Science

Here’s the Deal with Heavy Metals

… and nope, we aren't talking Metallica, Megadeath or Black Sabbath

While we love a good jam sesh every now and again, over at Because Health when we talk heavy metal, we're getting our periodic tables out, pulling on the lab coats, and talking about elements like arsenic, mercury, lead, and cadmium. Although these are naturally occurring elements, scientists have learned that they can cause some pretty negative health effects.

Side note, not all metals are bad for humans. In fact, there are even some that we need in order to stay healthy, like iron, zinc, and magnesium. So, just because it sounds like a metal it doesn't mean it's dangerous. You just have to be careful about some of them. But have no fear, we lay out the big names to stay away from here.


Arsenic

Arsenic is common in the world. It's kind of just around, but it is also found in water, food, and pressure treated wood. It can get into water sources from naturally being found in soil. It can get into food from both the soil and the water applied to the crops as they grow. It is important to limit how often we come into contact with arsenic because, in large enough concentrations, or small, repeated doses over time, arsenic is poisonous.

One of the most common sources of arsenic for the general public, and especially people with a gluten intolerance and young children, is rice. Often young children and those avoiding gluten eat more rice, or products made with rice, than the average individual. While eating rice even a few times a week isn't something to worry about, eating large amounts of rice (like for multiple meals a day) can lead to higher arsenic levels. Trying a variety of different grains, like quinoa, oats, farro, and amaranth is a great way to limit the amount of arsenic coming from rice in your diet. Apple seeds are also known to have higher levels of arsenic. We recommend you just don't eat those (they don't taste very good anyway), but the rest of the apple is perfectly safe.

In terms of pressure-treated wood, if you have furniture or a deck made of pressure-treated wood, we recommend sealing it on a regular basis to keep the wood from releasing arsenic as you come into contact with it. While arsenic-treated wood for residential use was phased out in 2004, this is still important to think about if you have older outside furniture. Also, never use pressure-treated wood if you are building a fire. If you are touching the wood, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly when you are finished.

Finally, if you get your water from a well, test the water often for arsenic levels, and if needed, use bottled water or a filter that removes arsenic.

Mercury

This is more well known, but mercury can have some pretty serious health effects as a neurotoxin, especially for developing babies and children. There are a few forms of mercury (elemental, organic, and inorganic), all of which can cause problems when they get introduced to human systems. The most common ways people are exposed to mercury are through accidentally being exposed to it in broken products that contain mercury, through dust as coal is burned for energy and heat, and, most commonly, through eating fish and shellfish. The bigger the fish, the more likely it is to have higher levels of mercury because it often starts in small fish and as bigger fish eat the smaller fish the bigger fish collect larger amounts of mercury. This is true for humans, too. As you eat fish that contain mercury, that mercury builds up in your body over time. This is called bioaccumulation, meaning that little amounts add up to bigger amounts in your body over time. The best way to avoid mercury is to check guides for the best fish choices and to carefully dispose of batteries, very old thermometers, and CFL light bulbs, which also may contain mercury.

Lead

There's been some news about this one lately, so you've probably got some idea how ingesting lead can be not so great. Lead can cause reproductive problems, cardiovascular disease, learning disabilities, and diminished kidney function. Because of this, and its well documented dangers for children, the CDC has determined that there is no safe level of lead, meaning you always want to avoid it.

Lead had many common uses like in old paint and pipes, which is why we still have to worry about finding it in homes even though it's not allowed to be used in those products any more. A long time ago it was also added to gasoline for cars, so it has ended up as pollution and settled in the soil across the country. These are only some of the uses. It can also be found in artificial turf, cosmetics, and pottery glaze. We have a whole article on some easy way to avoid it in your home, but the three easiest tips are to always use cold water when cooking or drinking, wash your hands and your kids hands after playing outside in the dirt, and get a doormat to wipe your shoes on as you walk in the house, or better yet, have a no shoes in the house rule. All of these things can dramatically lower the amount of lead you come into contact with on a regular basis, and take little to no effort to change.

Cadmium

Cadmium, like everything else on this list, occurs naturally in the world. People most commonly come in contact with it through the food that we eat, or through cigarette smoke. Although, it is also found in some paint, rechargeable batteries, and in children's jewelry.

Cadmium ends up in food because it is absorbed by plants as they grow. This isn't a large concern for people in the US because cadmium levels are relatively low here, but in other countries, like Japan, this is a bigger concern. The biggest concern in the US is for people who smoke because tobacco plants are very good at absorbing cadmium, and the cadmium is transferred to the smoke as the cigarette burns. Which is just another reason to quit smoking.

There is also some worry for people who work in mines or with paints or soldering equipment. In those cases, the workers have a higher chance of inhaling cadmium, which can lead to kidney problems.

