Life

4 Tips for Healthier Flying

Expert advice from a flight attendant union

Headed to some white sand beaches, or snow-capped mountains sometime soon? Maybe it's just a quick business trip. No matter what, flying is almost inevitable these days. While air travel in general has been proven to be pretty safe, we have a few tips to make jetting off for that weekend vacay a little healthier. And nope, it's not about staying hydrated (okay, one of them is) or putting on a face mask, although both of those might make you feel better when you arrive, too.


Our tips are more about reducing your contact with the chemicals that are unavoidable on airplanes. These unavoidable chemicals are different kinds of flame retardants that are added to meet FAA performance and safety regulations. While other everyday items, like couches and electronics, have to meet regulations related to not catching on fire, airplanes are a little different.

"The aircraft cabin is very heavily treated by regulation. Pretty much anything on an aircraft has to pass one of a series of flame tests, where the item is exposed to a certain type of flame for a certain number of minutes or seconds, and it has to self-extinguish within a certain number of seconds. It is possible for at least some of these regulations to be met without flame retardants, but the flame retardants option is the easiest and the cheapest, so according to the FAA, that is how most manufacturers comply with these rules," says Judith Anderson from the Association of Flight Attendants.

Because of these stronger regulations, and the fact that adding flame retardant chemicals is cheaper, easier, and may weigh less than untreated but suitably fire-retardant materials, there are a variety of these chemicals in almost every inch of an airplane.

So, with that in mind, there are some easy ways to prep for a trip that can reduce your exposure to these chemicals. Most of them are from Ms. Anderson, but, while we had your attention, we threw in one or two of our own for good measure.

1) Dress for success

Generally speaking for airplanes this means wear long sleeves, long pants, and sensible shoes - You can take that to mean leggings and sweatshirts for the win! By wearing long pants and long sleeves, "You have reduced contact with the flame retardant treated surfaces, and long pants and sleeves with sensible type shoes, not flip flops or heels for example, are going to serve you better if you actually do have to evacuate the cabin in the case of emergency," says Ms. Anderson. Airplanes are often cold anyway, so throwing in some long sleeves, even if you're headed to a warm destination, isn't the worst idea.

2) Wash up

Basically, because almost everything in the plane is covered in these flame retardant chemicals, make sure to wash your hands before you eat anything and when you get off the plane. "A study published in 2014 by a researcher at Harvard found that after one single cross country flight that there was measurable flame retardants from the aircraft cabin on the surfaces of the hands of the flight attendants that participated in that research study. So, an obvious recommendation is to wash your hands before you eat, and to wash your hands after a flight, in order to minimize how much gets absorbed," says Ms. Anderson. While you're at it, it's probably a good idea to throw those long pants and sleeves that you wore in the wash, too. You don't want to accidentally drop a snack on your sweatshirt a few days later and pick up flame retardants that have just been chillin' on your cozy sweats.

3) Use your nose

This one sounds a little more out there, but it's important. Besides the potential for contact with pesticides, germs, and ozone gas in the cabin, there is the potential to breathe toxic engine oil fumes onboard.There are documented cases (about 5 a day on the US fleet) where engine oil fumes contaminate the ventilation air supplied to the cabin. The oils contain some nasty chemical additives that can cause neurological and breathing problems for passengers and flight crew. "It is important to be aware of the possibility for oils to contaminate the air supply system, and it is important to know that the fumes are most often described as smelling like dirty socks or like a gym locker, kind of a musty, moldy, foul kind of smell. If you smell dirty socks on a plane, the first thought that most people have is that somebody has taken their shoes off, but oil fumes is another explanation. It happens most commonly during engine start, take off, or what is called top of descent, at the end of cruising portion of the flight, when the aircraft starts to descend. All of those phases of flight are associated with engine power setting changes, and when the engine power setting changes, the mechanical changes increase the risk of oil getting into the air supply system. So [if you notice that distinctive smell] coming from the vents, report it promptly to the crew and report it to the airline and the FAA safety hotline after the flight," says Ms. Anderson.

