Monday, November 21, 2016

Healthy Holidays: Holiday lighting safety tips

Does your family break out holiday lights and decorations after the turkey and pumpkin pie have been gobbled up? Many people begin putting up their holiday lights and decorations starting Thanksgiving Day through December. Putting up holiday lights is a tradition for many people and it can create a festive atmosphere. We encourage you to understand the health and safety risks of decorating your home with holiday lights before hanging them in and outside your home.

1.        Is there lead hiding in your lights? Believe it or not, most holiday lights in the United States contain lead. One study found that four ordinary brands of holiday lights have high enough lead levels to harm children. Lead is found in PVC (polyvinyl chloride), which is used to insulate the holiday lights to prevent water exposure. Over time, the PVC breaks down from sunlight exposure and heat, releasing lead as a form of dust. If you choose to hang holiday lights, hang them at a high enough level so children will not be tempted to play with them. Wear gloves when you put up the lights and wash your hands after you’re done decorating. If you hang holiday lights inside, damp dust frequently to reduce lead exposure in your home.

2.        Replace damaged bulbs and outdated lights. If you have any damaged bulbs on your holiday lights, replace them if possible. Broken bulbs can be a safety hazard for children and pets. You will also save energy by replacing damaged bulbs. Unplug your lights before you replace damaged bulbs. If your lights are beyond repair, purchase LED holiday lights. They are made with epoxy lenses which are much more durable than glass bulbs and are the more energy efficient option.  

3.       Hang lights carefully and conscientiously. Avoid piercing holiday lights with nails or staples because that damages the cords and can create a potential hazard. Try wrapping holiday lights around hooks or nails, or purchase plastic clips to hang the lights up. Avoid wrapping lights around hot electric sources such as home theaters, stereos and water heaters. Keep holiday lights away from heat vents and electric heaters. The additional heat may damage and even melt your holiday lights. Keep indoor holiday lights away from drapes, furniture or carpeting. Place cords in low-traffic areas where they won’t be a tripping hazard or be worn out due to being stepped on. 

4.       Use extension cord(s) safely. Do not overload an extension cord. Find out the wattage rating of your extension cord and holiday lights before plugging the two together.  

5.       Hang only weather resistant lights outside. If you are hanging holiday lights outside, make sure they are rated for outdoor use or are marked waterproof. Do not use indoor holiday lights outside, that can be an easy way to blow fuses or start a fire.

6.       Use ladders safely. If you plan on using a ladder to hang your holiday lights outside, there are several ladder safety measures you can take. Pay attention to the weather forecast; pick a dry day with calm winds. Choose a ladder size that is appropriate for the job and inspect it before using it. While you are up on your ladder, make careful moves as sudden movements may cause you to lose balance, and have a second person available to spot you.  

7.       Turn off your lights. Before you go to bed or leave your house, turn off your holiday lights. You will save electricity by turning your lights off and reduce the risk of a fire.

The risks of injury and fire are reduced when you practice safe handling of holiday lights. Take the time to celebrate the holidays safely to have the best holiday season yet!

Monday, November 14, 2016

Food Safety for Game Day

Lesley Price, RD, CD

Football season is here and so are the game day celebrations. I think I just heard a “GO HAWKS”! Football is one of the many great reasons to gather with friends and family and share delicious food. To help you plan out your game day festivities, here are some food safety tips.

At the grocery store: Put raw meat and poultry in separate plastic bags to prevent juices from dripping on other foods, and separate from produce and ready-to-eat foods in your grocery cart. Make sure raw meat and poultry are bagged separately at checkout – most baggers are not aware of this and need to be asked. If you use reusable bags, wash them in hot water frequently. You have a two hour window (1 hour if it is over 90 degrees outside) to get perishable foods home and into the refrigerator or freezer, so make sure the grocery store is your last stop before home.

At home: Keep your raw meat and poultry in plastic bags and keep it separate from produce in your refrigerator. Be sure to wash your hands before preparing foods for your party. Wash all surfaces (cutting boards, counter tops, utensils) before and after processing your foods.  Use separate cutting boards for raw meat and poultry as well as produce and ready to eat foods, or wash the cutting board between uses. Wash fruits and vegetables under cold running water – do not wash meat, poultry or eggs. Perishable food can only be out two hours before needing refrigeration, so do your preparation in stages if needed. Cook all foods to proper temperatures use food thermometer to check. Never thaw or marinate foods on the counter.

Transporting to the party:  When transporting hot food make sure your destination is within a two hour window. Pack all cold foods in ice and make sure it stays 40 degrees or less.

At the party:  Reheat all hot food to 165 degrees prior to serving and keep hot foods above 135 degrees. Keeping hot foods hot and cold foods cold is the best way to keep bacteria that could make you sick from growing in your food. Hot food should be kept above 135 degrees, while cold food should be kept at 41 degrees or below. If you cannot keep food hot or cold, then make sure it is eaten within two hours, or placed back into a refrigerator. Food left out for more than two hours should be thrown away. One helpful tip is to only dish up a portion of the food, keeping the rest either hot or cold and re-stocking as needed. You can also use ice to keep things cold but the ice needs to be at least at the same level as the top of the food.

And last of all, no double dipping.  Not only does it give off the “ick factor”, it can spread illness to those you love.

By following this advice you can take memories of football game victories (hopefully) home, not food-borne illnesses.  For more information about food safety go to

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Seven Keys to a Healthy Home

By Sonya Rombough, Healthy Homes AmeriCorps Member

I am the first to shout that autumn is my favorite season. I love how the weather changes, the vibrancy of the leaves and the crispness of cool air. I like to brew up a hot beverage and settle in to watch the wind and rain come through. I find that I am a prime example of the average American who, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, spends about 87% of their time indoors, especially in the fall and winter. But while home is cozy and familiar, it can also present a whole host of challenges to our immune systems and well-being.

