Friday, January 8, 2016

Planning 2016: 10 tasks for a healthier new year

  1.  Dispose of household hazardous products safely and for free by taking them to HazoHouse.
  2. Switch to green cleaning methods by using vinegar, baking soda, and liquid Castile soap. This saves money too!
  3. Remove shoes at the door. This helps reduce dust in the home.
  4. Run the bathroom fan while showering or bathing and for 30-45 minutes after. This helps keep mold from growing in the bathroom and improves indoor air quality. If your fan doesn’t work well, have it fixed or replaced.
  5. Open windows daily to let fresh air in and improve ventilation. Try a “fresh air blast” by going through your home opening each window and then going right back through closing each one. This quick exchange of air can make a big difference in your indoor air quality!
  6. Request a free, confidential Healthy Homes Visit.
  7. Get a kitchen thermometer and use it to help prevent foodborne illness.
  8. Use Common Sense Gardening for your yard and garden. Our free gardening guides can help you create a beautiful landscape without the
    use of toxic bug and weed killers.
  9. Get your septic system inspected. You can hire someone or learn how to do it yourself. Inspecting your system every year can help identify issues before they turn into large, costly
  10.  Take steps to prevent rodents and other pests from entering your home.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Healthy Holiday Cleaning

The holidays can mean having a lot of people over to the house which means a lot of cleaning. But instead of reaching for the bleach or drain cleaner, take the time to read the labels and follow the directions. Many of the cleaning products available in stores today are hazardous. You can tell by reading the signal word and precautionary statements. The signal words are: Warning, Caution, or Danger on the label.

Sure, we see these words on labels all the time, but what do those labels actually mean?

According to the the Federal Hazardous Substances Act (FHSA) household hazardous products must be labeled accordingly. It was decided that there should be three levels of labeling.

Warning or Caution:
These labels indicate that a product may be “moderately toxic, corrosive, reactive, or flammable”.
This is the second ‘level’ of toxicity and means that a product is highly toxic, flammable, or corrosive. It can cause injury to you through ingestion or skin exposure.
This is the highest level of toxicity that can be listed and means that the product can cause injury or even death if ingested, inhaled, or absorbed through the skin.

Choosing safer products

The best way to reduce hazardous exposures to you and your family is to use green cleaning methods or by choosing the least hazardous product available when shopping. There are many cleaning products available with hazards low enough to not require one of the signal words. There are also several recipes to create your own green cleaners that are easy and mainly use common household products such as baking soda and vinegar. If you must use a hazardous product, make sure you read the label, use the safety precautions described, and follow the directions. Simply using the product as directed with the best possible safety precautions can reduce exposures.
So the next time your drain is clogged or there’s a stain on your bathroom wall reach for a safer alternative. And you won’t have to worry about toxic exposures for you, your household, your guests and pets.

You can find more tips on how to reduce your family’s exposure to toxins through our Healthy Home Companion.


Monday, December 21, 2015

5 Tips for Safer Holiday Food

One of the most common things to do during the holiday season is prepare food. Here are some tips for safer holiday food.

1. Wash your hands thoroughly and often.
Raw meat and eggs can contain bacteria that can make us sick. Washing your hands with soap and warm water will help reduce the risk of bacteria spreading. Frequent hand-washing also helps reduce the spread of other germs and tiny bits of toxic chemicals that get on our hands as we go about our daily routines.

2. Use a meat thermometer.
Ham, turkeys, and other types of meat are popular this time of year and it’s easy to underestimate how long they should be cooked. Use a meat thermometer to cook meat to its safe minimum cooking temperature. Kitchen thermometers make a great holiday gift!

3. Refrigerate promptly.
Bacteria can grow quickly on cooling food, especially meat. Try to put everything in the fridge as soon as you’re done using it so that bacteria don’t have a chance to grow.

4. Separate, don’t contaminate!
When preparing food, designate one cutting board for meat (including poultry, seafood and eggs) and one for everything else. This will prevent any of the bacteria on meat from getting into other food. Here are some other tips for preventing cross-contamination.

5. Use glass or ceramic containers to store food.
Plastic containers contain phthalates and BPA chemicals linked to long term illness. Even containers that are BPA Free can still contain other chemicals with health concerns. Using glass or ceramic containers to store food reduces exposure to these potentially harmful chemicals.

For more information on foodborne illness visit the CDC’s website.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

How to have a ‘Green,’ Healthy and Safe Holiday

If you’re like a lot of people around the holidays, you like to decorate! And this can mean strings and strings of colored lights wrapped around a tree or your house. While these lights are beautiful and help bring about holiday cheer, they also can be costly and, sometimes, hazardous. LED string lights are becoming more common and not only reduce your energy bills around the holidays, but also don’t burn or break as easily as conventional string lights. Nothing like saving ‘green’ while being green! Many holiday lights contain lead, which is toxic to the brain and especially toxic for children whose brains are still developing. Keep small children from touching holiday lights when possible and have everyone wash hands thoroughly after touching holiday lights.

