Food

Making Your Fruits and Veggies Last

In times of pantry cooking and beyond

In this unprecedented time of social distancing and stay-at-home orders, we're all eating a little bit differently. It can be tough to get to the grocery store and favorite items might be sold out. Our usual restaurant stops, home deliveries, and takeout options may not be available. While we're cooking more with less, it's more important than ever to make your fresh fruits and vegetables last. Luckily, the kitchen ideas I've learned over the past few years for fighting food waste are easily transferable to cooking in a time of quarantine. When you're aiming to make your food go far, during a pandemic or just real life, it's good to know how to make your fresh produce last as long as possible.

A good principle is to store your produce in the same areas as they do in the supermarket. It's their literal business to keep food fresh as long as possible! While you obviously won't be using the exact same methods - they're aiming for display as well as storage - you can think of your produce in the same fundamental categories:

  1. Room Temperature Storage: these are the items you'd find displayed out of refrigeration in the produce section and can be divided into:
    1. Pantry storage (cooler and away from the light) for sturdy and long-lasting vegetables
    2. Counter storage for fruits that need to ripen
  2. Refrigeration: These are the fresh fruits and vegetables in the refrigerated cases of the produce department and typically fall into three categories:
    1. Loose: most fruit, like citrus and melons can just be placed into your fridge drawers
    2. Airtight storage: most delicate greens
    3. Breathable storage: berries and most other vegetables, from roots to stalks to hearty greens
  3. Special storage: a few items, like asparagus, mushrooms, corn and fresh herbs require a bit more attention.


Let's dive a bit more deeply into each one:

Room Temperature Storage:

Pantry Storage: some vegetables need a cool, dark place for optimum storage. In the old days that would have been a root cellar, but let's be honest - who has a root cellar these days? For most people this means a cupboard or a drawer away from the light where you'll store the following items:

  • Tubers such as potatoes and sweet potatoes, winter squash, and even eggplant, which browns in the fridge.
  • Onions, shallots, and similar alliums should also be stored somewhere cool and dark, but not with potatoes. If stored together, they'll cause the potatoes to sprout. While we're on the topic - green and sprouted potatoes can be eaten if peeled deeply to remove all green and sprouty bits, but if you're immunocompromised in any way, just compost them.

Counter Storage: your counter is the best place for most fruits (except apples, citrus and berries) to sit until ripe - that's why fruit bowls exist! Once ripe, these fruits should be moved to the refrigerator to preserve them as long as possible. Melons, stone fruit (i.e. peaches, nectarines, cherries, etc), and bananas fit into this category, as do avocados. Tomatoes should ideally always be kept at room temperature, but can be moved to the fridge once cut, or if in desperation to keep them a bit longer. If your tomatoes get wrinkly, roast them up!

Refrigerator Storage:

Produce in the fridge fits into three categories: loose, airtight or breathable. You'll see a lot of storage guides recommend plastic bags for airtight or breathable storage, but there are other options if you're trying to minimize your use of plastic. You can invest in reusable storage bags or save the plastic ones that come into your house as bread storage or cereal bags. Try repurposing old storage boxes or tupperware for fridge storage. A lot of items will do well in their original plastic container, such as berries and grapes, which can then be recycled.

Fruits in the fridge:

  • Apples, citrus and berries don't need time to ripen, and so should be refrigerated right away if you're aiming for lengthy storage. Take them out or let them sit at room temperature if you know you're going to eat them soon.
  • Berries do well staying in their original box or another breathable container. Once you get them home, remove any moldy ones, then don't wash them until you're ready to eat.
  • Citrus can last a long time in the fridge, loose in your crisper drawer.
  • Any other fruit that has been stored on the counter to ripen can be moved to the fridge to hold, or should be stored in the fridge in an airtight container once cut

Vegetables in the fridge: Most vegetables do best in the fridge when uncut, unwashed, and wrapped in a breathable container. This could be a plastic bag with holes in it or a reusable bag left open. The goal is to limit oxygen exposure, but allow a bit of airflow to minimize the moisture and condensation that causes rotting. This method works well for roots such as carrots and parsnips, cruciferous veggies such as broccoli and Brussels sprouts, fruits that are actually vegetables such as summer squash and cucumbers, as well as fresh beans, green onions and more. If your roots have greens on them like beets or turnips, cut the greens off and store them separately as they'll draw moisture from the root. Don't throw them out though - they're delicious cooked like chard or another sturdy leafy green.

Greens, especially delicate salad leaves, are more susceptible to moisture and wilting. You'll want to limit their supply of oxygen by storing in the airtight original container or rolled up in a plastic or reusable bag. Either way, it helps to stick a paper towel or dish towel in with the greens to soak up any moisture that would cause sliminess.

Special Storage:

There are a few fruits and vegetables out there that need some additional TLC to last as long as possible. Asparagus and most leafy fresh herbs are best stored like cut flowers. Place them in a tall upright container in an inch or two of fresh water and refrigerate. The one exception is basil, which should be kept at room temperature or it'll brown. Corn should be kept in the husk if possible; if not, wrap in damp towels to keep them moist, then wrap in a bag.

While we're on special storage - the most highly controversial of vegetable storage topics is... mushrooms! Some people swear by paper bags or damp cloths to retain some moisture; others claim that any moisture will speed up the rotting process and breathable plastic bags should be used instead. Just for you guys, I did an at-home experiment comparing a breathable cloth bag to an open silicone bag to a paper bag. After 5 days, the mushrooms were all still good, if the tiniest bit slimy, but the least slimy ones were the ones stored in the paper bag. However, the original packaging often works well too.

