Science

Are Cell Phones and Wifi Frying Our Brains?

Everything you need to know about devices that create electromagnetic fields and radiation

Some of the best-known ways we interact with electromagnetic fields are through cell phones, wifi, microwaves, and x-rays. Basically, we interact with them or use them do to mundane, but sort of magical, tasks every day. But, have you ever wondered if and how those things affect your health? Like is standing too close to the actually microwave bad? Is carrying your cell phone in your pocket or sports bra going to ruin your sperm or give you breast cancer? Is sleeping with your phone under your pillow really a big deal? We dug through the current research to answer exactly those questions.


What are EMFs and how do they work?

First off, let's talk about what EMF refers to. EMF is an acronym that stands for electromagnetic fields. This is kind of a fancy way of saying anything that uses electricity to do things. The way EMF works is by creating electricity, which, when it interacts with other things, changes the charges on cells to make them do different things. If that got too technical for you, basically, the thought is that electricity makes things (big and very, very small) move or react. The reason this is something we are talking about here is because as we learn new ways to harness that magical quality (think more wireless technologies like your smartwatch, Alexa, and video doorbells) we are putting more electrical charges in the environment that can interact with our bodies. A potential concern is that as those electrical impulses reach our bodies, they might be changing how our cells act and that over time that might lead to problems, like cancers or disease.

Some of the reason that EMFs can change the ways cells in our bodies work is because they encompass a whole range of different frequencies and wavelengths of energy, including radiation. We often hear about radiation and think x-rays or cancer treatment, but there is a huge spectrum of radiation. On one end, there are radio waves, in the middle is visible light (the things we can see), and the other end is x-rays and gamma rays that are sometimes used to treat cancer (10). Just because radiation is involved doesn't always mean that it is as powerful an as x-ray. The difference that people should worry about is if the radiation is ionizing or not. Things like strong UV light (like from the sun or tanning booths) and x-rays are ionizing because they have the ability to remove electrons from atoms. Non-ionizing radiation from things like radio waves, microwaves and visible light are weaker and are generally believed to only have the potential to harm people if they generate enough heat (11).

So, how worried should we be about all these new wireless technologies?

It kind of depends.

Based on the variety of research that has been done, the results are a little all over the place. This is because it depends on the technology being studied, how often it is being used, and in what situations. Also, many of these technologies are rather new (and constantly changing), meaning there just hasn't been enough time to study them to see how they affect people after a long period of use. However, in the limited research that has been done, scientists have concluded that the levels of radiofrequency that people interact with on a normal basis are low enough that they really don't pose a threat to human health(1, 11). While there is consensus that there isn't a general threat, nobody has been able to prove that constantly interacting with EMF radiation is safe either. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified EMF as a possible carcinogen (along with dozens of other things we commonly come into contact with) (20). And, there are isolated studies that have linked it to potential adverse health outcomes, like miscarriages, in certain groups of people who may be more vulnerable (21).

The bottom line is that scientists are still working on the answers. And as we use more and more types of technologies that generate non-ionizing radiation (hello wifi enabled water bottles and umbrellas?!), we can expect more scientific studies to be done on what this all means for your health. This leaves a lot of people wondering and promoting precautions. We'll go through a couple of the most common forms of EMF, lay out what the experts are saying, and give you a few suggestions for ways you can take precautions, if you're a better safe than sorry kind of a person.

Cell Phones

This is the big one here with the most research. Cell phones still fall in the category of non-ionizing radiation, but they are at a higher level on the radiation spectrum than wifi or Bluetooth (6). There are some studies that have found that prolonged use of cell phones can impact some types of functional memory (7), but everyone agrees that more research is needed to draw conclusions (1, 6). In a report from the partial findings of a study done by the National Toxicology Program using rats as subjects (which is a common way to get information on health more quickly than with humans since rats have more generations of babies in less time), researchers found that prolonged exposure to cell phone radiation for 2G and 3G signal is likely the cause of increased rates of cancer in both the brain and heart in male rats (13). They didn't find statistically significant differences for female rats who were exposed to the same amount of cell phone radiation and aren't sure why. They are hoping to do more studies to learn effects of different types of cell phone radiation, including with updated technologies like 4G and 5G, but they are pretty sure that cell phone radiation is at least linked to higher cancer rates in male rats (14). Others say that very high levels of non-ionizing EMF can hurt you (like cause a burn), but not cause cancer or tumors (8). The most recent NIH studies researching the effects of cell phone use and cancer also have not been able to show strong links between cell phone use and increased cancer risk (15).

