The grass will always be greener with these non-toxic alternatives!

How to Keep Your Lawn Happy Without the Use of Harmful Chemicals

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Even though it's still spring, we are already dreaming about summer lawn games, BBQs, and playing catch with the kids outside. And for many Americans, a nice blanket of green grass in the backyard is just the perfect setting for all these summer memories. If your lawn is looking a little worse-for-wear after some cold winter months, then you may want to pay attention because spring is the time to start getting your lawn ready! Spring is the perfect time to reseed, add compost, fertilizer, water, and get all your equipment in order. But how about pesticides and herbicides? Should you be adding them to prevent weeds from ruining your lawn? Are they the only solution if you want the perfect backyard for summer fun? Let's take a deep dive into what pesticides are used in lawn care and how to get the lushest, greenest grass for all your summer backyard picnics without using harmful chemicals.

What are pesticides and why are they harmful?

Glad you asked! Let's dig into what's hiding underneath the lush green lawn. Did you know that an astonishing nearly 80 million pounds of pesticides are used on U.S. lawns annually!

Pesticides are toxic substances that are designed to kill any living organism perceived as a pest, which intrinsically make them harmful. (2) These pesticides can be found in grub control, weed killers (herbicides), fungus treatment (fungicides), and insect spray (insecticides). The most common pesticides found in lawn care are two herbicides, glyphosate and 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D for short). It's no surprise most gardening sheds will have products containing pesticides, as most people rely on these chemicals to treat their lawn and keep the weeds away.

Most weed killers contain 2,4-D and are oftentimes a part of "weed and feed" products. (2) "Weed and feed" products are a combination of herbicides and fertilizer (oftentimes synthetic fertilizer), that are designed to kill weeds and provide nutrients for the grass, all at once. These are one of the most toxic substances, as they are loaded with pesticides to accomplish both these tasks at the same time. Most synthetic fertilizers rely on pesticides to provide nutrients to the grass. (17) Studies have found 2, 4-D to be a carcinogen (cancer-causing), linking it to non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, childhood brain tumors and soft tissue sarcomas. (15, 5) It's also been linked to Parkinson's disease, immunosuppressive effects, hormone disruption, and thyroid problems (hypothyroidism). (6) And it's also been found to affect reproductive functions, and cause neurotoxicity (nervous system damage).

Glyphosate, the most widely applied pesticide in the world, has also been found to be a carcinogen and is found in many lawn care products. These products are commonly known as RoundUp. (3, 4)

Yikes! That's a lot of RoundUp (a picture personally taken while at Home Depot).

As with 2,4-D, scientific studies have shown glyphosate to also be linked to immune and nervous system disorders, learning disabilities, and behavioral problems. Glyphosate has been shown to increase the risk of asthma, infertility, and birth defects. (15)

How do these pesticides harm our health?

Pesticides can harm adults, children, and pets, through the skin, inhalation and ingestion. The most common type of exposure is through the skin. For example, a person can be exposed to a splash or mist when applying product to the lawn. A person can also be exposed by inhaling airborne droplets. Pesticides can even get into our waterways by seeping into the soil and can be brought into the home through clothes. Children are particularly vulnerable due to their size (they take in more pesticides relative to their bodyweight), rapid development, and hand to mouth behaviors. Pregnant people are also a vulnerable population to pesticide exposure. (2, 7, 12) Pets are exposed the most as they spend more time outdoors and some pets tend to eat grass, directly ingesting the pesticides. For example, cats regularly lick their paws, which means they could easily ingest pesticides that way. (2)

So how can I maintain a nice looking yard, while avoiding pesticides?

There are safer ways to get a "perfect" lush lawn. Plus, did you know applying pesticides on your lawn just creates an unhealthy chemical-using cycle? (9) It's simply a band aid solution, as it's a fast approach but doesn't target the root of the problem, which is the lack of healthy and rich soil. Applying pesticides tricks your grass into thinking it needs to rely on synthetic fertilizer to look and feel fresh, instead of actually drawing nutrients from the soil. However, here are some safer alternatives that will grow the greenest and healthiest lawn on the block while keeping you, your family, your pets, and friends safe.

