Elbow grease: the cost effective, green cleaner

Denise Frakes of Blue Sky Services, gives tips on dumping toxic cleaners and using a little elbow grease for a safer, cleaner home. Photo/Niki Cleary, Tulalip News
Denise Frakes of Blue Sky Services, offers tips on dumping toxic cleaners and using a little elbow grease for a healthy, clean home. Photo/Niki Cleary, Tulalip News


By Niki Cleary, Tulalip News 


It’s easy to fall prey to the advertising. A sparkling home, the scent of a sea breeze drifting across the living room, not to mention the image of your bizarrely clean children and dogs frolicking as you take cookies from your spotless oven. The fact is, it’s a myth. The images are clever marketing. A play on our childhood memories and a lifetime of conditioning about how to properly complete domestic chores that hooks us into buying toxic cleaners that not only wreak havoc on our health, they actually make our house dirtier!

Denise Frakes has owned and operated cleaning companies for 24 years, she explained, “There’s a reason most of our fragrances are ‘seabreeze, mountain mist,’ all these things feed our [idea] of hearth and home, except they don’t. Our sense of smell is in the mid-part of the brain where our memories and emotions are. A lot of times it’s hard to let go of products we’re emotionally connected to.”

It helps if you first consider that most cleaning products designed for your home are pesticides.

“Anything that kills a living organism, is a pesticide,” Denise pointed out. “Be careful, we are living organisms. Have you ever cleaned your house and had this scratchy throat, a headache, or you just feel tired?”

It’s not just because you don’t like cleaning.

She went on, “Instead of feeling vitalized because we’ve done something physical, we don’t feel well. What happened? We’re mixing products all the time. Say I’m in the shower and use a product called ‘Kaboom’. I spray it, breathe it in, it gets on my skin. Then maybe I use my window cleaner with ammonia, and some of it also lands on me, the glass, and some on the acrylic floor. Now I’m in this tiny area, with poor ventilation and I’ve created a toxic gas.”

In addition to the concern of mixing chemicals, Denise said that one of the goals of cleaning is to leave no residue. Denise and her husband, the owner/operators of Blue Sky Services, employ a system that focuses on prevention then escalates to the use of what she calls ‘restorative’ cleaning products, things like bleach.

“Cleaning is not about adding on, it’s about removing. We start with residue free, or green cleaning, because when you’re done cleaning the only thing left should be the [surface]. ”

But cleaning products make life so much easier, right? I’ve seen the commercials, spray that stuff and little bubble cartoons come out of nowhere and leave behind sparkles and freshness. Turns out that’s not exactly accurate, most cleaning products leave behind a residue that attracts dirt if it’s not removed.

“The job of cleaners is to attract soil, so they leave behind a residue which makes things re-soil faster,” Denise explained.

Prevention is always better than cleaning, she pointed out. She pronounced that a good entry rug is the first line of defense. Taking off shoes as you enter the house is another strategy to keep dirt out.

“The premise of my cleaning is always, is there a way we can prevent a soil? If you have a commercial entrance rug and take off your shoes, you’ll minimize 76% of all soils that come in the door.”

When you do have to clean, the best ingredient is elbow grease, and plenty of it.

“We are masters of breaking surface tension in our cleaning company, because that’s where the cleaning happens,” Denise illustrated by wetting a cloth and scrubbing briskly.

“I use a two-towel method, microfiber cloths are great technology,” she added. “A good microfiber will gather 99% of the germs. They grab a hold of the soil, we don’t need to kill germs, just remove them. I clean with a microfiber, then buff dry with a terry cloth or other non-lint towel.”

Dish soap is one of the products Denise is fond of using. Because it’s excellent at breaking surface tension, is safe and a little can go a very long way.

“I use it in showers, counters and floors,” she said. “Because it’s high bubbling, you can use a really diluted product. It’s a great cleanser to use, then rinse and dry and it’s not in the air.”

In line with her mildest means cleaning philosophy, Denise encourages the use of vacuums, especially those that use HEPA filters. HEPA filters remove very fine particles from the air.




“There’s a lot of stuff in our dust that isn’t healthy,” she explained. She urged people to consider opening their windows, both to let in fresh air and to remove moisture, an often forgotten danger to indoor air quality.

