Food

5 Tips for a Non-Toxic BBQ

Because it's grilling season

Getting ready for that summer BBQ? They are super fun, delicious, and a great way to cook and socialize at the same time. We have some suggestions that will still let you party it up with a BBQ, while keeping everyone safe from unnecessarily hanging out with some chemicals, too.


1) Trim Fat and Clean the Grill

First off, think about the actual grill. Because it's an open flame, grills can create some smoke. And, while that can, at times, be the point, directly breathing in smoke usually isn't the best idea, especially for children and people with asthma. There are some things you can do to make your grilling a little less smokey, though. If possible, using a gas grill helps a bit, but if you have a charcoal grill (or prefer that), cut off excess fat to lower the amount of dripping and risk for flare-ups (1). Also, cleaning your grill to remove the charred, stuck-on bits before you cook is good for reducing smoke. And in general, a clean grill is better for you. It's suggested that you brush or scrape your grill every time you use it, and then do a deep cleaning a few times a year, depending on how often you use it.

2) Marinate, Marinate, Marinate

Now let's get to the actual food and BBQing. Overcooking (or burning) the food raises the amount of PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) and HCAs (heterocyclic amines) on the food (2). These chemicals are what people talk about when they say that grilling food can make it more likely to cause cancer. But, hang on, we have good news. You don't have to stop grilling. You can dramatically lower the amount of PAHs and HCAs by marinating your meat before grilling it. It doesn't have to be marinated for a very long time (even 5 minutes makes a huge difference, reducing PAH and HCA by as much as 92%), but the longer you marinate, the more flavorful the meat will be. Some research has shown that marinades with acid or oil are better than ones high in sugar (3). Additionally, tossing in some basil, mint, rosemary, oregano, or marjoram helps to reduce HCA levels because of their antioxidant properties. Easy peasy, and delicious (4).

3) Use Real Plates or Napkins

After you are done wonderfully cooking your food, you don't want to taint it by putting the piping hot food on plates that could leach chemicals onto the food. Usually BBQs or cookouts are known for using plastic or paper plates for easy cleaning up. But, plastic plates can transfer some harmful chemicals to the food, and so can paper plates if they are lined with an oil- or water-resistant coating. That magical water- and oil-proof property is often from chemicals known as PFAS, which easily gets onto the food items that it touches and takes years to break down, both in your body and in the environment. The best option would be to use real ceramic plates or some of these safe outdoor dishes that you can wash after the party, or unlined paper or bamboo plates that are completely compostable. Hey, if you are really going all out, why not just use napkins and create less trash over all. Who really needs a plate for a hotdog anyway?

4) Use Non-Toxic Sunscreen and Inspect Repellant

While this is less to do with the food, sunscreen and insect repellant are often popular for outdoor summertime events. While both have some pretty good benefits, like keeping you from getting burnt or covered in bites that can lead to various illnesses, some sunscreens and insect repellents contain pretty nasty chemicals. A good option is to wear long sleeve, lightweight shirts and pants that would protect you from both insects and sun. If that's just not seeming like an option for you, check out our roundup of safer sunscreen products. When it comes to bug repellant, that is more difficult and using a product with DEET, Picaridin, or IR3535 might still be your best bet. Some do find that oil of lemon eucalyptus (which is a particular active ingredient, different from lemon eucalyptus oil), can also be effective. You can read more about that over at EWG.

5) Limit Plastic Decorations and Toys

The last tip relates to the decorations and activities at your BBQ. We recommend avoiding plastic and opting for reusable decorations when you can. Read more about ideas for throwing a party with less plastic. For items that are more common at a BBQ party near water, try games like corn hole (made of wood) or sharks and minnows as opposed to beach balls. If you are more the type that likes to float around in the water, consider pool noodles instead of rafts and things. While slightly less instagramable or T-Swift inspired, foam noodles are safer than the plastic floats which are almost always made of PVC (which contains phthalates). Get creative for fun ways to play that don't require plastic toys.


References

1) Hall, McKenzie. Reduce your exposure to toxins from grilled meats. Chicago Tribune. July 2, 2014.

2) Chung SY, Yettella RR et al. Effects of grilling and roasting on the levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in beef and pork. Food Chemistry. Volume 129, Issue 4, 15 December 2011, Pages 1420-1426.

3) Farhadian A, Abas F et al. Effects of marinating on the formation of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (benzo[a]pyrene, benzo[b]fluoranthene and fluoranthene) in grilled beef meat. Food Control. 28(2):420–425, December 2012.

          4) Riches, Derrick. Healthy Grilling. The Spruce. April 4, 2017. Accessed April 11, 2018.
          Life

          Buying holiday decorations? Here's what you should know

          Don't let these chemicals ruin your holiday cheer

          You may need to be careful rockin' around the Christmas tree this year! Why you ask? Well, there might be some unexpected chemicals in that holly jolly decoration above your head. Holiday decorations can bring great cheer, but sometimes they can contain an unwanted surprise. Some decorations may be made with toxic chemicals - keep a look out for the ones below!
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          Life

          Is Your Artificial Christmas Tree Toxic?