Try some DIY lawn care tips:

Follow a yearly schedule to prevent your grass from needing toxic chemicals. It's recommended to start your lawn care in March. But no matter the time of the year, it's not too late to apply organic fertilizer. Check out these simple homemade and store bought organic fertilizers. Or better yet, use grass clippings as fertilizer (recycling and non-toxic? That's our kind of thing!). Add corn gluten meal to prevent weeds from sprouting. Corn gluten dries out the emerging plant's initial root, preventing a new weed from growing. Keep in mind, this will also prevent grass from growing, so only apply where there are emerging weed seedlings. Then, after fertilization (through the months of April - October), be sure to dethatch (remove the dead layer of old grass) and overseed (spread grass seed over existing lawn to fill bare spots) in September. Weekly tasks throughout the year include watering only when the lawn starts to show signs of dryness, and mowing. Be sure to set the mower 3-4 inches high to get rid of any weeds and then don't forget to leave your clippings around for fertilizer (extra nitrogen)! Here are some organic tips for common lawn problems:

  • Have brown spots? This is likely due to too much nitrogen (usually from pet urine). Water the grass right after a pet urinates to dilute the nitrogen.
  • You see brown tips on your grass? This is probably due to dull mower blades, be sure to sharpen your blades each Spring!
  • Are their patches of dirt, where grass didn't grow? Be sure to add compost and grass seed, then water the area!
  • If you have yellow grass, this most likely means your grass is low in nitrogen or may be over-watered. Dethatch or aerate lawn before applying fertilizer.
  • If you start seeing dandelions or crabgrass (or other weeds for that matter), cut off the heads of the weeds to prevent the seeds from spreading and then spread corn gluten meal in the Springtime to prevent weeds from popping up.
That sounds too time consuming, what are my other options?

If you don't have the extra time for DIY care, but maybe have the extra money to invest in lawn services, try integrated pest management (IPM). IPM is an organic based lawn care management that provides for better and safer methods to control insects, weeds and diseases. Find more information here.

FYI - If you plan on looking into non-IPM lawn services, there's a chance they may claim their services (which may include the application of harmful pesticides) are safe to use. While this may seem like a good thing, it can actually be a red flag, as the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) prohibits manufacturers from making safety claims, even if the product is used as directed. Just because a chemical is used as directed, does not mean it is safe to use. If you're ever unfamiliar with a product used or recommended by lawn services, you can look up the toxicity of the product at www.pesticide.org.

I'll stick to products from my local home improvement store.

Or if you still prefer to stop by your local home improvement store for nutrients to use on your lawn, that's fine too. But please just be sure to read the label before purchasing. Avoid ingredients such as 2, 4-D (2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid), and glyphosate. This does not mean all other pesticides are safe to use, in fact, most (if not all) pesticides are harmful. As mentioned before, you can check the toxicity of a product here.

Please take note: many pesticides and other chemicals used in lawn care persist in lawns and soil long after the posted 24-72 hours. If treatment is absolutely necessary, make sure to wear proper personal protective equipment (PPE) and stay off the lawn for a few days after application. (19)

Although the use of harmful pesticides is widely used and this information can be overwhelming, we hope these safer alternatives will serve as a start to avoid these harmful chemicals. Suspending the production and use of these chemicals by manufacturers is a bigger problem that may take a while to resolve. However, the good news is, we can do our part by doing the following: taking the time to take lawn care into our own hands (DIY gardening and lawn care), placing it in the hands of a trustworthy IPM service, or by reading the label and avoiding toxic chemicals when purchasing products.

If you're interested in other pesticide related topics, such as pests in your home or why going organic is beneficial to your neighbors and planet as a whole, check out these other Because Health articles:

Struggling With Pests at Home? Here's What To Do

Going Organic: Why it's Worth it for Your Neighbors, Animals, and the Planet As a Whole.

