What to Look for when Buying a Home: A Q+A With Amanda Klecker

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If you’re already living a non-toxic lifestyle, but you’re ready to move… it can be daunting finding something that checks all the boxes. You might not prioritize a home that has all the so-called “healthy bells and whistles” over some features that you can’t change over time, like location or size. But there are some things that you might want to add to your checklist as you are assessing homes that you might be living in for many, many years.

I invited Amanda Klecker, a home inspector and building biologist and founder of Healthy House on the Block to speak with us about what she looks for when assessing homes for her new home buyer clients. She and I have known each other online for years. I love how she approaches the toxics and healthy home conversation and I’m thrilled to have her join me for this Q+A. You can listen to the full interview in the podcast link below, or read the highlights in this blog article.

We cover:

  • what your home inspector is likely focusing on and how health factors into their work or doesn’t
  • the most common problems Amanda sees again and again, that most people don’t know to look for
  • the kinds of questions you should ask when looking to buy a home
  • do transformers and other external factors affect EMF exposure in the home
  • so much more …


Q: What are most home inspectors trained to look for?

A: It definitely is different depending on where you live. I’m in the United States and every state has its own rules. In Minnesota, unfortunately, there is no licensing for home inspectors. You can get a national accreditation with a national certificate, and that’s what I have. And most home inspectors have that. Every now and then you find someone who thinks they know a lot about homes, but maybe really know one part really well. They maybe were a contractor before, and this is a good transition for them. So sometimes they’re not 100% trained. That’s why I tell people to ask questions before you hire and make sure that you’re hiring someone who’s a really reliable source who has experience or knows a little bit about everything in the house instead of just one part.

Most home inspectors are trained in the whole house. We have to know what I like to say “just a little bit about everything”. So I might not know how to fix everything, but I know how to point out and find these defects. We look at everything from the foundation to the electrical (that we can because we can’t open up walls and things like that). It’s called a non-invasive home inspection. We are also trained in plumbing, how to look for leaks if there are pipes that are not safe materials, looking at the whole structure, making sure the house is structurally sound. Knowing what safety precautions need to either be taken or what materials are unsafe. And then even little things like, do we have smoke detectors? We look at these details of a house too.

Q: What is the focus for most home inspections?

A: I would say most home inspectors focus on the questions: Is it working? Is it safe? When we find a leak, I always look a little bit deeper, but again, we can’t pull up flooring. So you have to disclose to the buyer and say, “Hey, just so you know, there’s this leak.” There could potentially be these other problems, because when we go in for a home inspection, we’re there for only two to three hours, maybe. It’s so different compared to when you’re living there all the time. A lot of times we’ll go in and we’ll see maybe a little bit of water damage either in the attic or something like that.

And I always tell people, I don’t know when this happened. If this house is 50 years old, it could have happened 40 years ago, and that stain is still there. It could have happened last week. We can check to see if it’s dry, but that doesn’t tell us when it happened or for how long. I think most inspectors would at least disclose that there’s a leak. And a lot of times, even if it’s not verbally said to the client, I think a lot of inspectors have something in their report that would be like a disclaimer saying, “Hey, if there’s water, we need to look further.”

And then you also have to rely on the realtor to go to the seller to look a little further into this, they’re kind of like the interpreter for the inspection report. If it’s not extremely explanatory with whatever the issues are or if the buyer didn’t go to the home inspection or wasn’t there the whole time, there can be a little bit of a communication disconnect.

Most inspectors, are looking at these functional things and then safety. Not everyone will look for mold. I think most of us would notice if there’s visual mold but maybe not necessarily pull up carpets or things like that. Sometimes you can pull up a little corner and just see what’s going on.

Q: When you say safety, is it more physical safety or does health play a role in there? What other health elements are factored in?

A: I would say lead paint is a big one. We’re looking at a home that’s built before 1978. Lead pipes – we find those in older homes. A lot of times it’s drainage pipes, but it is still a disclosure, “Hey, just so you know, these are asbestos floor tiles, asbestos ceiling tiles, and asbestos installation.” Those are big ones.

Mold is a big one, and if we see it, obviously we would disclose it. In Minnesota it’s not required that you test for radon, but that is another thing that I always tell people. I think you might as well, if you’re going to buy this house, you’re going to live in it, you should, to be safe.

Not every home inspector does radon testing, not every home inspector will hunt for mold, but if they see it, they’ll disclose it. And I would say, a lot of the safety issues would be things like, railings or little add on things.

Q: Dehumidification comes up a lot in my community. What’s your preferred approach?

A: I think there’s so many easy things that we can do. My favorite is turning on fans when we’re cooking, bathing or doing laundry. I think that gets forgotten a lot, but when you’re using a dryer and a washing machine, it is creating a lot of moisture. Sometimes people have a laundry room closet behind closed doors. Sometimes there’s a fan in there and if they don’t turn the fan on all that moisture just sits in there, and when you open it up, it makes that whole level, especially if it’s an upper level, very humid. So I think using fans is just the best tool.

There are other things that you could do, cooking with lids on if you can. When cleaning your floors with a wet mop that’s just sitting on your floor to air-dry can actually raise your indoor humidity level by approximately 15%.

Same with over-watering your plants or line drying. If you line dry all your clothes in the house, it just all evaporates into the house. So it’s just more habits. How can we have better habits in our house to keep the humidity lower. Another big one is if we live in a climate where it’s cold in the winter and we get condensation on our windows.