While more research is being done, there are still recommendations of easy changes that could reduce your exposure to EMF from cell phones - because being cautious is never a bad thing. The California Department of Public Health, which issued a statement on the matter, and other groups including the FDA suggest:

  1. keeping your phone away from your body (14, 19) (men that means out of your pockets, ladies probably not the best to shove it in your sports bra). Try keeping it in your bag when you're on the move and on a table when you are working or hanging out at home.
  2. Using headphones or speakerphone when you make a call, especially if you are moving or have bad or spotty signal. Those situations cause cell phones to use more energy, which can create higher levels of EMF. Sounds like a great excuse to text more to us! (9, 14)
  3. Keeping your phone out of and away from your bed at night or in airplane mode for the night. Do you really need to sleep with your cell phone under your pillow? Try keeping it on your dresser if you use it as an alarm, or in the other room if you can.
  4. If you have kids, don't let them use your phone as a chew toy (the slobber is probably not great for the phone either). Also, if you are using your phone to entertain your child, try downloading the show and then putting it in airplane mode while they watch the show instead of streaming it (3). This means the phone doesn't have to work as hard and maintain a constant connection to service. Children with cellphones should follow the above recommendations about keeping it away from their body when possible, texting more, and using headphones or speakerphone for calls (19).

Wi-Fi

Mos of us can't even imagine a normal day without wifi, but, when you think about it, for wifi to work there has to be something getting the internet connection from the wall to your computer, phone, e-reader, streaming device, and about a million other things. So how does that work? It's not like those rays, waves, or particles of fairy dust are only reaching your devices - they are also hitting the table, the couch, and your body. While this is true, wifi is considered a form of non-ionizing, low-frequency electromagnetic radiation (as opposed to ionizing, which we know can cause harm). Remember that non-ionizing radiation, is generally recognized as "harmless to humans" (2, 3) unless it can generate enough heat to cause harm (11). While it is considered safe, in recent years there has been more research looking specifically at this kind of radiation to determine its effects because it has become such an integral part of daily life.

While this is widely accepted, you can still reduce your exposure a couple of ways.

  1. If you can, place your wifi router on a higher shelf or away from where people often sit and work.
  2. Try to keep your laptop off your lap or stomach when you work (or watch your favorite show). Put it on a table or even just next to you on the bed instead. This is a good thing to do anyways if your laptop battery is hot because heat in extreme amounts can damage semen quality.
  3. Turn your wifi router off at night when you go to sleep. You are sleeping anyway, you don't need wifi. And, many people say turning off screens half an hour before you go to bed is good for you anyway. If you aren't sure you can commit to not scrolling in bed, you can get a timer for the outlet your router is plugged into and automatically set it to turn off from midnight to 6 am (or whatever hours feel right for you).

Bluetooth

There has been less research done on Bluetooth because Bluetooth is essentially a weaker form of wifi, which is why it doesn't reach as far. But, since many studies have determined that wifi is generally safe, most assume the same is true of Bluetooth (4). Much of this is based on the science of how both wifi and Bluetooth work (5).

Because Bluetooth is so weak, there are very few recommendations about it. In fact, many organizations suggest using headphones (including Bluetooth headphones) instead of holding the phone to your ear when on a call.

Microwaves

So, let's just get right to it - are microwave ovens safe or should you stand far away when they're on? The answer is that as long as your microwave closes properly and doesn't weirdly stay on when you open the door, you are safe (16, 17). Microwaves are designed to protect the user. There are regulations on the way they are constructed, and they have to have safety measures built in. All of these things mean that you won't be exposed to any sneaky radiation that would try to escape the inside of the oven. Also, you will be reassured to know that the FDA tests microwaves in their own laboratories to ensure safety (16).

While you shouldn't worry about any radiation coming from your microwave, you can do a couple of things to be extra cautious.

  1. Keep your microwave clean and make sure that the door shuts properly every time. Chances are it won't turn on if the door isn't shut correctly, but it's still a good check.
  2. Don't stand with your face peering into the door. And don't let your kids get that close either. While microwave radiation can't get through the metal in the body of the machine, it is well known that radiation becomes much weaker the further away from the source you are. Being 20 inches away would have one 100th the amount of radiation as being two inches away (16).

Smart Meters

First off, what are smart meters? They are installed on homes to automatically report your power or water usage back to the company without them having to have a real human being come to read the meters that are on your home tracking how much of a utility you use. People worry about smart meters when it comes to EMF because it is another source of wifi or cell phone radiation to interact with on a regular basis. It's important to understand how these meters work though. Often, these meters only emit a signal when they report back to the company, which typically isn't often. Additionally, they are almost always placed on the outside of your home, meaning that there is at least one wall between your family and the signal at all times, which lowers how much is reaching you.

While this may be a small source of added EMF, if you have no choice about it being added to your home (which is often the case), there is little science pointing to a smart meter being able to greatly increase your exposure to EMFs or pose a heightened risk to your health because it emits less EMF than a cell phone or wifi (18). So, yes, they use EMF to send signals, but this is one we say to take with a grain of salt. If you truly want to lower your exposure, focus on making some of the other small changes we already suggested.


Overall, because everyone agrees we need more research, the best thing you can do is just be smart about the way you use all of these technologies. We aren't saying give up your phone, or even reduce the amount of time you spend on the internet (although you might want to do that for mental health reasons) (12), but we think adding some distance when you can can't hurt. The best thing to remember about all of these things that produce EMF is that the amount of EMF signal you are interacting with is dramatically reduced with any amount of distance (6, 16, 17). So, when you aren't using your phone try to keep it off your body. Move your router to a higher shelf, and find a pair of headphones you like to make calls with. And maybe, be thoughtful about the number of wi-fi enabled gadgets you have on your body and in your home. Even just making one of these changes can quickly reduce the amount of EMF you get on a daily basis.