References:

  1. https://www.ehhi.org/lawnpest_full.pdf
  2. https://www.ehhi.org/pestBroFINAL.pdf
  3. https://www.ehn.org/monsanto-papers-2650517822/hazardous-chemicals
  4. https://www.ehn.org/monsanto-papers-book-2650597124/i-dont-really-know-what-this-is
  5. https://www.ewg.org/news-insights/news-release/dow-crop-chemical-labeled-possibly-carcinogenic-humans
  6. https://factor.niehs.nih.gov/2019/12/science-highlights/parkinsons/index.htm
  7. https://www.jstor.org/stable/25662648?casa_token=IG4zGhg0l58AAAAA%3A1kvIzhF4Xblg9lpTu7zCPIPDCPADQoCqzwnSeQFrDHyoZY0KgghDDg0zjtgHG5eND42hjPbLcz6fRazmUGcb_sRkZhhFrQRLVZvGuNF5KMSQ-P8vWyX_&seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents
  8. https://learn.eartheasy.com/articles/6-reasons-to-...
  9. https://www.nanaimo.ca/culture-environment/environment-and-sustainability/pesticide-use
  10. https://naturalawn.com/meaningful-differences/why-is-ipm-important#:~:text=IPM%20is%20a%20complete%20lawn,Monitoring
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1128552/
  12. https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/pesticides/index.cfm
  13. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19752299/
  14. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24064777/
  15. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26339156/
  16. https://www.saferbrand.com/articles/do-it-yourself-organic-lawn-care
  17. https://www.schilllandscaping.com/blog/reasons-to-...
  18. https://www.thespruce.com/best-weed-killers-4173508
  19. https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/chemical-...

You may already know buying organic is good for your health, but did you know it also benefits workers, the environment and climate change? It's true! Organic foods are grown without the use of artificial chemicals, synthetic fertilizer, hormones, pesticides or genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Essentially, eating organic foods minimizes your risk for exposure to environmental toxins, avoiding serious health issues related to pesticides and other harmful chemicals found in non-organic produce and meats (12). There are no preservatives and additives to organic products, a.k.a organic foods are better for you! But on top of it being healthy, it benefits farm workers and the planet as a whole too.

Buying Organic Food Protects Farmworkers' Health!

Studies show the greatest amount of pesticide use in the United States occurs in agriculture. Pesticide exposures increase the likelihood of chemical related injuries and adverse effects in the workplace. These injuries are caused by the chronic toxicity of pesticides (specifically organophosphate) (14). This study determined that fatal injuries increased with days per year of pesticide application, with the highest risk associated to those who apply pesticides for more than 60 days a year. Being exposed to pesticides (even when a small amount) everyday (a.k.a chronic occupational exposure), will cause adverse health effects such as difficulties in executive functions like verbal, visual, memory, coordination and attention functions (8)(14).

Not only are pesticides used in the United States' agricultural process, but they are also heavily used among conventional farming in other countries that produce a lot of the food we eat! Did you know Mexico accounts for 75% of agricultural imports to the U.S.? Not only are farmworkers in Mexico exposed to harmful chemicals but on top of that, studies show most farmworkers in Mexico do not have the proper personal protective equipment (PPE)(8). Yikes! Meaning, they are even more exposed to these harmful chemicals! Similarly, according to a study where melon farmers were interviewed on pesticide application and PPE, the majority of farmers weren't aware of the importance of protecting themselves (6). Yet, another study conducted in India found pesticide poisoning is common among farmers because they are often under trained and consider it impractical and expensive to use safety equipment (13). Although we may not have the power to change these policies among other countries, we do have the choice to buy organic and help reduce pesticide exposure among farmworkers!

Organic Production is Better for the Environment (and our ecosystem)!

Unlike conventional farming, organic farming uses dirt and natural processes such as crop rotations, composting of plant and animal materials, and manure as fertilizer for the production of food instead of using synthetic fertilizers and applying pesticides. The problem with synthetic fertilizers is it requires the burning of fossil fuels, which inherently makes climate change worse by producing pollution and emitting nitrous oxide (N2O; a greenhouse gas with a high global warming potential)(3). The problem with pesticides is similar in that fumigants will release toxic chemicals into the air, accounting for 30% of global emissions leading to climate change (think CO2 in the air).

Whereas, organic farm productions improve climate change! Using manure as fertilizer reduces pollution, minimizes nitrogen footprint (i.e., reduces gas emissions) and increases nitrogen recycling (9). All good things! Additionally, crop rotations prevent nutrients from building up in the soil which helps with nitrate leaching and run-off. Otherwise, this excess nitrogen and phosphorus caused by synthetic fertilization can be lost into waterways, causing eutrophication (an increased load of nutrients in lakes and oceans, creating an abundance of algae and plants in estuaries and coastal waters). This excess of nutrients leads to low-oxygen (hypoxis) water (since the algae block the sunlight), which then kills off fish and their homes! (10) Eutrophication has a negative domino effect on aquaculture, since the abundance of algae and plants produces a large amount of carbon dioxide which then lowers the PH level of water, causing acidification. Acidification then slows the growth of fish, which means a smaller harvest (10). So let's support organic farming to save the fish population!