“When you live in a house it should be the safest, healthiest place, but most homes have 25% more contaminants than outside,” said Denise. “Air purifiers are great, but clean your filters on a regular basis and maintain them well. I recommend that every house has a hygrometer, a relative humidity measurement tool.”

Ideally, indoor air should contain 30-50% moisture, when it’s above 60% the humidity provides a perfect environment for dust mites and mold.

“If you’re cleaning or working in the kitchen or taking a shower, open a window and turn on the ventilation,” she encouraged. “The exhaust fans remove contaminants and the windows bring in fresh air.”

Quick review time: in order to reduce dependence on cleaning products you should practice prevention, use area rugs and stop dirt at the door. Next, clean early and often using the mildest means possible, preferably water and washcloths followed by drying to prevent water spots and dirt from settling into the droplets. If you have to use a cleaning product, make sure that you increase the ventilation and open the windows.

Remember, you should feel better, not worse, after cleaning. For more tips on green cleaning you can follow Denise’s blog at www.dfbluesky.com.

Scientists Release Landmark Worldwide Assessment Detailing Effects Of Bee-Killing Pesticides

Neonicotinoids threaten “heart of a functioning ecosystem,” says report co-author



By Brandon Baker, Mint Press News

The Worldwide Integrated Assessment (WIA), issued by the Task Force on Systemic Pesticides, documents significant damage to bees and the environment stemming from the wide-spread use of neonicotinoid pesticides (neonics). The report stresses that even at very low levels, neonics and the products resulting from their breakdown in the environment are persistent and harmful, and suggests that the current regulatory system has failed to grasp the full range of impacts from these pesticides. The authors analyzed more than 800 peer-reviewed publications before coming to their consensus.

The report will appear in a forthcoming issue of the journal Environmental Science and Pollution Research and will be released at events in Brussels, Manila, Montreal and Tokyo over the next two days.

“This report should be a final wake up call for American regulators who have been slow to respond to the science,” said Emily Marquez, PhD, staff scientist at Pesticide Action Network North America. “The weight of the evidence showing harm to bees and other pollinators should move EPA [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency] to restrict neonicotinoids sooner than later. And the same regulatory loopholes that allowed these pesticides to be brought to the market in the first place—and remain on the shelf—need to be closed.”

“The science clearly shows that, not only are these systemic pesticides lethal to pollinators, but even low doses can disrupt critical brain functions and reduce their immunity to common pathogens,” said Nichelle Harriott, staff scientist at Beyond Pesticides.

Neonics, as described by the Center for Food Safety, are a newer class of systemic insecticides that are absorbed by plants and transported throughout the plant’s vascular tissue, making the plant potentially toxic to insects. Imidacloprid (Bayer)—followed by clothianidin (Bayer), thiamethoxam (Syngenta) and dinotefuran—first came into heavy use in the mid-2000s. At about the same time, beekeepers started observing widespread cases of population losses—episodes that lead to the coining of the term “colony collapse disorder.”

Over the past few years numerous studies and reports, as well as advocacy groups and beekeepers, have called on the EPA to suspend the use of neonicotinoids, even filing lawsuits and circulating legal petitions against the agency. The EPA has continually stalled and indicated that a review of the pesticides will not be completed until 2018. Meanwhile, the European Commission instituted a continent-wide, two-year ban on neonicotinoids that began Dec. 1, 2013.

“To save our invaluable pollinators, EPA, USDA [U.S. Department of Agriculture] and all Federal agencies must read this report and immediately implement regulatory remedies against the ongoing neonicotinoid disaster,” said Doug Gurian-Sherman, PhD, senior scientist for Center for Food Safety. “We know from recent studies that neonicotinoid seed treatments are generally not improving yields or even keeping common pests at bay. They aren’t serving farmers and they certainly aren’t serving pollinators. It is time to address this common route of exposure.”

The report looks beyond the harmful affects on bees, noting the far-reaching impacts of neonics on entire ecosystems, including contamination of soil and water, as well similar effects being displayed in butterflies and other pollinators.

Since 2006, beekeepers in the U.S. have been losing, on average, more than 30 percent of their bees each year, with commercial productions losing upwards of 50 percent. Last month, the USDA reported that honeybees in the U.S. are dying at a rate too high to ensure their long-term survival.

