Science

PFAS: Pretty Freaking Awful Stuff

Or, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances - you can choose

Where can I find this stuff? And why?

The most well-known PFAS is probably Teflon. Yep, the OG nonstick coating. This is a perfluorinated chemical, and we all have heard how when it starts to peel off or chip from our pans it can be bad.

Perfluroalkyl substances (PFAS), sometimes called PFOA and PFOS, which are specific types of PFAS or PFCs which stands for per- and polyfluorinated chemicals, are used in a variety of different products (more than just pots and pans) because they are water and oil resistant. That makes them super useful for products that we don't want to get wet or stain. Think items like waterproof jackets, stain-resistant fabric on couches or carpets, water-repellent camping gear, and food packaging. The food packaging is a little less obvious, but not when you realize why. It can be super annoying if your cheesy pizza seeps oil through the paper take-out box. So, the manufacturers coat these products with PFAS to make them more durable.


So, any time you think about a raincoat, or a cardboard-looking take-out container that seems impervious to oil, or even stain-resistant fabric, think of your old, wonky, chipping nonstick pan.

Because PFAS is used in so many different products, there are lots of ways for the chemicals to spread throughout our environment. The three main ways are through manufacturing releases, runoff from fighting fires (more on this later), and as it escapes or chips off of PFAS-containing products. This means these chemicals are often found in our waterways and drinking water as well.

What can it do to me?

Many studies have been done investigating the effects of PFAS on humans. Most have found that they do not break down easily and can live in our bodies for long periods of time. Research has shown that PFAS can cause reproductive and developmental difficulties, liver and kidney problems, as well as increased cholesterol levels. Other worries include: an altered immune system, thyroid hormone disruption, cancer, and low infant birth weight, which is known to cause many other problems later in life for those children. Research in animal studies has also shown that animals exposed to PFOA and PFOS developed tumors.

What can I do about it?

Knowing where we often find these chemicals helps us know how to avoid them. The easiest way to avoid them is to not buy or bring products into our homes that are touted as being stain or water resistant or repellent. While these properties might seem magical, they all come with a cost. Sometimes, the costs are worth it, other times not so much. For example, stain resistant fabrics or "performance" fabrics. It's cool to not have to worry about spilling red wine on your white rug or if your kid goes wild with the markers on the couch, but is that enough to let these "forever chemicals" into your home? We suggest opting for couches and carpets that are not treated with stain resistant chemicals, and instead, going for darker or patterned fabrics and learning how to properly clean up spills that may leave stains. In general, wool is a good option for carpets, upholstery, and even clothing that is relatively water tight.

When looking for jackets, weigh the options. Do you really need waterproof? Probably not, unless you are going on a multi-hour hike through a torrential downpour on a regular basis or something really awesome like climbing a huge mountain. Instead, consider getting a jacket and using a wax product to treat it. (NikWax is safe and comes highly recommended for self-treating clothing.) Avoid things like Scotchguard, which are known to contain PFAS chemicals. Greenpeace has a pretty thorough document talking all about brands and outdoor gear that is PFC free.

Additionally, if you are worried about your drinking water, Dr. Joseph Braun, Assistant Professor in the Department of Epidemiology at the Brown University School of Public Health, recommends getting a water filter.

"I think the best thing you can do if you are concerned or if you live in a community that has [higher levels] is to use a filter, specifically a granular activated carbon filter. These are the water filters that you can purchase at any home improvement store or even your local drug store. Of course, when you buy a filter you have to maintain it, so it is one thing to have a filter sitting on your drinking water tap, but it means you actually have to use it. You have to turn it on when you are going to use it, and that you have to replace that cartridge as recommended," Dr. Braun suggests.

Another easy one, don't buy microwave popcorn. It is one of the biggest offenders of having PFAS in the packaging and transferring to food. Instead, learn how to easily make popcorn on the stovetop or even on your own in the microwave in about the same amount of time.

