Life

Summer Recap: Here's What's Up with Wildfires

i.e. another way climate change is screwing with our health

Remember how bad the wildfires in the western United States were this year? Maybe you're worried that summer is never going to be the same with the constant air quality warnings? If you're like most people, you're probably a little concerned. And rightfully so! For instance, even if you weren't in California during the wildfires this year, you might have still felt the effects of the wildfires. While it doesn't seem the most direct, wildfires that occur far away still affect the environment you are living in. Climate change is playing a huge role in the number of wildfires and the length of the wildfire season that we're seeing and will be seeing - here's why.


Here's how climate change affects wildfires

In areas that traditionally are warmer, climate change is turning up the heat. There are basically three ingredients that are needed to make a wildfire: fuel, hot wind and some sort of ignition to start the wildfire. Scientists know for sure that climate change affects two of the three ingredients (fuel and hot wind). The increasing temperatures that climate change is bringing makes for hotter weather which then, in turn, dries out more of the vegetation in an area, making it the perfect fuel for a fire (1). The increasing temperatures also ensure that the wind blowing in these areas are hot and dry, the perfect type of wind for spreading a wildfire. In some areas, an earlier snowmelt is also resulting in drier summers – which I'm sure you get it by now – is pretty bad news!

Wildfire and health? Here's the stitch!

Wildfires, as you can probably guess, are not good for you! Wildfires pollute the air with toxic gases, hydrocarbons and oxygenated organics (2). The pollution created, especially if they are small particles (which we call PM 2.5), can travel deep inside your lungs and cause oxidative stress which damages the lungs (2). Oxidative stress is odd to think about, but basically, it's like your cells being overwhelmed. Studies have also shown that wildfires have a direct effect on respiratory diseases; the more wildfires there are, the more people will experience respiratory diseases or a worsening of symptoms (think things like difficulty breathing and more coughing) (2). These situations are even worse for people who already have difficulties, like those living with asthma. And while it is most definitely worse for those who are close to the fires, as we saw with the most recent 2018 wildfires, smoke can spread far and wide. That means that respiratory effects can still be a worry for those living hundreds or even thousands of miles away (8). NASA suggests watching for orange or red sunsets which could be a sign that there is smoke in the atmosphere (8).

For those who have lived near wildfires, mental health is often also affected. Anxiety, fear, and grief are common emotions that are felt during and in the aftermath of wildfires (2). This is partially due to the unknowns of the fire, but also has to do with the isolation felt from being trapped inside because of air quality considerations and not being able to go about a normal daily routine. This is all on top of the direct worry of how close the fire may be to their home. No matter how you slice it, wildfires definitely take both your physical and mental health for a wild ride!

What the future of wildfires will look like for the United States

Basically, wildfires are going to have both direct and indirect effects on our lives. Places that generally are at risk for wildfires (a.k.a. Northern California and the PNW more generally) are going to experience more wildfires, whereas areas that traditionally don't see a lot of wildfires won't really see a spike in wildfires (3). However, wildfires can still increase overall air pollution and release more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, making climate change (and all the other effects associated with climate change) worse (3). Wildfires also impact drinking water; they can heat up the soil and cause it to release more carbon and nitrogen-containing compounds which then react with the disinfectants used to purify water (4). This creates chemicals that are not good for you! Bottom line: even if you don't live in areas that will be directly affected by an increase in wildfires, there are still indirect effects that can impact your safety and health!

You might want to know who's at risk!

Elderly individuals are at higher risk for two reasons – they have a decreased ability to process inhaled chemicals and they have a higher baseline prevalence of cardiovascular and respiratory disease. Some studies have also indicated that females have a harder time with wildfires because they usually have smaller and more reactive airways (6). This is true for children under the age of 4 as well, so, you want to make sure your little ones are protected from air pollution (6)!

For those of you who love exercising outside, we hate to be the bearer of bad news, but exercising outside during periods of bad air quality is not smart! On these days, you end up breathing in more air pollution than if you were working out indoors. This is because your lungs work harder during exercise, and consequently, take in more pollutants (2). This is one of the only cases where exercising might actually be bad for you!

