Polyester Clothing, Paint Cans and Pest Control

Fiber Risks, Recycling Rules and Reducing Ticks

Are there any health risks involved with polyester clothing?

—Amily Atwell, Dublin, OH

Polyester has come a long way since leisure suits, and can now be found in everything from carpeting and totebags to artificial arteries. Because it’s strong, wrinkle-resistant and quick drying, it’s in just about every form of clothing imaginable. According to Bob Barker, vice president of technical issues for the American Fiber Manufacturers Association (AFMA), polyester is also pretty harmless. Pure polyester retains its initial heat-set and so doesn’t need the off-gassing, formaldehyde-laced permanent-press treatment of cotton and cotton-polyester blends.

But Carolyn Gorman, health education director for the Environmental Health Center in Dallas, points out that polyester isn’t safe for everybody. Because it doesn’t breathe well, people with very sensitive skin, such as those prone to eczema and hives, can’t wear it. And people with multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) may have reactions to any clothing treatments, including water repellents, Scotchguard and many fabric dyes. Albert Donay, director of MCS Referral and Resources, says the best bet for people with MCS is organic cotton, washed in baking soda and water.


1150 17th Street NW, Suite 310
Washington, DC 20036
Tel. (202) 296-6508
URL: http://www.fibersource.com

MCS Referral and Resources
508 Westgate Road
Baltimore, MD 21229
Tel. (410) 362-6400

Environmental Health Center
8345 Walnut Hill Lane, Suite 220
Dallas, TX 75231
Tel. (214) 368-4132

What do you do with empty spray paint cans?

—Brett Buttenfield, Pittsburgh, PA

More than 3,500 municipal locations currently collect empty aerosol cans, and the local recycling program coordinator should be able to tell you if yours is one of them. If so, all you need to do is use up the can, remove the plastic cap, and toss it in your recycling bin. Over 426 million of them are recycled annually, along with steel food and paint cans, into new cans, automobiles, appliances, construction materials, tools and toys. In fact, the production of new steel actually requires at least 25 percent “scrap” steel.

Because only completely empty spray cans can be recycled, the National Paint and Coatings Association (NPCA) emphasizes that you buy only the amount you need, donate leftovers to someone else, or save it for later use. If your can refuses to spray, it might be because you haven’t shaken the can properly or cleaned the nozzle. Remove the nozzle and clean it thoroughly; if it still refuses to spray, partially-full cans must be disposed of properly. This means saving it for a special household hazardous waste collection day in your area or taking it to a special collection site.


1500 Rhode Island Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20005
Tel. (202) 462-6272
URL: http://www.paint.org

Steel Recycling Institute
680 Andersen Drive
Pittsburgh, PA 15220-2700
Tel. (800) 876-7274
URL: http://www.recycle-steel.org

We have a problem with ticks near our home. Are there any eco-safe applications we could use to get rid of them?

—Thomas Cohn, Bedford Corners, NY

A small bug with a big bite, ticks carry Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Q fever and tularemia. Ticks can actually pass on more diseases to humans than any arthropod but mosquitoes. Unfortunately, according to Aisha Ikramuddin of Mothers & Others for a Livable Planet, there’s also essentially nothing nontoxic on the market to repel them.

The best advice when exploring the outdoors during tick season is always to wear full-coverage, light-colored clothing (which gives you a chance to see the wee beasts). Search yourself thoroughly, particularly at the base of your skull, and wash the clothes immediately.

According to the Bio-Integral Resource Center, it’s also possible to manage the habitat in and around your home to make it less hospitable to ticks. Because pets are frequent carriers, their sleeping quarters should be vacuumed frequently, and large cracks sealed. Ticks are attracted to humid environments, so deep and infrequent watering of your lawn will let it dry out between applications. Vegetation should be cut below ankle height, the brush along paths and roadways removed, and trees pruned to let the light through. This will also make your property less appealing to animal hosts, such as rabbits, rodents, opossum, raccoons and deer. If you’d like to take further steps, hanging soap, human hair and garlic all reportedly have deer-repelling qualities, as do resisting ornamentals such as lilac, jasmine, boxwood and holly.

In Furtive Fauna: A Field Guide to the Creatures Who Live on You (Ten Speed Press, 510-599-1600) Roger Knutson points out, “The only way to eliminate ticks for certain would be to get rid of the outdoors, which makes throwing out the baby with the bath water seem sensible by comparison.”


Bio-Integral Resource Center
PO Box 7414
Berkeley, CA 94707
Tel. (510) 524-2567