Resources

  1. http://www.who.int/peh-emf/about/WhatisEMF/en/index1.html
  2. https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/emf/index.cfm
  3. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/safety-pre...
  4. https://www.livescience.com/56027-bluetooth-headphone-safety-concerns-with-iphone-7.html
  5. https://www.consumerreports.org/radiation/do-i-need-to-worry-about-radiation-from-wifi-and-bluetooth-devices/
  6. https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/emf/index.cfm
  7. https://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/ehp2427/
  8. http://time.com/4508432/what-is-wifi-radiation-cancer/
  9. https://static.ewg.org/ewg-tip-sheets/EWG-CellPhoneGuide.pdf?_ga=2.258947587.865200574.1532365333-723583559.1510852026&_gac=1.3394052.1532641336.EAIaIQobChMI_vX77N293AIVGLvsCh2IYw-gEAAYASAAEgISHvD_BwE
  10. https://www.britannica.com/science/electromagnetic-spectrum
  11. https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/radiation/nonionizing_radiation.html
  12. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/da.22466
  13. https://www.biorxiv.org/content/biorxiv/early/2016/05/26/055699.full.pdf
  14. https://factor.niehs.nih.gov/2018/11/feature/1-feature-radiation/index.htm?WT.mc_id=efactoremail_redesign
  15. https://dceg.cancer.gov/research/how-we-study/exposure-assessment/cellular-telephones-brain-tumors
  16. https://www.fda.gov/radiation-emittingproducts/resourcesforyouradiationemittingproducts/ucm252762.htm
  17. http://www.who.int/peh-emf/publications/facts/info_microwaves/en/
  18. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/radiation-exposure/smart-meters.html
  19. http://www.releasewire.com/press-releases/american-academy-of-pediatrics-issues-new-recommendations-to-reduce-exposure-to-cell-phones-726805.htm
  20. International Agency for Research on Cancer . Non-Ionizing Radiation, Part 2: Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Fields. WHO Press; Lyon, France: 2013. http://monographs.iarc.fr/ENG/Monographs/vol102/mono102.pdf.
  21. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-017-16623-8
Roundups

The Best Water Filters

These easy to install filters are perfect for renters or homeowners!

Sometimes we take tap water for granted. If it comes out of our tap it has to be safe, right? Unfortunately, that's often not the case. While our water treatment plants do a great job filtering out the obviously toxic stuff, harmful chemicals like lead, pesticides, PFAS, and pharmaceuticals can still make their way into our tap water. That's why we always recommend a water filtration system! If you're a homeowner, you can install a filtration that integrates with your own water throughout your house.

There are also a ton of great options if you're renting or can't install anything in your home. A small water filter pitcher or countertop dispenser are great options if you're looking for something hassle free. If you're feeling a little more crafty, you can install a faucet mount. These mounts require no tools and can easily install on most faucets!

These water filters are all meet NSF standards and remove dozens of contaminants.



a) Zerowater 10 or 23 Cup Pitcher

b) PUR Faucet Water Filter

c) AquaTru Reverse Osmosis Counter Top Water Filtration System

d) PUR Lead Reduction Pitcher

e) Culligan Faucet Mount

f) AquaSana Countertop Water Filter

g) Lifestraw Home Water Filter Pitcher*

h) Berkey Water Filter*

i) Brita Tap Water Filter for Faucets

j) ZeroWater 40 Cup Ready-Pour Glass Dispenser


*Meets NSF standards but is not NSF certified

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Science

The Health Impacts of Microplastics

These small pieces pose a big risk

In today's world, plastic is everywhere, buildings, cars, packaging, machinery - the list is nearly endless. There's really no place you won't find it. Despite its utility, there are a host of problems associated with plastics (1, 2). You've likely heard of the impact that larger pieces of discarded plastic can have - for instance plastic straws finding their way into the ocean.

Unfortunately, there are even smaller pieces of plastic in the environment that you can't see: microplastics. Approximately 50 trillion pieces of microplastics are estimated to be currently polluting the ocean (3). They have been found in seawater, freshwater, sediment, soil, and air. Microplastics have even made their way into our food and drinks, such as beer, tap water, and sea salt (4).

So what dangers do microplastics pose? And what simple steps can you take to limit their pollution? Read on and find out!

What Are Microplastics?

Microplastics are tiny plastic particles, less than 5 millimeters long. They can be generally separated into two categories: primary microplastics and secondary microplastics (5).

Primary microplastics are plastics that were originally manufactured to be, well, micro. Already less than 5 millimeters when created, they are found in textiles, medicines, and personal care products like facial scrubs or toothpaste (4, 5). Secondary microplastics, on the other hand, are fragments of larger plastics like fishing nets or household products. This fragmentation occurs due to physical, chemical, and biological interaction with the environment such as sunlight exposure (often termed photodegradation) or wind abrasion (5).

