About Us

About Us

Because Health is a non-profit environmental health site, bringing you everything you need to know about how the places we live, work, and play impact our health. Through a combination of science-based tips, guides, and expert advice, it's our mission to show people simple ways to create a healthier future for themselves and their communities.

This is a site for people who care about their wellness and health, and recognize that pollution of our air, water, and soil, toxic chemicals in our products, and other environmental risks like climate change, are just as important as working out and eating right. We do the research, read the reports, interview the experts, find the safe products, and make it interesting so that you can live your best life. We are a place for real people, who don't have time to DIY everything, but want to make informed choices and advocate for the things they care about, because health.


Mission

To improve individual and collective health by sharing knowledge, providing resources, and building a young community around a shared concern for how environmental risks can impact health.

Vision

A world where all people live free from environmental risks that harm human health

Values

We embrace what's practical, celebrate everyone's imperfections, accept trade-offs, and always strive to be relatable. Everything we do is positive, actionable, science-based, bite-sized, and approachable.



Staff

Karen Wang, PhD, MSc

Karen knows how confusing environmental health can be. She's a mom, and when she was pregnant and trying to find out what "natural" and "healthy" really mean, it was easy to get overwhelmed. That's why she started Because Health. She wanted a source that is based on science and not the latest fads, and that makes the connection between wellness and the environment.

Karen is the editor-in-chief for Because Health content and is the Director of the Collaborative on Health and the Environment. Karen completed her PhD in Strategic Management, a quantitative social science discipline grounded in applied economics and social psychology, at the Foster School of Business at the University of Washington. Karen also holds a MSc in Earth Systems and a BA in Economics from Stanford University.

Favorite Because Health Routine: Starting the day by filling up reusable water bottles for myself, my hubby, and my kid. karen@becausehealth.org



Stephanie Brinker, MPH

Stephanie is a big fan of environmental health and social media, so being the Because Health marketing and communications associate Is a perfect fit. Her goal is to make information about environmental health as accessible as possible. She graduated from the UC Berkeley School of Public Health with a concentration in environmental health science.

Prior to Because Health she focused on developing climate change and health events, including the Global Climate and Health Forum, an official side event at the 2017 UN Conference on Climate Change (COP23). She's also worked for UCSF and the Center for Environmental Health.

stephanie@healthandenvironment.org


Contributors

Emma Zang-Schwartz, MPH

Emma is a gladiator for health education. She helped launch Because Health and knows what it means to live and breathe these environmental health tips. She now works as an account executive at SciMentum helping larger healthcare companies educate others about their products. She graduated from the Mailman School of Public health at Columbia University where she focused on health education and helping people learn to become agents of change. She also worked with Sesame Workshop, the non-profit behind Sesame Street, specifically focusing on providing water, sanitation, and hygiene lessons to children and teaching them how to share those messages with their families and friends. No matter the age or content, she is excited about getting people amped about simple swaps they can make that will have a great impact on their health and the health of the people around them, be it through their Insta feed or IRL.

Favorite Because Health Routine: Packing all the snacks in jars and reusable bags because #adulting is hard, and I don't want to get hangry at work

emmazangschwartz@gmail.com



Erica Chung, MPH

Erica is a bake-a-holic and a former Because Health intern. She just finished her MPH at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, specializing in environmental health sciences. Her days of translating scientific literature from her previous jobs aren't over, but this time, they're for extremely relevant topics such as climate and health, and which nail polishes are least toxic for you. She brings her expertise in toxicology and climate to Because Health. Erica is excited to be at Because Health because all articles written are grounded in scientific research, but still fun and informative to read and put inspiration for a healthier lifestyle right at your fingertips.

Favorite Because Health Routine: Swapping out plastic cups for mason jars at parties, because who doesn't like to amp up the cuteness factor by 10000x.


Maria Williams

Since 2003, Maria has been learning about toxic chemicals hiding in everyday products, and how to avoid them. Starting as an outreach educator for King County's collection program for hazardous household waste, she then spent six years at Toxic-Free Future, where she ran a Toxics Hotline, wrote publications, and conducted original scientific research that revealed harmful chemicals found in toys and helped pass Washington's landmark Children's Safe Products Act.

Maria loves having so many opportunities to help spread the word on how our environment affects our health, and what we can all do to create a safer, healthier future. She completed her BA in Environmental Studies at Oberlin College. She also holds a Professional Certificate in Editing from UC Berkeley.

