why it's important, other best practices, and a comprehensive resource list
This is a toolkit that is an easy to understand guide to best and safe practices for reopening childcare providers and schools during COVID-19. The toolkit has summaries of best practices from the CDC, EPA, and others in one place. Our recommendations also take into consideration disinfectants with safer ingredients. If you are a parent who is concerned about safe and best practices when schools are reopened, please download our toolkit to send to your childcare provider or school administrator. We even have a sample email that you can use to write your school administrator or childcare director and attach these materials. Or if you work as a childcare provider or at a school, we have made this resource for you. We hope that it is helpful.
Download the toolkit with all the links here:
Want an easy way to live healthier?
Sign up for our newsletter! Curated environmental health news delivered to your inbox every three weeks.
plus DIY disinfectant and cleaning recipes and when and how to wash hands or use hand sanitizer
We've created a one stop shop for all your questions on using safer disinfectant at home to reduce COVID-19 transmission. Please share with your family and friends. We hope they are useful!
You can download the entire PDF with links here:
Reduce Your Meat Consumption Without Sacrificing Taste
We've all heard that reducing meat consumption is a great way to combat climate change, but for many people giving up meat completely is just really hard. That's why we're all for meals that reduce meat, but don't give it up completely. Just eating less meat on a consistent basis can have a big impact on carbon emissions and plant rich diets are really good for your heart health too. Adding veggies into ground beef tacos is one of our favorite ways to do that. This recipe is super kid-friendly and doesn't sacrifice on taste; it will definitely become a go-to recipe that everyone will gobble up. It's also budget friendly because it can stretch a pound of ground beef to last two meals. Sounds almost too good to be true, right?!
This recipe is also great for using up any veggies that are languishing in the fridge. Here we use onion, celery, zucchinis, and kale, but most veggies will work in this recipe. Broccoli stems, wilted leafy greens, leftover bell pepper, and even eggplant and mushrooms will work in this recipe. By using up what you have, you're reducing food waste, which is another way to combat climate change. So give this recipe a try the next time Taco Tuesday rolls around!
Ground Beef Loaded with Veggies Recipe
For the Filling
- 1 lb Ground Beef
- ½ onion
- 1 stalk celery
- 3 small zucchinis (or 2 medium)
- 1 bunch kale or other leafy green
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- ½ tsp chili powder (or sub taco seasoning mix for all spices)
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- Salt and pepper
For the Tacos
- Flour or corn tortillas or hard taco shells
- Garnishes like avocado, salsa, shredded cheese, sliced radishes, shredded lettuce, sour cream, pickled onions
- Finely chop or food process onion, celery, zucchinis, and kale. You can use any other vegetables that you have in the refrigerator. Broccoli, swiss chard, cabbage, mushrooms all work well.
- Heat 1 Tbsp olive oil in a skillet and add vegetables. Cook over medium high heat, stirring frequently until the veggies have lost most of their water content. Depending on the moisture in the veggies you used, this may take anywhere from 5-15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Remove veggies from the skillet and set aside.
- Add ground beef to the skillet and break up with a spatula. Add garlic, cumin, coriander, and chili powder. Feel free to change the amount of chili powder so that it's more spicy or less spicy depending on your preference. You can also substitute some taco seasoning mix if you have that on hand. Season with salt and pepper as well.
- When the ground beef is browned evenly, add the veggies back into the skillet and mix with your spatula until the mixture is well combined.
- Serve in heated tortillas with any garnishes you may have. Leftover filling is also really good in quesadillas, as a side to a big salad, or as part of a scramble.
Here are our top tips for healthy plant-based eating
here's been a lot of talk these days about eating more plant-based foods. What's good for the environment is good for you, right? Well, the answer lies in the ingredients list. Not all plant-based foods are equal and some are definitely more unhealthy for you than others. This is especially the case for plant-based processed foods. These include things like frozen veggie burgers (yes, the Impossible Burger included), or chicken-less chicken nuggets, or vegan pizza. So what's the key to healthy plant-based eating? There isn't one golden rule to follow, but we've rounded up some good tips to help you avoid plant-based processed foods below!
