Big Decisions

10 Things to Look for When Buying a House: Health Edition

The style is all up to you

Taking the plunge and buying a house? You obviously weren't taken down by the avocado toast trend stealing all your hard earned moola. As you walk through potential homes we have 10 environmental health suggestions for things to look, smell, listen, and maybe even taste for.


  1. The plumbing - Check the pipes, or ask a plumber or the inspector to check them. But, as you walk through, flush a toilet, turn on a faucet, see if the water gets hot, make sure the water doesn't come out a funny color, things like that. If you are feeling very curious, you could also take a sip of water and see how it tastes. After all, you might be drinking and cooking with this water every day! You also want to be sure there aren't lead pipes, and that they are properly insulated.
  2. Signs of water damage - Look for discoloration on the walls, ceiling, in the attic, or around window frames, which could be signs of previous or current leaks. Also, pay attention for musty smells which could mean there is mold hiding in the walls, also usually from unwanted water. The seller should disclose any known mold or water-related problems.
  3. The Windows - First off, make sure there are a good number of windows and they face in desirable directions. Are there windows that allow for natural light throughout the day? South and west facing windows tend to get the best light. What about a way to create a cross breeze? Do any of the windows directly face a street that may have lots of light at night or people looking directly in them? While you are at it, look at the quality of the windows. Are they well insulated or double paned to hold in your heat or air conditioning? Windows can be relatively easy to change or replace, but it's more difficult to add them or take them away.
  4. Age - While an older home can add character and charm, it also means you have to ask a few more questions. Especially about things like asbestos and lead. Although there are still some limited acceptable uses of asbestos, regulations regarding asbestos started in the 1970s. It's important to ask if the seller knows anything about asbestos in the home and what has been done to deal with it. Many homes built in the before the 1980's have asbestos in the insulation and drywall, so if you are thinking about doing any renovations, the asbestos will need to be properly handled. Regulations on lead paint are a little stronger, considering it was actually banned in 1978. But if the home was built before the 1970's, there is a likely chance there is lead paint around that you need to be careful with, especially if you are planning on doing any renovations. While you are talking about lead, don't forget to check about the pipes, too.
  5. The Floors - As you walk through the house, look down. In terms of your health down the line, avoiding carpeting and vinyl flooring are the best options. Carpeting, or the carpet padding, is often treated with flame retardants that can easily escape into household dust. If you can, peek under a corner of the carpeting and see what's underneath, you might get lucky and find some beautiful hardwood floors. Not only a bonus in terms of what's trending right now, but they are a much healthier option. Vinyl flooring, while it may look like wood, doesn't act like wood. Phthalates, a chemical that can mess with your hormone levels, are generally added to vinyl flooring. There are new types of vinyl flooring available without these bad chemicals, but if it's older flooring, it's definitely something you might want to consider. Hardwood or tile are your best options when it comes to staying safe from health concerns coming from your floors.
  6. Pests and Pesticides - Look for signs of different invaders. Are there ants crawling around, do you notice droppings or gnawing marks that are signs of mice or rats. A home pest inspection is not required in every state, but depending on the market you can ask for one. You also want to ask the seller about pesticide use. Did they regularly apply them, and if so, where, and why? Is this because there was a problem in the past or just because they are trying to prevent one. Pesticides can be pretty hazardous, so you may want to learn about why they are being used to see if there are other options for controlling the issue.
  7. Smell the house - This may sound weird, but you can tell a lot about the house by the way it smells. Does it smell like smoke, pets, dirty socks? Walking around the property, do you smell sewage or gas? These are all signs to at least ask a few more questions. If it smells like smoke or pets, you might want to ask the seller or agent about the history of who lived in the house. If they smoked, there can be third-hand smoke that lingers in the house, especially in things like carpet, drapes, and even the paint. Science is showing that third-hand smoke can cause similar health effects to secondhand smoke, so you want to be sure the house is fully cleaned before you move in. The smell of gas could also be a sign of industry in the area, or a gas leak, or sulfur deposits. All of which are things you should dig deeper into.
  8. Noise - Pay attention to what you hear when you walk around the house. Is it in the line of a flight path, do the neighbors have a dog that barks a lot, or a baby who might cry throughout the night? Pay attention to the street noise as well. Is there a bar or restaurant next door that might have noisy patrons late into the night? Even if it's not constant, noise can add to your stress levels and end up affecting your overall health.
  9. The Basement - If the home you are looking at has one, it's a good idea to test for radon, which is a source of radiation that naturally occurs in various regions throughout the country.
  10. The neighborhood - This can have a big impact on how much you like living in your new home. Sure, people talk about schools and parks in the area, they also talk about night life and how easy it is to get groceries. But, what about things that may impact your health due to the neighborhood. Think about factors like how close the house is to a highway (further is better in terms of pollution), farmland and nuclear plants (again further is better for limiting exposure to pesticides, radiation, and other chemicals). More recently, how close your home is to fracking sites, or proposed fracking sites is also important. Fracking brings in a lot of trucks which bring with them pollution, in addition to the chemicals used in the process, and the potential for earthquakes.

Remembering to look at all of these things can be tough, and there are some you probably can't do alone. We recommend you get a home inspection. A lot about these things can be revealed by a home inspection when it is done well. If you have specific concerns, talk to the inspector and ask if they can pay special attention to those as well. They are trained professionals who know exactly what to look for in the home, and might find something you weren't aware of. This doesn't have to be a deal breaker, but it might mean you do some negotiating before you sign the final paperwork.

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.

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