50 Million Chemicals

Thursday, December 17, 2009

On September 7, 2009, scientists working for the Chemical Abstract Service (which assigns identification numbers to all new chemicals) entered the 50-millionth chemical substance into their Registry. Chemist and industrial hygienist Monona Rossol, President and Founder of Arts, Crafts & Theater Safety, takes a look at what all these new substances are, where they are coming from, and how they affect our health. And she'll take listener calls!


Monona Rossol

Comments [56]

Maria from Brooklyn

Hi Monona,

Thank you for sharing your vast knowledge! I am wondering your thoughts about air cleaners and air purifiers? Do they work, if so what would you recommend?

Apr. 21 2010 06:34 PM
Francesca Valerio from Brooklyn

I was wondering if Ms. Rossol has any information about Tempurpedic beds. I have just purchased one and have heard that they can release harmful toxins. Any informaton would be greatly apppreciated. Thanks!

Apr. 19 2010 01:14 PM
Ted from Brooklyn

Leonard, will you ask Monona if she microwaves things in plastic? I use only Pyrex/china and paper products and my co-workers think I'm nuts.

Apr. 19 2010 12:38 PM
Michael from Long Island

Which home insulation product is considered safest? Have you heared of a product called insulsafe?

Apr. 19 2010 12:38 PM
elizabeth from missouri

How can you ask - how does a country not acknowledge that their people are sick when New York denies the deaths and illness caused by the fallout of 9/11?

Mar. 04 2010 01:41 PM
elizabeth roberts from nyc

monona, in one of your posts you mention that you'll list your full name and that we can google it to find your website and then access some studies, I can't seem to locate your full name on that post and I can't seem to find your website by googling monona rossol. can you please list your full name and / or website?

thanks for all of the great information, as an architect and a mother of a young child I find this fascinating and useful, I hope that I can prevent contributing to toxic home environments for my clients and would like to learn more.

thank you

Jan. 29 2010 04:19 PM

We need more Ralph Nader fans/types to combat this type of ongoing insanity.

Dec. 19 2009 05:06 PM
Nicholas Merolla from Hackensack, NJ

Question for Monona Rossol:
There is a product on the market called Cleanse for Life from a company called Isagenix. They claim that it is part of a program that helps cleanse environmental toxins from the body. I would submit the ingredient list, but cannot upload a picture in this forum. If Ms. Rossol follows this link:, scrolls down and clicks on ingredients, she will find the label image there.
Thank you for your time.

Dec. 18 2009 02:44 PM
Penelope from Astoria

As a ceramic artist, I would love for you to have this guest back to talk specifically about health hazards for artists.

I have a question. What does your guest think about "non toxic" children's art supplies? Personally, I get nervous when my young children eat the play dough and crayons. Also, I think it is crazy that some ceramic glazes are labeled "non toxic and safe for schools".

Dec. 18 2009 10:16 AM
Gina from Brooklyn

I'm wondering about the Brita filter's plastic pitcher; what number plastic is it? (It doesn't say on the bottom.) It would be ironic if the filtered water was absorbing chemicals from the plastic!

Dec. 18 2009 09:06 AM
Nancy from Chestnut Ridge, NY

Monona brought up Bisphenol-A in your interview. There was another interview on ABC News with Drs. Roizen and Oz for their new book on pregenancy. They discussed BPA and the genetic mutations associated with exposure. They had examples of plastic bottles, can liners and carbonless copy paper. They said new research has shown carbonless copy paper contains 100 x more BPA then the other items. Pregnant and fertile women should wash their hands after handling it. That is outrageous! What about women and men handling it day in and day out at work? How can an industry get away with this? It is my understanding that thermal paper receipts have even more BPA.

Dec. 18 2009 07:38 AM
thatgirlinnewyork from manhattan

lisa from long valley - encasing your synthetic mattress in a case will not provide a real barrier between you and the synthetics--body heat, breathing, movement all "kick up" the fibres and fumes from commercial mattresses. yes, those "miracle foam" mattresses are usually synthetic--also unhealthy. there are, however, natural latex and wool mattresses that pose no threat. yes, they're more expensive, but fewer moving parts (like coils) mean that the wear is different, often better. SO much better with allergies, at the very least.

we are backing away from plastic wraps and containers for food of all sorts--they're all petroleum products and leach. this includes plastic delivery and deli containers. we've gone back to glass containers (like corning, pyrex, glass jars from other products), which impart nothing, and can touch hot food without releasing chemicals (but cool prior to refrigeration). a friend of mine has dusted off his canning jars for this purpose. why risk your health by investing more in the petroleum industry than absolutely necessary?

Monona Rossol Responds:
I agree with most of this.

