Saturday, March 30, 2013

Clear the Air

Although the temperature around New Jersey may suggest otherwise, spring weather will soon be here. And that means spring cleaning. In addition to organizing and de-cluttering, why not detoxify your home? The EPA estimates that the average American spends 90% of their time indoors, and that levels of pollutants are usually 2-5 times higher inside than outside. But there are things you can do to lessen the amount of dangerous chemicals in your home while doing your spring cleaning this year. By replacing traditional cleaning agents with safe, eco-friendly ones and making a few changes in your home, you will be saving yourself from exposure to potentially harmful chemicals. Below, I've listed some spots around the home where exposures are likely to occur, and what you can do to change that.

  • If you don't have a self-cleaning oven, it needs to be scrubbed once in a while. The danger of an oven cleaner of course depends on its composition, but most contain potential hazards. Typical oven cleaners contain lye (which can burn your skin), ethers, ethylene glycol, methylene chloride, and petroleum distillates. The propellant, butane, is neurotoxic. NIH (National Institutes of Health) says some of the side effects of oven cleaner exposure are swollen airways, burns in the esophagus, low blood pressure, and change in the blood's acidity, which can cause organ damage in the long run.
  • Replacement: Next time you need to clean your oven, try scrubbing messes with a simple paste of water and baking soda.
Laundry Room
  • We all want our clothes to smell good (I hope), so many people use dryer sheets to keep their clothes smelling fresh. But those scents come from synthetic chemicals that are not as nice as they smell. They include benzyl acetate, benzyl alcohols, and terpines, which are toxic and even carcinogenic. (The FDA does not regulate dryer sheets by the way). The chemicals stay in your clothes and can be absorbed through the skin.
  • ReplacementTry using a mixture of water and an essential oil in a spray bottle to mist your spring wardrobe, bed sheets, and anything else you want to smell nice, after it comes out of the dryer. Or try a product from an environmentally responsible company, like Seventh Generation's natural fabric softener sheets, in blue eucalyptus and lavender scent.
  • There is always work to do on the computer, so while doing your spring cleaning, why not take some time to detoxify your computer area? Printers are the polluter in question here. Printer ink contains solvents and chemicals that are released into the air upon printing. They are inhaled and can cause respiratory irritation.
  • Solution: One way to reduce the chemicals in your indoor air is to keep houseplants. They absorb the pollutants in the air and deliver them to their roots, where the microbes are able to break them down. Some plants that are especially good at taking in chemicals and cleaning the air are Dracaena, English Ivy, Bamboo Palm, Boston Fern, and Peace Lily. Keeping plants by your printer and all over the house can help improve air quality.
Counters and Other Surfaces, Windows, and Floors
  • Many cleaning products contain dangerous ingredients like bleach, ammonia, and synthetic fragrances. I have already discussed the dangers of bleach in another post. When you clean with these products, you can breathe in harmful compounds or get them on your skin. Instead of buying manufactured cleaning products, why not make your own? In addition to protecting your health, it will save you money! Below are some ideas to try...
  • Surfaces: Here are two ideas for general surface cleaners. You can mix them and put them in a spray bottle.
    • 2 cups water, 2 cups white vinegar, 1 teaspoon baking soda
    • 2 tsp. borax, ¼ tsp. liquid castile soap (like Dr. Bronner’s), hot water
  • Windows: Many window cleaners contain ammonia, which can irritate your respiratory system. Instead, try mixing equal parts white vinegar and water in a spray bottle and using that. For tough spots, you can use undiluted white vinegar, and then follow with the mixture.
  • Floors: Here are some ideas for floor cleaners. Remember not to put these directly on the floor, but use a mop or rag to wipe them down (and that wood floors should not get overly wet).
    • Wood Floor Cleaner: ¼ c. vinegar, 1 gal. warm water
      • Mop or rag should be slightly damp for cleaning.
    • Linoleum Floor Cleaner: 1 c. vinegar, 2 gal. warm water
      • Mop or rag can be fully wet for cleaning.
    • Carpet Stain Remover: 1 part borax, 10 parts warm water
      • Combine in spray bottle. Spray on stain, wait 5 minutes, blot with clean rag.
    • Carpet Stain Remover: vinegar, baking soda
      • Mix vinegar and baking soda into a paste. Gently work into stain with a toothbrush. Let dry then vacuum completely.
  • You can also buy cleaning products from companies like Seventh Generation and Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day. But make sure it is a trusted, environmentally-friendly company, and it is not just participating in "green-washing" (falsely advertising their products as eco-friendly). For example, an independent study found that products from a company called Simple Green, contained toluene (pregnancy complications), 1,4-dioxane (cancer), and bis (2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (reproductive harm, hormone disruption, neurodevelopmental problems). These were not listed on the label, as it is not required by law to list everything in the product.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Environmental Clean-Up!!!

