Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy Non-toxic New Year!

Less toxic may be a better title but "Non-toxic New Year" has such a nice ring to it! 

The following tips will help you make 2015 is the healthier year for you and your family.

Know what’s in the stuff you buy. As a general rule, if you can’t pronounce it, you may not want to eat it or put it on your body. The Environmental Working Group has a variety of consumer guides to help you find the least toxic options for foods, pesticides in produce, personal care products, cleaning product, meat, sunscreen and more. These guides are helpful and easy-to-use!

Buy less stuff! This builds on the tip above – do you need five moisturizing skin products or can coconut oil (one amazing ingredient!) take the place of many of them? The less stuff you buy, the less stuff you have to figure out safety ratings for! Also, the less stuff you have to pay for and that you have to dispose of. Before you buy something ask yourself – Do I need to buy this? How often will I use it? What will it add to my life? Is there something healthier that can fill this need?

Leave shoes at the door. This basic advice keeps the toxins that we all pick up on our shoes from parking lots, playing fields, and treated landscapes from being tracked throughout the house. Toxins from outside get trapped in house dust and contribute to indoor air pollution. We all breathe in and even eat much of that dust.  Lower the toxins in your dust by taking shoes off at the door – a nice basket of slippers and house shoes may help guests to do the same.

Wash hands often. Similar to the tip above, washing hands in soap and water keeps toxins from the toxic world out of our eyes, nose and mouth. Think of all the items you touch each day and what kind of toxins from dust could be on them. As you probably know, washing hands can prevent the spread of illness. Washing hands is especially important before eating and after using the restroom.

Commit to a safe and healthy yard.  Weed and bug killers are toxins that most of us come into contact with on a daily basis whether in our homes, day care centers, schools, or yards.  Use common sense gardening methods to care for your own yard safely. Focus on creating healthy soil to promote a healthy yard. Check out these useful Common Sense Gardening Guides!

Use green cleaning methods. Green cleaning is easy and fun. Especially with a list of go-to green cleaning recipes. Making your own green cleaners can save money. If you prefer to buy your cleaning supplies, look for products without the signal words Danger, Poison, Warning, or Caution. You can also find safer products through the Environmental Working Group’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning.

Get rid of what you have, safely!  HazoHouse is the location to dispose of unwanted household hazardous products for free. Anything with the words Caution, Warning, Danger or Poison on the label should be disposed of at HazoHouse to protect our health and our drinking water. 

If you make one change at a time, eventually you will develop habits that reduce your exposure to toxins throughout your daily life! A new year is a great time to start. 
If you have questions or would like some guidance, please call us. We love to help!(360) 867-2674

Happy New Year!

Friday, December 26, 2014

Healthy Holidays: Safe Electronics Recycling

Did you get a shiny new technology upgrade this year?  Even if a bigger, brighter, flatter tv isn’t in your immediate future, you may have the need to dispose of some old electronics.  What is the best way to get rid of old electronics?  

Donating your older device to a family or community member is a great option. Websites such as Freecycle and 2good2Toss are available for posting unwanted items. But if you’ve got them rolling around in your back seat and want to simply drop them off, it is easy and free to recycle electronics safely.  

Thurston County Solid Waste has a wonderful online resource called, “Where do I take my.” It tells you where to recycle almost everything that you can think of!

The locations listed below recycle electronic products such as TVs, computers (desktop and laptop), monitors, E-readers (like a Kindle or Nook), and DVD/Blu-ray players for FREE.

  • Staples
  • Office Depot
  • Best Buy
  • Goodwill
  • Free Geek Olympia
  • Office Depot
  • Value Village
  • Staples
  • RadioShack
  • Batteries Plus

Cell phones can go to many of the above listed locations for recycling.  Most service providers (Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, etc) also accept them and donate them to charity or survivors of domestic abuse.

Upgrades can be fun, just make sure that you donate or recycle the downgrades!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Healthy Holidays: Foodborne illness – Bah, humbug!

Nothing ruins the holiday festivities quite like becoming ill from a delicious holiday feast. It just seems so wrong! It doesn’t have to happen. You can take steps to prevent foodborne illness. Just remember: Clean, Separate, Cook, Chill

Maintain a clean space for handling food. Not just counter tops - this means that cutting boards, dishes, utensils and all hands that touch food and any kitchen items are clean. Discard paper towels or put cloth wipes through the laundry after wiping countertops, especially after cleaning up raw meat juice, otherwise you will be spreading germs around. When someone leaves the kitchen and comes back, be sure they wash their hands again before handling food.

Raw meats should always be separated from other foods. This includes in your shopping cart and bags and in storage. Raw meats from the grocery store often leak through the wrapping. Transfer them to a container that will prevent leaks better, like a zip sealing plastic bag, and keep a plate underneath to catch any possible leaks. Use separate cutting boards and dishes for raw meat.