Dec. 17 2009 07:37 PM
Lisa Osborne from Long Valley, NJ

Sorry I missed the entire show. (Lopate's programs should be outlawed from co-mingling with driving!) I have heard most carpeting, the foam in the expensive mattress 'alternatives', and prefab cabinetry all give off volatile gases for an exrtended period of time. I have learned that good alternatives are: for floors, cork; carpets: naturally dyed wool; and cabinets: solid woodrather than composite; plus enclosing all types of mattresses in zippered cases. True?

My next question pertains to the relatively new plastic wrap from Glad that seems to have small glue dots all over one side of the product. How safe is this for coming into contact woth food of different types? I would probably be more inclined to cover an onion with this wrap- if the cut side was against a plate and the skin, which I would eventually discard, was the only part coming into contact with this wrap. My husband, on the other hand, has no problem using this wrap to cove raw meat, freshly cut veggies, leftovers, nuts and more before cooking or reheating in the microwave , or storing in the freezer, refrigerator or pantry for a month or more. Is this product 'safe' for as often as we are likely to use it as a convenience item? (I am more likely to store things in an old Corningware glass storage container; he's likely to reach for a Ziploc or Saran/Glad wraps.) Is it any safer than the other options? And for how long? I am one of the few throwbacks who are more likely to cook a meal from scratch than buy takeout or grab convenience foods, so our exposure to plastics is somewhat limited though I am aware that many steel and aluminum cans are lined with plastics that could contain BPA. I have tried to avoid foods in containers that could cause us more harm than good.

I appreciate the programing that you bring to our neighborhood. You always address some interesting subject that results in my expanding my dogearred library. Thank you!

Monona Rossol Responds:
See the next post from thatgirl.

Dec. 17 2009 05:28 PM
William from NYC

As a fine arts painter, does using oil paints with linseed or walnut oil, pose an inhalation danger if solvents are not used in the painting process?

Do fine artist acrylic paints pose an inhalation hazard?

Monona Rossol Responds:
As you may know, I've written books on art materials and I have a free data sheet on painting that will tell you more than you could want to know. Google my name, got to my website, contact me asking for the data sheet, and I'll send it to you.

But in general, none of the oils release enough vapor to be a hazard. The walnut oil is so thin that it also makes it easier not to use a solvent to thin the paints. There are a few oil paints that have small mount of solvents in them, but this is not common. So working only with oil paints and oils means there is no signficant hazard by inhalation. However, painting is still not a good activity for the home because of the paint pigments. You need a studio where you can wash up and leave your shoes and smock in the studio to avoid bringing home lead, cadmium, cobalt, chromium, etc. You don't want to wash brushes containing this stuff in your bathroom or kitchen sinks.

Acrylics also are not an inhalation hazard, but most of the same toxic pigments are in acrylics. But if you have a studio separate from your home, these also are paints you can use safely.

Dec. 17 2009 02:27 PM

Can Ms. Rossoll suggest perhaps 5 main things for parents to do to avoid exposure of their children to toxins? I have a 1, 8, and 10 year old, and can only spend/do so much. Which are more important: non-toxic shampoo, toothpaste, soap, laundry detergent, etc.? Phthalte-free pacifiers, teethers, sippy cups and toys for the baby? Non-toxic cleaners around the house? Organic produce (say the dirty dozen), milk, meat? I can only do so much and want to make smart choices. Thank you.

Monona Rossol Responds:
The answer to that question would take a book. And I don't think you have time to go on some massive campaign to investigate all of the products used for three children plus yourself. Instead, try to think about one product at a time. For example, if you are buying sippy cups or plastic bottles, see if you can find those that have a #1 in the recycling triangle and the initials PETE which is one of the safest of the plastics.

If you are buying toys, read the labels and avoid vinyl plastics whenever possible. And it may not always be possible when a child had their heart set on something. So just do the best you can. You run a home not a concentration camp.

Try to buy organic food, but often these labels are hard to interpret. The most important thing it to get a lot of fresh or frozen vegeables and fruits into them rather than from cans or in processed forms.

Just start with this, and you will make progress. And you have a consultant to help. When you decide to research a particular cleaner or product, go to the manufacturers site and download the material safety data sheet and read it. If it makes no sense to you, attach it to an e-mail and I'll take a look for you.

Dec. 17 2009 01:10 PM
CB from dobbs ferry new york

Question: What does this guest use to clean, and how does she make choices in her own home?

Monona Rossol Responds:
Simple is the answer. Ivory dish liquid works for many things--it has a few nasties in it but not enough for me to be concerned. Bar soaps or flakes without additives, Bon Ami or borax for cleanser, vinegar for glass, and 1:10 bleach solution when something needs to be disinfected.

