Life

How to Avoid Summer’s Itchiest Pests

The Bugs & Plants Love Climate Change

Summer's officially here, and after some crazy winter weather, we are more than ready to pack up the camping gear for a weekend in the woods or head to the park for a picnic. As we humans keep putting more global warming gases into the air, there's no doubt - it's gettin' weird out there. Did you hear about that day when it was nearly 100 degrees and then snowed two days later ... in Oklahoma? Or when Hawaii got 50 inches of rain in just 24 hours? How about the tick that can make you allergic to meat? While the winters have been crazy, they're also getting shorter and that's changing the way we live, work, and play every day - especially when it comes to the bugs and plants around us. The weird weather stories may grab headlines, but it's the subtle changes around your home that can affect your health. Here's what you need to know about how climate change is making pests and plants more pesky and what you can do to protect yourself and your family.


More Bugs that Bite

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As the Northeast is losing those long, cold winters that often keep pests in check, fleas, ticks, and mosquitoes are spreading further north. With more rain and humidity throughout the summer, the weather is creating perfect habitats for mosquitoes to breed. If you don't believe it, the CDC says that reports of flea-, tick-, and mosquito-related diseases have tripled over the past 13 years. This is scary because ticks carry lyme disease, mosquitoes carry West Nile and Zika, and fleas might carry plague - yeah that historic disease that everyone thought was gone for good. Well, maybe not. The CDC has documented a few cases of plague in the Southwest from people getting bitten by fleas.

The good news is, there are some things you can do to protect yourself and your family from these annoying little bugs:

  1. Wear pants, long-sleeved shirts, and hats while outdoors. If you are in tall grass or the woods, tuck your pants into your socks to block off entry points for ticks. Light loose clothing will keep you cool, and give you an excuse (as if you really need one) to add a few new items to your closet.
  2. If that just isn't going to fly in your home, applying insect repellent is another way to stay safe. If you're concerned about health impacts from deet (which is still the recommended option for staying safe from insects) and other chemicals, repellents can be applied to clothing instead of directly onto skin, and minimally to exposed areas. Some essential oils might also help. The least toxic alternatives to deet include lemon eucalyptus oil and soybean oil or synthetic chemicals like picardin and IR-3535. If you choose essential oils, make sure you conduct an allergy test on a small spot of your skin before committing fully. Most essential oil repellents have been found to be effective for only about an hour, so apply often!
  3. Limit time outdoors around dusk when mosquitoes are most active. Around your house, empty any containers, like planters, dog bowls, and kiddie pools that hold standing water (mosquitoes only need a soda bottle cap of water to breed) or use floor fans during your summer barbecue to deter mosquitoes and keep cool. Around the yard, consider these fives steps to make it less hospitable to ticks and fleas.
  4. Fleas are more of a threat to our pets, and we definitely want to keep our four-legged family members safe from tapeworms and cat-scratch diseases. So, be sure to protect them with some safe options and talk to your vet.
  5. Finally, do a thorough check for ticks and fleas when you get back inside, and wash off any repellents you used with a shower or soap and water. Ticks like to burrow in hair and soft spots like the back of your knees. If you do find a tick, follow these steps to carefully remove it and clean the bite site. If you see a bull's eye shaped rash appear or the area becomes irritated over the next few weeks, go see your doctor. Let him or her know you were bitten by a tick. Most cases of Lyme disease can be successfully treated with antibiotics when caught early.

Bigger, Badder Poison Ivy

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It's not just bugs to beware of - Climate change is bringing the Little Shop of Horrors to life in your backyard. Poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac are becoming stronger and more common with climate change. Carbon dioxide is like superfood for poison ivy, making it grow bigger and faster. Bigger plants mean more leaves and more urushiol, the oil that causes the itching, burning, and blisters millions of people experience.

What you can do:

  1. Protective clothing and a watchful eye are the best defense. Learn how to spot the poisonous plants, and make sure you and your pets avoid them.
  2. If you're exposed, you probably won't know it for a few hours, so it's important to wash your skin thoroughly with cold water. Once you've washed the oils off (some suggest trying a non-toxic dish soap or rubbing alcohol after a wash to remove any remaining oil), you won't be contagious anymore. You can treat the rash with calamine lotion or hydrocortisone, both of which are commonly available in your local drug store. Particularly sensitive individuals may need to seek medical assistance.
  3. It's also important to thoroughly wash any clothes or camping gear that may have brushed against the plants with non-toxic laundry detergent. If you took your dog to the woods with you, it's best to give him or her a bath when you get home, too. Oils that get absorbed into the fabrics or are on your dog's fur can continue to spread until they are removed.

Life

Buying holiday decorations? Here's what you should know

Don't let these chemicals ruin your holiday cheer

You may need to be careful rockin' around the Christmas tree this year! Why you ask? Well, there might be some unexpected chemicals in that holly jolly decoration above your head. Holiday decorations can bring great cheer, but sometimes they can contain an unwanted surprise. Some decorations may be made with toxic chemicals - keep a look out for the ones below!
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Life

Is Your Artificial Christmas Tree Toxic?

