Of all the toxins we are exposed to in our homes and communities, phthalates (pronounced "THAL-ates") may be the most insidious. Despite the increasing evidence on the dangers the general population continues to be oblivious to the toxins lurking in the plastics and fragrances in their homes. Like BPA and Parabens, there are currently no regulations in the US to protect us from manufacturers ignoring the dangers.
Consumers in the US have to start insisting on safer products for our families. It's been estimated about a billion pounds of phthalates are produced worldwide annually. Wow. It's hard to comprehend how they can be avoided. It's currently up to us to do the hard work to find alternative products. Hard, because phthalates are in so many things.
Phthalates are in our bodies, our homes and our water. They are used as plasticizers to soften plastics, especially PVC plastic (#3) and to make nail polish flexible and chip-resistant. They're in shower curtains and hair spray, soft vinyl toys for pour children and pets. They are also used in body products to make the product penetrate the skin more easily, and in fragrances, hand creams, deodorants, laundry detergents perfumes and colognes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) measured human phthalate exposures in 2000 and found high levels of phthalates in every single one of the 289 people tested (Blount 2000).
What do they do? One effect is the disruption of the production of testosterone. They block male hormones responsible for making a male into a male. A common pthalate, dibutyl pthalate has been proven in animal studies to contribute to low sperm count, and birth defects of the testicles and penis. Another, diethyl phthalate (DEP), has been correlated by Harvard researchers with DNA damage in male sperm which can lead to infertility or birth defects. DEP is common in cosmetics, colognes and perfumes.
Studies have not been conclusive, but as a hormone disrupter phthalates (along with parabens and other toxic chemicals) are suspect in estrogen positive breast tumors. Part of the problem in conducting definitive studies is the lack of full disclosure of ingredients in the US. Products have to independently tested first to determine what's in them.
What You Can Do:
~ Stop using products with fragrances other than certified natural organic oils (although you should be aware some folks are sensitive to these as well). Get rid of the dryer sheets, perfumes, scented hand lotions and diffusers. Here's a good series of updated articles on the health hazards of fragrances in our cleaning and body products.
~ When you have to purchase plastic, look for plastic products such as toys and Shower Curtain Liners that are PVC and phthalate free. If they have that "plastic smell", don't buy them.
~ Purchase natural and organic body products and cosmetics. Check the ingredients at the Cosmetics Database. Note that starting in June 2011, Whole Foods will not keep any cosmetic or body product on their shelves that claims to be organic if it isn't actually certified as organic.
~ Read labels. Many won't tell you all the ingredients, but some will. Find safer products on one of the many sites now available, a few are listed here for you:
EWG's Skin Deep and the Cosmetics Database.com
Dangerous Household Chemicals
~ Support legislation to get our products regulated. There are currently two in the US, HR 5820, The Toxic Chemicals Safety Act of 2013 (TCSA) and the Kid Safe Chemical Act. Find the name and addresses of your representatives, and write to them.
~Keep up with the issues, some good sites are:
The Alliance for a HealthyTomorrow
Teens Turning Green
Not a Guinea Pig
Campaign for Safe Cosmetics
National Resources Defense Council
Washington Toxics Coalition
Health and Environmental Alliance
Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families
~ Let companies know why you aren't purchasing their products. Comment on their products on their websites. This is a great way to flex your consumer muscle.
~ Good books on the subject include:
Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry
Our Stolen Future: Are We Threatening Our Fertility, Intelligence, and Survival?--A Scientific Detective Story
The Body Toxic: How the Hazardous Chemistry of Everyday Things Threatens Our Health and Well-Being
I'll keep you "posted".
Summer! Summer means heat, water and fun in the sun. It can also mean sunburn. In my quest to find the best sunblocks (many are not as safe as they appear) I came across references to the Cabbage Palm Fern. I did some research and it seemed there might actually be something to the claims of sun protection in a pill.
The Cabbage Palm Fern, Polypodium leucotomos, is a plant native to Central America. Several studies have been done that have shown it to have a slight protective effect against UV damage. The studies to date have not been double-blind studies (the participants knew they were receiving the treatment which could create a placebo effect), nor have they been extensive, but they seem to indicate the root of this fern may indeed help to protect our skin from sun damage.
