Science

PFAS: Pretty Freaking Awful Stuff

Or, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances - you can choose

What is PFAS?

PFAS, are synthetic man-made chemicals that have been used since the 1950's. They are otherwise known as "forever chemicals" because they do not breakdown, so stay in the environment and can build up in the bodies of humans and animals and even in plants (1). The most well-known PFAS is probably Teflon. Yep, the OG nonstick coating, otherwise known as PTFE. Most likely you've heard of how when Teflon starts to peel off or chip from our pans it can be bad, but this is just one of thousands of PFAS chemicals.

Where is PFAS found? And why?

PFAS chemicals are used in non-stick cookware, water-repellent clothing and outdoor gear, stain resistant fabrics and furnishings, some cosmetics, firefighting foams, food packaging, building materials, and has many other industrial uses. While some things like waterproof camping gear might seem a more obvious application of their stain and water repellent properties, other things like food packaging might be a little less obvious, but not when you realize why. It would be super annoying if your cheesy pizza seeps oil through the paper take-out box. So, the manufacturers coat or make products with PFAS to make them more durable and convenient. So, any time you think about a raincoat, or a cardboard-looking take-out container that seems impervious to oil, or even a stain-resistant fabric that somehow won't stain even if you smear ketchup on it, 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, soil, air, and drinking water as well.


What are the health effects of PFAS chemicals

Many studies have been done investigating the effects of PFAS on humans. The best studied are PFOA and PFOS. Most have found that they do not break down easily and can stay 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 (2). 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 to avoid PFAS?

Because PFAS chemicals are everywhere, it's impossible to avoid every single exposure. That being said, trying to limit your exposure by making sure the products you bring into your home don't contain them is a start. It's also a great way to reduce the demand for products with these harmful chemicals.

Knowing where we often find these chemicals helps us know how to avoid them.

Fabrics and upholstery: The easiest way to avoid them is to not buy or bring products into our homes that are labeled as being stain or water resistant or repellent. Sometimes these products are also labeled as performance fabrics or treated with a performance finish. While these properties might seem magical, they all come with a cost. 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 and naturally stain resistant.

Clothing and gear: When looking for rain jackets and outdoor gear, PFAS free options are available. Many brands have committed to phasing out PFAS, with many PFAS free products on the market now. Green Science Policy Institute has a good list of brands that have PFAS free products. We also have recommendations for PFAS free adult rain jackets, kids rain gear, and snow jackets.

Cookware: In terms of avoiding PFAS through cookware and bakeware, there are naturally nonstick options like cast iron and carbon steel, or ceramic non-stick coatings that are PFAS free. We have recommendations for non-stick alternative pans and baking essentials.

Food: 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.

In terms of food packaging, this can be a little trickier to avoid (which is why we need better government regulation, see below). PFAS has been found in fast food wrappers, take out containers, and pizza boxes. Many restaurants and retailers are moving to phase out PFAS, but in the meantime you can transfer your food out of the packaging as soon as you can and definitely don't microwave food in takeout containers.

Cosmetics: PFAS has also been found in cosmetics like mascara and foundation. Finding PFAS free products can be difficult especially if the brand isn't upfront about it, but the first thing to do is check the ingredients list and look for any ingredients that have the word "fluoro" in it, that's usually a pretty good indication that there is some type of PFAS chemical in the product! You can also check EWG Skin Deep to see if your product is listed on the database and if it has PFAS in it.

Since you can't be sure if the ingredients list is accurate or not, another option is try natural or clean makeup brands. Often these brands have fewer chemical additives in them and ingredients are screened for potential health effects. Some clean beauty retailers are Sephora Clean, Target Clean, Credo Beauty, Follian, and Detox Market. And other stores like Walmart, Target, Rite Aid, CVS, Walgreens, and Amazon have all started to take action by looking for toxic chemicals in their beauty products.

Water: Lastly, 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.

Anything else I should know about PFAS?

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.

PFAS legislation that will protect everyone

Thankfully with more and scientific evidence that PFAS should be regulated chemicals governments are starting to take action! There has been the most action at the state level. For example, laws in Maine and Washington have banned PFAS in a wide range of products like food packaging an cosmetics. Many other states are phasing out PFAS in specific product categories like food packaging or firefighting foam. Some states are also starting to regulate PFAS in drinking water. The EPA has established a road map on how they are going to address PFAS, but unfortunately they have not moved as fast as states have. Wouldn't it be great to not have to read any ingredient labels or have to ask companies about materials used in their products? We can't wait!


References

1) https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/pfc...

