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An Interview with Lynn Marie Bower - Author of Creating a Healthy Household

By HHI Staff

What is a healthy household? 

A healthy household is an interior environment that's capable of enhancing your health rather than compromising it. In other words, it's a home that makes you feel good rather than makes you feel sick.

Why are you so interested in healthy households?

 In the early 1980s, I became seriously ill at the end of a 6-year remodeling project in which my husband and I used typical building and decorating materials. As a result, I've learned first hand - the hard way - what many products popularly sold in stores can do to negatively affect your heath.

Exactly what symptoms did you get?

At first they were flu-like (fever, malaise, digestive problems). However, unlike the flu, these symptoms persisted. Eventually a whole range of other symptoms showed up (respiratory problems, adult acne, a change in my hair's texture, urinary tract problems, joint pain, among many others). But the most dramatic effect was becoming hypersensitive to tiny exposures of certain chemicals such as formaldehyde, solvents, perfumes, and most typical cleaning products. It took years to learn that what had developed was a condition now known as Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) and that my experience was far from unique.

How many people have MCS?

The National Research Council has stated that 15% of the US population exhibits increased sensitivity to chemicals commonly found indoors. And it's a certain portion of this group (no one has an exact figure) that has symptoms chronic and severe enough to be considered MCS. Incidentally, the type and severity of MCS symptoms varies with each person who has it. In fact, MCS symptoms might include nasal inflammation, insomnia, depression, hives, inability to concentrate, among many others. It seems MCS can affect almost any organ or body function. Generally, the young, those already having an existing medical condition, and the very old tend to be the most susceptible because their immune systems are not at their peak.

Are there medical treatments for MCS?

Yes. In particular, physicians who belong to the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) recognize and treat MCS. These specialists may use diagnostic procedures to determine specific substances to which a person has become hypersensitive. Then, neutralizing doses, immune system strengtheners, and methods to lower the levels of toxic substances already in the individual's body might be prescribed. Importantly, most people with MCS find it's best to limit their exposure to substances that will trigger symptoms.

Is MCS the only illness that can result from living in an unhealthy household?

No. Sore throats, sinus problems, asthma, other respiratory conditions, allergic symptoms, chromosome damage, birth defects, cancer, and other illnesses could result from living in an unhealthy interior. This is because a variety of illnesses can be induced by inhaling the potentially harmful chemicals released into the air by synthetic materials, cleaning products, furniture, and clothing, as well as breathing excessive amounts of combustion by-products including carbon monoxide (from gas appliances, wood stoves, smoking), as well as animal dander, dust, pollen grains, mold spores, and dust-mite feces. The truth is, the air quality in most homes is so bad, it's commonly 5-10 times worse than it is outdoors - even in major cities.

Why is the air in homes so bad today?

In recent decades, the air quality in homes has declined dramatically because of two trends: 1) the increased use of synthetic, petrochemically derived products and 2) the tightening of homes for greater energy efficiency - but with no planned ventilation systems. This has tended to result in noxious, stale, overly humid indoor air that can lead to ill health.

Is polluted air the only health problem in homes?

Although poor air quality is a major problem in homes, there are others. For example, many popular personal-care and household products can cause dermatitis or other allergic symptoms. Then, too, if a home is supplied with chlorinated utility water, drinking and bathing can result in the absorption of chlorine. Moreover, electromagnetic fields (EMFs), which surround live wires carrying electric current, and operating electrical appliances, may cause health problems if a susceptible person's exposure is long enough and the field strength is strong enough.

 

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It sounds so overwhelming. Is it really possible to have a truly healthy household?

Yes. And that's what Creating a Healthy Household is all about - it explains how anyone can make their present household a healthier place. However, as I stress throughout its over 700 pages, each person must decide for himself (or herself) what to change and when to do it. In practice, many people first start by using less-toxic, more natural, personal-care items. Then, they tend to progress to healthier cleaning products, clothes, and finally furnishings. By the way, the book suggests how chemically sensitive and allergic persons can test products for personal tolerance.

 

If you want to create a healthy household, where do you get healthier products?