Here's what you can do…
- Stick to purchasing items like fresh or frozen produce, and dry or canned beans and legumes.
- Look for plant-based foods that have five ingredients or less.
- If you are able to, buy organic. Artificial preservatives and flavors and a lot of other unhealthy ingredients are not allowed in organic products. If you're on a limited budget, here's what we recommend prioritizing when buying organic.
- Whip up a GIANT (we're talking HUGE) batch of homemade vegetable burgers and throw what you can't eat into the freezer. Then when you're craving a burger, just defrost one from the refrigerator and voila! Here are some great recipes below:
- Lentil Burger: https://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/healthyish-lentil-burgers
- Vegan Sweet Potato Black Bean Burger: https://minimalistbaker.com/sweet-potato-black-bean-burger/
- Vegan Tofu Burger: https://www.thespruceeats.com/vegan-tofu-veggie-burgers-recipe-3377169
- Vegan Smokey Tempeh Burger: https://fullofplants.com/smoky-tempeh-black-bean-burgers/
- Falafel: https://smittenkitchen.com/2018/12/falafel/
- Make some easy plant based treats. Some of our favorites include:
- Dark Chocolate Chunk Oatmeal Cookies: https://www.halfbakedharvest.com/healthy-dark-chocolate-chunk-oatmeal-cookie-bars-idiot-proof/
- Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies: https://food52.com/blog/14647-plot-twist-the-most-genius-chocolate-chip-cookie-recipe-is-also-vegan
- Vegan Apple Crisp: https://minimalistbaker.com/the-best-vegan-apple-crisp/
So you can steer clear unhealthy ingredients like these...
- High salt content: Just like most processed foods, plant-based frozen meals are also very high in salt.
- Tertiary butylhydroquinone (a.k.a. TBHQ). TBHQ is a lab-made preservative that helps processed foods retain its flavor (1). For instance, making sure your smoky-fire roasted veggie burger tastes smoky. Unfortunately, animal studies have shown that TBHQ can cause cancer in animals, which is why the FDA limits the amount of TBHQ allowed in products (1). A safer and naturally occurring preservative alternative used by some food manufacturers is vitamin E (2).
- Artificial food coloring. Artificial food colorings are ones like Red #3 and Yellow #6. High doses of artificial food coloring have been linked to a higher risk of cancer (3).
- Emulsifiers. If you've ever looked on an ingredients list and saw ingredients like soy lecithin or mono and di-glycerides, these are emulsifiers. They help keep ingredients in a product mixed together and not separate, particularly if a product is made up of solids and liquids (3). However, animal studies have shown that emulsifiers can alter the microbiome of mice, cause inflammation and also increase the risk of obesity and other metabolic disorders (4).
When it comes to plant-based foods, the bottom line is that they are not perfect. Even if a product is plant-based, it doesn't automatically mean that it's healthy or safe, or even as nutritious as its meat counterpart. The best thing to do is use your best judgement (and this handy dandy article) when your plant-based craving strikes.
Summer has arrived! Cue the backyard BBQs, ice cream sandwiches (or DIY popsicles), and Will Smith jams. During long, hot days, water activities are basically a necessity for creating fun memories and staying cool. Unfortunately, water-related accidents are a leading cause of injury and death for young children (4). So to keep things fun this summer, let's talk about drowning prevention.
Drowning happens in seconds and often quietly (1,3). Permanent disability can result even when drowning isn't fatal (3), since any prolonged oxygen disruption injures our brains. Though it can happen to anyone, drowning is the second most common cause of death for 1-4 year olds (3). Almost 90% of these incidents occur in home pools and hot tubs5,6 (and anything that collects water, even buckets, poses a risk) (3). To keep the children in your life safe and cool, here are 5 water safety tips as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, CDC, National Safety Council, Pool Safely, and Red Cross.
