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Green Living Tips: Could your sofa be hazardous to your health?

chemicals in sofaWe’re not talking about the dangers of being a couch potato. Sofa cushions and many other household products often contain potentially toxic chemicals that can affect your family’s health. A coalition of health and environmental groups have dubbed these chemicals The Hazardous 100+ [http://mindthestore.saferchemicals.org/hazardous100+] because they’ve been linked to cancer, asthma, hormone disruption, developmental disabilities and other health problems. They include formaldehyde, flame retardants, parabens and phthalates.

In the absence of government regulation, the coalition this month launched a national campaign called Mind the Store, urging major retailers to ban more than 100 chemicals used in sofa cushions, vinyl flooring, wrinkle-free clothing and food packaging from their shelves. [http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/04/09/retailers-products-toxic-chemicals/2067113/]

The coalition, which includes the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Breast Cancer Fund and Safer Chemicals, Safer Families, sent a letter to the nation’s top 10 major retailers—including Walmart, Target, Costco, Home Depot and Lowes—requesting a phase-out of products containing the unregulated chemicals within a year. Noting that many major retailers have already banned polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and biphenol-A (BPA), Safer Chemicals, Safer Families director Andy Ingrejas said, “The federal government isn’t ‘minding the store’ when it comes to chemicals, so retailers have to. They can protect their customers and move the marketplace toward safer products at the same time.” [http://www.saferchemicals.org/2013/04/major-retailers-pressed-to-dump-toxic-chemicals-in-consumer-products.html]

Most of the chemicals that end up in consumer products used in our homes and workplaces are not tested or regulated.  Manufacturers are not required to submit health and safety studies, and the Environmental Protection Agency doesn’t have the authority to limit even chemicals that are known to be hazardous. For example, the toxic flame retardant chlorinated tris, a known carcinogen, was removed from children’s pajamas in the 1970s but found in a 2012 study to be widespread in crib mattresses and blankets.

“We’re confident that consumers can enlist their favorite retailers in confronting this problem,” Ingrejas says. “The links between many common chemicals and the chronic diseases that burden millions of families give this issue a great moral urgency that motivates people from all walks of life.”

The coalition states that it will continue to press for government reforms such as the Safe Chemicals Act [http://www.saferchemicals.org/safe-chemicals-act/index.html] and urges consumers—particularly moms looking out for their families—to use their buying power to demand change at the retail level. Already, Kroger has listed 101 chemicals that are not allowed in its Simple Truth brand products and Walmart has banned products containing several flame retardants from its shelves.

“We want to make it easy for retailers by giving them a starter list of chemicals that are cause for concern,” the coalition says in a statement. “We are looking for partners in improving public health and safety, rather than a one-day news story.”


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Lightbulbs: Which kind is bright for you?

2013-04-15 Green Living Tips - LIghtbulbs April 29, 2013 - PHOTOWho would have thought you’d need instructions to change a lightbulb? In less enlightened times, all you had to do was pick the right wattage, screw the bulk into a fixture and flip the switch.

But now, brightness is measured in lumens and lightbulbs come in a variety of shapes and hues. They can be more expensive but save you money in the long run.

The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 set out to increase the energy efficiency of buildings, vehicles and products.  It requires most screw-in lightbulbs to use at least 27 percent less energy by 2014. Standard incandescent bulbs don’t pass the test – they turn about 90 percent of the energy they consume into heat – so they are being phased out.

As of Jan. 1 2012, 100-watt bulbs were no longer being made or imported but could be sold until supplies run out. The 75-watt incandescent met the same fate in January of this year and next year it’s lights out for standard 60- and 40-watt bulbs. The law exempts specialty bulbs, three-way bulbs, chandelier bulbs, refrigerator bulbs, plant grow lights and others.

In the place of old-fashioned incandescents, are bulbs that burn much longer and use much less energy. Here’s a brief explanation to help you make the bright choice:

  • LED – light-emitting diode – use only 20%–25% of the energy of an incandescent. They are pricey — $10 – $30 each – but last 20,000 to 50,000 hours!
  • CFL — compact fluorescent lamp – sport the curly design.  An ENERGY STAR-qualified CFL uses about one-fourth the energy and lasts 10 times longer than a comparable incandescent bulb that puts out the same amount of light. Cost: $1-$250. CFLs contain a small amount of mercury, so they need to be recycled.
  • Halogen: This type of incandescent bulb is about 25 percent more efficient and can last up to three times longer than traditional incandescent bulbs. Cost: $2-$3.

Most older lighting fixtures accept the newer bulbs, the Energy Department says. If in doubt, take the bulb you are replacing to the store and ask for assistance.

The Lighting Facts label on packaging gives you information to compare different bulbs. It tells you:

  • Brightness (in lumens)
  • Yearly estimated energy cost
  • Expected bulb life (in years)
  • Light appearance (how warm or cool the light will look)
  • Wattage (the energy used)
  • If the bulb contains mercury.

“It’s very important to read the packaging on all of these products to make sure you know that they’re going to work in your particular application,” an EPA official told the Web site Earth911. “So, unfortunately it takes a little bit more effort nowadays to choose a lightbulb.”