Favorite Because Health Routine: Opening the windows as often as possible (even on rainy Seattle days!) to keep the air in her home healthy and fresh.

maria@becausehealth.org

Haleigh Cavalier

During her undergrad years studying Biology and Biochemistry and working in a Toxicology research laboratory, Haleigh developed a passion for science and a desire to make it more accessible and digestible for everyone! Now, Haleigh is a current MPH student in Environmental Health Sciences at Columbia University School of Public Health where she studies how the environment impacts human health. Her specific interests involve protection of child health and how environmental exposures during pregnancy and childhood uniquely impact development. She has done work for the National Center for Disaster Preparedness where she contributed to a study about the short and long-term health impacts of children exposed to the infamous BP Oil Spill.

Haleigh is excited to contribute to research translation about environmental topics, as she is a firm believer in the importance of communicating science to those who will truly benefit from its findings! Her favorite environmental conversation topics: the successes and challenges of transitioning to a vegan diet, and home compost!


1% for the Planet

We are proud to say that we are a 1% for the Planet non-profit partner. Learn more about the 1% for the Planet movement.


Because Health is a project of the Collaborative on Health and the Environment(CHE). CHE is a program of Commonweal, a 501(c)(3) non-profit.

Please refer to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy

Family

A Truly Non-Toxic Finger Paint Made With Just 2 Ingredients- Yogurt and Food Coloring

Because "non-toxic" finger paint might not really be non-toxic

If you have a little artist who's still too young to know that paint isn't food, you might want to consider making your own safe and edible paint. It might not surprise you that paints and other art supplies labeled as "non-toxic" might not really be non-toxic. Unfortunately, there's no real guarantee what's in your paint because most ingredients in commercially available paints don't have to be disclosed.

However, scientists do know that pigments used in paints can contain toxic metals like cadmium, lead, and nickel. And preservatives need to be added to a lot of water-based paints so the product can sit on the shelf and not rot or mold before being used.

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Home

Wondering If You Should Jump On the Organic Cotton Train?

The surprising reasons why it might not be the best bang for your buck when it comes to buying organics

If you've made the move to try and purchase organic products for the betterment of your health and the environment, you've probably heard of a slew of things that you can purchase that are organic - kale, apples, cereal, even cotton. We recommend a simple way to prioritize your organic produce purchases, but how does cotton fit into this? Is it worth the extra dollars? Clothes, sheets, towels, baby blankets, and all the other things around the house that are made from cotton can add up quickly. You might be thinking about organic, but aren't so sure. Well, we've weighed the pros and cons for you below to make an informed decision.

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Roundups

The 9 Best Non-Toxic Facial Sunscreens

Everyday coverage that protects against wrinkles and spots but won't clog pores

Our best beauty tip? Wear sunscreen on your face every single day, all year round! Basically all dermatologists agree that wearing sunscreen is important to protect your skin from sun damage and keeps wrinkles and spots at bay. But, we know that it's not easy to find the right facial sunscreen for your skin type. And of course it's even harder to find facial sunscreens without any chemical sunscreens. So we dug through all that is out there to find non-toxic facial sunscreens without harmful chemicals that are well-reviewed, easy to find, and are all SPF 30 or higher. All of these facial sunscreens are mineral sunscreens, so they're healthier for you and are reef safe too, if you happen to be by the ocean. Many of our options also come in tinted versions, so they provide light coverage as well. So what are you waiting for? Check out these non-toxic facial sunscreens and pick one up!

P.S. We also have a roundup of our favorite non-toxic all purpose and sport sunscreens, and non-toxic baby sunscreens!

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Warm weather screams beaches, smoothies and sunglasses, but there's always the dreaded secret armpit sniff to check for BO. Maybe your first inclination is to check out the drugstore for the deodorant that promises to keep you smelling fresh all day and into the night, but before you run, hear us out. Just like you probably have your favorite coffee or soap brand, you should be choosy about your deodorant too!
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No matter where you live, sustainability is becoming a hot topic. It might be a friendly reminder sign to bring your reusable bag to the grocery store, a city government conversation about not using straws, or it could run as deep as cities committing to be zero waste - some as early as next year. With all of this comes the question of what sort of products are best for the world? Is biodegradable really any different from compostable. Should I opt for compostable options over recyclable ones? Does reusing things help?

