Monday, August 18, 2008

Stormy Weather: Guest Protection During Hurricane Season

With Tropical Storm Fay almost upon us in Florida, CSA Travel Assurance company suggests the following preparations for travel during hurricane season.

1. Check with the property manager before booking to determine what type of policy is offered during your stay in the event of a storm. Is there a "hurricane guarantee" or other policy that will guarantee a refund of the cost of your stay, as well as any potential property damage if you are forced to cancel or evacuate due to a hurricane?

2. Stay up-to-date on weather in the region to which you are traveling to be aware of any events that could hamper your arrival or cause an interruption in your stay.

3. Once arriving at the property, double-check the property's policies and procedures.

4. If a storm approaches and an evacuation is ordered, secure a hurricane claim form before you evacuate.

5. During the evacuation, listen to radio reports of any evacuation lift or other instructions.

6. Save all your receipts to facilitate possible reimbursement when and if the unplanned occurs.

7. Once evacuation is lifted, you may need to return to the rental property. Read your policy details carefully beforehand.

Owners and guests can now benefit from the protection of insurance for security deposits, hurricanes and identity theft. Policies are available to cover damages.

Even if the hurricane doesn't hit your area, you should be prepared for inconveniences including extended power outages. Charge laptops, mobile phones and iPods and have car chargers handy. Fill prescriptions in advance in case delivery service or power outages delay access to pharmacies. CSA suggests, "anticipating the unanticipated," including travel delays.

Fly and Still Go Green?

Environmental groups say people need to fly less. Sites like Carbon Responsible can calculate the footprint of your trip, plus show you how long it takes to make the equivalent carbon saving by cutting down on car journeys or using low-energy light bulbs. My recent flight from Florida to Arizona has the same impact as driving a Toyota Camry for one year. What's a globe trotter to do?

Some of us use carbon offsetting to ease our conscience, avoiding, of course, the suspect services. Green gurus insist that's not enough.

If business and travel lovers like myself won't give up flying, the least we can do is ease the impact of flying in these ways:

1. Book daytime flights. Flying at night or in the winter is more environmentally damaging. The reasons are complex and to do with condensation trails trapping heat at night, but reflecting it away from the earth in the day. Researchers found that, although night flights only account for 25% of air traffic, they contribute 60% to 80% of the global warming caused by flying.

2. Travel in a lighter plane. The new Boeing 787 Dreamliner, for example, is made from lightweight plastic, which supposedly makes it 20% more fuel efficient.

3. Plan side trips by rail or ferry instead of short, commuter flights.

4. Stay in green accommodations. Avoid ones that greenwash. Look for ones that do more than put out recycling bins and switched to fluorescent light bulbs. Ask specific questions about what the lodging does to conserve energy and water and minimize waste. Don't just accept that the use of the word green means they have sustainable practices. The more people who ask, the more hospitality management will listen.

"Already the word 'eco' has lost all power and meaning,' says Guyonne James, senior projects manager at Tourism Concern, a UK charity which campaigns against exploitation. 'If a bed-and-breakfast has a garden, they'll call it an eco-lodge. There has been such a proliferation of claims and green labels that as a tourist you really have no idea what's going on."

5. If you spot someone with bad practices, write a review on

6. Take your habits from home on the road. Recycle, turn off lights, take public transportation, bring your own water bottle and maybe even your coffee mug. Use organic sunscreen to limit contamination at beaches and swimming holes.

For easygoing green travel tips, check this list or add your suggestions here with a comment.

Photo by Greg Lepera, St. Augustine, FL.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

How to Protect Your Health--Beware Deadly House Cleaning

Staying in a clean vacation rental, classroom, office, or home should not increase our risks of sinus problems, asthma symptoms, reproductive harm, damage to our lungs, and exposure to carcinogens (causes cancer). But it does.

Toxic Teddy Bears? Everyday, we use products that expose us to toxins that impact our health, indoor air pollution, and water quality. For me, going green means making better choices about how I take care of myself and in turn, my loved ones, which includes the planet.

The Law of Diminishing Returns. I focus 80% of my green choices on Indoor Air Quality (IAQ). I avoid smoke of all kinds, VOCs, toxic cleaning products, chemical pesticides, and toxic building materials.

