When cold and flu season strikes, what steps do you take to protect your family? Do you get flu shots? Are your kids sent off to school with an arsenal of hand sanitizers, hand wipes, and anti-bacterial soaps?
You may think that the dangers are lurking outside of your front door, but you may not be aware of the steps you can take inside your home to better protect the health of you and your loved ones, through cold season and beyond.
Swap out Plastic Water Bottles
Keeping your kids hydrated may seem like a no brainer, and reaching for water over sugary juices and sodas is always a smart move for any parent. But if you are stocking your fridge with cute, kid-sized plastic water bottles, you may be exposing your kids to a slew of chemicals, microbes, and bacteria that can affect the health of your family.
According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), testing in 2008 found 38 pollutants in ten brands of bottled water that included disinfection byproducts, industrial chemicals, radioactivity, and
bacteria. That's right, bacteria. Some of the chemicals that were detected have been linked to health effects that include methemoglobinemia, a blood disorder that can be caused by exposure to chemicals and that can cause seizures, intellectual disability, developmental delay, and "failure to thrive". It is also known as blue baby syndrome, as it can cause bluish coloring of the skin.
Scientists at Texas Southern University tested 35 brands of bottled water and found that four were contaminated with bacteria, and the Natural Resources Defense Council tested 103 bottled waters and found contaminants, including regulated chemicals and microbes, in about half. If you are trying to keep your child safe from bacteria and microbes that can cause illness, handing them a bottle of water is not helping.
Instead of plastic water bottles, reach for BPA and chemical free stainless water bottles. There are many options available, some in handy kid-friendly sizes, other with built in water filters. Water filter systems for the home range from pitcher style to faucet mounted, and filter systems can be as basic as activated carbon, and as sophisticated as multi-stage filtration systems. Filling up a stainless steel water bottle with filtered water is a step towards a healthier home.
Non Toxic Cleaning Solutions
If cold season has you furiously disinfecting your home with commercial antibacterial wipes and sprays, you may want to reconsider your tactic. Harsh cleaners and sprays to disinfect the air of your home can irritate the lungs of kids and babies in the home, and can aggravate asthma. Some very popular household air cleaners were scored with an F grade by EWG in their 2012 Guide to Healthy Cleaning, with chemicals that caused high concern over damage to DNA, developmental effects, and moderate concern for respiratory effects and asthma. This same guide scored over 50 commonly used disinfecting wipes, all purpose cleaners, and disinfecting cleaners with either a D or an F grade. Those disinfectant wipes can contain at least 3 different chemicals that pose moderate concerns for respiratory effects.
Try non-toxic alternatives to keep your home clean, such as using vinegar, baking soda, and hydrogen peroxide for your major cleaning supplies. Even your furniture polish can be replaced with olive oil and lemon juice. Open boxes of baking soda can help remove odors from rooms. Air purifiers can be an effective and effecient way to remove dust, allergens, and funky aromas from your home. Did you know that many air purifiers can even remove bacteria and microbes from the air your family is breathing?
Hand washing is another common sense solution, particulary when cold and flu season strikes. Not only can washing hands keep germs and bacteria at bay, it can also help remove some of the toxic chemicals that are commonly found on household items (like fire retardants that can be found on electronics) that can end up on hands. This method for keeping the germs out of our homes and away from our families may seem simple, but did you know that anti-bacterial soap is not the best solution for hand washing?
The anti-bacterial action of hand soaps can be attributed to its active ingredient: triclosan (or triclocarbon). Tricolosan is found in just about every anti-bacterial hand soap, and it is a chemical that has been linked to liver toxicity and disruption of thyroid function. Triclosan can also end up in lakes, rivers, and other water sources where it can be toxic to aquatic life. Triclosan breaks down into a very toxic chemical: chloroform.
The American Medical Association receommneds that triclosan not be used in the home, as it can encourage bacterial resistance to antiobiotics. Anti-bacterial soaps may kill bacteria and microbes, but so do plain soap and water. An advisory committe for the U.S. FDA found that the use of antibacterial soaps provides no benefits over plain soap and water. Reach for soaps that do not have triclosan, triclocarbon, or artificial fragrances to keep hands clean and germs at bay in your home.
Maintaining a healthy home environment is more than a good idea during cold and flu season, it can also reduce you and your family's risks of serious health concerns all year round.
Melissa Zimmerman, Healthy Goods
Environmental Working Group
Five Reasons to Skip Bottled Water - http://www.ewg.org/research/ewgs-water-week
2012 Guide to Healthy Cleaning - http://www.ewg.org/guides/cleaners
Antibacterial Agent No Better than Soap & Water - And its toxic - http://www.ewg.org/news/news-releases/2008/07/17/antibacterial-agent-no-better-soap-water-–-and-it’s-toxic
Medline Plus: Methemoglobinemia - http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000562.htm