“The report lends credence to what beekeepers have been saying for several years,” said Jeff Anderson, beekeeper and owner of California-Minnesota Honey Farms. “Our country depends on bees for crop pollination and honey production. It’s high time regulators realize that applying toxins to plants makes them toxic to bees.”

Growers Tell Congress Pesticide Ban Won’t Solve Bee Problems

 Oregon growers testified in Congress that the government should take a scientific approach to banning pesticides. | credit: University of California-Davis
Oregon growers testified in Congress that the government should take a scientific approach to banning pesticides. | credit: University of California-Davis


By Eric Mortenson, Capital Pres

Instead of banning the neonicotinoid class of pesticides, Congress should follow Oregon’s example and use a collaborative and science-based approach to improving honeybee health, the executive director of the Oregon Association of Nurseries said.

OAN director Jeff Stone told a congressional subcommittee that the state’s nursery industry depends on pollinators, but also relies on chemical agents to kill pests and protect plant health.

“This chemical class, when used properly, is vital to the success of our industry,” Stone told members of the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Horticulture, Research, Biotechnology and Foreign Agriculture.

The subcommittee, which includes Oregon Rep. Kurt Schrader and Washington Rep. Suzan K. DelBene, invited testimony on pollinator health — a hot topic as honey bees have been decimated by colony collapse disorder.

Some researchers believe hive loss could be caused by a combination of parasites, nutrition problems or the stress of being moved long distances. Many beekeepers truck hives across farming regions each spring, pollinating crops in rotation as the season advances.

Others conclude heavy pesticide use — especially neonicotinoids — disrupts bee behavior, kills them outright or weakens them to the point they are susceptible to illness or infection. Oregon Rep. Earl Blumenaur last year introduced legislation that would ban neonicotinoids, a synthetic pesticide.

Stone said there are alternatives, and described how Oregon handled spraying incidents in which thousands of bees were killed in 2013. The Oregon Department of Agriculture temporarily restricted the use of dinotefuran and imidacloprid, both neonicotinoids. An education campaign told people not to use the sprays on flowering linden and basswood trees.

Other speakers testifying included Dan Cummings, an almond and walnut grower in Hamilton, Calif., and chair of the Almond Board of California Bee Task Force.

Cummings said about 1.6 million honeybee colonies — approximately two thirds of all the commercially kept honeybees in the United States — are needed to pollinate California’s almond orchards. The orchards are completely dependent on honeybees for pollination, he said.

The Almond Board of California funds honeybee research, spending $2.3 million in health projects since 1995, Cummings said. “Without honeybees, there would be no crop,” he said.

Jeff Pettis, lead researcher at the USDA’s bee lab in Maryland, said a parasite called the varroa mite is wreaking havoc on honey bees. It’s full name is “Varroa destructor,” he said, “and it is perhaps the most aptly named parasite to enter this country. Varroa destructor is a modern honey bee plague.”

When Varroa destructor was first detected in the U.S. in 1987, beekeepers managed more than 3 million colonies for crop pollination and their winter hive losses ranged from 10 to 15 percent annually, Pettis told the committee. Beekeepers now have about 2.5 million colonies and winter hive losses average more than 30 percent per year.

“The economic sustainability of beekeeping is at the tipping point,” Pettis said.

House Farm Bill Provision would make eating fish more dangerous

As featured on eNews Park Forest.com, Dec 5, 2013

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–December 5, 2013.  It’s farm bill debate time—again. And as conferee members saddle up to the negotiation table to attempt yet another meeting of the minds before the winter recess, most of the public watching and waiting for word on a resolution are focused on issues like food stamps and milk.

What most are not waiting for and has not been at the forefront of the media and public discussion concerning the pending farm bill negotiations are the small but dangerous provisions of the House bill concerning the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (expanded and overhauled as the Clean Water Act (CWA) in 1972) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ability to regulate pesticides used near, over, and in water. It should be.

fishing-207x300Seeking to nullify the Sixth Circuit’s ruling in National Cotton Council v. EPA and the resulting general permit, sections 12323 and 100013 amend CWA to exclude pesticides from the law’s standards and its permitting requirements. Known as the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES), CWA requires all point sources, which are discernible and discreet conveyances, to obtain either individual or general permits. Whether a point source must obtain an individual or general permit depends on the size of the point source and type of activity producing the pollutants. Regardless of whether it is a general permit or individual permit, an entity cannot pollute without a permit and in most cases can only permit in the amounts (called effluent limitations) and ways prescribed in the permit.