1. Kids' water activities require close supervision at all times
Most drowning incidents occur unsupervised when adults briefly step away or become distracted (4). For this reason, children need vigilant supervision by a designated adult whenever they're around water (4). We can appreciate a relaxing poolside novel or margarita, but the responsible adult/Water Watcher (7) needs to be completely free of alcohol impairment and any distractions (not even Insta). Consider water supervision to be like your greatest Netflix binge – your attention is totally focused, and you don't want to miss a thing. For young children the guiding principle is "touch supervision"– being within arm's reach at all times (3). 5-9 year olds are more likely to drown at public pools (4), so designate a supervising adult even when lifeguards are present (3).
2. Modest safety measures make a massive difference
Physical safety measures are imperative, especially when delightfully curious and unintentionally stealthy toddlers attempt to swim without you! Installing the right type of fence can reduce drowning risk by over 80% – 4-sided pool fences (completely isolating the pool) are far more effective than 3-sided property line fences (3). The safest fences measure at least 4 feet high, prevent climbing, and have self-latching, self-closing gates (3,7). Door alarms and rigid pool covers are also preventive, though their effectiveness is less studied (1). Always check that the pool you use has intact anti-entrapment drain covers (mandated by federal law) to prevent suction-related accidents (7). For portable pools, check out this specific safety guidance.
3. Life jackets are way better than floaties
Sadly those super cute floaty wings aren't designed for safety, according to the CDC, and should not replace life jackets (3) (on the upside, this means less flimsy plastic!). Young children and inexperienced swimmers should wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacketwhenever near water (1,9). And, regardless of swimming ability, all children need USCG-approved life jackets if playing around lakes or the ocean (2). Life jackets are only effective if they fit well, so check the weight and size limits before using (9). Remember that nothing replaces close supervision! (To help start your life jacket search, we tracked down a more eco-friendly option.)
4. Teach children swimming and water safety
Learning to swim is crucial for water safety. We all benefit from learning how to swim, and swimming lessons can prevent drowning in 1-4 year olds (3). It's never too early (or too late!) to learn – YMCA and community centers often provide affordable lessons for all ages. (We get that communal activities are probably not your jam with the current Covid-19 situation, but, at some point, formal swim lessons could be a fun family activity.) Knowing how to swim does not make us "drown proof" though, so we still need to exercise caution with kids of any swimming ability (1). Teaching children not to climb over pool fences, swim without an adult, or play near pool drains is also crucial for preventing drowning incidents (7).
5. Assess surroundings and swimming ability
Being aware of location-specific water dangers and knowing a swimmer's ability can help discern which activities are safe. Every water activity presents an assortment of fun and risk. Case in point: sprinklers are a simple joy but also an understated toe hazard (been there…). Oceans, rivers, and lakes offer wilder adventure yet can even prove dangerous for expert swimmers – rip currents are an infamous threat in oceans, and lakes and rivers can have undertows (6). Older children and adolescents are more likely to drown in these natural bodies of water (3). Since alcohol can impair your ability to assess surroundings and react appropriately, avoid drinking while swimming or supervising others (7).
Prevention first, but CPR can still save lives
We hope you'll never ever need to use CPR...ever. Prevention with the above measures can massively reduce drowning risk for everyone, but CPR is invaluable during a drowning incident and can improve the likelihood of the drowning victim's survival (3). The American Heart Association provides in-person Family and Friends CPR courses, as well as socially distanced, at-home instruction with Family and Friends CPR DVD or Adult/Child CPR training kits (includes a training manikin and DVD – fun for the whole family!).
With safe water play, we know your summer days will be full of adventure and excitement. Have fun!
