Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Healthy Holidays: 10 New Year's Resolutions That Don't Involve the Gym

It’s that time again…another chance to take a look at the past year and think about what we can do better. There are many ways to improve your health that don’t include going to the gym or changing your diet (although those are great healthy actions to take!).

10 New Year’s resolutions to improve your health:

1. Wash your hands better and more often. Washing hands often and well is one of the healthiest actions you can take. We all know to wash hands after using the restroom and before eating but what about after getting home from work (no matter what your job is) the grocery store, getting gas, touching an ATM receipt? A thorough job involves getting between fingers, under rings, and under nails. Hand washing reduces the spread of illnesses and reduces exposure to toxic chemicals. Dirt and dust contain tiny particles of toxic chemicals, washing your hands often will help reduce the amount that get into your body.

2. Make the switch to non-toxic cleaners. This resolution can save you money if you make your own green cleaners and reduce your exposure to toxic chemicals. It’s win-win! 

3. Take off your shoes before entering your home. This simple action can improve indoor air quality and reduce your exposure to toxic chemicals. If you already have a “No shoes inside” rule, re-commit to it and enforce it better. 

4. Make your lawn pesticide-free by committing to natural lawn care. Using bug and weed killers can allow for toxic chemicals to be tracked into your home and vehicle(s). This can also harm pets and wildlife and contaminate our water ways, including our drinking water. 

5. Take your unwanted, unused household hazardous products to HazoHouse for free, safe disposal. Do you have an extremely cluttered garage or shed? Perhaps tackle one area at a time and make sure you dispose and store household hazardous products safely. 

6. Recycle your used motor oil. This is a free easy way to keep motor oil out of our environment and to reduce your carbon footprint. You also reduce your carbon footprint when you purchase recycled (re-refined) oil or request it when you get your oil changed.

7. Re-commit to caring for your septic system. Sometimes we forget that our septic systems need special attention just like any other large expensive piece of equipment. Inspect it or if you know it’s time - Get it pumped! 
8. Make the switch to safer personal care products. Many personal care products such as shampoo, soap, lotions and cosmetics contain chemicals that are linked to health effects such as cancer, reproductive issues, obesity, and more. As you use up your current products, replace them with safer products. A great resource for researching products is www.cosmeticsdatabase.com. If you would like information on this topic, call (360) 867-2579.   

9. Phase out the use of scented products in your home to improve indoor air quality. Scented products such as air freshener sprays, scented plug-ins, and candles can send toxic chemicals such as phthalates into your indoor air. Instead of using these products, try opening a window for fresh air, find the source of the bad smell and get rid of it or simmer cinnamon sticks and water on the stove for fifteen minutes. 

10. Step up your dust control. Dust can contain some pretty nasty stuff such as pesticides, toxic flame retardants and even heavy metals like lead and arsenic. Reduce your family’s exposure by vacuuming and dusting with a water-dampened cloth more often.

It's true that regular exercise and eating right are key components to being healthy, but remember we also need a healthy living environment.

Whatever your 2014 New Year’s goals are, best of luck! Happy and Healthy New Year to all!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Healthy Holidays: Plastic Food?

Food is often a big part of the holiday season. Our last blog post was about food safety to prevent food borne illness. This post is about the best ways that we can store leftover food.

Many plastic containers for food storage (and serving) have the potential to leech chemicals into our food. The good news is that there are ways to avoid this.  Simply choose materials other than plastic to store food.

Use glass, ceramic or stainless steel for food storage instead of plastic. Inexpensive ideas include mason jars, re-used glass mayonnaise or peanut butter jars, and covered baking dishes.  Stainless steel food storage containers are small, lightweight and once the initial investment is made, will last forever. If you have a lot of plastic containers and few or no containers made of safer alternatives, phase out the plastic over time and replace them with glass, ceramic or stainless steel.

If you plan to use plastic containers, here are a few tips for reducing your risk of chemical exposure.

  • Avoid putting hot food in plastic containers and never heat food in plastic containers. Wait until food cools before you transfer it into a plastic container and use glass or ceramic kitchenware for re-heating.
  • Wash plastic kitchen items by hand, not in the dishwasher. As with hot food in plastic, plastic in a hot dishwasher allows for chemicals to leech.
  • Discard old scratched up plastic kitchenware. The more scratched up it is, the more likely it is to leech.
  • Instead of using plastic wrap to cover the food you put in the microwave, place a larger ceramic plate over the food.
Remember that you don’t have to make changes all at once – small changes can add up to big differences over time.

Happy and healthy holidays to all!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Healthy Holidays: Food safety spreads holiday cheer

‘Tis the season for holiday parties, family gatherings, and of course – food! Holiday gatherings are all merry and bright until someone gets a foodborne illness. Food safety should be on the minds of all people who handle food. 

When you think about it, we all handle food.  Although not everyone does the cooking, many help set the table, put out the food buffet-style, and a lot of us reheat leftovers. Plus, we handle food 
when we eat it! 

Holiday leftovers are often a perk of the season, but did you know that mishandled leftovers are responsible for tens of thousands of cases of post Christmas associated illnesses? 

It’s important to remember that we all play a role in food safety.
  • First and foremost – wash your hands thoroughly before handling or serving any food, including before you eat. We may not touch other people’s food, but we tend to touch the same serving dishes and utensils.
  • When preparing food, always start with clean hands, cutting boards, and utensils.
  • Keep items used with raw meats separate from other foods.
  • Cook foods thoroughly and use a food thermometer to measure internal temperatures.
    • 160 ºF for pork, steak, and roasts
    • 160 ºF egg dishes and ground meats
    • 165 ºF for poultry and leftovers
  • Keep hot foods hot (above 135 ºF) and cold foods cold (below 41 ºF).
  • Dish smaller amounts of hot foods into chafing dishes and keep the rest in the oven or on the stove. Dish smaller amounts of cold food to keep on ice while keeping the rest in the refrigerator.  
  • Foods kept at room temperature for more than two hours should be discarded. Only keep leftovers from the party if they were kept hot or cold during the party.
  • If leftovers are not cooled or reheated properly, there is a risk of foodborne illness. Remember - When in doubt, throw it out!

