Summer Experience by Sam Roberts

By Sam Roberts

This summer I was lucky enough to be presented a once in a lifetime experience, one which some people could only dream of. The experience I’m talking about was my internship through HBCAC at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. My partner Sara Frawley and I were tasked with a two folded research and community knowledge project. The internship was three days a week, two days in the Chen  Lab researching the effect of glyphosate and Roundup on the liver gene expression of rats. The other day we worked in the Center for Advanced Medicine (CAM) building spreading pesticide information to the public as well as sitting in on Region 2 Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit (PEHSU) meetings. The different buildings allowed us to experience multiple aspects of the research process.

The Chen Lab gave me a fantastic introduction to lab research as well as genetic research. Working in Dr. Jia Chen’s lab under Dr. Yula Ma, Corina Lessur, and Maya Kappil. We were taught everything we needed to know to complete our experiment. We started the internship knowing nothing about performing necessary lab actions, but now we are able to work in the lab almost independently. It was very slow at first, pipetting water repeatedly and other tasks like that, but our mentors were able to instruct us very effectively and teach us a large amount of information in a small amount of time. For out project, we worked on Glyphosate and Roundup, a herbicide that I personally researched in school as well as learned about from my other internship mentors at the Huntington Breast Cancer Action Coalition. I was fortunate enough to be able to work hands on with the chemical that I have working with for so long.

The CAM building offered a more community focused and slightly slower paced take on environmental research. Working under Dr. Sarah Evans, we performed community knowledge assessments of pesticide use on Long Island and observed PEHSU meetings. The Long Island research opened my eyes to the sheer amount of pesticides that are used in New York, and more specifically Long Island, every year. I also realized the discrepancies between what people think they know about pesticides and reality. Many people don't really know the truth about the chemicals they use in their daily lives. PEHSU meetings are a gathering of accomplished environmentalists, doctors, and researchers who discuss medical cases that doctors bring to their attention and environmental topics that are pertinent to our health. Watching these meetings take place taught me about how scientists communicate and debate their research. Another amazing experience that I am incredibly thankful for.

Finally, thank you to everyone who helped me to obtain this internship as well as my mentors from the internship itself, Karen Miller and Melanie Gabrell. Thank you to Drs. Chen, Ma, and Evans as well as my mentors, Corina Lessur, and Maya Kappil. I thank you all from the bottom of my heart. You have provided me with a life changing experience that I will never forget.


Summer Experience by Sara Frawley

By Sara Frawley

Completing and communicating research has been an amazing experience. This summer, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to intern at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai through HBCAC. Our project focused on the researching effects of glyphosate specifically and communicating the risks of pesticides in general to the public. We worked with Dr. Jia Chen, Dr. Yula Ma, and our mentors Maya Kappil and Corina Lesseur to research glyphosate, the active ingredient in the common pesticide RoundUp, and its effect on liver gene expression. They were all very helpful and amazing to work with. To communicate pesticide usage to the public, we worked with Dr. Sarah Evans. She explained the most beneficial ways to communicate our ideas to the public as we created an outreach project to assess our community's pesticide knowledge and usage.

We began our week in the lab to develop primers and pipette trays of samples to test. Here, I was exposed to the trial and error that goes into lab work and the many different aspects that are involved in developing results. From running gel electrophoresis tests to learning the code that is used to process data, every day was something new. On the second day of the week, we worked with Dr. Sarah Evans to brainstorm project ideas and sit in on Pediatric Environmental Health Specialties Unit (PEHSU) meetings where public health problems such as lead exposure and smoking would be discussed. These meetings were very informative and gave me a new understanding of what goes into public health communications. It was insightful to watch as they took large ideas with many details and simplified them to a few impactful points which would be communicated to the public. It was very interesting to see that, despite pesticides being an issue that has been previously addressed in many campaigns, there is still a lot of work that can and needs to be done. On the third day of each week, we went back to the lab to obtain our results and continue running tests. It was extremely interesting to examine pesticides from these different lenses at the same time.

