I told Andy using low-impact materials was a must for me and he agreed to share his thoughts on what he used and loved, as well as being open to trying new products that I never had the chance to use, but wanted to try.

The products I sought had limited volatile organic compounds, orVOCs, which are in everything from solvents to cleaning products, paints to varnishes, and dry cleaning to permanent markers. Depending on their concentration and your sensitivities, they can cause headaches and nausea, trigger allergies or damage the liver, kidneys and central nervous system. VOCs such as formaldehyde are known carcinogens, and the Environmental Protection Agency(EPA) says, "Studies have found that levels of several organics average two to five times higher indoors than outdoors. During and for several hours immediately after certain activities, such as paint stripping, levels may be 1,000 times background outdoor levels."

So why is this stuff in our most common household products? It's puzzling. EPA regulates some VOCs in industrial settings as part of the Clean Air Act, but there is no oversight within our homes. The Food and Drug Administration requires a warning label if substances are toxic but does not require any labeling of what's actually in the product.

Lesson 5: Caveat emptor, or "Let the buyer beware."

I am here to help in whatever ways I can (take a look at my post on our chemical body burden). But also know there are many resources on the Web that will help you limit the number of toxins in your life. I dig the Healthy House Institute and am a huge fan of the findings from Environmental Working Group and the new database on toxic chemicals in everyday products from Michigan's Ecology Center.

Simran Sethi is an award-winning journalist and associate professor at the University of Kansas School of Journalism and Mass Communications. For more information on Sethi, visit


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