4) Drink up

We're throwing this one in for good measure. Pack a reusable water bottle with you. Be sure it's empty when you go through security, then you can fill it up at any of the fountains or water bottle filling stations that are now super common in airports near the gates. This helps make sure you don't have to buy bottled water at the airport or while you are traveling, and it's good to stay hydrated while you fly anyway. Check out our roundup of some of our favorite water bottles if you don't have one you love yet.

Food

Hooked on Sparkling Water?

Us too. But what are we really drinking?

Let's be real: sometimes we reach for sparkling water to make everyday life feel just a little bit swankier. We also do it for our health. For those of us who struggle with drinking enough water, it's refreshing bubbles and flavors are an enjoyable incentive to hydrate. And since sweetened beverages, like traditional sodas, contribute to chronic conditions like diabetes (1), sparkling water offers a satisfying CDC-recommended substitute for sugary drinks (2). Sparkling water is basically H2O with jazz hands, so there's no way it can be bad, right? As it turns out, there are a few things to watch out for. We're diving deep with sparkling water to help support your health and environment (and your bubble habit).

Let's Talk About Natural and Artificial Flavors...

You've probably seen common ingredients like fruit juice, natural flavors, or artificial flavors in your favorite fizzy water brands. Fruit juice is pretty self-explanatory, but what do we know about the rest?

Natural flavors. According to the FDA, a natural flavor must come from non-synthetic source, such as spices, fruits or vegetables (3). However, the rest of the solution carrying the flavor may still contain synthetic additives as preservatives or solvents (which just means substances used to dissolve other things). These additives like propylene glycol are considered "Generally Recognized as Safe" by the FDA, and some like ethyl formate form naturally in plants (5). But safety studies are ongoing for some of these approved chemicals. For example, recent research has shown methyl paraben acts as an endocrine disruptor in mice and contributes to obesity (6). Organic products have higher standards for natural flavors – the National Organic Program only allows natural flavors if "not produced using synthetic solvents and carrier systems or any artificial preservatives" (7). Organic flavors must be used in organic products if commercially available (7) and comply with USDA organic regulations – including that 95% of the flavor must be certified organic (8).

Artificial flavors. Yep, you guessed it – unlike natural flavors, artificial flavors need not derive directly from natural sources like those listed above (3). Instead they are chemically synthesized. This doesn't actually mean that the main flavor's chemical structure differs from that of the natural flavor. As University of Minnesota food science professor Gary Reineccius explains, "there is little substantive difference in the chemical compositions of natural and artificial flavorings…the distinction in flavorings comes from the source of these identical chemicals" (9). But the kicker again comes from the additional synthetic chemicals allowed to accompany the flavor. Some of these originally occur in nature (such as butyl phenylacetate, found in fruits), while others are totally synthetic and potentially problematic (like phenylethyl benzoate, which is "toxic to aquatic life with long lasting effects.")

Bonus round: what is "naturally essenced"? This is its own category used in particular by LaCroix products. Its true meaning is still unknown, as LaCroix has not disclosed this information publicly. What we do know, according to their website, is that "all LaCroix flavors are derived from the natural essence oils extracted from the named fruit...there are no sugars or artificial ingredients." Furthermore, Business Insider clarifies that "essence is created by heating items such as fruit and vegetable skins, rinds, and remnants at high temperatures, producing vapors. These vapors are condensed and then sold by the barrel."

Bottom line: though natural and artificial flavors are chemically similar, they both come with long lists of potential additives that may be detrimental to our health and environment . When in doubt, stick with what you know is good – like real fruit juice – or opt for brands with organic ingredients and flavors.