Separate, but inextricably linked to the NPDES program, are CWA’s water quality standards, under which states are responsible for designating waterbody uses (such as swimmable or fishable) and setting criteria to protect those uses. If a water body fails to meet the established criteria for its use, then it is deemed impaired and the states, or EPA, if the state fails to act, must establish a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), a kind of pollutant diet. The system comes full circle in that impaired waters with TMDLs can be integrated into the NPDES permits.

Neither CWA nor the NPDES program are perfect, but one need look no further than the fish we eat to understand the important role that this critical environmental framework plays in limiting human exposure to pesticides and other toxins.

CWA, Fish, and the Pesticide Connection

In the recently released Environmental Health Perspectives’ article, Meeting the Needs of the People: Fish Consumption Rates in the Pacific Northwest, the complexities of the CWA, its NPDES progam, and its water quality standards criteria are laid out in a disturbing tale of environmental justice and failing bureaucracies.

In short, Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest eat a lot of fish. It’s part of their culture and a way of life preserved in their legal and tribal rights, but they are facing increasing health risks due to the toxic chemicals in those fish. The solution to this problem seems fairly straight-forward: reduce the toxins in the water so that the levels in the fish are safe to eat. It’s a solution envisioned by CWA and its web of regulatory protections, however, as the article explains, “One of the variables used to calculate ambient water quality criteria is fish consumption rate.”

While the takeaway from the article is somewhat defeating and shows the far-reaching weaknesses of existing risk assessment methodologies, the underpinnings of the article —the connection between a water body’s water quality criteria, an entities NPDES permit, and the safety of the fish we put in our mouths— cannot be dismissed as irrelevant tales of woe. Whether the system is functioning perfectly or not, the point is that a system exists that contemplates the risks inherent to consuming toxin-laced fish and has the potential to protect the general consuming public.

From Fish Back to the Farm Bill

What does not have this ability is the Federal, Insecticide, Rodenticide, and Act (FIFRA). It is this federal framework, however, on which supporters of the House provision hang their hats and point to as the already-in-place protective standard capable of preventing water pollution from pesticides. Beyond Pesticides has debunked this argument in more ways than one. Other environmental advocacy groups have also pointed out that the sky has not fallen since EPA’s implementation of the general pesticide permit under CWA.

The Clean Water Act is intended to ensure that every community, from tribe to urban neighborhood, has the right to enjoy fishable and swimmable bodies of water. There is a lot of work still to be done to improve the nation’s waters and protect the health of people dependent on those waters.  Without the Clean Water Act, there are no common sense backstops or enforcement mechanisms for reducing direct applications of pesticides to waterways. It may not be perfect, but it is better than nothing, which would be the effect of the House farm bill. We can’t afford to lose these protections.

Tell your Senators to oppose any efforts to undermine the Clean Water Act.


For more information, read our factsheet, Clearing up the Confusion Surrounding the New NPDES General Permit and visit our Threatened Waters page.

Sources:  Environmental Health Perspectives, Natural Resources Defense Council, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, http://www.beyondpesticides.org/

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Marla Spivak: Why bees are disappearing




FILMED JUN 2013 • POSTED SEP 2013 • TEDGlobal 2013

Bees pollinate a third of our food supply — they don’t just make honey! — but colonies have been disappearing at alarming rates in many parts of the world due to the accumulated effects of parasitic mites, viral and bacterial diseases, and exposure to pesticides and herbicides. Marla Spivak, University of Minnesota professor of entomology and 2010 MacArthur Fellow, tries as much as possible to think like bees in her work to protect them. They’re “highly social and complex” creatures, she says, which fuels her interest and her research.

