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.

Food

Protect Your Body Against Toxic Chemicals With These Seven Food Items

Bonus: You probably already have some of these in your kitchen

Remember when your grandma talked about food being its own form of medicine? Well, we're here to tell you that she was right (yes, grandma is always right). Now, eating these foods isn't going to turn you into a superhero overnight, but it will certainly help your body protect itself from toxic chemicals found in the environment. For some of these items, we recommend buying organic if possible (you don't want to be ingesting more chemicals when you could be avoiding them!).

  • Berries: We're talking strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and even boysenberries. Berries are high in antioxidants which are particularly effective in reversing acrylamide toxicity (1). Acrylamide is a chemical produced during high-temperature cooking (think frying or baking), but can harm your reproductive system and mess up your liver, lymph and bone marrow DNA (1). Studies have shown that mice fed with diets containing berries saw a significant recovery in their sperm counts, activity rate, and an increase in the number of healthy sperm (1).
  • Cauliflower, Broccoli and all the cruciferous vegetables: If roasted brussels sprouts are your favorite veggie, you're in luck! Cruciferous veggies like broccoli sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and brussels sprouts all contain a compound called sulforaphane. Sulforaphane is a phytochemical with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anticarcinogenic properties (2). These properties make sulforaphane-containing vegetables an ideal food to eat to prevent cadmium toxicity (2). Sulforaphane helps cells recover from and prevents cell death after exposure to cadmium (2). We really think sulforaphane is spectacular!
  • Olive oil: Olive oil isn't just delicious drizzled over pasta and salads, it's also great for decreasing the effect of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) on the body (3). Even though PCBs were banned in the 1970s, they are slow to degrade and still persist in the environment (4). PCBs are carcinogenic and also harm the nervous and immune system (4). However, studies have shown that a diet containing olive oil decreases inflammation associated with PCB exposure (3).
  • Grapes: Grapes are high in resveratrol, a polyphenol that can reduce toxicity from exposure to 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD) (3). As an antioxidant, resveratrol helps decrease oxidative stress (basically cell damage) caused by TCDD (3). Delicious when frozen or nibbled on with cheese, the resveratrol in grapes can also decrease PCB toxicity and protect against the development of type 2 diabetes, which is often associated with exposure to PCBs (3). This is also totally a reason to drink more wine, right?
  • Green tea: Green tea drinkers, rejoice! Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) is the active component of green tea and can decrease the cardiovascular inflammation and toxicity that comes from arsenic exposure (3). This drink also packs a one-two punch, as it's also protective against PCB toxicity by reducing oxidative stress and inflammation of cells (3).
  • Spinach: Strawberry and spinach salad anyone? Aside from being insanely delicious, spinach can actually increase the excretion of arsenic from the body. One compound found in spinach, folate, is necessary to complete the excretion process of arsenic from the body (5).
  • Orange Juice: If the word glyphosate sounds familiar to you, it's probably because it's one of the most common herbicides used in farming (7). Glyphosate is categorized by the World Health Organization as a likely carcinogen (6). Lucky for you, organic juice can actually be protective against glyphosate toxicity (7). Mice given orange juice after exposure to glyphosate were shown to have decreased liver, kidney and DNA damage compared to mice not given orange juice (7).

Don't forget to stock up on these fruits and vegetables the next time you're at the grocery store! They can be used in so many different recipes or simply eaten by themselves. Who knew protecting your health could be so tasty?!

References

  1. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1750-3841.12815
  2. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11356-018-1228-7
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5503778/
  4. https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/substances/toxsubstance.asp?toxid=26
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5503778/
  6. https://www.mdpi.com/2071-1050/10/4/950
  7. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/306140395_The_protective_effect_of_orange_juice_on_Glyphosate_toxicity_in_adult_male_mice
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Roundups

7 Non-Toxic Fabric Softener and Dryer Sheet Options

To keep those clean clothes fluffy and dry without the unnecessary chemicals

Updated for 2019!

You know when you are doing laundry and everything comes out of the dryer all warm and fluffy and smelling amazing and you just fall asleep in a pile of clean clothes on the couch? Nope, just us? Oh well. While that might not be a common practice, throwing in a dryer sheet or adding a splash of fabric softener is pretty common. But, have you ever wondered how one of those rather small dryer sheets works to get rid of the static for a whole load of laundry? Well, the answer often comes from many added chemicals. Next time you are doing a load of laundry (with some safe laundry detergent), check out one of these option instead. They will keep your clothes looking good without the potentially dangerous chemicals. All of the ones we recommend are widely available, have positive reviews, and have been checked for safety from a third party.


a) Ecover Fabric Softener b) Method Dryer Sheets in Beach Sage c) Kintor Wool Dryer Balls d) Attitude Fabric Softener e) The Honest Company Dryer Cloths f) Attitude Reusable Static Eliminator and Softener g) Seventh Generation Natural Fabric Softener Sheets


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.

