/Science

We've all heard of breast cancer and seen the pink ribbons, but what do we really know about it? Surely you've heard about things like inherited genetic risk or lifestyle factors like smoking, alcohol use, and lack of exercise. But there are also a lot of environmental factors that increase the risk of breast cancer too (1,5). Some of these environmental factors come from things like toxic chemicals in our personal care products and cleaning solutions, endocrine disrupting chemicals that find their way into our food, processed foods, poor air quality, and much more. This means aspects of our home life and the outside world could make us more susceptible to breast cancer. It's not just the cocktails and our seemingly inability to get off the couch and go for a run! And yes, "us" really means all of us! Whether you're a man, woman, non binary, transgender, or you're over the age of 50 or are young enough to know how Tik Tok works, breast cancer affects us all. The way breast cancer develops and knowing the risks for it can be tricky and sometimes uncontrollable, but it doesn't mean there aren't ways to limit your exposure to these lesser-known environmental risks, so keep reading to find out how!

Environmental factors and breast cancer

In our daily life we come into contact with a lot of products that may contain chemicals that increase our risk for developing breast cancer. These chemicals may be in the cleaning products we use, cosmetics, our food, our air, and even our water. You may have even heard of some of them like heavy metals, PCBs, radiation, pesticides, and a whole host more. But to spare you about 8 hours, we will just mention a few!

Personal care and cleaning products

The usual suspects of harmful chemicals in our cosmetic and cleaning products are also the ones that are putting us at risk for breast cancer. Chemicals like BPA, phthalates, parabens, and PFAS have all been studied for their correlation with breast cancer (2). BPA and phthalates, which are often added to plastics, have been tested in a myriad of breast cancer studies for their endocrine disrupting abilities. Being exposed to these chemicals in utero or even in puberty can alter the development of mammary glands and increase an individual's risk for breast cancer later in life. While there is still ongoing research, laboratory studies show BPA alters mammary growth and development in rodents and other mammals and can increase the risk of tumor formation (3). And phthalates, which are also found in many fragrances, showed a high association with breast cancer and people who used cleaners and air fresheners frequently throughout their life (2).

Parabens, another group of endocrine disruptors, are often used in cosmetics as preservatives. Parabens have been found in biopsies of breast cancer tumors and have been shown to rapidly increase the numbers of human breast cancer cells (1). Then finally there is PFAS, a group of waterproofing chemicals found in many cosmetics that remains in our bodies and the environment for a very long time. PFAS has been found in amniotic fluid and placental cord blood samples and is linked with issues with mammary gland development during the prenatal and puberty stage. It has also been linked to delayed breast development in some studies (3). All of these chemicals have pretty serious effects over a long period of time and many of them are avoidable if we choose the right products!

Contaminated Food

Another risk factor we come into contact with everyday is our food. Some of the concerns include the use of pesticides and even the materials our food is packaged in. Many pesticides and herbicides used in agriculture are classified as endocrine disruptors and in animals studies have been shown to affect the development of mammary glands in both males and female rodents (1,6). Pesticides can often be found as residue on the food itself or in cases like fish, the pesticides can be found within the meat of the animal. Because pesticides are often found in water runoff, they leach into bodies of water and can be found in the fatty parts of fish (6).

Materials that come into contact with our food after it is grown can also potentially increase our risk. Contamination can be through packaging, processing, cooking, and food storage. For example, BPA is found in the lining of canned food and in many plastics. One study found that reducing intake of packaged foods decreased BPA levels in urine by 65% (1). Breast development is controlled by the endocrine system so being exposed to different endocrine disruptors in many forms can lead to altered breast development and an increased risk in breast cancer (7).

Poor air quality

Last up is all about what we breathe! There are many harmful air pollutants that come from a variety of sources like cars and industrial processes, but the one that has been correlated with breast cancer the most is nitrogen oxide. Nitrogen oxide (NOx) is considered to be a marker of traffic related air pollution because it comes from the burning of fuel in automobiles, trucks, and other equipment that run on combustion (5,8). This air pollutant has been linked to pre and postmenopusal breast cancer, as well as many other types of cancers. Air pollution is a tricky risk factor because we all have to breathe air, making it really hard to avoid, but it's often most concentrated in cities with high traffic and in communities of color (5,10,11).

Medical inequalities related to Breast Cancer

While explaining how all of these environmental risks affect us everyday, it's important to note that some groups of people are more at risk than others. In particular, Black women have a higher incidence of breast cancer before the age of 45 and are more likely to die from breast cancer at every age compared to White women. Many factors contribute to this including lack of insurance, fear of testing, delay in seeking care, barriers to early detection and care, and racial bias (9). A lot of the barriers minorities face comes directly from racism within the health care system as well as socioeconomic factors. One survey done at York State hospitals found that physicians have more negative perceptions towards African Americans and people of low or middle socioeconomic status. Another study found that 41% of Black women compared to 28% of White women had stated their doctor had never suggested mammography (9). So in many instances doctors are not recommending preventative care that could save a Black woman's life.

And not only are minority populations directly affected by the health care system, they are also disproportionately exposed to chemicals of concern for breast cancer, like the ones we discussed above. African Americans often have high body levels of many chemicals including PCB's, mercury, PAH's, and phthalates. And both African American and Hispanic populations have varying levels of BPA, PFAS, and triclosan compared to White populations (1). Beauty products marketed to Black and Brown women (such as skin lighteners, hair straighteners, and feminine hygiene products) contain harmful chemicals (12). In a time of ongoing social change these issues need to be addressed and brought to light. These barriers are not a choice, they are placed on these communities and put them at a disadvantage that is causing them to get sick.

Ways to avoid these environmental risks

It's almost impossible to know when, how, or if breast cancer might develop because of the many factors including environmental risks that are at play. But even though there isn't a definitive way to determine what might cause breast cancer, there are ways you can potentially reduce your exposure levels. Here are a few tangible ways to reduce your risk!