If you can prevent that and if you can’t, you’ve got to wipe it off because that’s a huge spot. Mold will take hold because it just sits there all the time. Keeping furniture away from vents by windows. Because a lot of times houses are built with vents by windows because that’s the best way to heat a house. So if you can keep furniture away from that, so it’s not blocked, you’ll get better air flow and you’ll reduce condensation naturally. But those are kind of the big things I think that are easy, you don’t have to go buy anything. You just need to change a little bit, tweak your lifestyle.

Q: If you need a dehumidifier, are there certain things to pay attention for or look out for?

A: I think you just have to be aware that it’s a tool and it needs to be cleaned out because if you don’t clean it out, then you’re going to get that mold inside it. Depending on where you’re running this dehumidifier, you can have it run directly to a drain. I love that idea.

A lot of times we’re busy. We forget to go and empty out a basin and it’s filled with water, just sitting there. And so if you can have it run to a floor drain or a laundry tub, I always think that’s a great option, but just remembering that it needs to be emptied and maybe even cleaned out once you start seeing a little bit of mildew and mold. if you can find one that has the fewest little crevices, that’s easy to clean. Those are a big thing in the winter, and you have to find one that is easy to clean because otherwise it doesn’t get done in one small dose, it’s almost impossible to get out.

Q: When you are walking through homes for your home inspections, what are some of the common problems that you see again and again?

A: There are definitely a set of things that I feel like I’m saying at every inspection. And I always tell people, don’t worry about it, I see it all the time and it’s fixable. And the big one when we’re talking about the health of our house is the grading outside the house.

You want your house up on a hill almost, with a very slight grade to keep moisture away from your foundation.

I live in Minnesota, we have basements. It’s very important to keep moisture away from the foundation. So anytime I go to a house, we look for what’s called Neutral Grading when it’s just flat against the house. And then we look for Negative Grading, which means it tips towards the house where water can pool, especially in a climate where there’s snow. You have to think of all the snow that builds up over the winter and then melts in the spring. And what we have in the spring is anything next to the house melts, and then it refreezes, and then it melts it, it refreezes for probably a month while we’re working into spring. It’s very hard on foundations.

It can cause cracks. And so that’s a big thing that we look at. You can also add a waterproof coating to your foundation, which helps because it’s usually concrete and it kind of acts as a sponge and it’ll pull things in. You have some sort of waterproof coating on even both sides. It really prevents moisture from coming into the house deteriorating the foundation.

We look at another thing that I like to remind people of this book for gutters.

If the house doesn’t have gutters, you’re going to have problems with moisture next to your foundation. So gutters, a lot of the time are important. They’re not required. You can’t ask them to put gutters on. So it’s a good thing when you’re looking at houses, you can add them, but just to have that in the back of your head, that there’s something that you’re going to want to do.

If you’ve got the gutters great, but if you’ve got the downspout that just ends along your wall and dumping into your foundation, it’s the same kind of problem. It’s the same if the gutters are clogged or they don’t have a rain guard on them or a leaf guard to protect from filling up, they just overflow next to your foundation. I think exterior is a big piece of the conversation, especially for first-time home buyers or someone who maybe has had a townhouse or a condo where they have not had to have any sort of knowledge about maintenance outside.

I like to point out all these things. Exterior is one of the biggest places that we spend so much time together outside looking at the house and knowing what to do.

Q: Do you look at EMFs?

A: I leave that up to my buyer. Some people are very interested in this and for some people it’s not a real concern to them. And so if it is something that they asked me a question about it, or they’re interested in knowing, I will absolutely talk to them about what is around the house.

A lot of times I won’t delve into what’s inside the house because that’s going to be, unless someone is extremely sensitive and this is something that they really want to know about where, they want to walk through with a meter look at things. I don’t have that very often. I would say most of the time we talk about what’s surrounding the house. And I have let people know if there’re large transformers nearby, if they ask and there is a concern I will absolutely tell them that I think it’s a concern and I would just think and really make sure this is what they want.

Q: Do you have EMF meters that you use?

A: Yes, I have a meter that we can walk through the house and check, But it’s one of these things where, you know you’re going to bring in your own electronics and you might change things, but we can check boxes and if they’re going to keep the stove or the appliances, we can check those things or different areas of a room. If they know where they want to have their bed for example, we can check that wall.

Q: What kind of impact do transformers, for example, have on the indoor levels that you have seen?

A: It drops off pretty quickly once you start moving away, but I have seen homes where it’s literally in the backyard, I would just think about it if you have kids playing in the backyard. Once you get about six to 10 feet away, it drops off considerably. And after that, it’s less and less. But again, it’s even that low exposure constantly that you just need to think about. And I think most people are probably not very sensitive to it, or it’s not something that they’re worried about. But if it is someone who has a sensitivity or has had other issues might be something to think about.

Q: What are the kinds of questions that somebody should ask when they are looking to buy a home and what are the top things to think about if it’s a new build versus an older home?

A: There are positives and negatives to both. I think the biggest thing to really consider is you can not change the location. So if it’s near, like we were talking about transformers, if it’s near where I live, we have dump sites that were closed essentially, and tarp was laid over it. The location to me is very important, whether you’re going to do new or old. Older houses can have a lot of these toxins that we talked about in the beginning, asbestos or lead because they were using older materials. Sometimes an older house will actually have more solid wood. And that’s a great thing. Sometimes depending on the era, it’s going to have more vinyls and more plastics and more man-made materials.

