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

Roundups

14 Essentials for Packing a Plastic Free Lunch

our favorite reusable items for packing lunch for the kids (and yourself!)

As many of us are headed back to the office, it's time to get ready to start getting creative when it comes to packing lunches. Getting takeout for lunch every now and then is great, but it's expensive and there's just so much trash generated! Packing lunch is great for your wallet and for the planet, especially if you invest in some plastic free lunch packing essentials. While plastic sandwich bags and plastic containers may be convenient, they aren't the healthiest and are only adding to the plastic problem in our oceans. Instead, stock up on some of these reusable lunchbox essentials made from stainless steel, glass, wax, silicone, and cotton. Whether you're packing leftovers, a simple sandwich, or a salad, we've got you covered. Our plastic free lunch packing essentials are reusable, washable, and healthier than a bag full of plastic containers. We also have a roundup of general food storage containers you might want to check out.

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Roundups

Healthier Food Storage Containers

Plastic free jars, boxes, and wraps!

Updated for 2022!

We scoured the internet finding an assortment of safer and healthier ways to keep your leftovers and meal prep ingredients fresh. All of these options are sustainable, have many glowing reviews, and are easily available. We also have a roundup more specifically for packing lunch you might also want to check out too!

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Life

Your Summer Guide to Water Safety

How to Promote Fun and Prevent Drowning

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!


References

1. https://www.aappublications.org/news/2019/03/15/drowning031519

2. https://www.cdc.gov/safechild/drowning/

3. https://www.cdc.gov/HomeandRecreationalSafety/Water-Safety/waterinjuries-factsheet.html

4. https://www.cpsc.gov/s3fs-public/2020-Submersion-Report-4-29-20.pdf

5. https://www.cpsc.gov/s3fs-public/pdfs/blk_media_SafetyBarrierGuidelinesResPools.pdf

6. https://www.nsc.org/home-safety/tools-resources/seasonal-safety/drowning

7. https://www.poolsafely.gov/parents/safety-tips/

8.https://www.redcross.org/get-help/how-to-prepare-for-emergencies/types-of-emergencies/water-safety/drowning-prevention-and-facts.html

9.https://www.redcross.org/get-help/how-to-prepare-for-emergencies/types-of-emergencies/water-safety/swim-safety.html

Roundups

Plastic-Free (and Melamine-Free!) Outdoor Tableware

They won't break, look great, and are sure to be perfect for you outdoor gatherings

Updated for Summer 2022!

Getting ready for some outdoor parties and dining this summer? We sure are! If you're looking to spruce up your outdoor dining scene, you'll quickly see that most options are made of melamine. Even though melamine dishware doesn't look like plastic, melamine can leach into food after dishes are repeatedly microwaved or used to hold both hot and acidic foods (read this to learn why you might want to skip the melamine). So if melamine is out, and easy to break options like ceramic just don't work for you (children being children, slippery surfaces, clumsy grownups!), check out these stainless steel, enamelware, wood, and tempered glass options. Although we always recommend reusable, we included one disposable option too (without PFAS chemicals). These are our top picks for plastic-free outdoor dishware, serving bowls and platters, tumblers, and more. They are all light weight, hard to break, and will make your outdoor entertaining photos look on point. So pick up some of these plastic-free and melamine-free outdoor dishes and enjoy dining al fresco!

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Food

4 Recipes for Batch Summer Drinks that You Can Spike AND that are Kid-Friendly

Ditch single use plastic and canned drinks at your next party

Summer is basically one big outdoor party. Anyone else wishing it will never end? With all of the heat, it's important to have icy beverages that everyone can enjoy. While it's easy to just load up with flats of canned cocktails or plastic bottles of flavored sparkling water, making a big batch of easy, tasty drinks is more budget friendly and planet friendly! Here are 4 of our favorite drink recipes meant for big containers, so you can quickly prepare them in advance and just set up a glass beverage dispenser as people start to arrive. Kids will love these fruity drinks and so will adults, especially if you add a splash of alcohol into your cup (we won't tell!). Plus you'll be skipping out on single use plastic bottles and BPA-lined aluminum cans. Try out one of these recipes at your next summer BBQ or event!


Spiked Lemonade

-1 gallon of water

-3 cups lemon juice

-3.5 cups white sugar

-Fruit like peach, blueberries, blackberries, mint, etc

-4 cups vodka or 1 shot per glass if adding vodka after pouring

Instructions

  1. Stir the sugar into the water until it's completely dissolved.
  2. Mix in the lemon juice, fruit, and optional vodka. Serve over ice.