  1. First things first, do self breast exams and go in for regular mammograms with a licensed physician. You can do it yourself or have a partner help you! Here is a link on how to do a self breast exam!
  2. Reduce toxic cleaning products in your daily routine. Here are some natural cleaning alternatives we recommend for all purpose cleaners, floor cleaners, and laundry detergents. Check out our website for more alternatives!
  3. Also reduce the amount of toxic cosmetic products in your routine. Check out stores like Credo, Follian, Sephora clean, and Target clean to try some cleaner cosmetic products!
  4. Buy less fast food or even reduce the amount of times you go every week. Start by going one less day a week!
  5. Reduce the amount of packaged foods you consume to reduce your exposure to chemical additives in the plastic as well as the food!
  6. Buy organic fruits and vegetables if possible. Our secret for prioritizing organic produce is leafy greens, berries of all kinds, and things with skin you eat. If you prefer conventional produce make sure and wash the produce as much as possible to remove any possible residual pesticides!
  7. Buy an air purifier to keep the air you breathe in your home as clean as possible. Here are a few we recommend, but if you can't buy one here is how you can make your own!
  8. Drive less! It's easier said than done, but reducing vehicle emissions is a sure way to reduce the amount of air pollution we collectively breathe in!
  9. Donate to organizations that are fighting against medical racism and trying to reduce the health disparities for people of color. Some organizations are The Center for the study of Racism, Social Justice, and Health and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Also check out are article on environmental justice and how to get involved!

When it comes to breast cancer there are risks all around us, but we are not completely powerless. While some things are hard to avoid, there are plenty of chemicals and products we can limit in order to minimize our exposure as much as possible. And as a young person you may not feel like any of this applies to you, but it's never too early to protect yourself against the risks of breast cancer.


Sources

  1. Gray, J. M., Rasanayagam, S., Engel, C., & Rizzo, J. (2017). State of the evidence 2017: An update on the connection between breast cancer and the environment. Environmental Health, 16(1), 94. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12940-017-0287-4
  2. Rodgers, K. M., Udesky, J. O., Rudel, R. A., & Brody, J. G. (2018). Environmental chemicals and breast cancer: An updated review of epidemiological literature informed by biological mechanisms. Environmental Research, 160, 152–182. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envres.2017.08.045
  3. Buermeyer, N., Engel, C., Nudelman, J., Rasanayagam, S., & Sarantis, H. (2020). Paths to Prevention: California Breast Cancer Primary Prevention Plan. UC Office of the President: California Breast Cancer Research Program. Retrieved from https://escholarship.org/uc/item/1v2745z0
  4. Fiolet, T., Srour, B., Sellem, L., Kesse-Guyot, E., Allès, B., Méjean, C., Deschasaux, M., Fassier, P., Latino-Martel, P., Beslay, M., Hercberg, S., Lavalette, C., Monteiro, C. A., Julia, C., & Touvier, M. (2018). Consumption of ultra-processed foods and cancer risk: Results from NutriNet-Santé prospective cohort. BMJ, 360, k322. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.k322
  5. White, A. J., Bradshaw, P. T., & Hamra, G. B. (2018). Air pollution and Breast Cancer: A Review. Current Epidemiology Reports, 5(2), 92–100. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40471-018-0143-2
  6. Kass, L., Gomez, A. L., & Altamirano, G. A. (2020). Relationship between agrochemical compounds and mammary gland development and breast cancer. Molecular and Cellular Endocrinology, 508, 110789. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.mce.2020.110789
  7. Yang, K. J., Lee, J., & Park, H. L. (2020). Organophosphate Pesticide Exposure and Breast Cancer Risk: A Rapid Review of Human, Animal, and Cell-Based Studies. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(14), 5030. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17145030
  8. https://www3.epa.gov/region1/airquality/nox.html
  9. Yedjou, C. G., Sims, J. N., Miele, L., Noubissi, F., Lowe, L., Fonseca, D. D., Alo, R. A., Payton, M., & Tchounwou, P. B. (2019). Health and Racial Disparity in Breast Cancer. Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology, 1152, 31–49. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-20301-6_3
  10. Clark, L. P., Millet, D. B., & Marshall, J. D. (n.d.). Changes in Transportation-Related Air Pollution Exposures by Race-Ethnicity and Socioeconomic Status: Outdoor Nitrogen Dioxide in the United States in 2000 and 2010. Environmental Health Perspectives, 125(9), 097012. https://doi.org/10.1289/EHP959
  11. Tessum, C. W., Paolella, D. A., Chambliss, S. E., Apte, J. S., Hill, J. D., & Marshall, J. D. (n.d.). PM2.5 polluters disproportionately and systemically affect people of color in the United States. Science Advances, 7(18), eabf4491. https://doi.org/10.1126/sciadv.abf4491
  12. Zota, Ami R., and Bhavna Shamasunder. "The environmental injustice of beauty: framing chemical exposures from beauty products as a health disparities concern." American journal of obstetrics and gynecology 217.4 (2017): 418-e1.

https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ajog.2017.07.020

Science

Can Individuals Actually Make a Difference When it Comes to Climate Change?

A deep dive into carbon footprints and who is responsible for making change

Have you been trying to reduce your carbon emissions throughout the years? Maybe you're trying to drive less, eat meat only a few days a week, or change all of your light bulbs to LED. Are you curious if it's actually making a difference for the planet? There has always been a debate on whether or not it's worth it for individuals to make changes in their own lifestyle because many claim it has no effect on the grand scheme of climate change. That sparks the question, can individuals actually make a difference or is it all up to the large corporate systems and current policies? Keep reading for a breakdown of the carbon footprints of both individuals and the different global sectors of the economy, and to learn ways we can all work to slow down climate change and build a healthier planet.

What is a carbon footprint?

A carbon footprint is basically a measure of the impact human activities have on the environment in terms of the amount of greenhouse gases produced, measured in tonnes of carbon dioxide (1). The reason scientists determine a carbon footprint is to bring awareness to the current emissions from creating the product or the impact an individual can have on the environment and then use it as a way to push industries or individuals to reduce their total emissions. Carbon emissions are a serious issue because the more these companies and individuals emit carbon dioxide, the more the planet warms causing other issues like ocean acidification, glacier melting, sea levels rising, and more frequent extreme weather events (3). According to scientists, in order to limit global warming from going above 2℃ or about 35℉, a point at which long lasting or irreversible environmental damage could occur, carbon dioxide emissions are needed to decline by about 25% by 2030 and reach net zero by about 2070 (7). Meaning reducing carbon emissions should be a major goal for everyone!

