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

Life

Tips for Traveling With Less Plastic

You don't have to sacrifice convenience for sustainability!

Traveling for the holidays can be super stressful… the early flights, long lines, and last-minute delays seem inevitable. Traveling can also be a hidden stressor on the environment; it's been identified as a significant generator of plastic waste. The convenience of single-use plastic can be tempting, especially with the stress of holiday travel, but even one plastic item can add to the pollution problem. And this problem only seems to be getting worse, since only 10% of plastic is recycled, and around 8 million tons of plastic enter the oceans per year (1, 2). Luckily, it's really easy to limit your plastic consumption while you travel! Here are our tips for traveling with less plastic:

  1. Bring a reusable water bottle - Traveling can be exhausting and it's definitely important to stay hydrated, and reusable water bottles are an easy way to cut down on plastic use. Americans purchase roughly 50 billion plastic single-use water bottles per year and only about 20% get recycled (3). Plus, who wants to pay outrageous airport prices for something that can be free!
  1. Bring your own shampoo - As cute as the tiny shampoos provided by hotels are, these containers require lots of plastic for little shampoo so it's better for the Earth if you pass them up. Instead, pack your own shampoo! There are great shampoo options with plastic-free packaging. Check out our plastic-free shampoo roundup for inspiration!
  1. Avoid buying travel-sized toiletries - Once again, although cute, small toothpaste containers, mouthwash bottles, or any other item you can buy in travel size uses way more plastic than necessary and is usually tossed after just a few uses. Bring the larger containers when you can or fill reusable containers with your toiletries from home.
  1. Say no to plastic bags - Whether this be shopping bags or ziplocs, there are always better alternatives! Your reusable grocery bag can make an excellent souvenir holder and small stainless steel containers are perfect for packing snacks and toiletries!
  1. Bring your own utensils! - Most plastic straws and cutlery cannot be recycled. Packing a washable utensil set takes up barely any space, and can reduce plastic consumption significantly! Half a million straws are used and thrown away in the world every day (3).

You might be stuck in that airport security line for hours, but you can feel good knowing you're still doing your part to reduce plastic consumption! One day of convenience doesn't have to add up to a mountain of plastic waste.

Citations:

  1. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/habitats/plastic-pollution/#close
  2. https://ourworldindata.org/plastic-pollution
  3. https://www.earthday.org/2018/03/29/fact-sheet-single-use-plastics/
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Life

Flame Retardants in TVs Need a Commercial Break

Watching your favorite shows doesn't have to involve harmful chemicals

Beth Kemler is the Mobilization Director for Safer Chemicals Healthy Families

The holiday season always feels like a great time to buy a TV- think of the Black Friday sales! Plus, watching holiday movies is always better in HD. But did you know that the plastic casings of many TVs on the market contain hazardous chemicals called organohalogen flame retardants. Of course, you don't want your TV to catch fire during a binge-watching session, but there are better ways to protect ourselves rather than flame retardants.

What's the problem with flame retardants?

While they may seem like a good idea, flame retardants actually do more harm than good. These chemicals have been linked to cancer, neurological disorders, impaired fertility, and developmental problems. They also don't stay in your TV (or other products where they're found)—they leach into the air and stick to household dust. Children and adults alike breathe them in, eat them when they touch surfaces coated with them and then handle food and even absorb them through their skin.

Studies have found them in the bodies of adults, children, and fetuses in the womb. They've even been found in breast milk and scientists suspect that the rise in flame retardants in our homes is linked to a rise in thyroid disease they've seen in indoor cats.

And when products containing flame retardant chemicals burn, the chemicals can make the smoke even more hazardous for firefighters. They can also be especially dangerous to workers and children who recycle the plastics from TVs and other electronics in facilities around the world. And these chemicals make it much harder to recycle the plastic—adding to our global plastic waste crisis. There's basically nothing good about flame retardants.



Toxic TV Binge: hazardous flame retardant chemicals uncovered in Best Buy, Amazon TVs

Despite the hazards, it's almost impossible to find a TV in the US that doesn't contain flame retardants. A recent investigation by Safer Chemicals Healthy Families, where I work, and our partner organization Toxic-Free Future found flame retardants in every TV tested. Every single TV contained organohalogens, the worst class of flame retardants. One TV even contained deca-BDE, an organohalogen flame retardant that is banned in five states.

There are other ways manufacturers can reduce fire risk without relying on these harmful chemicals. Apple, for example, has replaced brominated flame retardants with safer alternatives and, in some cases, the company "eliminated [them] altogether through the use of naturally flame retardant materials such as aluminum." Remember when your Macbook used to be made out of plastic? That's a key reason they switched from plastic to aluminum — so they didn't need toxic flame retardants.