Here in the Pacific Northwest problems with excessive moisture and mold are very common, and while these issues are of significant concern, there are other potential dangers lurking in your home. Homes built prior to 1978 may contain lead and asbestos, and a quick peek under your sink might just reveal a whole slew of hazardous chemicals. The good news is, with a few small adjustments to your cleaning routine you make your home a healthier haven.

There are seven basic ways, also known as the “Seven Keys to a Healthy Home” to improve the health of your home for you and your family.

  • Keep it clean!  Keeping your home clean and clutter-free will help prevent pests by eliminating access to food, water and hiding places. It may also help with your family’s stress levels and comfort. Check out this post on green cleaning alternatives!
  • Keep it contaminant free! There are many products that seem safe, but can cause harm to your family including fertilizers, harsh chemical cleaning products and scented aerosols. If possible stick to green cleaners, and when they aren’t an option, always select the product with the lowest risk, avoid anything that says “Danger” or “Poison” as these are the highest hazard words.
  • Keep it ventilated! Always use fans in the kitchen and bathroom. Make sure these fans are vented all the way outside. Use your fans while cooking and bathing and run them for 30-45 minutes afterwards. Additionally, it can be beneficial to make a habit of using fans and opening windows when using cleaning products or other chemicals. Opening windows daily can help exchange air and allow moisture to escape, even on stormy days.
  • Keep it dry! Mold cannot grow without moisture so it’s important to clean up all spills immediately. It’s a good idea to check under sinks and around plumbing regularly to ensure nothing is leaking. If you find a leak, repair it quickly and dry out the affected area within 24-48 hours. Help the area to dry by leaving the cupboard open, cleaning up any standing water and running a fan in the affected area to create airflow.
  • Keep it maintained! Not only does this refer to pipes and plumbing, but to all the features of your home. Combustion appliances, such as natural gas water heaters or propane furnaces, need to be maintained by professionals regularly to ensure that no carbon monoxide back drafts into the home. Similarly, septic systems need routine checks and maintenance to prevent back-flowing and contamination of the groundwater. Even small things like peeling paint, which may contain lead, can represent a danger in your home and loose floors can be a trip hazard. Keep a checklist of all things in your home you need to keep an eye on and make repairs as soon as possible.
  • Keep it safe! Keep your family safe by storing chemicals out of reach, putting child locks on upper level windows, and installing smoke detectors and carbon monoxide monitors and outside of every sleeping area in your home. Check your smoke detectors and carbon monoxide monitors regularly to make sure they are functioning properly.
  • Keep it pest free! Prevent pests by keeping your home free of clutter, keeping pet food off of the floor and in airtight containers, and filling any cracks, holes or gaps in the exterior walls. If you do end up with a pest problem avoid bringing poison into your home at all costs and implement a strategy of integrated pest management including these preventative measures. 

Our Healthy Homes Program offers free, confidential Healthy Homes Visit to residents in Thurston County. Visits occur in the comfort of your home with expert volunteers who can teach you about the hazards in your home and how to address them. Call (360)867-2674 to schedule a free and confidential healthy homes visit today! 

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Septic System Management Plan Invests in Clean Water, Safe Food and a Healthier Environment

 Thurston County is working to update the On-site Sewage System Management Plan. The plan, if adopted, puts systems in place to help septic owners better protect their investment and extend the life of their septic system while protecting public health.

You can read the full plan on our website, here we’ll describe a few highlights.

  • Regular inspections help find problems while they are still small. The septic management plan calls for routine mailings to all septic owners, reminding them when it is time for an inspection. 
  • Leaking sewage is a health risk. Sewage from even one failing septic system can close a beach, cause illness, or contaminate a drinking water well. The plan provides resources to prevent, identify, and correct failing septic systems and water pollution problems caused by sewage.
  • The septic plan invests in education such as the septic help line, workshops, and more so that everyone can have reliable information to maintain their septic system. It also provides septic owners help to trouble-shoot their system and programs for financial assistance to help fix failing systems.
  • A well-maintained septic system can contribute to a higher re-sell value on your home. A new septic system can cost more than $15,000. Regular maintenance and documentation let purchasers know the system is functioning properly and a good investment. The plan provides resources to create and maintain a septic inventory with easily accessible online records.
  • Keeping our drinking water clean for the future is important. Drinking water in your well travels under your neighbor’s property. Your neighbor’s actions or inactions can impact your drinking water. The plan provides resources to investigate problems and makes sure failing systems are repaired. Proven methods are used to assure only failing systems are repaired.

The plan replaces current fees
The new plan, known to some as the “crap tax,” has a tiered fee structure based on the location of a septic system. The charge will replace many septic system related fees like the ones for operational certificates, pump reports, and time-of-transfer (when a home is sold). The charges will invest in clean water, safe food and a healthier environment by supporting the Health Department’s responsibility to protect public health from diseases caused by sewage.

The estimated charges are as follows. The recommendation includes reducing the charges by 50% for those enrolled in the Assessor’s senior/disabled/disabled veteran tax exemption program.  
·         $22/year for septic systems in the Chehalis River watershed.
·         $44/year for septic systems in the Puget Sound basin, but not a designated special area.
·         $66/year for septic systems in a Marine Recovery Area or other designated special area.

Want to learn more about the plan?
The plan, as well as slides presented at open houses and more are available on our website. Representatives from Thurston County Public Health are available to attend and present information about the On-Site Septic Management Plan to community groups. To schedule a presentation, contact Jane Mountjoy-Venning at (360) 867-2643.
What is Next?
Currently, the Thurston County Board of Health is deliberating on the plan and will make a decision at an open public meeting (date to be determined).