Toxic Building Materials. Many conventional building materials contain formaldehyde, carcinogens (cause cancer), and radon. I stay away from the biggest offenders, granite counter tops, paint and all other finishes with VOCs, carpet and flooring glues, treated wood, drywall. I use "no VOC" paints and finishes, glues, and flooring adhesives. If I have to use drywall or thinset mortar for tile installation, I make sure the house is unoccupied for the period of time the material is outgassing icky formaldehyde and other poisons. Check with the manufacturer for specifications--usually tile related materials take 48 hours. Carpet and other glues can take up to one year.

Fuming Furniture. The majority of affordable cabinetry and furniture available at Home Depot, Lowes, Walmart, Ikea, and similar stores is made of MDF, Medium Density Fiberboard which is loaded with toxic VOCs. While it is exciting to find the low prices on these prefab bathroom vanities, dressers, bookcases, and entertainment centers, we end up paying a higher price with our health.

VOC-free MDF is available, but none of the stores I've checked can determine if their manufacturers use it. Tony Spinelli, of Cabinets by Sun Ray informs me that his supplier carriers a VOC free MDF for about the same cost as the toxic MDF. I can't wait to get my new kitchen cabinets now that I found a source that won't break the bank.

Clean Green Breathing Machines.
The U.S. EPA’s Indoor Air Quality Program states that aerosol sprays, cleaners and disinfectants, moth repellents and air fresheners contain dangerous VOCs.

All purpose cleaners, glass cleaners such as Windex, tub, tile, grout cleaners and sealers , degreasers, carpet cleaners, stain removers, floor strippers and cleaners, metal polishes, and oven cleaners contain endocrine disrupting chemicals such as butoxyethanol and other glycol ethers.

Laundry detergents like Tide, multi-purpose cleaners, floor care products and carpet cleaners, non-chlorine sanitizers, toilet bowl cleaners and deodorizers contain harmful APEs. Look for products that use alcohol ethoxylates (sometimes listed as ethoxylated alcohols) instead.

Alkyl phenol ethoxylates (APEs) are surfactants found in laundry detergents, stain
removers, and all-purpose cleaners, which have been found to reduce embryo survival in fish and alter tadpole development. APEs contaminate rivers and streams, and have also been found in household dust.

Over Exposed. School children and janitorial and domestic workers show a much higher prevelence of asthma than those who are not exposed to cleaning chemicals on a daily basis according to numerous studies. Monoethanolamine (MEA), a surfactant found in some laundry detergents, all-purpose cleaners and floor cleaners is a known inducer of occupational asthma.

Ammonium quaternary compounds, disinfectants found in some disinfectant sprays and toilet cleaners that have been identified as inducers of occupational asthma.
Phthalates, carriers for fragrance in glass cleaners, deodorizers, laundry detergents and fabric softners, and are linked to increased allergic symptoms and asthma in children.

A 2004 report from the National Center for Health Statistics states that the incidence of asthma among preschool-aged children rose by 160% between 1980 and 1994, accounting for 14 million missed school days each year and $3.2 million in treatment expenses.

Air fresheners usually contain VOCs such as xylene, ketones and aldehydes as well as benzene and formaldehyde, both of which are known carcinogens. Air fresheners may also contain fragrances--irritants associated with watery eyes, headaches, skin and respiratory irritation, asthma and allergic reactions. Exposure to phthalates, which carry the fragrances in these products, usually aggravates asthma and is linked to reproductive harm, specifically reduced sperm count in men.

UW engineering professor Anne Steinemann analyzed of some of these popular items and found 100 different volatile organic compounds measuring 300 parts per billion or more -- some of which can be cancerous or cause harm to respiratory, reproductive, neurological and other organ systems.

Some of the chemicals are categorized as hazardous or toxic by federal regulatory agencies. But the labels tell a different story, naming only innocuous-sounding "perfume" or "biodegradable" contents.

"Consumers are breathing these chemicals," she said. "No one is doing anything about it."

Industry representatives say that isn't so.

"Dr. Steinemann's statement is misleading and disingenuous," said Chris Cathcart, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Consumer Specialty Products Association, in a statement.

"Air fresheners, laundry products and other consumer specialty products are regulated under the Federal Hazardous Substances Act and subsequently have strict labeling requirements," he said. "Companies producing products that are regulated under FHSA must name on the product label each component that contributes to the hazard."

Okay, so the label may tell us it's toxic and researchers have numerous reports of people -- particularly those with asthma, chemical sensitivities and allergies -- having strong adverse reactions. I'm one of those people. That's enough research for me!