All of these are great questions! And the answer to all of them has an impact on our planet, and oftentimes our health, too.

So, first of all, what do all of these different terms that are being thrown around really mean? Let's start with the one we probably have all heard the most: recyclable.

Recyclable

Recycling is the process of taking a product and breaking it down to use it again, often as a raw material. We all know that we can recycle paper, plastic, and cans. In most places, recycling facilities can also deal with glass. All of this is great, but let's break down the concept a little bit more. Quick note, each city is slightly different and you should check exactly what can and can't be recycled in your neighborhood before you just assume you are good to go.

Tossing something you think or hope can be recycled into the recycling bin is often called wishful or aspirational recycling. While your heart is in the right place, doing this might actually be worse than just trashing something you aren't clear on. Why? Because that one iffy thing can actually be enough to compromise a full batch of recycling, which could mean everything ends up in the landfill instead of just the one questionable item. In those situations, the best option would be to confirm before you dispose of it. And, if your neighborhood doesn't recycle it, ask your city to start accepting those items. But, in the meantime, if you don't know, don't just hope it can be recycled.

Back to the topic at hand, what is actually recyclable? Most plastics that hold their shape can be recycled (like water bottles, food containers, bottles for household items, etc.). In some places, they have even started being able to accept items like plastic grocery bags, shrink wrap, and plastic wrap if it is packaged correctly. Other commonly accepted items for recycling include paper, cardboard, unbroken glass and metal (including tinfoil if it's clean and in a large enough ball).

Some common items that need special recycling (but are in fact recyclable) include: batteries, electronics, and fabric (and clothing). Check with your waste management provider to see what can and can't be recycled in your neighborhood.

Compostable

This is becoming more common in larger metropolitan cities. Composting is a way to turn items made of natural materials back into a nutrient rich soil. Often times the compost is for food scraps, but other items that are fully compostable include yard scraps, dead flowers, items made of untreated wood, and those made of pure cotton. While starting with food scraps is the easiest, the more you look around the more you will find items for other parts of your life that are completely compostable.

Compostable items are great because instead of going to landfill or needing to be processed and turned into something else, they actually breakdown themselves in a natural setting (or in an industrial facility) to create something useful right away.

But, what happens if you have items that are compostable but don't have access to composting. Side note: you can create a compost pile in your own backyard (or under your sink). We know that isn't for everyone though. So, what happens if these items end up in just in your standard trash bin? You might think that it's still an improvement and they will break down, right? Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but that's not exactly the case. Compostable items break down into nutrient rich soil only if they have the right conditions. And a traditional landfill is not a place with the right conditions.

Industrial facilities have the optimal conditions for composting. These facilities regulate temperature, moisture, and air flow in order to ensure a compostable item breaks down as fast as possible. At-home compost is more prone to temperature/moisture/air flow changes and might not break down as quickly as it would in an industrial setting.

Composting works best when the items have access to oxygen and are regularly being turned over. A landfill is basically the opposite. It's an anaerobic environment where most of the pile actually doesn't have access to oxygen. That means that if your compostable takeout container ends up in the landfill, it won't break down as intended. Instead, it will mostly likely just act like a plastic container and stay around for a lot longer than intended.

So, while recognizing compostable items is a good first step, purchasing and using compostable items in place of other items has the biggest impact when they actually end up in a compost pile. Although, we do want to mention that the production of plastic is pretty nasty for a lot of reasons, so opting for compostable items made of cotton, bamboo, and even PLA (that vegetable based plastic cup you see at some restaurants now), is probably still better for the environment and your health.

Biodegradable

The dictionary definition of biodegradable is a substance that can break down naturally without causing any harm (1). This is very similar to compostable, but the biggest difference is that what it breaks down to doesn't cause harm as opposed to starting with an organically occurring materials. Therefore, man-made or chemically produced items can still be considered biodegradable, while not necessarily being compostable. This is like a square being a rectangle but a rectangle not being a square. Those items that are compostable are also biodegradable, but not everything biodegradable is compostable.

Again, biodegradable options are still a step in the right direction. It does mean that the ingredients break down over time (that's a perk) and when they do break down, the base components are not harmful to the environment (also a perk).

One drawback of biodegradable materials is that there is not necessarily a timeframe for when the items will break down. It could be many years before they start to degrade. In most cases, biodegradable isn't really saying much about the product. Think of it the same way you do products labeled "natural."