Coming from an internship with a grassroots organization, The Huntington Breast Cancer Action Coalition, provided yet another perspective on this issue. With HBCAC, I had previously learnt about the problems that pesticides can cause for our health and the environment while also trying to educate our community, so it was interesting to begin the summer with that perspective. It was spectacular to learn and become a part of the behind the scenes work that allows grassroots organizations to do what they do. As the summer went on, I truly felt in my element. I greatly enjoyed performing the research while also knowing the research we were doing was purposeful and would be communicated to so many people in our community. I am extremely thankful for this experience and know that it wouldn’t have been possible without HBCAC and all the wonderful people at Mount Sinai who let us embark on this journey with them.


Skin, The Great Protector

Our skin works hard to protect us and rid our body of toxins. Every day, we face pollution in our air and water, ultraviolet radiation; plus, numerous chemicals in our cosmetics and skin care products enter our bodies through our skin. Here are HBCAC’s latest tips on skin safety during the summer months.

Sun Safety

UV light from the sun can be harmful, but did you know many sunscreens are too? Whenever possible, stay away from sunscreens that contain UV filters such as oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate or oxtinoxate. All of these chemicals prevent sunburn by absorbing the UV radiation. Physical sunscreens, a.k.a mineral sunscreens, use zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. These ingredients sit on the outermost layer of our skin. They reflect and scatter the UV rays away from the areas where they are applied. This is the healthier alternative to preventing sunburn and damage from sun exposure. These active ingredients are also less likely to irritate your skin. Sunscreens with non-nano zinc and titanium particles are much safer for us, and the environment. (1)

Remember to wear proper clothing for a sunny occasion. Wear a wide-brimmed hat that keeps your face, neck and ears shaded. As far as clothing, the tighter the knit or weave, the smaller the holes and the less UV can get through.

Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals

According to the EPA, in the last two decades there has been a growing awareness of the possible adverse effects from exposure to chemicals that can interfere with the endocrine system. An endocrine disruptor is any chemical that can interfere with normal hormone functions in humans or animals and affect many bodily functions. Choose household products free of the following:

  • Parabens:

Parabens are used as preservatives in cosmetics and skin care products. Unlike many endocrine-disrupting chemicals, parabens can be found in the product’s ingredient list. Here are a few common ones to look out for: methylparaben, butylparaben, propylparaben, ethylparaben, isobutylparaben, and benzylparaben.

  • Phthalates:

Phthalates are chemical compounds, which act as binding agents and also make plastics flexible. They can be found in many color cosmetics, fragranced lotions, body washes, hair care products, and nail polish. When reading labels, be aware that if a product has fragrance or parfum, it most likely has phthalates.

  • Triclosan:

This toxic chemical disturbs thyroid, testosterone, and estrogen regulation, which can create a host of issues including early puberty, poor sperm quality, infertility, obesity, and cancer. (2) Due to its antibacterial and antifungal properties, triclosan was used as a hospital scrub in the 1970s. By the year 2000, it had made its way into many consumer products, including toothpaste, soaps, and detergents. In September 2016, the FDA announced that 19 active ingredients, including triclosan and a related chemical, triclocarban, were to be removed from over-the-counter consumer antiseptic products intended for use with water, yet it is in the majority of brand name deodorants, and in some toothpaste!

Antiperspirants & Deodorants

The skin is the body’s natural heating and cooling system. Antiperspirants plug up your sweat glands, and we need to sweat to rid our bodies of toxins! Aluminum zirconium tetrachlorohydrex glycine is the form of aluminum used in antiperspirants. It is restricted in Canada (3), which may make us think twice before applying it to our skin on a regular basis. The science is still going on as we speak!

When choosing a deodorant, be on the lookout for the endocrine disruptors above like parabens, fragrance, triclosan and also artificial colors. Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Skin Deep Database is a reliable place to check for safety and health precautions of different products and ingredients. There are many options on the market now due to consumer demand.

Eating a clean diet with lots of fresh veggies and drinking plenty of water can also help cut down body odor and will help your skin stay healthy.

The Dirt on Dirt

There are many benefits to exposure to nature’s elements, especially dirt. Dr. Josh Axe, certified doctor of natural medicine, doctor of chiropractic and clinical nutritionist, often talks about why dirt should be part of our daily routine. You can read about why he thinks we live in the age of oversanitation, and then get out and get dirty!

