When it comes to the health of my family, I’ll admit I’m a little smug. My family gets a good percentage of home cooked meals, we have an excellent water filters on our faucets, we eat berries and broccoli and we’re all pretty active. Sounds good to me, what do you think? Well you may have to think again because I found out yesterday I may be poisoning my family. Happy Earth Day!

Yesterday I attended the Museum of Natural History’s annual Spring Environmental Lecture and Luncheon. I love any excuse to go to the AMNH and lunch under the whale is something I could never pass up. The downside to this event is that I inevitably leave feeling as though something very important has gone under my radar and this year was no different.

The theme for this year’s panel discussion was “Green Design for the Urban Home.” I wasn’t sure what this title meant and had anticipated hearing about green construction and eco-friendly furniture. Sure enough, we learned of wood cabinets made from sustainable forests, innovations in lighting and even recycling blue jeans for use in wall insulation, who knew? We completed a major (non-green) renovation a couple of years ago and so sadly much of this information was quickly filed under interesting but does not apply to me.  Not to worry, things started to hit home rather quickly.

When you think of the word environment you may picture a globe or the North Pole or maybe an ocean or a forest. However, for urban dwellers, our environment is really our apartments and offices. I learned yesterday, we spend 90% of our time indoors (depressing). Once inside we are inhaling dry cleaning chemicals and glue from cheap furniture (high school students need not “experiment” they can just sit in the living room) and maybe even cleaning chemicals. I heard a term called “off gassing” which, in this context, doesn’t refer to a bodily function. Off gassing is the slow release of a gas that was trapped or absorbed in a material. Vinyl shower curtains off gas (replace with nylon ASAP) and chances are so do many other items in your urban home.

As if off gassing wasn’t enough, the conversation shifted to the bedroom. The audience was asked “do any of you have pillows that are more than 2 years old?” Almost everyone nodded. We were told this was the bedding equivalent of wearing the same pajamas for two years. Our, older than toddler pillows, were likely to be 30% dust mites! Everyone gasped and worried and planned their personal pillow purge. It was explained that we should purchase new pillows and also hypoallergenic covers (which go under the cases) that can be removed and washed. If you are still reading, the other revolting take home message was to close the toilet seat. The spray from a flush as a 2 to 4 foot range. So those toothbrushes or hairbrushes on the sink… recycle those along with your pillows and from now on make sure all lids are closed. Feel free to vomit anytime.

As the panelists spoke they referenced many of their clients who had or had children stricken with asthma or allergies or autism. The panel’s interior designer told a story about a client, after cancer surgery, who wanted no stone left unturned in creating a safe, non-toxic, greener home. What about the rest of us? Should we wait for breathing difficulties or instead take proper steps toward preventing them now?
Did you know all of this or are you as shocked as I was? Any tips or tricks for greening your home? Are you going to get new pillows?


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