How to Sparkle from the Inside Out

Sparkling water containers matter just as much for our health and environment as the inside ingredients. The lining of aluminium cans contain BPA and similar chemicals that are known endocrine disruptors with the potential to cause hormonal and reproductive harm. While these chemicals are less likely to leach into beverages like sparkling water than more acidic beverages, we don't like to make a habit of drinking from cans. Sparkling water beverages also often come in plastic. Microplastics can also end up with your bubbles – a study in 2018 showed that microplastics contaminated 93% of plastic water bottles (10). The research world is still seeking to understand the health implications of microplastics, but given what we already know, we say it's better to play it safe and avoid plastic bottles as much as possible in the meantime. Reducing plastic use is even more important for environmental health now that international governments have stopped buying recycling products from the US (cities in the US are throwing away formerly recyclable types of plastic because they can't afford to recycle, as reported by The Atlantic). Your choice of carbonated beverage is that much better for our health and environment when it doesn't come with plastic!

Simple Solutions for Keeping Your Sparkle Alive

1) Choose glass over plastic containers if buying carbonated beverages from the store

2) Check out the ingredients of your current brands and *gasp* consider trying a new one (we know you're dying for a new pandemic adventure). Try brands with fruit juice flavoring (Iike Spindrift) or organic natural flavors to be extra safe in avoiding sneaky synthetic additives.

3) Consider DIY! You can easily make your own sparkling water at home and have total control over what goes in it, including water quality and flavor choice. SodaStream's Aqua Fizz water carbonating machine uses glass bottles. Or if you're on a budget, consider a more basic model and transfer your newly carbonated water over to glass carafes for storage, or just quickly consume it (not a problem for us!). They also have organic flavoring options and a carbon dioxide cylinder exchange program to reduce waste. You could also experiment with adding your own fruit juice flavor concoctions – the possibilities are endless.

Stay fizzy, my friends.


Resources:

(1)https://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/data-statistics/sugar-sweetened-beverages-intake.html

(2)https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/healthy_eating/drinks.html

(3)https://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?SID=20a79c9179f3c43d5b514f5f13c06d7b&mc=true&node=se21.2.101_122&rgn=div8

(4)https://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?SID=c3057692e430edc601fcb3e3352fed1c&mc=true&tpl=/ecfrbrowse/Title21/21cfr184_main_02.tpl

(5)https://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?SID=e5c407d421f852bcf58b25fd5c700a4d&mc=true&node=se21.3.184_11295&rgn=div8

(6) https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007/s13679-017-0240-4.pdf

(7)https://ota.com/sites/default/files/indexed_files/OrganicFlavorsPracticalGuidance_OrganicTradeAssociation.pdf

(8)https://www.qai-inc.com/media/docs/qai_guide_for_natural_flavors_in_organic_products.pdf

(9) https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/what-is-the-difference-be-2002-07-29/

(10)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6141690/

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Home

Non-Toxic, Eco-Friendly Alternatives to Swiffers

Or convert the Swiffer you already have into a non-toxic, planet-friendly option

Who hasn't had a Swiffer before? The promise of an easy-to-use and affordable sweeping, mopping and dusting solution is hard to say no to! While Swiffer products are quite convenient and user friendly, have you ever thought about how much trash those single-use pads generate and what toxic chemicals might be used in their cleaning solutions? Well we're here to give you the low down. If you already have a Swiffer, we have some tips on how to use your Swiffer in a more environmentally conscious way with non-toxic ingredients. And if you don't have one, but want some just as convenient recommendations on mopping and dusting we have you covered too.

Why You Might Want to Think Twice About Swiffers

Ever take a big whiff when you bust open your new package of refillable Swiffer wet pads? Well, sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but those flowery and attractive smells contain fragrances and other harmful ingredients, which often carry phthalates, asthmagens (1) and other chemicals of concern. When these fragrance chemicals vaporize into your household, they can trigger asthma attacks, and aggravate sinus conditions; they can disrupt hormones, cause headaches, eyes, nose and throat irritation, and produce neurotoxic symptoms, like loss of coordination, and forgetfulness (2).

Other ingredients in Swiffer products have also been found to aid in developing resistance to antibiotics over time (3). This means that germs like bacteria and fungi start building the capacity to defeat the drugs that are designed to kill them. When this happens, this can require extended hospital stays, more follow-up visits to the doctor, and other costly and toxic treatment alternatives (4). It's not just humans that are impacted either, these products are also very toxic to aquatic animals (5,6). Makes us think twice about using them all around the house!

