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Why You Should Care About Soil Contamination If You're Starting a Garden in Your Backyard

Here's the dirt-y details you're going to want to know and what to do about it

Dreary winter blues might have you dreaming of blue skies, warm weather and some home grown vegetables. But before you go jetting off to your nearest Home Depot or nursery, you might want to take a second and get to know your soil. We're serious! No, not the hello, my name is ____, more like the hey, what's in my soil? Not all soils are created equally and trust us when we say that you'll definitely want to make sure the soil you're using for growing food to eat is top notch!

Why should I care about my soil?

Believe it or not, the soil that you use matters! Soil in older neighborhoods tend to contain higher levels of lead since those houses were built before the ban of lead paint in 1978 (1). Most soil in urban areas also have residual lead from the days of leaded gasoline (don't worry, that has since been banned too!) (8). One of the concerns with heavy metals, especially lead, is that your vegetables can take in some of the metal during the growing process (1). You're probably getting the picture just from these two examples. BUT if you take away nothing else, here is the most important thing to know - a study by the University of Washington found that the benefits of urban gardening definitely outweigh any of the potential worries. This definitely doesn't mean that you can't take steps to make sure that you reap all the benefits and none of the yucky toxic chemicals (3).


What might be in my soil?

The biggest concern by far in soil used for home gardening is heavy metals, particularly lead, cadmium and arsenic (1). Heavy metals are concerning because while they do not have immediate effects, the buildup of these metals in your body can result in negative health effects over time. For instance, lead can slow down child brain and motor development, while cadmium buildup can result in kidney and lung damage (4). Children, pregnant women and individuals with health conditions are most vulnerable to heavy metals (4). Particulate matter (a.k.a. the different chemicals that float around in the air and blow around in the wind from things like car exhaust) can also build up on the surface of your produce (5). This is often why vegetables that are grown near a busy road have higher levels of heavy metals because of dirt and dust getting kicked up into the air and mixing with your soil (2).


What can I do to reduce the chance my vegetables will be contaminated?

  • Get you soil tested if you can. This is especially important if you live in an older neighborhood as the chance of lead buildup in the soil is greater (1, 6). Testing generally costs between $10-20 and this is good not only to test for toxic compounds, but can help you know which crops to grow or how to amend your soil. Most land-grant universities in your state can test your soil for you, check here to see where the nearest university is to you.
  • Bring in new safe topsoil and create raised beds - 6 to 12 inches of additional topsoil is recommended. Purchase soil that is Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) certified to guarantee the lowest lead levels in soil available for commercial purchase (7). Hey bonus, no more bending your back alllllll the way to the ground!
  • If you're not sure, stay away from growing root vegetables and leafy greens as they absorb heavy metals more easily through the soil (5). Stick to growing vegetables like tomatoes, zucchini and beans which take in less heavy metals (5).
  • Double or even triple wash all your produce before using to make sure all the yucky particulate matter and heavy metals in the soil are rinsed out (5).
  • Don't forget to wash your hands after working in the garden! This will make sure that you don't ingest any contaminated soil when you're enjoying your fresh grown veggies.

Basically, don't let the worries of home gardening stop you from growing your own fresh vegetables! Even though there are some concerns, just by paying close attention to the type of soil you have and carefully choosing which vegetables to grow, you'll be A-okay!

References

  1. (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0269749114004692)
  2. (https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13593-015-0308-z)
  3. (https://dl.sciencesocieties.org/publications/jeq/abstracts/45/1/26?access=0&view=pdf)
  4. https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/PHS/PHS.asp?id=46&tid=15
  5. https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2016-02/uow-rol020216.php
  6. https://gardencollage.com/wander/gardens-parks/get-the-lead-out-how-to-test-your-soil-for-contaminants/
  7. https://www.sfdph.org/dph/files/EHSdocs/ehsCEHPdocs/Lead/LeadHazardUrbanGardening.pdf
  8. https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/csem/csem.asp?csem=34&po=5
Family

Keep These Common Household Items Out of Reach From Teething Babies

And why we recommend always having a safe teether on hand

We're all guilty of just letting our teething baby chew anything they can get their hands on. What's the harm as long as it's not a choking hazard? A little dirt is good right? Turns out, there are some common household items that you definitely don't want your kids to chew on because they contain toxic chemicals or substances like lead and flame retardants. We recommend always having a safe teether on hand, whether you're at home or on the go. Even though common everyday items may look harmless, there can be unsafe substances that your little one can ingest if they're chewing on them.

Wondering what household items could be harmful to chew on? Here are some common items that you shouldn't let your little one chew on, even though it's so tempting to let them gnaw.