2) https://pubs.acs.org/doi/pdf/10.1021/acs.estlett.0...

Roundups

Healthier Food Storage Containers

Plastic free jars, boxes, and wraps!

Updated for 2022!

We scoured the internet finding an assortment of safer and healthier ways to keep your leftovers and meal prep ingredients fresh. All of these options are sustainable, have many glowing reviews, and are easily available. We also have a roundup more specifically for packing lunch you might also want to check out too!

Keep Reading Show Less
Want an easy way to live healthier?
Sign up for our newsletter! Curated environmental health news delivered to your inbox every three weeks.
By submitting above, you agree to our privacy policy.
/ SOCIAL
Life

Your Summer Guide to Water Safety

How to Promote Fun and Prevent Drowning

Summer has arrived! Cue the backyard BBQs, ice cream sandwiches (or DIY popsicles), and Will Smith jams. During long, hot days, water activities are basically a necessity for creating fun memories and staying cool. Unfortunately, water-related accidents are a leading cause of injury and death for young children (4). So to keep things fun this summer, let's talk about drowning prevention.

Drowning happens in seconds and often quietly (1,3). Permanent disability can result even when drowning isn't fatal (3), since any prolonged oxygen disruption injures our brains. Though it can happen to anyone, drowning is the second most common cause of death for 1-4 year olds (3). Almost 90% of these incidents occur in home pools and hot tubs5,6 (and anything that collects water, even buckets, poses a risk) (3). To keep the children in your life safe and cool, here are 5 water safety tips as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, CDC, National Safety Council, Pool Safely, and Red Cross.

1. Kids' water activities require close supervision at all times

Most drowning incidents occur unsupervised when adults briefly step away or become distracted (4). For this reason, children need vigilant supervision by a designated adult whenever they're around water (4). We can appreciate a relaxing poolside novel or margarita, but the responsible adult/Water Watcher (7) needs to be completely free of alcohol impairment and any distractions (not even Insta). Consider water supervision to be like your greatest Netflix binge – your attention is totally focused, and you don't want to miss a thing. For young children the guiding principle is "touch supervision"– being within arm's reach at all times (3). 5-9 year olds are more likely to drown at public pools (4), so designate a supervising adult even when lifeguards are present (3).

2. Modest safety measures make a massive difference

Physical safety measures are imperative, especially when delightfully curious and unintentionally stealthy toddlers attempt to swim without you! Installing the right type of fence can reduce drowning risk by over 80% – 4-sided pool fences (completely isolating the pool) are far more effective than 3-sided property line fences (3). The safest fences measure at least 4 feet high, prevent climbing, and have self-latching, self-closing gates (3,7). Door alarms and rigid pool covers are also preventive, though their effectiveness is less studied (1). Always check that the pool you use has intact anti-entrapment drain covers (mandated by federal law) to prevent suction-related accidents (7). For portable pools, check out this specific safety guidance.

3. Life jackets are way better than floaties

Sadly those super cute floaty wings aren't designed for safety, according to the CDC, and should not replace life jackets (3) (on the upside, this means less flimsy plastic!). Young children and inexperienced swimmers should wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacketwhenever near water (1,9). And, regardless of swimming ability, all children need USCG-approved life jackets if playing around lakes or the ocean (2). Life jackets are only effective if they fit well, so check the weight and size limits before using (9). Remember that nothing replaces close supervision! (To help start your life jacket search, we tracked down a more eco-friendly option.)

4. Teach children swimming and water safety

Learning to swim is crucial for water safety. We all benefit from learning how to swim, and swimming lessons can prevent drowning in 1-4 year olds (3). It's never too early (or too late!) to learn – YMCA and community centers often provide affordable lessons for all ages. (We get that communal activities are probably not your jam with the current Covid-19 situation, but, at some point, formal swim lessons could be a fun family activity.) Knowing how to swim does not make us "drown proof" though, so we still need to exercise caution with kids of any swimming ability (1). Teaching children not to climb over pool fences, swim without an adult, or play near pool drains is also crucial for preventing drowning incidents (7).

5. Assess surroundings and swimming ability

Being aware of location-specific water dangers and knowing a swimmer's ability can help discern which activities are safe. Every water activity presents an assortment of fun and risk. Case in point: sprinklers are a simple joy but also an understated toe hazard (been there…). Oceans, rivers, and lakes offer wilder adventure yet can even prove dangerous for expert swimmers – rip currents are an infamous threat in oceans, and lakes and rivers can have undertows (6). Older children and adolescents are more likely to drown in these natural bodies of water (3). Since alcohol can impair your ability to assess surroundings and react appropriately, avoid drinking while swimming or supervising others (7).