Freezing Fruits and Veggies:

If you're really aiming for long-term storage, most fruits and vegetables can be frozen. Fruits will lose texture (i.e. you wouldn't want to eat them raw once defrosted) so they're perfect for cooked desserts or smoothies. Vegetables can be frozen raw or cooked, depending on the vegetable, but you'll also want to use them in cooked dishes.

Fruits: cut your fruit into pieces, lay on a tray, then transfer to a resealable bag. Defrost, then use for pie or tarts, or leave frozen for smoothies. Frozen peeled bananas make a delicious ice cream substitute when blended!

Vegetables: hearty greens and other tender vegetables like asparagus and broccoli are best blanched before freezing - chop, boil in salted water for a few minutes, then drain and let cool and freeze in bags. Tomatoes and onions can be frozen when raw or cooked (chop them first), then used in cooked dishes once defrosted. Sturdier vegetables like winter squash and sweet potatoes do best when cooked and pureed, then frozen. Herbs freeze best with a bit of oil in an ice cube tray, then you can toss the cubes into stews, soups, and more. The main vegetables that don't freeze well are potatoes and lettuce. If you must freeze potatoes, make them into mashed potatoes first. And if your lettuce is getting old you can cook it (stir-fry or soup!) or perk it up in an ice water bath.

Food

Are Plastic Water Filter Pitchers Ok to Use?

Making sure your drinking water is healthy and safe

Water filter pitchers are a commonplace household item that almost everyone has. These handy devices magically turn our tap water into crisp, fresh mountain spring water. Okay, that may be a slight exaggeration, but it does make it taste better! Since many water filter pitchers are made from plastic, we decided to take a look at how healthy and safe they are when compared to alternatives such as tap water and bottled water. Let's dive in!

First, to better understand the use and necessity of water filter pitchers, we need to understand their purpose. The main use for most at-home water filters is to change and enhance the taste, color, and smell of drinking water, thereby improving the water's aesthetic effects (1, 2). The EPA has established both primary and secondary National Drinking Water Regulations meant to protect the public against consumption of drinking water contaminants that pose a risk to human health (2). Primary Standards are federally-enforced mandatory water quality standards, while Secondary Standards are non-mandatory water quality standards established as a guideline to assist public water systems in managing the aesthetic considerations for drinking water like taste, color, and odor (2). In some households, however, water filters are a necessity. Water from wells, older pipes, and other external factors can negatively impact water quality even with EPA regulations in place.

So, What Do Water Pitchers Filter Out?

When looking at different water filter pitchers, it is important to check their certifications. Certification is important because it shows the product has been verified by an independent third party to do what it says it does (3). Most commercial plastic water filter pitchers are certified by either the NSF/ANSI (National Sanitation Foundation/American National Standards Institute), the WQA (Water Quality Association), or both (4). However, even among certain certifications there are different standards they can be certified with. For example, water filters certified by NSF/ANSI can be either standard 42 or standard 53 (3, 5). NSF/ANSI standard 42 focuses on the aesthetic effects of drinking water treatment and establishes minimum requirements for systems designed to reduce non-health-related contaminants (5). NSF/ANSI standard 53 focuses on the health effects of drinking water treatment and establishes minimum requirements for systems designed to reduce specific health-related contaminants (5). NSF/ANSI standard 42 reduces contaminants like chlorine, taste and odor issues, chloramine, particulates, iron, manganese, zinc, and total dissolved solids (TDS) in drinking water, whereas NSF/ANSI standard 53 reduces contaminants like heavy metals (lead, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, copper, mercury, and selenium), cryptosporidium, giardia, inorganic compounds, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in water (3, 5). Since PFOA/PFOS--fluorinated organic chemicals that are part of a larger group of chemicals known as PFAS--are also a concern for people, the NSF has a P473 standard for that as well (19, 20, 21, 22).

Table created from information from [3], [5], and [21].

If you are looking for filters that can remove specific contaminants in your drinking water, make sure to check the product's NSF/ANSI standard certification beforehand. While most water filter pitchers are able to remove contaminants that affect the taste of water like chlorine, zinc, and hydrogen sulfide, not all are able to filter out contaminants like heavy metals and VOCs (8). Because of this, it's important to know what's in your water. You can check your community water system quality reports at the EPA Federal Reports site here, which also shows you potential water system violations. If your drinking water contains serious contaminants like lead or other heavy metals, it's advised to install a more comprehensive filtration system in your house or apartment (8).

Are Plastic Water Pitchers Bad?

Most water filter pitchers are made out of hard clear plastic, and popular brands advertise that their pitchers are BPA free. For example, according to Brita, their pitcher lids and filter housings are made out of polypropylene plastic, the reservoirs and pitchers are made from either NAS (a styrene based plastic) or SAN (styrene acrylonitrile), and all are tested by the NSF for material safety (12). However, there have been several studies that show that many hard clear plastics, including BPA replacements, do release estrogenic chemicals (23, 24, 25, 26). Plastics and endocrine disruption are still being studied, so erring on the side of safety, here are a couple of suggestions to help you properly take care of your water filter pitcher.