Not only is it a good idea to steer clear of these chemicals, but can we talk about the trash? Easy disposal of these toxic, non-biodegradable products, like the refill pads, has resulted in an exuberant amount of unnecessary waste and has nearly destroyed our environment (7). Refillable Swiffer pads are made from polyester which is derived from fossil fuels (8), and are contributing to the degradation of our ecosystems and wildlife (9). These persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are harmful toxins that will continue to corrode our environment for centuries, as they occupy landfills and slowly leak toxins into soil and water over time (9). What a mess!

The good news is that there are simple alternative methods you can start using that are more protective of our health (and the planet's) well-being. Plus, since you don't have to purchase refill pads, they are great for your budget too. There are even easy hacks to turn the Swiffer product you already have into a non-toxic option.

How to Make Your Swiffer Non-Toxic and Earth-Friendly

Get a reusable washable microfiber pad and ditch the single-use ones. Microfibers are extremely effective at capturing germs and small particles (10). These microfiber mop pads work for both the Swiffer sweepers and WetJet. Here are some we like:

Just throw that bad boy into the washer after you're done using it and it's ready to be used the next time you need it. And if you want a completely free way to do this, you can even try using an old fuzzy sock and wrap that around the bottom of your WetJet and voila, you're all ready to start moppin'.

If you have an old washcloth you can also place that into the corners of the holes of your traditional Swiffer to secure the cloth. You'll want to make sure to dip the cloth into your cleaning solution before you attach it to the mop and/or you can add the cleaning solution to a spray bottle to spray the surface as well.

DIY Your Own Safe and Effective Cleaning Solution

If you've got the Swiffer WetJet, make sure the refill bottle is thoroughly cleaned out with soap and water, then go ahead and add your preferred non-toxic cleaning solution. There are several ways you can create your own safe and effective floor cleaner, but here are some of our favorites:

  • Add ½ tsp of liquid soap to each gallon of water
  • Add ½ cup vinegar to every gallon of water

When the floors are really dirty use liquid soap solution to really mop up that grime and dirt. If things have been more chill around the house, use the vinegar solution. We've heard that using the vinegar on hardwood floors is not a problem, but you should check what type of finish your floors have, and do a test sample somewhere out of sight just to be sure.

Convenient, Non-toxic, and Budget Friendly Swiffer Alternatives

If you don't own a Swiffer, bless your heart. Here are two of our favorite Swiffer alternatives for getting your floor clean.

Steam Mops

Another green alternative you can use is a steam mop. Steam mops work by heating up the water to really high temperatures inside it's chamber and dispensing it as steam, which is then dispersed through a cloth or pad. The steam helps to loosen up the dirt and grime from your floors, and the high temps help to kill germs and bacteria on hard surfaces. No harmful chemicals needed!

Steam mops are typically safe to use on vinyl, ceramic, and porcelain tile floors, but you may want to double check with your flooring brand to make sure using steam won't void your floor's warranty. You should also never use steam mops on any unsealed, peeling or unfinished floors, and although manufacturers claim it is safe to do so, use caution with any wood or laminate flooring.

Spray Mops

Spray mops are super convenient and easy to use on all types of floors, including hardwood and laminate flooring. Plus, no need for any buckets or wringing! Just add your washable/reusable microfiber mop pad and pre-made non-toxic solution to the dispenser and you are ready to have at it!