By Tara Marie Kotliar

References:

  1. https://www.ewg.org/sunscreen/report/nanoparticles-in-sunscreen/

  2. https://www.nrdc.org/stories/dirt-antibacterial-soaps

  3. https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/ingredient/700330/ALUMINUM_ZIRCONIUM_TETRACHLOROHYDREX_GLYCINE_COMPLEX/

Healthy Summer Eating

Improve your health and beat the heat with some tips on nutrition from HBCAC.

  • Leafy greens and all cruciferous vegetables are highly nourishing to the body and are high in fiber, which is needed for the elimination of toxins.

  • Help heal weathered skin (like the drying effects of the sun) with foods rich in antioxidants and vitamin C. Berries are especially antioxidant-rich.

  • Try to get foods with naturally bright colors on your plate at each meal. Color, such as what makes a blueberry blue, indicates different phytochemicals, which have disease-preventing properties.

  • While it is very healthy to eat veggies raw, you can also grill up some zucchini, mushrooms, or onions (to name just a few). Add touch of salt and pepper. They are easy to prepare and delicious!

  • Sit down for meals whenever possible rather than eating on the go. This is good for our mental and physical health. It will help us digest our food better too!

  • Chewing your food thoroughly allows you to absorb more nutrients from your food. Also, the chewing process serves as the first step to proper digestion.

Non-GMO and Organic

Eating organic and/or non-GMO whole foods is a great step you can take toward health and wellness.

  • GMO stands for genetically modified organisms. The genes of plants can be altered by the insertion of a modified gene or a gene from another organism using techniques of genetic engineering.

  • Farmers have widely adopted GM technology, but limited research has been done to assure there are no health risks.

  • Organic produce is grown without harmful pesticides and the soil is more mineral-rich.

  • Organic produce beats conventional produce nutrition-wise with more phenolics, antioxidants, quercetin (a plant flavonol), vitamin C, and vitamin E. (1)

  • To find out which types of conventionally grown produce contain the most and the least chemical pesticides, use the EWG’s Clean Fifteen and Dirty Dozen lists to make informed choices.

Community Supported Agriculture

Joining a “CSA” is great way to get nutritious food directly from a local farmer.  When you become a member of a CSA, you are purchasing a “share” of vegetables. There are a number of CSAs on Long Island. The rations for farm shares usually feed at least a family of four. You normally do not have control of exactly what you are going to get each week, so another nice option is look up local farmers’ markets in your area. This way you can support local farms, but buy only what you know you need and want.

Plant a vegetable garden at home or apply for a community garden plot

Gardening is grounding, and being mentally grounded can help relieve physical and mental stress.

If you have the space to have a home garden, here is a great link to get started: https://home.howstuffworks.com/starting-a-vegetable-garden.htm

If you prefer, or do not have the space, the Town of Huntington is home to an amazing Community Garden. Gateway Community Garden is managed by an independent not-for-profit governed by the gardeners themselves under license agreement with the Town. To apply for a plot, visit http://www.GatewayGarden.org.

Each person’s journey towards health and wellness is unique. Remember that making small improvements and persevering over time will make a huge difference.

By: Tara Marie Kotliar

References:

(1) New Evidence Confirms the Nutritional Superiority of Plant-Based Organic Foods, https://www.organic-center.org/publications/new-evidence-confirms-the-nutritional-superiority-of-plant-based-organic-foods

Feeling HOT, HOT, HOT? Hydrate yourself!

Make summer healthy!

HBCAC would like to share a series of posts in August with some of our favorite tips for maintaining a happy, healthy, and memorable summer.

As a fairly new parent, my appreciation for this time of year has truly blossomed. I am aware that my son and I will only have 18 summers together until he is a grown up, which is not a lot!

Hope you enjoy!

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Feeling HOT, HOT, HOT? Hydrate yourself!

The summer heat makes us more susceptible to dehydration. It is a great idea to start off your day with a glass of water and carry a water bottle with you to remind yourself to drink.

Hydration is also important for detoxification. Make sure you and your loved ones are drinking water with the lowest level of contaminants possible. We know that normally there are low levels of toxins in our food, water and air. If we can keep these levels low enough, our bodies will get rid of toxins naturally and help us to stay in good health.

At HBCAC we like to recommend that everyone on Long Island consider installing a water filter in his or her home. Water filters are also a more sustainable choice for our planet. Be sure to scroll down and check out our blog post from March 2018, which explains why, “Bottled Water Isn’t Always Better”.