Tips for properly taking care of plastic water filters

  • Hand wash plastic components with a mild detergent and air dry upside down; make sure to not use any abrasive cleaners. Hand wash only, since the heat from dishwashers can stress the plastic over time.
  • Store filled pitchers in a cool, dim place away from sunlight to prevent algae formation. Both heat and UV light are shown to increase leaching from plastic, so it's safer to store your pitcher in the refrigerator or away from windows.
  • If you go on vacation and water has been left in the pitcher for a long time, it's a good idea to dump that water, give the pitcher a wash, and then refill it. Time of contact increases the potential of leaching from plastic, and standing water increases the risk of other contaminants building up.
  • Regularly replace filters for optimal performance depending on guidelines; most standard filters recommend replacement every 40 gallons, which is approximately every two months. Bacteria build up in the water filters themselves, so it is important to do this.

What If I Don't Want a Plastic Pitcher?

If you would prefer to not use a plastic water pitcher, no worries! There are glass and steel pitchers as well, although options are limited. It should be noted that most water filters do contain some plastic, even if the pitchers themselves are a different material. There are also water filters that screw onto the tap and countertop water filters that attach to taps that have less plastic. If you want to ditch the plastic pitcher completely, you can invest in a whole house filter or an under-the-counter reverse osmosis system.

Sustainability of Single-Use Filters

Since water filters need to be replaced on a regular schedule, you might be wondering what to do with the filter itself, which is usually housed in plastic. Many water filter companies have recycling programs, so you can look to see if there is a recycling component for your used water filters. For example, Brita currently partners with TerraCycle to offer a free mail-in recycling program for Brita filters, pitchers, dispensers, bottles, faucet systems, and packaging (14).

Make sure to not throw the filter directly into your municipal recycling bin as it can contaminate the recycling stream. It is also not recommended to cut open the filter to separate the plastic from the filter media inside. While the filters are made out of less plastic than bottled water, they are not a plastic-free solution.

Other Alternatives?

Popular alternatives to filtered water include tap water and bottled water. The EPA has established protective drinking water standards for more than 90 contaminants as part of its comprehensive Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), although there are still incidences where violations occur (16). Bottled water also presents various health hazards, so it should not be regarded as the de facto standard either. The plastic of bottled water is made from PET, a material regarded as safe for one-time use, but refilling bottles or storing them in hot places increases the risk of chemicals and microplastics leaching into the water (1, 17). The bottled water industry is also self-regulating and not always liable to FDA regulations, so there's a greater chance of contamination occurring (1, 17). Recent tests have actually found PFAS and arsenic in bottled water for sale (27, 28). Bottled water also has a huge environmental impact, since 86% of all plastic water bottles end up in landfills rather than being recycled (18).

Final Take-Aways

Plastic water filters are helpful tools that allow individuals to enhance and improve the taste and smell of their drinking water, as well as remove potentially harmful chemical contaminants. While we work to create better water filtration systems within our communities, plastic water filters are a good alternative for people's current drinking needs.


References

  1. http://www.uvm.edu/~shali/Brita.pdf
  2. https://www.epa.gov/sdwa/secondary-drinking-water-standards-guidance-nuisance-chemicals#self
  3. https://www.wqpmag.com/sites/wqp/files/notallfiltersarecreated.pdf
  4. https://wqa.org/programs-services/product-certification/industry-certifications/wqa-certifies-to-nsf-ansi-standards
  5. https://d2evkimvhatqav.cloudfront.net/documents/dw_nsf_ansi_42_53_401.pdf?mtime=20200417153151&focal=none
  6. https://www.brita.com/why-brita/what-we-filter/
  7. https://www.pur.com/why-pur/filter-comparison-pitcher
  8. https://www.consumerreports.org/water-filter-pitchers/things-to-know-about-water-filter-pitchers/
  9. https://www.pur.com/why-pur/filter-comparison-pitcher
  10. https://www.brita.com/why-brita/health/whats-in-your-tap-water/
  11. https://healthykitchen101.com/best-water-filter-pitchers/
  12. https://clearandwell.com/are-brita-water-pitchers-made-from-safe-plastic/
  13. https://www.brita.com/water-pitcher-support/
  14. https://www.terracycle.com/en-US/brigades/brita-brigade
  15. https://www.pur.com/help-pitchers-dispensers
  16. https://www.epa.gov/sdwa
  17. https://time.com/5686811/is-bottled-water-safest-best/
  18. https://green.harvard.edu/tools-resources/green-tip/reasons-avoid-bottled-water
  19. https://www.nsf.org/knowledge-library/perfluorooctanoic-acid-and-perfluorooctanesulfonic-acid-in-drinking-water
  20. https://www.nsf.org/knowledge-library/contaminant-reduction-claims-guide
  21. https://www.aquasana.com/info/education/nsf-certification
  22. https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/nsf-international-certifies-first-water-filters-that-reduce-pfoa-and-pfos-in-drinking-water-300370732.html
  23. Guart, Albert, et al. "Migration of plasticisers from Tritan™ and polycarbonate bottles and toxicological evaluation." Food chemistry 141.1 (2013): 373-380.
  24. Yang, Chun Z., et al. "Most plastic products release estrogenic chemicals: a potential health problem that can be solved." Environmental health perspectives 119.7 (2011): 989-996.
  25. Bittner, George D., Chun Z. Yang, and Matthew A. Stoner. "Estrogenic chemicals often leach from BPA-free plastic products that are replacements for BPA-containing polycarbonate products." Environmental Health 13.1 (2014): 41.
  26. Bittner, George D., et al. "Chemicals having estrogenic activity can be released from some bisphenol a-free, hard and clear, thermoplastic resins." Environmental Health 13.1 (2014): 103.
  27. https://www.consumerreports.org/bottled-water/whats-really-in-your-bottled-water/
  28. https://www.consumerreports.org/water-quality/arsenic-in-some-bottled-water-brands-at-unsafe-levels/
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Roundups

The Best Water Filters

These easy to install filters are perfect for renters or homeowners!

