Annie Berthold-Bond is the author of Better Basics for the Home: Simple Solutions for Less Toxic Living and Clean & Green. She is also the creator of the betterbasics.com website.
Monday, 27 Sep 1999
The ticks are back. I noticed a bloated tick on the floor yesterday, fallen off our dog Samy. I got into bed last night and picked up my book to start reading, only to find a tick — a deer tick, the size of a poppy seed — walking across the page! Misery us. The only good thing about the devastating drought of the summer is that the ticks temporarily disappeared. In my chronic state of denial about what a true blight the ticks have now become in our lives here in Northern Dutchess County, N.Y., the center of the Lyme disease epidemic, I had hoped against hope they would never return. After all, they were never here before five years ago or so — couldn’t they just as suddenly disappear?
But here I am having to face up to dealing with the tick problem again. The rain from Hurricane Floyd brought them back in one fell swoop. I’ve had three cases of Lyme disease in the last three years, one case taking 18 months of antibiotics and boatloads of alternative remedies to throw off. And the ticks now carry a lot more than just Lyme disease; more than half of patients in my doctor’s office who have Lyme disease have other tick-borne illnesses, including a red blood cell parasite. Two of my tick bites were from ticks that the dogs brought into the house, one from a walk in the woods. I assume the tick on my book came from the dogs.
Okay. So it’s time to bring out the remedies again. Face up to this. I researched through the herbal lore for a long, hard number of months last spring for the essential oil to best repel ticks before I discovered rose geranium. One or two drops on the dog’s collar is enough to repel ticks for a week or so. Just make sure not to put too much oil on the collars; dogs are sensitive to smell. Health food stores are beginning to carry rose geranium. You can certainly order it. And also available in health food stores is an all-natural tick repellent spray that has rose geranium as a first ingredient. You can make your own tick repellent by adding 10 drops of pure rose geranium oil to two tablespoons of witch hazel or vegetable oil in a bottle. Cover and shake to blend. Put a few drops on your wrists before going in tick-infested areas. The smell is okay, slightly lemony.
Until the rose geranium works to remove all the ticks from our dogs (our dogs are black, and it is hard to see the ticks until they are engorged), we humans in the family are going to have hot, soapy showers every day, and check ourselves carefully morning and night.
A few weeks ago, I was on Gary Null’s radio show and he mentioned that putting diatomaceous earth (DE) on the lawn kills ticks. DE is made from the skeletons of prehistoric algae, and it works by dehydrating insects. Just make sure to buy natural DE, not the type sold for swimming pools. It is available in garden supply centers and from natural-pet catalogs. I’m going to try DE around our house, although our dogs run in the woods, and I can’t cover the woods with DE!
Tickweed, by the way, is the renowned repellent herb also known as American pennyroyal. Pregnant women should avoid this herb, but it is a worthwhile substitute if you can’t find rose geranium. I might try planting tickweed around our land next summer. Maybe that will help?
The stakes are high — Lyme disease — so I need to pay attention. The one thing I do know is that pesticides are not the answer. The alternatives I use work as well if not better, and pesticides cause many health and environmental problems. In fact, I suspect pesticides play a role in the ticks’ increase: ticks may be thriving because the ecosystem was thrown out of balance by all that gypsy moth spraying, or because the fumes released in the use and manufacturing of pesticides contribute to global warming, which makes our region more hospitable for the ticks.
So out comes the rose geranium bottle.
Tuesday, 28 Sep 1999
The light is changing now that we are past the harvest moon and officially into autumn. I live in a house that is passive solar, and the lower the sun gets in the sky for the winter, the more light streams in through the windows. In February, we don’t need lights inside at all during the day.
I know it seems mundane to go from a discussion of light streaming through the windows to the dirt I see on the window panes. But we’ll be having a big potluck dinner party here in a few weeks, and as this new light exposed the kid’s finger marks and the accumulated dirt since who-knows-when-we-last-cleaned-the-windows, I thought to myself today that I ought to do some pre-party cleaning.
Oddly enough, it was the issue of cleaning the windows that turned a huge number of well-intentioned, environmentally friendly people away from less toxic cleaning methods that use simple ingredients found in most kitchen cupboards. And it was the issue of cleaning the windows that partly inspired me to write Clean & Green. That is odd, too, because as my friends and family know, I am a woman who hates to clean!
