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Toxins and chemicals seemingly surround us. They are a growing concern for our health and well-being and are especially disturbing because we can neither see or feel them. Just how much of an effect are these chemicals having on our health? Well, the statistics are alarming: there has been a staggering increase in disease, such as cancer, asthma, and infertility throughout the US over the past 10 years. Meanwhile our government is at odds with itself. In-fighting and heavy lobbying is preventing the passage of important environmental protection policy. While simultaneously, government studies reveal toxic exposure is playing a significant role in the increase in certain diseases in our country. The science is clear, it is not our human genome that has changed over the years, it is our environment. What we do with that information is really up to us.
“Our environmental politics are broken in the United States,” says Ken Cook of the Environmental Working Group. “In an arena that we used to be a leader, we are now falling behind.” We have not passed a major environmental law in 19 years, due in large part to the 20 – 40% increase in lobbying since the 1990’s. We have complete paralysis around environmental legislation, and cornerstone acts like the Clean Water Act or Clean Air Act would never pass in today’s Washington. Today our shelves are littered with products that have not been fully tested and/or have very little or no safety testing behind them. Where other countries err on the side of health, well-being and safety, America tends to err on the side of big business and politics. Which means for now at least, our safety and health is in our own hands.
If knowledge is the antidote to fear, in these scary times, we’d be well off to arm ourselves with as much knowledge as we can. A “cleaner” tomorrow is possible, we just need the right tools to get there.
The Best Ways To Protect Ourselves
The best way to create a “cleaner” tomorrow is by limiting our exposure events. “Exposure events,” are the number of times you are in contact with harmful toxins. If you can remove even a small number of these “events” from your life by making small adjustments, you can reduce your exposure and risk in the 1,000’s and create a much healthier environment for you and your family as a result.
1. Buy and eat organic food and products
Activate change through commerce. Our choices make a difference. Organic is one of the fastest growing sectors of the food industry. Whereas not long ago 3% of produce available was organic, it’s now 12% because there is demand. Demand it. Use the EWG Guide – The Dirty Dozen and The Clean 15 to determine when it makes most sense to spend.
2. Research your cosmetics
It’s not only what you put in your body but also what you put on your body. Check the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep website or app. Have it handy and do a bit of homework on the lotions and potions you and your family use in the name of shiny, bouncy hair and white, sparkly teeth. There may be known chemicals and toxins in these products used to achieve those results and Skin Deep is shining a massive light on a dark unregulated cosmetics industry so consumers are aware.
3. Send the message through the marketplace
It’s 100% possible to grow the economy while protecting the environment. Change begins with each and every one of us.
4. Hold Washington accountable
Right now it’s the lobbyists whose voice speaks the loudest in DC and you know what they say about the squeaky wheel… time for the people to be heard. Use your voice and your votes to restore America’s environmental majority.
For more resources on this subject check out:
- EWG’s Skin Deep Guide – http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/
- Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce: http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/summary.php
- Food Scores (and download the app!): http://www.ewg.org/foodscores
- Dirty Dozen Guide to Food Additives: http://www.ewg.org/research/ewg-s-dirty-dozen-guide-food-additives
- Dirty Dozen Guide to Endocrine Disruptors: http://www.ewg.org/research/dirty-dozen-list-endocrine-disruptors
- Seafood Guide/Calculator: http://www.ewg.org/research/ewg-s-consumer-guide-seafood/seafood-calculator
- EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning Database: http://www.ewg.org/guides/cleaners
- EWG’s Sunscreen Database: http://www.ewg.org/2014sunscreen/
Q&A with Ken Cook of Environmental Working Group
1. Are products labeled natural the same as organic?
Unfortunately the terms are often unrelated. Food that are certified organic by the U.S. government means it has been grown without toxic pesticides, chemical fertilizers, antibiotics, artificial hormones or genetic engineering. Foods labeled as natural are not subject to the same strict government requirements as organic. The group, Only Organic, released a video called “The Natural Effect” that highlights the misleading advertising claims behind the “natural” label. You can see that here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AftZshnP8fs
EWG’s Food Scores database and app is a great way to see some quantifiable reasons why organic is better. In the realm of processed foods, organic products, on average, have significantly fewer ingredients that conventional. Often times those additional ingredients will be preservatives and additives and stuff you want to avoid. You can also use Food Scores to show that, in most cases, “natural” is no different than conventional. http://www.ewg.org/foodscores
2. Please discuss the downside of using retinols in skincare.
The research is really just beginning here, but the results that have come out so far are not promising. A federal study of retinyl palmitate (vitamin A) showed that it greatly increased the growth rate of cancerous tumors when used on skin that was exposed to sunlight. You can read the full story here: http://www.ewg.org/2014sunscreen/the-problem-with-vitamin-a/
Retinyl palmitate also has developmental and reproductive toxicity, which contributes to it scoring an eight on our Skin Deep Database (with 1 one being the best, and 10 being the worst). You can find that posting here: http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/ingredient/706889/RETINOL_(VITAMIN_A)/
Because the appeal for skincare products with retinols comes from their anti-aging promises, we recommend that you instead use sunscreen to protect your skin from sun damage. EWG’s Sun Safety Campaign put together an Amazon store filled with high quality sunscreens that are safe and effective for you and your family. You can find those here: http://www.ewg.org/sunsafety/astore.php