Let manufacturers know you're ready for a change!

Here's the good news: electronics companies can replace these harmful chemicals with safer alternatives. Some companies are already using alternative chemicals or innovating to avoid these chemicals altogether. Some electronics brands, like Apple, have done this for computers, and TV brands can innovate too!

In fact, the European Union recently voted to ban these chemicals in TV plastic casings starting April 2021. If the European Union can do it, so can the US!

That's why we started a petition to Best Buy, North America's #1 electronics retailer. We're asking the company to use its power to get toxic chemicals out of the TVs it sells. If European families will be getting TVs without these toxic chemicals, American families deserve the same. And Best Buy has the power to make it happen!

In the meantime, how can you reduce your family's exposure?

Unfortunately, it's nearly impossible to avoid all organohalgen flame retardants. Since manufacturers and retailers aren't required to disclose their use of chemicals in most products, we can't recommend any alternative TVs. But research has shown that you may be able to reduce your family's exposure with frequent cleaning. Dust, vacuum and wash everyone's hands often, especially before eating. Because flame retardants end up in household dust, reducing exposure to dust can help. Use a vacuum with a HEPA filter and regularly wet dust and wet mop.

The bottom line is that buying a TV shouldn't pollute your home with toxic chemicals—or exacerbate the plastic waste crisis. If you agree, please sign the petition to Best Buy!

12 Non-Toxic Baking Pan Essentials

for everything from cupcakes, to pie, to cornbread we've got you covered

Updated for 2019!

Whether you are a full on baker or just someone who struggles with the directions on the back of a box of cake mix, having the right pans is always a necessity. While nonstick may seem like an amazing invention to help with this, you should shy away from it (read this to learn why) and check out these great alternatives. Same goes for cooking, so check out our non-toxic alternatives to non-stick pans roundup.

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Food

Wondering What To Do With Your Germ-y Kitchen Sponge?

Here's a simple swap that will maximize cleanliness in no time!

Have you ever walked over to your sink to do the dishes, only to wrinkle your nose at how smelly your sponge is? We'll let you in on a secret… smelly sponge = lots of germs. And too many germs is the last thing that you want in your kitchen and on your dishes. So what can you? We've got a simple swap for you!

If you're using a sponge right now - Stop!

Why, you ask? To put it scientifically, sponges are gross. Studies looking at the bacteria count of "the dirtiest areas of a kitchen" repeatedly found that sponges come in first for harboring the highest germ counts (1). Sponges hold so many bacteria because they're constantly wet and easily catch food during washing (1). The wet environment combined with the food scraps create a perfect storm for encouraging germs to multiply (1). If you're dead set on using a sponge, researchers recommend either replacing your sponge weekly (which isn't good for the environment), or cleaning sponges in a bleach and water mixture (which isn't good for you) (2). Either way, it's a lose-lose. So what's the solution?

Swap your sponge out for a dish brush instead

Yep, it's truly that simple. Simply swapping out your kitchen sponge for a dish brush will help decrease the number of bacteria because:

  • Brushes have bristles that don't hold water and dry faster (3).
  • Food scraps are easier to wash off on bristles than in the nooks and crannies of sponges (3).

And the best part? Brushes don't need to be replaced as often, because they don't harbor as many germs. Hooray for a solution that is budget-friendly and earth-friendly!

References

  1. www.microbiologyjournal.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/JPAM_Vol_11_No4_p_1687-1693.pdf
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6379783/
  3. https://time.com/5254808/how-to-wash-dishes-sponge/
Life

Our Top Three Tips for Better Recycling

What to do when you can't reduce or reuse

We all try our best to recycle, but it's not always easy! Reading the labels on plastics can be like deciphering a different language. Although we try to do our best, recycling in America is still a work in progress. Of the 300 million tons of plastic produced every year, only about 10% of it gets recycled (1). The other 90% winds up in landfills and floating in oceans, polluting nearby ecosystems. It's not just plastic that's the problem- plenty of other materials like glass, paper, electronics, batteries, and clothing are discarded in environmentally unfriendly ways.

There are still many misconceptions of what is and isn't recyclable. We've covered what those little recycling numbers actually mean, but there's still a lot to learn. The complicated process can actually discourage people from attempting to recycle, and even when they do, complicated rules can cause significant recycling bin contamination. Until there is a change in the structure of the recycling industry in the United States, we have to step up our recycling game. Here are our top three tips on how you can make your recycling as efficient as possible!

1) Familiarize yourself with your local recycling laws and regulations. A quick google search can inform you on what you your municipality recommends for cleaning, separation, and collection. You can even keep your city's recycling guide posted on your fridge for easy access!