Letting everyone know about the Musconetcong Watershed Association's 21st annual spring clean-up. It will take place on Saturday, April 13th from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. Groups will meet at the following locations:
  • Lake Hopatcong State Park 
  • Waterloo Village 
  • Stephen State Park 
  • Hackettstown Alumni Park 
  • DEP Fishing Access, Rte 57, Near Stephensburg Bridge Rd. 
  • Rte 57, Penwell Road Fishing Area 
  • Point Mountain Park 
  • Butler Park Road 
  • Hampton Boro Park 
  • MWA River Resource Center 
  • Bloomsbury/Asbury Road 
  • Warren Glen Park 
  • Riegelsville area
Send me an email ( or contact me on Facebook if you would like to volunteer at the Lake Hopatcong State Park area. I am working to organize a group. You can contact Adrienne Kaczynski, the Musconetcong Watershed Administrative Assistant, to find out what area is closest to you, for more information, and to register. Her email address is 
Volunteers are given tee shirts, gloves, bags, snacks, and water. Please consider actually volunteering for this, especially if you read my last post and are upset about the effects of litter on wildlife and the environment. You can take this chance and actually do something to help. It's only 3 hours out of your day, it's over at noon, and you can use it for community service hours if you need. There is even a free lunch after at the MWA River Resource Center at 10 Maple Ave., Asbury, NJ (Warren County). If you have any questions, don't hesitate to contact me!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Till My Ghastly Tale is Told

He prayeth well, who loveth well
Both man and bird and beast.

He prayeth best, who loveth best
All things both great and small;
For the dear God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge 
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner 

What's up with the trip back to high school English class? These quotes from one of my favorite poems are fitting for a video I believe everyone should see. It is the trailer for an upcoming film about Midway Island, a small piece of land in the Northern Pacific Ocean, not far from Hawaii. The albatrosses that inhabit the island seem to be living a  normal life, but in fact many of them are sick and dying. Just as the mariner killed the albatross in Coleridge's poem, humans are responsible for the deaths of thousands of these birds. These birds are apparently not picky eaters, and thanks to us, they have made plastic one of their food groups. They are eating small pieces of plastic from the Pacific Garbage Patch, a place where plastic debris has collected due to the ocean currents. The plastic sits in their stomachs because they can not digest it, and it builds up until they die a slow, painful death. Before you watch the video, be warned... it's kind of graphic and pretty sad. You might not want to show it to kids. But I believe it is important to see. Hopefully it will make people think twice about littering. Remember, most waterways lead to the ocean, so trash on land can easily be washed into it. Even when trash breaks down, harmful chemical residues can still be left behind, especially in the case of plastic. In fact, smaller pieces of plastic are easier for wildlife to eat.
To find out more about this film project, visit the film's website, The film is scheduled to premiere later in 2013. Keep an eye out for it.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Atlantic Wind Connection

I have really been slacking when it comes to writing these posts lately, but I'm finally making a new one today, and it comes with some exciting news for environmentalists. According to a January 15th article from The Star-Ledger, a private company called Atlantic Grid Development is going to start building a wind-power station along the east coast. Construction is set to begin off of the Jersey Shore in 2016. The first phase of construction will be to build the underwater transmission line that will run along the coast, from New Jersey to Virginia, and connect the wind turbines and carry the electricity to land for use. This cable project, called The Atlantic Wind Connection, will connect about 7,000 megawatts of wind turbine electricity. In New Jersey alone, it is estimated that it will power about 1 million homes. Although it will take about 10 years to complete, the New Jersey portion of the cable will be partially operational by 2019.

The biggest challenge will be finding funding, but so far, investors include Google, Bregal Energy, Marubeni Corp., and Elia. When the project begins, it will create about 1,980 construction and operations jobs in New Jersey alone, and is estimated to "pump $9 billion into the economy and bolster local tax revenues by $2.2 billion." So here, "going green" and helping the economy go hand-in-hand.