Eating Organic Will Help Save Our Busy Bees!

Organic farming benefits the entire planet, including our busy bees and beautiful butterflies! (10) Just like how pesticides affect human health, these toxic chemicals also place a burden on bees and butterflies (2). Entomologists (those who study insects) suspect that lethal and sublethal effects of pesticides are one of the many factors threatening our friendly pollinators (2). The use of pesticides is negatively affecting pollination and affecting our food system at large by reducing the bee population (21). Sadly, 40% of pollinators like bees and butterflies face extinction (11).

Although small, these tiny and mighty pollinators are responsible for a lot of the food we eat (11). Bees are responsible for the pollination of fruits, nuts and vegetables. Pollination is essential for foraging crops used to feed the livestock we depend on for meat and dairy products (1). More specifically, 75% of the world's food crops depend on these pollinators! (11) Without the bees, the shelves at your local grocery stores would be empty! And I don't know about you, but I certainly can't live without honey in my tea! To prevent this from happening, we encourage you to buy organic and while you're at it, join these U.S. food retailers in saving the bees and reducing pesticide use! (16)

Tips on Buying Organic

Even though there are many awesome reasons to eat organic, we know buying organic food products can get expensive. That's why we have a few pro tips to help you prioritize what to buy (and when to buy)!

1. Start off with purchasing fruits and vegetables where it matters most to buy organic!

We won't go into detail on all dirty dozen but we do suggest adding these organic items to your grocery list!

  • Strawberries 🍓 (according to many studies, strawberries are the fruit with the MOST pesticides)(5)
  • All other yummy berries you throw in that smoothie! - raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, etc.
  • Spinach (or any other leafy greens of your choice)
  • Nectarines
  • Peaches
  • Apples
  • Grapes
  • Cherries

Basically, anything you eat the skin on you should prioritize to buy organic!

If you feel overwhelmed by all this new info and feel as though everything in your pantry HAS to be organic. Don't sweat it. There's no need to rush to restock your entire kitchen with everything organic but the above list should help you start!

2. Budget and hold off on buying these items

Here's a list of a few of the foods containing the least amount of pesticides, a.k.a the clean fifteen (so it's okay to hold off on buying these organic right away):

  • Asparagus
  • Avocado
  • Mushrooms
  • Cabbage
  • Sweet Corn
  • Eggplant
  • Kiwi
  • Grapefruit
  • Cantaloupe

3. Buy organic meat and dairy products. Look for an organic certified label! Oftentimes, conventional farm animals may be fed antibiotics, animal byproducts, growth hormones, pesticides, and sewage sludge. We really shouldn't be consuming any of this. Whereas, organic farmers are required to raise their farm animals in living conditions as close to their natural habitat as possible while feeding them 100% organic food and do not administer antibiotics or hormones (18). Good for farm animals and good for you!

4. Shop frozen goods. There are many organic frozen fruits and vegetables that are affordable and delicious as well. Organic blueberry muffins that are good for the earth and your wallet taste better! Trust us!

5. Buy in season and shop at your local farm CSA! Fruits and vegetables are cheapest and freshest when they are in season (friendly tip: stock up on your favorite berries and freeze them for later!). Shopping at your local community supported agriculture (CSA) farm will help assure you buy what's in season!

We hope these tips will make the journey to eating organic a lot less stressful and instead, a lot more fun!

References:

  1. https://www.bbc.co.uk/teach/would-we-starve-without-bees/zkf292p#:~:text=All%20sorts%20of%20fruit%20and,we%20depend%20on%20for%20meat
  2. https://www.beyondpesticides.org/assets/media/documents/pollinators/pollinators.pdf
  3. https://www.bloombergquint.com/onweb/synthetic-fer...
  4. https://www.epa.gov/nutrientpollution/sources-and-solutions-agriculture
  5. https://www.ewg.org/foodnews/strawberries.php#
  6. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10661-015-4371-3
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3515737/
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5606636/
  9. http://www.n-print.org/Organic
  10. https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/eutrophication...
  11. https://www.organic-center.org/pollinator-health
  12. https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/130/5/e1406.short?casa_token=NLuQNAYHAhcAAAAA:qpYUy6ciDLWYmouziY_-ctj4UYVXbNcRNDaL3zHzDUZD2CHn6BpLkMfdndq5bylhunXC60AYcO8
  13. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17962973/
  14. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27128815/
  15. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30411285/
  16. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/06/190626005208.htm
  17. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/jul/29/bees-food-crops-shortage-study
  18. https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2012/03/22/organic...
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Life