 

 

By reading Creating a Healthy Household, you'll find healthier product suggestions to meet virtually every need within your household. Clothing, personal-care items, linens (mattresses, bedding, towels), lifestyles (stationery, saunas, pet care, hobbies), interior decorating (wall, floor, and window treatments, furniture, lighting), cleaning (home interiors, laundry), housekeeping (appliances, cookware, storage, pest control), home workshop products (building project materials), etc. There are also chapters in the book devoted specifically to improving your home's indoor air (air filters, negative ion generators, etc.) and your home's water supply (filters, softeners, etc.) as well as reducing electromagnetic fields (problem sites, testing, reduction equipment). Incidentally, every chapter contains, not only suggested healthier products, but also sources where you can buy them. In fact, the resource sections in the back of the book lists the addresses, phone numbers, and Web sites for hundreds of manufacturers, dealers, associations, government agencies, and consultants offering healthier goods and services you can readily contact.

Will using healthier products be expensive?

As it turns out, some healthier products are very inexpensive. For example, using lemon juice and salt to clean brass costs much less than buying a typical metal polish. However, as a rule, healthier alternative products do generally cost more - especially healthier manufactured alternatives. This can be because such items contain more costly natural ingredients, have a smaller production run, or, unfortunately, sometimes it's simply because certain companies believe that customers will pay more for them. However, if using healthier products improves your physical (and mental) well-being, the higher cost is usually worth it.

Could you suggest some healthier personal-care products?

As a rule, products that are scent-free are better choices than typical personal-care items. Therefore, some individuals do very well with hypo-allergenic brands that do contain synthetic compounds, but no perfume, lanolin, or other common allergy-provoking ingredients. Other people find that only all-natural products manufactured by small alternative companies are satisfactory for them. Of course, you can make your own personal-care products yourself. For example, a mixture of honey and oatmeal can be used as a facial mask, table salt can be used as toothpaste (unless you are on a low-sodium diet), and baking soda can be used as a deodorant.

What about some healthier types of clothing?

Generally, clothing made of natural fibers (cotton, linen, hemp, ramie, silk, wool) that hasn't been chemically treated with wrinkle-resisting, fire-retarding, stain-resisting, water-repelling, etc. chemicals is a good choice. (By the way, some companies now offer clothing made entirely from organically raised cotton, hemp, and wool.) Ideally, you'll want to buy clothing that can be laundered at home and won't require dry cleaning. This is because harmful solvent odors are usually present in newly dry cleaned items. If you must have your clothes dry cleaned, make certain to hang them outside until they lose this residual solvent odor before you bring them indoors or wear them.

What are some healthier cleaning products?

Surprisingly, it's possible to clean most of your house using just a few alternative, unscented, multi-use manufactured products. (Several are listed in my book.) However, one simple all-natural cleaning agent is baking soda. Mixed with a little water, it can act as a scrubbing cleanser, and you can use approximately one-half cup per load to wash your laundry. Also, white vinegar is handy for several cleaning jobs. For example, one cup (or more) can be added to your wash water to help fabrics retain their color and, in addition, it can help control mildew on shower walls and curtains. Two healthy cleaning tips are to use a slightly dampened all-cotton flannel or synthetic microfiber cloth when dusting (the moisture causes the dust particles to cling to the fabric better) and to use either a specially filtered portable vacuum or a central vacuum that vents outdoors. (With a typical vacuum, some of the sucked-up debris is spewed back into the home's air through an inefficient filter.)

What are some healthier interior decorating tips?

If possible, use solid wood, ceramic tile, or natural linoleum floors. You can cover any hard-surfaced floor with washable, natural-fiber rugs. Second, avoid manmade wood products (paneling, furniture, cabinets) which can release large amounts of formaldehyde - especially when new. Also, it's best to choose less-toxic, water-based paints [low-VOC or zero-VOC (volatile organic compounds) version, casein paints (milk paints), German-made all-natural paints]. By the way, it's a good idea to paint only during weather in which you can comfortably open the windows in order to reduce the indoor concentration of paint odors. Finally, in an ideal healthy household, you'll want to have all-natural, untreated furnishings and bedding - including sheets, blankets, pillow, and mattresses.

 

[Editor's Note: Lynn Marie Bower's book, Creating a Healthy Household, is out of print. The Healthy House Institute will be revising and updating this classic work, and plans to reprint it.]

 

 

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An Interview with Lynn Marie Bower - Author of Creating a Healthy Household:  Created on April 7th, 2007.  Last Modified on October 31st, 2009

 

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