For more information visit www.foodsafety.gov

Friday, December 13, 2013

Healthy Holidays: Gift the gift of safer products

By: Elisa Sparkman

 I can’t count the amount of lotions, bubble baths, and perfumes I have received as gifts over the years. These kinds of gifts are nice because you can put them to good use and they seem to say “pamper yourself,” “relax,” and “take some time for you.”

The only problem is, now that I know what is actually in those products, I am quite picky about the ones I use! Most personal care products contain chemicals of concern such as phthlates in fragrances, lead in hair products, parabens in lotions, shampoos, and conditioners... the list goes on and on.  

Many of us are realizing that just because a product is for sale, doesn’t mean it is safe. Sadly, this is true for personal care products that are mostly unregulated, oftentimes untested, and full of chemicals linked to cancer, infertility and more.

SAFE personal care products can make great gifts. Read on for a quick guide to finding healthier personal care products.

Research products before you buy them.
Luckily there are many safer personal care products on the market. A great website to research health and safety concerns of personal care products is the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database. You can search specific brands, products, and ingredients and find out what the health and safety concerns are. It’s an easy website to remember: www.cosmeticsdatabase.com

Read product labels carefully. Here are some things to look for on a label:

Phthalate free: Phthalates are a class of chemicals considered plasticizers and they have been shown to disrupt hormones. You won’t find the word “phthalates” listed in the ingredients because it is one of many chemicals hidden in the products “fragrance” or “parfum.” A label that says “fragrance free,” does not always mean that the product has no pthtalates. Read the label and the ingredients carefully, looking for products that say, essential oils only or, no synthetic fragrances.

Paraben free or No parabens: Parabens are used as preservatives in many products such as lotions, shampoos, and conditioners. They are listed on a label as methyparaben, butylparaben, ethylparaben, or anything that ends in –paraben. Parabens are not proven to cause cancer, but they have been found inside of cancerous tumors. That’s enough information for me to stay clear of parabens in all of the products that I use.

Ingredients that you can pronounce: Ideally, the ingredient list is made up of materials that you are familiar with and where they come from. If you aren’t sure about specific ingredients, write them down and look them up before you make the purchase.

Label claims: Be aware that there are no standards or regulations for terms such as “natural,” “safe,” or “non-toxic” on personal care products. These words can be put on any product label, so be sure to read the entire label – including ingredients, before making your decision. If a product is “certified” in some way, you can research the certification to see who did the certifying and what it means.

     Here are some ingredients to avoid:

  • Lead acetate can be found in dark hair dyes. Lead is a well-known neurotoxin, which means it is toxic to the brain. Lead builds up in bodies, so there is no safe dose. 
  •  Coal tar can be found in dandruff shampoos and skin creams. It is a carcinogen, which means it can cause cancer. 
  • Formaldehyde can be found in chemical hair straightening treatments, nail polish, and hair dyes. It is a carcinogen. 
  • Toluene is in many nail polishes. It is a carcinogen. 
  •  Triclosan is an antibacterial that can be found in soap, kitchenware, tissues, shoe inserts, first aid items, toothpaste and more. It has been linked to hormone problems and it is building up in our water supply.

When we choose safer personal care products, it is voting with our pocket book for safer products. Consumer demand for safer products is growing and more companies are making changes to meet this demand.

Do you want to learn more about this topic? If you have 10-30 people who are interested in this topic, I can come to you and give a  free presentation. We will go into more details about how to choose safer products and you'll  get to take home an all-natural lip balm!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Healthy Holidays: Lead in Holiday Decorations

By Jennifer Johnson, Education & Outreach Specialist

Disclaimer:  I am a very protective mother.  I am the foodie who only serves fruits, vegetables and whole grain crackers for snacks.  The amount of environmental health information that I read on a daily basis has led me down an organic, toxic-free path for myself AND my family.  You may want to bear these things in mind when I tell you that Christmas decorations make me nervous.

From what I read and stories that I hear, lead is the biggest concern for small bodies in Christmas décor.  Artificial trees tend to be extremely high in lead.  Christmas lights tend to be fairly high in lead.  Red napkins (yes, really) tend to be high in lead from the red dye used to make them so cheery.  The best way to deal with these concerns is to avoid them!  If the decorations that have been carefully hid away in your attic or grandma’s attic for much of the year are must-do holiday traditions, make sure that hands are washed very well with soap and water after touching any of these possible lead sources.  Make sure that kids are not handling artificial trees and lights, and no one should dab at their dribbling chins with red napkins.

Another way to protect small bodies from lead is to damp dust regularly.  Lead (and lots of other really scary things) hangs out in the dust in our homes.  Children tend to play on the floor more than adults and their toys and fingers seem to always be in or near their mouths. We want to make sure that those little hands and what they touch are as clean as possible.

Children are more susceptible to the harmful effects of lead because their bodies are still developing. Lead builds up in bodies; this is why there is no safe dose of lead. Thankfully, lead has been taken out of gasoline, paint, and we are still trying to get it out of children’s toys once and for all.  Lead affects the way that bodies and brains work and regular exposure to it, even if it’s only seasonally, is not good for kids, or anyone else.

For more safe holiday ideas visit our website on Holiday Recycling Tips