Life

Is Washing Your Favorite Sweater Contributing to Plastic Pollution?

Machine washing your clothes is an unexpected culprit of microplastic pollution

Each year, around 8 million tons of plastic finds its way into the ocean from coastal countries. That amount of plastic is the equivalent of about 40,000 blue whales (1)! Microplastics (plastic particles smaller than 5mm in length) are a big part of the plastic pollution problem (2). It's estimated that approximately 50 trillion pieces of microplastics are currently polluting the ocean (3). These tiny particles also make up roughly 94% of the Great Pacific Trash vortex, which is the largest collection of floating trash in the world (4). And surprisingly, laundry is a significant contributor to ocean microplastics.

How is washing your clothes polluting the ocean and what can you do to stop it? Keep reading for everything you need to know about microplastics and how doing your laundry may impact the planet.

What Are Microplastics?

Microplastics are either manufactured for primary use as exfoliating beads used in skincare or small machinery parts, or can be a result of the breakdown of other materials like large plastic water bottles or synthetic textiles (2). Microfibers, the microplastics that are in synthetic materials, are a big part of the problem. They make up roughly 35% of the microplastic found in marine ecosystems (5). Machine washing synthetic materials is one of the biggest ways microfibers get into the water supply (6). Washing machines and synthetic materials are a bad combination because friction from the spinning laundry drum causes synthetic materials to shed microfibers into the water, which are eventually drained back into the pipes. Since the fibers are so small, up to 40% pass through sewage treatment plants unfiltered and end up draining into the rivers, lakes, streams, and oceans that are connected to our water supply (7).

Even though synthetic materials are a big problem, they're almost impossible to avoid. Today, about two-thirds of textiles used in clothing are synthetic because it makes clothing cheaper to manufacture. If you check the tag on your shirt right now, you'd probably see a popular synthetic materials like polyester, acrylic, or nylon. A study in the UK found that nearly half a million microfibers are released in just one load of polyester clothing (8).

Environmental Impact of Microplastics

One of the biggest problems with plastic pollution is that it basically never goes away. Rather than chemically degrading, plastic tends to physically break up into smaller and smaller pieces. These microplastics continuously accumulate in the environments all over the world, from the peaks of the Pyrenees to the intestines of fish caught in the Great Lakes (9, 10). These materials are not only extremely harmful to the wildlife and ecosystems they are invading, but have potentially dangerous consequences for human health as well. Microplastics can get into drinking water, and are also often accidentally ingested by fish which pollutes our food supply. When ingested, microplastics can cause inflammation, gut blockages, growth and hormone disruption (11). Additionally, microplastics absorb other toxic chemicals and assist in their distribution.

What You Can Do

The impacts microplastics are having on marine and human health seem to grow by the day. Luckily, there are easy ways to limit microfiber shedding from your laundry!

  1. Adjust your laundry settings - avoiding delicate cycles that use high water volumes and washing with colder water are not only more water and cost efficient but help release fewer microfibers per wash!
  2. Use less detergent, and do not use bleach! The soapy liquid causes more fibers to be leached out.
  3. Fill up your machine and avoid washing things bulky items like shoes with synthetic fabrics - anything that increases friction will increase microfiber release
  4. If you have the option, use a front loading washing machine! They require less water and less vigorous washing for the same cleanliness.
  5. Consider getting a laundry bag. These bags are designed to catch microfibers so they cannot get into the water supply.
  6. Purchase clothing made of natural materials like cotton or linen - these materials don't shed any microfibers and are often softer, more breathable, and last longer!


References

  1. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/habitats/plastic-pollution/
  2. https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/microplastics.html
  3. https://www.sas.org.uk/our-work/plastic-pollution/plastic-pollution-facts-figures/
  4. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2018/03/great-pacific-garbage-patch-plastics-environment/
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30368178
  6. https://www.plasticoceanproject.org/microfiber-pollution-project.html
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27689236
  8. https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-40498292
  9. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/jun/20/microfibers-plastic-pollution-oceans-patagonia-synthetic-clothes-microbeads
  10. https://www.newscientist.com/article/2199455-pristine-mountains-are-being-littered-with-microplastics-from-the-air/
  11. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S004896971834049X?via%3Dihub
  12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31460752
  13. https://pubs.acs.org/doi/pdf/10.1021/acs.est.7b01750
  14. https://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/acs.est.6b03045
  15. https://www.surfrider.org/coastal-blog/entry/bills-and-best-practices-for-microfiber-pollution-solutions
popular

Is Your Tea Bag Made with Plastic?