And so that’s something that I always like to consider.

Some brand new builds are put up really quickly with really poor quality materials put in and they’re just mass produced. And while they probably will have an air exchanger, which is an excellent tool for a healthy house, they may be very sealed. And sometimes the house that is so sealed up with all of these new toxins – carpet, maybe a medium density fiber board for all of the trim etc, those are going to off gas and it’s now stuck in the house unless we have a good way to air the house out, you’ve got to make sure that the air exchanger is doing its job correctly.

But in the same breath, a newer house is not going to have asbestos. It’s not going to have lead. And so you just have to weigh these out.

For example, I know I don’t have these toxins in an old house, but in a new house, do I know that I can properly ventilate the house or was a new house built with solid wood? Another example is hardwood floors to reduce toxins vs carpets. Every house is so different and so a lot of times, even when you’re comparing homes, it is not comparing the same thing. It’s just deciding what am I willing to work with and deal with and what’s a deal breaker for me.


You can learn more from Amanda at www.healthyhouseontheblock.com and on Instagram @healthyhouseontheblock


Listen to the extended podcast version of this interview here.

How to Improve Indoor Air Quality This Winter

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Did you know that indoor air is two to five times more polluted than outside air? And as we head into colder months, our homes tend to be closed up more. Which means it’s especially important to understand how you can improve air quality this winter!

In an older home, this might mean that you’re not bringing in fresh air at all. And in a newer home, you may have the opportunity to, but you might not be doing it properly.

In this article, I’m sharing some simple tips with you to help improve your indoor air quality. If you prefer to listen, you can check out the podcast episode below or The Missing Pillar of Health Podcast on your favourite podcast player.

Increase Fresh Air

The first tip to help improve your indoor air quality this winter is to increase fresh air. You can do this in a couple of ways:

1. Use Your Ventilation System

If you’ve moved into a new home and you didn’t check the owner’s manual on some of the equipment that you’ve got, now is a great time to brush up on how to use your ventilation system. If you’ve got energy saving features like an ERV or an HRV, you want to make sure that you’re running it properly.

2. Open Windows

Whether you’re in a new or old home, you can simply open windows. This is going to be weather and temperature dependent, but I know many people who crack a couple of windows for 15mins a day in the middle of winter just to get some fresh air flowing.

In an older home, opening a window can be especially helpful if you’re running your exhaust fans, which you should be doing when you’re cooking, cleaning, or running the shower.

When you run the exhaust fan, in order to balance the pressure from the air leaving through the exhaust fan, it needs to pull air in from somewhere else. If you don’t have the fans connected to a ventilation system like newer homes, this can happen through leaky spots in walls and windows. The wall cavities aren’t necessarily going to provide the freshest of air, so giving the air a straight path from the outdoors with an open window is a great alternative.

High Quality Furnace Filters

If you have a furnace, make sure that you are replacing your furnace filter regularly – typically every one to three months.

I recommend checking it every month to start so you can figure out what your replacement schedule should be.

When you’re buying filters, look for electrostatic filters rated for the best quality that you can afford.

Now, many HVAC contractors say you don’t need high-quality furnace filters, you just need the basics. And that might be the case when you’re only considering protecting the furnace equipment itself, which is the furnace filter’s main job.

That being said, having a good furnace filter can help reduce things like dust and pollen in your home so it can be a first line of defense for providing cleaner air.

Note that a high quality furnace filter is not going to be the same level as an air purifier. (More on air purifiers below.)

Check Your Humidity

If you’re in a climate where the colder temperatures bring significantly lower humidity levels than in summer months, this is really important.

Humidity can affect virus transmission, dust formation, not to mention dry hands and cracked lips. But high humidity can also contribute to condensation on windows and the potential for mould growth.

The ideal range when balancing these different factors is about 40 to 50% relative humidity.

If you have a programmable thermostat, it may give you the humidity. Or you can buy a hygrometer, which sounds fancy, but it’s a simple and small sensor you can buy from a hardware store that will tell you the humidity.

Watch for Moisture

As I mentioned previously, moisture can be a problem when walls and windows are cold outside and warm and humid inside. A few things you can do to help keep moisture down inside to prevent mould and other damage:

  • If your windows are prone to condensation, keep furniture and wall coverings away from windows to allow more air movement.
  • Watch for ice damming on roofs because this can end up backing up into your home as well, and around foundations. This can be a sign of air leakage.
  • Ensure your gutters are clear and downspouts are pointed away from your house so that melt water is directed away from your house as well.
  • As mentioned previously, run your exhaust fans when cooking and showering.

Skip the Fragrances

Products that off-gas in a house that’s all closed up can significantly decrease your indoor air quality.

If you haven’t already, now would be a great time to get rid of plug-ins, dryer sheets, fabric softener, scented personal care products – make that your mission for this winter.

If you are still using heavily fragranced products, you can also dust more with a damp cloth, vacuuming with a HEPA filter in the vacuum.

Those are all year round cleaning tips, but because we’re spending so much more time indoors this time of year in particular, then looking at your cleaning routine can be a relatively easy, (not many people love it), and cheap way to help improve your indoor air quality.