Mardi Gras Beads Don't Belong in Your Mouth (or your kids')

Don't let these harmful chemicals ruin your celebration

Every year, over one million parade goers will fill the streets of New Orleans for Mardi Gras. Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday as it's also known in the Christian calendar, is a day of feasting before the start of Lent on Ash Wednesday. Mardi Gras is known for many things like parades, masks, costumes, and music. But for most people a central part of Mardi Gras is collecting and wearing beads, also known as throws. While collecting throws can be a fun way to celebrate, there is growing concern about the health hazards of the beads and the environmental cost of the beads.

The vast majority of beads that are handed out during Mardi Gras originate from China. Back in the day, the beads were made of glass, but now they are made of plastic. It's estimated that China manufactures 25 million pounds of beads for Mardi Gras alone (1). Despite government regulations to keep hazardous chemicals like lead in children's products to under 100ppm, over two thirds of these beads did not meet the concentration requirement (2). Researchers at the Ecology Center, who tested Mardi Gras beads, estimate that a single year's inventory of Mardi Gras beads may contain up to 900,000 pounds of hazardous flame retardants and 10,000 pounds of lead. Based on the composition of the chemicals found in the plastic beads, the researchers concluded that plastic from electronic waste was likely being recycled into producing Mardi Gras beads (2).

While exposure to lead and flame retardants is harmful to everyone's health, it's particularly dangerous for children. Even though Mardi Gras beads are not a children's product, many children collect and wear them during the parade and often put them in their mouths to chew on. Children also play with them and residues may end up on their hands, which is another way they could be potentially eating these toxic substances. It is recommended to limit the interaction your little ones have with Mardi Gras bead to prevent exposure to these toxic substances. If you have a toddler or baby who is teething, don't let them chew on the beads. And for older children, let them wear them for a short while and then consider donating them to be reused. And for everyone who touches the beads, make sure to wash hands before snacking or eating.

Aside from the health effects, there are also harmful environmental effects from Mardi Gras beads. The plastic beads end up in landfills or down storm drains, and contribute to the problem of plastic waste in our environment. In 2018, the city of New Orleans found 93,000 pounds of Mardi Gras beads in just 5 city blocks that had washed down into storm drains (4). The toxic substances, like lead and flame retardants, then leach from the beads and end up in the waterways, eventually draining into the Gulf of Mexico. These substances accumulate in fish, and in turn, put seafood lovers at risk for lead poisoning (3).

However, all this bad news doesn't mean that your kids (or you for that matter) can't accessorize with beads and have fun this Mardi Gras! A handful of companies are aware of the adverse impacts of traditional beads and have created more sustainable options. ArcGNO collects and reuses the same Mardi Gras beads each year while Atlas Beads creates handmade Mardi Gras beads from paper. Both are much better options than single use beads! Many krewes are recognizing the problem that Mardi Gras beads pose and are coming up with creative and reusable throws, such as aprons, cooking spoons, hats, and t-shirts. Some are even handing out local food items such as red beans, jambalaya mix, and coffee beans. It's great to see such creative alternatives to plastic Mardi Gras beads!

References
  1. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/toxic-truth-mardi-gras-beads-180962431/
  2. https://www.ecocenter.org/healthy-stuff/reports/ho...
  3. https://setac.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/etc.2641
  4. https://www.npr.org/2018/01/26/580933914/new-orleans-finds-93-000-pounds-of-mardi-gras-beads-in-storm-drains

October is here and we are now in the season of pumpkin spice, spooky movies, and breast cancer awareness! October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, which is dedicated to bringing attention to the impacts of breast cancer and how to detect and treat it. Breast cancer is one of the most prevalent cancers among women in the United States affecting nearly 1 in 8 women (1). Like all cancers, breast cancer is complicated and scientists aren't positive of the direct causes. However, recent research has identified certain risk factors, like the environment and lifestyle, that could be associated with the disease.