Dec. 17 2009 01:03 PM
Bill from Hempstead

I found that vinegar save me gallons of hot water when used for cleaning the dog dishes. Dog saliva is practically waterproof and resists even Dawn ....

I have been using Oxyclean a lot recently, I understand it releases peroxide. It is a good and powerful cleaner.... is it bad for us?

I am curious about hand creams, I use a lot of lubriderm on my hand when I do lots of cleaning, my skin gets very dry....

Monona Rossol, thank you.

Monona Rossol Responds:
Oxyclean is sodium percarbonate, also called sodium carbonate peroxyhydrate on the MSDS. It is a solid that when added to water breaks down to release plain old sodium carbonate plus hydrogen peroxide. Hydrogen peroxide is not very stable, so it won't be long before all you have is water and sodium carbonate. So use it fast or it won't clean very well. Hydrogen peroxide is only toxic in far higher concentrations than you can achieve with this product.

Google "Lubriderm MSDS" and it will pop right up. It's baby oil (light mineral oil) and a lot of smaller amounts of oils, and preservatives. The amounts of many of the ingredients are proprietary, but only the fragrance is not identified. Don't get it in your eye because it has triethanolamine which is an eye hazard. There are some parabens which some of the cosmetic activists don't like. But basically, it should soften your hands.

My dermatologist gave me Aquaphor which does the same. And if you talk to your pharmacist, he/she will tell you there are house brands of this product that are much cheaper. You might want to give these a try also.

Nice talking to you.

Dec. 17 2009 01:01 PM
marc parrilli from Spring valley, ny

I appreciate the fact that there are "watchdogs" out there who are assisting in keeping corporate chemistry in line and educating consumers, but there is also a limit to how well informed these guardians of our health really are. This person in particular needs to understand that when she tells consumers that d-limonene is toxic and unsafe, then she really needs to know that this peel oil constituent of all citrus fruits is getting all over your hands and skin every time you peel an orange and is in all of the orange juice and other citrus juices that you drink. Peel an orange over your stovetop flame and watch the oil burst into flame; so it's also flammable! OMG! Don't ever attempt then to make an orange-cloves pomander at home either! And cloves contain eugenol, a natural "phenol"! Again, OMG! Kids, don't try this at home.

Orange peel oil is registered with the EPA as an insecticide because all chemicals, natural, artificial and "alternative" have to be registered by law even if a company wants to introduce a safe alternative.

Diacetyl, a natural component of butter, apparently is dangerous to inhale if you are working with pure, concentrated, volatile, artificial butter flavors. But because of what the flavor industry sadly learned about its exposure effect, and the lawsuits that followed, it has been effectively removed from artificial butter flavors, especially inclusive of microwave popcorn. This woman needs to research her findings a bit more thoroughly. It's no wonder she hedges or "minces" her words. She should know better in some circumstances! At times, she is downright irresponsible.

Dec. 17 2009 01:01 PM
Alan from Milltown, NJ

I use a frying pan every morning for eggs or french toast because of my 7 yr old's issues of attentiveness (protein is a plus). Are frying pans safe or what kind should I get to minimize health risks?

Monona Rossol Responds:
Aluminum fry pans, no. A good old fashioned iron skillet made by a major manufacturer, yes. And iron skillet from Africa or a third world country it which smelting iron locally is a craft, no. A Teflon coated fry pan, no. Stainless steel from a major manufacturer, yes. From China, no. And so on.

Dec. 17 2009 12:50 PM
thatgirlinnewyork from manhattan

bamboo fibre has to go through an extremely toxic process to be manufactured into fabric--not unlike bleaching cotton to make it white. definitely avoid.

stay away from so-called "natural" cleaning products, which are expensive--why on earth would you subsidize P&G or Clorox when the bulk of their manufacturing has saturated our environment with toxic products??

baking soda is a great substitute for comet and other abrasives, and is less prone to scratch or bleach, as that product can do. vinegar, water, borax, essential oils (if you want fragrance with your cleaners) work extremely well, and you can trust them!

Monona Rossol Responds:
I can go along with most of that, except that there are times in life you really need a reliable bleach disinfectant. There are companies that distribute bleach other than Clorox if you have an ethical issue there. Watch out for borax and sodium borate around little kids, it is quite toxic by ingestion.

Dec. 17 2009 12:50 PM
Grace from Manhattan

I'm a collage artist and I use acrylic paint and acrylic mediums like matte medium for glue. Is it safe to get these on your hands?

Monona Rossol responds:
I wouldn't worry too much about this. Most of the acrylic base emulsion used by the artist's paint industry for both the mediums and the paints in the US is manufactured by Rohm & Haas. This base acrylic contains some ammonia (from the stabilizer) some formaldehyde, and some tiny amounts of very weird chemicals, but they are tiny. The more you can keep off your hands, the better, but I wouldn't get bent out of shape over a little exposure by skin contact unless you are allergic to formaldehyde.