Anything else I should know?

One other application where PFAS has been really useful is in firefighting foam, especially around airplanes. Often if a fire were to occur at an airport it would be a fuel fire. According to Dr. Braun, "What you need to do [in these types of fires] is to get the oxygen out of there. What the aqueous film forming foams [PFAS including firefighting foams] are really great when you spray them on the surface of the oil that is on fire, they coat the oil and then block any oxygen from getting in there so the fire goes out." You can find out if your community is affected on this interactive map that EWG and the Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute at Northeastern created.

Roundups

Non-Toxic Aftershaves

Cause who wants questionable chemicals on a freshly shaven face?

Whether aftershave is part of your shaving routine for the manly (and fabulous!) scents or to help your skin recover, you probably don't want an aftershave with questionable ingredients or preservatives. This is especially true because the main purpose of aftershave is to calm down any skin irritation and disinfect any small nicks (oops!) you accidentally gave yourself. We also included two options for witch hazel toners that are an all natural, affordable option that calms inflammation and disinfects. We found 7 non-toxic aftershaves and witch hazel toners that have good ingredients, good reviews, and are easy to buy at major retailers. So pick up one up and incorporate it into your morning routine and your skin will thank you!

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Family

5 Easy Changes to Protect Your Sperm from Harmful Chemicals

Keep your swimmers safe with these science-based tips

Hey, guys, yeah all you sperm producing humans out there. Hate to break it to you, but when it comes to different chemicals in our world, your little swimmers might not be as safe as you think. While it's true that you continually are creating new sperm, if you are exposed to some of these nasty things on a regular basis, chances are high that they are affecting both the quality and quantity of your sperm. Even if you aren't planning to have a kid right now, these things could make it harder for you to conceive a kid in the future and research has linked sperm health to overall health. But, hang tight. We have some super simple suggestions for ways to change up your routine that can protect your sperm for years to come.

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Home

What to Know Before Your Next Big DIY Project

Protect your health without sacrificing creativity!

Whether you're inspired by a recent Etsy binge or are a Weekend Warrior who practically lives at Home Depot, DIY projects can be super fun and fulfilling. Before you get started on your next project, we have some tips on what chemicals to avoid, the safety hazards they pose, and ways to keep yourself safe.




Avoid Methylene chloride

It's always fun to spruce up furniture with a new coat of paint but methylene chloride, a seriously dangerous chemical, is found in paint stripping products. In the body methylene chloride turns into carbon monoxide (1), and too much carbon monoxide can cause dizziness, confusion, and asphyxia. Methylene chloride fumes quickly accumulate and are heavier than air, which means workers bending down over projects in poorly ventilated areas are easily susceptible to the dangers of this chemical (2). There have been many accidental deaths from Methylene chloride, so you should completely avoid paint strippers that use it. Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families has created a great reference on safer alternative for paint strippers.

Paint

Before you pick up your paint brush to tackle that dresser revamp, make sure the paint you're using is low VOCs. VOCs, or volatile organic compounds, are chemicals that are emitted as gasses from products like paint and can cause headaches, eye irritation, and nausea (3). VOCs are part of the reason paint can be so smelly when it's drying! Look for a paint that says low or no VOCs on the packaging and make sure to keep the windows open while the paint is drying!

Wood Stains

Updating your wood table or decking? Reach for a water-based wood stain or finish! Traditional wood stains can contain harsh chemicals and emit a ton of VOCs. Luckily a lot of brands have a VOC rating on their label, which makes choosing a product a lot easier. We recommend choosing a stain with low VOCs (under 250 g/l) that is also Green Seal 11 (GS-11) certified (4).

Always Have Proper Ventilation

This is key for any DIY project. Chances are, you'll probably use some chemicals that are not great for you during your project. The best place to work on your project is outside but if you have to work indoor, make sure to open windows and doors, and use a fan to ventilate the area.