Sometimes we take tap water for granted. If it comes out of our tap it has to be safe, right? Unfortunately, that's often not the case. While our water treatment plants do a great job filtering out the obviously toxic stuff, harmful chemicals like lead, pesticides, PFAS, and pharmaceuticals can still make their way into our tap water. That's why we always recommend a water filtration system! If you're a homeowner, you can install a filtration that integrates with your own water throughout your house.

There are also a ton of great options if you're renting or can't install anything in your home. A small water filter pitcher or countertop dispenser are great options if you're looking for something hassle free. If you're feeling a little more crafty, you can install a faucet mount. These mounts require no tools and can easily install on most faucets!

These water filters are all meet NSF standards and remove dozens of contaminants.



a) Zerowater 10 or 23 Cup Pitcher

b) PUR Faucet Water Filter

c) AquaTru Reverse Osmosis Counter Top Water Filtration System

d) PUR Lead Reduction Pitcher

e) Culligan Faucet Mount

f) AquaSana Countertop Water Filter

g) Lifestraw Home Water Filter Pitcher*

h) Berkey Water Filter*

i) Brita Tap Water Filter for Faucets

j) ZeroWater 40 Cup Ready-Pour Glass Dispenser


*Meets NSF standards but is not NSF certified

Science

The Health Impacts of Microplastics

These small pieces pose a big risk

In today's world, plastic is everywhere, buildings, cars, packaging, machinery - the list is nearly endless. There's really no place you won't find it. Despite its utility, there are a host of problems associated with plastics (1, 2). You've likely heard of the impact that larger pieces of discarded plastic can have - for instance plastic straws finding their way into the ocean.

Unfortunately, there are even smaller pieces of plastic in the environment that you can't see: microplastics. Approximately 50 trillion pieces of microplastics are estimated to be currently polluting the ocean (3). They have been found in seawater, freshwater, sediment, soil, and air. Microplastics have even made their way into our food and drinks, such as beer, tap water, and sea salt (4).

So what dangers do microplastics pose? And what simple steps can you take to limit their pollution? Read on and find out!

What Are Microplastics?

Microplastics are tiny plastic particles, less than 5 millimeters long. They can be generally separated into two categories: primary microplastics and secondary microplastics (5).

Primary microplastics are plastics that were originally manufactured to be, well, micro. Already less than 5 millimeters when created, they are found in textiles, medicines, and personal care products like facial scrubs or toothpaste (4, 5). Secondary microplastics, on the other hand, are fragments of larger plastics like fishing nets or household products. This fragmentation occurs due to physical, chemical, and biological interaction with the environment such as sunlight exposure (often termed photodegradation) or wind abrasion (5).

The microplastics found in the environment today originate from both land- and ocean-based human activity. Ocean-based sources, like commercial fishing and other marine-based operations, make up about 20% of the total microplastics found while land-based sources make up the other 80%. These land-based sources, like the personal care products mentioned earlier (e.g., toothpaste, facial scrubs), air-blasting processes, microfibers from synthetic materials, and improperly disposed runoff from landfills, bleed into rivers and find their way into oceans as well (5).

The health effects of microplastics are still being studied, but there is potential for harm

Microplastics can be ingested in drinks or food, inhaled through airborne exposure, or contact with particles on skin (5-7).

For animals, especially marine organisms, ingestion of microplastics represents the largest threat. A research team has suggested that there is a correlation between poor fitness of seabirds and ingestion of plastic debris (5). Zebrafish with accumulated ingested microplastics have had altered locomotion, intestinal damage, and change in metabolic profiles (5).

Humans can ingest microplastics in beer, bottled water, even sea salt. And when marine animals ingest it from the ocean, they can act as vectors, carrying it to humans when we eat seafood (5, 7, 8).

While ingestion affects both humans and animals, airborne exposure to microplastics is becoming more worrisome to humans. We can potentially breathe in microplastics through synthetic textiles, erosion of rubber tires, or city dust (5, 6).

No matter what route they take, we know these microplastics are indeed getting into our bodies. What we don't yet know is how long they stay, what accumulates in our systems if they do stay, and what the health effects of chronic ingestion might be. Although research is still ongoing, some potential health effects that may be linked to concentrations of ingested microplastics are metabolic disruption, immune dysfunction, neurodegenerative diseases, and chronic inflammation, which can lead to cancer (4-6).

Here's how you can help prevent microplastic pollution

Microplastic pollution within our ecosystems may seem impossible for us to stop on an individual level. But there are ways you can reduce your contribution to pollution of microplastics as well as your personal exposure!

Drink less bottled water

Research has shown that Americans who get their recommended amount of daily water from only bottled sources have almost 20 times the exposure compared to Americans who only drink tap water (7)! So here are some simple ways to reduce exposure:

  1. Leave the bottled water at the store and go with the tap at home.
  2. Invest in a simple screw-on water purifier for the faucet if the tap water taste bugs you.
  3. Get a reusable (preferable glass or stainless steel) bottle for tap water on the go.

Disclaimer: if there are major health issues with your tap water (like the lead for instance), those health effects should take precedent and bottled water is okay!

Reduce your use of plastics, especially the single-use variety

Since plastics are so cheap to produce, it often makes them an ideal material for single-use disposable devices (1). Unfortunately, less than 10% of all plastic is actually recycled (10). On top of that, plastics don't chemically degrade very well - instead they break up into smaller and smaller pieces (1, 5). Reducing your single-use plastics may seem difficult, but there are many ways to do it! Here are a few:

  1. Cook a few extra times a week instead of ordering takeout that comes in plastic containers.
  2. Leave the Ziplock bags on the shelf and store leftovers in glass containers.
  3. Switch to brands of tea that don't use single-use plastic!
  4. Buy less packaged or processed foods in plastic packaging.