Fruit Punch

-8 cups ginger ale

-4 cups orange juice

-4 cups pineapple juice

-sliced fruit like orange

-Optional: 2 cups rum

Instructions

  1. Combine all ingredients and serve over ice

Watermelon Refresher

-8 cups seedless watermelon, cubed

-2 cups water

-2 cups ginger ale

-2 cups lime juice

-4 cups gin or vodka or 1 shot per glass if adding after pouring

Instructions

  1. Blend watermelon in a blender until pulverized. If you want a completely smooth consistency without pulp, strain the blended watermelon through a sieve.
  2. Combine all ingredients, including pulverized watermelon, and serve over ice.

Hibiscus Watermelon Cooler

8 cups water

8 hibiscus tea bags

8 cups watermelon juice (puree watermelon in blender)

½ cup honey

1 cup lime juice

4 cups tequila or 1 shot per glass if adding after pouring

Instructions

  1. Add the teabags to the water and let steep for 5-10 minutes
  2. Remove the teabags and add the rest of the ingredients
  3. Serve over ice

As much as we'd like to be the type of person who wakes up early, grabs some buckets and a sponge at home, and spends a few hours giving their car a DIY wash, we often find ourselves pulling into a car wash business instead. It's easy to feel guilty about taking the "convenient" route but in this case you don't have to! It's actually better for the environment to get a professional car wash rather than DIY! We break down the benefits of an automatic car wash below.

Whether you have a brand new car or your car has been with you for a decade and a few hundred thousand miles, chances are you want to take care of it. In addition to regular oil changes and tune ups, you need to give it a good cleaning. Washing your car isn't just for looks. Over time your car accumulates dirt, oil, salt, and other grime. As well as being an eyesore, this debris can damage the performance of your car. Since we want to drive our car for as long as possible, washing it should be part of your normal car maintenance routine! But before you run to grab your hose and bucket- you might want to consider heading to your local car wash.

It's common to think that going to the car wash is worse for the environment and too water intensive, when actually, the opposite is true. Car wash businesses use high powered nozzles to use as little water as efficiently as possible, and many businesses also have a system in place to catch and reuse old water (1). When you wash your car yourself, you probably just use a bucket filled with water and a hose. While your water usage may not seem that bad while you're washing, it adds up fast. Individuals can use between 80 to 140 gallons of water to wash their car, but a car wash business only uses about 30 to 45 gallons of water (2)! Many car washes also recycle the water used, so the water can be used many times. Some states even require car washes to use recycled water; in California, car washes must use at least 60% recycled water (4). During one particularly tough drought season, a city in California went so far as to ban using potable water for at-home car washes and required car owners to go to a car wash to clean their car (5). If you are concerned about wasting water, ask your local car wash if they recycle water and try to go to one that does!

Another reason to consider using a professional car wash business is wastewater. When we wash our cars at home, we're usually in a concrete driveway or on the side of the road and let the water run down to the sidewalk drains. But that water contains dirt, oil, heavy metals, and other harmful chemicals that accumulate during normal driving, and those sidewalk drains don't go to a water treatment plant. Instead, that runoff is usually diverted directly into our watershed, which might to a lake, stream, or ocean and negatively impact aquatic wildlife and water quality (3). Professional car wash businesses are required by the Environmental Protection Agency to capture all wastewater and divert it into a sewage system. That means the water is safely processed through a water treatment facility and can be used for future car washes!

If you really want to wash your car at home, there are more eco-friendly options.

1. Look for cleaners that are biodegradable and phosphate-free, to minimize the potential for water contamination (3).

2. Make sure to dispose of any dirty water leftover in the buckets by dumping it down your sink, toilet, or bathtub instead of pouring it down your driveway.

3. Washing your car on an overcast, mild day can help save water, since it won't evaporate as quickly.

4. Use reusable cloths to wash and dry your car.


References

  1. https://www.treehugger.com/eco-friendly-car-wash-4863509
  2. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/top-10-water-wasters/
  3. https://cfpub.epa.gov/npstbx/files/KSMO_CarWashing.pdf
  4. https://www.carwash.com/law-requiring-carwashes-to-recycle-water-passed-in-ca/
  5. https://www.marketplace.org/2015/06/09/one-california-drought-winner-local-car-wash/

Now that you've invested in some glass and stainless steel food storage containers, maybe you're wondering if you should Marie Kondo all the plastic ones you used to use? Instead adding them to the landfill, what if we told you that all those plastic containers can help you achieve a new level of organization zen? While we don't recommend storing food in them anymore (for those of you who haven't heard: these plastic food storage containers often have BPA or phthalates in them, which can leach into your food over time and cause all sorts of health problems), we also don't think you have to throw them away.

So, what can you do? We have 6 great suggestions for you to repurpose those containers throughout your home.



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