Panel discusses health aspects of “going green”

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Being green means more than lessening our carbon footprint and increasing our energy efficiency. It means making our lives and the lives of those around us more healthy. That was the theme of the GreenSpeaks lecture series at Stony Brook Southampton on Monday, April 28.

The five-member panel consisted of green experts in the fields of interior design, landscaping, pest control, and home cleaning—all sharing the same goal of making homes and businesses non-toxic by using organic and natural materials in construction and cleaning.

Some 50 Long Island residents gathered in Chancellors Hall to learn about possible health risks posed by exposure to chemicals in their homes and workplaces. The invited speakers included green home and building consultant Maggie Wood of Jamesport, Stan Halperin of Cleaning Pro in Melville, Karl Fridenberger of Organic Care Landscaping in West Hampton, Michael Brylewski of Organic Cleaning in Hampton Bays, and Jonathan Langer of Paramount Pest Control in Patchogue.

Ms. Wood, who operates her own consulting business, said green designs are often clouded in toxins, with thousands of chemicals in paints, insulation, carpets and mattresses. Ms. Wood said very few home owners take the time to find out what’s actually inside their homes. This, Ms. Wood argues, is why so many people complain about headaches and other flu-like ailments, and why there are more incidents of illnesses, including cancer. “A lot of us are living inside a chemical cocktail,” Ms. Wood said.

As a consultant, Ms. Wood helps to design interiors that are less toxic and more environmentally friendly and a big aspect of her job is to get people thinking in a new way.

“People have this idea that green designs are weird and won’t be aesthetically pleasing,” she said, “But the interiors we design are beautiful.”

Mr. Halperin, who had a life changing experience after surviving a heart attack, said he could no longer tolerate the traditional petro-chemicals he had been using in his business after returning to work from bypass surgery. Expanding on Ms. Wood’s theme of health, he noted that when he was a young boy, the majority of sicknesses among children were the measles, the mumps, and chicken pox. “Today, they are asthma, ADD, and cancer,” Mr. Halperin said. “Why is this happening? Is it possible all this exposure to these chemicals has something to do with it?”

In his view, a dramatic shift away from petro-chemicals to bio-based products is needed to ensure fewer health risks in the future. Bio-based, according to Mr. Halperin, is any product derived from a fruit, plant, or vegetable. “I tell people that gasoline is an excellent cleaner, but no one wants to use it to clean their homes.”

Mr. Langer said he had an epiphany similar to Mr. Halperin’s while cleaning up from a job 18 years ago. The pest control pro was rinsing out his roach spray container when he realized that the residuals were emptying into the aquifer. “Life is seamless,” Mr. Langer said. “One part affects another, and it came to me that my spray was going into the drinking water.”

Today, Mr. Langer strives to use as few toxins as possible, opting for such tactics as hot water extraction to kill fleas and substances such as mint oil to suffocate ants. Continuing the theme of health, Mr. Langer asked if exposure to pesticides and chemicals had any relation to the upticks in thyroid disease, infertility, and autism.

Mr. Brylewski, who said he has an increased awareness of toxins in the home due to his asthmatic son, said his son developed asthma while living in the mountains of Pennsylvania. Mr. Brylewski said his son’s condition did not change when they moved to Long Island. “I realized it wasn’t the environment,” Mr. Brylewski said. “I figured it might have something to do with the chemicals we were using to clean our house.”

Mr. Brylewski said he uses such natural cleaning agents as juice from lemons and grapefruits, vinegar and water. “After we clean a home people will often say it doesn’t smell clean because it doesn’t smell like bleach,” Mr. Brylewski said. “But I say, what would you rather have on your salad? Lemon and vinegar? Or ammonia and Pine-Sol?” Mr. Brylewski said this example illustrates how unaware people are about the dangers of such chemicals, arguing that they get into the body either way. Mr. Brylewski said vinegar, for example, is an excellent natural alternative for cleaning floors.

Another use of vinegar, according to Mr. Fridenberger, a lawn and garden authority, is to zap weeds. Mr. Fridenberger said that weeds drenched in vinegar are disintegrated when hit by the sun. “Billions and billions of dangerous pesticides and chemicals are being poured into lawns and gardens,” Mr. Fridenberger said. “That is incredibly dangerous.”

Ms. Wood said one of the most significant health hazards in the home lurks where we sleep. As mattresses deteriorate over time, according to Ms. Wood, dangerous particles and chemicals are released. Ms. Wood said foam was the worst culprit and suggested sleeping on rubber and wool constructed mattresses. “This is an investment for life,” she said. “Especially when you are talking about children.”

Ms. Wood said that if people truly understood the harm posed by chemical agents in the home they would never use them again. Ms. Wood said “going green” was more than just using products and services. “It’s a way of life,” she said.

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