Ever since the term carbon footprint became popular, many organizations have come out with carbon footprint calculators that help individuals and families determine how much carbon dioxide they are emitting from their lifestyle and provide them with a list of ways they can work to reduce it. If you want to check how much carbon dioxide you emit check out this online calculator! You have probably seen ads or campaigns aimed at getting individuals to reduce their carbon footprint by making life changes like flying less, eating less meat, driving electric cars, or wearing less fast fashion, and many more (2). You might have also heard about the carbon footprints of different industries and sectors like agriculture or transportation, among others that are associated with high carbon footprints. But now that we are clear on what a carbon footprint is, who has a higher carbon footprint, individuals or the different sectors of the economy?

Who has a larger carbon footprint?

When we talk about the different sectors of the economy we mean industries like electricity production, food, agriculture, and land use, industrial work and factories, transportation, and buildings. All of these industries combined equate to about 90% of all global carbon emissions. Broken down even further, electricity production accounts for about 25% of emissions, food, agriculture, and land use is about 24%, industrial work and factories are about 21%, transportation 14%, and buildings equate to about 6% (6).

All of these industries combined contribute about 50 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide per year into the atmosphere. Clearly, these sectors account for most of the carbon dioxide emissions globally and this makes the argument for more individual changes difficult. For the most part, we as individuals do not have control over a lot of these industries. Most people can't pick which type of energy their power grid runs on, what type of building they work or live in, or don't have a choice of driving a car when the city they live in doesn't have any public transportation (4). Seems a little suspicious that most of the blame gets put on individuals when these sectors are doing most of the damage. But before we get distracted, let's compare the individual carbon footprint to these different sectors!

The average American carbon footprint is 16 tons/year and the global average is 4.8 tons a year per person. Americans have one of the largest carbon footprints along with Canada, Australia, and oil rich countries like Saudi Arabia and Kazakhstan. The top five things that contribute to this carbon footprint are having children, driving, flying, energy use, and eating meat (2). For individuals to really reduce their carbon footprint, they essentially need to do the opposite of those five things and even if they did all of these things perfectly, the average person would make almost no impact compared to the different sectors of the economy. If we compare the average American carbon footprint (16 tons) with the global carbon footprint of all of the global sectors combined (50 billion tons), the average American's contribution is about 0.0000000003%. Statistically that is 0%! So statistically one person's emissions may just be a drop in the bucket, but that is why we need as many people as possible working towards reducing emissions (4,6).

What can individuals do?

One thing we all need to start doing is talk about climate change! Many studies have proven the benefits of having open dialogue with friends and family about climate change and how it results in further discussions and adoption of scientific facts. This means that when you talk to your friends and family about climate change and the status of the environment, it persuades people to continue discussions with their social circle and do more research to be able to understand and talk about the issue more thoroughly (8,9,10). Another reason talking about climate change has a positive impact is because when individuals take action it encourages others to take action. An example of this is the Great Thunberg effect! Climate activist, Greta Thunberg, has become so influential due to highlighting environmental injustice, that people who are familiar with her and her actions are more likely to take collective action to reduce global warming (11). Many studies have shown similar impacts and other studies have also discussed how making something a social norm pushes other people to take action (12). An example of this would be recycling! Eventually recycling became a social norm and now it is pretty taboo to not recycle. Just imagine what we can do if we make all environmentally friendly habits a social norm! By influencing just a few people we can start a chain reaction of change and passion for fighting for the environment. Instead of shaming others for not bringing a reusable bag or not composting all of their food scraps, we need to be encouraging others to try and make changes that fit their lifestyle and work to create a more united front that we can use to push corporations and policies that can make real lasting change.

Another great way for individuals to fight against climate change is to get involved in any way they can. There are so many opportunities out there to get involved either through volunteering or working for an organization that is pushing for larger change. And if you have always wanted to get involved, but don't know where to start, try this exercise that the hosts of the podcast How to Save A Planet by Gimlet media mentioned on their episode on carbon footprints. Think about what you are good at, what issue you want to target and feel passionate about, and what brings you joy. At the intersection of all of these questions you will be able to find an organization that is the right fit for you and that would benefit from your specific skill set. And if there isn't one that focuses on the issue you're passionate about, you can start one! Pushing for environmental change doesn't have to become your full time job but if you can volunteer or do things after work to get involved you can make a big difference. Remember, a team of people will always be better than one individual when it comes to fighting these corporate systems that are responsible for so much environmental damage.

Even though it may not seem like the changes you have made in your own life are making that big of a difference, just know that you could be inspiring people all around you to make similar changes, spreading positive change everywhere. So if you love vegetarian cooking, Instagram or blog about it and bring others along. If you have time to get involved in local environmental organizations or join campaigns to get more bike lanes in your neighborhood. Do that instead of worrying about every single lightbulb in your house that isn't LED or that you forgot to bring your reusable bags to the store that one time. Every action can help reduce the global carbon footprint, but if you are able to push corporations or change policies by doing something you are passionate about and enjoy, that can make a huge impact!


