In this exciting interview, The Keeper, Inc.’s Marketing Director, Julia Schopick interviews Debra Lynn Dadd about her books, her advocacy work, and her terrific website and blog.
Listen to the interview:
00:00 to 2:12 – Introduction of Debra Lynn Dadd: Her background, her books, especially “Home Safe Home” and “Really Green” , and how she became interested in the environment and chemical sensitivities.
2:13 to 5:49 – Debra tells about her own, very personal, experience with chemical sensitivities — how, in her early 20s, she felt tired, irritable and depressed, and had lots of seemingly unrelated symptoms. How her father learned about chemical sensitivities and recognized the symptoms in Debra. A description of the symptoms, and how she went about identifying each substance she was allergic (or sensitive) to, got rid of the offending substance, and found substitutes for each. A fascinating discussion. Every person who suspects that he or she is experiencing chemical sensitivities will want to listen to this part of the discussion.
5:49 to 6:14 – The realization that people take pharmaceuticals to mask symptoms, when what they should be doing is getting rid of the substances in their environment that are causing those symptoms.
6:14 to 9:00 – Debra’s light-bulb moment, when it all became clear to her: when her father brought her out of one of her chemical reactions (depression) by forcing her to drink a really common substance, which can turn a person’s chemical reaction around instantly. (Listen to find out which common product this is!)
9:00 to 10:18 – Along with her light-bulb moment came the realization that our government doesn’t protect us from all these chemicals in the products we use and the air we breathe. Before she discovered she was sick, Debra didn’t pay any attention to product labels because she thought that, if something was dangerous, our government would protect us from the chemicals.
10:18 to 11:36 – A discussion of whether or not the companies that produce these toxic products are aware that they are poisoning us. Christopher Bryson’s book, “The Fluoride Deception,” reveals that there was an awareness that fluoride was toxic back in the 1940s. There was evidence, even back then. But still, today, fluoride is in toothpaste and other products. We don’t need more studies. There is already enough evidence. But each of us, as consumers, can choose to buy products that are safe, rather than toxic. Now, more than ever, there are lots and lots of products on the market that are safe.
11:36 – 12:30 – “Better Living Through Chemistry” — the motto of the 1950s. A short discussion of Liz Armstrong and her book (co-authored with Guy Dauncey and Anne Wordsworth), “Cancer: 101 Solutions to a Preventable Epidemic.”. (You may listen to Liz’s interview with Keeper.com
12:30 to 14:39 – Debra’s realization that it wasn’t only the chemicals in her house, but also the outside chemicals that were making her sick. We are all interconnected to everything on the planet. If we want to breathe clean air, the air outside must be clean. If we want to drink clean water, there has to be clean water in the ecosystem. What is commonly promoted in industrialized countries is an industrialized view of the world, which says companies can make products as toxic as they want to, as long as they make money for their shareholders. (In fact, legally, companies have a financial responsibility to make a profit.) But these rules, this system, is not based in nature, and it’s not based in life. So people don’t even know that they can/should look at these chemicals and question whether they are harmful to us.
14:39 to 15:13 – If a product label warns that the substance is “toxic if swallowed,” people don’t usually realize that the same product can also be toxic if we get it on our skin. (The toxins can enter our bodies through pores and other orifices.)
15:13 to 16:29 – It seems that lots of commercials are for products that are essentially very harmful to us. Debra discusses the way pharmaceuticals are advertised, having people walking through meadows, telling all the great things these drugs can do for you. Then, in a soft, singsong voice, they tell about the liver damage, excessive bleeding and death (!) that can occur. But the tone of voice in which they give you these “side effects” lulls people into believing that there is no reason to worry! LESSON: Be very careful.
16:29 to 18:00 – How to find the healthy alternative products. You can really use combinations of five very simple products that have been around for many years. Also, non-toxic, safe products need not be more expensive than the toxic ones. For instance, Dr. Bronner’s Liquid Soap, which is both inexpensive and organic.
18:00 to 20:47 – One exceptional laundry product: Maggie’s Soap Nuts. A description of this fragrance-free, completely natural cleaning product, and how it works. It goes from the tree into the box. The Keeper, Inc. is waiting for the liquid version of this product to come out. Then we are going to strongly consider recommending it for cleaning The Keeper and Moon Cup. (Debra points out that you can also make your own liquid soap nuts cleaner by boiling them.)