Because Black and Minority Communities Deserve Safe, Non-toxic, Healthy Environments
Environmental injustice plagues communities of color and needs to be tackled head on. Socioeconomic disparities and systemic racism are rooted in the past and continue to impact Black and ethnic minority communities, disproportionately exposing them to toxic and hazardous waste, air and water pollution, and other environmental exposures that have harmful health effects (1). These frontline communities experience the first and worst consequences of pollution and ecological change, like climate change.
Environmental justice organizations engage with local communities to achieve environmental health and justice, to prevent and reduce pollution, enforce equal environmental protections, and build healthy and safe living environments. Many groups are based in the communities they serve, but also work on issues of global importance such as petrochemical expansion and climate change.
Examples of Environmental Injustices
While the terms 'environmental justice' and 'environmental injustice' might be new to you, you're probably already familiar with real-world examples. The crisis of lead in drinking water in Flint, Michigan, the Atlantic Coast pipeline and the Keystone XL pipeline extension, the petrochemical industry in Louisiana known as "Cancer Alley," and Hurricane Maria's devastation in Puerto Rico all show how environmental injustice and racism can devastate communities.
How to Get Involved
Supporting environmental justice organizations is an important tool in creating a more equitable society. There are many ways to show your support; donating, volunteering, and amplifying an organization's mission are all easy ways to get involved.
There are many community-based, environmental justice groups. Environmental Justice Atlas, a website that maps environmental racism and social conflict, can help you find environmental justice organizations based in your community or region.
We've also made a list of a few organizations that environmentalists and public health advocates can support. You can check out what they are doing and learn more about environmental justice initiatives in your communities. There are many more, so this is just a start.
ACE builds the power of communities of color and low-income communities in Massachusetts to eradicate environmental racism and classism, create healthy, sustainable communities, and achieve environmental justice.
All people have a right to a clean and healthy environment in which their communities can live, work, learn, play and thrive. Towards this vision, APEN brings together a collective voice to develop an alternative agenda for environmental, social and economic justice.
We utilize civic engagement, community education, policy and media outreach to address the health inequities of African American women and their children.
We train local leaders in the rural, low-wealth or working-class neighborhoods that are dumping ground for toxins, air pollution, and other environmental degradation. We help them build confidence and power by providing them with the strategies, network, policy analysis and scientific perspective necessary to make their communities healthy and green.
The Climate Justice Alliance (CJA) formed in 2013 to create a new center of gravity in the climate movement by uniting frontline communities and organizations into a formidable force. Our translocal organizing strategy and mobilizing capacity is building a Just Transition away from extractive systems of production, consumption and political oppression, and towards resilient, regenerative and equitable economies.
The mission of CBE is to build people's power in California's communities of color and low income communities to achieve environmental health and justice by preventing and reducing pollution and building green, healthy and sustainable communities and environments.
The Deep South Center for Environmental Justice is dedicated to improving the lives of children and families harmed by pollution and vulnerable to climate change in the Gulf Coast Region through research, education, community and student engagement for policy change, as well as health and safety training for environmental careers.
To empower the Detroit community to protect, preserve and value the land, air and water. We build community power through environmental justice education, youth development and collaborative relationship building.
The Environmental Justice Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform supports diverse movement towards safe chemicals and clean energy that leaves no community or worker behind. The Environmental Justice Health Alliance (EJHA) organizes direct engagement in industry reform strategies by grassroots organizations in frontline communities to promote environmental justice outcomes.
Greenlining is the solution to redlining. We advance economic opportunity and empowerment for people of color through advocacy, community and coalition building, research, and leadership development.
Empowering communities impacted first and worst by injustice. We link culture and policy to make our movements bigger, more diverse, and more powerful. We exist for everyone who identifies with Hip Hop culture to come together for positive change. Being part of Hip Hop Caucus means you can use your cultural expression to shape your political experience.
The Louisiana Bucket Brigade uses grassroots action to create an informed, healthy society that holds the petrochemical industry and government accountable for the true costs of pollution to hasten the transition from fossil fuels.