Cadmium has different health effects depending on how a person is exposed and how much cadmium they have in their body. The good news is, if it's only small amounts over long period of time, our bodies can work to remove the cadmium. If it's more cadmium than that, longer term effects can include learning disabilities, kidney problems, lung problems, and cancer.

The best way to limit your contact with cadmium is to quit smoking, and not allow smoking in your home. Additionally, be careful with reusable batteries, especially around kids, and watch out for costume jewelry. Other than that, the risks are relatively low unless your job exposes you to cadmium or you live near a factory that releases cadmium.

Home

Non-Toxic, Eco-Friendly Alternatives to Swiffers

Or convert the Swiffer you already have into a non-toxic, planet-friendly option

Who hasn't had a Swiffer before? The promise of an easy-to-use and affordable sweeping, mopping and dusting solution is hard to say no to! While Swiffer products are quite convenient and user friendly, have you ever thought about how much trash those single-use pads generate and what toxic chemicals might be used in their cleaning solutions? Well we're here to give you the low down. If you already have a Swiffer, we have some tips on how to use your Swiffer in a more environmentally conscious way with non-toxic ingredients. And if you don't have one, but want some just as convenient recommendations on mopping and dusting we have you covered too.

Why You Might Want to Think Twice About Swiffers

Ever take a big whiff when you bust open your new package of refillable Swiffer wet pads? Well, sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but those flowery and attractive smells contain fragrances and other harmful ingredients, which often carry phthalates, asthmagens (1) and other chemicals of concern. When these fragrance chemicals vaporize into your household, they can trigger asthma attacks, and aggravate sinus conditions; they can disrupt hormones, cause headaches, eyes, nose and throat irritation, and produce neurotoxic symptoms, like loss of coordination, and forgetfulness (2).

Other ingredients in Swiffer products have also been found to aid in developing resistance to antibiotics over time (3). This means that germs like bacteria and fungi start building the capacity to defeat the drugs that are designed to kill them. When this happens, this can require extended hospital stays, more follow-up visits to the doctor, and other costly and toxic treatment alternatives (4). It's not just humans that are impacted either, these products are also very toxic to aquatic animals (5,6). Makes us think twice about using them all around the house!

Not only is it a good idea to steer clear of these chemicals, but can we talk about the trash? Easy disposal of these toxic, non-biodegradable products, like the refill pads, has resulted in an exuberant amount of unnecessary waste and has nearly destroyed our environment (7). Refillable Swiffer pads are made from polyester which is derived from fossil fuels (8), and are contributing to the degradation of our ecosystems and wildlife (9). These persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are harmful toxins that will continue to corrode our environment for centuries, as they occupy landfills and slowly leak toxins into soil and water over time (9). What a mess!

The good news is that there are simple alternative methods you can start using that are more protective of our health (and the planet's) well-being. Plus, since you don't have to purchase refill pads, they are great for your budget too. There are even easy hacks to turn the Swiffer product you already have into a non-toxic option.

How to Make Your Swiffer Non-Toxic and Earth-Friendly

Get a reusable washable microfiber pad and ditch the single-use ones. Microfibers are extremely effective at capturing germs and small particles (10). These microfiber mop pads work for both the Swiffer sweepers and WetJet. Here are some we like:

Just throw that bad boy into the washer after you're done using it and it's ready to be used the next time you need it. And if you want a completely free way to do this, you can even try using an old fuzzy sock and wrap that around the bottom of your WetJet and voila, you're all ready to start moppin'.

If you have an old washcloth you can also place that into the corners of the holes of your traditional Swiffer to secure the cloth. You'll want to make sure to dip the cloth into your cleaning solution before you attach it to the mop and/or you can add the cleaning solution to a spray bottle to spray the surface as well.

DIY Your Own Safe and Effective Cleaning Solution

If you've got the Swiffer WetJet, make sure the refill bottle is thoroughly cleaned out with soap and water, then go ahead and add your preferred non-toxic cleaning solution. There are several ways you can create your own safe and effective floor cleaner, but here are some of our favorites:

  • Add ½ tsp of liquid soap to each gallon of water
  • Add ½ cup vinegar to every gallon of water

When the floors are really dirty use liquid soap solution to really mop up that grime and dirt. If things have been more chill around the house, use the vinegar solution. We've heard that using the vinegar on hardwood floors is not a problem, but you should check what type of finish your floors have, and do a test sample somewhere out of sight just to be sure.

Convenient, Non-toxic, and Budget Friendly Swiffer Alternatives

If you don't own a Swiffer, bless your heart. Here are two of our favorite Swiffer alternatives for getting your floor clean.

Steam Mops

Another green alternative you can use is a steam mop. Steam mops work by heating up the water to really high temperatures inside it's chamber and dispensing it as steam, which is then dispersed through a cloth or pad. The steam helps to loosen up the dirt and grime from your floors, and the high temps help to kill germs and bacteria on hard surfaces. No harmful chemicals needed!