Change your laundry habits

Another large source of microplastics are microfibers, the microplastics found in synthetic fabrics, like fleece (9). Even cotton jeans and t-shirts can have a lot of synthetics blended into them! Machine washing synthetic clothing is one of the easiest ways for microplastics to find their way into the water supply. During the wash cycle, microplastics siphon off through home drains which then runs into water treatment plants that are not yet equipped to catch microplastics. Once the water is released back into the environment, pollution occurs. We've talked through some of the ways to limit microfibers in your laundry before, but let's run through a few again! You can:

1. Wash with cold water and avoid delicate cycles that use high water volumes.

2. Use less detergent, and do not use bleach!

3. Fill up your machine and avoid washing bulky items like shoes with synthetic fabrics.

4. If you have the option, use a front loading washing machine! They require less water and less vigorous washing for the same cleanliness. Additionally, if you're in the market for a new machine, you can look for those with technological improvements that can trap these particles in the future.

5. Consider getting a laundry bag or Cora ball - each of these catches microfibers so particles cannot get into the water supply.

6. Purchase clothing made of natural materials like cotton or linen - these materials don't shed any microfibers and are often softer, more breathable, and last longer!



References:

1) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23337043/

2) https://www.ciel.org/reports/plastic-health-the-hidden-costs-of-a-plastic-planet-february-2019/

3) https://www.sas.org.uk/our-work/plastic-pollution/plastic-pollution-facts-figures/

4) https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0048969719344468

5) https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0043135417310515

6) https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0269749117307686

7) https://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/acs.est.9b01517

8) https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40572-018-0206-z

9) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30368178/

10)https://www.epa.gov/facts-and-figures-about-materials-waste-and-recycling/plastics-material-specific-data
Life

Why Voting This November is So Important

This election, environmental health is on the ballot

Like many things this year, this election season has been anything but ordinary. With the emergence of COVID-19, the barrage of tropical storms hitting the Gulf and Atlantic coasts (1,2), in addition to the relentless wildfires raging in the Western US (3), the connection between the environment and our health is more apparent than ever. The impacts of climate change have become hard to ignore and many Americans are now beginning to feel its effects (4,5,6). Additionally, with the increased focus on health because of the coronavirus pandemic, issues of air, water, and soil pollution and healthy buildings are taking center stage in many people's daily lives.

You probably know that Election Day is coming up on November 3rd, 2020 and that mail-in ballot voting is already underway in more than half the states (7), but did you know that environmental health issues are on the ballot? Voting this election year has never been more important in helping decide how our country moves forward to address widespread environmental health concerns that affect your health and your family's health. Read on to find out what you can do to help and why this issue is so important.

Why Voting Matters for Environmental Health

While we all want clean air to breathe and clean water to drink, ensuring this for everyone requires proper environmental safeguards to better protect public health. As we've already seen this year with the increase in tropical storm and wildfire damages, there is a direct effect on people's health caused by their surroundings, whether it be in the form of air pollution, flooding, or smoke (8). Many people may not think that the presidential election will impact their lives in a real and tangible way, but who wins can have a big impact on environmental policies. In his first term, Trump has already moved to roll back and dismantle up to 100 environmental regulations passed by his predecessor, Obama, meant to further safeguard and protect the environment and human health (9,10,11). Notable repeals have included the Clean Air Act, the Clean Power Plan, as well as the Waters of the US Rule (12). These rollbacks have resulted in reduced fuel efficiency standards for passenger cars and light trucks, the repeal of a rule requiring coal-burning power plants to reduce carbon emissions, and a decrease in the number of federally protected bodies of water under the Clean Water Act (12). Other environmental regulations that have been targeted for repeal focus on controlling greenhouse gases, coal ash waste, water pollution, mercury, and smog (11).

Rolling back environmental regulations such as these go against the scientific recommendations of scientists who advocate for the enforcement of these standards to combat air pollution and its health hazards (25). Air pollution, caused in part by greenhouse gas emissions (26, 27), is a dangerous health threat that is responsible for a rising number of deaths around the world due to lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, ischemic heart disease, stroke, and respiratory infections (28, 29, 25). The Global Burden of Disease report identified air pollution as one of the leading risk factors for disease burden in 2012, and in 2016 the WHO labeled it the single largest environmental health risk we face today (29, 28). Trump's denial of climate change (13) and encouragement of wider fossil fuel use and development within the US (14) not only goes against strong scientific consensus and advice (25, 28), but also risks increasing air pollution-related health hazards and mortalities.

There are many ways in which a new administration could bolster much needed environmental health protections. Biden has proposed a plan focusing on clean energy production to shift the US away from its dependence on fossil fuels and achieve a 100% clean energy economy with net-zero emissions by 2050 (15,16,17). Biden's plan also includes engaging with local areas to create community-based solutions to climate change issues, establishing an Environmental and Climate Justice Division within the US Department of Justice to revise current environmental justice policy, and recommitting the US to the Paris Agreement that Trump initially withdrew from in 2017 (16,18,19,20). By transitioning away from fossil fuels and prioritizing clean energy, this would reduce the amount of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere and help strengthen the US's response to global warming (27). Since climate change has a direct effect on people's environmental health, directly combatting it would help ensure cleaner air, safer drinking water, sufficient food, and more secure shelter for everyone (30). Reducing greenhouse gas emissions would also help ease the burden of ambient air pollution, which causes nearly 3 million deaths every year (30).