Here are a couple of useful links regarding water quality:

Look up your local water company here: https://www.ewg.org/tapwater/index.php

Information on water filters: https://www.ewg.org/tapwater/water-filter-guide.php

Finally, a tasty note on hydration; add lots of water-rich raw foods like watermelon (an average of 92% water!), green smoothies, freshly squeezed juices, and salads during the hot summer months.

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By Tara Marie Kotliar

Severe Sunscreen

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Sunscreen is often used in attempt to protect us from the harmful rays of the sun. However, sunscreen itself can be harmful to our bodies depending on what chemicals are used to make and preserve it. In fact, these chemicals are so harmful that Hawaii banned two of them. On May 1st, Hawaii state legislature passed a bill that will ban sunscreen products containing the chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate.

These chemicals are very commonly used and are found in sunscreens across the United States. When tested by EWG, Oxybenzone was found in 65% of non-mineral sunscreens. Even worse, it has been found in the blood of 96% of Americans by the CDC. These are both huge percentages which prove how widely used it is. This is significant because these chemicals are damaging to both our bodies and even the coral reefs in Hawaii.

Both of these chemicals are endocrine disruptors. This means that they mimic and disrupt our hormones. Hormones are our chemical messengers that send signals across our bodies. So, when they are disrupted, instances of short and long term negative health effects increase. Oxybenzone has been found to cause allergic reactions and is even linked to lower testosterone levels in adolescent boys. Octinoxate mimics the hormone estrogen. These hormones regulate many processes in the body and even small disruptions can be harmful.

By creating this new regulation, Hawaii is encouraging companies to make safer and more effective alternatives. While this is good for Hawaii, many states do not have this legislation so it is important to read labels to look for these chemicals. Using mineral sunscreens, hats, and sitting in the shade are all great alternatives which can help to prevent sun exposure without exposing yourself to harmful chemicals.

By Sara Frawley

Problematic Parabens

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There are many hidden chemicals in personal care products which can be damaging to our health. In fact, a recent study found that small doses of certain chemical preservatives can be damaging to one’s health. These preservatives are known as parabens. Parabens are endocrine disruptors which harm the hormone system by mimicking the hormone estrogen. This can be very damaging because hormone disruption is linked to disease in later life and according to new studies, more aggressive cancer.

Parabens are so common that they were actually found in one fifth of the products tested by EWG. So, you may be wondering why parabens are so common if they are so dangerous. This is because there are many arguments that the amounts of parabens used in products are too low to impact health. However, a recent study noted that previous research only considered the effects of parabens alone while in the real world we are affected by a wide variety of chemicals which can work together to be more damaging. When tested against other chemical changes in breast cancer cells, parabens were linked to damage such as leading to faster tumor growth and malignant cancer.

This is because of parabens ability to mimic estrogen. Estrogen is an important hormone in our body which regulates many different processes. In fact, two thirds of breast cancer cells have estrogen receptors. This is significant because paragons mimic this common hormone and these studies found that even low doses of chain parabens such as butyl paraben can turn on cancer genes with cell receptors called HER receptors.

So, while previous studies claimed that low doses of parabens are safe, these new studies are proving that these low doses can become amplified with different receptors and biochemical environments. Luckily, you can keep yourself safe by avoiding these harmful preservatives by looking for paraben-free products using resources such as EWGs Skin Deep Database and by reading labels.

By Sara Frawley

Why Children are More Susceptible to Harmful Chemicals

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Babies are especially susceptible to harmful chemicals in everyday products because they are in a major stage of development and growth known as a window of susceptibility. This means that certain chemicals can be safe for adults and not for children.

Products from baby wipes to baby shampoo can all have the possibility of containing harmful chemicals. “EWG found that the average child is exposed through body care products to 27 chemicals a day that have not been found safe for children, including some associated with cancer, brain and nervous system damage, allergies and hormone disruption.” (EWG, Nov 2007).  

In fact, children's shampoos aren’t always tested for children’s safety. While children are more vulnerable to these harmful chemicals, there aren’t the necessary safety guidelines to protect them. The FDA isn’t required to test cosmetics and personal care products so they often go unnoticed while containing possibly dangerous chemicals.