3. What about fluoride in water?
There are a ton of issues surrounding the presence of fluoride in water, and EWG wants to see the levels of fluoride in water go way down. While the intent of adding fluoride to the water supply—to strengthen teeth and make them resistant to cavities—was good, the levels are far too high and there are much better ways to get the fluoride on our teeth. Toothpaste for example: the topical application (followed by rinse and spit) is a much more efficient delivery system for fluoride on teeth. Drinking water with fluoride sends it through an inexact delivery system and we can’t control how much water an individual drinks, which puts some groups (such as pregnant women and diabetics) at risk of ingesting too much fluoride.
We have some general tips to follow though. Most importantly, NO fluoride for babies and no fluoridated toothpaste for children younger than two. In general, use less toothpaste, just a pea-size drop will do the trick. If you are looking for a fluoride supplement, use a rinse, not a chewable tablet to avoid excess fluoride making its way into your body. Lastly, if you would like to know if your tap water is fluoridated, you can find out here: http://apps.nccd.cdc.gov/MWF/Index.asp. The levels of fluoride in your tap water should not exceed 0.7 parts per million. You can also read EWG’s full analysis and list of recommendations here:
4. Because many European countries/ the EU tends to have more stringent regulations, is food/ are products from there overall considered safer?
Not necessarily. There are certainly instances where some European countries have regulations that are far more advanced than what we have in the United States, but the reverse situation also exists, where the US has more stringent regulations than the EU. We would really like to see a much more cooperative, greatest-common-factor approach, where the US and EU combine their studies to produce the safest food products.
But in the mean time, for day-to-day life, where you will probably have easier access to American products, use our Food Scores app to help you avoid some of the potentially dangerous additives and ingredients: http://www.ewg.org/foodscores. Use that in combination with our recently release Dirty Dozen Food Additives to avoid some of the worst of the worst http://www.ewg.org/research/ewg-s-dirty-dozen-guide-food-additives
5. What are the dangers in drinking water?
A glass of water from the kitchen sink can often contain a number of contaminants, including known and probable carcinogens, substances toxic to the endocrine and nervous systems and chemicals that may have risks to pregnancy and development. Tap water contaminants come from a wide variety of sources. Among the major culprits are pesticides and chemicals from fertilizer- and manure-laden farm runoff; factory discharges; polluted runoff from wastewater treatment plants; and pollutants that leach from pipes and storage tanks.
As many people are unaware, one important source of tap water pollution is the treatment process itself. Municipal water treatment plants use chlorine or a chlorine compound called chloramine to kill disease-causing bacteria in source water. But when these chemicals react with rotting organic matter such as manure, sewage, dead animals and plants, they form toxic pollutants called trihalomethanes and haloacetic acids. Technically, these unwanted chemicals are known by the euphemism, “disinfection by-products,” but we call them what they are: water treatment pollutants, or toxic trash.
Because everyone’s water is different, it’s important to learn what is in your water and filter your water appropriately. To help you do this, visitEWG’s Water Filter Buying Guide (http://www.ewg.org/research/ewgs-water-filter-buying-guide) and Tap Water Database (http://www.ewg.org/tap-water/).
6. The recipe in the back of your quick guide lists the first ingredient as canola oil. Have you ever seen how canola oil is made? I am surprised the EWG endorses the use of canola oil. Do you cook with canola oil?
Our biggest concern with canola oil is that approximately 90% of the canola oil grown in the US is genetically engineered to withstand increased doses of toxic herbicides. When using canola oil, it is best to use organic because it is guaranteed to be non-GMO and grown without the use of persistent pesticides.
7. Please shed some light on how bio-dynamic products (food, wine, personal care products) stack up against organic.
Biodynamic farming is very similar to organic farming, but organic focuses on ecological sustainability where as biodynamics is concerned with ecological, social, and economic sustainability. In the US, there is not a government mandated standard and review process for biodynamic farming like there is for organic with the USDA National Organic Program. Most biodynamic farms are certified by a private certifier, Demeter. The Minimum requirements to be certified as biodynamic under Demeter are the USDA Certified Organic standards.
8. I use a skin care product Proactive that I know has bad chemicals in it but I have tried many natural products and nothing works. I have asked my various dermatologists for years and they all shrug and say they don’t know anything about it. Will you research this product at some point? What is the mystery magic ingredient and is it found in any natural products?
This is a great question and acne is tricky, particularly for teens. Unfortunately since this product isn’t in Skin Deep, I don’t have specific advice for you at this time related to Proactive. We do constantly add products into the database so it may ultimately be added.