When restaurant owners and airplane cleaners use air fresheners, or when vacation rentals wash towels and sheets in scented laundry supplies its a problem for me. And even when the concentrations are low in individual products, I'm exposed to multiple sources on a daily basis. That's why at home and on the road, I do my best to hang out in healthy homes owned by people who:

~Change HVAC air filters at least once every three months
~Use Permanent or high allergen filters
~Open the windows for a minimum of 45 minutes a day for fresh air
~Eliminate or minimize use of products with synthetic fragrances. This includes "essential oils." Being an "essential oil" does NOT mean it is healthy. Most oils have synthetic fragrance additives.
~Don't bother with HEPA filters on vacuums and other equipment unless you change them regularly. Most filters don't work, especially when they're filled with dirt.
~Never allow smoking of any kind.
~Eliminate or reduce materials made of MDF, particle board, glued woods, carpet, or vinyl
~Eliminate pans with Teflon
~Ventilate and leave the house for at least 48 hours after applications of StainMaster, StainGuard products and installation of drywall and other building
~Use no or low VOC paints, sprays, adhesives whenever possible
~Cross ventilate or exhaust fans in use to minimize mold growth
~Do not allow pets on soft materials, upholstery where dander cannot be removed
~Burn only unscented, beeswax or chemical free candles. Many wicks contain lead and candle waxes have carcinogenic scents and additives.

Photo by Steve Beinhorn

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Beat the Heat in Sedona: What to do in August

It's not too hot in northern Arizona for outdoor lovers, not if you know where to go and what to do to beat the heat.

Cool Off Like a Cave Man. Arizona has many caves like the one above where temps often stay the same as the previous night's cool air. Thunder Mountain and Sycamore Canyon boast a few places to cool it. Cave men and femmes alike can also groove on the petroglyphs and pictographs of Platki and other ruins.

Get Celestial.
Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, where once upon a planet Pluto was discovered is one of the best places to observe the night sky. On August 11 the famous Perseid meteor shower makes it even more stellar for a starry, starry night. And it's only six bucks to get in.

Monsoon and Moonlight Mountain Biking.
The weather has changed in recent years, so the summer thunderstorms can no longer truly be classified as monsoons. But biking in front of a thunderstorm at sunset is still a blast and temps drop on the trails after 4 PM. Try the trail at the Cultural Park, with views of nearly 70 miles, you can race ahead of the front and enjoy the accompanying breeze, rainbows and splashy sunsets. Full moon on around August 17 will light these trails up for rockin' red rock ride.

Not into biking? Than take an evening stroll to the lookout point in the Cultural Park for a spectacular sunset. You'll also avoid the crowds at typical sunset spots like Airport Mesa.

Soul Search. Sand Play for the Soul is a fun way to spend the afternoon indoors and a meaningful way to have a spiritual experience. Facilitated by an experienced counselor, you can delve into your creativity and have a soul adventure. All without getting sweaty.

Cool Getaways.
Hiking doesn't have to be hot, even in August. Towering pines keep trails into canyons like Boynton, Sycamore, and Secret Canyons cool enough for a solid hike. Really want something Alpine? Kachina Trail hovers at 9,500 feet for most of its 5 miles. Picnic with the largest organisms on the planet, aspen groves.

Get in Touch with the Earth.
Native American art inspired by the natural world is exhibited in "From the Earth" at the Smoki Museum, Prescott.

Celebrate the Dineh.
The 59th annual Navajo arts and cultural festival brings together weavers, potters, jewelers, filmmakers, musicians, and dancers. Details on the Museum of Northern Arizona website.

Dunk in one of the "10 Best Swimming Holes."
Rated by Outside Magazine as one of the best places to swim in a natural pool, Wet Beaver Creek is at the end of 179, about two miles past I 17.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Wholly Guacamole! How to Eat Pesticide Free Without Going Broke

With prices rising, jobs fading, and incomes falling flat, buying organic produce may seem like it could break the bank. I'm saving by buying some of the less offensive conventional produce. It's tempting to buy those amazing avocados and juicy peaches at this time of year. But how do you know what's loaded with toxins and what's not?

According to the Environmental Working Group, the produce on this list will expose you to less than two pesticides a day. I stick to the ones with peels.

The "Cleanest 12" (starting with the best)

* onions
* avocados
* sweet corn (frozen)
* pineapples
* mangoes
* asparagus
* sweet peas (frozen)
* kiwi fruit
* bananas
* cabbage
* broccoli
* papaya

Peaches top the list of the worst offenders. Keep in mind, rocket fuel by-products and other contaminates cannot be avoided even if you buy organic, as the water supply is tainted. EWG produces an up-to-date research report on pesticides in produce for details check the website.