There are two brands currently available, Heliocare and Life Extension's FernBlock . Neither should be relied on to provide full sun protection and should be used as a supplement to a good sunscreen. Personally, I wouldn't be without it.
Last year I spent a week in the Tucson sun;113 degree Tucson sun! I was naturally worried about my sun exposure so I took 2 of Life Extensions Fernblock every morning in addition to using the Nutri-Lift sunscreen mentioned below in my original post. I did tan, but I was truly amazed that despite the hot sun I never burned. Of course this is no guarantee the combination will work the same for everyone, but since I'm on the fair side I'm sold on the combination for my sun protection.
When I know I'm going to be in the sun I use sunscreen on everything but my face. My sunscreen of choice is Nutri-Lift's photo stable Maximum Sun Protection. What about the face you ask? I can't stand sunscreen on my face, and with skin that tends toward oily, my face doesn't like it either, so I use a foundation with sunscreen and top it off with a powdered sunscreen. Two great organic foundations that include sunscreen are Nutra-lift Flawless Foundation, which has an SPF of 18, and Jane Iredale's Moisture Tint, with an SPF of 15. I've tried them both and found them to be lightweight and blend well.
I've saved the best for last, my very favorite sunscreen product is Jane Iredale's Powder Me SPF (link below). It's a mineral powder that comes in three shades, including translucent. The company claims you can even sprinkle it on your scalp for coverage on your head. Wouldn't that be wonderful to protect the part where we tend to get burnt!
One last note about your summer skin protection arsenal, lycopene-rich fruits and veggies such as watermelon, guava, pink grapefruit, and tomatoes also seem to reduce skin damage from UVA and UVB rays. A 2010 study published in the British Journal of Dermatology looked at women whose diets included 16 milligrams of lycopene every day (the amount in about two cups of diced watermelon) for 12 weeks . The results were a reduction in the damaging effects of UVA and UVB rays, including sunburns and cellular damage.
Here's my article on Sun Protection for Children, in case you missed it.
5 Important Considerations for Sun Safety
1. Sunglasses -- Children who spend a lot of time in the sun, especially children who are blue-eyed, should wear sunglasses, or shade their eyes with a hat. Sun exposure in the early years can lead to cataracts and age related glaucoma in later years.
2. Sunscreen -- Get a good low toxin sunscreen that blocks both UVB and UVA rays. This is critical, as it’s the UVA rays, the ones that don’t actually burn, that cause the most dangerous skin damage according to the latest Environmental Working Group report. Avoid oxybenzone and retinylpalmitate. Re-apply every 20 minutes or as recommended by your pediatrician. Consider purchasing a UV monitoring wristband UV Monitoring Wristband, which will prompt you when to re-apply.
3. Vitamin D -- It's been discovered some adults and children are developing low Vitamin D stores in their bodies as a result of conscientious sunscreen use. Others report the problem is not that great because we don't tend to use sunscreen properly in the first place. Vitamin D supplements are helpful, but unless you have a medical reason to stay out of the sun altogether, 20-30 minutes of indirect sunlight a few times a week is recommended. This is reportedly enough to enable your body to absorb the rays necessary to synthesize Vitamin. This applies in the winter too. And no, you can’t get adequate Vitamin D from sunlight through a window.
4. After Sun -- If your child gets a little too much sun, suggested soothers are aloe, tea (make a brew to release the tannins and soak a washcloth in it, then apply), or apple cider vinegar. I’ve seen vinegar reduce redness in a mild pink burn; the smell does go away. Of course, if a burn is significant, consult your doctor right away.
5. Sun Blocking Clothing -- For those who are extremely fair or want to ensure they limit their
future exposure, there are clothes made with high sun resistance such as SunGrubbies.com and the Coolibar line that you may want to consider.
New information is becoming available regularly about sun safety. An updated sunscreen report will be published soon by the Environmental Working Group. Pay attention to the news and have even more fun in the sun knowing you’re taking the necessary precautions to protect yourself and the children in your life.