Keys

Keys are always in our purses or pockets and babies are fascinated with them. Sometimes they're the perfect distraction to avoiding a meltdown in the grocery story line. But it's actually not a good idea to let your little ones chew on keys or even play with them. The metals used to make keys vary greatly, but many brass keys can contain up to 2.5% lead (1,2). Even keys that don't look like brass might be plated in another metal, which can wear off over time. Not all keys contain lead, but it's impossible to know for sure which ones do and don't. So pick one of our safe teethers, including these Kleynimal Stainless Steel Keys, and make sure to pack it for your next grocery run.

Remote Controls

Remotes have colorful buttons and fit perfectly in little hands, so it's no wonder you always see babies chewing on the ends. But remotes contain batteries, which are not safe anywhere near your child's mouth. Additionally, household electronics like remotes contain flame retardants, which can come off into mouths and on hands. Try to limit contact with remotes and definitely don't let them become toys! We like to keep them out of reach on a shelf.

Cell Phones

It seems like all babies become obsessed with cell phones... probably because they see us constantly looking at them! But is it safe to let your baby chew or mouth your phone? Definitely not. Cell phones are covered in germs, including some pretty nasty pathogens like E. Coli (3). They also contain a lot of chemicals and substances, like batteries, heavy metals, flame retardants, and plasticizers, which are all toxic. Plus, if your baby is teething or has teeth, they could chip the phone and little pieces could come off that can be a choking hazard. Because of all these hazards, teething babies and cell phones are not a good match. But if your child is old enough to play games on your phone, wash their (and your!) hands after they use it, especially before snacks and meals.

Jewelry

Jewelry is sparkly, shiny, and colorful, which basically just screams "please put me in your mouth!" to babies. Unfortunately, metal jewelry can contain toxic heavy metals like lead and cadmium while plastic jewelry can contain bisphenols or plasticizers. Lead is a dangerous neurotoxin at any dose, and cadmium can cause kidney, bone, and lung damage. Brass is also a common component in jewelry, which can contain up to 3% lead. And just because it's expensive doesn't mean it's safer; jewelry at all sorts of price points have been found to contain these heavy metals. Research has found that the amount of heavy metals that get ingested while chewing or mouthing jewelry can be dangerous (4). Even jewelry that seems completely harmless, like Mardi Gras beads, has been found to contain toxic substances. So let jewelry be just something nice to look at and let kids chew on a set of silicone teething beads instead.

Sunglasses

Sunglasses come in all sorts of sizes and shapes nowadays, but most sunglasses are made of a polycarbonate plastic that contains BPA. While it may not be a big exposure risk for adults who wear them, letting your little one chew on them or suck the ends is not the best idea. BPA is a hormone disruptor and kids are especially vulnerable as they are in a sensitive growth period. Yet another reason to always pack a safe teether in your bag if your little one is an especially mouthy one!

References
  1. https://cchp.ucsf.edu/sites/g/files/tkssra181/f/leadinkeysen011804.pdf
  2. Kondrashov, Vladislav, et al. "Assessment of lead exposure risk in locksmiths." International journal of environmental research and public health 2.1 (2005): 164-169.
  3. Pal, Shekhar, et al. "Mobile phones: Reservoirs for the transmission of nosocomial pathogens." Advanced biomedical research 4 (2015).
  4. Weidenhamer, Jeffrey D., et al. "Bioavailability of cadmium in inexpensive jewelry." Environmental health perspectives 119.7 (2011): 1029-1033.
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Roundups

9 Non-Toxic Teethers

Your baby will love chewing on these safe materials!

We're all guilty of just letting our teething baby chew anything they can get their hands on. What's the harm as long as it's not a choking hazard? A little dirt is good right? Turns out, there are some common household items that you definitely don't want your kids to chew on because they contain toxic chemicals or substances like lead and flame retardants. Having a safe teether made of silicone or wood is your best bet for your baby's health. Check out our 9 favorite options that will give your little one some relief and will also make for some cute photos!


