Debra Lynn Dadd
Debra was the first
to define, find, use, and recommend to the general public
everyday consumer products that do not contain toxic chemicals—
so individuals, society, and all Life can be less toxic and better survive.
And then she continued to move the field of toxic-free products
forward and ever more forward for forty years.
Debra Lynn Dadd was born in Oakland, California in 1955. At that time it was already known that the toxic pesticide DDT had been ubiquitous in the environment since 1944 (it was banned by the US Environmental Protection Agency in 1972). DDT was present then in every living thing, even penguins at the South Pole, and the body of Debra’s mother. What wasn’t known at the time was that toxics in a mother’s body could transfer to the developing fetus. Like all babies of her generation and since, Debra’s body was born toxic.
With that beginning, Debra’s little body went on to live in the standard American home of the 1950s with toxic cleaning products and chlorine in tap water, only to be made worse in the 1960s with the introduction of plastics, flame retardants, teflon, fast food, scented everything, and other industrial everyday products.
In 1962, when Debra was seven years old, her family moved into a brand new house in a suburban subdivision in Concord, California, filled with new wall-to-wall carpets, new particleboard cabinets, and other toxic materials. Oil refineries were just over the hill and emissions were frequently carried by the wind to their small neighborhood.
In 1978, Debra’s mother died of cancer. So many other cancers followed that the neighborhood was a designated a “cancer cluster.” At the same time, Debra began to experience a strange set of seemingly unrelated symptoms, now known to be an immune system disorder known as multiple chemical sensitivities. She would faint from the chlorine fumes in the shower, get headaches from perfume and scented products, and insomnia from the formaldehyde being released from the permanent-press finish on her bedsheets.
The cause of these symptoms was a mystery.
Debra Discovers Toxic Chemicals in Her Home
In an effort to save her mother’s life, Debra’s father took her to a doctor who was willing to give her intravenous vitamin C. He also happened to be one of the first doctors treating patients for what was then known as “environmental illness.” As her father waited for her mother to receive her vitamin C treatment, her father watched patients being tested for their reactions to various toxic chemicals. They were having the same random symptoms Debra was having. At that time patients were being tested and treated with small doses of the chemicals that were making them sick, much like homeopathy.
But when Debra learned that toxic chemicals in consumer products she was using in her home were making her body sick, her logical response was to want to remove those toxic chemicals from her home. But that was easier said than done. At the time there were virtually no products available that did not contain these chemicals.
Debra’s First Nontoxic Home
Debra’s new nontoxic home consisted of a metal cot piled with cotton thermal blankets for a bed, a few pairs of cotton jeans and some cotton t-shirts and flannel shirts for clothes, baking soda for toothpaste and deodorant, and a bar of unscented soap. Her father rigged up a the first showerhead filter to remove chlorine from the water. She drank bottled Perrier water and ate only fresh food, simply prepared.
Life was sparse, but eliminating toxic chemicals from her home improved Debra’s health dramatically. When she stopped wearing perfume, she no longer had headaches. When she removed the permanent-press polyester-cotton sheets and pillowcases that were emitting formaldehyde from her bed, her insomnia disappeared. One by one her symptoms vanished as Debra found the causative chemical exposure and removed it.
Debra’s doctor took notice that she was the only patient that was getting well, so he hired her to visit the homes of other patients and help them replace their toxic products. One by one, each patient improved.
Debra Learns Just How Toxic Consumer Products Really Are
But Debra wasn’t satisfied with this limited life.
She wanted to know what chemicals were producing her symptoms, and where they were found in consumer products so she could find more products that didn’t have toxic ingredients.
When Debra began to research, she found that the chemicals in consumer products were causing more serious health problems, including cancer and birth defects. As more and more research began to be done in the newly-formed field of toxicology, it was eventually found that toxic chemical exposures in most modern homes were causing health problems in every body system.
It is now well documented that toxic chemicals in consumer products affect everyone, in every age group and every body type.
Ongoing exposure to toxic chemicals found in home from consumer products can weaken body systems—particularly the immune system—making every body more vulnerable to diseases and conditions of all types.