These regulatory decisions have far-reaching impacts that go beyond a single presidency, and one of the most important ways citizens can make their voices heard on these issues is to vote in the upcoming national election in November.

Local Elections Matter Too

While large national elections have historically had higher turnout compared to state and local elections, it's actually these closer-to-home elections that decide how a community deals with important local issues (21). In local elections, citizens vote for a mayor, city council members, special districts, school board members, and a District Attorney, among others, to deal with local and countywide ballot measures (24). Local issues include land use and development, housing, transportation policies, parks and libraries investment, and even immigration policies to an extent (24). Electing leaders who care about climate change and environmental stewardship at the local level is just as important as national elections.

Not only are these local issues crucial to the functioning of a community, but local and state regulations can also have a big impact at the national level, especially when it comes to consumer protections. For example, California just enacted the Toxic-Free Cosmetics Act this past month, which bans 24 toxic ingredients from cosmetic and personal care products. It's likely that product manufacturers will make these non-toxic products and sell them throughout the US so that they don't have to make a separate version just for California. Other times, federal and state policymakers look at the success of local ordinances when drafting new environmental protections. So make sure your voice is heard on issues you care about and don't forget to vote in your local elections as well!

How to Get Involved

If you are over the age of 18 and a US citizen, you are legally allowed to vote—huzzah! Here are a few things you can do to make sure you're able to properly participate in the election process and make the most out of your experience.

  • Stay informed! Read up on political issues (both local and national) and figure out where you stand.
  • You can register to vote here and check your registration status here. Make sure you register to vote by your state's election deadline. Once registered, you can request an absentee ballot and vote by mail if you prefer or you may choose to vote early if your state allows (early voting exceptions include CT, KY, MO, MS, NH, and SC) (22). There are no drawbacks if you decide to vote by mail, and all mail-in ballots will be counted once they are received and properly approved.
  • You can find your State and Local Election Office website here. This provides you with more information on your state and local elections, which are just as important as the larger national and presidential ones. Don't forget to vote in these as well!

If you are not yet 18 or are not a US citizen, no worries! You can still get involved and help out. Here are some great ways to start flexing your political muscle if you're not yet ready to vote.

  • Stay up-to-date! Learn about topics you care about and why they matter to you.
  • Talk to others. Don't be afraid to use your voice! You can start by talking with friends and family about the issues you care about. Once you feel more confident, you can also voice your opinions on social media, in the local newspaper, or in other public forums (23).
  • Volunteer. There's a number of ways you can volunteer for a cause or campaign. Phone bank calling, door-to-door outreach, and writing letters are just a few ways you can directly help with a campaign. Contributing to a cause or campaign by volunteering can be a very rewarding feeling.

Whatever your choice or stance, voting is one of the key pillars in American democracy that helps society function in a way that should be representative of all. Your vote matters and is a way to let the government know your position on the issues you care about and what you find important. With so many things that may seem out of our control this year, there is one thing that we do have control over—our vote! We'll see you at the polls this November.


REFERENCES

  1. https://disasterphilanthropy.org/disaster/2020-atlantic-hurricane-season/
  2. https://www.cnn.com/2020/05/11/us/2020-atlantic-hurricane-season-fast-facts/index.html
  3. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/fires-map-tracker.html
  4. https://www.nrdc.org/stories/flooding-and-climate-change-everything-you-need-know
  5. https://climate.nasa.gov/blog/2956/how-climate-change-may-be-impacting-storms-over-earths-tropical-oceans/
  6. https://climate.nasa.gov/news/2912/satellite-data-record-shows-climate-changes-impact-on-fires/
  7. https://www.cnbc.com/2020/09/04/election-early-absentee-mail-voting-every-state.html
  8. https://www.cdc.gov/climateandhealth/effects/default.htm
  9. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/climate/trump-environment-rollbacks.html
  10. https://www.brookings.edu/policy2020/votervital/what-is-the-trump-administrations-track-record-on-the-environment/
  11. https://environmentalintegrity.org/trump-watch-epa/regulatory-rollbacks/
  12. https://www.brookings.edu/interactives/tracking-deregulation-in-the-trump-era/
  13. https://www.npr.org/2020/09/14/912799501/i-don-t-think-science-knows-visiting-fires-trump-denies-climate-change
  14. https://insideclimatenews.org/news/28032017/trump-executive-order-climate-change-paris-climate-agreement-clean-power-plan-pruitt
  15. http://thedialog.org/national-news/environmental-protection-is-another-point-of-divergence-between-donald-trump-joe-biden/
  16. https://joebiden.com/climate-plan/#
  17. https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/trump-biden-issues-climate-change-environment/story?id=73151337
  18. https://www.state.gov/on-the-u-s-withdrawal-from-the-paris-agreement/
  19. https://joebiden.com/environmental-justice-plan/
  20. https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/trump-biden-issues-climate-change-environment/story?id=73151337
  21. https://www.nationalgeographic.org/article/why-voting-important/
  22. https://www.ncsl.org/research/elections-and-campaigns/early-voting-in-state-elections.aspx
  23. https://www.nationalgeographic.org/article/why-voting-important/
  24. https://campuselect.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/local_office_description-an_explainer.pdf
  25. https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanpub/article/PIIS2468-2667(16)30023-8/fulltext
  26. https://www.nrdc.org/stories/air-pollution-everything-you-need-know#sec2
  27. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/global-warming/greenhouse-gases/#:~:text=Greenhouse%20gases%20have%20far%2Dranging,change%20caused%20by%20greenhouse%20gases.
  28. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6357572/
  29. https://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/14/9/1048/htm
  30. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/climate-change-and-health
Roundups

Non-Toxic Hand Sanitizer

Tough on germs, without unnecessary yucky chemicals

Updated for Fall 2020!

