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Creating a Healthier Environment

Reducing Chemical Exposure

Learning about the potential risks of toxic chemicals can be scary and overwhelming. Chemicals are everywhere and are impossible to avoid. The information is forever changing and can be contradicting.  It is best to educate yourself and reduce exposure to toxic chemicals as much as possible.  There are some chemicals that are found safe in small amounts and shown to have no risk to humans. Other studies find chemicals toxic to animals, but the risk to humans is unknown. Since research on the safety during pregnancy can be limited, pregnant woman should be cautious.  Environmental groups are concerned about the limited testing of the long-term effects of combining of multiple chemicals. 

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) currently lists 83,000 chemicals that fall under the Toxic Substance Control Act.  We can not avoid exposure to these chemicals because they are found everywhere.  We absorb these chemicals in several ways; ingesting, breathing, and absorption through our skin. Many of these chemicals are additives or ingredients in items such as pesticides, common household products, food, drugs, dyes, toiletries, solvents and more. It is also in products we apply to our skin such as: hair products, makeup, and perfumes. They can also be found in fire resistant and waterproof clothing, furnishings, and homes. California's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment publishes the Proposition 65 which lists natural and synthetic chemicals that are known to cause cancer, birth defects, or other reproductive harm.  The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reported more than 400 environmental chemicals have been found in the sampling of human urine, blood, serum, and breast milk. Many chemicals are stored and accumulated in our bodies. Currently, there are no studies that show the effects of the chemical cocktails. Many health advocates are concerned about the over exposure to the combination of these chemicals daily and the potential for irreparable harm. While we cannot avoid these chemicals, any change to decrease chemical exposure is helpful in moving towards maintaining health. 

Some researchers feel that a brief exposure is unlikely to cause harm to you or your baby. It is the long-term exposure to large quantities that can potentially harm your child. If you are exposed to a toxic chemical and are concerned, call the Poison Information Hotline at 1 800 222-1222 or 911. 

Remember, what mom consumes, inhales, absorbs into her body also passes through the baby. With cigarette smoking, vaping, and secondhand smoke we risk inhaling many chemicals. If you are planning to become pregnant, or are pregnant, it is best to minimize chemical exposure and quit smoking/vaping. If you are a smoker, please consult your doctor on the best resources available.

It has been established that smoking is a serious health hazard and can have a negative effect on almost every organ in your body. According to The American Lung Association there are approximately 600 ingredients in cigarettes. Of the more than 7,000 chemicals that are in cigarette smoke; at least, 69 are carcinogens and toxic.

Here is a list of chemicals found in cigarette smoke and where else they can be found:

  • Acetone—found in nail polish remover
  • Acetic acid—an ingredient in hair dye
  • Ammonia—a household cleaner
  • Arsenic—used in rat poison
  • Benzene—found in rubber cement and gasoline
  • Butane—used in lighter fluid
  • Cadmium—active component in battery acid
  • Carbon monoxide—released in car exhaust fumes
  • Formaldehyde—embalming fluid
  • Hexamine—found in barbecue lighter fluid
  • Lead—used in batteries, found in older homes in paint
  • Naphthalene—an ingredient in mothballs
  • Methanol—a main component in rocket fuel
  • Nicotine—used as an insecticide
  • Tar—material for paving roads
  • Toluene—used to manufacture paint

Even though, some feel that vaping is safer than nicotine, there are still risks. Vaping has been shown to have negative health risks and possibly be fatel. Most E-cigarettes still contain nicotine and other chemicals for flavoring. When the chemical solution is heated it turns into a vapor.  That vapor is inhaled directly into the lungs and has been shown to cause lung damage. The CDC states that even though E-cigarettes have the potential to be safe for some people, they are not safe for the youth, young adults, pregnant women, and anyone who does not use tobacco products. More research needs to be done to assess the impact on one’s health. 

The American Lung Association states: “Because the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not begun its review of any e-cigarette or its ingredients, nor has FDA issued any standards on the products, e-cigarette composition and effects vary. What researchers do know is that these toxic chemicals and metals have all been found in e-cigarettes;” Below is a list of some chemicals found in E-cigarettes:

  • Nicotine – a highly addictive substance that negatively affects adolescent brain development
  • Propylene glycol – a common additive in food; also used to make things like antifreeze, paint solvent, and artificial smoke in fog machines
  • Carcinogens- chemicals known to cause cancer, including acetaldehyde and formaldehyde
  • Acrolein – a herbicide primarily used to kill weeds, can cause irreversible lung damage
  • Diacetyl – a chemical linked to a lung disease called bronchiolitis obliterans aka "popcorn lung"
  • Diethylene glycol – a toxic chemical used in antifreeze that is linked to lung disease
  • Heavy metals such as nickel, tin, lead
  • Cadmium – a toxic metal found in traditional cigarettes that causes breathing problems and disease
  • Benzene – a volatile organic compound (VOC) found in car exhaust
  • Ultrafine particles - that can be inhaled deep into the lungs

There are many resources on-line to educate yourself and guide you to a greener life. The information is constantly changing. You can always find a study that contradicts another. My thought is, always error on the side of caution. Something that has no evidence of being harmful today, can show up years from now as harmful. 

The Everything Green Baby Book by Jenn Savedge is an easy and affordable guide that is packed with information on going green to reduce chemical exposure.

One way to decrease the amount of chemicals you are exposed to is to start in your own home.  Use natural products for cleaning such as: vinegar, baking soda, castile soap, and essential oils. There are many recipes online. Here are two sites with DIY cleaning products: The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)  or The Family Handyman.