But some of the pigments in acrylic paints are another matter. Try keeping those off the skin as much as possible.

Dec. 17 2009 12:48 PM
natalie from ny

What is safer-- drinking bottled water vs filtered tap water in nyc... bottled water comes in plastic-- articles in times these days indicate tap water may have unsafe chemicals inside...

Monona Rossol Responds:
Thats a very complicated question because it depends on which plastic, which tap water, what filter, etc. But I did a little research on my own situation which is living in a 6 floor walk up building with some old lead pipes that and a lead main in the street. Even after EPA forced the New York Water Authority to add a phosphate chemical to City water to reduce the leaching of lead from old mains and pipes, the water still had more lead in it than I was happy with. So I use a Britta filter or any equivalent filter which is a pretty good way to get it out.

Dec. 17 2009 12:44 PM
Rochelle from NJ

What is a good substiutue for Comet? You mentioned once But I don't see anything in my stores orhter that Comet and Ajax--And it wasn't those.

Thnak you!

Monona Rossol Responds:
It's kind of hard to find, but its on the net. It is Bon Ami. And old 20 Mule Team Borax powder also works.

Dec. 17 2009 12:44 PM

dang! For her NEXT visit - how about the new "plastic" bags made of corn? The compost lady at Union Sq market allows bio bags in with our kitchen scraps for the composters - OK for the soil - OK for us? Restaurants like Le Pain Quotidien use them for takeout.

Monona Rossol Responds:
Great idea. I'll do a little research on this. I didn't like the early attempts at this like the black garbage bags that degraded to release urea. When they got wet they smelled like piss. But I have no idea if there are any drawback to using the corn-derived bags next to food. I'm assuming that FDA has approved them for this use and has that data. But I personally don't know. Thanks for making me think!

Dec. 17 2009 12:42 PM
Cynthia from long island

Natural Fibers like organic cotton, hemp and bamboo.

Monona Rossol Responds:
I agree from the point of view of wearing and using the stuff. But cotton in particular is a very pesticide intensive crop. There are a number of strategies being considered to clean up cotton.

Be careful not to buy cotton T-shirts and socks that claim to be anitbacterial or resist sweat odors or some such. These are full of silver nanoparticles that have not been assessed for their effects on people or the environment.

Bamboo used for plywood is a good idea, but to make fabric from bamboo takes a lot of chemical treatment of the wood.

Dec. 17 2009 12:41 PM
Alice from Brooklyn

Important segment, thank you for taking on these issues! Please keep the suggestions coming on what we could do to be smarter consumers and do better for our health and the environment. There is so much bad news out there, but we need to remain optimistic and creative about finding solutions.

Monona Rossol Responds:
The minute I find something to be optimistic about, I'll call you! Actually, the good news is that those few things we've restricted with legislation such as lead and smoking, have really paid off in terms of reduction of these chemicals in our bodies. We need to do more of this.

And I know it sounds terrible, great news is coming from all the lawsuits for damages. The legislation to restrict smoking and lead would not have come about without all of the lawsuits for damages by smokers and kids with lead poisoning. And remember,on the Lopate Program when I said that EPA tried to ban asbestos and failed? But you don't see a lot of asbestos around, to you? This also is due to the hard work of all those asbestos litigation firms that have nailed the asbestos industry over and over. NEVER support any legislation that restricts your right to sue.

And really great news is coming from the European Union where they are forcing industry to test chemicals. They also are banning many fabric dyes for use next to the skin, they've banned nickel in jewelry or metals that contact the skin, and on and on. We have some real catch up to do here in the U.S.

I wish I could say: buy stuff from Europe, but unfortunately, their laws, like ours, do not apply to things made for export. So they can sell junk here. We are now a dumping ground for Europe and many other countries with better laws than ours. I'm old enough to remember when we were a leader in safety. We can be again if we will just wake up.

Dec. 17 2009 12:41 PM
Jason from manhattan

Thanks for covering this very important topic! I'm amazed by all the "super cleaners" on the market from companies such as Proctor and Gamble. I've found that good old fashioned white vinegar solves most of my household cleaning problems. Castille soap and baking soda are also great. Are these products safe?

Monona Rossol Responds:
I'm moving in with you! Sounds great.

Dec. 17 2009 12:41 PM
John from Brooklyn

Should we add salt to water to dissolve pesticide from veggies?

Monona Rossol Responds:
The salt won't do much. The water may remove some of the surface pesticides.

Dec. 17 2009 12:40 PM
Derek from 42nd St.