Sources

  1. Wiedmann, T. and Minx, J. (2008). A Definition of 'Carbon Footprint'. In: C. C. Pertsova, Ecological Economics Research Trends: Chapter 1, pp. 1-11, Nova Science Publishers, Hauppauge NY, USA. https://www.novapublishers.com/catalog/product_info.php?products_id=5999.
  2. Jones, C. M., & Kammen, D. M. (2011). Quantifying Carbon Footprint Reduction Opportunities for U.S. Households and Communities. Environmental Science & Technology, 45(9), 4088–4095. https://doi.org/10.1021/es102221h
  3. Jackson, R. (n.d.). The Effects of Climate Change. Climate Change: Vital Signs of the Planet. Retrieved May 7, 2021, from https://climate.nasa.gov/effects
  4. Hawken, Paul. Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming. , 2017.
  5. https://gimletmedia.com/shows/howtosaveaplanet/xjh53gn/is-your-carbon-footprint-bs
  6. https://www.drawdown.org/drawdown-framework
  7. Summary for Policymakers—Global Warming of 1.5 oC. (n.d.). Retrieved May 21, 2021, from https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/spm/
  8. Goldberg, M. H., Linden, S. van der, Maibach, E., & Leiserowitz, A. (2019). Discussing global warming leads to greater acceptance of climate science. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 116(30), 14804–14805. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1906589116
  9. Heald, S. (2017). Climate Silence, Moral Disengagement, and Self-Efficacy: How Albert Bandura's Theories Inform Our Climate-Change Predicament. Environment: Science and Policy for Sustainable Development, 59(6), 4–15. https://doi.org/10.1080/00139157.2017.1374792
  10. Geiger, N., Swim, J. K., & Fraser, J. (2017). Creating a climate for change: Interventions, efficacy and public discussion about climate change. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 51, 104–116. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvp.2017.03.010
  11. Sabherwal, A., Ballew, M. T., Linden, S. van der, Gustafson, A., Goldberg, M. H., Maibach, E. W., Kotcher, J. E., Swim, J. K., Rosenthal, S. A., & Leiserowitz, A. (2021). The Greta Thunberg Effect: Familiarity with Greta Thunberg predicts intentions to engage in climate activism in the United States. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 51(4), 321–333. https://doi.org/10.1111/jasp.12737
  12. Wolske, K. S., Link to external site, this link will open in a new window, Gillingham, K. T., Link to external site, this link will open in a new window, & Wesley, S. P. (2020). Peer influence on household energy behaviours. Nature Energy, 5(3), 202–212. http://dx.doi.org.proxyau.wrlc.org/10.1038/s41560-019-0541-9
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
Science

Why Does My Food or Beverage Have a Prop 65 Warning?

You've seen the label. But what does it actually mean?

Have you ever been at the grocery store, flipped around a product and saw a Prop 65 warning, and thought to yourself "Hmmmm… I remember reading about this, but what does it actually mean? Do I have to pay attention to it? Why is it on everything I like?!"

The Prop 65 warning label has gained national attention since it was signed into law in the 1980s because of its unique ability to educate consumers on risk and exposure. But since it appears on a ton of seemingly unrelated products like chocolate, appliances, and protein powder, it can often be dismissed as a scare tactic. Does the Prop 65 label need to be taken seriously when it comes to your food and beverages? We have everything you need to know.

What is Prop 65

In 1986, Californians voted in favor of the The Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act, aka Prop 65. This act requires businesses "to provide warnings to Californians about significant exposures to chemicals that cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm… prohibits California businesses from knowingly discharging significant amounts of listed chemicals into sources of drinking water… and requires California to publish a list of chemicals known to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm" (1).

This list of chemicals, which has to be updated once a year, has grown to approximately 900 chemicals (1) and features a wide arrange of chemicals and substances, from the well-known benzene and asbestos, to some you might have never even heard of, like cyclophosphamide and dichloromethane. Warnings about significant exposures come in the form of labels on products and a sign posted at a workplace, business, or rental housing.

In order to determine whether or not a product needs a warning label, the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment determined safe harbor levels for many chemicals on the Prop 65 list. If a chemical exceeds a predetermined level in a product, then it needs a warning level and each chemical has a different level. There are two safe harbor levels: "No Significant Risk Levels" for cancer-causing chemicals and "Maximum Allowable Dose Levels" for chemicals that cause birth defects or other reproductive harm (2).

Prop 65 warnings on Food, Beverages, and Supplements

If you're familiar with Prop 65 warnings, you're probably not surprised to see it on products in a hardware store. But what about products in a grocery store on something you're about to eat? It can feel pretty weird to see a serious warning label on that hot chocolate you were about to throw into your cart. But the reason certain chemicals appear in products can be a little more complicated, and makes more sense, than you might think. Take acrylamide for instance: it's on the Prop 65 list as a cancer-causing chemical but it can form naturally on the surface of certain plant-based foods after it's been browned during cooking at high temperatures (34). Products containing ingredients like roasted coffee or nuts, toast, or breakfast cereals might warrant a Prop 65 warning if acrylamide levels are high enough, even though the chemical wasn't intentionally added.

Some other common substances of concern include arsenic in rice or seaweed, BPA in plastic or can linings, cadmium in fish or vegetables, lead in supplements or vitamins, and mercury in fish.

While lead, cadmium, and arsenic are naturally occurring in soils and groundwater, chemical fertilizers, pesticides, untreated wastewater, and residues from air pollution are responsible for higher concentrations, where they are absorbed by crops. Contamination can also occur during processing of the food.

Products like supplements and vitamins are at a higher risk of containing harmful chemicals because their manufacturing is not regulated by the FDA. In 2018, the Clean Label Project looked into protein powder and found 75% of the plant-based products tested contained lead. One protein powder tested even contained "25 times the allowed limit of BPA in one serving" (5). In 2016, two deaths were linked to using supplements tainted with lead (6). If you see a Prop 65 warning on a vitamin or supplement, you might want to steer clear of it out of an abundance of caution.

How Prop 65 Helps to Keep you Safe

It's always alarming to see a Prop 65 warning on a food or beverage you want to consume. And if these warning labels are basically everywhere, does it even matter? Is Prop 65 just a nuisance or is it actually beneficial? Let's discuss.

One of the ways Prop 65 protects us is by enforcement via lawsuits. If a product is shown to have chemical levels above the safe harbor level, or if Prop 65 chemicals are present in a product that does not have a warning label, a lawsuit can be filed against the company. There have been over than 5,800 notices of violation and the lawsuits have been "widely documented to reduce human exposure to listed chemicals by forcing reformulation of consumer products, process changes that reduce the presence of Prop 65 chemicals in food, adoption of air emissions controls at industrial facilities, and, to a lesser extent, reduction of toxic discharges to drinking water" (7). In order to comply with these notice of violations, companies must be able to innovate. In fact, Prop 65 litigation has "spurred the development of new technology, materials, or practices, inducing companies to reduce exposure to below levels of significance" (7).