The bottom line

If we were to rank these terms for which ones are best for the planet and in turn our health, we'd say first look for items that are compostable, recyclable, and lastly biodegradable. Compostable items, if properly disposed of, will break down completely and can them be used to grow more resources. Recyclable items can be turned into raw materials that can then be used to make new things without needing to create completely new resources. And finally, biodegradable options will eventually break down, but we don't know when and there is no plan to use them for any additional benefit.

Of course, we are big proponents of reusing items when possible, but we also know that it can be incredibly hard to live your life without there being some items that needs to be disposed of. So, go on with this new information to help you think about what to toss and how to do it best.





References

  1. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/biodegradable
Food

Are Copper Mugs Poisoning You?

What you need to know about the safety of copper cookware and drink ware

Copper, the pinkish-orange brassy metal that coats our pennies can also be found in the kitchen! We often see copper in those fancy mugs known for serving Moscow mules, but it is also found in other kitchenware like pots and pans. You may have seen some articles or blog posts warning about the dangers of kitchenware made of copper, or other voices claiming this fear is unnecessary and that these dishes and mugs are completely safe. Or, maybe you've never thought twice about it. Well…what's the deal?! Here we will clear up this mystery so you can feel comfortable and safe sipping on your refreshing Moscow Mule.

Copper Exposure and Health

Copper is a naturally occurring metal used industrially for electrical wiring, pipes, and other metal products and used agriculturally and in healthcare as an antimicrobial agent or contraceptive. Copper is an essential element, meaning that humans require some level of copper in our bodies(1). However, at high levels, (above 1,300 parts per billion), ingesting copper can irritate your digestive system and cause nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, and diarrhea (2).

So, how are humans exposed to this metal? Like other metals, copper, when in contact with a liquid has the potential to leach off and become dissolved in the liquid. When consuming the liquid, any leached copper will be ingested and could cause the unfortunate digestive irritation mentioned above. The rate of this dissolution reaction depends on the properties of the metal, the properties of the liquid, and the temperature of these substances.

Copper in the kitchen is most commonly found in the form of mugs, or cookware like pots and pans. Copper kitchenware is sold either lined, meaning the inside is coated with a different, less corrosive metal, or unlined, where the item entirely copper. Going back to our fun chemistry lesson above, the potential to ingest copper at home (or at the bar!) comes from the possibility of the copper leaching into whatever substance you are cooking or drinking. So, the big question: Will the copper in your kitchen products leach and cause toxicity? In short, probably not.

Mugs – Although copper does leach faster than most metals used in cups, it would take many, many hours of sitting in the mug before your Moscow Mule became dangerous to drink (3). Of course, Moscow mules are not the only drink served in copper mugs, and other substances can behave a little differently. Most beverages are OK, but acidity and heat speed up the dissolution reaction (4). Something as acidic as lime juice would still take a few hours to leach, but to err on the side of caution, leaving hot and/or acidic substances in unlined copper dish ware should be avoided (3).

Pots and Pans – Because of the high temperatures used when cooking, unlined copper cookware should not be used (4)! The good news—nearly all copper cookware on the market is lined with a different metal. However, you can never be too careful! When cooking with copper items, make sure the inside is a different color, or that the label specifies "lined" to be certain that it is safe to use.

Pipes – The most common way humans are exposed to ingested copper is through tap water when copper faucets or storage pipes are used. If you are concerned about your water at home, run the water 15-30 seconds prior to drinking (2).

Our Advice

Don't fret about enjoying a drink out of a copper mug! If you are investing in new copper mugs, we recommend purchasing stainless steel-lined ones, but regardless there is no need to panic. If you have unlined mugs, just take care to ensure super hot or acidic substances don't sit in them for extended periods of time, and be extra cautious around children. As for pots and pans, invest in lined copper only. If you're on the market for some new copper kitchenware, here are some lined options pots, pans, and mugs. Now enough anxiety about copper, it's time to sit back, relax, and enjoy that Moscow mule!

Sources

1 https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002419.htm

2 https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/ToxProfiles/tp132-c1-b.pdf

3 https://www.huffpost.com/entry/moscow-mule-not-poisonous_n_598c7552e4b0a66b8bb1938d?guccounter=1

4 https://accelconf.web.cern.ch/accelconf/p01/PAPERS/TPAH106.PDF

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