In this issue
Healthy Homes #6: Other toxins in the home
In this six-part series, building biologist and Narara Ecovillage member, Mikala Dind, shares her knowledge about what makes houses healthy or unhealthy. While this article is about existing homes, the information will definitely assist anyone seeking to build a home.
In the previous article we started to look at sources of internal air pollution – mainly particulates and noxious gases. However there are other, more subtle sources of toxins in our home (as well as where we work, play, and eat).
The Chemical Abstract Service register has 170 million chemicals listed and yet, according to Nicole Biljsma (2018), most of the man-made ones have not been assessed for their impacts on human health. Some chemicals have made headlines with their impacts (think BPA and the push to make “BPA free” plastics), while others fly under the radar (like triclosan – a broad spectrum antibacterial agent in everything from cleaning products to toothpaste).
Testing of pregnant women in the US has detected chemicals from non-stick frying pans, smoke, dry cleaning solvents and flame retardants, amongst many others (https://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/doi/10.1289/ehp.1002727). The implication is that these chemicals will then be passed onto the foetus.
If you go to bed with garlic in your bed socks, you will wake up with garlic breath. This is a simple example of how the body absorbs everything it comes into contact with. A saying I’ve often heard from those who propose healthy alternatives is “If you can’t eat it, don’t put it onto your skin”.
Needless to say, the subject of toxic chemicals is a vast one that I can only briefly touch on. However, there is plenty of information available on the internet or in books (such as Healthy Home, Healthy Family by Nicole Biljsma, or Low Tox Life by Alexx Stuart).
Cleaning chemicals and fragrances
Have you ever walked down the cleaning aisle of the supermarket and wanted to hold your nose because of the strong smells coming from sealed containers? That overpowering smell from laundry detergents, cleaning agents and bleach products is an indication that your body is irritated simply by inhaling those odours. That’s before you put them on your skin (eg through washing your clothes in them) – remember the garlic bed socks?
Some of the chemicals in cleaning agents (such as dioxins, ammonia) can lead to chemical sensitivity, dermatitis, headaches, lung problems and hormonal disruption. Yes, they do get the job done. However, at what cost to your health? Again, there is a lot of information around about healthier alternatives which I encourage you to research.
While natural fragrances abound in nature, synthetic fragrances can be made from petrochemicals and contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as phthalates, acetaldehydes and terpenes. These can be found in a myriad of everyday products including perfumes, air fresheners, aftershave, candles and incense.
Get to know the ingredients in your cosmetics – did you know that many lipsticks contain lead (which occurs naturally in the pigments used) and that mercury is used in some mascaras?
Many preservatives (such as parabens, thiomerosal, and quaternium-15) used in cosmetics are known skin irritants. There are now many safer alternatives available.
Bubble baths, shampoos and body washes
These products generally use surfactants to create foam. You may have seen “SLS free” on some personal care products. This refers to sodium lauryl sulphate, one of many synthetic surfactants, which is a known skin irritant.
While plastics are very convenient, according to Nicole Biljsma, “most plastics are made from oil (petrochemicals) … and all plastics leach the hotter or cooler they become”. Hence, while plastics can be used to store dry foods, it is better to use glass/corningware containers to store wet food (particularly acidic foods such as tomatoes and fruit or fatty foods such as milk and meat).
Unfortunately we can’t presume that imported toys are manufactured to the same standards as those produced in Australia. Thus many toys have been recalled due to high levels of lead, phthalates (hormone disrupting chemical), formaldehyde and flame retardants, just to name a few.
Plastic toys made from PVC (eg bath toys) often contain plasticizers which can disrupt hormones, and so should be avoided. New soft toys can be washed and exposed to the sun to reduce their chemical load.
Things that don’t stick or stain
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of chemicals used in making things that don’t stick or stain – all those really handy things like stain-resistant carpet, water repellent clothing and paints, cardboard packaging (including that used to hold food). Unfortunately the EPA (US) issued a life-time health advisory for PFAs after multiple studies showed that it could harm humans.
There are almost countless sources of allergens these days, so again I will only briefly touch on a few (as I have already spoken about mould in a previous article). Given that different allergic reactions can have similar symptoms, it is vital to get a confirmed diagnosis before looking at ways to deal with the allergy.
Recent studies are pointing to the concept that consuming a wide variety of foods (including fermented ones in particular) can assist our microbiome to become more robust.
House Dust Mites
Around 22% of the population are allergic to house dust mites (HDMs) which, unfortunately, are everywhere throughout our homes. Given that they like warmth, humidity and consume human/pet dander, cellulose from textile fibres, pollens and microbes, most of us are sharing our homes (and particularly our bed) with them in some form or another.
Those with a sensitivity to HDMs can reduce their presence by weekly washing of bed linen and pajamas in hot water, keeping dust and humidity levels down, and discarding old pillows, mattresses, bedding, soft furnishings etc.