If you're in your 20s or 30s, breast cancer may seem like something you don't have to worry about until later in life. However, some of these risk factors can be modified by your lifestyle, and changing behavior early in life is important. Take action this October and protect yourself using our top three tips to decrease your environmental risk of breast cancer.

  1. Limit alcohol consumption- studies show that any amount of alcohol increases risk for breast cancer. The more alcohol you drink, the more risk you take on. Alcohol can damage DNA in your cells, or increase levels of estrogen (a hormone involved in the development of many breast cancers) (2). This is not to say you must refrain from enjoying a glass of wine at the end of a long day, some studies even show that moderate alcohol use can be protective for heart disease! However, if you do decide to drink it is important to practice moderation. Managing lifestyle risk factors can be a difficult balancing act. Bottom line: Avoiding heavy alcohol consumption is always a good idea and other decisions about alcohol and health should be made with careful assessment of your other risk and lifestyle factors
  2. Stay smoke free! Tobacco smoke contains a handful of cancer-causing agents and is associated with higher rates of breast cancer, especially among younger women (3). The carcinogens in tobacco smoke can bind to DNA leading to mutations and tissue damage, and many of these carcinogens have affinity for breast tissue due to their chemical makeup. Evidence suggests smoking tobacco works synergistically with other factors to substantially increase risk .
  3. Be proactive about your health. This means staying active, eating a balanced and healthy diet, scheduling regular women's health check-ups, and looking into genetic counseling if you have a family history of breast cancer. Exercise and weight management through a healthy diet have both been linked to a lower risk of breast cancer. Because fat cells store estrogen, overweight and obese women are more likely to develop cancer in breast tissue (5).

Even though you probably don't need ANOTHER reason to cut environmental toxics out of your life, it is also worth noting that preliminary evidence suggests other toxics such as pesticides, BPA, metals lead and mercury, could be associated with breast cancer risk. Although mechanisms are unclear thus far, scientists speculate that endocrine disrupting chemicals like pesticides and BPA act on the estrogen pathway. And heavy metals like lead and mercury may interact with and inhibit the body's natural cancer defenses. Even though the research is new, it may be worth your while to avoid products containing these chemicals, especially if you have other breast cancer risk factors (6,7).

Be proactive this breast cancer awareness month and do what you can to lower your risk!

Sources:

  1. https://www.breastcancer.org/symptoms/understand_bc/statistics
  2. https://www.breastcancer.org/risk/factors/alcohol
  3. https://www.breastcancer.org/risk/factors/smoking
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4013418/
  5. https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/breast/basic_info/risk_factors.html
  6. https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/materials/environmental_factors_and_breast_cancer_risk_508.pdf
  7. https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/conditions...
  8. https://bcaction.org/our-take-on-breast-cancer/environment/
  9. https://www.nap.edu/read/13263/chapter/8#290
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20195925
Life

Does Where You Live Impact Your Breast Cancer Risk?

The surprising connection between your environment and breast cancer

Every year in the United States, 245,000 cases of breast cancer are diagnosed in women and about 2,200 in men (1). This translates to 1 in 8 women being diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. This makes breast cancer the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women in the United States.

While we have found many risk factors for breast cancer like late menopause, having children late in life, and family history, we still do not know what causes normal cells to become cancerous (2). In fact, the risk factors described above only account for 30% of women with breast cancer. This means that seventy percent of breast cancer cases have no known risk factors (3).

Scientists agree that breast cancer manifests from a combination of genetic, hormonal, and environmental factors. While genetic and hormonal factors are harder to change, we may be able to reduce our risk of breast cancer by avoiding exposure to certain chemicals.

How the Environment is Linked to Breast Cancer

It has been shown that Japanese immigrants in the United States have higher incidence rates of breast cancer compared to their counterparts in their homeland (4). This observation suggests that there is a strong relationship between the disease and the environment. This is not only true in Japan! Non-industrialized countries have lower breast cancer rates than industrialized countries. People who immigrated to industrialized countries, such as the United States, from their homeland developed the same rates of breast cancer observed in their new home.