Steam mops are typically safe to use on vinyl, ceramic, and porcelain tile floors, but you may want to double check with your flooring brand to make sure using steam won't void your floor's warranty. You should also never use steam mops on any unsealed, peeling or unfinished floors, and although manufacturers claim it is safe to do so, use caution with any wood or laminate flooring.

Spray Mops

Spray mops are super convenient and easy to use on all types of floors, including hardwood and laminate flooring. Plus, no need for any buckets or wringing! Just add your washable/reusable microfiber mop pad and pre-made non-toxic solution to the dispenser and you are ready to have at it!



References:
  1. https://zsds3.zepinc.com/ehswww/zep/result/direct_link.jsp?P_LANGU=E&P_SYS=2&P_SSN=11337&C001=DISC2&C002=ZCAL&C003=E&C013=AF7231E
  2. https://noharm-uscanada.org/issues/us-canada/fragrance-chemicals
  3. https://www.ajicjournal.org/article/S0196-6553(18)30424-3/pdf
  4. https://www.cdc.gov/drugresistance/about.html
  5. https://www.ewg.org/guides/cleaners/5288-SwifferSweeperWetMoppingClothsOpenWindowFresh/
  6. https://www.ewg.org/guides/cleaners/2819-SwifferWetJetMultiPurposeCleanerOpenWindowFresh/
  7. https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/realestate/2005/05/21/disposable-wipes-no-throw-away-issue/22e091b2-7bc9-4b01-a9c3-6ca1c00f9cfc/
  8. https://www.cmu.edu/gelfand/lgc-educational-media/polymers/natural-synthetic-polymers/index.html#:~:text=Synthetic%20polymers%20are%20derived%20from,polyester%2C%20Teflon%2C%20and%20epoxy.&text=Examples%20of%20naturally%20occurring%20polymers,%2C%20DNA%2C%20cellulose%20and%20proteins.
  9. https://sciencing.com/environmental-problems-caused-by-synthetic-polymers-12732046.html
  10. https://archive.epa.gov/region9/waste/archive/web/pdf/mops.pdf
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Roundups

Non-Toxic Floor Cleaners

Because just shuffling around in fuzzy socks doesn't really count

Updated for 2020!

We walk on them all the time, so it's not hard to believe that floors get dirty. Sure vacuuming and sweeping are a good start, but you also need to wet mop them. We did the research and came up with a roundup of 7 of the safest, healthiest floor cleaners out there. They are all well reviewed and widely available. Take your pick!

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COVID-19

Preserving Your Sanity During COVID-19

Why it's so important to look after your mental health throughout this pandemic

The Re-Opening Waiting Game

It's beginning to feel like the "end" of COVID-19 will never arrive. The surging, flattening, and re-surging of Coronavirus has created a roller coaster of emotions that often leave us feeling like we've reverted back to square one (or worse). It's no wonder why some of us have been feeling drained, moody, hopeless, and unable to think straight.

Fears and concerns surrounding this virus are becoming increasingly common (1), as many of us are worried about our health and the health and well-being of our loved ones. This level of uncertainty has really put a damper on our emotions and has strained our mental health (1). Social and physical distancing, economic uncertainty, and the onslaught of bad news has left us feeling isolated, anxious, depressed and unsure of how to cope with these feelings, and left wondering when our lives will return back to normal.

Fortunately, there are tons of things we can do to mitigate the negative impacts many of us are experiencing. Keep reading for some tips and advice on trying to reach some level of zen through these trying times.

How COVID-19 Can Impact Mental Health

The rise and spread of COVID-19 has subjected us to a whole new lifestyle, one that many of us have had difficulties adjusting to. Some are grieving the loss of loved ones or economic stability, while others are grieving the social connection we had pre-COVID-19. Around half of all US adults have recently reported that COVID-19 has negatively impacted their mental health (1).

From front-line workers to non-essential workers, the level of stress, anxiety, and depression is negatively impacting mental and physical well-being. Health care workers and grocery store workers, along with others, are faced with choosing whether to keep working and increase the risk of contracting the virus or leaving their jobs and losing their income (2). On the other hand, many non-essential workers who are losing their jobs are not only losing their income, but are faced with increased rates of depression, anxiety, distress, and low self-esteem, which can lead to higher rates of substance abuse and suicide (1). Shelter-in-place orders, business and school closures and travel restrictions are fueling the impacts of loneliness and social isolation, and for many, financial distress (1).

