Family

What Every Parent Needs to Know About Preventing Lead Exposure in School Drinking Water

Plus our recommendations for filters

It's almost the end of summer and time to start thinking about those back-to-school supplies. Backpack, lunch box, pencils, pens, crayons, notebooks, NSF/ANSI 53 certified water bottles to filter lead…wait, what was that last one? Yep, many children in this country will be attending school in a state where there is currently no requirement to filter and test school drinking water for lead. Even in states and counties where they do have laws on the books, there are still gaps that need to be addressed to better protect children. So, here is what you need to know and what you can do about it.


No Safe Level of Lead

First off, just a reminder that scientists, health professionals, and public health official all agree that lead exposure causes irreversible life-long, physical, cognitive, and behavioral problems (1). Young children are far more vulnerable to lead exposure because it takes a much smaller dose to impact a child's development. In addition, children absorb lead more readily into their bodies than adults (2). This is why in 2016 the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) called for stricter regulations, recommending a 1 part-per-billion (ppb) threshold for lead in school drinking water (3).

The Problem at Schools

Like much of our infrastructure, public schools all over the nation are aging. This means that sources including old lead service lines, water pipes, pipe fittings, sink faucets, and water fountains may leach lead into the drinking water and water used to prep food in cafeterias. A recent Harvard and University of California joint study looked at available data from the 25 existing state programs between 2016-2018 and found that nearly half the schools tested had elevated lead levels (4). However as the report noted, all of the states used higher threshold levels than the AAP's 1 ppb health-based standard and there was no uniformity in testing protocols or procedures. This means that many more drinking water taps were most certainly above this threshold for safe drinking water, but were not captured in the data.

And just having one clear test from a couple of years ago is not good enough. Lead leaches erratically due to a number of external variables including change in the pH of water, frequency of water use, water disinfectant treatments, corrosion control measures, temperature, pipe disturbance from construction or operation of heavy machinery nearby, etc (5). Also, under federal law, low levels of lead are still allowed in new drinking water fixtures manufactured today (6). This is why many public health advocates recommend filtering all drinking water at the tap until we fix the old infrastructure and get all of the lead out of our plumbing.

Federal Guidelines and State Laws and Regulations

So, what laws are in place to protect school children? The fact of the matter is that there is no federal law mandating filtering and testing drinking water sources (taps) for lead in schools. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently updated its guidelines called the "3T's for Reducing Lead in Drinking Water Toolkit," but these are only voluntary best practices for schools, childcare facilities, states, and water systems.

So, what is being done to remedy the lack of federal policy? Well, some states and counties have passed laws or implemented programs to reduce the risk of lead in drinking water. The Harvard and University of California study, a study by the U.S. Green Building Council, and an Environment America report list states that have various programs and laws established to target this problem. However, the laws are a patchwork of policies and regulations and even the most protective laws in the nation fall short of what scientists and health professionals recommend. The best practices for filtering water and testing just aren't being fully implemented or followed.

What You Can Do

Ask Your School Questions

So, what sort of steps can you take in the short- and long-term to better protect your children from lead in the water they drink at school? Start with asking questions! The more you know, the better equipped you are to protect your children. Here is a link to a list of questions to get you started. Every school, county, and state will have different answers to these questions, but this list will give you a better indication of where you need to start.

Filter and Test

  • Assume every drinking water source (tap) is a risk.
  • Send your children to school with an NSF/ANSI 53 and 42 certified for lead water bottle with a filter like the Astrea bottle.
  • You can also donate an NSF/ANSI 53 and 42 certified for lead water pitcher, tank with filters or faucet mounted filter for your child's classroom. Some filters are better than others though. You can find out more about the percentage of lead removed by looking at performance data sheets that some manufacturers provide. Here are some different options that are NSF/ANSI 53 and 42 certified to filter out lead.
  • Filter and test at home too of course! You can send your kids to school with water bottles, but you need to make sure your water at home is safe. Here is a link to another great guide on installing and maintaining point of use filters that can be applied at home or at school called, "Point of Use Water Filters: A Grassroots Train-the-Trainer Program." It is important to note that flushing and replacing filters helps maintain their effectiveness, while also preventing harmful bacteria buildup. The CDC also has a list of certified labs where you can have your water tested.
  • Assess your home for lead service lines, plumbing, and old fixtures. This video demonstrates how to conduct a preliminary visual and scratch test of your homes' plumbing. If you don't own, you can also ask your landlord for plumbing records. In addition, you can contact your local water utility to see if they have information on this. Water utilities may have records, but these are often incomplete or inaccurate and should be verified.