According to Ownby & Johnson, “Multiple studies have shown that early life exposure to pets and to farm animals is associated with a reduced risk of subsequent allergic disease” Yet, ironically one of the very allergies children can have is to their pets (particularly dogs and cats). It seems that there is a balance to be struck between contact with pets and other sources of microbes (eg soil), hygiene, and our microbiome.
Many people are allergic to pollens, which can come from a myriad of sources (particularly outside the home). However, air conditioners and air purifiers (with a HEPA filter) can assist in reducing the spore count in the air.
So what is in water? Well, it depends on where it comes from (and how it got to you). Municipal water is usually derived from a water catchment, sent to a water processing plant where the water is roughly filtered and chlorine is added to kill off pathogens. However, that won’t remove things like pesticides or industrial chemicals/contaminants released up-stream from the catchment. Further, your tap water may have travelled for kilometres in all kinds of piping, plastic, steel (think rust), copper (with lead soldered joints) and even asbestos, each of which can contaminate the water. The easiest way to improve the quality of your water is to filter it. If you are lucky enough to have access to rain water (that has a first-flush device attached to the system) or your water is non-fluoridated, then you may only need a basic sediment and carbon twin filter to remove contaminants. However, if you have fluoridated municipal water, you may need a reverse osmosis filter to remove the fluoride.
Thank you for reading these articles. I hope you enjoyed them.
As mentioned earlier, I have only been able to touch briefly on all the topics covered: each is a subject in itself. If you have further questions that relate particularly to your home, I am available to do a home audit and provide a detailed report and plan (contact: 0424 586 610)
Narara Ecovillage Open Day: last for 2020. This Sat, Nov 28 10am-1pm
Our Open Day Tours give you a window into what Narara Ecovillage is all about, and show how we are putting our ideas around the environment, community and the economy into action, including stops at:
- a life of fun for kids
- shared food growing, natural retreats and Permaculture spaces
- shared community and work places
- examples of highly efficient low-carbon homes
- And more based on what you’re interested in on the day!
- 10 am
- 11 am
Bookings essential: get your tickets here.
The tours are $10 for adults and free for kids or Narara Eco Living Network members.
- The tours involve walking on semi-rural land and are best enjoyed with closed shoes and all-weather clothing. They can also involve visiting spaces with wildlife. So please leave your pets at home.
- On the day, our fabulous Coffee Cart will be open from lunchtime to 3pm, selling great drinks and healthy food.
- If this will be your first visit to Narara Ecovillage, the Open Day Preview with a pioneer members provides an introduction of the ecovillage and its unfolding story. You can also find answers to Frequently Asked Questions: https://wiki.nararaecovillage.com/display/FAQ/Frequently+Asked+Questions+Home.
Looking forward to welcoming you to Narara Ecovillage!
Narara Ecovillage stories
Sharing ownership to create an intergenerational ecovillage at Narara
The original and key aim of Narara Ecovillage is to, among other things: ‘research, design and build an intergenerational, demonstration ecovillage’.
Currently of the 190 Nararians, 37% are under 50 years of age (20% of these are children); interestingly, no one in their 20s, perhaps for very explainable reasons. We recognise the importance of intergenerational living as embedding the principles of sustainability and providing a regenerative environment in which all ages can flourish.
With this in mind, we are putting more focus on ways that we can make living at Narara Ecovillage more accessible for young people and families. In Stage 2, which is now ‘open for business’, we are actively exploring many exciting, leading edge, models of living collaboratively and utilising the creative energy of current and future Nararians, as well as leading associated professionals.
We hope to inspire and share knowledge around innovative, inclusive and more affordable housing options by:
- encouraging designs with granny flats (potentially available for long term rental as well as short stays),
- enabling the co-location of a tiny house on a lot with a primary residence
- setting aside some larger lots in Stage 2 for a group of people to collaborate with design and reduce individual footprint
- sharing existing designs and experience gained through Stage 1
- exploring the collaborative possibilities within the current planning regulations,
If you fit this demographic or know young people and families who might be interested, we welcome you especially to our Open Day this Saturday, and/or one of our family–friendly summer events.
And if you would like to talk through your specific circumstances, please contact us directly, mention Collaborative Living at Narara (CLAN) and we will inform you of our progress in this area and more importantly hear some of your ideas and dreams.
- General contact: email@example.com or specifically:
- Scilla Sayer firstname.lastname@example.org
- Jo Lamb email@example.com
- Lyndall Parris: 0419 279 711
Sociocracy: how we get things done at Narara Ecovillage
People often ask us how we make decisions and handle our differences. We use a method called Sociocracy: an evolution beyond democracy and beyond consensus. Sociocracy includes many practical elements such as:
1 Decisions are made in smaller or larger groups meeting as circles
In a circle, each person’s voice is valued equally; we take turns speaking and listening. The result is a meeting of minds, better decisions, and genuinely shared accountability.
Each circle is entrusted with an area of responsibility. For instance, the Companion Animal Circle deals with issues around pets.
2 Disagreements are welcomed and valued
It is through exploring different points of view that we get better quality solutions.
3 Decisions are not set in stone: all policies are reviewed regularly
We aim for consent, not consensus. We ask, is this decision ‘good enough for now’ and ‘safe enough to try’?
