Expert Advice: Top Four Ways to Limit Environmental Toxins at Home

Follain mentor Mia Davis has been thinking about the environment since the 4th grade, when she began asking questions about carbon emissions.  These questions led her to pursue corporate accountability and brownfields remediation projects in college, and then post-masters activism to ban the unsafe chemicals in plastics.  Basically, Mia was fighting to get rid of BPA before most of us had ever even heard of it.  It wasn’t long before Mia realized that the skincare industry was one of the worst toxic offenders in the U.S.  This led her to become Organizing Director of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (the group behind this popular video and others), and she’s been involved in the cosmetic safety world ever since.  Now Mia is head of Health and Safety at California-based Beautycounter, and she’s a special advisor to Follain.  Mia’s an expert on the environmental health space.  She’s been studying and practicing good toxin-free household behavior longer than anyone else we know.  We had Mia at the shop for an event last month to share her tips for limiting environmental toxins at home, and in our everyday lives.  It was such a fun, informative, and inspirational evening.  Besides limiting toxic skincare chemicals like these, here were our main takeaways from Mia’s talk:

- Leave your shoes at the door to avoid tracking outdoor pollutants inside, and keep a clean house to reduce exposure to indoor toxins, like flame retardants.

- Cover your conventional mattress with an organic mattress pad.

- Use glass containers for food storage instead of plastic

- Avoid synthetic fragrance in cosmetics, cleaners, laundry detergent, etc.

Numbers one and two go hand-in-hand, as they’re closely related to toxic chemicals in our furniture and homes.  Yep, you read that right…unfortunately, the foam and filling inside of couches, chairs, and mattresses contains tons of toxic ingredients.  Each time we sit or lay down, these toxins poof into the air a little bit – spreading on us and our homes!  Mia shared a great article with us – it discusses the lobbying tactics of the flame retardant chemical industry, which are the same as the cigarette industry.  Feel free to skip to page 3 - the part about how these unnecessary and toxic chemicals started showing up in our blood and breast milk!

You can limit exposure to these chemicals by dusting and mopping your house regularly, and by covering your mattress with an organic (most importantly, non-vinyl!) mattress topper.  If you ever have the opportunity to purchase a piece of new furniture, make sure to ask this question: does this meet the California standard SB 147, and if so, how?  Feel free to read up on that new measure here.  You should also leave your shoes at the door, in an effort to keep all the nasty stuff outside (and from others’ furniture chemicals) out of your own home.

Number three is directly related to that BPA issue.  Polycarbonate and many other reusable plastics contain toxic chemicals.  If a hard plastic container has a “BPA free” sticker, you should be even more skeptical… there’s no telling what other chemical they used as a BPA alternative—it might be BPS, which is almost the same thing.  This is an easy fix: use glass instead!  Glass storage containers, glass water bottles, mason jars…there are tons of options out there.

Synthetic fragrance is a topic you hear us discuss often, so I won’t go into too much detail here.  Basically, it’s found in everything from laundry detergent to many “unscented” lotions…it’s not just in perfume and cologne.  Anytime you see the word “fragrance,” it should raise a red flag.  Fragrance can mean anything.  Companies aren’t required to disclose the cocktail of thousands of chemicals involved.  Many companies have no idea what’s included, and as a general rule you should always know what you’re putting on or in your body.  Just saying…

A few people at this event asked Mia about organizations and institutions helping to limit the toxic substances in everyday household items.  A few of her suggestions are below.

Mt Sinai Children’s Environmental Health Center

Women’s Voices for the Earth

Massachusetts Breast Cancer Coalition

Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families

There are tons of ways we can take our health into our own hands.  Limiting toxic substance exposure is one of the most important!

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