These events coalesced because the newspapers at the end of the ’80s and leading up to Earth Day 1990 were full of tips for cleaning in ways that didn’t harm the planet, and the recommendation for windows was almost always to clean them with nothing but vinegar and water. Thousands tried this, and the result was streaky windows. I wish I had $1 for every time someone has said to me, “Well, I tried nontoxic cleaning and it didn’t work. I used vinegar for the windows.”
The problem was that the commercial window cleaner people had used before switching to vinegar left a very fine wax residue; the vinegar alone wasn’t enough to remove it, and the result was streaky windows. If everyone had simply added a dab of liquid dish soap to the vinegar and water, the wax would have been removed and the windows would have been cleaned perfectly! I’ll be making a batch of my Perfect Window Cleaner recipe this week by combining 2 cups of water, 1/4 cup of white distilled vinegar, and up to 1/2 teaspoon of liquid soap or detergent in a spray bottle. That’s all there is to it. (Make sure to label the bottle and keep it out of the reach of children.)
We have mineral-rich, hard water in which soap reacts to cause soap scum, so I use a liquid detergent instead of soap. I buy the detergent in a health food store where they can be found free of synthetic fragrances and dyes, and some are petroleum-free. Health food stores have some nice liquid soaps, too, if you are lucky enough to have soft water.
The connection between the streaky windows and Clean & Green is that throughout the ’80s I was virtually housebound with multiple chemical sensitivity. By hook or by crook, I had learned how to manage chores without petroleum-based products. Even more difficult, I’d come up with cleaning product alternatives for people such as my mother-in-law (she used every toxic product under the sun), so that I could visit them without being overcome by fumes. I’d even figured out the streaky window problem. When the eco-friendly cleaning articles began appearing in newspapers, I thought to myself, hey, I know more about this subject then they do … Hence the beginning of my writing career.
Wednesday, 29 Sep 1999
I am waffling over whether to write about what happened to me today. Fresh, personal, and painful stories can be a recipe for bad writing. I have finally decided to go ahead because, well, I am writing a diary for Grist Magazine this week, and today’s day is a momentous one for me, my own story of chemical injury, and my family.
As with others who have multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS), I have been on a long road of unraveling how I became sick (it happened in 1980) and searching for every opportunity to get better. In this quest, I have recently had the opportunity to be tested on an acubiofeedback computer. Discussing this machine is out of the scope of a short diary entry so I won’t, but I will say that the computer has a powerful database of viruses, heavy metals, pesticides, parasites, and other horrible items many of our bodies are burdened with, and by assessing one’s acupressure points, the machine gives a reading of the stresses on your body. Another database is full of remedies, and the computer finds the one best for you. I’ve found the analysis almost spooky in its accuracy, and profoundly helpful.
In unraveling the etiology of my MCS, I know that in 1980 the apartment building my husband and I lived in was exterminated for ants or termites, I’ve never known with what. Coinciding with that event, I — a person who had always been robustly healthy — went into a serious clinical depression. Three months later the apartment building was exterminated again, and a few days later I committed myself to Yale New Haven Psychiatric Center with violent impulses, atypical manic symptoms, and the blackest of black depressions. I stayed there for three months, to be released without anyone really knowing what had happened to me. Thanks to the detective work of my sister, a year later I was diagnosed with MCS by doctors in environmental medicine. We moved, and I was able to begin some modicum of recovery.
I tried to find out what the pesticide was that got me so sick, but the landlord didn’t know, and I never did track it down. I assumed Dursban, a highly neurotoxic pesticide that has since been taken off the market for use in buildings. A lot of people with MCS got sick from Dursban. I was always quite sure my poisoning hadn’t been from chlordane; chlordane victims I know tend to have serious cognitive disorders.
Chlordane is an organochlorine pesticide in the family of DDT, and it is blamed for causing a whole host of illnesses including leukemia, liver cancer, immune disorders, neurological problems, testicular damage, endocrine disruption, and blood damage. Chlordane was used to treat 30 million homes (according to the EPA) for termites from the 1950s until 1988; homes treated even 30 or 40 years ago still have unsafe chlordane levels.
By now I’m sure you’re guessing what showed up today on “the machine.” Yup — chlordane. It was so deep in me that it went deeper than the maximum the computer could read. I just learned today, 19 years after the event, that I am a chlordane victim after all.