The microplastics found in the environment today originate from both land- and ocean-based human activity. Ocean-based sources, like commercial fishing and other marine-based operations, make up about 20% of the total microplastics found while land-based sources make up the other 80%. These land-based sources, like the personal care products mentioned earlier (e.g., toothpaste, facial scrubs), air-blasting processes, microfibers from synthetic materials, and improperly disposed runoff from landfills, bleed into rivers and find their way into oceans as well (5).

The health effects of microplastics are still being studied, but there is potential for harm

Microplastics can be ingested in drinks or food, inhaled through airborne exposure, or contact with particles on skin (5-7).

For animals, especially marine organisms, ingestion of microplastics represents the largest threat. A research team has suggested that there is a correlation between poor fitness of seabirds and ingestion of plastic debris (5). Zebrafish with accumulated ingested microplastics have had altered locomotion, intestinal damage, and change in metabolic profiles (5).

Humans can ingest microplastics in beer, bottled water, even sea salt. And when marine animals ingest it from the ocean, they can act as vectors, carrying it to humans when we eat seafood (5, 7, 8).

While ingestion affects both humans and animals, airborne exposure to microplastics is becoming more worrisome to humans. We can potentially breathe in microplastics through synthetic textiles, erosion of rubber tires, or city dust (5, 6).

No matter what route they take, we know these microplastics are indeed getting into our bodies. What we don't yet know is how long they stay, what accumulates in our systems if they do stay, and what the health effects of chronic ingestion might be. Although research is still ongoing, some potential health effects that may be linked to concentrations of ingested microplastics are metabolic disruption, immune dysfunction, neurodegenerative diseases, and chronic inflammation, which can lead to cancer (4-6).

Here's how you can help prevent microplastic pollution

Microplastic pollution within our ecosystems may seem impossible for us to stop on an individual level. But there are ways you can reduce your contribution to pollution of microplastics as well as your personal exposure!

Drink less bottled water

Research has shown that Americans who get their recommended amount of daily water from only bottled sources have almost 20 times the exposure compared to Americans who only drink tap water (7)! So here are some simple ways to reduce exposure:

  1. Leave the bottled water at the store and go with the tap at home.
  2. Invest in a simple screw-on water purifier for the faucet if the tap water taste bugs you.
  3. Get a reusable (preferable glass or stainless steel) bottle for tap water on the go.

Disclaimer: if there are major health issues with your tap water (like the lead for instance), those health effects should take precedent and bottled water is okay!

Reduce your use of plastics, especially the single-use variety

Since plastics are so cheap to produce, it often makes them an ideal material for single-use disposable devices (1). Unfortunately, less than 10% of all plastic is actually recycled (10). On top of that, plastics don't chemically degrade very well - instead they break up into smaller and smaller pieces (1, 5). Reducing your single-use plastics may seem difficult, but there are many ways to do it! Here are a few:

  1. Cook a few extra times a week instead of ordering takeout that comes in plastic containers.
  2. Leave the Ziplock bags on the shelf and store leftovers in glass containers.
  3. Switch to brands of tea that don't use single-use plastic!
  4. Buy less packaged or processed foods in plastic packaging.

Change your laundry habits

Another large source of microplastics are microfibers, the microplastics found in synthetic fabrics, like fleece (9). Even cotton jeans and t-shirts can have a lot of synthetics blended into them! Machine washing synthetic clothing is one of the easiest ways for microplastics to find their way into the water supply. During the wash cycle, microplastics siphon off through home drains which then runs into water treatment plants that are not yet equipped to catch microplastics. Once the water is released back into the environment, pollution occurs. We've talked through some of the ways to limit microfibers in your laundry before, but let's run through a few again! You can:

1. Wash with cold water and avoid delicate cycles that use high water volumes.

2. Use less detergent, and do not use bleach!

3. Fill up your machine and avoid washing bulky items like shoes with synthetic fabrics.

4. If you have the option, use a front loading washing machine! They require less water and less vigorous washing for the same cleanliness. Additionally, if you're in the market for a new machine, you can look for those with technological improvements that can trap these particles in the future.

5. Consider getting a laundry bag or Cora ball - each of these catches microfibers so particles 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://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23337043/

2) https://www.ciel.org/reports/plastic-health-the-hidden-costs-of-a-plastic-planet-february-2019/

3) https://www.sas.org.uk/our-work/plastic-pollution/plastic-pollution-facts-figures/

4) https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0048969719344468

5) https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0043135417310515

6) https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0269749117307686

7) https://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/acs.est.9b01517

8) https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40572-018-0206-z

9) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30368178/

10)https://www.epa.gov/facts-and-figures-about-materials-waste-and-recycling/plastics-material-specific-data
Life

Why Voting This November is So Important

This election, environmental health is on the ballot

Like many things this year, this election season has been anything but ordinary. With the emergence of COVID-19, the barrage of tropical storms hitting the Gulf and Atlantic coasts (1,2), in addition to the relentless wildfires raging in the Western US (3), the connection between the environment and our health is more apparent than ever. The impacts of climate change have become hard to ignore and many Americans are now beginning to feel its effects (4,5,6). Additionally, with the increased focus on health because of the coronavirus pandemic, issues of air, water, and soil pollution and healthy buildings are taking center stage in many people's daily lives.