4 Decision making is transparent
Meeting schedules and minutes are shared on our members’ online space. We also have a members-only weekly e-newsletter, and a monthly report from all Circles. Steering Circle & Board meetings are ‘fishbowl’, which means anyone can drop in and watch.
5 Circles are double-linked
We have 5 Teams and a Board of Directors, and at least two people from each of these groups form the Steering Circle (See diagram) In addition, each team has several sub-circles (eg the Companion Animal Circle is part of Community). At least two people belong to both ‘parent’ and ‘child’ circles. This ensures high quality communication and understanding at every level.
6 Sociocratic practices support our community ethos.
The practices of listening to others without interruption, clarifying our understanding, owning our responses to issues and seeking ‘consent’ to outcomes that support our shared vision all help to build a culture where conflict does not escalate and fester.
It is my experience that shared decision-making at Narara Ecovillage has been fundamental to building community and a sense of belonging.-Liz Bassett
If you’re interested in sociocracy, we recommend Sociocracy for All (an international group) for some great free and affordable resources. We will also be offering face-to-face sociocracy training at Narara in 2021 and beyond. If you’d like to be informed about upcoming courses, please contact Liz Bassett firstname.lastname@example.org.
Do a thing a day
Register your interest in bHive Villages
If you live in Bendigo, you can join now. If you live anywhere else, you can register your interest: it will be rolled out to other regions in Feb 2021.
What is bHive Villages?
It’s an online platform that enables local people to connect and “build community run events, communicate with each other and share stuff and skills. Villages is real sharing. It’s gifting, not consumption. You can share tools, furniture, veggies, fruit and your time, skills and meals.”
With bHive Villages, neighbours can connect to people in their immediate neighbourhood, and also to community groups further afield.
“Villages aims to create an epidemic of belonging. It is a digital tool that brings us together. This is important because our modern society is socially isolated and lonely, which is having a huge impact on our health and wellbeing. The early 2000s research of Professor Lisa Berkman showed that having strong connections in our local community is better for our health than giving up smoking, alcohol and fat and adds ten years to lifespan. Relationships built over the side fence and up the street can last a lifetime. We need to be together.”
Why I strongly recommend bHive Villages
At Narara Ecovillage, we use Slack in a similar way: to communicate, recommend articles, make invitations, offers & requests, and share local information. (For instance, a minute ago someone posted a sighting of a large python – in real time.) It’s a wonderful tool for people to get to know each other better, as well as to combine our resources and energies. But some people distrust Slack as big corporation. And our service is confined to the members of the ecovillage.
So I love the idea of Villages – which is designed to be used in hundreds or thousands of communities across the country – and owned by the bHive Cooperative (which all Villages users are invited to join)
Villages is sorely needed at this time when so many people are isolated and feeling swept around by the winds of change. And it goes far beyond personal wellbeing: with such a communication tool, we can greatly expand our potential, both as individuals and communities.
Good on you bHive! More strength to your arm!
From our network
Eco Village Voice Issue #2 is out now.
Browse the index here: https://ecovillagevoice.com/evv002-index – articles for web page view are being added daily.
Issue #2 features
- an update from Steve Cran from The Centre of Advanced Permaculture. PREVIEW here
- a special feature article about the development of GEN Australia
- a feature on Tiny Houses and Ecovillages
- Other articles include: Can Your Ecovillage Use ‘A Graduated Series of Consequences?’ – Diana Leafe Christian (Eco Village Voice North American Co-editor)
- Permaculture Elder Profile – Looby Macnamara
- Crystal Waters – Past, Present and Future – Bob Sample
… and much more!
Restore & Re-story: Coming Home to Ourselves, Our Communities, and Mother Earth Thu 26-Sat 28 November
-Global Ecovillage Network Oceania & Australia
How might we collectively face the challenges of our times? How might we learn from nature and ancient wisdom to heal ourselves and heal the Earth together? How might we embrace our grief and embark on the journey ahead with grace and gratitude?
Join us in a two-and-a-half-day journey to Restore and Re-story our past and present realities to design regenerative futures for all
The Global Ecovillage Oceania and Asia (GENOA) is home to cultures formed by ancient wisdom and spiritual practices which are pillars of many integrative systems in the world today.
Drawing from the roots of our culture, join us in a collective meaning-making experience as we close this deeply transformative year with ways of reflection, renewal, and reconnection. Gather with us as we share our stories from grief to gratitude, from healing to wholeness in caring for our common home, from self, to community, and to Mother Earth.
Home to most of the climate-vulnerable nations in the world, GENOA recognizes that our hope and healing lies in designing not only resilient but also regenerative futures. While this gathering is for all of us longing to come home to ourselves, our communities, and to Mother Earth, this event is especially dedicated to the youth of today, with whom we must shape the future, in order for us not just to survive, but to thrive for generations to come.
We invite you to walk with us on this path to Restore and Re-story. Register to join via this link.
Get updates by following our Facebook event: http://bit.ly/RestoreRestory