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

Why does your activewear stink and what can you do about it?

The scientific reason behind your bad smelling activewear and easy DIY solutions

Do you ever take your laundry out of the dryer and realize that your activewear still smells bad? Sometimes it feels like no amount of laundry detergent or scented fabric softener will get rid of that funky smell that lingers in all of your workout clothes. The reason this happens isn't because your washing machine isn't strong enough to get rid of the sweat from your run or all the burpees you did, but it's actually the fabric. Most workout clothes are made from synthetic fabrics or cotton, two materials that are great for working out in, but really bad at getting clean. Luckily there are a few ways to get rid of that smell that doesn't involve lots of harmful chemicals. So instead of throwing those smelly clothes away, check out some of our easy non-toxic cleaning methods and DIY solutions!

Why do workout clothes trap smell?

Most people think that the reason their workout clothes stink is because there is sweat trapped in them, but that is only partially true. Sweat by itself actually has no smell at all, but when it comes into contact with the bacteria on your skin, the sweat gets broken down and releases the typical body odor smell (1). So that means there isn't excess sweat trapped in your clothes, it's bacteria, along with dead skin cells and natural particles that are all contributing to the bad smell (2).

There is also a difference in how natural and synthetic workout clothes are affected by this bacteria. Natural fibers like cotton are more affected by sweat and bacteria compared to synthetic fibers because the bacteria that becomes trapped within the fabric can actually start to break down and degrade your clothes. The fibers of cotton are made completely of cellulose, a natural component of plants, and the bacteria can consume this substance and break down the clothes. Cotton is really good at absorbing sweat, so that means there is bacteria deep inside the cotton fibers and the bacteria can quickly multiply due to their massive food source i.e. your clothes. So not only will the bacteria in your sweat make your natural workout clothes smell bad, it will also degrade them over time until they fall apart (2).

Synthetic fabrics, on the other hand, are man-made fibers that are derived from petroleum products. Think plastic threads. Fabrics like spandex, polyester, and nylon are all made of synthetic materials and they are often marketed as sweat wicking or having a cooling effect. These types of fabrics collect bacteria in the space between the fibers, but does not absorb the sweat or bacteria in the fibers. These small spaces where the bacteria are trapped are really hard to access with standard cleaning products making the smell linger (2).

What makes it worse?

To get rid of the smell a lot of people use more detergent or heavily scented fabric softeners, but this only temporarily covers up the smell. These products coat the fibers and fill up the space between them, creating more and more build up the more you wash the clothes. Having build up on your clothes can trap the bacteria and every time you work out more bacteria will start to grow on your clothes.

Traditional detergents were made for traditional fibers like cotton, so when trying to get spandex or polyester fabrics clean, these detergents often aren't strong enough to penetrate deep into the synthetic fabric. Also sometimes your washing machine might be too big or too full and isn't able to clean the clothes effectively. The good news is that there are some non-toxic products and DIY methods that will really deep clean your clothes and make them smell brand new!

What can you do?

First things first, before you get into the products and DIY solutions, try some of these simple ways to avoid having stinky workout clothes in the first place. Sometimes all it takes is changing the temperature or washing your clothes a little sooner. But if none of these work, check out the special products and DIY solutions that are sure to get your clothes squeaky clean!

  1. Don't overfill your washing machine.
  2. Don't use extra laundry detergent.
  3. Stay away from fabric softener.
  4. Wash clothes as soon as possible after working out, don't let them sit wet.
  5. Always wash workout clothes in cold water.
  6. Use a powdered detergent to prevent buildup.

Products and DIY solutions


non toxic laundry products to eliminate odors

a) Biokleen Bac-Out Stain remover. Uses natural enzymes to get deep in fabrics and kills bacteria. Spray and let sit for 5 minutes and then wash as normal.

b) Molly Suds Activewear Laundry Detergents. Powdered laundry detergent that uses enzymes and baking soda that penetrates deep within fabrics.

c) Defunkify Liquid Laundry Detergent. Specifically designed to break down odor and get deep into fibers.

d) Branch Basics Oxygen Boost. Strips odors and brightens clothes. Add a scoop in addition to detergent.

e) White Vinegar- Add 1 cup of vinegar to your laundry drum in place of the normal detergent. This helps break down residues that make odors worse.

f) Baking Soda- Add half a cup to your laundry drum. Baking soda is a natural deodorizer!