You probably know that Election Day is coming up on November 3rd, 2020 and that mail-in ballot voting is already underway in more than half the states (7), but did you know that environmental health issues are on the ballot? Voting this election year has never been more important in helping decide how our country moves forward to address widespread environmental health concerns that affect your health and your family's health. Read on to find out what you can do to help and why this issue is so important.

Why Voting Matters for Environmental Health

While we all want clean air to breathe and clean water to drink, ensuring this for everyone requires proper environmental safeguards to better protect public health. As we've already seen this year with the increase in tropical storm and wildfire damages, there is a direct effect on people's health caused by their surroundings, whether it be in the form of air pollution, flooding, or smoke (8). Many people may not think that the presidential election will impact their lives in a real and tangible way, but who wins can have a big impact on environmental policies. In his first term, Trump has already moved to roll back and dismantle up to 100 environmental regulations passed by his predecessor, Obama, meant to further safeguard and protect the environment and human health (9,10,11). Notable repeals have included the Clean Air Act, the Clean Power Plan, as well as the Waters of the US Rule (12). These rollbacks have resulted in reduced fuel efficiency standards for passenger cars and light trucks, the repeal of a rule requiring coal-burning power plants to reduce carbon emissions, and a decrease in the number of federally protected bodies of water under the Clean Water Act (12). Other environmental regulations that have been targeted for repeal focus on controlling greenhouse gases, coal ash waste, water pollution, mercury, and smog (11).

Rolling back environmental regulations such as these go against the scientific recommendations of scientists who advocate for the enforcement of these standards to combat air pollution and its health hazards (25). Air pollution, caused in part by greenhouse gas emissions (26, 27), is a dangerous health threat that is responsible for a rising number of deaths around the world due to lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, ischemic heart disease, stroke, and respiratory infections (28, 29, 25). The Global Burden of Disease report identified air pollution as one of the leading risk factors for disease burden in 2012, and in 2016 the WHO labeled it the single largest environmental health risk we face today (29, 28). Trump's denial of climate change (13) and encouragement of wider fossil fuel use and development within the US (14) not only goes against strong scientific consensus and advice (25, 28), but also risks increasing air pollution-related health hazards and mortalities.

There are many ways in which a new administration could bolster much needed environmental health protections. Biden has proposed a plan focusing on clean energy production to shift the US away from its dependence on fossil fuels and achieve a 100% clean energy economy with net-zero emissions by 2050 (15,16,17). Biden's plan also includes engaging with local areas to create community-based solutions to climate change issues, establishing an Environmental and Climate Justice Division within the US Department of Justice to revise current environmental justice policy, and recommitting the US to the Paris Agreement that Trump initially withdrew from in 2017 (16,18,19,20). By transitioning away from fossil fuels and prioritizing clean energy, this would reduce the amount of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere and help strengthen the US's response to global warming (27). Since climate change has a direct effect on people's environmental health, directly combatting it would help ensure cleaner air, safer drinking water, sufficient food, and more secure shelter for everyone (30). Reducing greenhouse gas emissions would also help ease the burden of ambient air pollution, which causes nearly 3 million deaths every year (30).

These regulatory decisions have far-reaching impacts that go beyond a single presidency, and one of the most important ways citizens can make their voices heard on these issues is to vote in the upcoming national election in November.

Local Elections Matter Too

While large national elections have historically had higher turnout compared to state and local elections, it's actually these closer-to-home elections that decide how a community deals with important local issues (21). In local elections, citizens vote for a mayor, city council members, special districts, school board members, and a District Attorney, among others, to deal with local and countywide ballot measures (24). Local issues include land use and development, housing, transportation policies, parks and libraries investment, and even immigration policies to an extent (24). Electing leaders who care about climate change and environmental stewardship at the local level is just as important as national elections.

Not only are these local issues crucial to the functioning of a community, but local and state regulations can also have a big impact at the national level, especially when it comes to consumer protections. For example, California just enacted the Toxic-Free Cosmetics Act this past month, which bans 24 toxic ingredients from cosmetic and personal care products. It's likely that product manufacturers will make these non-toxic products and sell them throughout the US so that they don't have to make a separate version just for California. Other times, federal and state policymakers look at the success of local ordinances when drafting new environmental protections. So make sure your voice is heard on issues you care about and don't forget to vote in your local elections as well!

How to Get Involved

If you are over the age of 18 and a US citizen, you are legally allowed to vote—huzzah! Here are a few things you can do to make sure you're able to properly participate in the election process and make the most out of your experience.

  • Stay informed! Read up on political issues (both local and national) and figure out where you stand.
  • You can register to vote here and check your registration status here. Make sure you register to vote by your state's election deadline. Once registered, you can request an absentee ballot and vote by mail if you prefer or you may choose to vote early if your state allows (early voting exceptions include CT, KY, MO, MS, NH, and SC) (22). There are no drawbacks if you decide to vote by mail, and all mail-in ballots will be counted once they are received and properly approved.
  • You can find your State and Local Election Office website here. This provides you with more information on your state and local elections, which are just as important as the larger national and presidential ones. Don't forget to vote in these as well!