Get Involved In Your Community

  • Find out what local legislation/regulations or programs exist for schools and lead in drinking water. Check out the state reports at the bottom of this webpage and Environment America's virtual map. Also, Appendix A on page 29 of the Green Building Council's report has a really useful table summarizing the various laws and programs. If your state isn't listed in these resources, start a conversation with your children's school leaders and ask questions.
  • Petition your state, local government, school, and school district for more protective measures. Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC) recently put together a "Model Law" for states to consider adopting. This link has a lot of useful information on what should go into legislation that is based on scientific, health-based standards.
  • Other things you could do to get involved include the following:
    • Attend public hearings and testify.
    • Meet with your state and local representatives.
    • Engage other parents, PTA's, school officials, and community members to raise awareness and garner multiple stakeholder support.

References

(1) https://www.epa.gov/ground-water-and-drinking-water/basic-information-about-lead-drinking-water#health

(2) https://www.epa.gov/dwreginfo/lead-drinking-water-schools-and-childcare-facilities

(3) https://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/Pages/With-No-Amount-of-Lead-Exposure-Safe-for-Children,-American-Academy-of-Pediatrics-Calls-For-Stricter-Regulations.aspx

(4 )https://cdn1.sph.harvard.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/84/2019/01/Early-Adopters_State-Approaches-to-Testing-School-Drinking-Water-for-Lead-in-the-United-States_2019.pdf

(5) https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/lead/prevention/sources/w...

(6) https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/201610/documents/508_lcr_revisions_white_paper_final_10.26.16.pdf

Life

Buying holiday decorations? Here's what you should know

Don't let these chemicals ruin your holiday cheer

You may need to be careful rockin' around the Christmas tree this year! Why you ask? Well, there might be some unexpected chemicals in that holly jolly decoration above your head. Holiday decorations can bring great cheer, but sometimes they can contain an unwanted surprise. Some decorations may be made with toxic chemicals - keep a look out for the ones below!
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Life

Is Your Artificial Christmas Tree Toxic?

Tips to reduce your exposure to these hazardous chemicals

Artificial Christmas trees are becoming increasingly popular for families. They're seen as being convenient since they don't shed needles and can be reused year after year. Because they can be reused, families tend to save money by choosing artificial trees over a real one. A study from the The American Christmas Tree Association (yes that is a real and reputable organization!) performed a life cycle analysis and found that one artificial tree that's reused for eight or more Christmases is more environmentally friendly than purchasing a real tree each year (1). The study also found that Christmas trees, both real and fake, accounted for a tiny part (< 0.1%) of a person's annual carbon footprint.

But are artificial Christmas trees as good for your health as they are for your wallet? The majority of artificial trees are made using a plastic called polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and lead, which is used to stabilize PVC (2). The lead in the trees break down over time and forms lead dust. These particles are released into the air and can cause health issues, especially in young children. Most people do not realize that artificial trees contain lead, and only California requires a lead warning label (2). It is estimated that there are 50 million households in the United States that own artificial trees with lead in them (3).

Don't panic! If you are an owner of an artificial Christmas tree made out of PVC, there are precautions you can take to reduce your family's exposure to lead.

  1. PVC releases more gases when it is first exposed to air. They also release gases as they degrade. A good way to reduce the amount of lead in your household is to take the tree out of the box and air it outside when you first purchase it (4).
  2. If you have used your artificial tree for many Christmases, you may want to consider purchasing a new one. PVC tends to weaken and degrade after nine years (4). Newer artificial trees do not leach as much lead as older ones.
  3. Light cords that come with your artifical tree are prone to have levels of lead that exceed the limit set by the EPA (4). It is recommended that you wash your hands immediately after touching light cords. And definitely don't let young children handle cords.