A food thermometer is your friend. Cook food to a safe internal temperature.

- Turkey, chicken, and poultry: 165° F
- Roasts, steaks, or chops of beef, pork, veal, and lamb: 145° F
- Ground beef, pork, hamburger or egg dishes: 160° F
- Fish: 145° F
- Keep hot foods hot – above 135° F.
- Keep cold foods cold – below 41° F.
- Reheat leftovers to 165° F.

Refrigerate foods right away. Don’t leave it out to cool down. Cut food up and let it cool in open containers in the fridge. Once they are cool, put the lids on.

Here is a great video about Clean, Separate, Cook, ChillFollow best food handling practices and do your best to keep everyone saying “Happy Holidays!” and not “Bah, humbug!”

Friday, December 12, 2014

Healthy Holidays: 5 tips to reduce holiday stress

The hustle and bustle of the holiday season can be overwhelming. Take time for yourself and remember what the “happiest time of the year” is really about – sharing time with family and friends, honoring the gifts that fill our lives, and appreciating what we already have. A big impact to our personal health is stress.

Here are some quick ways to reduce stress.

1. Try to take a walk or step outside for a few minutes each day. Lack of light has been well documented to affect moods – make time to step outside into natural light (however diffused that light might seem!) each day. Take ten deep full breathes outside every day, even in the rain! Thurston County has some great trails to explore.

2. The environment around us impacts our health. We spend a lot of time in our homes. There are some easy ways to make your home a healthier environment. Wash blankets and bedding in hot water every week to kill dust mites and germs. Avoid scented items like candles, room sprays, or plug-ins to keep their chemicals out of the air, and bring in fresh air by opening windows for a couple of minutes each day. Bathroom and kitchen fans also help circulate air in the home. For toxic free holiday scents, simmer cinnamon and cloves in water on the stove or hang a fresh holiday wreath or cedar garland.

3. Exercise. Whether it is light, moderate, or intense, exercise can reduce stress levels. Some ideas for daily exercise include: brisk walks, indoor swimming pools, yoga classes, martial arts, dance classes or even just dancing in the living room. Anything that gets you moving helps… even though the couch tempts you for another round of Netflix.

4. Take a break. Giving yourself a break by focusing on something else, like a puzzle or a craft project can give your brain a break from the holiday stress. Perhaps a friendly game of Monopoly, Scrabble, or Jenga will give your household a break together.

5. Lose yourself in a good book! Is there a book you've been meaning to read? There is no better time than now to crack it open.

Being overly stressed can impact your health and well-being. Many studies show the negative impact of stress on our bodies. So do your best to set aside some time to de-stress in a healthy way. 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Healthy Holidays: 10 tips for safer gifts

By Kateri Wimsett, Education & Outreach Specialist

Making a list?  Checking it twice?  Finding out who’s naughty and nice?  Yes, it’s that time of year again, the holidays are here.  As a mom to two young children and a proud aunt of twelve, when this time of year rolls around I start making my lists.  It’s important to me that the gift I give is not only thoughtful but also safe.  As someone who works in Children’s Environmental Health, I spend part of my professional life learning about toxics and their health impacts in our daily lives. With this in mind, I’ve learned some great ways to find safer holiday gifts.

1) My number one favorite way to avoid toxics in products is to give the gift of my time. Some of the best gifts I’ve ever given are lunch and bowling dates with my nieces. I get to spend the afternoon having fun with them and their parents get some well-deserved quiet time. It’s a win- win! A bonus from gifts like this – less mess from gift wrap and packaging! Consider going to the movies, or a play, or a museum.  Go on a hike or a bike ride. Scrapbook together. By spending quality time with my little loved ones I’ve learned more about them as people.  Priceless!

2) Books!  Children of all ages love books.  Check out activity books and coloring books.  They are educational and fun.  Another option to consider is a gift subscription to a children’s magazine.  Kids love getting mail and it’s a gift that keeps on giving every month. 

3) Read the labels completely. What’s the toy made of?  What’s the age label on the toy?  Is there a warning label or safety message on the box? In 2012, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimated that hospital emergency rooms across the country treated 265,000 toy-related injuries. Find ways to prevent  toy-related injuries here.

4) Consider toys made from natural materials like solid wood, cloth, paper (paper dolls and puzzles anyone?) and wool.  We love board games at our house.  From Candyland to Jenga and beyond -  we’ve got it!

5) Plastic toys?  Try to avoid toys that list vinyl or PVC as an ingredient.  PVC is the soft flexible plastic often found in bath toys, dolls, and teethers.  Look for toys marked PVC free or phthalate-free. The plasticizing chemicals, called phthalates, are linked to hormone disruption. If you’re not sure what a product contains or is made of, try looking it up on  They’ve tested thousands of products for a variety of toxics and chemicals of concern.