Debra wrote the first book on toxic chemicals in consumer products, A Consumer Guide for the Chemically Sensitive, and safe alternatives in 1982 to make it easier for her clients to find the nontoxic products they needed in order to live symptom-free. When Bon Ami learned their scouring powder was recommended in the book, they sent Debra on two media tours. The post office delivered bag after bag of self-addressed stamped envelopes wanting to order the book.
By 1983, natural food stores were opening and there were many new nontoxic and natural products coming on the market. A patient who was a published author introduced Debra to her publisher and they gave her a contract to rewrite A Consumer Guide for the general public. Subsequent books on the subject have been continuously in print since. Order Toxic Free here.
Debra’s books have also been translated into other languages.
In addition to her own books, Debra was co-author of the first book on nontoxic building, Healthful Houses, with architect Clint Good.
In 2004, Debra’s work became too broad for books, so she brought toxic-free products online with Debra’s List, the largest directory of websites that sell toxic free products with 1000s of links to products of all kinds.
This was followed by Toxic-Free Q&A, the largest Q&A on toxic and toxic-free products with 1000s of questions and comments.
From 2013-2015, Debra hosted Toxic Free Talk Radio, a live, one-hour radio show five days a week. During this time, she did more than 400 interviews with authors, business people, and representatives from organizations about various aspects of living toxic-free. It was the first (and to date the only) radio show dedicated to the subject of toxic chemicals in consumer products and safe alternatives.
Today these websites continue to be hosted and updated at nontoxU.com.
From 2004-2006, Debra also created the first food blog devoted to cooking with unrefined natural sweeteners. In Sweet Savvy, Debra found and purchased all the natural sweeteners available at the time, and developed recipes for popular desserts that accommodated the quirks of whole cane sugar, honey, agave syrup, maple syrup, stevia, and other natural sweeteners.
Debra and Her Readers Make the World Toxic-Free
For forty years, Debra found, defined, and made nontoxic products known to the general public in the United States and around the world.
Following in Debra’s footsteps, others joined to fight toxics and promote toxic-free products as well, such as Washington Toxics Coalition (now Toxic-Free Future), Environmental Working Group, Women’s Voices for the Earth, Center for Environmental Health, and others.
Today there are nontoxic versions of virtually every product and there are many sources where they can be purchased. Safer Chemicals Healthy Families has issued The Hazardous 100+ List of Chemicals of High Concern and is encouraging top mass-market retailers to ban these chemicals from the products they sell.
Even Wal-Mart has their own screening program to eliminate toxics in the products they sell.
But none of this happened until Debra started writing and speaking out about toxic chemicals in consumer products and showing consumers how to choose and where to buy toxic-free products.
Now toxic-free products are preferred and in demand.
In 2019, Debra could see that her work was done. While there is still much more to do to create a world that is completely toxic-free, Debra had done her part to identify toxic chemicals in consumer products, find safe products, and make it known to the world that we have a choice. On her 64th birthday, she turned over her debralynndadd.com website to a new owner.
Debra’s last document on toxic-free products was the 19-page pdf The Challenge of Identifying Toxic-Free Products. Here Debra outlines the difficulties consumers have when shopping for toxic-free products and calls for more disclosure, transparency, and better labeling.
Debra’s New Work and New Name
As the years progressed, Debra realized that the products that contained toxic chemicals were for the most part made by industrial manufacturing of nonrenewable fossil fuels. And while one could find industrial products that were not toxic, there was actually another approach that could be taken.
Debra found that when you step out of industrialization, you step into Nature. When you use products made from natural, renewable resources instead of petroleum, you are using nontoxic products, but products that have many more benefits as well.
Natural, renewable, organic, sustainable products bring shoppers into the whole circle of Life. It’s a different way of living altogether. A different viewpoint.
In June 2019, after 40 years of researching and writing about nontoxic products, Debra decided to retire from her toxics work.
Today Debra and her lifepartner and soulmate, Larry Redalia, are happily exploring how we can go beyond industrialization and create “a lifestyle based in Life.”