But it doesn’t stop with me. I got well enough to have a child, and I breast-fed her for one full year. All that milk I gave her, contaminated with chlordane. I carried her in my body for a long, long time! And my husband, who was never “clinical” from the poisoning, was certainly contaminated from that apartment. I guess I was lucky to have been away in a psychiatric hospital for three of those months.
This is my universe. Our Stolen Future on my doorstep.
I have faith that the acubiofeedback machine will help us detox, but first I need some expert help for my daughter that probably doesn’t exist: Is it safe for a ten-year-old girl to detox from an organochlorine pesticide, when her breasts are budding?
Note: Tests to determine if your house is contaminated with chlordane are available for $100 from ToxFree, Inc. (800.704.1662).
Thursday, 30 Sep 1999
My husband just asked me what I was going to write about today, after yesterday’s entry. “Well, maybe you should write about the end of the world,” he said, “but then what would you write about on Friday, the fifth entry?” I laughed and said, “Well, there is always the encephalitis crisis in New York.” Ha, ha, indeed. I just read that ticks may harbor encephalitis.
Okay, back to everyday life. One activity I did today was tend to our cutting board. It is built into the counter and made of corian, a very hard plastic. We do all sorts of kitchen projects on that cutting board (although there is never meat on it — we only put meat on plates that are then washed in the dishwasher) and it was in need of a big cleaning.
Such a simple, mundane chore, and yet amazingly, even with cleaning the cutting board, there is an environmental catch, a broader environmental issue that needs to be addressed. The news wires seem flooded in the last few days with articles on drug resistance, which is caused by our overuse of antibiotics and the fact that people eat animals that are fed antibiotics. Few people know that disinfectants — products many use on their cutting boards — may also cause drug resistance, according to research done at Tufts University.
People use disinfectants for a lot more than just their cutting boards. Suspect ingredients are found in “germ-killing” sponges, dishwashing liquids, hand soaps, and more. Did you ever expect your sponge to contain pesticides (all disinfectants must be registered with the EPA) and contribute to drug-resistant bacteria?
Using herbs as antiseptic agents is an old art, and doesn’t appear to cause drug resistance in bacteria. All the terpene essential oils are disinfectants; they include clove, cinnamon, rosemary, and lavender. Many are so antibacterial that they are used in natural cosmetics as preservatives. For my cutting board, I make a lovely smelling lavender spray by combining about 20 drops of a pure essential oil of lavender with a cup of water in a spray bottle. I spray it on the cutting board and just leave it overnight without rinsing.
Note that my “Lightly Lavender” antiseptic spray isn’t an official disinfectant. There is only one disinfectant registered by the EPA that I know of that is made of essential oils; it is called Power Herbal Disinfectant (available in health food stores and the internet).
Friday, 1 Oct 1999
Mmmm. Yum. Roast turkey à la oven cleaner. I remember that taste from more than 20 years ago, back when I cleaned with toxic chemicals. It seemed almost impossible to rinse that stuff out enough so that it didn’t impregnate whatever I was cooking. And the headaches! Whew. Commercial oven cleaner can pack a mean wallop.
Thanksgiving in my house is a big deal because all of my sisters and step-brothers, their families, and my mother come. Twenty-one people! Given that I shared with you earlier this week the fact that I hate to clean, I can add that to be ready for the clan’s arrival, I really have to start cleaning early for Thanksgiving. Weeks and weeks early. It is my one chance a year to get the house really clean. And it is my big chance to get the oven clean, too.
Most people can hardly believe that all I use for cleaning the oven is baking soda and water, and that the project requires no scrubbing. I suppose we have all been so brainwashed by the household products companies that we mistakenly believe we require powerful chemicals for cleaning. But most people don’t know that simple household minerals such as baking soda can clean like magic. The key is using enough of the mineral.
To clean my oven, I sprinkle baking soda all over the bottom of it until the bottom is covered completely with about 1/4 of an inch of baking soda. Then I either use a s
pray bottle or a cup and my fingers to sprinkle the baking soda with water, until it is thoroughly damp but not flooded. After that, this lazy cleaner goes off and does other things. When I think of it, I dampen the baking soda again if it is drying out. Before I go to bed, I do it yet again. When I wake up in the morning, the baking soda can effortlessly be scooped out of the oven with a sponge, bringing all the grime with it. That’s it! The only downside is that the baking soda requires quite a bit of rinsing, but it sure beats turkey à la oven cleaner and a headache.