If the smells are really not going away, you can try laundry stripping! Laundry stripping is a way to remove built up oil, dirt, bacteria, and other detergents. Check out our article on stripping and how to do it!



Sources

  1. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/symptoms/17865-sweating-and-body-odor
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4249026/
  3. https://hexperformance.com/pages/about-hex
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Roundups

Non-Toxic Bathroom Cleaners

products you can buy to make your bathroom squeaky clean without dangerous fumes

Nobody likes doing it, but it's got to be done! Cleaning the bathroom doesn't have to be gross or involve lots of chemicals with dangerous fumes that leave your eyes teary and your head hurting. You can use an all purpose cleaner on most surfaces in the bathroom, but sometimes you need a little extra oomph to get rid of hard water stains and mold or mildew. Every now and then we also find ourselves needing to clear the drains too! We checked out all the lists and figured out which bathroom cleaning products are the safest and effective.

In addition to these products, we also love using a simple non-toxic all purpose cleaner and have lots of DIY cleaner recipes for getting your bathroom squeaky clean.

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Roundups

The Best Non-Toxic Dish Soaps

Healthy, safe, and effective grease-cutting dish soap power

Updated for 2021!

Get your dishes clean without worrying about the chemicals in your dish soap. We rounded up the top 6 dish soaps without toxic chemicals or preservatives that are well-reviewed and easily available. You're welcome! We've had some questions about whether parents need a separate soap specifically for bottles and dishes. With these 6 picks, you can be rest assured that they will work well on your dinner plates but are also safe enough for baby bottles and toddler dishes. Also, for all the dishes you choose not to hand wash, take a peek at our dishwasher detergent roundup.

a) Attitude Dishwashing Liquid

b) Aunt Fannie's Microcosmic Probiotic Power Dish Soap

c) Better Life Dish Soap

d) ECOS Dishmate Dish Liquid

e) Common Good dish soap

f) Cleancult liquid dish soap

g) Trader Joe's Dish Soap Lavender Tea Tree


We rely on EWG's consumer databases, the Think Dirty App, and GoodGuide in addition to consumer reviews and widespread availability of products to generate these recommendations. Learn more on our methodology page.

*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.

Roundups

Eco-Friendly and Reusable Gift Wrapping Ideas

Spread holiday cheer without creating waste!

Since this is a safe space we can admit that one of the best parts about the holidays is the presents, right? But the amount of wrapping paper we go through every year is just insane... and most of it isn't even recyclable! Unless "recyclable" is specifically mentioned on the label, you'll have to throw used wrapping paper into the trash. And sometimes, we could do without that mountain of used wrapping paper after presents have been opened, even if it is the recyclable kind.
That's why we wanted to find the best wrapping options that could actually be recycled or reused year to year! Check out these great alternatives to tranditonal wrapping paper!


a) 2 Pieces Christmas Canvas Tote Bags Buffalo Plaid Check Shopping Bags

b) joywrap

c) Hallmark Recyclable Kraft Wrapping Paper

d) Eco-Friendly Reversible Wrapping Paper

e) Hallmark Reusable Fabric Gift Wrap

f) Hallmark Black and Red Drawstring Gift Bag Set


g) Furoshiki Reusable Gift Wrapping Cloth


h) Organic Cotton Reusable Gift Wrap (Set of 3)

i) Brown Kraft Paper Jumbo Roll

Looking for non-toxic, sustainable, and fun gifts for your home chef? We created a gift guide this year for those people on your list who love cooking and hosting. Whether it's elaborate dinner parties or weeknight meals, these gifts are sure to bring some joys in the new year. We looked for gifts that avoided waste (like a stovetop popcorn maker), or that avoided harmful chemicals (like a cast iron skillet), or that could bring a little fun into the kitchen (like these fabulous cloth napkins).

This year, we have highlighted many products by many Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) owned/founded brands. Buying from these brands is a great way to support economic opportunities in BIPOC communities and celebrates diversity in the sustainability space. Additionally, since climate change is an urgent issue with so many health impacts, we are also highlighting brands that are Climate Neutral certified. That means that the brand has committed to measure, offset, and reduce the carbon they emit. We believe that consumers and companies must work together to embrace and make true commitments to diversity and sustainability. Look no further for the ultimate gift guide!

$: Under $50

Handheld milk frother

This stainless steel milk frother is the perfect way to warm up your milk (or milk alternative) without having to sacrifice counter space! Whether you're drinking coffee or matcha, this it the perfect tool to take things up a notch.