Besides being in developing stages, children even have skin that is 30% thinner than adults and babies have not fully formed their blood brain barrier until they are six months old. All of this can add up so, it is important to read labels and use resources such as EWG’s Skin Deep Database to see what chemicals are actually in your products.

By Sara Frawley

Caution Cellphones

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In recent months, many studies have been released that prove the harmful effects of cellphone radiation. As the newest users of these untested products, people had no idea that these phones would give off radiation that could harm them. Before the science could come out, cell phones have ended up in the hands of the majority, including children.

These wonderful devices that revolutionized communication have now been linked to both heart and brain tumors by a recent Italian study. In fact, these results aren't the first. This study supports the results of a previous study provided by the National Toxicology Program which showed that male rats exposed to cell phone radiation had a higher chance of developing cancerous brain and heart tumors. Other studies showed sperm damage, sleep disruption, and lowered brain metabolism.

These studies prove the long term effects of cellphone radiation, however these worrying effects are not limited. Another study proved that pregnant women exposed to short term cellular radiation had a threefold chance of miscarriage.

So, how can you use your cell phone while avoiding these effects? Well, EWG provided helpful guidelines which include : “Use a speaker, hold your phone away from your body, text more than calling, call when the signal is strong, limit children’s cell phone use, and skip the radiation shield”. Simply holding your phone further away from you and putting it across your room at night can aide in limiting your exposure. While, many opt for radiation shield cases, certain types can lower connection which in turn promotes radiation.

These findings should be taken into special consideration for children and teens. As with many harmful things, growing bodies are far more susceptible. Important parts of their bodies are forming rapidly and these small things can have larger effects.

Although throwing away your phone is probably not an option, making a few of these changes can limit your exposure to radiation, and in turn limit your chance of getting certain harmful symptoms. As with everything we explain, a small change in just a few things can make a great difference for your future.

By Sara Frawley

Bottled Water Isn't Always Better

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Plastics have leached into almost every part of our environment, especially our water. A recent study found that plastic particles are even present in bottled water. In fact, these particles were found in even higher amounts than tap water that was tested in previous studies.

These bottles had an average of 325 plastic particles per liter and only 17 of the bottles didn't have plastics. These plastics can enter water at the original site, in the factory, or from the water bottle itself.

Of 259 bottles tested, 90% had microplastics. This is extremely concerning because on top of the high expectations for bottled water, plastics can be harmful to one's health. In this study polypropylene was the most commonly found plastic even though it is often considered safe due to its heat resistant qualities which keep it from getting into products. However, common plastics such as BPA and phthalates can be harmful as they are known endocrine disruptors. This means they disrupt our hormone systems because of their abilities to mimic hormones.

So, you may be wondering what you should do as there is controversy over tap water vs bottled water. You can often find full water reports of your bottled water and can use EWG’s Tap Water Database to find out how safe your local tap water is. By doing this you can see what water filter might work best for you. Additionally, even switching from a plastic water bottle to a glass or stainless steel bottle can be beneficial to your health in the long run.

By Sara Frawley

Lethal Lead

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Lead is a heavy metal that has well known harmful effects on every part of our bodies. However, it is still found in many everyday items such as drinking water and even the paint on your walls. Avoiding it where possible can greatly help your health in the future. 

Lead is linked to a variety of diseases because of the way it can effect every part of our body. Exposure to lead has been linked to  permanent brain damage, lowered IQ, hearing loss, miscarriage, premature birth, increased blood pressure, kidney damage and nervous system problems. In fact, it has also been found to alter both reproductive and stress regulating hormones. This is due to its endocrine disrupting effects meaning it interferes with our bodies natural signaling system by mimicking hormones. 

So how can you avoid lead? Well, lead is found in crumbling paint and even water. By simply keeping your house clean and avoiding lead based paints, you can reduce your exposure in your home. Purchasing an appropriate water filter can be beneficial as well. Luckily, this process has been made easier with the help of EWG's clean water guide.

Lead is obviously linked to a variety of illnesses. Overall, making even one of these changes can be beneficial to your health in the long run.

By Sara Frawley

Pets and Pesticides

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With 70% more households having more dogs or cats than children, it is important to consider the effects of pesticides on pet health. Similarly to children, pets can be exposed to pesticides while playing outside on lawns. Additionally, just like people, dogs can get illnesses such as cancer and they can actually help to inform ourselves of health risks.