Movement Generation Justice & Ecology Project inspires and engages in transformative action towards the liberation and restoration of land, labor, and culture. We are rooted in vibrant social movements led by low-income communities and communities of color committed to a Just Transition away from profit and pollution and towards healthy, resilient and life-affirming local economies.
The NAACP ECJ Program was created to provide resources and support community leadership in addressing environmental injustices by advocating for these three objectives: 1) Reduce Harmful Emissions, Particularly Greenhouse Gases 2) Advance Energy Efficiency and Clean Energy 3) Strengthen Community Resilience and Livability.
To promote health and environmental equality for all people of North Carolina through community action for clean industry, safe workplaces and fair access to all human and natural resources. We seek to accomplish these goals through organizing, advocacy, research, and education based on principles of economic equity and democracy for all people.
Outdoor Afro has become the nation's leading, cutting edge network that celebrates and inspires Black connections and leadership in nature. We help people take better care of themselves, our communities, and our planet!
T.e.j.a.s is dedicated to providing community members with the tools necessary to create sustainable, environmentally healthy communities by educating individuals on health concerns and implications arising from environmental pollution, empowering individuals with an understanding of applicable environmental laws and regulations and promoting their enforcement, and offering community building skills and resources for effective community action and greater public participation.
WE ACT's mission is to build healthy communities by ensuring that people of color and/or low income residents participate meaningfully in the creation of sound and fair environmental health and protection policies and practices.
Couches can have a surprisingly big effect on your health
Whether you're settling down for a cozy night of Netflix with a glass of wine or you're building a cushion fort with your kids, we all want our couches to be comfortable and made of healthy and safe materials. Couches are usually the largest piece of furniture in a living space and thus can have a big effect on how healthy our homes are. But couches can be loaded with flame retardants, forever chemicals, and VOCs, all of which can negatively impact your health. There's already such a dizzying array of fabrics, styles, and other choices you already have to make when shopping for a couch, you shouldn't have to also worry about harmful chemicals! That's why we're making it simple for you to find a healthy one. Whether you're buying a couch online that gets delivered in a box or creating a custom designed one made just to your liking, we have a list of 3 things that you should look for in a healthy couch.
1. Chemical Flame Retardant Free
Chemical flame-retardants used to be added to the foam in sofas because they were thought to prevent fires. But it turns out they don't really help stop fires, and the chemicals actually do more harm than good. Flame retardants are linked to negative health impacts like cancer, lowered brain function, and irregularities with the immune system. Basically some yucky unnecessary stuff. Even firefighters agree flame retardants are no good, so you definitely want a couch without any chemical flame retardants.
Couches made after 2015 have a label underneath the cushions that will let you know if they have added chemical flame retardants. These disclosure labels are required by law in California, but the label is commonly found even outside of California. Another way to find a flame retardant-free couch is to simply ask the retailer or manufacturer. Most big brands don't use chemical flame retardants anymore, but it's a good idea to double check. If they say something like, we don't use bad flame retardants, then just steer clear, because there are none that have been proven safe and there is no reason for the addition of any chemical flame retardants to any upholstery furniture items.
If you're buying a used couch, it's not as easy to tell whether or not it contains flame retardants. If the couch was made before 2015, it more than likely contains chemical flame retardants. If the couch has a label under the cushions that says TB 117-2003, the only way to know is to ask the manufacturer, which could be kind of hard to do since they might not have information on older couch models. If you see a label that says TB 117 then the couch was made with flame retardants, which means you should keep looking. If you're looking to reupholster a couch, make sure all of the foam and padding will be taken out and replaced with flame retardant free foam.
2. A Fabric Without Stain Resistant Treatment or Coating
Many furniture companies now advertise their stain-resistant fabric that will let you spill coffee, have kids eat spaghetti on a couch, and will resist muddy paw prints. But to achieve this magic, fabric companies have to treat or coat the fabric with a chemical that's similar to Teflon. These chemicals are called highly fluorinated chemicals, some of which have been linked to kidney and testicular cancer, elevated cholesterol, decreased fertility, thyroid problems, and decreased immune response in children.