Some quick tips on how to decrease exposure to pollutants

  • Invest in some quality masks. Regular masks that you buy at the drugstore won't protect you from wildfire pollutants. You'll want to buy N95 or N100 masks, which filter out fine particles, but not hazardous gases (7). Take note though, these masks are not meant for small children since they don't create a proper seal on tiny faces!
  • Stay indoors during wildfires. Like we mentioned before, going outside during days with air quality alerts harms you more than it helps you! Check the air quality, even if you're not by where the fires are located. Because of how powerful winds are, wildfire smoke from California has made its way across the country to New York before (5)!
  • Look into an air filter. While these babies cost a lot more than an air mask, they can filter out air pollution for a whole room and might be a good investment if you have small children.
  • Do what you can, when you can, to help slow down climate change, like divesting from oil and gas companies and grocery shopping with climate change in mind.

References

  1. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/heres-what-we-know-about-wildfires-and-climate-change/
  2. https://www.healthandenvironment.org/docs/ColleenReidSlides2018-10-1.pdf
  3. https://www.ucsusa.org/global-warming/science-and-impacts/impacts/global-warming-and-wildfire.html#.W7T-eWhKjyR
  4. https://phys.org/news/2018-03-wildfire-intensity-impacts-quality-treatment.html
  5. https://mashable.com/2018/08/09/smoke-california-wildfires-east-coast/#sjtsHIXpxkq1
  6. https://oem.bmj.com/content/66/3/189.short?casa_token=D_qI3qulYj0AAAAA:jB8X6cZP9hNZ_j6ADbuqacPPZUKkeJ2SRn6HbP4XlIJ9g_kkJyheo0HVElQdaLI5M1DPDQ5RqOC6ZQ
  7. https://www.doh.wa.gov/Portals/1/Documents/Pubs/334-353.pdf
  8. https://www.nasa.gov/image-feature/goddard/2017/wildfire-smoke-crosses-us-on-jet-stream
Roundups

10 Best Non-Toxic Sunscreens

For the beach and all your outdoor sweaty activities. Reef safe too!

We updated our sunscreen roundup for 2019 with the 10 best reviewed, non-toxic mineral sunscreens we could find. As always, we make sure that our picks are easy to find online and in stores.

Sunscreen in our minds is synonymous with summer and being outside! But there are so many choices, it's hard to know if what you're getting is something that actually works and that other people like. Not to mention that there are some questionable chemicals in sunscreens that are definitely horrible for coral reefs and might be endocrine disruptors that soak through your skin. So look for one of our top 10 picks for non-toxic sunscreens the next time your tube is empty. We have plenty of options for everyday wear, sweaty sports and beach days!

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Heard of those sunscreen bans in Hawaii and Key West and thought "Well I'm never vacationing there so doesn't apply to me?" Well, turns out the chemicals in the ban that are bad for coral reefs may not be great for human health either. New FDA sunscreen guidelines could also change what active ingredients are found in sunscreen. Read more to find out how to get the safest sunscreen this summer.

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Tired of changing and throwing away tampons or pads every month? Want a zero-waste alternative for your period? Heard of menstrual cups and period underwear, but not sure which one to pick? Well, look no further! We rounded up the 10 best-reviewed non-toxic menstrual cups and organic period underwear options for you to try out. All of the menstrual cups are made of a flexible medical-grade silicone that collect fluid instead of absorbing it. The period underwear options we found are made with organic cotton, and can be washed.

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Family

Environmental Factors May Have a Bigger Impact on Fertility than You Think

Breaking Down the Science and Ways to Limit Harmful Exposures

Trying to get pregnant should be an exciting time of planning for the next stage of your life, not one full of doctors visits, constant testing, and worrying about body temperatures. But, if you and your partner are struggling with infertility, you are not alone. According to the CDC about 12% of women have impaired fecundity, which is another way of saying that they are having difficulty getting or staying pregnant (1) [there are no statistics on infertility in men, but there is science showing that overall sperm count is decreasing(14)]. And, the science is clear, environmental factors definitely impact reproductive health - for both men and women. Some of the biggest impacts come from air pollution, pesticides, and endocrine disrupting chemicals (2), which are in all sorts of products and affect the way hormones interact with your body.

