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

October is here and we are now in the season of pumpkin spice, spooky movies, and breast cancer awareness! October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, which is dedicated to bringing attention to the impacts of breast cancer and how to detect and treat it. Breast cancer is one of the most prevalent cancers among women in the United States affecting nearly 1 in 8 women (1). Like all cancers, breast cancer is complicated and scientists aren't positive of the direct causes. However, recent research has identified certain risk factors, like the environment and lifestyle, that could be associated with the disease.

If you're in your 20s or 30s, breast cancer may seem like something you don't have to worry about until later in life. But some of these risk factors can be modified by your lifestyle. Changing behavior early in life is super important, so take action this October and protect yourself using our top three tips to decrease your environmental risk of breast cancer.

  1. Limit alcohol consumption- studies show that increased alcohol consumption increases risk for breast cancer. Alcohol can damage DNA in your cells, or increase levels of estrogen (a hormone involved in the development of many breast cancers) (2).
  1. Stay smoke free! Tobacco smoke contains a handful of cancer-causing agents and is associated with higher rates of breast cancer, especially among younger women (3).
  1. Be proactive about your health This means staying active, eating a balanced and healthy diet, scheduling regular women's health check-ups, and looking into genetic counseling if you have a family history of breast cancer. Exercise and weight management through a healthy diet have both been linked to a lower risk of breast cancer. This is important because fat cells store estrogen and as a result, overweight and obese women are more likely to develop cancer in breast tissue (4).

Even though you probably don't need ANOTHER reason to cut environmental toxics out of your life, it is also worth noting that preliminary evidence suggests other toxics such as pesticides, BPA, metals lead and mercury, could be associated with breast cancer risk. Although mechanisms are unclear thus far, scientists speculate that endocrine disrupting chemicals like pesticides and BPA act on the estrogen pathway. And heavy metals like lead and mercury may interact with and inhibit the body's natural cancer defenses. Even though the research is new, it may be worth your while to avoid products containing these chemicals, especially if you have other breast cancer risk factors (5,6).

Be proactive this breast cancer awareness month and do what you can to lower your risk!

Sources:

  1. https://www.breastcancer.org/symptoms/understand_bc/statistics
  2. https://www.breastcancer.org/risk/factors/alcohol
  3. https://www.breastcancer.org/risk/factors/smoking
  4. https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/breast/basic_info/risk_factors.html
  5. https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/materials/environmental_factors_and_breast_cancer_risk_508.pdf
  6. https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/conditions/breast-cancer/index.cf

7) https://bcaction.org/our-take-on-breast-cancer/environment/

8) https://www.nap.edu/read/13263/chapter/8#290

9) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20195925

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Life

Does Where You Live Impact Your Breast Cancer Risk?

The surprising connection between your environment and breast cancer

Every year in the United States, 245,000 cases of breast cancer are diagnosed in women and about 2,200 in men (1). This translates to 1 in 8 women being diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. This makes breast cancer the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women in the United States.

While we have found many risk factors for breast cancer like late menopause, having children late in life, and family history, we still do not know what causes normal cells to become cancerous (2). In fact, the risk factors described above only account for 30% of women with breast cancer. This means that seventy percent of breast cancer cases have no known risk factors (3).

Scientists agree that breast cancer manifests from a combination of genetic, hormonal, and environmental factors. While genetic and hormonal factors are harder to change, we may be able to reduce our risk of breast cancer by avoiding exposure to certain chemicals.

How the Environment is Linked to Breast Cancer

It has been shown that Japanese immigrants in the United States have higher incidence rates of breast cancer compared to their counterparts in their homeland (4). This observation suggests that there is a strong relationship between the disease and the environment. This is not only true in Japan! Non-industrialized countries have lower breast cancer rates than industrialized countries. People who immigrated to industrialized countries, such as the United States, from their homeland developed the same rates of breast cancer observed in their new home.

So what is going on in industrialized countries? A study investigated the link between breast cancer and the environment, and found that women who lived in areas of higher airborne lead, mercury, and cadmium were at a higher risk of developing postmenopausal breast cancer (5). Studies also found that estrogen is a key hormone that is intimately linked to the development of breast cancer, and that xenohormones, a group of synthetic chemicals that imitate estrogen, have been found to significantly enhance the risk for breast cancer during growth and adolescence (6). Xenohormones can be found in our everyday life. They are present in common weed killers, pesticides, plastics, and bug sprays. Increased exposure to these chemicals may play a role in the high risk of breast cancer seen in industrialized countries.

What You Can Do to Lower Your Risk

While scientists are still hard at work to determine the cocktail of factors that causes breast cancer, we can do our part to take precautions against the environmental factors that have been associated with the disease. When possible, avoid areas of high air pollution. Opt to stay indoors or wear a N95 face mask if conditions are poor and you must go outside. Additionally, be aware of xenohormones and other endocrine disruptors in the products you are in contact with.

References

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - Breast Cancer Basic Information
  2. https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/conditions/breast-cancer/index.cfm#footnote2
  3. https://bcaction.org/our-take-on-breast-cancer/environment/
  4. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0959804993902277
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30198937
  6. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0306987798902626
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
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
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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.

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