Burning candles releases volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into your indoor air. These VOCs are tiny chemical particles can irritate lungs and cause symptoms in people with asthma or allergies. Candles also present fire and burn hazards especially if there will be small children and pets present in your home. Instead of using real candles, consider using LED candles which give the same warm glow, without all of the fine particulate matter. They also last much longer than conventional candles and can save you money! If you burn candles for a warm holiday scent, try simmering cinnamon sticks in water on the stove instead.

And finally, a holiday tree can be a center point to the holidays. It can be a tradition from some to go cut one down and bring it inside without realizing what they’re hauling in with it. Trees, being plants, carry pollen with them which can cause seasonal allergic rhinitis, more commonly known as ‘hay fever’. If anyone in your home has allergies and asthma it may benefit your whole family to go with an artificial tree this year!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Free Healthy Homes Program Training

Be the Key to a Healthier Future!

The next free Healthy Homes Program training is coming up! This training is a great opportunity to learn the key aspects of maintaining a healthy living space.

Learn how to address and prevent health and safety issues in your home through lessons taught by experts, fun field trips, and hands-on activities.

Learn about:
  • Mold and moisture
  • Lead and other toxic exposures
  • Indoor air quality
  • Landlord/Tenant rights and responsibilities
  • Conducting Healthy Homes Visits
  • Asthma and allergies
  • Household safety
  • And more!

The training begins on January 21 and is every Thursday from 6-9 p.m. through March 24, 2016.  The 10 sessions will be held at Thurston County Public Health Department 412 Lilly Rd. NE Olympia. It is across from Providence St. Peter Hospital and is served by bus route #60.

Submit your application today by email or mail.  

For more information visit the program website or contact the program at or 360-867-2674 (TDD 360-867-2603).

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Microbeads: Small Size, Huge Impact

There is an emerging public health threat in the form of tiny plastic particles that are often too small to see with the naked eye. These tiny troublemakers are known as microbeads, and they’re mainly used as abrasives in face scrubs and body washes, but are also found in makeup, lip gloss, nail polish, and even toothpaste. Being made of plastic, they don’t biodegrade easily, and their small size (almost always 1 millimeter or less) makes it nearly impossible for water treatment plants to filter them out before discharging treated water into lakes, rivers, and in our case, Puget Sound. Individually, microbeads may not seem threatening, but consider that a recent report by the New York Attorney General’s office estimates that 19 tons of microbeads end up in the state’s waters every year, and that’s just one state!

Making matters worse, microbeads are also highly absorbent, meaning that they easily soak up toxic chemicals such as those found in flame retardants, pesticides, and motor oil that have also found their way into our waterways. One study shows that microbeads can be up to one million times as toxic as the water around them! Soaking up toxics might sound great, until you realize that these toxic sponges wind up in the food chain. Algae, at the bottom of the chain, are quick to absorb the smallest microbeads, and algae often become food for fish. Fish will also eat the larger microbeads on their own, mistaking them for food. This is where the problems begin. Fish that eat too many microbeads can die of starvation, as these tiny particles accumulate in their digestive systems, clogging them and preventing absorption of nutrients. If a microbead-eating fish manages to avoid that fate and instead ends up on someone’s dinner table, the soaked-up toxics become a serious human health issue. As much as we love seafood in the Pacific Northwest, human health here in our area could be particularly at risk.

This growing threat has prompted microbead restrictions and bans in six states, with many more state legislatures in the process of doing the same. The Netherlands is leading the charge in Europe to ban microbeads, and Canada announced a nationwide ban on the manufacture, importation, and sale of microbeads in August 2015. Here in Washington, an attempt to ban microbeads has stalled because of concern over a loophole that would allow manufacturers to sell products with supposedly “biodegradable” microbeads. However, the only biodegradable microbeads currently available will not break down in cold waters, including Puget Sound, meaning that they will be almost as dangerous to people and marine life as the microbeads being used today.

The public reaction against microbeads has been strong. Two of the largest personal care products corporations, Colgate-Palmolive and Unilever, claim to have already phased-out microbeads in their products. Two others, Procter & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson, have committed to stopping the use of microbeads over the next few years.

What can you do?

Alternatives to microbeads for exfoliating work as well or better. Look for products (or make your own) that use:

  • Walnut shells
  • Rice
  • Apricot pits
  • Bamboo
  • Coffee beans
  • Jojoba beans

You can always use an exfoliating facial sponge with your favorite cleanser or moisturizer instead of a product that contains an exfoliant.

With precious ecosystems and human health at risk, consumers can use their purchasing power to buy products that leave out harmful ingredients. Through consumer demand and public policy the personal care product industry is changing. By purchasing safer and healthier products, consumers show the industry what they want. Being a smart shopper can make a huge difference.