What about PETE is it true that is doesn't leach in to liquids such as in soda and water botles. I make wine and they are now selling PETE to brew in. Will the alcohol break down the plastics?

Monona Rossol Responds:
If I was going to use a plastic for wine, this one would be it. It is polyethylene terephthalate, and even if it breaks down to release phthalate, the terephthates do not appear to have the same toxicity as the other phthalates.

I don't know anything about making wine other than the habit some neighbors had of keeping glass jugs of cider near the back door over the winter. At least, it was cider in the fall. But the stuff still there as spring neared packed a wallop! We would stick a thumb in the little handle near the top, flip the jugs up on our bent elbows, and down the hatch. Would it be possible to brew wine in soda lime glass? That definitely wouldn't leach anything harmful into the wine.

Dec. 17 2009 12:39 PM
Cynthia from long island

Avoid wall-to-wall carpeting and synthetic home goods. Use natural items made with fibers.

Monona Rossol responds:
Absolutely avoid wall-to-wall any kind of carpet. Anyone who really thinks you can clean them should be forced to pull one up and see what's underneath.

Dec. 17 2009 12:38 PM
Fish from brooklyn

Perhaps your guest can tell us what IS safe to use ie. products since all she keeps telling us what we shouldn't be eating, using etc. I am getting very depressed over this. Thanks

Monona Rossol Reponds:
MR: Hmmm. We didn't really go into food except for diacetyl and that was to demonstrate that even a chemical from butter could be highly toxic when inhaled as the popcorn workers did. So in this case, just don't snort your food.

But your depression is proof you are intelligent and understand the situation. The people I worry about are those that are not depressed because they think someone is looking out for them.

The basic safe cleaners are vinegar, bar or flake soaps, some liquid dish soaps, cleansers like Bon Ami or borax, and a little diluted bleach for those cases where you really do need to disinfect. But as I can't recommend a product by brand in good conscience because manufacturers change their formulas frequently and what is safe one month may not be the next. So you will have to do the research on the products you buy.

Don't buy cleaning products that do not make their material safety data sheets (MDSDs) readily available or whose MSDSs do not list all or almost all the ingredients. Then use google to look up those ingredients and make up your own mind. If you have trouble, you can send me the MSDS, and I'll evaluate it for you.

Dec. 17 2009 12:38 PM
Jon P. from The Garden State

[6] Estelle from Austin

Don’t waist your time with organic cleaners. They are insanely expensive and will still probably kill you and most pets and children if drank right from the bottle. Cut some vinegar with water and you can clean just about any surface, have streak free windows and you can pour the leftover mixture on you salad when you are done.

Monona Rossol Reponds:
MR: I'm with you Estelle. And you don't even have to drink from the bottle for them to harm you. Citrus and pine cleaners recondense in the air to form tiny mist particles. These in turn react with pollution levels of ozone to create formaldehyde. You can actually increase the levels of formaldehyde in your air by using these cleaners.

Go to my website and ask me for the data sheet on Citrus and it will provide the data on this and other problems with these solvents.

Dec. 17 2009 12:36 PM
Amy from Manhattan

1) So 20+ years later, the CPSC has no more power to protect consumers than it did after the Reagan administration weakened it? (Someone in that administration responded to complaints that deaths would result by saying that after a few people died, someone would sue the manufacturer & *then* they'd have to stop making the unsafe product! Are we still at that level??)

2) On solvents, some newer & supposed safe cleaning products are made w/a citrus extract (like Citra-Solv). Are they any safer?

Monona Rossol Reponds:
MR: Your Question #1 is wonderful! Yup, that's about where we still are with a few exceptions.

As for question #2, no, those natural solvents are not safer. Some are more toxic. I have a data sheet on the citrus solvents and other natural oils I'd be glad to send free if you google my name, contact me through our web site and ask. Its really got some interesting data in it.

Dec. 17 2009 12:34 PM
Cynthia from long island

Avoid plastic, use glass and cast iron.

Monona Rossol Responds:
Good ideas, except for lead crystal glass.

Dec. 17 2009 12:33 PM
mick from new york citry

anyone ever hear of asbestos being in the cushions of old furniture? I have stickley chairs whose cushions have broken down into a brown powder.

Monona Rossol Responds:
I've been reading the museum conservation journals for 30 years and I've never heard of this use for asbestos. But that doesn't mean it is impossible. If you want to contact me directly by googling my name, I'll post your question to an international conservator's forum.

Dec. 17 2009 12:33 PM
annonymous from brooklyn

Can I ask about 'green' cleaning products? The older ones like seventh generation and the newer ones like clorox greenworks?