Air Purifiers

And finally, you can also look at air purifiers. These are not my first go to because they can be expensive and cost prohibitive for a lot of people. And people also assume that just because you have an air purifier, it doesn’t matter what else is going on in your home.

But air purifiers have a carrying capacity for what they are able to remove from the air. So first and foremost, it’s important to look at lowering the toxins that are being emitted into your home in the first place.

An air purifier can help tackle things that you can’t control; it may also be more important for you depending on your health goals.

If you are interested in getting an air purifier, I have a free guide that you can get to help you identify what to look for in an air purifier, what their limitations are and how to find one that is best going to serve your needs. You can download it here.

How to Test for Mold and Get Rid of It From your Home: A Q+A With Michael Rubino

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Mold can be a very serious health risk when it’s in our homes, but how do we know if we have concerning levels of mold and what can we do about it?

I chatted with Michael Rubino, a mold remediation expert, to share the what, why and how of mold identification and remediation. This blog is a Q+A summary of our conversation.

You can also listen to the full conversation on Episode 59 of The Missing Pillar of Health Podcast on your favourite player or tap play below.

Q: Why Did You Start Focusing on Mold Remediation?

A: I’m a second generation contractor. Right around hurricane Sandy (which was a big superstorm that affected the Northeast where I’m originally from) was when I really started to develop this passion specifically for mold, because that was the first time I really started to see people get sick. I decided the industry was missing the boat on how we actually remove mold from the molecular level, so that it doesn’t impact people’s health.

I started my seven year journey, researching and developing better techniques in the mold removal space. That then led to the creation of All American Restoration, which is our country’s first remediation company for immunocompromised individuals.

This in turn led to the Mold Medic book because I wanted to really get what was in my research and in my head out on paper so that other people can benefit from it. I also realized I’m not going to fix this problem one house at a time. We really need to get new standards and new information out there.

Q: What is mold and is it all harmful?

A: Broken down simply, mold is a blanket term used to describe over a hundred thousand species of fungus. When you look at the word mold, it can be used in so many different ways, depending on what type of mold it is.

It’s important to look at it that way first, because when you start asking how mold impacts your health, then we’re getting down to the individual species and the amounts.

We’ve heard alarming statements such as “mold is ubiquitous” or “mold is everywhere”, so how can we ever really stay healthy or prevent ourselves from having mold? But that’s not helpful.

The goal is to make sure that the quantities and types inside the home are less than outside the home.

Q: Can you talk about the difference between mold and mycotoxins?

A: Mycotoxins are a byproduct produced by mold colonies. It’s a self-defense mechanism for mold.

I like to look at mold the way I look at a weed, because it has roots called Hyphae and seeds called spores. It reproduces and seeks out moisture, which it needs to survive. So you can have different species of mold present that could be growing simultaneously.

Those species are going to try to kill off one another so they can take over the area. Some molds do this by producing mycotoxins. Just like the name implies, these are toxins and if they come into contact with your skin or you breathe them in, they can cause adverse health reactions.

Q: Are both mold spores and mycotoxins harmful?

A: Yes, it’s both. Some mold spores may be either allergy, pathogenic or toxigenic. Black mold is one example (it’s real name is Stachybotrys Chartarum) of a toxic mold.

Other molds might be allergenic, like aspergillus penicillium.
To keep it simple: if you have mold actively growing inside your home, figure out what caused it to grow. There has to be some sort of source of water, so fix that, remove the mold safely and properly

Q: How can you tell if you have a mold problem in your home?

A: Sight and smell are pretty obvious. Discoloration on your ceilings, drywall, on your caulking and sealants around wet areas like kitchens and bathrooms are a good sign that there are some issues there.

There’s a neat trick which is not scientific at all, but it’s a theory of mine:

If you go over to your toilet tank and you pull off the cover and you look at the underside of the lid, or if you look inside the toilet tank, and if you see mold, there’s a pretty good chance that there’s an abundance of spores somewhere in the environment.

It’s not full-proof and it’s not perfect, but it’s a sign for me to get an inspection.

But from a testing standpoint, you can do an ERMI test. It’s a decent entry-level test you can do at home and it tests the dust to see what mold particles are in the dust.

It was developed by the EPA by analyzing 1096 homes, and allows you to compare spore counts to what was found in those homes to determine which types of mold might be a problem for you.

A mold-free home doesn’t exist, but you do want to have an environment that’s under control where mold can’t grow once it starts growing, that’s when there’s a problem.

Q: Should you get your home professionally tested?

A: Once you have an idea that mold is likely a problem, you should bring in a professional testing company to identify where the mold is coming from. Unfortunately, most of the time it’s behind the walls.

A good testing company will have tools and equipment (like infrared cameras) to try to source exactly where the problems are and rule things out. The idea is to identify where the weak points of the home are. This should include:
– Walking around the outside of the home.
– Looking at every nook and cranny on the inside of the home.
– Checking HVAC equipment.
– Etc.

It’s a process of looking for a potential area of concern and testing. The laboratory data will tell you if it’s elevated or similar to outside. It can be a bit trying to put a piece of a puzzle together when you don’t even know what the picture looks like, but that’s the job.

Q: What are some of the key questions that people should ask when interviewing inspection and remediation companies?