References:
  1. https://zsds3.zepinc.com/ehswww/zep/result/direct_link.jsp?P_LANGU=E&P_SYS=2&P_SSN=11337&C001=DISC2&C002=ZCAL&C003=E&C013=AF7231E
  2. https://noharm-uscanada.org/issues/us-canada/fragrance-chemicals
  3. https://www.ajicjournal.org/article/S0196-6553(18)30424-3/pdf
  4. https://www.cdc.gov/drugresistance/about.html
  5. https://www.ewg.org/guides/cleaners/5288-SwifferSweeperWetMoppingClothsOpenWindowFresh/
  6. https://www.ewg.org/guides/cleaners/2819-SwifferWetJetMultiPurposeCleanerOpenWindowFresh/
  7. https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/realestate/2005/05/21/disposable-wipes-no-throw-away-issue/22e091b2-7bc9-4b01-a9c3-6ca1c00f9cfc/
  8. https://www.cmu.edu/gelfand/lgc-educational-media/polymers/natural-synthetic-polymers/index.html#:~:text=Synthetic%20polymers%20are%20derived%20from,polyester%2C%20Teflon%2C%20and%20epoxy.&text=Examples%20of%20naturally%20occurring%20polymers,%2C%20DNA%2C%20cellulose%20and%20proteins.
  9. https://sciencing.com/environmental-problems-caused-by-synthetic-polymers-12732046.html
  10. https://archive.epa.gov/region9/waste/archive/web/pdf/mops.pdf
Roundups

Non-Toxic Floor Cleaners

Because just shuffling around in fuzzy socks doesn't really count

Updated for 2020!

We walk on them all the time, so it's not hard to believe that floors get dirty. Sure vacuuming and sweeping are a good start, but you also need to wet mop them. We did the research and came up with a roundup of 7 of the safest, healthiest floor cleaners out there. They are all well reviewed and widely available. Take your pick!

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COVID-19

Preserving Your Sanity During COVID-19

Why it's so important to look after your mental health throughout this pandemic

The Re-Opening Waiting Game

It's beginning to feel like the "end" of COVID-19 will never arrive. The surging, flattening, and re-surging of Coronavirus has created a roller coaster of emotions that often leave us feeling like we've reverted back to square one (or worse). It's no wonder why some of us have been feeling drained, moody, hopeless, and unable to think straight.

Fears and concerns surrounding this virus are becoming increasingly common (1), as many of us are worried about our health and the health and well-being of our loved ones. This level of uncertainty has really put a damper on our emotions and has strained our mental health (1). Social and physical distancing, economic uncertainty, and the onslaught of bad news has left us feeling isolated, anxious, depressed and unsure of how to cope with these feelings, and left wondering when our lives will return back to normal.

Fortunately, there are tons of things we can do to mitigate the negative impacts many of us are experiencing. Keep reading for some tips and advice on trying to reach some level of zen through these trying times.

How COVID-19 Can Impact Mental Health

The rise and spread of COVID-19 has subjected us to a whole new lifestyle, one that many of us have had difficulties adjusting to. Some are grieving the loss of loved ones or economic stability, while others are grieving the social connection we had pre-COVID-19. Around half of all US adults have recently reported that COVID-19 has negatively impacted their mental health (1).

From front-line workers to non-essential workers, the level of stress, anxiety, and depression is negatively impacting mental and physical well-being. Health care workers and grocery store workers, along with others, are faced with choosing whether to keep working and increase the risk of contracting the virus or leaving their jobs and losing their income (2). On the other hand, many non-essential workers who are losing their jobs are not only losing their income, but are faced with increased rates of depression, anxiety, distress, and low self-esteem, which can lead to higher rates of substance abuse and suicide (1). Shelter-in-place orders, business and school closures and travel restrictions are fueling the impacts of loneliness and social isolation, and for many, financial distress (1).

How Mental Health and Physical Health are Intertwined

Mental health is just as critical to our well-being as our physical health, as the two are inextricably linked (3). Have you ever been so stressed you get a stomach ache or headache? Yeah, us too.Social isolation and loneliness are public health concerns, as the latter is associated with reduced lifespan and is a risk factor for mental illness (1), an increased risk of a heart attack (4) , and suicide (1). Anxiety, stress, and depression can physically manifest itself as heart disease, asthma, gut problems and dermatitis, among a list of other health concerns (5,6,7,8). Stress can also cause shortness of breath, trigger asthma symptoms, and can flare up your eczema too (6,7). Taking care of your mental health is a critical component in staying healthy.

