Saturday, May 2, 2009

Women’s Health Week: Unburden the Planet and Your Body of Toxics

National Women’s Health Week 2009 is May 10-16. A top health issue for women and their families is reducing the amount of chemicals in the environment and in your everyday life.

Our environment and our bodies have been shouldering an ever-increasing amount of toxic substances. According to Environmental Working Group, only five of the 80,000 chemicals on the market have been regulated under the Toxic Substances Control Act, and 700 more chemicals are being put on the market every year.

The good news is that through education and regulation, you can help the planet and your health by reducing toxic chemicals.

Government to Regulate Toxics More Carefully
The Environmental Protection Agency has recently reinstated more strict reporting requirements for industrial and federal facilities that release toxic substances that threaten human health and the environment. This reinstatement was made possible through a provision tucked into the recent federal stimulus bill. All facilities will need to report chemical releases of more than 500 pounds, which was the standard in 1986 but was loosened in 2006 by the Bush Administration.

Says EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, “People have a right to information that might affect their health and the health of their children ... and the environment in our communities.”

What this means is that starting July 1, 2009 this toxic release and waste management information will be made public and then it is up to the government to enforce cleanup of air, water, and soils – and require cleaner operations. And environmental groups will also be able to better track the public data, advising the general population and lobbying for stricter manufacturing, waste reduction, and elimination of toxic chemicals.

You can see how some of this data is tracked and presented to the public through "mashups" -- meshing data with visuals. Under the tag of “environment” at this site, you can see a number of mashups that are available – so you can get the idea. More popular mashups on this site are “Climate Change 2030” which does a side-by-side comparison of rising sea levels and how that is projected to impact cities, and “Wasting Away Superfund Toxic Legacy” which allows you to visually track hazardous waste dumps near where you live.

Although this reinstatement of EPA-required reporting is good news, what this doesn’t do is stop toxic chemicals from being put into your products – at least not yet. So that is still a major concern for consumers.

How To Reduce Toxicity in Your Everyday Life
According to Environmental Working Group’s 2009 toxicity study, 48 toxic chemicals on average were found in the female subjects tested across the U.S. Says EWG, “Americans’ increasingly heavy ‘body burden’ of chemicals appears linked to the rise in many systemic diseases, like cancer, among others, possible including autism, asthma, and diabetes.”

Toxics are currently found in nearly all consumer products – from food, electronics, household cleaners, clothes, water supplies, to personal care products. These toxics affect your health – both short and long term. Because the government is not yet regulating all the harmful chemical that surround you everyday, you have to educate yourself about chemical names and key words in order to make better choices and reduce them yourself.

Learn how you can avoid them, what are alternatives, and then also write your government officials to eliminate many of these toxics in the first place. In my book, The Mom’s Guide to Growing Your Family Green: Saving the Earth Begins at Home, I go into depth about most of the toxic chemicals in products and how you can make better choices for your health and the planet.

Toxic Chemicals to Watch Out For
Although there are many toxic chemicals you can avoid simply by choosing cleaner products, here are four offenders you can immediately try to avoid. More toxic chemicals are listed in my book.

  • No chlorine: Read labels of household products and cleaners, and stay away from chlorine because any product with chlorine harms your water supply and pollutes your air. Simple choices include chlorine-free paper, toilet paper, and cleansers. This is a fact sheet from the EPA on chlorine. Here’s a report I did on cleaner tissue products to also help you reduce your chlorine.

  • No VOCs: This is the short way of saying Volatile Organic Compounds, which are toxic gases that pollute your air. The most common VOC offenders are carpets, flooring, paints, some plastics, and household cleaners. Look specifically for the product to be labeled with zero or low VOCs – of course, zero is best. The easiest products to find low-VOC are paints and flooring/carpets because they have become better about labeling. Other products aren’t as transparent, so look for lower odors which oftentimes means less VOCs.

  • No BPA. Currently a hot-button issue in many states, with legislation to ban this chemical. Bisphenol A (BPA) is a toxic chemical that is used to make plastic #7, lines the cans of many of our canned foods (including infant formula), and is found in a multitude of other consumer products including electronics. It is best to not buy any plastics for food or beverage that are made from plastic #7, especially baby bottles and sippy cups. Also, ask your public officials to ban BPA.

  • No PFCs. These are perfluorinated compounds. Any product that is grease resistant probably has a coating of this compound, including stick-resistant cookware, microwave popcorn bags, dental floss, and carpets. And in a UCLA study, women who had higher levels of these compounds in their blood had fertility problems. The solution is to look for PFC-free products.

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