A: The first thing that I would do is I would interview an inspector and a remediator separately. I don’t think it should ever be the same person (and in some states, it’s illegal to do both). I think that there’s a conflict of interest there.

Hire one person that the only interest they have is making sure they’re identifying the problems inside that could be causing you adverse health reactions. Then you have a person that’s going to take that data and actually be able to fix it.

And then the nice part about this checks and balances system is that the person who found the issues is going to come back and verify that the other person did it properly. Make sure you have an unbiased project and that the product is done right.

I’d also ask the testing company and remediation companies if they typically work with immunocompromised individuals – even if you’re not immunocompromised yourself. This allows you to weed out people who don’t necessarily have the health effects in mind.

If they don’t think mold impacts your health, they might not be a company you’re looking for. I don’t think that they’re going to be as thorough as one would like, and making sure that it’s fully eradicated.

In terms of hiring a remediator, once you have an inspector that you like and trust, and you feel that they’ve found all the issues and they have a great report, you want to make sure that the remediator agrees with that report. If they start telling you things like, you don’t need to worry about that, or you don’t need to do that, that’s a pretty big red flag.

Q: Is insurance-covered remediation health-focused?

A: For seven years after hurricane Sandy, I was still remediating homes. Insurance companies didn’t have enough infrastructure and to control costs, don’t necessarily make sure that you have the best person to do the job.

It’s really unfortunate if you don’t know better and you’re not advocating for your own health, you’re likely to get the claim not handled properly. You’re likely to still have problems after they say it’s fixed. This is why it’s important to test after remediation as well.

Q: What at-home strategies do you suggest to get rid of mold?

1. Cleaning
Cleaning is so important. When you have an overload of dust, you’re going to have an overload of mold particles, allergens, toxins, etc. Getting rid of the dust, which is basically where all of these microbiological contaminants settle in, is key. The more dust you have in your environment, the more that recirculates every time the HVAC system turns on. Believe it or not, just the force that your body pushes in the environment as you move through a room, stirs up all these tiny weightless particles. I would say cleaning is one of the cheapest things you can do (time consuming, no doubt), but the best thing that you can do to stay on top of the environment.

2. Air Filtration
If you have a central HVAC system, make sure that it’s filtered properly. I love Intellipure, mainly because I know they’re pretty much available worldwide and they actually tie into the HVAC system. One stops these particles from getting to the coil, creating a contamination system inside the HVAC unit. Also purifying the air at the same time. So it’s kind of a two for one.

I would say purification and cleaning are probably the two biggest things that you can do with very few dollars down without the needs of any professional. But if you’re remediating without fixing, the problems would be for example if you had an overflowing bathtub trying to clean up the water with towels before first shutting off the faucet.

There’s some things you can do, but you also want to identify what the problems are and fix those. Every time you clean, every time you’re filtering, we’re actually getting somewhere.

To learn more from Michael, visit themoldmedic.com, where you will find information on his book plus a ton of free information and resources regarding mold. Also find restoration services at allamericanrestoration.com.

PFAS In Bubly, Topo Chino, and Other Sparkling Water Brands

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If you’re an avid Bubly, Topo Chino, Polar, La Croix, Polar, or Perrier drinker, you’re definitely going to want to keep reading. But really, this information is for anyone who drinks tap water too.

I’m laying out the findings of a 2020 Consumer Reports test of 47 bottled waters to find out if they’re safe to drink. It included 35 noncarbonated and 12 carbonated ones for the heavy metals arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury, plus 30 PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances.

For this article, I’m focusing on the carbonated water and PFAS findings specifically. Because this is a problem that is concerning not just for these products, but for drinking water across the continent.
If you prefer to listen, you can tune into the podcast version of this article on Episode 58 of The Missing Pillar of Health Podcast, or below.

What Are PFAS?

There are approximately 5,000 known per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) , and they are used to make non-stick coatings, stain-repellant, waterproofing coatings, fire fighting foam, and more – and they have become a serious problem.

These are a collection of chemicals known for their strong carbon-fluorine bonds, which means they don’t break down in the environment. Our general understanding of these chemicals are based around the research on two of the most widespread chemicals, PFOA and PFOS.

Due to their widespread ecological and health impacts, these two chemicals specifically are no longer being manufactured in North America and have been replaced with other PFAS chemicals without as much data behind them, yet they continue to contaminate water supplies.

Are PFAS Regulated?

Short answer, no. But there are different jurisdictions with recommended limits. I’m going to get into some numbers here, but stick with me because this is important. As you’ll see, the limits vary widely.

For context, 1ppt would be about 1 grain of sand in an Olympic-sized swimming pool.


The EPA currently has an advisory recommendation (meaning not enforceable) of 70 ppt for only PFOA and PFOS, individually and combined.

However, a 2019 study commissioned by the EPA found 17 PFAS chemicals in both the source and treated water from 25 drinking water treatment plants across the United States. PFAS were detected in all samples, with total PFAS concentrations ranging from <1 ppt to 1102 ppt.

International Bottled Water Association

The industry group International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) requires its members to have any single PFAS compound concentration below 5 ppt, and total PFAS below 10 ppt.


In July 2021, the California EPA issued a draft report with a proposed safe level to support public health of 0.007 part per trillion (or 7 pp quadrillion) for PFOA and 1 ppt for PFOS in drinking water.