Be Proactive About Your Mental Health

With so much uncertainty, isolation, and fear surrounding COVID-19, we have to remind ourselves to pay attention to our mental health and to what our bodies are telling us. In addition to the typical things people think when they hear about ways to enhance your mental well-being like meditation, yoga, exercise, and eating healthy, here are a few other strategies to boost your mood and achieve better mental health:

You can find additional resources below for you or your loved ones to assist with navigating with mental health emergencies:


References

(1)https://www.kff.org/coronavirus-covid-19/issue-brief/the-implications-of-covid-19-for-mental-health-and-substance-use/

(2)https://www.kff.org/coronavirus-covid-19/issue-brief/double-jeopardy-low-wage-workers-at-risk-for-health-and-financial-implications-of-covid-19/

(3)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1071612/

(4) https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/medicine-and-dentistry/psychosomatic-disorder

(5) https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/medicine-and-dentistry/psychosomatic-disorder

(6) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5260801/

(7)https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-981-10-5541-6_13#:~:text=Psychological%20stress%20is%20a%20major,deterioration%20in%20quality%20of%20life.

(8) https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0706743719874168

Roundups

Non-Toxic Kitchen Items Roundup

Bye bye plastic, hello reusable!

Looking for a way to be more sustainable but don't know where to start? Try the kitchen! Kitchen utensils are usually made from plastic and other harmful chemicals. Some items, like sponges, are also meant to be periodically thrown away, which just creates more trash. That's why we rounded up our favorite non-toxic kitchen items! These items are made from natural or reusable materials like wood, natural sponge, and copper. They're all durable and can stand up to the toughest kitchen messes!


Non-Toxic Kitchen Items


a) REDECKER Horsehair and Beechwood Bottle Brush

b) If You Care 100% Natural Sponge Cloths

c) Küchenprofi Classic Dish Washing Brush

d) Miw Piw Natural Dish Sponge

e) REDECKER Copper Cleaning Cloth

f) REDECKER Natural Fiber Bristle Pot Brush


We rely on EWG's consumer databases, the Think Dirty App, and GoodGuide in addition to consumer reviews and widespread availability of products to generate these recommendations. Learn more on our methodology page.

*Because Health is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program so that when you click through our Amazon links, a percentage of the proceeds from your purchases will go to Because Health. We encourage you to shop locally, but if you do buy online buying through our links will help us continue the critical environmental health education work we do. Our participation does not influence our product recommendations. To read more about how we recommend products, go to our methodology page.

COVID-19

Safer Cleaning and Disinfectant Use During Coronavirus for Early Childcare Providers and Schools

why it's important, other best practices, and a comprehensive resource list

This is a toolkit that is an easy to understand guide to best and safe practices for reopening childcare providers and schools during COVID-19. The toolkit has summaries of best practices from the CDC, EPA, and others in one place. Our recommendations also take into consideration disinfectants with safer ingredients. If you are a parent who is concerned about safe and best practices when schools are reopened, please download our toolkit to send to your childcare provider or school administrator. We even have a sample email that you can use to write your school administrator or childcare director and attach these materials. Or if you work as a childcare provider or at a school, we have made this resource for you. We hope that it is helpful.

Download the complete toolkit with sample email and all the links here:

Because Health Safer Disinfecting at Schools During Coronavirus.pdf

Here is a version of the pdf without the sample email to send to administrators and staff:

Because Health Safer Disinfecting at Schools During Coronavirus to send.pdf

safer disinfectant use during coronavirus for schools




hand washing and hand sanitizer during coronavirus



safer cleaning and disinfecting resources for schools during coronavirus

As childcare facilities and schools gear up for reopening, water quality is another area that can be affected by COVID-19 closures. Water stagnation in closed or sparsely used school facilities can lead to buildup of harmful pathogens and contaminants. This is a toolkit that is an easy to understand guide to best and safe practices for water quality when reopening childcare providers and schools during COVID-19. The toolkit has summaries of best practices from the CDC, EPA, and others water quality experts in one place.

If you are a parent who is concerned about safe drinking water when schools are reopened, please download our toolkit to send to your childcare provider or school administrator. Or if you work as a childcare provider or at a school, we have made this resource for you. We hope that it is helpful.

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