Dan Howard, MIES, CMIA, CIAQT,CESA and owner of Envirospect, has a vast amount of information on his website. You will find several downloadable PDFs regarding environmental toxins. He covers many topics such as sick building syndrome, chemical sensitivities, mold, remediation, lead, cleaning, disinfecting, and what to look for when hiring a professional remediation company.

It is impossible to eliminate all biological pollutants. These are generally found in high moisture areas such as carpet, furniture, bathrooms, and moist basements. Using humidifiers, air conditioners, and unvented heaters can contribute to the growth of some biological organisms. Since these organisms need moisture to grow, it has been shown that setting a dehumidifier between 30-50% humidity can help reduce their growth. In addition, dehumidifiers have been shown to reduce formaldehyde levels. LearnMetrics is a site to read more on HVAC, air quality, and humidity. 

Do not get discouraged or be afraid, environmental groups are lobbying for safer products and more labeling of chemicals.  One organization, The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), advocates for the right to clean air, clean water, and a healthier environment. Their mission is to work to safeguard the earth - it's people, plants, animals, and the natural systems on which life depends. When we educate ourselves, we can make better choices for our health and wellbeing. If you support your body and reduce the toxic load, you are moving towards maximizing the potential for you and your family to have a healthier and happier life.

"For every minute spent in organizing, an hour is earned,” –Benjamin Franklin

Decluttering and Organizing

After the birth of my children, I focused on my children and organizing was less of a priority. Not being organized cost me time and energy.  Now that my children are grown and out of the house, I wish I had better organizing skills so I did not have so much to do now.  

When you start thinking about getting ready to start a family you automatically look at organizing the nursery and the supplies you need.  Developing organizing skills before the baby is born will help to reduce any stress and give you more time and energy to enjoy your family. 

Many of our negative beliefs can self-sabotage getting started. You might feel you are not capable because organizing is hard. You may have been told you are a packrat, or that you can’t do anything right. Clutter can have a negative effect on your health, both physically and mentally. Organizing is a skill to learn and can become a good habit. The first step is just to make the decision that you want to change and deserve to have a healthier environment.

There are health benefits when you and your environment become more organized. Decreasing clutter can help:

• decrease stress

• increase the feeling of having control of our life

• relax the mind and increase the ability to focus

• increase productivity

• increase self-esteem

• foster better relationships

• improve and have a more restful sleep

• reduce anxiety and depression

• reduce the risk of asthma and allergies

How to get started:

•Even if you are not naturally organized, know that you can find helpful hints to make being organized easier.

• Pick a start date and put it on your calendar.

•Take pictures before you start your project and after completion. Use an app to place the pictures side by side to appreciate the transformation.

•Have a plan, starting with one space or project at a time.

•Start with a smaller project, this rewards you faster with the feeling of accomplishment.

•Schedule time in your week that is dedicated to decluttering and organizing, make sure you phone is off so you are not distracted.

•Purchase helpful supplies such as: file cabinet, scanner, label maker, file folders, containers, and baskets.

•Find a calendar system to organize your time.

• Dedicate a location to organize incoming papers when they first come in your home.

•Using containers labeled donate, throw away, storage, keep, and sell, allows you to touch each item once...then you are ready to get rid of it. 

•Set a time limit for how long you will keep the sell items, DO NOT keep around for a long period of time.

Helpful hints with decluttering and staying organized:

• make the decision that you want to have a more organized environment

• look at photos of beautiful clutter free rooms and envision living that way

• list your "why" for wanting to change and any reasons "why not"

• recruit an emotional support person(s), someone who will celebrate even the smallest of victories

• join a face book group, there are several private groups for people looking for support in their journey

• seek professional counseling, if necessary, some people keep items that have emotional meaning or fills a void in their life

• take the items to the donation center as soon as you can, even if it is a small load

• make a list of what rooms you want to organize, then break it down to specific areas (cupboard, dressers, shelves, drawers)

• break down in smaller time frames, commit to increments of 20-30 minutes per day (if making it a day project take frequent breaks)

• if you find it hard to part with sentimental items, take pictures before giving the items away

For me, just getting started with decluttering was a challenge. Being a single mom since my children were very young, I have accumulated a lot of stuff. Pitching and organizing was the last thing on my priority list.  Looking around I thought, "Where do I start?".  I had my garage filled with many items to either donate, give away, or sell. Unfortunately, they were sitting there waiting for me to take action. I finally decided my only objective was to simplify my life and get rid of the clutter. With that, I decided to donate anything I was not using, get rid of unnecessary paper, and organize my home.

I needed to address every room in my home, I felt lost and overwhelmed.  I needed a plan on how to break this down. I needed to feel good about the small steps and not focus on completing everything. 

Luckily, I found Suzanna Kaye. She is a professional organizer and offers online group programs. I am sure there are other professional organizers, but I found Suzanna’s support and teaching to be fantastic. Her classes were affordable, allowed me to go at my own pace, and to choose what I wanted to work on. I started with a system to deal with incoming papers so they would not continue to build up. I decided to organize my important papers with her Spark life program. I started one dresser, one cupboard, and one file drawer at a time. I took pictures before and after, and loved how my home evolved. Now when I look around, I love my home! I welcome friends and family and do not have to be embarrassed. I have no financial connection with Suzanna Kaye. She is an expert in organizing, and her great personality is very motivating. Check out her website

It doesn't matter how you get started, the only thing that is important is that you do. For peace of mind, body, and spirit, it is important to live in an environment that allows you to relax and feel at peace. Remember, it takes time to change habits. You can do it, one step at a time. 

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