Between COVID-19, flu season, or changing a poopy diaper on the go, hand sanitizer can be a life saver. But a lot of commercial hand sanitizers can contain fragrances and some pretty gross chemicals. To make sure you're getting the best possible product, we reviewed a ton of options and made sure they're easy to find at stores. There are options for gels, sprays, and wipes and lots of yummy smells like lavender or coconut and lemon, or just simply fragrance free if you want something simple. Try out several and stash them in places where you might need them, like the car, a favorite purse, backpack, or laptop bag. All of our non-toxic hand sanitizer recommendations are safer for you but super tough on germs!

Keep Reading Show Less

When the COVID-19 pandemic started, many of us who are lucky enough to be able to work at home were thrilled by the flexibility, but also figured we'd be back to the office in a month or two. Fast forward six months later and we're still working at our dining room table in sweatpants… that's 2020 for you. Since many of us are still working from home for the rest of the year (and maybe even longer…), it's important to take a critical look at our set up for work. A lot of the time home workplaces are less than ideal ergonomic setups, which can lead to poor posture, eye strain, and back pain and more.

That's where Dr. Brad Metzler comes in! He's a chiropractor and certified ergonomic specialist who focuses on whole body care with an emphasis on ergonomics and movement. As well as having a private practice in San Francisco, Dr. Metzler works at Crossover Health as an in-house chiropractor/ergonomist for companies like Facebook and Square.

Dr. Brad Metzler, chiropractor and certified ergonomic specialist

We sat down with Dr. Metzler to ask him his thoughts on home workplace setups, how to improve your work setup, and why ergonomics is important for everyone, including ergonomics for kids who are distance learning

Because Health: Thanks for talking with us today! Can you tell us about your ergonomics work? Why are ergonomics important?

Dr. Brad Metzler: I started focusing on ergonomics after I noticed many of the issues my patients were experiencing were due to their faulty workspace and how they interacted with their work environment. Many employees are spending a large portion of their time at a desk with little movement throughout the day. I realized that addressing poor workplace design was key to helping them achieve their health goals. The goal of ergonomics is to make a person the most efficient at their workspace; I view it as examining both the hardware (equipment) and software (how the person interacts with workspace).

BH: Many people are now working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. What are some common ergonomic problems associated with working from home?

BM: The common ergonomic problems stemming from WFH include neck, upper back, and low back pain. Many people feel they don't have the right space or equipment to be set-up properly to work from home. People are used to the standard cubicle or office setting.

BH: It sounds like many would benefit from improving their home workplace setups. What are your top tips for home ergonomics?

BM: Some of my favorite tips include:

  • Your shoulders, elbows, wrists and hips should be at a 90-degree angle or slightly tilted down. Imagine placing a ball on your head. It should be able to roll down your neck, shoulder, forearm, wrist and onto your keyboard. It should be able to roll off your chest, down your thigh and shin and onto the ground without getting caught.
  • Windshield Wiper Rule. Imagine your body is a car and your elbows are windshield wipers. All your primary tasks (generally typing and mousing) should be within windshield wiper range. Avoid reaching with an extended arm for your keyboard and mouse.

  • While sitting upright in a good position with your head over your shoulders and looking straight ahead you should see the top third of your screen. Typically, people have their external monitor at the right height but then have their laptop too low and far off to the side.

  • Move more often! It is better to be in a bad position for 5-10 minutes and then switch positions then try to be in perfect position or any stagnant position for long periods of time.
  • Avoid working on soft, unstable surfaces like your couch or bed.
  • Avoid using only your laptop. There is no good ergonomic position when just using a laptop. Get a wireless keyboard and mouse/trackpad and connect it to your laptop.

BH: Great tips! Love the visualizations and how easy they are to remember. Do you have any creative hacks for how to get a better ergonomic set up without spending a lot of money on new furniture?

BM: I tend to put more emphasis on software (microbreaks and proper biomechanics) than hardware (equipment). The most important equipment to have is a basic but functional wireless keyboard and mouse or trackpad. With these relatively inexpensive devices you can hack your workstation and will give you versatility to work from multiple places.

You can hack the rest of your workspace using household goods to make any space work! It doesn't take much to improve your ergonomics. An ironing board can magically become an adjustable desk, a game box or books can be a laptop riser, a pillow to raise your chair height, you can use your kitchen counter as a standing desk…. All you need is a little creativity!

BH: We can feel our setup getting better already! Now onto overall health. What are some ways you stay healthy throughout the work day?

BM: Microbreaks are key to staying healthy throughout the day. A microbreak is taking a brief break every 20-30 minutes for 30-60 seconds to do some type of movement-based stretch or strengthening exercise. This could be some squats, stretching out your hip flexor, squeezing your shoulder blades together, stretching your neck, or looking out the window at a far distance to decrease eye strain.

BH: We've got ergonomics for adults down now, but what about children? Many kids are stuck at home doing distance learning via Zoom. Are ergonomics also important for kids?

BM: The same principles apply to children and their remote learning environment. The great thing about kids is they get fidgety and move frequently which is one of the reasons they have less pain than adults. Movement is medicine!

BH: Who knew fidgeting was beneficial?! That's great. What should parents look out for when designing a remote learning area for kids at home?