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Roundups

9 Stainless Steel & Glass Tumblers

For iced coffee, iced tea, and smoothies on the go

Getting iced coffee in a plastic cup with a plastic straw is a lot harder to do after watching that video of a plastic straw being removed from a turtle's nose. Plus there is also that pesky condensation that creates a pool of water at the bottle of your cupholder or on your desk. So we found the 9 best reviewed stainless steel and glass tumblers, so that you can have your iced beverages in style this summer. Many of the brands have different sizes ranging from 20oz to 30oz and variety of colors. We prefer stainless steel or glass because many of the acrylic or plastic tumblers may have chemicals similar to BPA. We also link to some stainless steel straws because not all of these tumblers come with straws. And if you're like us, drinking iced coffee through a straw is just synonymous with summer.

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Life

Easy Ways To Keep Your Car Smelling Fresh Without the Synthetic Scents

Cause Traditional Car Air Fresheners Are No Good For Your Health

Those little tree-shaped air fresheners dangling from a rear-view mirror or air vent clip-ons may feel festive, but most car air fresheners can be bad for your health. They seem so innocent, so how is that possible you might ask?

One of the biggest issues with these products is the mystery behind what goes into them. Believe it or not, It's actually hard to be 100% certain about what chemicals are in air fresheners. There's a ton of secrecy into what actually goes into a fragrance product because companies can claim their ingredients are trade secrets. We definitely can't say a product is safe if we don't even know what is used to make it.

However, we do know that most air fresheners are made up of a ton of synthetic fragrances. There are literally thousands of chemicals manufacturers can choose from when making a product with synthetic fragrance. And a lot of these chemicals are known to have negative impacts on our health. (1)

On top of that, fragrance in air fresheners usually contain both phthalates and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) (2). Although these chemicals can make scents powerful, they can also be allergens that cause coughing, headaches, and runny noses (2). Phthalates are also hormone disruptors and VOCs can be carcinogens. We definitely don't want to be constantly breathing in those chemicals, no matter how good they might smell!

The amount of space inside your car is also a reason we don't like traditional car air fresheners. A smaller space = more concentrated exposure, and since you probably have your windows closed 90% of the time, a car is one of the worst places to keep a strongly-scented product.

Luckily, there are easy, nontoxic ways to make your car smell fresh! You can keep a container filled with baking soda or a baking soda freezer pack hidden somewhere. Baking soda is a completely natural way to eliminate odors and a box is only a couple of dollars! Using scents from natural sources are also a great way to add a little freshness to your car. You can put a few drops of an essential oil onto a clothespin or another wooden item and leave it somewhere in your car (3). When the smell goes away, just replenish with a few more drops of oil! If you prefer something a little more contained, we also love putting satchels of lavender or rose petals around our car.

But perhaps the easiest way to get rid of a bad smell is to simply roll your windows down! Maybe rolling down the windows will help make your commute a little more relaxing too.

References:

  1. https://www.nrdc.org/media/2007/070919
  2. https://kellybroganmd.com/is-your-uber-air-freshener-making-you-sick/
  3. https://www.onegoodthingbyjillee.com/how-to-make-3-naturally-scented-air-fresheners-for-cars/
Roundups

12 Best Non-Toxic Diaper Creams

Our top recommendations for your baby's bottom that parents love

Updated for 2019!

We get it- you're busy but you also want the best for your baby. But who has the time to sit down and do hours of research on the best diaper creams for your baby's bottom? That's why we're here! We have nothing butt (get it?) amazing products for our non-toxic diaper cream roundup. These 12 products are free from irritants like fragrances and use soothing ingredients to keep diaper rash at bay. Some options have non-nano zinc oxide to protect the skin, and some work more as an ointment to prevent redness. Looking for an organic diaper balm? We've got those too. As always, we thoroughly researched consumer reviews to ensure you're getting a stellar product that actually works and that parents love.

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