If you're currently tree-less and in the market for an artificial one, consider purchasing a tree made out of polyethylene. This plastic is safer than PVC and does not leach lead. Additionally, trees made out of polyethylene tend to be more durable than PVC trees.

While artificial PVC Christmas trees don't pose a high health risk overall to the general population, it's very possible for young children to have severe negative health effects (3). It's important to be aware of the health risks that go along with trees made out of PVC, and the ways to avoid lead exposure for yourself and your family this holiday season.


References

  1. https://www.christmastreeassociation.org/real-artificial-christmas-tree-environment/
  2. https://rtkenvironmental.com/lead/warning-hidden-health-hazard-artificial-christmas-trees/
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15628192
  4. https://www.menshealth.com/health/a19548208/do-christmas-trees-make-you-sick/
Sometimes it may feel like everywhere you turn, there's some sort of junk food being advertised—whether that's cupcakes or fries or deep fried things on a stick. And more than sometimes, you have a child begging you for a sweet treat or sugary drink. It can feel like a daunting task at times to encourage and foster healthy eating. While we know there are many factors that influence a child's food choices, here's one that you may not have thought of.
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Life

Avoid These Stressful Ingredients the Next Time You Relax with a Bath Bomb

We don't need these chemicals messing with our #selfcare

December means it's time to start thinking about those stocking stuffers or Chanukah gifts for your loved ones. What's better than a bath bomb to relax and take in those sudsy, therapeutic fragrances? Bath bombs can also get your kids to bathe without putting up a fight. They're basically magic! But, have you stopped to think what else they are putting in those bombs to make those suds glisten and fizz?

What's in a Bath Bomb?

It turns out, there can be a whole range of questionable chemicals packed neatly into those appealing little bombs. It's hard to tell exactly what's in each bath bomb because the ingredients vary widely among manufacturers, but fragrances, artificial colors, boric acid, and glitter are some common ingredients.

Fragrance is never a welcome sight on the ingredient list. The FDA does not require companies to disclose ingredients used to make fragrances in products like bath bombs in order to protect company "trade secrets (1)." Many synthetic and natural fragrances also include such hormone-disrupting chemicals as phthalates, which can be absorbed through the skin and have been found to pose specific risks for pregnant women and children (2). Studies have also linked health effects of phthalates to miscarriage, gestational diabetes, reduced IQ, and ADHD with increased exposure to phthalates.

As for dyes, the evidence is limited when it comes to FDA approved dyes readily being absorbed through the skin. However, one study found that certain dyes may be absorbed after shaving (3). Also, young children often swallow water while bathing and ingestion of some of these chemicals for young children is definitely not recommended!

Boric acid also has some side effects that you may not want to risk. It can be absorbed through the mucous membranes and has been linked to hormone disruption and developmental and reproductive toxicity (4). And then there is glitter, which is just more plastic that can end up in our lakes, rivers, and streams.

Alternatives and DIY Recipes

While there may be harmful ingredients in some bath bombs, you don't have to give them up! It's easy to avoid these ingredients with just a little extra effort. You can choose to purchase "fragrance-free" or "phthalate-free" bath bombs, but making your own bath bomb is super easy. Here are also some DIY recipes to try at home.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup baking soda
  • ½ cup citric acid
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • ½ cup finely ground sea salt
  • 1 ½ teaspoons almond oil (or apricot oil)
  • ½ teaspoon coconut oil
  • 1 tablespoon of witch hazel
  • 1 teaspoon beet root powder
  • wild orange essential oil
  • rose essential oil

Directions

  • Blend all dry ingredients in a bowl.
  • Blend wet ingredients in another bowl.
  • Combine all ingredients.
  • Place in mold of choice or just form a ball about 1-2 inches in diameter.
  • Allow the bath bombs to dry for approximately 1-2 days.
  • To use, place bath bomb in the bath.
  • To store, place in airtight container. Storing in a refrigerator can allow the bath bombs to keep for about 3 weeks (5).