Monona Rossol Responds:
If you read one of the posts above, I said went to Seventh Generation's site and made some comments on what I saw there. But in summary: the first thing you want to see on any website is easy access to material safety data sheets (MSDSs).

The second thing you want to do is read those MSDSs and if it is clear that they are not telling everything that is in the product, to hell with it. Third, once you know what all the ingredients are, google is your friend. Find out about them.

Sound like a lot of work? Not once you are use to it. And just how many different cleaners to you really need in your house?

Dec. 17 2009 12:33 PM
norman goldberg from Westchester county, ny

Why, as humans are we still here? Why aren't our government agencies protecting us and why aren't we finding out what products these chemicals are being used? Can we protect ourselves or not, is the question?

Monona Rossol Responds:
MR: The first part of your question is why are we still here? The answer is we are pretty tough. But the National Cancer Institute statistics show that one woman in two will get cancer in her life time. And one man in two will get cancer in their lifetime. People used to think cancer rates has risen so high in the US because we are living longer, but the greatest increase in cancer is in childhood cancers. And we in fact, so not live as long as people in Europe, Scandinavia, Japan, Cube, and so on.

And look rise of diseases such as asthma and autism. We live longer due to significant medical intervention, but I wouldn't call us healthy. So we are paying a price.

As for the government, we get the government we vote in. And those we vote in owe more to the industries that support them than they do to us. Unless we organize, this isn't likely to change much.

Regaring your last question, you gave the answer yourself without realizing it when you asked "can we protect ourselves..." You've got it: We have to protect ourselves. And that starts with learning as much as you can about this subject.

Dec. 17 2009 12:32 PM
Bill from Hempstead

Seems that it might be smart not to buy anything in NY that they wouldn't sell in California.... is there a database of product sold/not sold?

Monona Rossol Responds:
MR: Interesting thought. But California's Proposition 65 doesn't ban anything for sale, just makes them label it as a hazard. The new federal Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act did ban some children's products that contain certain levels of lead or 6 of the common phthalates. That's helpful only if someone is checking the products on the market or if the manufacturers are taking the new laws seriously and avoiding use of these substances. The recalls should tell you that this is not happening.

But you asked for a nice data base of safe products. To explain why that doesn't exist, I'll go back about 20 years when California teachers forced a bill through the legislature requiring the CA Health Department to create a list of safe art materials. This was dumb, because there are about 3000 art materials and you would need a massive network of laboratories to test and prove all these products safe.

In desperation, the CA Health Department used the Arts &Creative Materials Institute's list--ACMI is a product certifier paid by the manufacturers. Do you see the conflict of interest? So when I looked at this list, I found three products that were acutely toxic and showed the Health Department that the vast majority of other products contained untested organic pigments, some of which were in the same chemical classes as known carcinogens. But, as the law allows, products containing the untested chemicals were labeled "nontoxic!"

So the CA DOH gave up and now all they do is produce list of products that ACMI admits are toxic and for adults only. So forget a data base of safe stuff. Whose going to compile it and test all those products? And who pays them to test? If it is the manufacturers who want their products on the list, the process is already flawed.

Dec. 17 2009 12:31 PM
Shelly from Albany

Once a new chemical is made, is there really any law compelling it to be tested as being safe to people or not?

Monona Rossol Reponds:
Essentially the answer is "no." If you read one of the answers above on the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) you will see why.

Dec. 17 2009 12:31 PM
annonymous from brooklyn

I'm a painter who is contemplating pregnancy. I have begun using gloves and a carbon air filter, but I'm still concerned about continuing to work while pregnant or nursing. I currently use odorless mineral spirits instead of turpentine, but I assume it's still dangerous. How worried should I be? Would a mask help?

Monona Rossol Responds:
I would like you to google my name, go to my website, and ask for two data sheets, one on painting and one or reproductive hazards for artists. This is a complicated subject and is, of course, what I specialize in. I would also be happy to talk to you.

Dec. 17 2009 12:28 PM
thatgirlinnewyork from manhattan

but there's a difference between filtering out organics from one's water and industrial chemicals, whose particle sizes escape most filtration.

Monona Rossol Responds:
Very thoughtful question. When filtering the air or water, we often depend on mechanical filtration which can only catch particles that are larger than the spaces in the filter. That's, in fact, why nanoparticles are so scary. We really have no method of filtering them from the air because they are smaller than the best mechanical filter made can capture.

But if there are organic chemicals in the air or the water, these are not particles. Instead, they are molecules so small that will pass through any mechanical filter easily. So fto capture the organics, specially treated carbon is often used. This stuff has the ability to attract certain of these organic molecules to its surface where, hopefully, they will hang out until the filter is discarded.

This is a tricky technology because some substances are captured better than others, and some not at all. When evaluating water purification systems that involve carbon or charcoal, you need to see chemical analyses of the water that goes into the system and what comes out to see how efficient they are.