9 Non-Toxic Teethers

a) Bonbino Teething Rings

b) Itzy Ritzy Cactus Teether

c) Loulou lollipop Llama Teether

d) Chewbeads Elephant Teether

e) Caaocho Sola the Goat

f) Bumkins Gameboy Teether

g) Maple Landmark Ring Teether

h) Oli and Carol Kendall the Kale

i) Kleynimals Toy Keys

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Home

Non-Toxic Candle Roundup

They smell even better than they look! Plus no harmful chemicals

Trying to set the perfect mood for Valentine's Day? We've got you covered! Our candle roundup is a great guide to finding the perfect candle. Most candles contain paraffin wax, which is made from petroleum and use fragrance oil. And fragrance can contain a ton of harmful chemicals. Our candles only use natural wax like soy or beeswax, and only contain essential oils! Plus they all smell amazing!



a) Aira Soy Candles
b) Lulu Candles Natura 100% Organic Soy Vegan Wax Candle
c) Big Dipper Beeswax Aromatherapy candle
d) Milk + Honey essential oil candle
e) Pure Plant Home glass candle
f) Edens Garden essential oil candles

Wondering why you need a non-toxic candle? Candles release compounds known as volatile organic compounds whether they are lit or not (1). VOCs can have both short and long term adverse health effects and there are consistently higher concentrations of VOCs indoors than outdoors. The majority of the VOCs released from candles is because they doesn't burn cleanly, which releases acetaldehyde, formaldehyde, acrolein, phenol, benzene, and toluene, many of which are carcinogenic (3). Phenols (one of the words in that list if you jumped to the end of the sentence when you started seeing a bunch of scary words) are the fragrance chemicals that make candles smell like brown sugar, wild mango, and clean laundry. It makes sense that it would take some pretty weird chemicals to bottle up the smell of a tropical island in a single candle, right?

It's definitely healthier and safer to go with candles scented with essential oils to avoid some of these nasty VOCs. A few of the other VOCs released can cause changes to our DNA (and in some cases, bad changes!). Of all of the VOCs released, formaldehyde and acrolein are the other two biggest worries because they are released in the highest concentrations. Formaldehyde itself can cause cancer (4) while acrolein, which is used to make weapons in high concentrations, can kill you if you breathe in too much of it - Yikes (5). I don't know about you, but those are some things I definitely don't want to invite to my relaxing spa night!

Candles are also traditionally and most commonly made of paraffin, which is obtained from petroleum or shale. We recommend candles made from beeswax or soy because they come from natural sources. Some candles wicks may contain lead, so always make sure to look for a "lead-free" wick made from cotton.


References

1. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0304389414010243

2. http://candles.org/elements-of-a-candle/wax/

3. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1352231010010502

4. https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/substances/toxsubstance.asp?toxid=39

5. https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/ToxProfiles/tp124-c1-b.pdf


*Because Health is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program so that when you click through our Amazon links, a percentage of the proceeds from your purchases will go to Because Health. We encourage you to shop locally, but if you do buy online buying through our links will help us continue the critical environmental health education work we do. Our participation does not influence our product recommendations. To read more about how we recommend products, go to our methodology page.







First off, nice! We are super excited for you!

Now that the relationship is serious, have you started thinking a little bit more about what your life might be like together in the future? Maybe you are at the point where you are leaving a toothbrush at the other's place, or maybe it's a little more serious - like talking about moving in together. No matter how serious "serious" is for you, we've got a suggestion for making that step of the relationship a little healthier.

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Non-Toxic Safe Sex Brands

Safe sex is good, non-toxic safe sex is better

Updated for 2020!

We are always talking about being careful about what we put on our bodies, but what about things we put in them? Choosing safe condoms and lube, which directly touch one of the most absorbent and sensitive parts of your body is critical.

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PFAS Free Winter Jackets

Stay warm without the harmful chemicals

A lot of weather-proof jackets contain harmful chemicals like PFAS or PFOA. That's why we found the best PFAS-free winter jackets for your next trip to the mountains ! These jackets will keep you nice and warm without the use of those pesky forever chemicals. And since snow season is winding down (for some.. ) there are a ton of sales on right now! You can grab a new jacket for this winter or one for next year! ⁠ ⁠

a) Picture Organic Clothing Week End Jacket
b) Fjallraven Bergtagen Eco-Shell Jacket
c) Nau Clothing Reykjavik Insulated Jacket
d) Jack Wolfskin Powder Mountain Jacket⁠

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PFAS Free Ski Wax

What to know before your next trip to the mountains!

If you're heading up to the slopes this week , you might want to double check what your ski wax is made from. Ski wax is a necessity to enjoy the sport but it turns out, most wax contains a ton of fluorinated chemicals like PFAS and PFOA . Fluorinated wax may make your skis glide a little easier, but it's super bad for the environment (and you!). That's why we've found some brands that made fluoro-free ski wax. ⁠ ⁠

a) Rex G21 Graphite Spray⁠
b) Toko Non Fluoro Glidewax
c) North by Swix Speed Brick Universal Wax
d) mountainFLOW Quick Wax ⁠
e) Swix F4 Universal Easy Glide Wax
f) Ulla Glide Wax

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