Prevention first, but CPR can still save lives

We hope you'll never ever need to use CPR...ever. Prevention with the above measures can massively reduce drowning risk for everyone, but CPR is invaluable during a drowning incident and can improve the likelihood of the drowning victim's survival (3). The American Heart Association provides in-person Family and Friends CPR courses, as well as socially distanced, at-home instruction with Family and Friends CPR DVD or Adult/Child CPR training kits (includes a training manikin and DVD – fun for the whole family!).

With safe water play, we know your summer days will be full of adventure and excitement. Have fun!


References

1. https://www.aappublications.org/news/2019/03/15/drowning031519

2. https://www.cdc.gov/safechild/drowning/

3. https://www.cdc.gov/HomeandRecreationalSafety/Water-Safety/waterinjuries-factsheet.html

4. https://www.cpsc.gov/s3fs-public/2020-Submersion-Report-4-29-20.pdf

5. https://www.cpsc.gov/s3fs-public/pdfs/blk_media_SafetyBarrierGuidelinesResPools.pdf

6. https://www.nsc.org/home-safety/tools-resources/seasonal-safety/drowning

7. https://www.poolsafely.gov/parents/safety-tips/

8.https://www.redcross.org/get-help/how-to-prepare-for-emergencies/types-of-emergencies/water-safety/drowning-prevention-and-facts.html

9.https://www.redcross.org/get-help/how-to-prepare-for-emergencies/types-of-emergencies/water-safety/swim-safety.html

Roundups

Plastic-Free (and Melamine-Free!) Outdoor Tableware

They won't break, look great, and are sure to be perfect for you outdoor gatherings

Updated for Summer 2022!

Getting ready for some outdoor parties and dining this summer? We sure are! If you're looking to spruce up your outdoor dining scene, you'll quickly see that most options are made of melamine. Even though melamine dishware doesn't look like plastic, melamine can leach into food after dishes are repeatedly microwaved or used to hold both hot and acidic foods (read this to learn why you might want to skip the melamine). So if melamine is out, and easy to break options like ceramic just don't work for you (children being children, slippery surfaces, clumsy grownups!), check out these stainless steel, enamelware, wood, and tempered glass options. Although we always recommend reusable, we included one disposable option too (without PFAS chemicals). These are our top picks for plastic-free outdoor dishware, serving bowls and platters, tumblers, and more. They are all light weight, hard to break, and will make your outdoor entertaining photos look on point. So pick up some of these plastic-free and melamine-free outdoor dishes and enjoy dining al fresco!

Keep Reading Show Less
Food

4 Recipes for Batch Summer Drinks that You Can Spike AND that are Kid-Friendly

Ditch single use plastic and canned drinks at your next party

Summer is basically one big outdoor party. Anyone else wishing it will never end? With all of the heat, it's important to have icy beverages that everyone can enjoy. While it's easy to just load up with flats of canned cocktails or plastic bottles of flavored sparkling water, making a big batch of easy, tasty drinks is more budget friendly and planet friendly! Here are 4 of our favorite drink recipes meant for big containers, so you can quickly prepare them in advance and just set up a glass beverage dispenser as people start to arrive. Kids will love these fruity drinks and so will adults, especially if you add a splash of alcohol into your cup (we won't tell!). Plus you'll be skipping out on single use plastic bottles and BPA-lined aluminum cans. Try out one of these recipes at your next summer BBQ or event!


Spiked Lemonade

-1 gallon of water

-3 cups lemon juice

-3.5 cups white sugar

-Fruit like peach, blueberries, blackberries, mint, etc

-4 cups vodka or 1 shot per glass if adding vodka after pouring

Instructions

  1. Stir the sugar into the water until it's completely dissolved.
  2. Mix in the lemon juice, fruit, and optional vodka. Serve over ice.

Fruit Punch

-8 cups ginger ale

-4 cups orange juice

-4 cups pineapple juice

-sliced fruit like orange

-Optional: 2 cups rum

Instructions

  1. Combine all ingredients and serve over ice

Watermelon Refresher

-8 cups seedless watermelon, cubed

-2 cups water

-2 cups ginger ale

-2 cups lime juice

-4 cups gin or vodka or 1 shot per glass if adding after pouring

Instructions

  1. Blend watermelon in a blender until pulverized. If you want a completely smooth consistency without pulp, strain the blended watermelon through a sieve.
  2. Combine all ingredients, including pulverized watermelon, and serve over ice.

