The following is a letter that I am sending off tonight to the Santa Sabina Retreat Center, where I spent this past weekend, and about 12 previous weekends since 2000, sitting in silence. I share this letter here only to demonstrate that we can have a voice, write our letters and make our calls, and do it all in a spirit of sharing and love rather than confrontation or hostility. I love Santa Sabina. I truly do. Here’s the letter:
Dear Santa Sabina Center:
As a participant in Jon Bernie’s meditation retreat this past weekend, I write this letter in a spirit of gratitude for the beautiful space that you provide for rest and silence. This note is meant to thank you and also to offer some suggestions.
I’ve been attending Jon Bernie’s retreats at Santa Sabina ever since the very first one in 2000. Every time I come back, I feel like I’m returning to a loving home. From the care taken for the lovely gardens to the wholesome meals to the little bits of poetry and flowers placed in unexpected places, Santa Sabina helps retreatants feel safe and nurtured during our stay.
Given this attention to detail, then, it is a bit ironic to find certain personal care products, such as antibacterial soaps (Soft Soap antibacterial liquid hand soap) and synthetic air fresheners (Oust Air Sanitizer and Glade Neutralizer) offered for guests’ use. And since Santa Sabina is all about caring for the health of the planet and the creatures that dwell here, I assume that these products are offered without knowledge of the harm that they are currently causing to our environment.
First, Oust Air Sanitizer contains an additional active ingredient called Triethylene Glycol, which can be a strong allergen and hazard for asthma sufferers. In fact, the label on the can states: “Asthma and allergy sufferers: Consult your physician before using this product in your home.” It contains a further warning: “Before spraying, remove birds. After using, ventilate normally prior to returning birds to treated areas.” I discovered cans of this Oust Air Sanitizer on the backs of several toilets for retreatants to spray after using the facilities. And whereas I don’t personally suffer from allergies or asthma, I would be very careful what I sprayed into the air that all of us share.
In addition to that particular chemical in the Oust spray, there are other chemicals in synthetic air fresheners (like Glade) which are hazardous to humans and wildlife. I’ve enclosed a couple of pieces of information with this letter. The first is a press release on a study of air fresheners by the Natural Resources Defense Council. One of the issues with air fresheners is that companies who make them are not required to list all of their ingredients on the label of the can. What NRDC found in their study is that most commercial air fresheners contain chemicals called phthalates, which are reproductive toxins.
Phthalates are generally found in any product that simply lists “fragrance” as an ingredient on the label. Air fresheners and soaps that do not contain phthalates will be more specific about their ingredients. For example, the air freshener I use at home is Ecco Mist by Ecco Bella which contains only essential oils, emulsifier and water and comes in a recyclable aluminum can. Another option is Citrus Magic (Ingredients: 100% Pure & Natural, specially formulated citrus fragrance oils from oranges, lemons, limes, tangerines and grapefruits.)
I’ve also enclosed the Environmental Working Group’s report, “Down The Drain,” which discusses the problems caused by washing chemicals such as phthalates and Triclosan, the active ingredient in antibacterial soaps, down the drain and into the San Francisco Bay. Triclosan is a thyroid disruptor and is also thought to contribute to the problem of resistant bacteria. There are many natural soaps that do not contain Triclosan or synthetic fragrances or colors.
I would be happy to help you find environmentally-preferable soaps and air fresheners. And if cost is an issue, perhaps spending a bit more for natural soap and giving up the air freshener entirely might be an option. The bathrooms have windows that can be opened for air freshening. Might the sprays be unnecessary?
Thanks so much for your time. I love Santa Sabina and only wish for it to be as gentle on the earth as is possible. Please let me know what I can do to help.
This is what I meant yesterday by “perfectly imperfect.” But one of our practice instructions is to move towards that which is difficult. I think it was good for me to sit with the seeming irony of this natural, beautiful place and the moderately hazardous chemicals in its midst. My mind kept crying out, “I don’t understand! I don’t understand!” Sitting with confusion instead of fighting it can open us into compassion. For ourselves and the rest of this crazy world.