So what is going on in industrialized countries? A study investigated the link between breast cancer and the environment, and found that women who lived in areas of higher airborne lead, mercury, and cadmium were at a higher risk of developing postmenopausal breast cancer (5). Studies also found that estrogen is a key hormone that is intimately linked to the development of breast cancer, and that xenohormones, a group of synthetic chemicals that imitate estrogen, have been found to significantly enhance the risk for breast cancer during growth and adolescence (6). Xenohormones can be found in our everyday life. They are present in common weed killers, pesticides, plastics, and bug sprays. Increased exposure to these chemicals may play a role in the high risk of breast cancer seen in industrialized countries.

What You Can Do to Lower Your Risk

While scientists are still hard at work to determine the cocktail of factors that causes breast cancer, we can do our part to take precautions against the environmental factors that have been associated with the disease. When possible, avoid areas of high air pollution. Opt to stay indoors or wear a N95 face mask if conditions are poor and you must go outside. Additionally, be aware of xenohormones and other endocrine disruptors in the products you are in contact with.

References

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - Breast Cancer Basic Information
  2. https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/conditions/breast-cancer/index.cfm#footnote2
  3. https://bcaction.org/our-take-on-breast-cancer/environment/
  4. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0959804993902277
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30198937
  6. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0306987798902626
Home

Why You Should Make the Switch to LED Light Bulbs

Better for the environment and your wallet

No one likes home maintenance and high electricity bills. Lucky for you, replacing your light bulbs with light-emitting diode (LED) light bulbs can shorten your to-do list and save you money on your next energy bill!

Technology has advanced a lot since Thomas Edison created the first light bulb in 1878. The latest and greatest is called the LED bulb. The light emitting diode in the bulb are small (about the size of a fleck of pepper), don't need reflectors or diffusers, and emit very little heat (1). Here are a couple reasons why you should make the switch to LEDs.

1. Traditional Light Bulbs Contain Dangerous Chemicals

Traditional light bulbs like compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs use mercury and other nobles gases such as argon to create light (3). These chemicals are a hazard if the bulb breaks and can be detrimental to your health. LEDs on the other hand do not contain any mercury. Making the switch to LED bulbs is a good option to reduce your exposure to these harmful chemicals.

2. LED Bulbs Last Longer Than Traditional Light Bulbs

One LED bulb can last for years. It is estimated that LEDs last between 20,000 to 50,000 hours (2). That means that LEDs last 3 to 25 times as long as old-school incandescent bulbs and 10 times as long as CFLs. Imagine only having to buy one light bulb when you would otherwise have to buy 25. That's a significant cost saving and a large reduction in waste!

3. LED Bulbs Are More Energy Efficient

LEDs use 25-80% less energy compared to similarly bright incandescent and CFL bulbs (1). This is because they more efficiently transfer energy into light, whereas traditional bulbs lose a lot of energy in the form of heat. That's why traditional bulbs get so hot while LED bulbs remain cool to the touch. Replacing old holiday lights with LED lights can actually reduce the risk of combustion, burns, or Christmas tree fires.

Being more energy efficient means a lower energy bill! It is estimated that replacing one incandescent bulb with an LED bulb will save you $5 per year (4). This is a large reduction in your bill if you replace all the bulbs in your home!

4. LED Bulbs are Better for the Environment

When you switch to LED bulbs, you not only save money, but you also help improve the environment. How? Since LEDs last longer, you reduce the amount of waste you produce. If you're using fewer light bulbs, you have less to throw away! Other light bulbs contain hazardous chemicals, which can also create a challenge for safe waste disposal. LEDs are also an easy way to combat climate change because they use less energy, which means that you aren't using as much fossil fuel. It's a win-win situation!

Getting Started

If we have convinced you to make the switch to LEDs, make sure you purchase bulbs that are marked "Energy Star" on the box. This means that the bulb is approved by ENERGY STAR, a program run by the EPA and Department of Energy that promotes energy efficiency. While the cost of LED bulbs are slightly higher than incandescent and CFL bulbs, they do not contain any harmful chemicals and will save you money in the long run. Think of it as a small upfront investment in your family's (and the planet's) health and long-term savings!