BM: Have them avoid using just a laptop, phone or tablet, as there is no good ergonomic position with just these devices alone. Consider getting a wireless keyboard and mouse/trackpad. Now is a great time to educate them on proper biomechanics, alternating sit/stand and incorporating movement into their long study hours. Trying to ingrain these principles now will pay major dividends in the future. Parents can also advocate for their teachers to incorporate proper posture and breathing and movement breaks into their classes as well.

BH: What else can I do to ensure my kids' bodies stay healthy when they are in front of the screen learning all day?

BM: Make sure to have them switch positions frequently, take microbreaks, and move! Remember the amount of movement your child typically gets from commuting to/from school, recess, and moving from class to class and now they are stuck on a screen all day. Get creative and have them move outside or inside. Races, scavenger hunts, obstacle courses... whatever you need to do to get them to move even if it's just for 5 minutes before another virtual class.

BH: And finally… what's the #1 most important thing you recommend to your patients to maintain a healthy body and prevent work related injuries?

BM: We are meant to move! Your best posture is your next posture. Keep moving!

COVID-19

Is Your Face Mask Offering Enough Protection?

Why some masks and materials are better than others

There's no denying COVID-19 has turned our lives upside down. And new rules and social norms have only added to the confusion caused by the pandemic. Since it was discovered that COVID-19 is transmitted through droplets and small airborne particles, face masks have become a part of our everyday lives. Whether we're running out to the grocery store or meeting up with a friend for socially-distanced coffee, face masks are a critical part of keeping society safe as we navigate our way through this pandemic.

Face masks now come in a wide array of colors, designs, and fabrics so you can have some personal style while staying safe. But not all masks are created equal. There's actually a big difference in how well certain materials can protect you. And since masks prevent you from getting others sick and others from getting you sick, we want all the protection we can get! We break down which face masks are best and which you should probably skip.

Why N95s are the Gold Standard

N95 respirator masks are usually considered to be the "gold standard" for face masks. In pre-covid times, you'd usually use an N95 mask if you were doing a heavy-duty DIY project or in the middle of a big wildfire. If fitted correctly, N95 masks have the ability to reduce droplet transmission to below 0.1% (2). That's why, at the beginning of the pandemic, they were almost exclusively being used by medical workers on the frontlines of COVID-19 and hospitals were asking for donations for these specific types of masks. There is one caveat though- N95 masks with a front valve only protect the person wearing it. The valve allows particles to escape from the mask, which could lead to others becoming infected (2). If your N95 does have a front valve, you could wear another mask over it to limit exhaled air. But if you have a choice- always buy a N95 mask without a valve!

Best Face Mask Options

There are plenty of mask options beyond N95 masks that will do a superb job at protecting you and others from COVID-19 infection. Researchers have been hard at work trying to determine the most effective masks on the market. Many agree that N95 masks are the best at filtering out particles, while well-fitted surgical masks, masks made from a hybrid of fabrics, and cotton masks all effectively reduce droplet transmission (3-7).

Surgical masks are traditionally used in hospitals to act as a barrier against fluid and offer protection to workers, but they're now a go-to option for people looking for a disposable mask to protect against COVID-19. The multiple layers of non-woven meltblown fabric make these masks really effective at filtering. They're a good face mask option because they're relatively easy to find now and can be pretty inexpensive!

Cotton is an excellent material for a face mask because it's widely available, natural, and breathable. Plus, it's machine washable! But it's important to look for a high thread count cotton mask rather than a low one. Cotton with "higher threads per inch" and "tight weaves" had better filtration effects than loosely woven fabric (4).

A hybrid of fabrics like cotton and silk, cotton and chiffon, cotton and flannel are also great options for a mask. The mix of fabrics helps create an electrostatic effect that improves filtration (4,6). Silk is "particularly effective at excluding particles in the nanoscale regime (<∼100 nm), while filtration effects for cotton/chiffon and cotton/flannel "was >80% (for particles <300 nm) and >90% (for particles >300 nm)" (4).

Whether you're clicking "buy it now" or getting crafty with a DIY project, surgical masks, cotton, or a hybrid fabric all offer solid protection against COVID-19. You can also get creative with different colors and patterns to show off your unique sense of style. But make sure to buy one that's comfortable! What's the point of buying that sequin-y, glitter-y, leopard print mask if it'll just stay in your dresser drawer?!

Better than No Mask, but Not the Best

While wearing a face mask is always better than going without one, some masks are better than others. Makeshift masks often provide very little protection when compared to proper masks. Gaiters and bandanas had "substantial amounts" of droplet particles detected outside of the mask (3), and researchers looking at common household items you could use as a mask found that a scarf wrapped around the face did the worst at preventing infection (5). It's also crucial to make sure your mask fits your face properly. Even if it's made from one of our recommended materials, an ill-fitted mask can result in "over a 60% decrease in the filtration efficiency" (4).

Conclusion

Any mask is better than no mask, regardless of the material it's made out of. Masks are a crucial part of keeping everyone safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. N95s, surgical masks, and masks made from cotton or a hybrid fabric are all great choices, but it's important to experiment with different mask styles and materials to find the one that works best for you. If your mask is comfortable, you'll probably wear it more!


References

1.https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public/when-and-how-to-use-masks

2.https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/resp...

3.https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/6/36/eabd3083

4.https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acsnano.0c03252

5.https://www.journalofhospitalinfection.com/article...(20)30276-0/fulltext

6. https://aip.scitation.org/doi/10.1063/5.0016018

7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7294826/

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