References

1.https://www.fda.gov/cosmetics/cosmetic-ingredients/fragrances-cosmetics

2.https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxprofiles/tp73-c1.pdf
3.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23127598
4.https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/Boric-acid#section=Health-Hazardhttps://draxe.com/health/are-bath-bombs-safe/
5.https://draxe.com/beauty/diy-bath-bomb-recipe/
6. https://homemadeforelle.com/bath-bombs-for-kids/#Ingredients
Life

The Hidden Risk in Store-Bought Slime

Avoid this hazardous ingredient with our own DIY slime recipe

Slime seems to be the hottest new toy for kids. They love that it's a tactile toy they can squeeze and smash. But before you rush out to buy a new tub of gooey slime on your next shopping trip, have you ever wondered what's actually in it? Turns out, there's a not-so-kid-friendly ingredient lurking in many slime products sold in stores, as well as in some DIY kits and recipes.

What's So Bad About Boron?

Boron is a chemical commonly used in many brands of slime, DIY kits, and some DIY recipes to give it that rubbery texture. While it may feel fun, it's actually not great for our health. Boron is an acute eye, respiratory tract, and nasal irritant and is harmful if swallowed (1). If ingested, it can also cause nausea and vomiting (2). Long-term exposure to boron can also cause negative reproductive health effects (3, 4). The problems with boron don't stop once you throw slime away either. It turns out that boron lasts a long time in the environment and has hazardous effects on aquatic life (5).

To make matters worse, there's a lot more boron in slime than there should be. The U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) recently tested different brands of slime and found concentrations as high as 4700 parts per million (ppm) of boron, (6) which is more than fifteen times the allowable level for toys sold in the European Union (300 ppm for sticky/liquid toys) (6). Canada, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates have even instituted policies limiting or banning boron in children's toys (6).

Safe Slime

Luckily, it's easy to make your own boron-free slime. We like this recipe for full-proof slime that substitutes boron/borax (a boron compound that's found in a lot of other slime recipes) with cornstarch and school glue. We guarantee your kids will still have hours of fun with this non-toxic slime!

Fluffy Volcano Slime

  1. Pour 1/4 cup white school glue and a 1/2 cup of cornstarch in a bowl
  2. Add 3 drops of food coloring (optional)
  3. Mix well
  4. Knead it with your hands for 10 minutes
  5. Heat it in the microwave for 20 seconds
  6. Let it cool, then knead it for another 10 minutes (7)

References

2. https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2014-09/documents/health_effects_support_document_for_boron.pdf

3. https://toxnet.nlm.nih.gov/cgi-bin/sis/search/a?dbs+hsdb:@term+@DOCNO+328

4. https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2014-09/documents/health_effects_support_document_for_boron.pdf

5. https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/Boron

6. https://uspirg.org/sites/pirg/files/reports/WEB_USP_Toyland-Report_Nov18_2-1.pdf

7. https://www.cnet.com/how-to/make-slime-without-borax/

Roundups

15 Non-Toxic Toys for Toddlers and Preschoolers

Fun, healthy, safe, and great for those budding imaginations

Updated for 2019!

You can pat yourself on the back for bringing these non-toxic toys into your home or gifting them to friends. These are the highest rated, healthiest toys for your growing little one. Not only did we make sure that the materials are safe, but we made sure parents like you love these toys. All the toys here are great for revving up their imagination and creativity and are made to last. If you're looking for something for a newborn or a baby under 1, here are our top picks for best non-toxic newborn toys.

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Roundups

15 Non-Toxic Toys for Newborns

healthy, safe toys for 0-1 years old

Updated for 2019!

Even before they can talk, babies know how to play. Sure, they will play with whatever is in front of them, but having their own toys is way more fun, and saves things like your watch from being covered in slobber. Here are some of the highest rated, healthiest toys out there, but be sure to check out our roundup of toy brands, too. If you're looking for something for someone a bit older, here are our picks for best non-toxic toys for toddlers.

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