          Tips to reduce your exposure to these hazardous chemicals

          Artificial Christmas trees are becoming increasingly popular for families. They're seen as being convenient since they don't shed needles and can be reused year after year. Because they can be reused, families tend to save money by choosing artificial trees over a real one. A study from the The American Christmas Tree Association (yes that is a real and reputable organization!) performed a life cycle analysis and found that one artificial tree that's reused for eight or more Christmases is more environmentally friendly than purchasing a real tree each year (1). The study also found that Christmas trees, both real and fake, accounted for a tiny part (< 0.1%) of a person's annual carbon footprint.

          But are artificial Christmas trees as good for your health as they are for your wallet? The majority of artificial trees are made using a plastic called polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and lead, which is used to stabilize PVC (2). The lead in the trees break down over time and forms lead dust. These particles are released into the air and can cause health issues, especially in young children. Most people do not realize that artificial trees contain lead, and only California requires a lead warning label (2). It is estimated that there are 50 million households in the United States that own artificial trees with lead in them (3).

          Don't panic! If you are an owner of an artificial Christmas tree made out of PVC, there are precautions you can take to reduce your family's exposure to lead.

          1. PVC releases more gases when it is first exposed to air. They also release gases as they degrade. A good way to reduce the amount of lead in your household is to take the tree out of the box and air it outside when you first purchase it (4).
          2. If you have used your artificial tree for many Christmases, you may want to consider purchasing a new one. PVC tends to weaken and degrade after nine years (4). Newer artificial trees do not leach as much lead as older ones.
          3. Light cords that come with your artifical tree are prone to have levels of lead that exceed the limit set by the EPA (4). It is recommended that you wash your hands immediately after touching light cords. And definitely don't let young children handle cords.

          If you're currently tree-less and in the market for an artificial one, consider purchasing a tree made out of polyethylene. This plastic is safer than PVC and does not leach lead. Additionally, trees made out of polyethylene tend to be more durable than PVC trees.

          While artificial PVC Christmas trees don't pose a high health risk overall to the general population, it's very possible for young children to have severe negative health effects (3). It's important to be aware of the health risks that go along with trees made out of PVC, and the ways to avoid lead exposure for yourself and your family this holiday season.


          References

          1. https://www.christmastreeassociation.org/real-artificial-christmas-tree-environment/
          2. https://rtkenvironmental.com/lead/warning-hidden-health-hazard-artificial-christmas-trees/
          3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15628192
          4. https://www.menshealth.com/health/a19548208/do-christmas-trees-make-you-sick/
          Sometimes it may feel like everywhere you turn, there's some sort of junk food being advertised—whether that's cupcakes or fries or deep fried things on a stick. And more than sometimes, you have a child begging you for a sweet treat or sugary drink. It can feel like a daunting task at times to encourage and foster healthy eating. While we know there are many factors that influence a child's food choices, here's one that you may not have thought of.
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          Life

          Avoid These Stressful Ingredients the Next Time You Relax with a Bath Bomb

          We don't need these chemicals messing with our #selfcare

          December means it's time to start thinking about those stocking stuffers or Chanukah gifts for your loved ones. What's better than a bath bomb to relax and take in those sudsy, therapeutic fragrances? Bath bombs can also get your kids to bathe without putting up a fight. They're basically magic! But, have you stopped to think what else they are putting in those bombs to make those suds glisten and fizz?

          What's in a Bath Bomb?

          It turns out, there can be a whole range of questionable chemicals packed neatly into those appealing little bombs. It's hard to tell exactly what's in each bath bomb because the ingredients vary widely among manufacturers, but fragrances, artificial colors, boric acid, and glitter are some common ingredients.

          Fragrance is never a welcome sight on the ingredient list. The FDA does not require companies to disclose ingredients used to make fragrances in products like bath bombs in order to protect company "trade secrets (1)." Many synthetic and natural fragrances also include such hormone-disrupting chemicals as phthalates, which can be absorbed through the skin and have been found to pose specific risks for pregnant women and children (2). Studies have also linked health effects of phthalates to miscarriage, gestational diabetes, reduced IQ, and ADHD with increased exposure to phthalates.

          As for dyes, the evidence is limited when it comes to FDA approved dyes readily being absorbed through the skin. However, one study found that certain dyes may be absorbed after shaving (3). Also, young children often swallow water while bathing and ingestion of some of these chemicals for young children is definitely not recommended!

          Boric acid also has some side effects that you may not want to risk. It can be absorbed through the mucous membranes and has been linked to hormone disruption and developmental and reproductive toxicity (4). And then there is glitter, which is just more plastic that can end up in our lakes, rivers, and streams.

          Alternatives and DIY Recipes

          While there may be harmful ingredients in some bath bombs, you don't have to give them up! It's easy to avoid these ingredients with just a little extra effort. You can choose to purchase "fragrance-free" or "phthalate-free" bath bombs, but making your own bath bomb is super easy. Here are also some DIY recipes to try at home.