The Environmental Working Group suggests a limit of 1ppt based on a collection of studies.

One of those is from a 2013 study showing decreased vaccine response in children with higher levels of PFOA and PFOS in their bodies. The authors recommended a limit of 1 ppt in water for PFOA or PFOS based on the findings.

In their study review, the EWG also found that drinking water concentration of PFAS chemicals at or near 1 ppt would prevent increased risk of cholesterol and liver and testicular cancers.


Researchers at the nonprofit organization Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) proposed a maximum drinking water limit of 2 ppt for the combined concentrations of 4 PFAS chemicals, and 5 ppt for GenX – the replacement to PFOA.

This 2 ppt concentration limit is based on the most common detection limits reported by commercial laboratories that test water for PFAS. NRDC’s report notes that carbon filtration can remove these chemicals to levels lower than the detection limit of 2 ppt.

What did the Consumer Reports study find about PFAS in sparkling water?

The tests looked at 12 brands:

  •  All were in compliance with the IBWA limits
  •  5 were less than 1ppt
    – Sparkling Ice
    – Spindrift
    – Sanpallegrino
    – Dasani
    – Schwepps
  •  7 exceeded the health-protective limit of 1ppt of total PFAS levels:
    – Topo Chico
    – Polar
    – Bubly
    – Poland Spring
    – Canada Dry
    – La Croix
    – Perrier.

Topo Chico, made by Coca Cola, measured levels of 9.76 parts per trillion (ppt), making it the highest of the products tested.

It’s important to note that one product from each brand was tested, other flavours could impact test results.

Most of the brands that exceeded the 1ppt concentration responded to the Consumer Report findings with statements like “These products meet all FDA requirements and are fully compliant with FDA standards.” Typical playbook replies that pass the buck on any responsibility to the environment or customers.

In contrast, Topo Chico said that it would “continue to make improvements to prepare for more stringent standards in the future.”

Sure enough, in February of 2021 Consumer Reports tested 3 new samples of Topo Chico and found that the brand had reduced its average level of PFAS to 3.9 ppt.

This moved the brand to 2nd highest based on the initial Consumer Reports tests. According to the updated article, Toco Chico upgraded its filtration system.

Where did the contamination come from?

There are a few possibilities: it could come from equipment in the carbonation process, the source water is contaminated, or treatment used doesn’t remove PFAS to below 1 part per trillion.

But many brands did have levels less than 1ppt, so it is possible.

Future Regulations

Making health-protective limits enforceable is easier said than done.

To set an enforceable limit, the EPA must go through a series of legal steps that have been established to regulate contaminants in drinking water.

Despite there being no federal legal limits in the US, some states are setting their own for these chemicals, many of which are lower than the EPA’s advisory level of 70 ppt but still not as low as the 1ppt suggested for health protection.

One major roadblock is that the cost of filtering the chemicals out of tap water may be prohibitive for some utilities, resulting in a higher allowable limit than the science suggests is safe.

Stricter limits could also require sewage-treatment facilities to filter out PFOA and PFOS before they discharge treated wastewater into rivers or lakes.

And, as is the case with many chemicals, there are powerful lobby groups for industries that would face significant liability for clean up that are working to oppose regulation of PFAS as a group. This means regulations would have to study each individual chemical separately, resulting in decades long delays.

Canada is currently evaluating next steps to regulate PFAS chemicals as a class rather than individually. The Canadian drinking water guideline has a maximum acceptable concentration significantly higher than the EPA and health-protective levels recommended by others – and similarly, it is not a legally binding limit.

More action is happening in the US because of the widespread water contamination from military bases in particular, due to fire fighting foam. In October, 2021, the EPA announced PFOA, PFOS, GenX, and PFBS would be added to the hazardous waste regulations, requiring more strict cleanup.

What Can You Do As a Consumer?

It’s my hope that the burden shifts from the consumer to the producer.

We should not be on the hook for dealing with contamination of our food supply. And to be clear, the real problem lies with companies like Dupont who manufacture PFAS in the first place, and have been found negligent and partially responsible for the widespread contamination we now face.

That being said, one simple shift we can make is to not buy so much single-serving carbonated beverages. These have become a staple in many homes, and the waste and cost alone are factors to rethink this habit. PFAS exposure adds some icing on the cake.

You can make your own carbonated water easily at home.

Soda Stream currently has one model that uses a glass carafe and they have a collaboration with Bubly so you can add your favourite Bubly flavours to carbonated water you make yourself (both of these brands are owned by PepsiCo).

Now the ingredients in these flavours aren’t disclosed so I’d opt for a natural fruit juice or simple lemon or lime but if you’re solidly addicted to Bubly, take it in baby steps with the home-made version.

If you have PFAS in your drinking water (you can test and check the EWG for a map of areas of concern in the US), a granulated activated carbon water filter will reduce PFAS and a reverse osmosis system will remove almost all.

There’s a certification NSF P473 that demonstrates the system was tested for their claims against PFOA and PFOS. This isn’t the only thing to look for, but if PFAS is a concern it could be important for you.

Episode 16 on the Missing Pillar of Health Podcast walks you through how to choose the right water filter and I have a detailed Step by Step Guide to Choosing a Water Filter with brand suggestions and instructions on testing your water.