Hibiscus Watermelon Cooler

8 cups water

8 hibiscus tea bags

8 cups watermelon juice (puree watermelon in blender)

½ cup honey

1 cup lime juice

4 cups tequila or 1 shot per glass if adding after pouring

Instructions

  1. Add the teabags to the water and let steep for 5-10 minutes
  2. Remove the teabags and add the rest of the ingredients
  3. Serve over ice

As much as we'd like to be the type of person who wakes up early, grabs some buckets and a sponge at home, and spends a few hours giving their car a DIY wash, we often find ourselves pulling into a car wash business instead. It's easy to feel guilty about taking the "convenient" route but in this case you don't have to! It's actually better for the environment to get a professional car wash rather than DIY! We break down the benefits of an automatic car wash below.

Whether you have a brand new car or your car has been with you for a decade and a few hundred thousand miles, chances are you want to take care of it. In addition to regular oil changes and tune ups, you need to give it a good cleaning. Washing your car isn't just for looks. Over time your car accumulates dirt, oil, salt, and other grime. As well as being an eyesore, this debris can damage the performance of your car. Since we want to drive our car for as long as possible, washing it should be part of your normal car maintenance routine! But before you run to grab your hose and bucket- you might want to consider heading to your local car wash.

It's common to think that going to the car wash is worse for the environment and too water intensive, when actually, the opposite is true. Car wash businesses use high powered nozzles to use as little water as efficiently as possible, and many businesses also have a system in place to catch and reuse old water (1). When you wash your car yourself, you probably just use a bucket filled with water and a hose. While your water usage may not seem that bad while you're washing, it adds up fast. Individuals can use between 80 to 140 gallons of water to wash their car, but a car wash business only uses about 30 to 45 gallons of water (2)! Many car washes also recycle the water used, so the water can be used many times. Some states even require car washes to use recycled water; in California, car washes must use at least 60% recycled water (4). During one particularly tough drought season, a city in California went so far as to ban using potable water for at-home car washes and required car owners to go to a car wash to clean their car (5). If you are concerned about wasting water, ask your local car wash if they recycle water and try to go to one that does!

Another reason to consider using a professional car wash business is wastewater. When we wash our cars at home, we're usually in a concrete driveway or on the side of the road and let the water run down to the sidewalk drains. But that water contains dirt, oil, heavy metals, and other harmful chemicals that accumulate during normal driving, and those sidewalk drains don't go to a water treatment plant. Instead, that runoff is usually diverted directly into our watershed, which might to a lake, stream, or ocean and negatively impact aquatic wildlife and water quality (3). Professional car wash businesses are required by the Environmental Protection Agency to capture all wastewater and divert it into a sewage system. That means the water is safely processed through a water treatment facility and can be used for future car washes!

If you really want to wash your car at home, there are more eco-friendly options.

1. Look for cleaners that are biodegradable and phosphate-free, to minimize the potential for water contamination (3).

2. Make sure to dispose of any dirty water leftover in the buckets by dumping it down your sink, toilet, or bathtub instead of pouring it down your driveway.

3. Washing your car on an overcast, mild day can help save water, since it won't evaporate as quickly.

4. Use reusable cloths to wash and dry your car.


References

  1. https://www.treehugger.com/eco-friendly-car-wash-4863509
  2. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/top-10-water-wasters/
  3. https://cfpub.epa.gov/npstbx/files/KSMO_CarWashing.pdf
  4. https://www.carwash.com/law-requiring-carwashes-to-recycle-water-passed-in-ca/
  5. https://www.marketplace.org/2015/06/09/one-california-drought-winner-local-car-wash/

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.



Keep Reading Show Less
Food

Tasty, Vegetarian-Friendly Summer Grill Recipes

Trying to eat less meat but don't want to give up your grilling habit? We've got you

School's out for the summer and we're officially swapping out backpacks for shades, sunscreen and the good ole' grill. Yep, you heard us right, we're firing up the grill and believe it or not, no meat is involved. Trying your hand at incorporating more vegetables isn't just good for you, it's great for the environment too. In a nutshell, it takes a TON of energy and water to produce the steaks and pork ribs traditionally grilled (1). The extra carbon dioxide pumped into the air from raising livestock then contributes to increasing Earth's temperatures (2). So, if you're on board to beat the heat, keep on reading for some awesome recipes and ideas to try out this summer.

Keep Reading Show Less
Want an easy way to live healthier?
Sign up for our newsletter! Curated environmental health news delivered to your inbox every three weeks.
By submitting above, you agree to our privacy policy.
/ SOCIAL