Toothpaste, mouthwash, soap and "hand cleansers" are among those products we use every day containing the dangerous antibacterial triclosan. I've written about the concerns with these antibacterial products before in my post entitled Triclosan -- Avoid It!. Here's yet another reason to stop using these products. A study at the University of California at Davis indicates high levels of triclosan may impair the ability of the heart and skeletal muscles to contract. The authors expect that this would only be a possibility for those who have an existing heart condition, but why take chances. A chemical that has already been found to be creating super bugs and is suspect in cancer isn't worth having in our homes.
Speaking of the super bugs, antibiotic type medications for TB are just one of the treatments that arebecoming less and less effective because of the new strains of organisms that have developed because of our use of the antibacterial products. As the NIH puts it, "TB bacteria evolve to outwit the TB antibiotics". Many of our old time antibiotics are no longer effective. Some health experts are calling this a serious health crisis.
There are plenty of products out there without these dangerous antibacterials in their ingredients. Shop around and, as they say, be apart of the solution.
As we head into winter and cold season here in New Jersey it's tempting to pull out the antibacterial soaps. Triclosan was originally created for the health care setting. It’s an antibacterial (see my 10/9 post), a disinfectant and it has some antiviral and antifungal properties too. As its use moved into the mainstream, it’s been insidiously added to all kinds of products. It's a dangerous substance and you want to eliminate it from your home.
According to the material safety data Sheet (MSDS) for triclosan it’s irritating to the eyes and skin, very toxic to aquatic organisms, to the extent that it may cause long term adverse effects in the aquatic environment. Is this something you want to wash your hands with?
Ok, so it’s diluted in some pretty smelling hand soap. The soap a million other people are using. All of it going down the drain. Maybe into a water system or a well, probably into an aquifer or the local stream. Over 95% of triclosan uses are in homes or offices where the disposal is down the drain. Triclosan is not removed in water treatment plants. Gee, could this be related to the reduced aquatic life we’re experiencing? Then we drink the water.
More from the MSDS- Keep away from foodstuffs in transport, environmentally hazardous (marine pollutant). Ok, enough of this. It’s a hazardous chemical, a pesticide. After it’s mixed into a product for daily use it’s still a problem. It’s been strongly linked (not conclusively mind you) to abnormalities in the endocrine system, birth defects, extreme weight loss, skin irritation (well, the manufacturer’s MSDS does say that, doesn’t it?), allergy susceptibility, antibiotic resistance , etc. etc.
Scrutinize your disinfectants, hand soaps, mouthwash and body care products. It may also be labeled as Microban® in plastics or clothing, or Biofresh ® in acrylic.
Here’s just a sampling of the common products that contain triclosan:
Softsoap® Antibacterial Liquid Hand Soap
Dial® Liquid Soap
Clearasil® Daily Face Wash;
pHisoderm Antibacterial Skin
CVS Antibacterial Soap
Dawn® Complete Antibacterial Dish Liquid,
Ajax® Antibacterial Dish Liquid.
Reach® Antibacterial Toothbrush
Garden Botanika® Powder Foundation;
Jason Natural Cosmetics
Revlon ColorStay LipSHINE Lipcolor
Old Spice High Endurance Stick Deodorant,
Right Guard Sport Deodorant
It is also in products labelled as "Microban"
For a more extensive list see Beyond Pesticides.
There are so many good books about green living out there that I stopped picking up every one I see years ago. I have my favorites that I consider classics, Debra Lynn Dadd’s original Nontoxic and Natural (I’ll talk more about her another time) among others. Now I've added a new one to my list of classics. I picked up Renee Loux’s Easy Green Living: The Ultimate Guide to Simple, Eco-Friendly Choices for You and Your Home primarily because her book on raw foods, Living Cuisine: The Art and Spirit of Raw Foods is on my cookbook shelf. Honestly, I’ve never seen her show so I didn’t realize she was also a natural living expert.
I'm glad I picked it up, as it is a book that anyone interested in starting or furthering a natural lifestyle should own. It is priceless as a resource book. It’s particularly valuable because the information isn’t likely to become obsolete as some books in this genre do. This is because she doesn’t just rely on identifying safe brand names and products in the market place. She also gives detailed lists of chemicals to avoid and make it yourself alternatives.
She lists the dangers of the chemicals or contaminants in each area, everything from laundry detergents to bedding. She explains very clearly what to look for, what to avoid, and what the alternatives are. You can probably guess from my writing I particularly enjoy the new homemade formulas she offers to add to my repertoire.