Wear a Protective Mask

DIY projects can expose you to a TON of dust, which is why it's a good idea to always wear a protective mask. Dust is bad for you in general, and can also contain particles containing toxic chemicals, which is why we recommend using an N95 mask while working. Normal masks can help protect you, but they don't protect you from all dust. N95 masks filter even the tiniest particles (0.3 microns) (5), which can keep you safe during those extremely messy projects.




  1. https://saferchemicals.org/get-the-facts/chemicals-of-concern/methylene-chloride/
  2. https://prheucsf.blog/2017/11/14/risky-paint-stripper-will-continue-to-kill-while-epa-delays/
  3. https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/volatile-organic-compounds-impact-indoor-air-quality#Levels
  4. https://www.ewg.org/healthyhomeguide/wood-stains-a...
  5. https://www.fda.gov/medical-devices/personal-protective-equipment-infection-control/masks-and-n95-respirators

Now that you've invested in some glass and stainless steel food storage containers, maybe you're wondering if you should Marie Kondo all the plastic ones you used to use? Instead adding them to the landfill, what if we told you that all those plastic containers can help you achieve a new level of organization zen? While we don't recommend storing food in them anymore (for those of you who haven't heard: these plastic food storage containers often have BPA or phthalates in them, which can leach into your food over time and cause all sorts of health problems), we also don't think you have to throw them away.

So, what can you do? We have 6 great suggestions for you to repurpose those containers throughout your home.



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Roundups

6 Non-Toxic and Plastic-Free Shampoos

We found 5 shampoo bars and 1 refillable option

We've had a lot of asks for products with sustainable packaging. We heard you! Sustainable, non-toxic, well-reviewed products are actually harder to find than you think. Who knew? But we did a ton of research and found some great options! We searched high and wide and found these 5 non-toxic shampoo bars and one refillable shampoo that comes in an aluminum bottle. These shampoo products are a great way to reduce your plastic consumption without compromising on safe ingredients. A win-win in our book for the planet and your health!

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Life

Banish Bugs With Our Recommended Insect Repellent Ingredients

Don't be an all-you-can-eat-buffet for annoying critters again!

Summer is here! But that means so are the biting insects…. Ugh. Mosquitoes, ticks, chiggers, fleas, and biting flies seem impossible to avoid when the weather heats up. They're really annoying and they can post a pretty big health risk. Mosquitoes and ticks alone can transmit some scary diseases like Zika, Lyme, malaria, encephalitis, and dengue fever. And to make matters worse, a new CDC report shows the number of mosquito and tick-borne diseases are on the rise (1). To help protect yourself against these pesky insects, we're discussing the most effective insect repellent ingredients that are EPA registered (AKA safe and effective) and CDC recommended: DEET, picardian, and oil of lemon eucalyptus.

We know what you're thinking- synthetic chemicals are recommended?! In this case, the risk of disease is a bigger environmental health threat than using these two specific synthetic chemicals. Additionally, there have also been no scientific studies that show essential oils are effective in protecting against insect bites so we can't include them in our recommendations. You can try them and maybe they'll work for you, but there's no guarantee. If you really want our one DEET alternative, non-synthetic repellent recommendation, that has a transparent list of ingredients, and is scientifically proven to keep bugs away, stay tuned!

DEET

DEET (N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide) is considered to be the "gold standard" of insect repellent. It's a good choice if you're outside all day in a high-insect are because it repels the most insects, including both mosquitoes and ticks, and lasts the longest amount of time (2). When applied correctly (make sure to read the label!), there are very few negative reactions from DEET. A product with a concentration of DEET between 20-30% can provide protection from insects for most of the day (3). DEET can be used while pregnant and on children older than two months and has not been found to be carcinogenic. Although some may see dermatitis or an allergic reaction from long-term exposure to high levels of DEET (2) and oral ingestion has been shown to have neurotoxic effects like seizures (4).