Most importantly, Prop 65 gives consumers the power of knowledge and choice. You're able to know exactly what chemicals you're being exposed to and any associated negative health impacts. The best way to think of Prop 65 is as a suggestion rather than a scary list to avoid at all costs. A Prop 65 warning doesn't mean something shouldn't ever be eaten, but it lets the consumer decide how much and how often they want to expose themselves to these chemicals (3).

What You Should Do

Much like sugar and saturated fats, products with a Prop 65 label should be consumed once in a while as a treat, instead of an everyday staple. Limiting how many Prop 65 chemicals you consume will reduce your exposure and hopefully reduce your risk of harmful health impacts. However, individuals that are more susceptible to health risks, like children or pregnant women, may want to completely avoid consuming products with a Prop 65 label since some of the chemicals on the list (like lead) have no known safe level of exposure.

But above all: knowledge is power! Prop 65 is a great tool to help you stay informed and make decisions about your health.


References

  1. https://www.p65warnings.ca.gov/
  2. https://www.p65warnings.ca.gov/faq/businesses/what-are-safe-harbor-numbers
  3. https://www.p65warnings.ca.gov/fact-sheets/foods
  4. https://www.p65warnings.ca.gov/fact-sheets/acrylamide
  5. https://cleanlabelproject.org/protein-powder-white-paper/
  6. https://www.consumerreports.org/vitamins-supplements/lead-poisoning-from-dietary-supplements/
  7. https://www.ecologylawquarterly.org/print/the-hidden-success-of-a-conspicuous-law-proposition-65-and-the-reduction-of-toxic-chemical-exposures/
Science

How the Process of Making Plastic is as Harmful as Plastic Waste

The surprising effects it has on our health and environment

Nowadays we constantly hear about how bad plastic is for the environment and the ways we can reduce the amount of plastic that ends up in landfills and our oceans. You've probably seen photos of plastic trash on beaches or plastic hurting wildlife, but waste isn't the only problem with plastic. The materials for plastic have to be drilled out of the ground, cleaned and processed, and melted into different products, all of which have their own harmful environmental and health effects (hello climate change!). That's why we took a deep-dive into the plastic-making process to help you better understand it's negative impacts on us and the planet. Keep reading if you want to be extra motivated to limit plastics in your life!

Keep Reading Show Less
Science

What’s the Deal with Clean Beauty Regulations?

The current regulations in the cosmetics industry and some hope for cleaner products

When you walk into a cosmetics store what section do you go to first? The makeup, the skin care, maybe the hair care? By the time most of us are done and have gone through the entire store it's been two hours and our hands are full of different swatches of nude lipsticks, gold eyeshadows (somehow they are all slightly different), eyeliners, and maybe even a few perfumes on each arm. Cosmetics products are a staple in everyone's lives, but something most people might not be aware of is how many ingredients go into making our favorite cosmetics products like foundation or lip gloss. There's a lot of ingredients and magic that go into making foundation that gives you that perfect dewy skin look or lip gloss that is the perfect balance of sparkly and not too sticky. Due to the lack of government regulation of the ingredients in cosmetics products, there are all sorts of ingredients that are known to cause harm to humans in our makeup, lotions, deodorants, hair care, and the myriad of other cosmetic products. This issue on toxic ingredients has sparked a huge growth in cosmetic products that are labeled as "clean". Have you ever heard of clean beauty? Is it just a trend? Keep reading to explore what clean beauty is and some of the current and upcoming cosmetic regulations!

The problems with unregulated cosmetics

With the exception of hair dye, there are no laws that require cosmetic products or ingredients to be approved by the FDA before they go on the market. The FDA does not require specific safety tests to be done on a product or ingredient meaning only the individuals who manufacture and market the cosmetics have a legal responsibility to ensure the safety of their products. This is a major problem! Because manufacturers are not required to test for safety, consumers do not know if they did these tests at all or if the testing they did was adequate (4). To make matters worse, if a product eventually appears to have an adverse effect, the FDA has no authority under the current regulations to force the company to recall the product, the company must do so voluntarily (12). Between the years 2004-2016, an average of 396 adverse events per year were submitted to the FDA (11). If the objective is to keep people safe, this is too little too late!

Some common toxic ingredients in typical cosmetics products are heavy metals, PFAS (a group of Teflon-like chemicals), parabens, petroleum, phthalates, and fragrances. Heavy metals like lead, arsenic, mercury, zinc, chromium, and iron are often used for coloring purposes in cosmetics from lipstick to eyeliner. They can also accidentally end up in products due to contamination during the manufacturing and packaging processes (1,17). PFAS chemicals are often found in a lot of products like pressed powder makeup, foundation, anti-aging lotions, eyeliner, eyeshadow, mascara, and lipstick (1,16). PFAS gives cosmetics a waterproofing ability along with giving it a really smooth texture on the skin (2). Parabens are a synthetic preservative that is added to cosmetics to last longer, and petroleum, a byproduct of oil refining, has a really long shelf life and softens upon use making it a beneficial addition to cosmetics. The last two common ingredients are phthalates and fragrances which often go hand in hand. Fragrances are obviously placed in a product to make it smell better (1). They can be made from petroleum or natural materials, but most of the time the entire ingredient lists are not given due to it being proprietary information for the brand. Many fragrances then add in phthalates as a solvent to make the scent stick around longer. Phthalates are used mainly in cosmetics as skin moisturizers, skin softeners, skin penetration enhancers, and as anti-brittleness and anti-cracking agents for nail polish (18).

These ingredients are known to be endocrine disruptors, and are linked to reproductive and developmental harm, allergies, and even cancers (1,19). We should also keep in mind that we could be exposed to more than one toxic ingredient everyday depending on how many cosmetic products we use. When used repeatedly, ingredients like PFAS and the different heavy metals can accumulate in our bodies over time and increase our risk for illness (1).

In addition to being hazardous to our health, these same ingredients can also be toxic to our environment. Everytime you throw something away or wash it down the drain, those chemicals are going back into the environment polluting our soil and waterways (5). It's the same as chemicals coming off of your car and polluting the environment: a toxic chemical is a toxic chemical no matter where it came from!