20:47 to 21:22 – Debra enjoys making her own cleaning products – for instance, a window cleaner out of water and vinegar. (A major cleaning company has just come out with a window cleaner that is essentially the same as Debra’s homemade version.) The good thing about making your own cleaning products is that you can keep putting them into the same plastic bottles, and thus, not hurt the environment with so many disposable containers.
21:22 to 22:47 – We dispose of products indiscriminately. How companies like to have products that are used up and then thrown away, so that you have to buy another product. A discussion of The Keeper, and how it lasts up to 10 years, so that our customers do NOT give us repeat business! (Debra points out that, although this might be seen as “bad business” from a financial/economic point of view, it is an excellent business from a “green,” environmentally responsible point of view!)
22:47 to 26:00 – Debra discusses how seeing the connection between the products we use and the environment led her to write “Really Green.” In 1987, she decided she had to live in a way that was more responsible to the environment. She decided that, if she watched the environment, she’d get her answers. So she studied nature. It took her 20 years of observation and study to get to the point where she could look at green products from a different point of view. She looked at how she would create a green product if she was Mother Nature. As a result, she looks at products from the point of view of which ones benefit (or harm) our health and all of life. Her conclusion: We should take actions that will benefit life – not just not harm life. We need to actually do good.
26:00 to 30:40 – “Really Green” is the first book that looks at things this way. It’s a real paradigm shift. This is a complex book, too. For instance, the book discusses the 18 basic principles that define what’s green, and the five basic types of green products. When Debra was writing the book, she was on a retreat, with no distractions. She began to really see the whole thing differently — from a product viewpoint. The idea is that the reader will be able to look at a product before buying it, and see whether those 18 different principles are in the product. For instance, deciding between a paper towel and a cotton towel, the worst choice is a bleached paper towel, because it is disposable, and uses chlorine bleach (which creates dioxin, which is one of the most toxic chemicals on the earth). A very interesting discussion of the several steps in between the bleached paper towel and the organic cotton towel on the road to greenness. The whole range of choices from the very worst to the very best. She can gauge a product from this point of view immediately, and wants her book to teach others to do the same.
30:40 to 34:00 – Debra used a “green printer” to print this book. Here, she discusses all the aspects of what made the printer green, and her book thus, a green book. Included: printing fewer books in each batch (print on demand); all the parts on the printing machine itself are replaceable; the printer used a dry ink, so there is no solvent; the paper is recycled; and printer uses wind energy. So this is “the greenest book ever” – in all ways. The printer she used: No Waste Publishing.
34:00 to 35:33 – When printing a book, you are destroying a tree. If we destroy something living, there should be a purpose, and we should honor it, be grateful for it, and put that material to good use. If you destroy a tree to make a book, then dispose of the unused books, this shows a real disrespect for life.
35:33 to 38:00 – Using reusable products instead of disposables would make a huge difference on the planet. A statistic that most people don’t know about: For every pound of product, there are 25 pounds of garbage created in its manufacture. So the ratio of waste to product is 25:1. This can be very impressive if we are comparing, say, one paper towel versus one reusable cotton towel. Each one of them has 25 times its weight in garbage. But, here is the difference: With paper towels, you are using another and another and another, adding more and more and more garbage each time, while the garbage created from the cloth towel remains the same throughout the use of the towel. So, every time you use a paper towel, the pile of garbage gets higher and higher. We talked about possibly making a youtube video showing this – using disposable menstrual products, rather than paper towels.
38:00 to 40:00 – Greenwashing – the deception that some companies use to make us think their products are “green,” that really aren’t. People should be aware of this, and be very careful, because there are now lots of products that are really green. Watch out for products that just say “recycled” or “eco-friendly,” because they could be hiding something. In most cases, the products that give the most information about HOW they are green are the best ones. Also, if a product uses the word “contains,” and just lists a few ingredients, you should be suspicious. If it lists all the ingredients, and those ingredients are safe, that means something.