Picaridin

Picaridin (icardian) is another repellent ingredient that repels ticks and mosquitoes. It's been widely used in Europe and Australia for years with positive results. A product containing at least 20% picaridin has similar short-term results as DEET, although picaridin does not provide long-lasting protection as well as DEET and has to be reapplied more often (2). Picaridin has not been studied as thoroughly as DEET, but it does not seem to have any major negative health impacts. Although uncommon it can cause skin or eye irritation, so make sure to read the directions when using a product containing picaridin (5).

Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus

Oil of lemon eucalyptus (P-menthane-3,8-diol) is a natural oil extracted from the lemon-scented eucalyptus plant (6). It can be an appealing ingredient to people because it's an alternative to synthetic chemicals like DEET or picaridin. Oil of lemon eucalyptus is great at repelling mosquitoes, flies and gnats, but not so great against ticks (2). Products containing at least 30% of oil of lemon eucalyptus have shown to be almost as effective as repelling mosquitoes as DEET, but it has to be applied much more frequently (6). While it is natural, it can irritate the eyes or skin and is not recommended for children under 3 (7). Just a quick note: lemon essential oil and eucalyptus essential oil are NOT the same thing as oil of lemon eucalyptus though, so make sure to look for that exact phrasing in any ingredient lists.

Since oil of lemon eucalyptus is EPA registered and a natural ingredient, we think it's a great synthetic-ingredient alternative! We love Murphy's Naturals Lemon Eucalyptus Oil Insect Repellent Spray. It uses 30% oil of lemon eucalyptus as a way to repel those annoying bugs and lists all of the ingredients (ethanol and water). It's super super hard to find a complete list of ingredients in insect repellent products, so we think this is a huge plus.

So which ingredient should I choose?

It depends! Are you in an area with a high amount of mosquitoes and ticks? Are you outdoors for the entire day or maybe just an hour? Do you want to avoid synthetic chemicals or are you okay with it? Are you traveling to a place that has a high rate of diseases like malaria or yellow fever? The EPA has a quiz you can take in order to find the best insect repellent for your needs.

We recommend to always read and completely follow the directions listed on any repellent product you use, and wash your hands after applying a repellent. Generally you want to apply repellent when you're outside while holding the product at least 6 inches away as you spray. While spraying repellent on your clothes is okay (although DEET shouldn't be sprayed on synthetic fabric), it's not a good idea to spray it under your clothes (8). Long sleeved shirts, pants, long socks, and closed toe shoes can reduce the risk of a bite because less skin is exposed.

Now that you're fully up-to-date on the best insect repellent ingredients you can go back to focusing on what really matters: barbecuing, swimming, beach trips, and all of fun activities that come with summer!


References:

1. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/67/wr/mm6717e1.htm?s_cid=mm6717e1

2. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/prevention-of-arthropod-and-insect-bites-repellents-and-other-measures

3. https://www.ewg.org/research/ewgs-guide-bug-repellents/ewg-repellent-guide

4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?term=2506420

5. http://npic.orst.edu/factsheets/PicaridinGen.html

6. https://www.beyondpesticides.org/assets/media/documents/pesticides/factsheets/oillemoneucalyptus.pdf

7. https://www.cdc.gov/zika/prevention/prevent-mosquito-bites.html

8. https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/yellowbook/2018/the-pre-travel-consultation/protection-against-mosquitoes-ticks-other-arthropods

Life

Why Summer-Time Pests Can be Dangerous for Your Health and How to Avoid Them

The worst thing these little guys do is not just make us itchy

Nearly everyone has been bitten by a tick, mosquito, or flea, and can agree these pests are a damper on otherwise fun-filled summer activities. What most don't know is that these pests are vectors: carriers of many harmful diseases. These diseases are on the rise in the US, and are expected to become an even larger problem as climate change intensifies. Keep yourself and family informed and safe this summer with the following information on vector-borne diseases and how to avoid annoying and dangerous bug bites.

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