What clean beauty means

The term "clean beauty" is pretty subjective, but it usually means that the products contain ingredients that have been evaluated for safety and the brands are transparent about the ingredients they are using. More and more brands have been coming out with clean cosmetic products because they realized that a lot of the everyday products people use have harmful and toxic chemicals in them. Some of these brands have a list of chemicals they refuse to use like parabens, synthetic fragrances, sulfates, phthalates, and more. There are even some clean beauty retailers that require brands to disclose all of their ingredients and check them against a do not use list before they are allowed to be sold. This all seems like progress, but all of these actions are voluntary and not required under law, meaning most brands don't go that extra mile which is why there's an urgent need for new government regulation and policies for the skincare industry.

Clean Beauty Regulations

The current federal regulations are pretty lackluster. For some context, the EU has prohibited the use of 1,378 substances in cosmetic products compared to the United States which has only banned 11 substances (13,14). Some of these banned chemicals include chloroform, mercury compounds, vinyl chloride, chlorofluorocarbons, and a few others (14). This abysmal effort by the federal government has forced states to come in to propose more comprehensive safety regulation for cosmetics. One particular bill recently passed in California, has established a ban of 25 toxic ingredients in cosmetics which could have major impacts on the cosmetics market as a whole. Because California is such a big market, with about 40 million people, it might force brands to start producing cleaner products. Most brands don't want to create two separate products, one cleaner version for people living in California, and another that is suitable for the rest of the U.S.! So there is hope that this bill in California could push brands to only create clean products. There are also a few other states including Connecticut, Colorado, Maine, Maryland, New York, Oregon, Vermont, Minnesota, and Wisconsin that have adopted policies to start cleaning up the cosmetics sold in their states (6).



Upcoming Clean Beauty Legislation

In the past few years there have been three big pieces of federal legislation that have been introduced into congress along with 9 state policies introduced by Maryland, New Jersey, and New York. Most of these state and federal policies focus heavily on removing the toxic ingredients and giving the FDA more authority to recall a product and to do their own safety reviews. These policies have not been passed or turned into law, but if all goes well they will be on their way to pass in the next few years!


Why switch to clean beauty?

Switching to clean beauty products can be a great way to start limiting our exposure to toxic chemicals. But as we previously mentioned, there is no universal clean beauty standard, or list of ingredients brands need to avoid. There is very little regulation on ingredients across the entire cosmetics industry, meaning products can claim they are safe but that could mean entirely different things depending on the brand. For the most part switching to clean beauty products is likely to reduce your overall exposure to toxic ingredients because these brands have tried to reduce the number of chemicals in their products. Brands like Sephora and Target now have clean beauty sections that people can shop from, along with stores and brands like Detox Market, Follian, Credo, BeautyCounter, Ursa Major, and Biossance to name a few. These stores and brands have made it so we don't have to wait around for government regulation to get cleaner cosmetics products. If you can, try to support more clean beauty brands to show the world that there is a market and a need for cosmetic products that don't put us at risk!

Resources to support and keep updated on clean beauty legislation

We created a list of letter writing campaigns, clean beauty news sources, and information pages on current and upcoming clean beauty legislation. If you want to stay updated on clean beauty legislation and find ways to support the different state and federal policies, click on the links below!

  1. This link allows you to send a message to your congressional representative to support the Safe Cosmetics and Personal Care Products Act of 2019 (H.R. 4296)!
  2. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics has an action alert page with multiple letter writing campaigns to tell your cosmetics companies, the FDA, and elected officials that safe cosmetics are important to you. Click the link here!
  3. The Environmental Working Group has a page dedicated to clean cosmetics legislation, news and reports, and where to support clean cosmetics companies.
  4. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics tracks upcoming and adopted state policies in regard to cosmetics and cleaning products.



Sources

  1. https://www.safecosmetics.org/get-the-facts/chem-of-concern/
  2. https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/contents/is-teflon-in...
  3. https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/21/chapter-9/subchapter-VI
  4. https://www.fda.gov/cosmetics/cosmetics-laws-regulations/fda-authority-over-cosmetics-how-cosmetics-are-not-fda-approved-are-fda-regulated
  5. Juliano, C., & Magrini, G. A. (2017). Cosmetic Ingredients as Emerging Pollutants of Environmental and Health Concern. A Mini-Review. Cosmetics, 4(2), 11. https://doi.org/10.3390/cosmetics4020011
  6. https://www.saferstates.org/toxic-chemicals/cleaning-cosmetics-and-construction/
  7. https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=201920200AB2762
  8. https://energycommerce.house.gov/committee-activity/hearings/hearing-on-building-consumer-confidence-by-empowering-fda-to-improve
  9. https://energycommerce.house.gov/sites/democrats.energycommerce.house.gov/files/documents/COSMETICS_DRAFT%20112719.pdf
  10. https://www.feinstein.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/2019/3/feinstein-collins-introduce-bill-to-strengthen-oversight-of-personal-care-products
  11. Kwa, M., Welty, L. J., & Xu, S. (2017). Adverse Events Reported to the US Food and Drug Administration for Cosmetics and Personal Care Products. JAMA Internal Medicine, 177(8), 1202–1204. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamainternmed.2017.2762
  12. https://www.fda.gov/cosmetics/cosmetics-recalls-alerts/fda-recall-policy-cosmetics
Home

How Safe is Borax?

A common non-toxic cleaning ingredient that may not be so harmless

For years people have recommended Borax as a safe and natural cleaning solution as an alternative to harsher traditional cleaners. It's also used a lot for other things like a non-toxic pest solution, to clean carpets, and even as an ingredient in slime for kids(1). But is Borax actually safe? Some say it is completely safe and others swear you should never use it. So we decided to do the research and figure out if Borax is a product we should be using in our everyday lives. We found that there are some issues associated with it, but there are ways it could be used safely in particular circumstances with the right precautions.

Keep reading to learn more about Borax and it's safety, as well as some alternatives you can use instead!

What is Borax?