Tips to reduce your exposure to these hazardous chemicals

Artificial Christmas trees are becoming increasingly popular for families. They're seen as being convenient since they don't shed needles and can be reused year after year. Because they can be reused, families tend to save money by choosing artificial trees over a real one. A study from the The American Christmas Tree Association (yes that is a real and reputable organization!) performed a life cycle analysis and found that one artificial tree that's reused for eight or more Christmases is more environmentally friendly than purchasing a real tree each year (1). The study also found that Christmas trees, both real and fake, accounted for a tiny part (< 0.1%) of a person's annual carbon footprint.

But are artificial Christmas trees as good for your health as they are for your wallet? The majority of artificial trees are made using a plastic called polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and lead, which is used to stabilize PVC (2). The lead in the trees break down over time and forms lead dust. These particles are released into the air and can cause health issues, especially in young children. Most people do not realize that artificial trees contain lead, and only California requires a lead warning label (2). It is estimated that there are 50 million households in the United States that own artificial trees with lead in them (3).

Don't panic! If you are an owner of an artificial Christmas tree made out of PVC, there are precautions you can take to reduce your family's exposure to lead.

  1. PVC releases more gases when it is first exposed to air. They also release gases as they degrade. A good way to reduce the amount of lead in your household is to take the tree out of the box and air it outside when you first purchase it (4).
  2. If you have used your artificial tree for many Christmases, you may want to consider purchasing a new one. PVC tends to weaken and degrade after nine years (4). Newer artificial trees do not leach as much lead as older ones.
  3. Light cords that come with your artifical tree are prone to have levels of lead that exceed the limit set by the EPA (4). It is recommended that you wash your hands immediately after touching light cords. And definitely don't let young children handle cords.

If you're currently tree-less and in the market for an artificial one, consider purchasing a tree made out of polyethylene. This plastic is safer than PVC and does not leach lead. Additionally, trees made out of polyethylene tend to be more durable than PVC trees.

While artificial PVC Christmas trees don't pose a high health risk overall to the general population, it's very possible for young children to have severe negative health effects (3). It's important to be aware of the health risks that go along with trees made out of PVC, and the ways to avoid lead exposure for yourself and your family this holiday season.


References

  1. https://www.christmastreeassociation.org/real-artificial-christmas-tree-environment/
  2. https://rtkenvironmental.com/lead/warning-hidden-health-hazard-artificial-christmas-trees/
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15628192
  4. https://www.menshealth.com/health/a19548208/do-christmas-trees-make-you-sick/
Sometimes it may feel like everywhere you turn, there's some sort of junk food being advertised—whether that's cupcakes or fries or deep fried things on a stick. And more than sometimes, you have a child begging you for a sweet treat or sugary drink. It can feel like a daunting task at times to encourage and foster healthy eating. While we know there are many factors that influence a child's food choices, here's one that you may not have thought of.
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Life

Avoid These Stressful Ingredients the Next Time You Relax with a Bath Bomb

We don't need these chemicals messing with our #selfcare

December means it's time to start thinking about those stocking stuffers or Chanukah gifts for your loved ones. What's better than a bath bomb to relax and take in those sudsy, therapeutic fragrances? Bath bombs can also get your kids to bathe without putting up a fight. They're basically magic! But, have you stopped to think what else they are putting in those bombs to make those suds glisten and fizz?

What's in a Bath Bomb?

It turns out, there can be a whole range of questionable chemicals packed neatly into those appealing little bombs. It's hard to tell exactly what's in each bath bomb because the ingredients vary widely among manufacturers, but fragrances, artificial colors, boric acid, and glitter are some common ingredients.

Fragrance is never a welcome sight on the ingredient list. The FDA does not require companies to disclose ingredients used to make fragrances in products like bath bombs in order to protect company "trade secrets (1)." Many synthetic and natural fragrances also include such hormone-disrupting chemicals as phthalates, which can be absorbed through the skin and have been found to pose specific risks for pregnant women and children (2). Studies have also linked health effects of phthalates to miscarriage, gestational diabetes, reduced IQ, and ADHD with increased exposure to phthalates.

As for dyes, the evidence is limited when it comes to FDA approved dyes readily being absorbed through the skin. However, one study found that certain dyes may be absorbed after shaving (3). Also, young children often swallow water while bathing and ingestion of some of these chemicals for young children is definitely not recommended!

Boric acid also has some side effects that you may not want to risk. It can be absorbed through the mucous membranes and has been linked to hormone disruption and developmental and reproductive toxicity (4). And then there is glitter, which is just more plastic that can end up in our lakes, rivers, and streams.