Silky pyramids, plastic sealed bags, and what brands are actually fully compostable

Whether you like to pretend you are British all the time, or just have a cold, chances are you are making that cup of tea with a conveniently packaged tea bag. While tea bags are great (and basically everywhere) there's something you should know about that innocent tea bag. Many of them use plastic to keep them sealed shut. Nope, not just on the wrapper the tea bag actually comes in, but the bag itself. The idea of a plastic soaking in boiling hot water just does not sound cozy to us. But thankfully, there are some easy changes you can make if you feel the same way we do.

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Roundups

8 Non-Toxic Bath Toys

Rub-a-dub-dub, safe toys in the tub

Make bath time extra fun with our non-toxic bath toy roundup! Lots of traditional toys (including that famous yellow rubber ducky) contain BPA, phthalates, or PVC. We knew there were better toy options out there, so we searched high and low to bring you the safest options! We tried to go for toys made from materials like natural rubber or silicone, but a few are made from safer plastic. We also looked for materials that wouldn't mold so these toys can be used again and again! These products also do not contain BPA, phthalates or PVC.



a) Oli and Carol Origami boat b) Marcus and Marcus Squirting Bath Toy c) Ubbi Squeeze and Switch Silicone Bath Toys d) Hevea Kawan Duck e) Green Toys ferry boat f) Plan Toys sailing boat g) Caaoocho whale h) Fat Brains Squigz


*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.

Family

Keep Your Baby Safe From Chemicals While Teething

What to look for and easy DIY alternatives!

A teething baby can simultaneously be exciting and stressful. Your baby is growing up! But there's lots of drool and crying. Teethers are an essential tool for dealing with new teeth, but not all teethers are created equally.

Problems with Teethers

No matter where you shop, it's hard to avoid seeing plastic teethers. Plastic seems like a good material for teethers because it's flexible and can withstand being chilled in the freezer, but many teethers are made from petroleum-based plastic, vinyl, or latex. We know plastics and vinyl can contain harmful phthalates, parabens, bisphenols, and other endocrine-disrupting compounds. A few studies have found that these chemicals can actually leach out of teethers (1)(2). We definitely don't want our babies chewing on something like that! Even a teether labeled "BPA-free" shouldn't be considered to be safe.

Buying a Safe Alternative

Luckily, there are a lot of safer alternatives on the market. Food-grade silicone is pretty widely available already, and it continues to grow in popularity. Silicone is a super durable material and can withstand lots of chewing and drool! Plus, it's easy to clean and can often be thrown into the dishwasher.

Teethers made from wood are another great option. It's hard to get more natural than wood! It's also naturally antibacterial, so you don't have to worry as much if the teether gets dropped on the floor. Wood teethers can come in all shapes and sizes, from fun animal cut outs to wooden beads you can string together. We prefer wood that hasn't been painted or treated with any weird stains, but make sure the surface is smooth! You can condition the wood with natural ingredients like beeswax, coconut oil, or olive olive.

DIY Teething Hacks



If you're feeling crafty or just want to give your credit card a break, there are awesome DIY teethers you can create without having to leave your home.

  1. Take a damp washcloth, twist it into a rope, and let freeze in the freezer
  2. Freeze or cool a bagel. Make sure your baby can sit upright for this teether
  3. Take a spoon and store in the fridge until cool (don't put this one in the freezer!)
  4. Create your own homemade popsicles! Check out our popsicle ideas for inspiration

References

  1. https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.est.6b04128
  2. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/jat.3159
Roundups

10 Non-Toxic Makeup Removers

Safeguard your skin while removing the toughest waterproof mascara

There is nothing better than taking off your makeup at the end of a long day. Sometimes it's the favorite part of our evening! But lots of makeup removers contain harsh chemicals that aren't great for your skin or your health. That's why we rounded up our top 10 favorite non-toxic makeup removers! We know there are different preferences for makeup removers, which is why we included 5 wipes and 5 liquids. These products have been vetted by us and will remove the toughest of waterproof mascaras!


a) Aromatica Natural coconut Cleansing Oil b)Beauty by Earth Makeup Remover c) NARS makeup removing water d) the body shop waterproof eye makeup remover e) Klorane Floral Water Makeup remover with soothing cornflower f) C'est Moi Gentle Makeup Remover Cleansing Wipes g) RMS Beauty The Ultimate Makeup Remover Wipe h) Beautycounter One-Step Makeup Remover Wipes i) Brandless Facial Wipes j) Honest Beauty Makeup Remover Wipes


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.

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