If you are not yet 18 or are not a US citizen, no worries! You can still get involved and help out. Here are some great ways to start flexing your political muscle if you're not yet ready to vote.

  • Stay up-to-date! Learn about topics you care about and why they matter to you.
  • Talk to others. Don't be afraid to use your voice! You can start by talking with friends and family about the issues you care about. Once you feel more confident, you can also voice your opinions on social media, in the local newspaper, or in other public forums (23).
  • Volunteer. There's a number of ways you can volunteer for a cause or campaign. Phone bank calling, door-to-door outreach, and writing letters are just a few ways you can directly help with a campaign. Contributing to a cause or campaign by volunteering can be a very rewarding feeling.

Whatever your choice or stance, voting is one of the key pillars in American democracy that helps society function in a way that should be representative of all. Your vote matters and is a way to let the government know your position on the issues you care about and what you find important. With so many things that may seem out of our control this year, there is one thing that we do have control over—our vote! We'll see you at the polls this November.


REFERENCES

  1. https://disasterphilanthropy.org/disaster/2020-atlantic-hurricane-season/
  2. https://www.cnn.com/2020/05/11/us/2020-atlantic-hurricane-season-fast-facts/index.html
  3. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/fires-map-tracker.html
  4. https://www.nrdc.org/stories/flooding-and-climate-change-everything-you-need-know
  5. https://climate.nasa.gov/blog/2956/how-climate-change-may-be-impacting-storms-over-earths-tropical-oceans/
  6. https://climate.nasa.gov/news/2912/satellite-data-record-shows-climate-changes-impact-on-fires/
  7. https://www.cnbc.com/2020/09/04/election-early-absentee-mail-voting-every-state.html
  8. https://www.cdc.gov/climateandhealth/effects/default.htm
  9. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/climate/trump-environment-rollbacks.html
  10. https://www.brookings.edu/policy2020/votervital/what-is-the-trump-administrations-track-record-on-the-environment/
  11. https://environmentalintegrity.org/trump-watch-epa/regulatory-rollbacks/
  12. https://www.brookings.edu/interactives/tracking-deregulation-in-the-trump-era/
  13. https://www.npr.org/2020/09/14/912799501/i-don-t-think-science-knows-visiting-fires-trump-denies-climate-change
  14. https://insideclimatenews.org/news/28032017/trump-executive-order-climate-change-paris-climate-agreement-clean-power-plan-pruitt
  15. http://thedialog.org/national-news/environmental-protection-is-another-point-of-divergence-between-donald-trump-joe-biden/
  16. https://joebiden.com/climate-plan/#
  17. https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/trump-biden-issues-climate-change-environment/story?id=73151337
  18. https://www.state.gov/on-the-u-s-withdrawal-from-the-paris-agreement/
  19. https://joebiden.com/environmental-justice-plan/
  20. https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/trump-biden-issues-climate-change-environment/story?id=73151337
  21. https://www.nationalgeographic.org/article/why-voting-important/
  22. https://www.ncsl.org/research/elections-and-campaigns/early-voting-in-state-elections.aspx
  23. https://www.nationalgeographic.org/article/why-voting-important/
  24. https://campuselect.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/local_office_description-an_explainer.pdf
  25. https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanpub/article/PIIS2468-2667(16)30023-8/fulltext
  26. https://www.nrdc.org/stories/air-pollution-everything-you-need-know#sec2
  27. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/global-warming/greenhouse-gases/#:~:text=Greenhouse%20gases%20have%20far%2Dranging,change%20caused%20by%20greenhouse%20gases.
  28. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6357572/
  29. https://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/14/9/1048/htm
  30. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/climate-change-and-health
Roundups

Non-Toxic Hand Sanitizer

Tough on germs, without unnecessary yucky chemicals

Updated for Fall 2020!

Between COVID-19, flu season, or changing a poopy diaper on the go, hand sanitizer can be a life saver. But a lot of commercial hand sanitizers can contain fragrances and some pretty gross chemicals. To make sure you're getting the best possible product, we reviewed a ton of options and made sure they're easy to find at stores. There are options for gels, sprays, and wipes and lots of yummy smells like lavender or coconut and lemon, or just simply fragrance free if you want something simple. Try out several and stash them in places where you might need them, like the car, a favorite purse, backpack, or laptop bag. All of our non-toxic hand sanitizer recommendations are safer for you but super tough on germs!

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When the COVID-19 pandemic started, many of us who are lucky enough to be able to work at home were thrilled by the flexibility, but also figured we'd be back to the office in a month or two. Fast forward six months later and we're still working at our dining room table in sweatpants… that's 2020 for you. Since many of us are still working from home for the rest of the year (and maybe even longer…), it's important to take a critical look at our set up for work. A lot of the time home workplaces are less than ideal ergonomic setups, which can lead to poor posture, eye strain, and back pain and more.