In a study by EWG, dogs and cats were exposed to 48 out of 70 harmful chemicals tested. And, 43 of these chemicals were found in much higher levels than in humans. Dogs and cats roll around outside on lawns coated in pesticides and after doing so they often lick themselves clean. This means they can be exposed to pesticides through both their skin and mouth. Even indoor pets that eat food off the floor can be exposed to pesticides that get tracked inside the home. Their exposure levels are very similar to those of infants and toddlers who often play on the floor and stick many things in their mouths.

These pesticides (and even flea repellents) have been proven to cause many different types of cancers in dogs.  Pesticides can sometimes have endocrine disrupting chemicals which means they can disrupt hormone system and contribute to the development of disease. Hormones are our body's messengers, and when these chemicals get into our body, they mimic these messengers, causing unwanted reactions. With shorter lifespans and smaller windows of vulnerability, they develop health problems at much faster rates.

Overall, pets are much more vulnerable to pesticides than people, and therefore can, unfortunately, demonstrate the harmful effects of pesticides. Some types of pesticides can have harmful chemicals so switching to organic brands can help both your pets and your own health in the long run.

By Sara Frawley

Understanding Phthalates

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Phthalates are endocrine disrupting chemicals that are found in a variety of things from plastics to personal care products. They are often used in plastics to make them more flexible. However, they are even used in products that contain synthetic fragrance. So, what exactly is this chemical, why is it used so often, and what harm could it be doing?

Well, phthalates are added chemicals which are used to make plastic more flexible and harder to break. This means they are not necessary to the quality of many of your products besides the packaging or smell. They are in things such as toys, vinyl flooring and wall covering, detergents, food packaging, pharmaceuticals, and personal care products. In the case of fragrance, they can sometimes be sneakily added to your products under the code word fragrance. However for the most part phthalates can be avoided by avoiding plastics with the recycling number 3.

Phthalates are dangerous because they are endocrine disruptors. Endocrine disruptors cause problems by mimicking or altering the amounts of hormones in your body. By acting as hormones, your bodies natural signals, it can confuse your body into sending the wrong responses. Phthalates, for example, have been shown to alter hormones, lower sperm count, obesity, diabetes, and thyroid irregularities.

To avoid phthalates, try replacing your plastics with glass or stainless steel bottles. Also, avoid plastics with the recycling numbers 3 and 5 4 1 2 because these are also harmful plastics. These numbers can often be found on the bottom of your plastic containers and can be strong indicators of what chemicals were used to form your plastics. By simply changing something such as your water bottle or to a product without fragrance, you can greatly benefit your health in the long run.

By Sara Frawley

Polluting PFCs

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PFCs also known per- or perfluorochemicals are a group of chemicals which can be dangerous to our health. They are often recognized for being used in non stick pans but they are also used in a variety of other products as well.They make products water-, grease-, and stain-resistant which is why they are used so often. However, this widespread use has lead to an almost universal finding of PFCs in people's blood stream as well as in the environment.

PFCs have been linked to cancer, reproductive problems, birth and developmental defects, and even immune suppression. Because they are so prevalent, it can be beneficial to reduce some areas of exposure that you can control, such as the clothes you buy or pans you use.

“They’re used in the coatings on carpets and clothing, in microwave popcorn bag and fast food wrappers. Most waterproof or stain repellent clothing....PFC coatings remain common in the marketplace.” (EWG’s Guide to Avoiding PFCs). In fact, they can even be found in the water because they can degrade over time and get into our water supply.

To avoid PFCs, avoid PTFE and nonstick kitchen supplies by replacing them with stainless steel or cast iron pans instead. Also look for products without PTFE and FLUORO ingredients and clothes without the words stain or water repellent. If you are worried about your water, detection has been made easy with EWGs tap water database which can help advise you to find safer water filters which are more fitted to the chemicals in your area. Making even one of these changes can have a great and easy impact on your future health.

By Sara Frawley

Tricky Triclosan

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Triclosan is an antibacterial chemical found in many personal care products. It can be dangerous to both people and the environment because of its harmful qualities. Even though its dangers are known and triclosan-free products work just as well, it is still used often. In fact, a study by the CDC showed 75% of people tested had the chemical triclosan in their bodies. So what exactly is this chemical and how can one avoid it?