References

  1. https://www.energy.gov/energysaver/save-electricity-and-fuel/lighting-choices-save-you-money/how-energy-efficient-light
  2. https://www.thesimpledollar.com/the-light-bulb-showdown-leds-vs-cfls-vs-incandescent-bulbs-whats-the-best-deal-now-and-in-the-future/
  3. https://www.chemistryworld.com/news/q-and-a-mercury-in-energy-saving-light-bulbs/3003352.article
  4. https://ledlightguides.com/how-much-do-led-lights-save/

We know climate change poses a real and serious threat; scientists have observed Earth's temperature steadily rise by one degree Fahrenheit over the last 100 years (1). But when we think of climate change, an image of a polar bear on a dwindling iceberg usually comes to everyone's mind. There's so much emphasis on the environmental impacts of climate change, we often forget that climate change is also negatively impacting our health. How? Read on…

Air pollution

Even though you can't see it unless it's a super smoggy day, air pollution is a huge threat to our health. Burning coal, oil, and gas are big contributors to climate change, and they also release harmful air pollutants like particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, and sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere. These pollutants have been linked to serious diseases, and can cause severe symptoms in people with heart and lung conditions. When you breathe in, these pollutants get trapped in your nose, travel to your airway, and even enter into your bloodstream. Exposure to these pollutants have been linked to death in people with heart or lung disease, heart attacks, irregular heartbeats, aggravated asthma, decreased lung function, and increased respiratory symptoms (2). It is estimated that 4.2 million people a year die from air pollution (3).

Extreme Weather Events

Nowadays, it's hard to not hear about extreme weather on the television or radio no matter what time of year it is. Extreme weather events like heat waves, drought, floods, and hurricanes are increasing both in intensity and frequency due to climate change. The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions created an interactive map that highlights just how many extreme weather events occurred in the past decade. The Guardian also has published a visual guide of the human toll from 2018 climate disasters. In 2018 alone, Europe faced both heatwaves and freezing weather, Argentina suffered through droughts that decimated croplands, India experienced record high flooding, and the United States endured hurricanes and fires. That same year, 10,373 people lost their lives due to disasters, and 61.7 million people were affected by natural hazards (5). As climate change continues, these numbers will only get worse.

Increased Vector-Borne Disease

Very few things can ruin a beautiful summer day, but a swarm of mosquitoes is definitely one of them. Just the thought of their buzzing has us lathering on bug spray and lighting citronella candles! Unfortunately, with worsening climate change, we are in for a lot more buzzing.

Changes in temperature, rainfall, and humidity brought on by climate change have allowed vectors like mosquitoes, ticks, and rodents that carry infectious agents to migrate to new areas (6). With the expansion of their habitats and breeding grounds, these vectors are coming into contact with more people, and more interactions with people means more chance of infection. We've seen higher incidences of diseases like malaria, Lyme disease, and West Nile virus in recent years. To make things worse, a warming climate also allow vectors and the microbes inside of them to grow and reproduce at a faster rate (7).

What You Can Do

While the statistics on climate change are sobering, there's a lot you can do to protect your health! Being prepared and taking small precautions can keep you safe no matter what a changing climate throws at you.

  • If you are travelling to a heavily polluted area, you can limit exposure to harmful pollutants by wearing an air mask. Look for masks called a "particulate respirator" with the word "NIOSH" and either "N95" or "P100" on the package information. Make sure to replace your mask with a new one every few days (if the mask if reusable to begin with).
  • If you live in a buggy area, apply bug sprays before going out to ward off disease-carrying insects and reapply when necessary. Check out our insect repellent guide to find out which repellent is right for you!
  • And if you live in an area that is prone to natural disasters, purchase or assemble an emergency kit to store in your home. There are kits that are specific for flooding, hurricanes, heat waves, and other natural disasters. Make sure to have these kits readily available know how to use them.


References

  1. https://www.epa.gov/pm-pollution/health-and-environmental-effects-particulate-matter-pm
  2. https://www.nasa.gov/audience/forstudents/k-4/stories/nasa-knows/what-is-climate-change-k4.html
  3. https://www.who.int/airpollution/en/
  4. https://nca2014.globalchange.gov/highlights/report-findings/extreme-weather
  5. https://reliefweb.int/report/world/2018extreme-weather-events-affected-60m-people
  6. https://www.iamat.org/blog/5-must-read-articles-on-climate-change-and-infectious-diseases/
  7. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/mosquito-borne-diseases-on-the-uptick-thanks-to-global-warming/
  8. https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/features/safer-bug-spray-natural-bug-repellents#1
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