6) Avoid children’s metal jewelry.  These may contain a variety of harmful metals such as lead and cadmium.  For more information on this see the CDC’s web page on Toy Jewelry.

7) Avoid toys with small metal pieces and, especially, small magnetic pieces. 

8) Consider toys to play outside like a new ball, sidewalk chalk for hopscotch, or maybe even a new badminton set.  Sometimes the constant December rain can be a bit disheartening, but it’s amazing how a new toy to play outside motivates kids to put on boots and jackets and go outside for fresh air.

9) Stay up to date on toy recalls by subscribing to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s email updates.  It’s easy and free.  You can sign up at here.

10) Gifts like nail polish, lotion, bubble bath, and perfume can be fun, but these products are not required to have any safety testing. There are ingredients in many of these products that are linked to health issues. Read this blog post from last year’s Healthy Holidays series for a quick guide to finding safer personal care products. You can find health and safety ratings for personal care products using Skin Deep.

Have fun and enjoy the holidays safely!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Healthy Holidays: Give Thanks for Environmental Health

There are so many things to be thankful for; some of them that we may not even notice. Advances in environmental health have made our daily lives much healthier, but these are things we usually don’t notice.

Environmental health is the branch of public health that deals with how our natural and built environments affect human health. Understanding how our environments can make us sick allows us to take action to minimize those risks as a country, a state, as a community and as individuals.

Here are just a few aspects of environmental health to be thankful for.

Access to safe drinking water
The infrastructure that provides us access to water for drinking, cooking, and bathing is designed, monitored, and maintained to keep water as safe as possible. This allows us to go about our daily lives without worrying about getting sick from our drinking water. Thanks to environmental health, we monitor drinking water to make sure it’s safe. If you get your water from a city or a community well, your water is tested regularly. When a test reveals a health concern, you are notified promptly and can avoid the water until it is safe again. If you have your own well, it is up to you to get your water tested. Learn how to get your well water tested from our Drinking Water Program.

Organized waste collection
Before there was organized garbage collection, trash was dumped wherever it was convenient. This led to rodents that can carry diseases, living around homes, businesses, and in the streets. If you’ve ever spent time in a part of the world where organized waste collection is not standard (especially on a hot day), you can really appreciate our waste collection systems. The Thurston County Waste and Recovery Center works together with private companies to provide residents with safe and accessible waste collection, including free hazardous waste collection at HazoHouse.

Food safety regulations
Food safety standards and regulations have made it so that the food we eat is generally safe. When food safety standards are not followed or accidents happen, there are systems in place to recall unsafe foods and to enforce safety standards at restaurants. We also have resources such as to help us handle food in our own homes safely.

Wastewater treatment
Septic systems, sewer systems and wastewater treatment facilities have been environmental health game changers in communities around the world. Human waste contains bacteria that can make us sick with diseases like giardia and hepatitis A. Before these systems were in place, various methods were used to dispose of sewage which made diseases such as cholera and typhoid fever much more common.  Nowadays we don’t have to think much about what to do with it other than remembering to flush. But it doesn’t just disappear off of the earth; thankfully there is a 
system in place to dispose of it safely.

The many innovations in the history of environmental health have made our modern lives safer and healthier. That is something to be thankful for!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Washing Your Hands – It’s really as important as they say!

By Elisa Sparkman, Education and Outreach Specialist

Since I was a small child, the importance of washing your hands was emphasized. It was part of a routine. After using the restroom and before eating hand washing was almost robotic. There were no questions about it.

If there is one thing that I can say I have learned since I began working for this public health department it is that washing your hands is really as important as they say. Actually I would say that it is even more important than they say! And I will answer the question you are probably thinking, No, I am not germophobic. I finally understand and appreciate how much hand washing does for us.

The fact that washing your hands well can reduce the spread of disease is probably not new to you. Bacteria gets on our hands easily from touching everyday items like hand rails, gas pumps, crosswalk buttons, toys, raw unwashed food, and our pets.

Did you know that frequent and thorough hand washing can also reduce your exposure to toxic chemicals? Toxic chemicals and metals from pollution float around in the air and make their way into dirt and into indoor air and dust. Toxic chemicals from agricultural, industrial, and residential pesticide application also make their way into homes as dust. Think about all of the dusty or dirt-covered items you touch each day. There is a good chance that toxic chemicals wind up on your hands and on many items you touch. We touch our faces, our lips, our water bottles, our phones, our computers, our food... you see where I am going with this? Washing your hands is important.

To be sure you are washing your hands well follow these simple rules.
  • Rub and scrub with soap for 20 seconds (singing the ABCs or Happy Birthday twice).
  • Use warm water.
  • Tip hands downward so water rinses the suds and yucky stuff off of your hands.
  • If possible, turn the faucet off with a paper towel.
  • At home, sanitize faucet handles often.