Triclosan is a endocrine disrupting chemical meaning it can disrupt our hormones. This is dangerous because hormones control many bodily functions. When they are disrupted mixed chemical messages can lead to diseases later in life. For example, triclosan is linked to liver and inhalation toxicity. Even low levels of exposure to triclosan can disrupt thyroid function. As well as harming people, it can also disrupt the environment by getting into water sources and harming animals as well.

It is often listed as “antibacterial”, “antimicrobial”, and “odor-fighting”. Triclosan can be found in body washes, conditioner, deodorants, soaps, lotion, shampoos, shaving creams, toothpaste, and even the lining of shoes. Imagine how many times you brush your teeth throughout your whole life. If your toothpaste contains triclosan then all those exposures can build up. Luckily, there have been studies which show that by eliminating products with this chemical allows it to quickly leave your body in a matter of days.

To avoid this harmful chemical look for the word triclosan under the active ingredient section on your products label. Also avoid antibacterial soaps as normal soap has been proven to work just as well. By switching out a product as simple as your toothpaste for another that does not contain triclosan could have a great benefit on your health in the long run.

By Sara Frawley

Bad Bread

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Many commercially baked foods contain the food additive potassium bromate. Although it is usually seen in white breads, it has also been found in other baked goods and products. This is added to the flour to strengthen the dough by allowing it to rise and be white. However, it has recently been linked to cancer. 

Even though it has been proven to be harmful, it is still in many of our foods. It was found to be a possible human carcinogen in 1999 by the International Agency for Research on Caner. And although it has been banned as a food additive in countries such as Canada and the European Union, it is still allowed in the United States. It was found to increase tumors in the thyroid, kidneys, and other organs. It was also found to damage the DNA in some cells. Basically, there is a obvious correlation between potassium bromate and damage.

Despite the correlation, companies have still be able to use it. To get around these claims, companies claimed the harmful chemical potassium bromate gets altered in the baking process, but this was found to be false as it sometimes remains in the food. So far, there are few regulations in the United States. However, California has set the tone to be proactive by putting warning labels on foods that contain potassium bromate.

So, it can obviously be beneficial to avoid this dangerous chemical by reading labels, And this label reading process has been made even easier because of sources such as EWG's Food Scores Database and app which can help you find if your food contains the chemical and offers alternative foods. To be even more proactive and follow in California's footsteps, you can contact your congressional members to urge them to make changes.

By Sara Frawley

Sickening Straighteners

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In recent years, pin straight hair trends have led to the creation of extreme chemical hair straighteners and dangerously hot blow outs. These straighteners don’t just cause your hair to be straighter, they also have been linked to severe allergic reactions, massive hair loss, rashes, blistered scalps, and many health problems. So what causes these dangerous effects? Formaldehyde. 

Formaldehyde is a dangerous known carcinogen that disrupts our hormone systems causing many illnesses. It is a colorless odorless gas that can cause cancer in large amounts. However it is used in many products including chemical hair straighteners. However, even though it is known to be dangerous, brands claim to have low formaldehyde levels as a positive. And these were tested by EWG and 15/16 were found to have high amounts. Some even omitted the ingredient from its labels, further keeping buyers in the dark because of formaldehyde’s known dangers, often recognized for being in cigarette smoke. 

Formaldehyde is also dangerous for hairdressers because as these hair products are heated, the formaldehyde becomes airborne and more dangerous. Many hair salons were warned but there is still very little action on this problem. This is because there are no set levels on the amount of the dangerous chemical, formaldehyde, allowed in so many of our products. 

Luckily you can search your personal care products on EWGs Skin Deep Database to make staying informed easy. Additionally, the EPA is continuing their research and bills have been in effect to try and set limits on formaldehyde in products.

By Sara Frawley

Parabens Now Found in Food!

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We've talked about the dangers of Parabens in our personal care products, but did you know that they can even be found in food? Propyl Paraben is a dangerous chemical that has recently been found in foods and is even "Generally Recognized as Safe" even though it has been shown to be harmful.

Propyl Paraben is a harmful chemical that is found in certain muffins, tortillas, and even food dyes. It can be added on purpose or as a result of packaging, but either way, it can still be harmful. It is so harmful that the European Union banned it's use, but it is still used and accepted as safe in many common snacks throughout the United States.

