Posts tagged ‘EWG’

October 10, 2012

Are your cleaning products killing you? Keep it clean… safely.

We’ve chatted about choosing the safest food in Are you having pesticide for dinner?.  We’ve chatted about choosing the safest health and beauty products in Would You Put That Toothpaste On Your Lungs?.  And now the time has come to have a little chat about our household cleaning products.

Many of us grew up cleaning with products like bleach and ammonia, and we thought toxic fumes were just a part of cleaning.  You could tell if a house was clean because it had that “fresh, clean scent”.  Now we know better, that “fresh, clean scent” spells toxic.  We don’t need toxic cleaners to keep our homes clean and germ-free, but these days there are so many products, with so many different messages on the labels that it can have our heads spinning.

What works?  What doesn’t? What’s toxic?  What’s not?  What’s good?  What’s bad?  What should we be looking for?  Can we trust the labels?

Thankfully, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has created another database, called the EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning to make all of this a little easier for us.  Now we can check our household cleaning supplies against the list and see how safe (or dangerous) they really are.  And if we’re using something that isn’t rated very well we can quickly find a safe alternative.

But sometimes there are no alternatives.  Sometimes we have to choose between “clean” and our health.  A couple of years ago I learned that toilet cleaner and fabric softener are two of the most toxic products we use in our homes.  I know, toilet cleaner doesn’t seem all that surprising, but fabric softener?  Fabric softener is worse.  Fabric softener is one of the most toxic items we use in our homes, it’s loaded with chemicals and carcinogens.  And what’s worse, is we put it on our skin, our most vulnerable and most exposed organ in our body.  We use it on our sheets, our towels and our poor bodies just can’t escape it. And that “sweet, fresh smell”?  It’s not so sweet.  If you change nothing else in your home, please stop using fabric softener!  If you don’t believe me or want more specific info, please read this answer to the Frequently Asked Questions on the EWG site.

So please, for your health and the health of those in your life, especially children, go over to the Healthy Cleaning Guide and check out the products you are using.  You just might be surprised what you find.  I was.

March 15, 2012

Would You Put That Toothpaste On Your Lungs?

Do you know what the largest organ of the human body is?  The heart?  The lungs?  Let me give you a hint, if you’re thinking internal, you’re way off base.  The largest organ happens to be the skin.

So let me ask you another question.  If you had your lungs or your heart or any other internal organ hanging on the outside of your body, exposed to everything in our world, would you continue to use all the same products you use today?  If you answered, “no” or even had a slightest twinge in your stomach and the thought, “I don’t know”, then I would ask, “Why you are using those products on your skin?”

If you don’t know the answer, or never thought of it that way, don’t feel bad, I didn’t know what to say when someone asked me either, but it certainly got my attention.  So how do you know whether what you are using is good or bad?  Well, the Environmental Working Group has an excellent product database, called the Skin Deep Cosmetics Database.  The database has over 69,000 products, in it.  Each product is given a score based on  the ingredients in the product and any health concerns such as cancer, developmental & reproductive toxicity, allergies and immunotoxicity and use restrictions related to those ingredients.  You will know, at a glance whether you should be concerned about products you’re using or considering purchasing, because they use a stoplight color coding along with the score.  Green (0-2) for low hazard, yellow (3-6) for moderate hazard and red (7-10) for high hazard.  Unfortunately the majority (not all) of the products offered through mass merchandisers are not in the green category.

So if you haven’t checked out your sunscreen, make-up, shampoo and conditioner, tooth paste, etc. on the site yet, I highly recommend that you do.  It can be kind of eye-opening and even somewhat alarming, but don’t sweat it and don’t stress if your products come up in the yellow or red, use the database as a tool to seek out something better for your health.

And you think it doesn’t really matter that much, don’t forget that if you wouldn’t put that toothpaste on your lungs, or that lotion on your heart then you might want to reconsider using it in your mouth or on your skin.


January 27, 2012

Are you having pesticide for dinner?

In a perfect world, all the food we put into our bodies would be organic, but as we all well know, we don’t live in a perfect world.  Organic food, although more readily available than say, 15 years ago, still isn’t the main supply and sometimes, depending on what the product or produce is, the cost can be up to double the cost of conventional for the same product.

In a less than flourishing economy, like we’re living in now, we all have to watch our spending and need to make sure we’re getting the best value for our dollar.  Realistically not all of us can afford to buy absolutely everything organic.  So how do you decide?  How do you choose what to buy organic and what to buy conventional?  How do you know what’s “worth it” and what’s not?

A few of years ago I ran across the Environmental Working Group (EWG) website and found the EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce also known as the Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 lists.  These lists show the results of a study done from 2000 – 2009 by the USDA which ranks pesticide contamination on 53 of the most popular fruits and veggies.

The Dirty Dozen list shows the worst foods to buy conventional due to the amount of pesticide contaminants and the Clean 15 list shows the foods with the least amount of contaminants, or in other words the safest to buy conventional. Everything else falls somewhere in the middle. You can read more about the methodology of the study on the EWG website.  I would highly recommend it because it goes more in-depth about the findings and you can see the full listing of all 53 items tested as well.

If you’re thinking “I don’t need that, I wash everything before we eat it.”  The reality is, we do need it.  The majority of the produce in this study was tested after being rinsed or peeled.

So what do you do?  If you’re like me, when I first read this study, it scared the pants off of me.  I had no idea that “the apple a day to keep the doctor away” I had been eating is the worst offender in pesticide contamination.  Great.  Here I’ve been making an effort to eat well and instead I’ve been pumping my body full of pesticides.  My initial reaction was fear.  I needed to stop what I was doing, throw out all my produce and completely switch over, only buy organic.  But, realistically, I knew my bank account would last about four nano-seconds if I did that, which is exactly why the EWG put the Shopper’s Guide together.  So instead what I do is as I make my grocery list, I check the lists.  (The EWG site has a nice pdf list you can print off and hang on your fridge or bring to the store with you as a reference sheet.)  If I need apples I note “org” behind them so I know when I’m in the store that I needto buy that item in organic.  If I’m buying bananas I either put “c” or “conv” or leave it blank so I know that I can either buy conventional or organic.  Everything in the middle (not on the Dirty Dozen, but not on the Clean 15) I leave blank as well leaving myself the flexibility to buy whatever looks good at the store.

Next, I check my packaged goods (cans, jars, etc.) to make sure that anything I’m buying in this category or is made from these items follow the same guidelines… applesauce “org”, tomatoe sauce “org”, and so forth.  The same goes for frozen veggies…

So there you have it.  A practical guideline to help navigate whether or not to buy organic produce and where to get the most bang for your buck.

Happy shopping!