That's where Dr. Brad Metzler comes in! He's a chiropractor and certified ergonomic specialist who focuses on whole body care with an emphasis on ergonomics and movement. As well as having a private practice in San Francisco, Dr. Metzler works at Crossover Health as an in-house chiropractor/ergonomist for companies like Facebook and Square.

Dr. Brad Metzler, chiropractor and certified ergonomic specialist

We sat down with Dr. Metzler to ask him his thoughts on home workplace setups, how to improve your work setup, and why ergonomics is important for everyone, including ergonomics for kids who are distance learning

Because Health: Thanks for talking with us today! Can you tell us about your ergonomics work? Why are ergonomics important?

Dr. Brad Metzler: I started focusing on ergonomics after I noticed many of the issues my patients were experiencing were due to their faulty workspace and how they interacted with their work environment. Many employees are spending a large portion of their time at a desk with little movement throughout the day. I realized that addressing poor workplace design was key to helping them achieve their health goals. The goal of ergonomics is to make a person the most efficient at their workspace; I view it as examining both the hardware (equipment) and software (how the person interacts with workspace).

BH: Many people are now working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. What are some common ergonomic problems associated with working from home?

BM: The common ergonomic problems stemming from WFH include neck, upper back, and low back pain. Many people feel they don't have the right space or equipment to be set-up properly to work from home. People are used to the standard cubicle or office setting.

BH: It sounds like many would benefit from improving their home workplace setups. What are your top tips for home ergonomics?

BM: Some of my favorite tips include:

  • Your shoulders, elbows, wrists and hips should be at a 90-degree angle or slightly tilted down. Imagine placing a ball on your head. It should be able to roll down your neck, shoulder, forearm, wrist and onto your keyboard. It should be able to roll off your chest, down your thigh and shin and onto the ground without getting caught.
  • Windshield Wiper Rule. Imagine your body is a car and your elbows are windshield wipers. All your primary tasks (generally typing and mousing) should be within windshield wiper range. Avoid reaching with an extended arm for your keyboard and mouse.

  • While sitting upright in a good position with your head over your shoulders and looking straight ahead you should see the top third of your screen. Typically, people have their external monitor at the right height but then have their laptop too low and far off to the side.

  • Move more often! It is better to be in a bad position for 5-10 minutes and then switch positions then try to be in perfect position or any stagnant position for long periods of time.
  • Avoid working on soft, unstable surfaces like your couch or bed.
  • Avoid using only your laptop. There is no good ergonomic position when just using a laptop. Get a wireless keyboard and mouse/trackpad and connect it to your laptop.

BH: Great tips! Love the visualizations and how easy they are to remember. Do you have any creative hacks for how to get a better ergonomic set up without spending a lot of money on new furniture?

BM: I tend to put more emphasis on software (microbreaks and proper biomechanics) than hardware (equipment). The most important equipment to have is a basic but functional wireless keyboard and mouse or trackpad. With these relatively inexpensive devices you can hack your workstation and will give you versatility to work from multiple places.

You can hack the rest of your workspace using household goods to make any space work! It doesn't take much to improve your ergonomics. An ironing board can magically become an adjustable desk, a game box or books can be a laptop riser, a pillow to raise your chair height, you can use your kitchen counter as a standing desk…. All you need is a little creativity!

BH: We can feel our setup getting better already! Now onto overall health. What are some ways you stay healthy throughout the work day?

BM: Microbreaks are key to staying healthy throughout the day. A microbreak is taking a brief break every 20-30 minutes for 30-60 seconds to do some type of movement-based stretch or strengthening exercise. This could be some squats, stretching out your hip flexor, squeezing your shoulder blades together, stretching your neck, or looking out the window at a far distance to decrease eye strain.

BH: We've got ergonomics for adults down now, but what about children? Many kids are stuck at home doing distance learning via Zoom. Are ergonomics also important for kids?

BM: The same principles apply to children and their remote learning environment. The great thing about kids is they get fidgety and move frequently which is one of the reasons they have less pain than adults. Movement is medicine!

BH: Who knew fidgeting was beneficial?! That's great. What should parents look out for when designing a remote learning area for kids at home?

BM: Have them avoid using just a laptop, phone or tablet, as there is no good ergonomic position with just these devices alone. Consider getting a wireless keyboard and mouse/trackpad. Now is a great time to educate them on proper biomechanics, alternating sit/stand and incorporating movement into their long study hours. Trying to ingrain these principles now will pay major dividends in the future. Parents can also advocate for their teachers to incorporate proper posture and breathing and movement breaks into their classes as well.

BH: What else can I do to ensure my kids' bodies stay healthy when they are in front of the screen learning all day?

BM: Make sure to have them switch positions frequently, take microbreaks, and move! Remember the amount of movement your child typically gets from commuting to/from school, recess, and moving from class to class and now they are stuck on a screen all day. Get creative and have them move outside or inside. Races, scavenger hunts, obstacle courses... whatever you need to do to get them to move even if it's just for 5 minutes before another virtual class.

BH: And finally… what's the #1 most important thing you recommend to your patients to maintain a healthy body and prevent work related injuries?