Alternatives and DIY Recipes

While there may be harmful ingredients in some bath bombs, you don't have to give them up! It's easy to avoid these ingredients with just a little extra effort. You can choose to purchase "fragrance-free" or "phthalate-free" bath bombs, but making your own bath bomb is super easy. Here are also some DIY recipes to try at home.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup baking soda
  • ½ cup citric acid
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • ½ cup finely ground sea salt
  • 1 ½ teaspoons almond oil (or apricot oil)
  • ½ teaspoon coconut oil
  • 1 tablespoon of witch hazel
  • 1 teaspoon beet root powder
  • wild orange essential oil
  • rose essential oil

Directions

  • Blend all dry ingredients in a bowl.
  • Blend wet ingredients in another bowl.
  • Combine all ingredients.
  • Place in mold of choice or just form a ball about 1-2 inches in diameter.
  • Allow the bath bombs to dry for approximately 1-2 days.
  • To use, place bath bomb in the bath.
  • To store, place in airtight container. Storing in a refrigerator can allow the bath bombs to keep for about 3 weeks (5).


References

1.https://www.fda.gov/cosmetics/cosmetic-ingredients/fragrances-cosmetics

2.https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxprofiles/tp73-c1.pdf
3.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23127598
4.https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/Boric-acid#section=Health-Hazardhttps://draxe.com/health/are-bath-bombs-safe/
5.https://draxe.com/beauty/diy-bath-bomb-recipe/
6. https://homemadeforelle.com/bath-bombs-for-kids/#Ingredients
Life

The Hidden Risk in Store-Bought Slime

Avoid this hazardous ingredient with our own DIY slime recipe

Slime seems to be the hottest new toy for kids. They love that it's a tactile toy they can squeeze and smash. But before you rush out to buy a new tub of gooey slime on your next shopping trip, have you ever wondered what's actually in it? Turns out, there's a not-so-kid-friendly ingredient lurking in many slime products sold in stores, as well as in some DIY kits and recipes.

What's So Bad About Boron?

Boron is a chemical commonly used in many brands of slime, DIY kits, and some DIY recipes to give it that rubbery texture. While it may feel fun, it's actually not great for our health. Boron is an acute eye, respiratory tract, and nasal irritant and is harmful if swallowed (1). If ingested, it can also cause nausea and vomiting (2). Long-term exposure to boron can also cause negative reproductive health effects (3, 4). The problems with boron don't stop once you throw slime away either. It turns out that boron lasts a long time in the environment and has hazardous effects on aquatic life (5).

To make matters worse, there's a lot more boron in slime than there should be. The U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) recently tested different brands of slime and found concentrations as high as 4700 parts per million (ppm) of boron, (6) which is more than fifteen times the allowable level for toys sold in the European Union (300 ppm for sticky/liquid toys) (6). Canada, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates have even instituted policies limiting or banning boron in children's toys (6).

Safe Slime

Luckily, it's easy to make your own boron-free slime. We like this recipe for full-proof slime that substitutes boron/borax (a boron compound that's found in a lot of other slime recipes) with cornstarch and school glue. We guarantee your kids will still have hours of fun with this non-toxic slime!

Fluffy Volcano Slime

  1. Pour 1/4 cup white school glue and a 1/2 cup of cornstarch in a bowl
  2. Add 3 drops of food coloring (optional)
  3. Mix well
  4. Knead it with your hands for 10 minutes
  5. Heat it in the microwave for 20 seconds
  6. Let it cool, then knead it for another 10 minutes (7)

References

2. https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2014-09/documents/health_effects_support_document_for_boron.pdf

3. https://toxnet.nlm.nih.gov/cgi-bin/sis/search/a?dbs+hsdb:@term+@DOCNO+328

4. https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2014-09/documents/health_effects_support_document_for_boron.pdf

5. https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/Boron

6. https://uspirg.org/sites/pirg/files/reports/WEB_USP_Toyland-Report_Nov18_2-1.pdf

7. https://www.cnet.com/how-to/make-slime-without-borax/

Roundups

15 Non-Toxic Toys for Toddlers and Preschoolers

Fun, healthy, safe, and great for those budding imaginations

Updated for 2019!

You can pat yourself on the back for bringing these non-toxic toys into your home or gifting them to friends. These are the highest rated, healthiest toys for your growing little one. Not only did we make sure that the materials are safe, but we made sure parents like you love these toys. All the toys here are great for revving up their imagination and creativity and are made to last. If you're looking for something for a newborn or a baby under 1, here are our top picks for best non-toxic newborn toys.

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Roundups

15 Non-Toxic Toys for Newborns

healthy, safe toys for 0-1 years old

Updated for 2019!

Even before they can talk, babies know how to play. Sure, they will play with whatever is in front of them, but having their own toys is way more fun, and saves things like your watch from being covered in slobber. Here are some of the highest rated, healthiest toys out there, but be sure to check out our roundup of toy brands, too. If you're looking for something for someone a bit older, here are our picks for best non-toxic toys for toddlers.

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