Studies found that Propyl Paraben is an endocrine disrupting chemical. Endocrine disrupting chemicals are chemicals that disrupt our hormone system by mimicking our hormones. When they mimic our hormones they can create unintended responses that can lead to diseases in the long run. For example, Propyl Parabens have been linked to decreased sperm counts in rats. It has also been linked to an increase of breast cancer cells and impaired fertility in women. Obviously, it shouldn't be recognized as safe.

So, to help your health in the long run, try to avoid foods containing the ingredient Propyl Paraben. Usually, it is found in pre-packaged foods with lengthy labels so to make this task easier you can use resources such as EWGs Food Scores to check your foods safety. By just switching a few foods in moderation, you can avoid many possible illnesses.

By Sara Frawley

Misleading Labels

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Many personal care product brands, from makeup to shampoo, print the words "natural" and "organic" across their products to make them seem safer, but these products may be just as bad for you. With so many different claims like "plant-based" and "free of", how can we know what they actually mean?

Well, the word "natural" doesn't even have any legal basis in the personal care industry. This means that many companies will use it to describe unsafe products. They can use natural ingredients that are very unhealthy and use the word natural to give off the connotation of a healthier product, misleading those with the best intentions! The label "natural" shouldn't be relied on as reading the actual label is much safer. For example, companies can use clays full of toxic metals instead of a safer synthetic ingredient, but the word natural makes it seem okay. And, even with the label "natural", recent studies found undisclosed carcinogenic petrochemical ingredients in a large percentage of "natural" products. Even products that claimed to be "100% natural" still had synthetic ingredients in them.

Although Organic products are much safer than their chemical-filled counterparts, labeling can be deceiving. Organic products usually have the USDA organic seal meaning they are legitimately organic. However, in personal care products, companies don't have to use this seal and can make false claims about products. They can write "Organic" and "Organic Ingredients" without the personal care product being truly organic. So, to avoid this, always look for the green USDA Organic seal instead of the claims simply written across the product.

Overall, the best way to make safe decisions about the products you use is by reading the label on the back instead of the loose claims stamped on the front of our products. Try to avoid ingredients such as fragrance (a code word for 3,100 chemicals!), parabens, sulfates, and triclosan. Although this seems like a difficult task, there are resources such as EWG's Skin Deep Database to look up your products and see how safe they really are.

By: Sara Frawley

Malignant Makeup

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EWG’s Skin Deep guide ranks personal care products based on the safety of their ingredients. Sadly, many products targeted for Black Women ranked poorly on this scale. This is a significant amount of products because Black Women account for 22% of personal care products sold. Even more worrying, there are not many options for women of color when deciding which personal care products to use.

In an analysis of the ingredients of 1,177 beauty products, one in 12 were found to be highly hazardous and one in four were found to pose a low health hazard. Many of the worst rated products are hair relaxers, hair colors, and bleaching chemicals. Chemical hair relaxers can do more than just relax. They can cause baldness and even growths in the uterus and all of the relaxers EWG tested had dangerously bad scores. However, even lipsticks concealers and foundations were found to be dangerous and only more broadly used products such as bar soaps, body oils, and moisturizers were found to have higher safety ratings.

By hazardous, I mean that these were found to be endocrine disrupting chemicals. Endocrine disrupting chemicals are very dangerous to one’s health because they can enter our bodies through our largest organ, the skin and then disrupt our hormones by mimicking them. Hormones are our body’s chemical messengers so they are very important for our health. When these messages are disrupted, it can cause illnesses in the future. These can include  cancer, hormone disruption, developmental and reproductive damage, allergies and other adverse health effects.

In fact, one study found that Black Americans have on average a higher concentration of Parabens and Retinyl Palmitate which are commonly used dangerous chemicals that should be avoided as much as possible. Some other chemicals to avoid are Formaldehyde-releasing chemicals such as DMDM hydantoin, Diazolidinyl Urea and Imidazolidinyl Urea. You should also look out for Methylisothiazolinone and Fragrance.

If you would like to consider new products and safer alternatives you can search your products using EWG's Skin Deep Database. You can also call your Congressman to urge them to pass bills for further regulations on personal care products. You can also switch your products in moderation by switching products such as your foundation while keeping your favorite moisturizer.

By: Sara Frawley