I highly recommend this book for those starting on the path to discovering natural health as well as seasoned natural health gurus.
Antibiotics, hormones, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers & tranquilizers, typical contents of a locked hospital supply room. It may also be the contents of your drinking water. It’s also likely it contains insecticides, detergents, artificial sweeteners fire retardants, plasticizers and triclosan. All in very small amounts, but nevertheless there. Today I want to focus on pharmaceuticals.
Numerous studies have been done to assess the quality of our drinking water. In recent years many of these studies have focused on pharmaceuticals. An Associated Press investigation in 2008 determined pharmaceuticals such as these have been found in the drinking water supply of at least 41 million Americans. The US Geological service has identified pharmaceuticals in 80% of the country’s rivers and streams. Similar findings have been reported in Canada, Japan, Great Britain, the list goes on.
How does this happen? We are using more and more medications and naturally the waste is excreted and goes into the water system. Up until recently, people were advised to dispose of all unused medication by flushing it down the toilet; now it’s only recommended for more dangerous medications that need to be disposed of quickly and “permanently”. Some medications are resistant to treatment in our waste water plants & many old septic systems leak the waste. They’re treated in a waste water plant or a septic system, and the remnants are released into the local stream and aquifer, where the water is pulled back up for us to drink. Some pharmaceuticals are even made more toxic when combined with chlorine.
Many bottled water companies don’t test for pharmaceuticals or purify the water before bottling, so that’s another possible source. Are there cattle grazing in the local stream? Many are being treated with steroids or antibiotics. The stream is connected to an aquifer that’s connected to a water supply. You get the picture.
Naturally the water downstream of hospitals, retirement facilities and nursing homes has been found to have a particularly high level of pharmaceuticals. Aquatic life is already being affected by the contaminants in our water, and as drought conditions become more common, the contaminants become concentrated.
Frogs develop deformities at relatively low levels of contamination, and they are being affected; in Colorado’s Boulder Creek studies by the University of Colorado at Boulder found that 50 percent of the male white suckers have developed female sex tissue, and the female fish outnumber the males more than five to one. Evidence suggests this is because of the estrogen and other chemicals causing esogenic (hormone mimicing) effects in the water.
What can we do? First of all - don’t make it a habit to drink unfiltered water.
Don’t flush unused medication down the toilet. You can contact the manufacturer or your pharmacist to find a local take back program. Some doctor’s offices have a receptacle to take your expired and unused medication. Your local or county health department or police station may have a disposal site or a collection day. If none of these options pan out for you, you can dispose of pills and tablets in the garbage if your garbage goes to an incinerator, liquids can be disposed after pouring them in a plastic bag with absorbent kitty litter or sand. This is clearly not a great option, but the best we have.
Support efforts to make pharmaceuticals that degrade quicker, currently in the early stages of research.
The best solution is to combine all of these efforts with more effective technologies at our waste water plants, but the cost to make them effective is currently prohibitive for most communities. So stay tuned as the environmental and health communities continue to search for viable solutions.
More bad news about air freshener's - and solutions! A recent article on MSN Health about air fresheners cites a study that has found a correlation between air fresheners and women's heart health. We know air fresheners can aggravate allergies, asthma, and disrupt hormones. Now there is evidence they are unhealthy for the heart as well.
The great thing about this particular article is that it offers alternatives. I can personally vouch for spraying stinky areas with vodka. I read about using vodka as an odor neutralizer in a Grist article on second hand clothing a while back. I immediately used it on a couch cushion that had been used by an over-zealous cologne wearer and was thrilled with the result-no more stink. I have used it successfully since. Kitty litter and coffee grounds are among the other suggestions for neutralizing odors.
So put away those dangerous air fresheners and let real fresh air into your home.
Here's a good article from Rodale about reasons to eat organic. Number 2 is particularly compelling. It talks about the glyphosate, a chemical permeating our water and soil. See if it doesn't convince you to eat organic foods as much as possible. 7 Surprising Reasons to Go Organic.
NaturalJersey.com was created in order to have a place on the web where we can all share the great green & natural health resources in NJ. I hope you find it a never ending resource when you're looking for health-minded local businesses.