Knowledge is power

Alright, that was a lot of info, I know. But you know me, I like to make sure you have all the background to really understand an issue! Knowledge is power, and I hope this has armed you with the knowledge you need to make more informed decisions about what you drink.


How to Get Fabric Softener Smell Out of Clothes

Fabric Softener.Blog Image

I love buying used clothes. It helps give clothes more life before ending up in the landfill, and it’s easy on the wallet. But there’s a big downside, particularly if you’re scent sensitive…

The fabric softener smell that just won’t quit. (Here’s why this is a problem.)

This question comes up a lot in my Green Product Forum Facebook Group and gets lots of helpful suggestions so I wanted to compile them in a single spot in case you’re also having a hard time with this!

If you struggle with MCS or more severe allergies, buying clothes that have fabric softener may not be an option at all. But for anyone else, if you’re willing and able to put in extra effort and time, the smell will eventually dissipate.

I’ve tried a range of strategies, and have found some clothes easier to deodorize than others. I’ve decided it depends which fabric softener was used – I have had a mix of success using the same methods on different clothes so it can be a lot of trial and error to find something that works.

Time and lots of washes seems to be the only constant.

Vinegar soaks, baking soda/borax/soap stripping, baking soda in wash, vinegar in wash, outside drying…. they all help to varying degrees but I’ve had some clothes that are still very stubborn.

Sometimes the smell will be from residual laundry detergent, which will be easier to get rid of. Fabric softener is most stubborn as it actually coats the clothes with chemicals that are designed to stay put.

Best Ways to Get Fabric Softener Smell out of Clothes

Remember, there isn’t a magic bullet solution here. It might take some trial and error to find the right strategy depending on what fabric softener or laundry soap was used.

Here’s a run-down of some of the most commonly recommended ways to get that fabric softener smell out of used clothes.

1.  Baking Soda Soak + Vinegar Pre-wash

This works best for mildly scented fabrics, I don’t find it successful for strong fabric softener.

1. Soak the clothes in a bucket of warm water with a healthy amount of baking soda – say, 1 cup for a handful of clothing items – for a few hours or overnight.
2. Rinse well with cold water.
3. Then, run a wash cycle with prewash and add 1 cup of vinegar to the pre rinse dispenser. Use your normal green laundry soap (I like Eco-Max or homemade). Use cold or warm water.

2.  Laundry Stripping Method

This helps with the more stubborn odours, but isn’t fail-safe. You can Google “Laundry Stripping” and get all sorts of laundry magic/horror stories (the colour of water after doing this is pretty gross, sometimes it is set grime, sometimes it’s just dyes from the fabric). Here’s how I do it:

1. Add the clothes and the following to a laundry sink:

  • 1/4 cups baking soda (or washing soda)
  • 1/4 cup borax
  • 1/2c laundry soap or 1/4c liquid castile soap

OR simply add my homemade laundry soap powder.

2. Soak 4-12 hours, stirring occasionally.
3. Rinse well.
4. Machine with warm water and give it an extra rinse.
5. You can try vinegar in the rinse cycle as well.

The key is to keep washing/rinsing before running it through the dryer as that can “set” the smell further. Hanging outside in the sun also helps. Here’s a little tidbit from our Community Manager, Samantha:

“The most luck I’ve had with this issue is lots of sun and fresh air (days even). I usually wash and then hang out in the sun and just leave them out there for a few days (even if it rains!).”

Tips from the Green Product Forum Community

My Facebook Group, the Green Product Forum, is a wealth of information (join us here). There are lots of other helpful suggestions that have popped up when this question is asked, so I wanted to share a few in case they help:

  • Soak with fruit and veggie wash to help break down the chemicals used to fuse the fragrance to the fabric (from Naomi)
  • Put the clothes in the freezer for a couple of days (from Diane).
  • Charlie’s Laundry Powder (suggested by Carol and Alexandra; only in Canada and I haven’t vetted ingredients myself, but you can use the label-reading guide here to help).

Pack Your Patience & Communicate

Some clothes will take a LOT of effort to get the smell out. You might find it’s just not worth it, and that’s OK.

If you’re buying clothes second hand from a retailer, talk to them about the problem and encourage them to skip the fabric softener.

If you’re arranging to collect hand-me-downs from a friend or family member, speak to them first about washing and ask them either to skip the fabric softener, or let them know you’re happy to wash them after you pick them up.

Do you have other ways to get fabric softener smell out of clothes?

Share them with us over in the Green Product Forum Facebook Group! Click here to join.

What Does the Prop 65 Warning Label Mean?


Ever wonder why you’re seeing Prop 65 warning labels that tell you the product contains ingredients known to cause cancer or birth defects… on everything from appliances to furniture, the entrance to Disneyland, and at one point even coffee?

They’re almost everywhere now, and the story behind them is an interesting one.

Proposition 65, or Prop65, is a California State law that – thanks to online retail – has now made itself known across the US and Canada.

But what does it really mean? And should you panic if you see it on a product you thought was safe – or hadn’t even considered there might be a concern?

I first started looking into this when I got a new fridge delivered several years ago – to my home in Canada – with the Prop 65 sticker staring me in the face. I looked into it then but didn’t learn about the full history.

Now, it’s time to dig in. Let’s figure out what the deal with the Prop 65 warning label is, and whether we as consumers can use it to choose healthier products.

Keep reading, or you can listen to this on Episode 55 of the Missing Pillar of Health Podcast on your favourite player, or through the player below.