          Ingredients

          • 1 cup baking soda
          • ½ cup citric acid
          • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
          • 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
          • ½ cup finely ground sea salt
          • 1 ½ teaspoons almond oil (or apricot oil)
          • ½ teaspoon coconut oil
          • 1 tablespoon of witch hazel
          • 1 teaspoon beet root powder
          • wild orange essential oil
          • rose essential oil

          Directions

          • Blend all dry ingredients in a bowl.
          • Blend wet ingredients in another bowl.
          • Combine all ingredients.
          • Place in mold of choice or just form a ball about 1-2 inches in diameter.
          • Allow the bath bombs to dry for approximately 1-2 days.
          • To use, place bath bomb in the bath.
          • To store, place in airtight container. Storing in a refrigerator can allow the bath bombs to keep for about 3 weeks (5).


          References

          1.https://www.fda.gov/cosmetics/cosmetic-ingredients/fragrances-cosmetics

          2.https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxprofiles/tp73-c1.pdf
          3.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23127598
          4.https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/Boric-acid#section=Health-Hazardhttps://draxe.com/health/are-bath-bombs-safe/
          5.https://draxe.com/beauty/diy-bath-bomb-recipe/
          6. https://homemadeforelle.com/bath-bombs-for-kids/#Ingredients
          Life

          The Hidden Risk in Store-Bought Slime

          Avoid this hazardous ingredient with our own DIY slime recipe

          Slime seems to be the hottest new toy for kids. They love that it's a tactile toy they can squeeze and smash. But before you rush out to buy a new tub of gooey slime on your next shopping trip, have you ever wondered what's actually in it? Turns out, there's a not-so-kid-friendly ingredient lurking in many slime products sold in stores, as well as in some DIY kits and recipes.

          What's So Bad About Boron?

          Boron is a chemical commonly used in many brands of slime, DIY kits, and some DIY recipes to give it that rubbery texture. While it may feel fun, it's actually not great for our health. Boron is an acute eye, respiratory tract, and nasal irritant and is harmful if swallowed (1). If ingested, it can also cause nausea and vomiting (2). Long-term exposure to boron can also cause negative reproductive health effects (3, 4). The problems with boron don't stop once you throw slime away either. It turns out that boron lasts a long time in the environment and has hazardous effects on aquatic life (5).

          To make matters worse, there's a lot more boron in slime than there should be. The U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) recently tested different brands of slime and found concentrations as high as 4700 parts per million (ppm) of boron, (6) which is more than fifteen times the allowable level for toys sold in the European Union (300 ppm for sticky/liquid toys) (6). Canada, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates have even instituted policies limiting or banning boron in children's toys (6).

          Safe Slime

          Luckily, it's easy to make your own boron-free slime. We like this recipe for full-proof slime that substitutes boron/borax (a boron compound that's found in a lot of other slime recipes) with cornstarch and school glue. We guarantee your kids will still have hours of fun with this non-toxic slime!

          Fluffy Volcano Slime

          1. Pour 1/4 cup white school glue and a 1/2 cup of cornstarch in a bowl
          2. Add 3 drops of food coloring (optional)
          3. Mix well
          4. Knead it with your hands for 10 minutes
          5. Heat it in the microwave for 20 seconds
          6. Let it cool, then knead it for another 10 minutes (7)

          References

          2. https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2014-09/documents/health_effects_support_document_for_boron.pdf

          3. https://toxnet.nlm.nih.gov/cgi-bin/sis/search/a?dbs+hsdb:@term+@DOCNO+328

          4. https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2014-09/documents/health_effects_support_document_for_boron.pdf

          5. https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/Boron

          6. https://uspirg.org/sites/pirg/files/reports/WEB_USP_Toyland-Report_Nov18_2-1.pdf

          7. https://www.cnet.com/how-to/make-slime-without-borax/

          Roundups

          15 Non-Toxic Toys for Toddlers and Preschoolers

          Fun, healthy, safe, and great for those budding imaginations

          Updated for 2019!

          You can pat yourself on the back for bringing these non-toxic toys into your home or gifting them to friends. These are the highest rated, healthiest toys for your growing little one. Not only did we make sure that the materials are safe, but we made sure parents like you love these toys. All the toys here are great for revving up their imagination and creativity and are made to last. If you're looking for something for a newborn or a baby under 1, here are our top picks for best non-toxic newborn toys.

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          Roundups

          15 Non-Toxic Toys for Newborns

          healthy, safe toys for 0-1 years old

          Updated for 2019!

          Even before they can talk, babies know how to play. Sure, they will play with whatever is in front of them, but having their own toys is way more fun, and saves things like your watch from being covered in slobber. Here are some of the highest rated, healthiest toys out there, but be sure to check out our roundup of toy brands, too. If you're looking for something for someone a bit older, here are our picks for best non-toxic toys for toddlers.

          Keep Reading Show Less
          Want an easy way to live healthier?
          Sign up for our newsletter! Curated environmental health news delivered to your inbox every three weeks.
          By submitting above, you agree to our privacy policy.
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