That's why I said the Britta and similar filters do a fairly good job with lead and some of the common organics. But they can't get everything.

Dec. 17 2009 12:28 PM
Cynthia from long island

Phyllis, there is a lot you can do to avoid chemicals:

1) Buy Organic Food (especially in soft-skinned fruits and veggies)

2) Use natural cleaning products like vinegar, baking soda, borax, soap flakes, essential oils) There is a decent book by Karyn Siegel-Maier called The Naturally Clean Home.

3) Buy products with natural ingredients. Avoid cosmetics with tons of chemicals. Companies like Ecobella, No Miss, Weleda tend to have lower toxicity levels.

Monona Rossol Responds:
I was right with you until #3. Natural ingredients are no safer than synthetic ones. Some of the most toxic substances known are natural. For example, the warfare chemical called ricin is isolated from caster beans.

The illustration I used on Leonard's program was the substance isolated from butter, diacetyl, which is causing a potentially fatal lung disease in popcorn workers. And I also mentioned citrus oils which are EPA-registered pesticides and far too toxic to be cleaning your house with. If you would like a data sheet covering the studies I have found on citrus, lavender, pine oil, tea tree oil, and other natural products, I'll send it to you free. I'll put my full name at the end of this post. If you google it, you will see my website and can button on to my email.

If you are interested, also ask for a data sheet on makeup. Remember, I don't recommend or sell any products. We also take no donations from any company that sells stuff either. And we don't solicit donations either, so you won't be getting those begging letters from us.

Dec. 17 2009 12:27 PM
Steve from Baldwin

Does Monona have a comment about the toxicity of car interiors?

Monona Rossol Responds:
I answered this on the air, but it is such a good question because it is one of the exposures common we have to phthalates. And when the odor fades and the car no longer impresses anyone, the owner can go to the big hardware stores and buy a can of "New Car Smell." What are we thinking?

Dec. 17 2009 12:27 PM
thatgirlinnewyork from manhattan

diane--that may be true, but increasingly, companies are saying that the chemicals used in the production of "household products" (or pumped into our air, etc.) are increasingly called "proprietary" by manufacturers. in effect, the "secret sauce" defense, which supports their claim that if the chemicals are known, it would violate their "right to privacy". so the EPA, CPSC and others often don't know what to test for in terms of exposure. as usual in this country--profit first.

Dec. 17 2009 12:26 PM
Jon P. from The Garden State

Mozo’s right. You can’t realistically make a computer, cell phone or Ipod out of just wood, metal or glass. Not to mention just about every electronic devise in your life. Same goes for most complex life saving medical devices. But there are a lot of redundant plastics out there that do the same thing but are made differently. Kind of like the drug companies. The question should be, how do we get rid of redundant materials to a more realistic manageable number?

Monona Rossol Responds:
The plastics are not as redundant as you might think. It is true you can make different plastics to exhibit many of the same characteristics such as soft, hard, flexible, fire resistant. But some plastics can exhibit different characteristics by just varying the molecular weight of the polymer molecule while others require many additives to accomplish the same traits. Then you have to look at both the plastic and the additives to make decisions about toxicity.

I think if I were going to prioritize, I would say our first step would be to replace poly vinyl chloride (PVC) plastics. They are a problem from cradle to grave. If we could just get that done, we will have taken a big step. We can nibble round the edges after that.

Dec. 17 2009 12:26 PM

Thanks Estelle!

Dec. 17 2009 12:25 PM
Phillip from Park Slope, Brooklyn

What does Monona think about the Shak Lee "green" cleaning products. I have a friend that sold me on the idea, and I've seen it work. Anything you know about this company and products would be helpful.

Monona Rossol Responds:
I got the MSDS on their "Basic H2 Organic Super Celaning Concentrate and it only lists three surfactants (degergents) as ingredients, so I don't know what they mean by "organic" or "H2." You say you've seen it work, I'm assuming you mean it cleans well. If it does this without smelling like orange or lemon oil, it could just be a good detergent mixture. But it bothers me that they would use the buzz words like organic without explaining what is in their product that makes this so.

So I also went to their home page which covers their baby products, vitamins and such. The disclaimer on each product says: "These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease." And then in contradiction of this statement you see products that claim to be "anti aging," "proven effective," "always safe," "support the immune system," and "keep [your baby] healthy," and on and on.

I'm not against taking vitamins. I take one myself. But this page also looks to me like a bit of a hard sell.

If the cleaning product works and doesn't have citrus in it, it is probably no better or worse than other cleaners, but I can't tell from the MSDS.

Dec. 17 2009 12:24 PM
Adriana from New York

Your guest, as always, outstanding!