BM: We are meant to move! Your best posture is your next posture. Keep moving!

COVID-19

Is Your Face Mask Offering Enough Protection?

Why some masks and materials are better than others

There's no denying COVID-19 has turned our lives upside down. And new rules and social norms have only added to the confusion caused by the pandemic. Since it was discovered that COVID-19 is transmitted through droplets and small airborne particles, face masks have become a part of our everyday lives. Whether we're running out to the grocery store or meeting up with a friend for socially-distanced coffee, face masks are a critical part of keeping society safe as we navigate our way through this pandemic.

Face masks now come in a wide array of colors, designs, and fabrics so you can have some personal style while staying safe. But not all masks are created equal. There's actually a big difference in how well certain materials can protect you. And since masks prevent you from getting others sick and others from getting you sick, we want all the protection we can get! We break down which face masks are best and which you should probably skip.

Why N95s are the Gold Standard

N95 respirator masks are usually considered to be the "gold standard" for face masks. In pre-covid times, you'd usually use an N95 mask if you were doing a heavy-duty DIY project or in the middle of a big wildfire. If fitted correctly, N95 masks have the ability to reduce droplet transmission to below 0.1% (2). That's why, at the beginning of the pandemic, they were almost exclusively being used by medical workers on the frontlines of COVID-19 and hospitals were asking for donations for these specific types of masks. There is one caveat though- N95 masks with a front valve only protect the person wearing it. The valve allows particles to escape from the mask, which could lead to others becoming infected (2). If your N95 does have a front valve, you could wear another mask over it to limit exhaled air. But if you have a choice- always buy a N95 mask without a valve!

Best Face Mask Options

There are plenty of mask options beyond N95 masks that will do a superb job at protecting you and others from COVID-19 infection. Researchers have been hard at work trying to determine the most effective masks on the market. Many agree that N95 masks are the best at filtering out particles, while well-fitted surgical masks, masks made from a hybrid of fabrics, and cotton masks all effectively reduce droplet transmission (3-7).

Surgical masks are traditionally used in hospitals to act as a barrier against fluid and offer protection to workers, but they're now a go-to option for people looking for a disposable mask to protect against COVID-19. The multiple layers of non-woven meltblown fabric make these masks really effective at filtering. They're a good face mask option because they're relatively easy to find now and can be pretty inexpensive!

Cotton is an excellent material for a face mask because it's widely available, natural, and breathable. Plus, it's machine washable! But it's important to look for a high thread count cotton mask rather than a low one. Cotton with "higher threads per inch" and "tight weaves" had better filtration effects than loosely woven fabric (4).

A hybrid of fabrics like cotton and silk, cotton and chiffon, cotton and flannel are also great options for a mask. The mix of fabrics helps create an electrostatic effect that improves filtration (4,6). Silk is "particularly effective at excluding particles in the nanoscale regime (<∼100 nm), while filtration effects for cotton/chiffon and cotton/flannel "was >80% (for particles <300 nm) and >90% (for particles >300 nm)" (4).

Whether you're clicking "buy it now" or getting crafty with a DIY project, surgical masks, cotton, or a hybrid fabric all offer solid protection against COVID-19. You can also get creative with different colors and patterns to show off your unique sense of style. But make sure to buy one that's comfortable! What's the point of buying that sequin-y, glitter-y, leopard print mask if it'll just stay in your dresser drawer?!

Better than No Mask, but Not the Best

While wearing a face mask is always better than going without one, some masks are better than others. Makeshift masks often provide very little protection when compared to proper masks. Gaiters and bandanas had "substantial amounts" of droplet particles detected outside of the mask (3), and researchers looking at common household items you could use as a mask found that a scarf wrapped around the face did the worst at preventing infection (5). It's also crucial to make sure your mask fits your face properly. Even if it's made from one of our recommended materials, an ill-fitted mask can result in "over a 60% decrease in the filtration efficiency" (4).

Conclusion

Any mask is better than no mask, regardless of the material it's made out of. Masks are a crucial part of keeping everyone safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. N95s, surgical masks, and masks made from cotton or a hybrid fabric are all great choices, but it's important to experiment with different mask styles and materials to find the one that works best for you. If your mask is comfortable, you'll probably wear it more!


References

1.https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public/when-and-how-to-use-masks

2.https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/resp...

3.https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/6/36/eabd3083

4.https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acsnano.0c03252

5.https://www.journalofhospitalinfection.com/article...(20)30276-0/fulltext

6. https://aip.scitation.org/doi/10.1063/5.0016018

7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7294826/

Roundups

Non-Toxic Body Lotion Roundup

Stay moisturized without feeling sticky, slippery, or like you're covered in chemicals with these natural lotion options

Colder weather is coming, which means so is dry skin. Ugh! Usually we'd just grab whatever is on sale at the drugstore, but all body lotion is not created equal. In fact, traditional body lotions can contains some harmful chemicals that could be absorbed through your skin. Many lotions also contain petroleum products, which is something we also like to steer clear of. That's why we did the research and found you the best non-toxic body moisturizers and lotions that are well reviewed and readily available.

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