Borax, or otherwise known as sodium borate, is a natural mineral mined from the Earth that is most commonly found as a white powder. It's most notably characterized as being a good emulsifier, preservative, and buffering agent (2). It's also known for being a great disinfectant, getting rid of stains, whitening clothes, and neutralizing hard water (2, 3). Because of these properties Borax is often found in common household products like laundry detergents, soaps, and degreasers. It's also found in topical medicine, food preservatives, pesticides, and other industrial uses because Borax can inhibit the growth of bacteria and mold, increase resistance to heat and chemicals, kill insects, and helps balance acidity (4).

Is Borax safe?

Since it is considered a natural product, it pops up in a lot of DIY recipes for various tasks around the house. However, just because it is deemed as natural that does not mean it is considered safe. Borax comes in many forms but you're most likely to handle it in its powder form for cleaning or for doing laundry. As a powder, borax has been known to be a skin and eye irritant because it can easily travel through the air and be inhaled or get in the eyes of anyone close by. Borax has also been associated with reproductive issues, endocrine disruption, and developmental issues from exposure to any of its forms (3). It's worth noting that most of these health problems were found in rats that were exposed to pretty high doses of Borax (2), so this probably means that the average person won't come into contact with enough Borax to be very dangerous, but you should still take caution when handling it in your everyday life.

It's also important to look at some of the other uses for a product when determining it's safety. In the case of Borax, one common use is as a pesticide. To kill certain pests, Borax is found as either a powder, which sticks onto the insect's body and then they ingest it from cleaning themselves, or it is mixed into food bait that the insects ingest directly. The Borax will build up in their system inhibiting their metabolism and reproductive system causing them to die. Borax is also really good at breaking down and destroying the exoskeletons of some insects because the powder is very abrasive to them (5).Obviously insects like ants are much smaller and more fragile than us, however, it is slightly concerning that Borax, a product we use relatively often in our homes, has the ability to be used as a pesticide as well.

Not only is Borax used as a pesticide, it is also used as cooling agents, adhesives, anti-freezing agents, building materials, and so many other industrial uses (2). Most of these chemicals and products are usually not associated with good human health so it is something to keep in mind when using Borax to clean around the house.

How to use Borax safely

Borax has been known to have some negative health consequences when exposed in high levels over time and lethal if ingested at high doses in animals and humans (6). Because of this it is best to limit our exposure which means that it's probably okay to be using it every once in a while, but we do not recommend using it for all of your cleaning and household purposes. If you are planning to use Borax for different tasks around the house, we found some ways you can stay safe and avoid any health issues.

  1. Keep the area where you are using Borax well ventilated by turning on a fan or opening a window.
  2. Wear long sleeves and pants to prevent any Borax from getting on your skin because it could cause irritation.
  3. If you spill any Borax on your clothes make sure to take them off right away and wash them. This goes for spilling Borax on anything, clean it up right away!
  4. Use glasses or even goggles to prevent any Borax dust from getting in your eyes.
  5. Try to keep the Borax far away from your face so you don't breathe it in. Avoiding dust is the best thing to do!
  6. Keep the Borax container tightly closed when you're not using it.
  7. Try to not use it everyday, just every once in a while.
  8. Vacuum up the floor of anywhere you used Borax in case any dust settled onto the ground.
  9. Do not ingest any Borax because it can be lethal at certain doses. This goes for children as well, keep the box out of their reach at all times (2).

Alternatives to Borax

As we mentioned, a lot of DIY cleaners and laundry detergents call for Borax. Because it can be a skin and eye irritant we wanted to give you some alternatives you could use instead if you are concerned about using it in your homemade products. We included some other homemade cleaners you can use instead, as well as some store bought all-purpose cleaners that we love!

  • Vinegar: Distilled white vinegar is a great disinfectant and deodorizer, making it a great alternative to Borax's disinfectant qualities. (7)
  • Baking soda: It is a natural and safe deodorizer, as well as, a mild abrasive that can help scrub off tough messes and stains. (7)
  • Non-chlorine bleach: Non-chlorinated bleach is a much safer alternative to the traditional bleach and is a great disinfectant.
  • Washing soda: Washing soda is a popular cleaning additive that is great for removing stains, dissolving grease, softening water, and getting rid of unpleasant smells.
  • All purpose cleaners: Instead of making something at home, check out some of the eco-friendly all purpose cleaners we love!
  • Here is a great recipe for kids slime without Borax!

Sources

  1. https://www.onegoodthingbyjillee.com/uses-for-household-borax/
  2. https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/1303-96-4#section=Uses
  3. https://pharosproject.net/chemicals/2006849#hazards-panel
  4. https://www.borax.com/boron-essentials/shelter#:~:text=U.S.%20Borax%20products%20increase%20building,railway%20ties%20to%20automobile%20frames.
  5. A. Fotso Kuate, et. al. Toxicity of Amdro, Borax and Boric Acid to Anoplolepis tenella Santschi (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) 109-152. International Journal of Pest Management. https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/18234674.pdf#page=109
  6. http://npic.orst.edu/factsheets/archive/borictech.html#fate
  7. https://www.zmescience.com/medicine/what-is-borax-and-is-it-safe-432432/
Food

What is Regenerative Farming and What Does it Mean for Our Health and the Environment?

We have the info on regenerative agriculture, food, health and the environment that you've been looking for!

If you're someone who spends equal time cry-laughing through Instagram reels and poring over grocery store labels in search of healthy/environmentally-conscious noms, you may be wondering about the new food word "regenerative." (For the record – yes, we are also proudly those people.) Is "regenerative" really that different from "organic" or "sustainable," you may ask? We've got you covered so you can feel more informed the next time you sojourn through your virtual or in-person grocery aisle!