Monona Rossol Responds:
Bless your heart. I needed that!

Dec. 17 2009 12:22 PM
thatgirlinnewyork from manhattan

hydraulic natural gas drilling proposed in and around new york's watersheds is proposed. hundreds of known toxic and endocrine-disrupting chemicals are known to be used in the process, but it's been allowed in the american west due to exclusions in the 2005 energy act. the gas companies say that these are "everyday chemicals one can find in their home", but not in the parts per gallon used to break up shale to get at the gas under ground.

how could the EPA look the other way for so many years, and how do we defend ourselves from this toxic practice?

Dec. 17 2009 12:22 PM

tell me about kitchen products - I have read that cancer patients SHOULD NEVER use anything washed in dishwasher detergent - but how about brands like seventh generation or ecover?

Dec. 17 2009 12:21 PM
Estelle from Austin

"What women use to clean the kitchen"???
Nevertheless, thank you for the segment!

Monona Rossol Reponds: MR: A lot of people are switching to vinegar to clean glass, plain old soap and elbow grease for many jobs or using a simple liquid soap like Ivory dish soap. For jobs where an abrasive is needed, a cleanser like Bon Ami also doesn't currently contain significant hazards.

But I hesitate to recommend brands because what they contain now, they may not contain next month or year. Products can change their formulas at will.

Dec. 17 2009 12:19 PM
Diane Mensinger from Caldwell NJ

All chemicals used by companies -- manufactured in the US must have been registered in TSCA since mid 70's. Products imported must be constituents must have CAS number and be registered under TSCA. Any chemical manufacturing contemplated in the US the company must submit a Pre-manufacturing notification before beginning manufacturing.

You should get someone from the American Chemical Society, or from one of local university chemistry departments to talk about chemicals and safety. They would have a much more scientific view that your guest.

Dec. 17 2009 12:19 PM
mc from Brooklyn

Is thimerosol really the same thing as mercury?

Monona Rossol Responds:
Thimerosal is sodium ethyl mercurithiosalicylate--which means that it is a big molecule containing atoms of carbon, sodium, sulfur, hydrogen, oxygen, and -- oh yes -- one atom of mercury. This molecule is lethal to microorganisms, so a tiny amount in vaccinations, in your eye drops, in eye makeup, will keep microorganisms at bay for quite a while. In large amounts, it is just as toxic as other organic mercury compounds.

I think we should remove as many toxic substances from our life as possible, but some times we need them. There are other preservatives for vaccines, but they are shorter lived and can cause vaccines to become contaminated with microorganisms or lose potency. So there is a continual trade off.

I also looked long and hard at the studies looking for the association between thimerosal and autism, and it just isn't there. The amount of increase in the mercury body burden from this tiny source is just not enough. Now the experts are finally looking in the right places for the answer. For example, they are looking at the massive increase in known neurotoxic solvents in the cleaning agents we use in our home.

Dec. 17 2009 12:17 PM

So what is one to do?

Dec. 17 2009 12:15 PM
mozo from nyc

I am reminded that many people who will post online as to their fear of inorganic chemsitry probably could not do so if not for those very chemicals.

There are benefits and detriments to everything.

Monona Rossol Responds:
As a former chemistry teacher, I couldn't agree more. That's why I try to explain in lectures the difference between inorganic and organic chemicals and that both are necessary to life and both can be toxic. Natural chemicals also can be just as dangerous as synthetic ones. People want a simple answer, and there really isn't one. There is no substitute for actual knowledge about chemistry.

When I went to school in the 1950s and 1960s, you couldn't get a university degree in any discipline without prerequisites that included chemistry, physics and math. We need to go back to that--in fact--we need to increase the amount of science required.

Some colleges even provide a ridiculous degree called "Environmental Science" which doesn't require courses in hard science! They look at the economic and social issues of pollution. But you can't make ANY decent policy decisions for control of pollution without at least understand what the hell a chemical is.

Dec. 17 2009 12:12 PM
superf88 from

I was just reading in the Times about the proliferation of cancerous chemicals that are not even tested by the clean drinking water law because they were developed after that law was passed.

Short of running it through a reverse osmosis system, is there any way one can be sure his water -- tap or bottled -- is clean?

Monona Rossol Responds:
I answered this on the air, but I'd like to expand a bit. Basically, I said that the reverse osmosis systems are one of the best ways to insure pretty damn pure water, but that the Britta and other carbon filter systems do a good job of getting rid of most of the organics, lead, and common pollutants. But what they can't get rid of is trace amounts of all of the pesticides, drugs and other substances that can go right though filter or waste treatment systems. Nothing is 100% pure.

Dec. 17 2009 07:21 AM

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