Over time, these chemicals come off the fabric and end up around your house. And these highly fluorinated chemicals never break down, never leave the environment, and can accumulate in your body for many years. Not good! While stain resistance is so tempting, we suggest getting an untreated fabric. Avoid fabric that has a description that includes words like "performance finish" or "stain repellent." From a health perspective, even a synthetic fabric like polyester or acrylic that is inherently stain resistant and durable is a better option than one that is treated for stain resistance with forever chemicals. Textured or dark color fabric can also hide stains. If your heart is set on a light colored fabric and you, look for couches with washable covers.
3. Low VOCs
Your couch can greatly affect the air quality in your home! Furniture, including couches, can emit formaldehyde and other VOCs (volatile organic compounds) that negatively affect indoor air quality. VOCs can cause acute health problems like headaches, eye and throat irritation, dizziness and are associated with long term health effects like cancers and damage to the liver, kidneys, and central nervous system. Look for couches with solid wood frames or engineered hardwood with zero or low VOC resins. Particleboard has much more glue which means higher VOC levels, so you should avoid particleboard when possible. Plus, particleboard is less strong than solid wood or engineered hardwood, so it won't last as long.
Another way to know that the furniture you're buying doesn't off-gas is by looking for Greenguard or Greenguard Gold certified furniture, which limits the emissions of VOCs. CertiPUR-US is another standard that certifies that the foam used in the furniture meets VOC emissions limits, but doesn't test the entire finished product. You can read more about other furniture certifications to help you determine what's in your furniture.
With these 3 tips in mind, you should have a couch that is not only stylish, but also healthy. The good news is that many retailers in the furniture industry are moving in this direction, so there are lots of healthy options. Hope this list is helpful and that you find something super comfortable that is perfect for your space. Happy furniture shopping!
List of Brands With No Chemical Flame Retardants
These brands state they do not add flame retardants, compiled from our own research, CEH, and Green Science Policy Institute. For other retailers, make sure to ask about the specific couch you're interested in.
AICO, American Furniture Manufacturing, American Seating Company, Article, Ashley Furniture, Best Home Furnishings, Bernhardt, Benchmade Modern, Bradington Young, Broyhill, Burrow, California Sofa, C.R. Laine, Century, Cisco Home, Coco-Mat, Comfort Design, Compendium, Corinthian, Craftmaster, CB2, Crate & Barrel, Dania, David Edward, Drexel Heritage, Dwell Studio, EcoBalanza, EcoSelect, Eco-Terric, Ekla Home, Endicott Home Furnishings, Eco-Luxury, EQ3, Fairfield Chair, Flexsteel Inds, Furniture, GreenSofas, Gus Design Group, Henredon, Hickory Chair, Hickory White, Highland House, Homeware, Hooker Case Goods, Hooker Upholstery, IKEA, Interior Define, Kevin Charles Fine Upholstery, Kincaid Furniture, Klaussner, Kristin Drohan Collection, Land of Nod, Lane, La-Z-Boy, Lee Industries, Lillian August, Maitland Smith, McCreary Modern, Michael Weiss, Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams, Monarch Sofas, MotionCraft, Mr. and Mrs. Howard for Sherrill Furniture, Pacific West Furniture, Palliser Furniture, Pearson, Plummers, Precedent, Restoration Hardware, Roger + Chris, Room & Board, Sam Moore, Scandinavian Designs, Sherrill Furniture, Soma Ergonomics, Southern Furniture, Southern Motion, Staples, Taylor King, Thom Filicia, Thomasville, The Futon Shop, United Furniture Industries, Vanguard Furniture, Viesso, Whittemore Sherrill Ltd.
Want an easy way to live healthier?
Sign up for our newsletter! Curated environmental health news delivered to your inbox every three weeks.