How Mental Health and Physical Health are Intertwined

Mental health is just as critical to our well-being as our physical health, as the two are inextricably linked (3). Have you ever been so stressed you get a stomach ache or headache? Yeah, us too.Social isolation and loneliness are public health concerns, as the latter is associated with reduced lifespan and is a risk factor for mental illness (1), an increased risk of a heart attack (4) , and suicide (1). Anxiety, stress, and depression can physically manifest itself as heart disease, asthma, gut problems and dermatitis, among a list of other health concerns (5,6,7,8). Stress can also cause shortness of breath, trigger asthma symptoms, and can flare up your eczema too (6,7). Taking care of your mental health is a critical component in staying healthy.

Be Proactive About Your Mental Health

With so much uncertainty, isolation, and fear surrounding COVID-19, we have to remind ourselves to pay attention to our mental health and to what our bodies are telling us. In addition to the typical things people think when they hear about ways to enhance your mental well-being like meditation, yoga, exercise, and eating healthy, here are a few other strategies to boost your mood and achieve better mental health:

You can find additional resources below for you or your loved ones to assist with navigating with mental health emergencies:


References

(1)https://www.kff.org/coronavirus-covid-19/issue-brief/the-implications-of-covid-19-for-mental-health-and-substance-use/

(2)https://www.kff.org/coronavirus-covid-19/issue-brief/double-jeopardy-low-wage-workers-at-risk-for-health-and-financial-implications-of-covid-19/

(3)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1071612/

(4) https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/medicine-and-dentistry/psychosomatic-disorder

(5) https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/medicine-and-dentistry/psychosomatic-disorder

(6) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5260801/

(7)https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-981-10-5541-6_13#:~:text=Psychological%20stress%20is%20a%20major,deterioration%20in%20quality%20of%20life.

(8) https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0706743719874168

Roundups

Non-Toxic Kitchen Items Roundup

Bye bye plastic, hello reusable!

Looking for a way to be more sustainable but don't know where to start? Try the kitchen! Kitchen utensils are usually made from plastic and other harmful chemicals. Some items, like sponges, are also meant to be periodically thrown away, which just creates more trash. That's why we rounded up our favorite non-toxic kitchen items! These items are made from natural or reusable materials like wood, natural sponge, and copper. They're all durable and can stand up to the toughest kitchen messes!


Non-Toxic Kitchen Items


a) REDECKER Horsehair and Beechwood Bottle Brush

b) If You Care 100% Natural Sponge Cloths

c) Küchenprofi Classic Dish Washing Brush

d) Miw Piw Natural Dish Sponge

e) REDECKER Copper Cleaning Cloth

f) REDECKER Natural Fiber Bristle Pot Brush


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.

COVID-19

Safer Cleaning and Disinfectant Use During Coronavirus for Early Childcare Providers and Schools

why it's important, other best practices, and a comprehensive resource list

This is a toolkit that is an easy to understand guide to best and safe practices for reopening childcare providers and schools during COVID-19. The toolkit has summaries of best practices from the CDC, EPA, and others in one place. Our recommendations also take into consideration disinfectants with safer ingredients. If you are a parent who is concerned about safe and best practices when schools are reopened, please download our toolkit to send to your childcare provider or school administrator. We even have a sample email that you can use to write your school administrator or childcare director and attach these materials. Or if you work as a childcare provider or at a school, we have made this resource for you. We hope that it is helpful.

Download the complete toolkit with sample email and all the links here:

Because Health Safer Disinfecting at Schools During Coronavirus.pdf

Here is a version of the pdf without the sample email to send to administrators and staff:

Because Health Safer Disinfecting at Schools During Coronavirus to send.pdf

safer disinfectant use during coronavirus for schools




hand washing and hand sanitizer during coronavirus



safer cleaning and disinfecting resources for schools during coronavirus

As childcare facilities and schools gear up for reopening, water quality is another area that can be affected by COVID-19 closures. Water stagnation in closed or sparsely used school facilities can lead to buildup of harmful pathogens and contaminants. This is a toolkit that is an easy to understand guide to best and safe practices for water quality when reopening childcare providers and schools during COVID-19. The toolkit has summaries of best practices from the CDC, EPA, and others water quality experts in one place.

If you are a parent who is concerned about safe drinking water when schools are reopened, please download our toolkit to send to your childcare provider or school administrator. Or if you work as a childcare provider or at a school, we have made this resource for you. We hope that it is helpful.

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COVID-19

Safer Cleaning and Disinfectant Use During Coronavirus at Home

plus DIY disinfectant and cleaning recipes and when and how to wash hands or use hand sanitizer

We've created a one stop shop for all your questions on using safer disinfectant at home to reduce COVID-19 transmission. Please share with your family and friends. We hope they are useful!

You can download the entire PDF with links here with both toolkit and sample email:

Because Health Safer Disinfecting at Home During Coronavirus.pdf

safer cleaning and disinfectant use during coronavirus at home


hand washing and hand sanitizer during coronavirus


DIY cleaners, disinfectants, and hand sanitizers during coronavirus

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