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.

Family

What to Know Before Heading to the Playground With Your Kids

Hand washing and removing shoes protects you from more than just germs

As soon as spring hits, we find any excuse to go outside and spend time in the sun. If you have kids, outdoor time is often synonymous with heading to the playground. We LOVE the playground and always encourage kids to get outside and play! Washing hands and taking shoes off is a must after the park- so many germs! These habits could also help prevent exposure to two questionable materials that may be a part of your playground.

The first is wood pressure-treated with chromated copper arsenate (CCA). This insecticide was sprayed on wood play structures because it made the wood resistant to degradation and insects. However, 22% of CCA is pure arsenic (1). Arsenic is a super nasty chemical that is classified as a known carcinogen by the World Health Organization. It can also cause "immune system suppression, increased risk of high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, endocrine disruption and diabetes" (2). This chemical is not to be messed with!

Over time, the CCA can be released from the treated wood and can end up on the hands and clothes of your little one. It can also end up in the soil around the playground, so your child may still be exposed even if they don't play on the wooden structure (3).

The good news is that CCA treated wood was banned from residential construction in 2003. So if your neighborhood park has been recently built or renovated, chances are you don't have to worry about this. You can always check with your city or neighborhood association to see if CCA wood is in your local park. It also wouldn't hurt to double check with your kid's school to see what their playground was built with. Usually, CCA treated wood has a green tint, which can make it easy to spot.

Even if your playground does have CCA, tt's pretty easy to limit exposure. If you're planning to have a picnic or snack at the park, make sure to use hand wipes or wash hands (if a bathroom is nearby) before eating. After returning home, thoroughly wash your and your child's hands. It also doesn't hurt to wipe everyone down with a wet wipe too! This will help get rid of any chemicals and other undesirables like pollen as well. Leaving shoes at the door can stop CCA-contaminated soil from tracking all over your house.

Crumb rubber is another questionable material that could be found in your playground. Crumb rubber are those small black particles you find in artificial turf that seem to always end up stuck in your shoe/sock/bag/shirt/life/etc. It's actually made from old, used tires that have been chopped up into really tiny pieces. While this may seem like a good idea from a recycling standpoint, it's not great for health. Tire rubber contain a ton of bad chemicals like PAHs, phthalates, phenols and benzothiazoles (4), and the tires are not treated before they end up as crumb rubber. These chemicals are linked to serious health issues like endocrine disruption. The crumbs are so small that they have a habit of getting in your clothes and hair, accidentally getting eaten by curious babies, or sticking to your skin. Crumb rubber can also give off more chemicals as they're heated up in the hot sun. There's even speculation that crumb rubber might have played a role in the cancer of adolescent soccer players (5).

When returning from the playground, you can leave shoes outside so soil and rubber doesn't get tracked around the house. Also make sure to wash your hands or shower! Avoiding play time when it's really hot outside can also limit the amount of exposure. If you've been around crumb rubber, make sure to dust yourself and your play equipment off before you leave the playground to get rid of any hitchhiking rubber pieces. Changing your clothes after returning doesn't hurt either!




References:

  1. https://www.ewg.org/research/poisoned-playgrounds

2. https://www.ceh.org/campaigns/legal-action/previous-work/childrens-products/arsenic-in-play-structures

3. https://www.sciencenews.org/blog/science-public/toxic-playgrounds

4. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0045653512009848

5. https://www.cnn.com/2017/01/27/health/artificial-turf-cancer-study-profile/index.html

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Family

3 Fun and Easy Ideas to Get Your Kids Playing Outside That You Need To Try This Summer

And Why It's A Good Idea to Spend As Much Time Outside As Possible

Let's face it, the allure of screen time is hard to pass up for kids... and parents too (who can deny that those 30 minute of silence when Paw Patrol is on are pure bliss). As tempting as it is to have shows on repeat all day, getting your kids to play outside is so important. Not only will it knock them out for bedtime, but outdoor playtime is good for your kid's body, mind, and happiness!

There are so many health benefits of outdoor time for kids that it's hard to keep track of them all. Researchers have shown that it can reduce the risk for obesity and diabetes, and decrease ADHD symptoms. On top of that, it can increase Vitamin D levels, improve critical thinking skills and can help boost test scores. (1). You might be saying, "this is great and all, but how do I actually get my kids excited about going outside?!" We hear you! In order to encourage more outdoor play, we came up with three outdoor activities that are super fun for kids but easy for parents to set up. Try them out this weekend!

1. Outdoor Art Time

Doing arts and crafts outdoors is a great way to get kids outside even if they aren't the run-around-in-circles type. Plus, all the mess is outside and you can just hose everything off after. One of our favorite outdoor arts and crafts is rock painting. We have the kids hunt for rocks in a variety of shapes and sizes and then bring them back to a station where they can paint some funny faces on them. It's so fun to see their creativity at work!

Another activity is creating hammered artwork from nature (we'll explain). This one requires a bit more parental supervision, but it's totally worth it. The kids go and collect a variety of leaves, grasses, and flowers and then pound them between sheets of paper with a wooden mallet or hammer. The colors and shapes transfer to the paper to create some seriously cool art. We find that a thicker textured paper like watercolor paper produces the best results. Kids enjoy this so much they'll ask to do it over and over again!

2. Adjective Scavenger Hunt

What if we told you that with just a few minutes of prep you could keep your kids outdoors and occupied for what can seem like countless hours? Sound too good to be true? An outdoor scavenger hunt will do just that! We like to make lists of adjectives (like soft, hard, green, round, pointy, long...etc.) and give the kids a basket to go find things in the backyard or neighborhood park that fit the description. Sometimes we even have the kids come back and do a show and tell and compare the objects they found.

3. Water Gun Freeze Tag

This one is a great activity as it starts warming up outside! Get a couple of water guns or squirt bottles and use them to play a version of freeze tag. Our version: someone is designated "it" and if they spray another player with water, they are frozen. If another player tags them, then they are unfrozen and can start running around again. Sometimes the game just devolves into everyone running around spraying everyone else, and that's fine by us! Feel free to kick back and enjoy a glass of wine and watch, but we find it pretty tempting to play too.

So there you have it- three easy outdoor activities that will help your kids get off their screens and back outside. We hope that they are a hit with your kids and will be on repeat all summer.


References

  1. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/...

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