Vegetable Kingdom: The Abundant World of Vegan Recipes (BIPOC brand)

Want to eat less meat, but don't know how to make vegetable dishes stand out? Step up your cooking game with delicious recipes from this unique cookbook from Bryant Terry. Bryant is renowned for his activism and efforts to create a healthy, equitable, and sustainable food system, so this cookbook is right up our alley.

Mother Grains: Recipes for the Grain Revolution (BIPOC brand)

Looking to up your whole grain intake? Expand your baking skills with Mother Grains: Recipes for the Grain Revolution. You'll be amazed how a simple cookie can change texture and flavor based on the flours you use. Learn about the world of ancient grains like buckwheat, sorghum, rye, barley, and heirloom wheat and bake some delicious treats.

GreenLife Bakeware Healthy Ceramic Nonstick, Muffin Pan

This ceramic baking pan by GreenLife is non-stick without harmful chemicals and comes in a bunch of cute colors. Weekend muffins are calling you!

Great Northern Popcorn Original Stainless Steel Stove Top Popcorn Popper

Microwave popcorn is expensive and the bags are coated in Teflon like chemicals, but it's so convenient. Enter this amazing popcorn maker. You'll never look at microwaved popcorn the same way after you use this Great Northern stovetop popcorn popper! It's stainless steel body perfectly cooks kernels to tasty perfection.

Heath Ceramics large coffee mug

Elevate your morning coffee with this beautifully crafted mug from Heath Ceramics. It comes in many lead-free glazes and is as sturdy as it is beautiful.

$ $: Between $50-100

Hamilton Beach Belgian Waffle Maker

Sunday brunch just got so much better with this waffle maker by Hamilton Beach. Most waffle makers use a Teflon-like coating in their waffle makers, but this waffle maker uses a ceramic non-stick. It's really easy to use and the ceramic grids pop out for easy cleaning.

Diaspora Co. Single-Origin Spices (BIPOC brand)

Spices can make or break a dish, which is why we love upgrading our spice drawer with this set of single origin spices from Diaspora. We love that they pay a living wage to partner farmers and their partner model allows them to provide quality control that results in fresher, more delicious spices. That also means that they can also better control potential contamination and test for lead contamination. They are also working on organic certification for their partner farms.

Emile Henry Deep Food Storage Bowl

Who says food storage has to be boring? Beauty meets function with this deep food storage bowl by Emile Henry. The cork top serves as a fruit bowl, while the lower level with vents and darkness acts as a mini pantry to store root vegetables and onions.

Siafu Home Congolese Napkins

The scalloped edge and fun pattern of these napkins make them a great hostess gift! These are screen printed by hand in Kenya and are a great way to add some color to your table.

$ $ $: Over $100

Graf Lantz Felt Placemats

These sturdy place mats will protect your table from the messiest of eaters! The merino wool material is naturally water and odor resistant, and also offers amazing thermal protection.

Olivewood Serving Board

These hand-carved cheese boards are made from a single piece of olivewood, which means no glues or adhesives are added to the wood. They are the perfect backdrop to your next charcuterie board.

East Fork Serving Bowl (Climate Neutral certified)

This handmade pottery serving bowl from East Fork is perfect for all your serving need- whether it's for movie night popcorn or a salad at a dinner party for 10!

Brightland Olive Oil Duo (BIPOC brand)

There's a reason you've seen Brightland all over social, it's high quality olive oil and beautiful bottle make it a star! The Duo set is the perfect way to try two of their most popular flavors! The olives come from a family-run California farm that does not use pesticides and is committed to organic practices.

Le Creuset Cast Iron Skillet

Le Creuset is known for it's quality and beautiful color choices and this enameled cast iron skillet is no exception! This pan will last you a lifetime and is naturally non-stick enough for scrambles and fried eggs. No Teflon chemicals needed.

Fellow coffee Pour Over Coffee and Electric Kettle

This Fellow electric kettle and pour over set are perfect companions for your coffee! These products don't contain any plastic and will make you feel like a certified barista.

Life

Artificial or Real Christmas Tree? What's better for you and the environment.

What toxic chemicals are in artificial Christmas trees and tips for how to stay safe

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. Some even come with lights already on them! But is the convenience of artificial Christmas trees worth it? We break down the science and the pros and cons of artificial Christmas trees and farm grown real Christmas trees to help you have a healthy and sustainable Christmas!

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