to more toxic chemicals than I like to admit.

As an environmental activist whose job is to fight to get toxic chemicals out of our everyday products, I’m more careful than most about what is brought into my home, and my housemates are more than sympathetic. We don’t have Teflon frying pans, polycarbonate water bottles, toxic dish soap, air fresheners, or stain resistant furniture. But to get a toxic free home takes quite a bit of work.

At first, bleach seemed to be our big downfall.  My housemate, Josh, has a public health degree and he knows more than I ever want to about infectious bacteria.  Yuck.  So my passion for keeping the toxic chemicals away is more than matched by his passion for keeping food surfaces clean.  And while I liked to use the argument that “I’ve been doing what I’ve been doing for years and never gotten salmonella,” he wanted hard fast data that my alternatives would kill those bacteria.  There seemed to be no solution and the first draft of this post read “thus this toxic relationship continues.” But then Josh found what seemed to find our magic bullett: thyme oil!  It turns out that anti-bacterial cleaning products used from thyme oil will protect our health in all the ways that we’re looking for.

Our fling with Wallgreens Antibacterial Hand Soap, with Triclosan, is also on its way to being a relationship of the past. Its greatest allure is that it’s cheap – and if you’re on a tight budget affordability is definitely not to be sneezed at.  Having roommates that replenish the supplies when they’re empty is a great thing, so I hated to be critical when Courtney brought this one home.  However, with Triclosan’s endocrine disrupting properties, and that giant loophole, “fragrance” on the label, I’m steering clear.  For the hand soap, we’ve found a substitute in Dr. Bronner’s Pure Castile Soap.  We’ve now got a big bottle that can be diluted and should last us for months  Done that way, it’s plenty affordable.

Josh gets credit for our greatest victory in ending a toxic relationship.  He loves his rice cooker, and I have to admit it’s pretty handy. Not only does it make perfect rice but you can put your hot cereal in it at night and then program it to have your breakfast ready when you wake up.  If only it had legs too he could have breakfast in bed.  But the problem is that it came with a Teflong coated non-stick pan. So, after using it for awhile he valiantly put it in the closet and bought another one that wasn’t coated in Teflon, but it just wasn’t up to par.  The thing regularly boiled over leaving you with a coating of rice stuck to the bottom of the pan and puddles of uncooked rice and water on the counter beside it.  Undeterred, Josh did an exhaustive, but fruitless internet search for replacement pot, then finally took his old rice cooker down to Goodwill and tried every stainless steel pot there until he found one that fit inside. He brought it home, filed off the metal handles, and voila! A working, programmable rice cooker with no Teflon included.  And the rice doesn’t stick to the pan either.  Toxic relationship, over.  But seriously, that’s a lot of work for just having non-toxic rice!

I don’t want to have to be a toxicologist to find safe and effective cleaning products, or a fix-it-all type to have Teflon-free rice.  And I want everyone to be able to afford safe hand soap that is healthy for them without having to special order it.  That’s why I’m fighting every day to get the Massachusetts government and Congress to pass laws that help us end these toxic relationships before they start.