What does "Regenerative" mean? (Hint: it has nothing to do with generators)

To sum it up, regenerative agriculture (or regenerative ag) not only seeks to "do no harm" by omitting bad stuff from our food, but it also aspires to "regenerate" the land and all things living in it (1,2). Building soil health is where it all begins. This basically means taking what looks like regular old dirt and cultivating within it beneficial microorganisms, root systems, and friendly bugs/worms. These busy networks of soil life barter important nutrients and perform some cool biochemistry, with rippling benefits across neighboring ecosystems. Practices used to build soil health can include: cover crops/crop rotation (growing nutrient-giving stuff after harvesting nutrient-grabbing stuff), multiple cropping (adding variety to attract more diverse bugs/nutrients), "no till" planting (not messing with the soil too much), and rotational animal grazing (letting our roaming friends drop nutrients, mow the grass, and break open the soil for us). Though distinct from organic farming, regenerative ag often avoids synthetic chemical use and incorporates organic practices.

How can agriculture be that good for the environment?

It might be hard to imagine how farming can lead to these types of ecological benefits, given how often we hear about its downsides! But—hang with us—here are a few ways regenerative ag works for the environment:

  • Happier microorganisms and habitats: when farms use fewer (or zero!) synthetic chemicals, they help build a more active and biodiverse community of soil organisms (3, 4). Cultivating healthy soil with biodiverse plants (rather than monocultures) make better habitats for local pollinators like birds and bees! (5, 6). *Side note: if you just had a flashback to middle school sex ed, you're not alone.
  • Cleaner water: thriving soils with deeply rooted plants contribute to more effective water filtration and cleaner watersheds (7, 8). And decreasing fertilizer run-off into water supports fish and marine environments by reducing toxic algae blooms (9).
  • Decreased greenhouse gases: Here's the (slightly) simplified version of how that works… When animals frolic and poo around, they loosen and fertilize the soil; grasses and crops then have better conditions to grow. As the grasses/crops grow, they take carbon dioxide out of the air and use it to create food/roots/leaves (here's a photosynthesis pic if it's been a minute). Grass roots especially can grow very deep, so animal poo can facilitate a lot of carbons storage in the ground! This is also known as carbon sequestration. (10).
  • Mitigated flooding and erosion: the combination of rotational animal grazing and grass/crop planting helps establish root networks and makes soil more permeable (see above point and thanks again, animal poo). Roots help prevent erosion by holding onto the soil and permeable soil reduces flooding by allowing more water to seep in (11).
  • Restored environment: all of these together mean a cleaner, less toxic, more biodiverse and more beautiful environment!

Regenerative is also good for our health…

Here are a few of its direct human health benefits:

  • Foundation for health: similar to our amazing gut microbes (really, could they be any cooler?), beneficial soil microbes also build an important foundation for resilient animal, ecosystem, and human health (12, 13, 14).
  • Improved nutrient quality: animals raised in regenerative settings roam freely and chow down on pasture and/or grass. Not only is this better for animals, but the animal products also have healthier proportions of fats and nutrients (15, 16).
  • Healthier animals: animals pick up fewer hitch-hiking pathogens when they're healthy and have enough space, which means we then have less exposure to food-borne pathogens (like E. coli). Also, when animals don't need as many meds, fewer endocrine-disrupting antibiotics and chemicals end up in our food and water systems!
  • Reduced toxic exposure and disease: less pesticides and synthetic fertilizer use means our farmworkers are exposed less often to toxic chemicals and therefore at decreased risk for chronic disease. And those who eat the food have reduced exposure and risk as well!
  • *Bonus*: all the environmental benefits mentioned above contribute to our long-term health as well!

How to get regenerative in your life

Your herb-growing capacity might just be some cute windowsill space, so how can you incorporate regenerative practices and products into your day-to-day?

  1. Search for local farms that use regenerative practices and get to know them (in a pandemic friendly sort of way). Usually if farms are doing regenerative ag, they show it and want to talk about it!
  2. If you want to find more standardized products, look for the Regenerative Organic Certification—they build on organic principles with strict standards for soil health, animal welfare and social fairness. The Land to Market seal includes regenerative ag fashion products as well (see their Regenerative Buying Guide).
  3. Keep an eye out for other products that say they're regenerative. "Regenerative" itself is not a standardized term, but you can always look up the farm/producer and learn more about their practices.
  4. Use modified regenerative practices in your own garden! Try a "no till" approach. Improve your soil health and nutrient content by planting cover crops like fava beans. Consider planting diverse native plants/grasses that establish deep roots and provide a habitat for pollinators. Your HOA (or family) may not want a sheep in the front yard, but you can still make an impact without acres of farmland!
  5. Reduce or eliminate harmful pesticides/fertilizers as much as possible, opting for organic compost/fertilizers/pest management instead!
  6. Learn more! The Rodale Institute and Savory Institute are both great resources.
  7. Be curious and have fun!



References

1. https://regenerationinternational.org/why-regenerative-agriculture/

2. https://regenorganic.org/

3. https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0180442

4. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fmicb.2016.02064/full#h5

5. https://www.pnas.org/content/pnas/111/14/5266.full.pdf

6.https://www.google.com/url?q=https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007/s13593-012-0092-y.pdf&sa=D&source=editors&ust=1614755415230000&usg=AOvVaw3nqoBDN1ENKBIM9UNU6qJE

7.https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/renewable-agriculture-and-food-systems/article/targeting-perennial-vegetation-in-agricultural-landscapes-for-enhancing-ecosystem-services/6E3F150C2060CFF12BCD5C0A92000EE8/core-reader

8. https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/soils/health/

9. https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1140/epjst/e2017-70031-7.pdf

10.https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/renewable-agriculture-and-food-systems/article/targeting-perennial-vegetation-in-agricultural-landscapes-for-enhancing-ecosystem-services/6E3F150C2060CFF12BCD5C0A92000EE8

11. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2095633915300095#

12. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0091674918309345

13. https://www.nature.com/articles/nature09575/boxes/bx1

14. http://www.nfp68.ch/SiteCollectionDocuments/Wall%20et%20al%202015%20nature15744.pdf

15. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2846864/

16. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.4081/ijas.2009.175?needAccess=true





Real talk— polyvinyl chloride (or PVC for short), seems to be in practically everything, doesn't it? If you walk down a random aisle in a store, you can find this material in upholstery, shower curtains, toys and even school supplies. You might be thinking, if it's in so many things (including items for children), it should be safe right? In reality, the answer is no. BUT, don't fret, since there are simple, yet effective ways to avoid PVC in your everyday life.

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