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Being environmentally conscious

Left,Gary and Sue Scheiwe, left and center, watch as Melissa Sargent mixes the soft scrub ingredients. Right, Pete Ferrara pours white vinegar into water to make a surface spray cleaner and mild disinfectant. photo by Renee Landuyt.

March 06, 2014
It's spring cleaning time.

Time to throw open the windows allowing fresh, spring air to replace winter's stagnant air.

It is also time to clean out the season's accumulation of dust and dirt.

LocalMotionGreen@Ecology Center's environmental health educator Melissa Sargent, suggests this is also the time to replace harsh chemical cleaning products with environmentally friendly products, both homemade and those found on local grocery and health food store shelves.

She provided this information during a free February workshop at the Neighborhood Club and began by citing a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency air quality test that determined a house's air quality.

"The EPA tested the air quality in the home and immediately outside," she began telling a room filled with people interested in green cleaning information.

The results showed the inside of houses were two to five times more polluted than outside. The contaminated air quality was attributed mainly to two points: an air tight house being more energy efficient allowed for little outside air exchange, and chemically-laden household products and furnishing release toxins into the air.

According to the EPA site, inadequate ventilation corrals air-borne gases and particles, keeping them in the house. Without the flow of outdoor air to dilute and carry away the air-borne gases and particles, indoor pollution in-creases.

Sargent said in addition to opening the windows encouraging air exchange, the use of chemicals in day-to-day activities should be avoided thus reducing more chemicals infiltrating the house's atmosphere.

Attendees avidly listened because they had a variety of reasons to attend from being good stewards of the earth to paying more attention to their lifestyles.

Jenny Elliott, who owns a business in Grosse Pointe Park, said she grew up with a mother who was ecologically attuned. With that background, Elliott is sensitive to her business surroundings and to her customers. Elliott said she wants to use cleansers that eliminate odors and will not be offensive or harmful to her customers or her dogs.

While Rob Watt of Grosse Pointe Woods said he attended the hour-long session because he is becoming more health conscious.

"There are things I can do to improve my health. I'm trying to watch my diet, exercise more . . . Do basic common sense things that we get away from when we get busier. I want to take a more clean, basic approach," Watt said.

Traci Torp of Grosse Pointe Farms took a strong stand for health reasons being a lymphoma survivor.

"It's time to step up. This is not a disposable planet," she said. "We must be good stewards of the planet. I have health concerns."

When Sargent began with the basics — reading labels on cleaning products, all three were tuned in.

"The signal words on household cleaners are caution, warning and danger," she said.

Caution on a container of cleaner means it has low toxicity. A lethal dose ranges from an ounce to more than a pint.

Warning means it is moderately toxic. A lethal dose is a teaspoon to a tablespoon.

Danger indicates a highly toxic product such as oven cleaner, drain openers, rust removers and toilet bowl cleaners. A few drops to a teaspoon is lethal. These are EPA standards.

"By law, manufacturers don't have to list the ingredients," she said of product labels.

Other buzz words are flammable and VOC — volatile organic chemical. VOC is carbon based with chemicals that readily evaporate at room temperature and are likely to cause cancer and other negative health effects and should not be inhaled.

Other "signal" words are:

Flammable — The ingredients are dangerous due to a flammable nature. The product likely contains VOCs.

Corrosive — the product can cause permanent damage to the eye or damage or scar the skin.

Sargent helped workshop participants make environmentally and safe cleaning products.

Baking soda and white vinegar are two products that can be used to clean and freshen the air and are nontoxic, Sargent explained.

Workshop attendees made environmentally friendly sprays with a mixture of white vinegar diluted with distilled water. It doesn't have to be wiped off. As a bonus, it is child friendly, she said.

Sargent noted the 125-year-old Bon Ami cleanser is safe, as is borax, a naturally found cleanser used as an insect killer, fungicide, laundry booster, household cleaner and herbicide.

Homemade cleaners are economical, in addition to being environmentally safe. Basic ingredients include baking soda, white vinegar, borax, essential oils, Castile soap, fresh herbs, citron and citrus peels, olive and vegetable oil and distilled water.

LocalMotionGreen@EcologyCenter has recipes for mildew eraser, brass and copper cleaner, an all-purpose spray, chrome cleaner, wood polish, soft scrub paste, glass cleaner and antimicrobial spray. Visit localmotiongreen.org.

When you are done cleaning, make a hand scrub. Mix and warm one part oil to two parts sugar or salt. To add fragrance, add five drops of an essential oil. Soak for five minutes then scrub and wash away a layer of dry skin resulting in a smooth hands.

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