40:00 to 41:37 – Debra would like it to be law that you have to list every single ingredient. Cleaning products, for instance, don’t have to list their ingredients at all. (Editor’s NOTE: Neither do disposable menstrual products!) But they do have to produce something called a materials safety data sheet, which only has to list what the government considers to be hazardous. Lots of times they don’t include chemicals on this list that Debra considers to be hazardous. A very interesting comparison of the listing of ingredients on 2 jars of apple sauce. The one that is NOT organic actually has less of a legal responsibility to list all the ingredients than the one that IS organic. It clearly should be the other way around. (For instance, by law, the non-organic applesauce doesn’t have to list the fact that it has lots of pesticides in it, and uses unfiltered water, etc.)
41:37 to 44:29 – A discussion of the relationship between pesticides and weight gain. “The Body Restoration Plan,” by Paula Baillie-Hamilton, MD, shows that chemicals disrupt the body’s slimming system. Pesticides are the #1 offender, and they are in ALL foods that are not organic. So, any food that is not organic is making us fat. AND, it’s not just making us fat. It’s also disrupting our endocrine systems, and making us depressed. Chemicals affect many body systems. It has taken Debra 25 years to realize all of this. We must have zero tolerance for toxic chemicals. There is absolutely no need for them.
44:29 to 47:22 – Organic versus Locally grown food. What to do if your choice is between food that is organic, but comes from far away, versus non-organic, locally grown food. (An example, buying an organic vegetable from Chile.) Debra discusses the different ways to look at this dilemma – i.e., the energy and co2 that are used in shipping, versus the benefits the product has because it is organic. She thinks it is better to buy the organic product, even though it may have traveled a great distance. At the same time, we must work to make those products that are grown locally more organic. It may be impossible to reach the ideal now, but at least she can help us know what the ideal is, so that we can work at getting there. We can’t do things 100% now, but have to move in that direction. That’s what she is showing people.
47:22 to 49:00 – The word “natural” can also be used deceptively. One example: “Made from coconut oil; cut with benzene.” We are obviously supposed to think this product is natural (i.e., coconut oil). But, the word natural actually means that there are no artificial additives, specifically, no artificial colors, flavors or preservatives – i.e., natural, as opposed to man-made. But lots of these are what Debra calls “hybrid natural products,” like “coconut oil, cut with benzene.” So, a product can start out as natural (coconut oil), but by the time its ingredients get into, for example, a shampoo bottle, they are so processed with petrochemicals that a high percentage of the product is actually petrochemicals. An example from food: an apple is natural, but once it has lots of pesticides mixed in, it really isn’t natural. Natural should be “as it appears in nature,” but this is not how it is used in industry.
49:00 to 51:00 – One thing we can do is call up the company when a product says “contains,” or uses other, equally deceptive terminology, and start asking to see their full ingredients list. We need activism! We used to have more activism in the 1960s and 1970s in the consumer world.
Debra’s blog shares lots of information. For instance, recently, some of Martha Stewart’s sheets smelled like gasoline – which is what they contained. There was lots of complaining on Debra’s blog. Martha actually recalled these sheets. Could it have been because of Debra’s blog? This shouldn’t have happened in the first place.
51:00 to 54:25 – Debra’s List (on her website) features the natural products that live up to her standards. There are also discussions on her blog about whether or not a certain natural product is the best, as well as possible substitutes for both conventional and natural products. Send her an email about products you know about and she will evaluate them to see if they should be on her list. If so, she’ll add them.
She is now working on a system, which is based on what she wrote in “Really Green,” that will make it easy for people to evaluate whether a certain product is, or is not, good or harmful – as well as the degree of good and harm of the product. Consumers will be able to enter the information about their product and see a picture of it – how harmful, how good it is.
She gives an example here about a product being both harmful and good: COMPACT FLUORESCENT LIGHT BULBS. They are good because they save energy. But they are also BAD, if not disposed of properly, because they contain mercury. They must therefore be disposed of as HAZARDOUS WASTE, and cannot be put it in the trash. San Francisco already has a huge problem with too much mercury in SF Bay.
NOTE: The fact that the product contains mercury is listed in on the back of the package. In the case of General Electric’s Energy Smart bulbs, the note on the back says: “Lamp contains mercury. Manage in accord with disposal laws. See www.lamprecycle.org, or 1-800-435-4448.” And some hardware stores (e.g., Ace) have programs where they will dispose of your bulbs.
54:25 to 56:06 – wrap up