What is Prop 65?

Proposition 65 became law in November 1986, known as the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986.It started with the intention of cleaning up California’s notoriously polluted drinking water, with hopes that industry would be forced to stop dumping toxins into waterways. It prohibits the intentional discharge of significant amounts of listed chemicals into drinking water sources – but that’s rarely how it’s thought of today.

Under the law, the State of California must publish a list of chemicals known to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm, and keep it updated at least once a year.

When it was first published in 1987, it contained 235 chemicals. Today, it has almost 1000 chemicals in the list.

Proposition 65 also requires businesses with more than 10 employees to provide warnings on products, workplaces, rental housing, and businesses if they pose a significant exposure risk to chemicals that cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm.

Because California holds significant market share, the ripple effect of product law in the state spreads across the US and even Canada. Manufacturers who sell in California put the label on the products destined outside the State too, which is why it was on my sold-in-Canada fridge.

What Chemicals Make the Prop 65 List

Examples of chemicals on the list include ingredients in pesticides, common household products, food, drugs, dyes, and solvents. The list includes not only intentionally-added chemicals, but also chemicals that may be used in the manufacturing or construction process, or that can be by-products of chemical processes.

The Prop 65 website states that a warning must be given for listed chemicals unless the exposure is low enough to pose no significant risk of cancer or is significantly below levels observed to cause birth defects or other reproductive harm.

It goes on to state that “Using its knowledge of its business operations and the chemicals it uses, a business can review the Proposition 65 list to determine whether its operations or products are likely to expose people in California to any listed chemicals.”

The agency that oversees Prop65 provides levels of exposure for about one third of the overall chemicals list that do not require a Proposition 65 warning, called the “safe harbour” list.

However, the process of determining exposure is complex and often requires separate expertise outside a regular business employee roster. What’s more, if a business uses a chemical not provided on the safe harbour list, they must provide a Prop65 warning or demonstrate that the expected exposure level will not pose a significant risk.

How is Prop 65 Enforced

  • Prop 65 warnings are required by law in California where exposures are deemed significant.
  • The exposure level is up to the businesses to determine, and not putting a label on a product that requires it can result in fines of $2500 per day of non-compliance for each violation.
  • The body that oversees the law acknowledges that this is a complex process, and says “a business is discouraged from providing a warning that is not necessary and instead should consider consulting a qualified professional if it believes an exposure to a listed chemical may not require a Proposition 65 warning.”

So what seems easier? Ignoring the merely “discouraged” behaviour of slapping a label on everything to avoid fines, or investing in experts and analysis to figure out if the label is required? (That’s a rhetorical question.)

Where It all Went Wrong

For the first 10 years or so, Prop65 seemed to actually do what it was intended to do, and companies did re-evaluate their use of toxins like lead.

However, by the late 90s, lawyers found an opportunity to gain financially from targeting small companies that were operating even just a little bit outside the Prop65 regulations. You see, Prop 65 also allows California residents to file legal action against companies who they believe are in violation of the law. And so, millions of dollars in legal fees have been earned in what’s essentially the toxins version of ambulance-chasing.

And so, to avoid being sued, companies have opted to put warning labels on everything – whether they pose a real and significant risk to the end user or not.

Some critics of the list emphasize that the warnings have thresholds that are unreasonably low. For example, according to one article, for birth defects, warnings are required at one-thousandth of the level at which a certain chemical is shown to cause birth defects.

California takes a much more conservative approach in their risk tolerances than any other North American – and in some cases even European – jurisdiction. Likely to take into account the thousands of different sources of exposure and accumulation of each.

The other factor that I talk about regularly is that we shouldn’t just be focused on the amount in the finished product. If toxins are in the finished product in any amount, it means that workers up the manufacturing chain have likely been exposed to higher levels and when the products are disposed, their cumulative impact on the environment can become a problem. So saying there’s low amounts in the finished product as an excuse for “safety” doesn’t cut it for me.

However, I will acknowledge that these low limits provide another barrier for companies to be willing to invest in analysis only to find that their products are above the limits and have to contain the Prop 65 label afterall.

How We Can Use Prop 65 Warning Labels as Consumers

While the law was created with the best of intentions, practically, it’s not overly helpful to us as end users. As a consumer, seeing the label on a handful of products might allow us to make more informed decisions about what we buy. Seeing it everywhere has made us tune it out – not to mention it’s sometimes impossible to find viable alternatives without the label.

That being said, I still firmly believe that we need to hold companies accountable for the ingredients they’re using in their products and to know what we’re being exposed to – to the best of our abilities.

If you see the sticker, don’t shy away from asking the manufacturer why it’s there. The Prop 65 website has a full listing of the chemicals on the list with a glossary that is a handy quick reference to help you determine if the risk from a particular product is high enough to reconsider alternatives.

But know that the sticker doesn’t automatically mean there are toxins – it could just be the company’s way of covering themselves legally without doing any of the investigative work to figure out what’s actually in the product.

I hope this helps you demystify the Prop65 warning labels so you can make more informed – and less fear-based – purchasing decisions for you and your family.


If you are overwhelmed at all the conflicting information and labels and want trusted advice to help you lower your exposure to toxins in your home, be sure to check out my product guides and mini-trainings like:

You’ll find these and others at greenathome.ca/learn.