Spivak has developed a strain of bees, the Minnesota Hygienic line, that can detect when pupae are infected and kick them out of the nest, saving the rest of the hive. Now, Spivak is studying how bees collect propolis, or tree resins, in their hives to keep out dirt and microbes. She is also analyzing how flowers’ decline due to herbicides, pesticides and crop monoculture affect bees’ numbers and diversity. Spivak has been stung by thousands of bees in the course of her work.


View PDF’s that have lists of local native plants that are friendly for honey bees





From Xerces.org PDFClick image to view PDF
From Xerces.org
Click image to view PDF

The Plight of the Honeybee—and How You Can Help

Darla Antoine, Indian Country Today Media Network

Honeybees are holy. They are matriarchal powerhouses, spiritual catalysts . . . and they’re dropping like flies.

It’s a phenomenon that’s become known as Colony Collapse Disorder. While its causes are contested and debated, it’s largely agreed that the bees are dying from some sort of a combination of exposure to pesticides (in the field and in their hive), and of exposure to pathogens and viruses. All of which may potentially be caused, and prevented, by commercial beekeeping practices. This is a big deal because it’s estimated that we rely on bees for up to 40 percent of our food—bees are the pollinators that make our food happen!

It’s been attributed to Einstein, but someone once said that if the honey bee goes extinct, we humans will follow four years later.

FOUR years later.

So what can you do? Well you can buy your honey locally for starters. Big operation beekeepers often harvest all of the honey in their hives and give the bees high fructose corn syrup to live off of during the winter. They also buy pre-fabricated honeycombs to speed the honey-making process up and to make the slats of honey produce more uniformly. The honeycomb is where the Queen bee lays her eggs. There are generally two sizes of honeycomb in a hive: large and small. These different sizes create different kinds of bees, which lends biodiversity to the hive, creating a healthier, stronger, hive. For example: the smaller honeycombs create bees that are disease tolerant, while the larger honeycombs create bees that are tolerant to the cold. That means that if there is a sudden cold snap, some of the disease-resistant bees might die, but there would be plenty of cold-resistant bees left to keep the hive going and to help regenerate it. And vice versa.

The problem in most commercial operations is that they slip in pre-fabricated honeycombs to save time and to get the bees producing honey faster. These combs are also reusable and disposable—easier and cleaner to work with. However, these combs are also only come in one size: large. That means large commercial productions for honey have a lot of cold-resistant bees and not many disease-resistant ones, which may be one reason so many honeybees have died in the last few years. This then leads commercial beekeepers to use antibiotics and pesticides in their hives— which is bad for the bees and bad for us when we ingest their honey or use the beeswax.

Another bonus to buying your honey locally: the honey will be infused with local pollens (from the pollen-collecting process) and over time this exposure to local pollens will help reduce or eliminate your seasonal allergies.

What else can you do to help the bees out? Become a beekeeper! It’s really pretty simple and inexpensive to get into beekeeping. I recommend finding a local beekeeper and asking her for some tips on getting started. You can also check out area beekeeping organizations for classes on beekeeping and other sources for getting everything you need to get started. You can also check out websites like BackYardHive.com Also be sure to check with your city or county ordinances—sometimes you can get a property tax break for having a hive on your land.

If you’re not a beekeeper, but still want to help the little beauties out, plant a diverse selection of flowers in your garden to help attract bees and consider not using chemical applications on your plants and soil. The bees will thank you for it.

Darla Antoine on a recent visit to Washington State.
Darla Antoine on a recent visit to Washington State.


Darla Antoine is an enrolled member of the Okanagan Indian Band in British Columbia and grew up in Eastern Washington State. For three years, she worked as a newspaper reporter in the Midwest, reporting on issues relevant to the Native and Hispanic communities, and most recently served as a producer for Native America Calling. In 2011, she moved to Costa Rica, where she currently lives with her husband and their infant son. She lives on an organic and sustainable farm in the “cloud forest”—the highlands of Costa Rica, 9,000 feet above sea level. Due to the high elevation, the conditions for farming and gardening are similar to that of the Pacific Northwest—cold and rainy for most of the year with a short growing season. Antoine has an herb garden, green house, a bee hive, cows, a goat, and two trout ponds stocked with hundreds of rainbow trout.


Read more at https://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2013/06/21/plight-honeybee-and-how-you-can-help-150038