2) Do not, we repeat, DO NOT put your recyclables in the bin inside a plastic bag. Plastic bags, like those from grocery stores, and plastic wrap packaging are major contaminants in recycle bins and cause problems for facilities that process recycled materials. These bags can be recycled but have to be brought to specialty facilities, and can be dropped off at many grocery stores. Try using paper bags instead, and be sure to toss them in the correct bin after use!

3) Purchase items you know to be recyclable! Stick to products that are made from paper, glass, aluminium, or steel. Always check with your local recycling center about what to do with plastic items- you'd be surprised how much plastic can't be recycled! And don't forget to thoroughly clean out any food residue before tossing a product into the recycling bin.

Why is it so important to recycle correctly? Well, bin contamination is a huge issue, especially now that China is no longer buying our recyclable waste. Contaminating recycling bins with non-recyclable products makes the recycling process more difficult, time consuming, and expensive. If batches of recyclables are too contaminated, they will get thrown in the landfill with everything else. Which is exactly what we're trying to avoid in the first place (2,3)!

Contribute to a healthier environment; support the industry by buying materials made out of recycled goods! And be sure to reduce consumption of disposable materials, and reuse items as many times as possible before recycling. If you are still not sure about best recycling practices, this EPA guide is a great resource.


References

  1. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2017/07/plastic-produced-recycling-waste-ocean-trash-debris-environment/
  2. https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2019/03/...
  3. https://theweek.com/articles/819488/america-recycling-problem-heres-how-solve\
  4. https://www.recycleacrossamerica.org/tips-to-recycle-right
  5. https://www.npr.org/2019/08/20/750864036/u-s-recycling-industry-is-struggling-to-figure-out-a-future-without-china
Remember that takeout container you had last night? What color was it? It probably was black, right? While those flexible, bendy and just the right size for packing leftovers boxes might seem perfect, they are far from it. The black color of the plastics actually masks a lot more than that last piece of sesame chicken hiding in the corner.
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Food

Is Climate Change Making Your Food Less Safe To Eat?

The role of climate change in foodborne illnesses

Do you have big cooking plans this Thanksgiving? Us too! We love cooking when the holiday season rolls around, but did you ever think that climate change is something you would think while prepping your food? Well, the raw ingredients in your kitchen contain harmful microbes that can cause foodborne illnesses, and climate change has been linked to an increase in these diseases.

As the global temperature rises and rainfall patterns change, bacteria, viruses, parasites, and other harmful vectors flourish. These changes in climatic factors increase disease transmission efficacy and improve survival rates of these vectors (1). In other words, climate change has allowed these harmful microbes to evolve and be better equipped to cause diseases. On top of that, they are more resilient and harder to kill.

So what should you be on the lookout for? Good question. Below are just a few examples of agents that may be altered by climate variability in the United States (1, 2). All of them can potentially be found on the foods that we consume.

  • E. coli O157: this specific strain of E. coli is particularly prone to climate change. We ingest this microbe through contaminated foods such as raw or undercooked ground meat products and raw milk (3).
  • Salmonella: Salmonella is caused by a bacteria that lives in the intestinal tract of animals. Just like E. coli O157, Salmonella can cause foodborne illnesses through consumption of contaminated ingredients.
  • Campylobacter: almost all raw poultry you see in the grocery store contains this microbe. This bacteria causes foodborne illnesses by cross-contaminating other foods and by surviving in undercooked meat. This makes Campylobacter one of the most common causes of diarrhea in the United States.

Overall, changes in climatic factors will be the largest culprit of food-related illnesses and mortality (4). This accounts for under-nutrition, communicable and non-communicable diseases, as well as vector-borne diseases.

The good news is that these foodborne illnesses are highly preventable!

While climate change may improve the environment in which these microbes thrive, we can take steps to prevent foodborne illnesses from happening in our own kitchens. The USDA recommends the Be Food Safe prevention steps (5):

  • Clean: Wash your hands and cooking surfaces frequently.
  • Separate: Don't cross-contaminate your foods. Keep your meats and veggies separate.
  • Cook: Cook ingredients to their proper temperatures.
  • Chill: Refrigerate foods promptly.

By following these guidelines, the vast majority of these harmful microbes can be removed or killed. Keep yourself and your family free from foodborne illnesses!


References

  1. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0963996910002231
  2. https://www.health.state.mn.us/diseases/foodborne/basics.html
  3. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/e-coli##targetText=Sources%20and%20transmission&targetText=E.%20coli%20O157%3AH7%20is%20transmitted%20to%20humans%20primarily%20through,meat%20products%20and%20raw%20milk.
  4. https://www.who.int/foodsafety/_Climate_Change.pdf
  5. https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/safe-food-handling/cleanliness-helps-prevent-foodborne-illness/ct_index
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