So when anybody asks me what the one thing is that I've learned since I started working at the health department I say, “Washing your hands is really as important, if not, more important, than they say!”

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Free Workshop on Household Hazardous Products on Saturday November 15

Come learn about the the hazards of common household products to people and the environment!

What: Free workshop, "Hazards on the Homefront."
When: Saturday November 15, 2014 2-3 p.m.
Where: LOTT's WET Science Center
   500 Adams Street NE Olympia, WA
Who: Ideal for ages 11 and up.

You'll learn how to read product labels for hazard levels and proper use, storage, and disposal of hazardous products. And learn about safer alternatives to common hazardous products though a fast-paced bingo game. 

Two lucky participants will win a green cleaning kit!

Did you miss this presentation? You're in luck! You can schedule this presentation or a presentation on another topic for your group of 10-30 or give us a call to find out when the next public presentation is. 360-867-2674.

See the rest of the WET Science Center's Activities & Events!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Ebola: Get the facts

Over the past few months, the Ebola virus has been a top news story. It’s only natural to be concerned. The best action you can take is to get the facts. Be aware that there is misinformation on the Internet. The most reliable information you can get on the Ebola situation nationally and locally will be from the Centers for Disease Control, the Washington State Department of Health, and your local health department.

What you need to know:

  • Those most at risk of getting Ebola are healthcare workers and family members caring for someone who is sick with Ebola; the risk to the general public is very low. 
  • There are no confirmed cases in Washington State. 
  • Ebola can only be spread by direct contact with the bodily fluids (like blood, vomit, urine, feces, semen, sweat, saliva) of someone who is sick with the disease. 
  • You do not get Ebola from casual contact with others, air, water or food that is commercially available in the U.S. 
  • A person with Ebola is only contagious when they are showing symptoms.

More information about Ebola:

Friday, October 31, 2014

5 Tips to Prevent Mold

In the rainy Pacific Northwest, buildings are prone to mold. Mold needs two things to grow – moisture and a good spot to grow on. Unfortunately, mold loves to grow on many common building materials and items in our homes. Since the conditions must be right for mold to grow, there are steps we can take to prevent those conditions.

1. Check gutters, downspouts, and drains.  Put on your rain gear and go outside during the next rain downpour.  Channel your inner preschooler and stomp in a puddle or two!  Okay, now your grown-up task is to check the gutters, downspouts, and drains to get a good idea of where the rain water is flowing.  The best answer is away from your building.

Clean, clear, reattach, or replace gutters and downspouts that aren’t working well. Clear any blocked drains. Please take precautions if you go up a ladder.  If you are renting, please check with your landlord or property manager.  While most property managers want to hear about water issues, they may not want their tenants up on a ladder or taking steps to fix a problem.

2. Observe your landscaping.  Do you need to make changes to the slope or drainage around the building so that water flows away and not toward the structure?  Consider contacting the Stormwater Stewards or installing a rain garden.  Depending where you live, you might even qualify for a rebate.  Prune tree branches or other plants away from the walls. This prevents water from being held against the siding, and allows air movement to help dry off the walls.  

Ready to come back indoors?  Even when we keep the rain outside, there is still moisture inside our homes from breathing, cooking, and bathing.  Here are some ways to keep mold out of your home. 

3. Fix leaks properly and quickly. If you have a leak, take care of it right away.  Wet items should be dried within 24-48 hours to prevent mold growth.

4. Increase ventilation. 

  • Give moisture a way out. Use the bathroom fan or open a window for 30 minutes after bathing.  If your home tends to have high humidity, keep that fan on as much as possible. Use your kitchen fan when cooking. Make sure your fans are vented to the outside and not into the attic.
  • Once a day, walk through your home opening a window in each room. Then go back around and close them.  Because warm air holds more moisture than cold air, that rainy 40˚ air can actually be drier than the heated air inside your home.  If you do this quickly, you don’t lose much heat and you still bring in fresh air, which can help lower humidity levels indoors.
  • Allow for air flow.  Keep furniture an inch or two away from the walls.  Open the curtains or blinds in each room daily.  Open closet doors and doors between rooms when possible.  Allow room for any moisture that has condensed on a surface to be dried out or carried away in the air.

5. Heat each room in your home to at least 60˚.  Moisture in the air will condense onto walls, furniture, or other surfaces as it cools, and may grow mold.  Closed off rooms and cold rooms tend to be where mold grows. 

Would you like some help with mold prevention and other healthy home topics? Our Healthy Homes Program provides free, confidential visits to help reduce exposure to toxics, mold, and asthma triggers and other housing related health risks.

For more information about mold visit: