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Environmental connections to public health >>

Earth Day: If you've done one thing, you've done something.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Of course it shouldn't take the arrival of Earth Day to spur us to greater greenness. But the truth of it is, it works. Last year, it was on Earth Day that I (finally!) committed to taking my kids to school on the bus once a week. And while once a week may sound lame to the bolder greenies among us, for me, at that time, it was what I could do. And it was, a bit embarrassingly, because of Earth Day that I did even that.

Earth Day 2011: The Plan It's almost a year later, and Earth Day is right around the corner. So naturally I'm pondering my next move, and thinking through what "next step" makes the most sense for my family - and the planet. My list is (unfortunately) long, but it will get shorter as I green our routines, one by one, over time, until it is just part of how we live.

At EWG, in celebration of Earth Day 2011, we're challenging ourselves to take that next step, to take at least one new green action to improve our health and environment. Will you join us in taking ONE ACTION between now and Earth Day on Friday, April 22nd?

Don't underestimate the power of taking one step or making a single change. Whether it's watching an awareness-building documentary, broaching a conversation with friends or colleagues about environmental hazards, or simply committing to shop smarter. If you've done one thing, you've done something.

1. Eat Healthier Food Most of us aren't eating the way we would like. What have you been wanting to change to make your diet more green and healthy? Here are some ideas:

  • Go organic. Organic produce contains no Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and no pesticides are used to grow them, which means no pesticide residues in your body or polluting our water. Don't have access to organics or find it too expensive? Use EWG's Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce to go organic when pesticide residues are highest on conventional fruits and vegetables.
  • Eat fresher foods - shoot, grow them! The average American eats too much meat and too few fruits and vegetables - plus a whole lotta processed food (those middle aisles in the grocery store). So why not make an effort in the next few weeks to buy and cook more fresh foods? They tend to come without toxic packaging, too! And if you plant some seeds in your very own garden (backyard, schoolyard, community plot, median strip!), all the better. Because that is the freshest food around. And, if you haven't noticed (you have, right?), it's also all the rage.
  • Stop eating so much BPA. With 200+ studies now linking this hormone-disruptor to serious health issues, trying to reduce your exposure is a no brainer. And it turns out that it not only works (a recent study showed that some families reduced their BPA exposure by 60% when they changed several eating habits), but it's not that hard and it's healthier because you wind up eating more fresh foods. What are you waiting for? Here's how.
  • Take a close look at your kids' school lunch routine. Whether your kids eat "hot lunch" provided by their school or you pack it at home, is it as healthy as it should be? Have you joined your child for hot lunch yet this year - that's the one way to really get to know what's for lunch. Chef Ann Cooper has loads of ideas - both for what to put in that lunchbox every day, and how we can improve our country's school lunch program at the policy level.

2. Drink Cleaner Water

  • Get that water filter. Most tap water should be filtered before you drink it. But many people aren't quite sure how to go about picking the perfect filter - that doesn't break the bank but saves you from whatever's in your water that shouldn't be. Why not cross this off your environmental health "to do" list (you have one, right?) before Earth Day (you could take the first sip ON earth Day!)? Simply visit EWG's tap water site to finally figure out what filter to get - then get it.
  • Do the research - find out what's in YOUR drinking water. The first step to clean drinking water is figuring out what's in your water that you might need to filter out by reading the local drinking water report. Water providers are required by law to provide you with certain contaminant and water quality info (unlike bottled water), because we water drinkers have a right to know what we're drinking. Let's exercise it! Just search by zip code in EWG's tap water quality database.
  • Find out about fracking. If you're not yet familiar with fracking, you should be. It's the new(ish) process to drill for deep natural gas that relies on a toxic cocktail of water and chemicals and has a short but serious history of contaminating drinking water and being dangerously under-regulated. Is it happening near you? Check this map to find out. And whatever you do, watch Gasland - it almost won an Oscar and will bring you up-to-date right quick.

3. Use Safer Cosmetics We all use a few cosmetics every day. But are they safe? Here are a few ideas to educated yourself and make your cleaning and preening routine a bit greener.

  • Get acquainted with EWG'S Skin Deep Cosmetics Database. If you've ever wondered whether there are toxic ingredients you should avoid in those l-o-n-g ingredient lists on all those bottles in your shower and bathroom cabinet (you know you have!), Skin Deep's for you. Simply type in your product and voila, a score! And an explanation. And a list of safer alternatives to start using instead.
  • Go through your cosmetics! We all let them pile up. The shampoo that made your hair too fluffy, the greasy lotion, and that awful color lipstick. But since this is for Earth Day, we can take it a step beyond mere tidying up and tossing. Let's consider which ones are toxic (Skin Deep, again), and which ones get to stay because they're not. It might come to this: take them ALL out, look them up, and put back only the safer ones that earn a spot on your shelf.
  • Lighten the load. If you're like most Americans, you use more than a few cosmetics every day (beyond the basics). Think you could use fewer? Many contain harmful ingredients that could harm your health - why risk it? Plus, the fewer products you use (do you really need the hair spray? the foot, hand, body, and face lotions?), the easier it is to navigate the labels - an added bonus!

    Phew! That was a long list. And maybe we missed the Earth action that makes the most sense to YOU?! If so, what is it?

    In the next two weeks, we'll be posting tips and reporting out on Facebook as we make our way through our own lists of personal changes that directly affect the earth - and our health. In the end, they are one and the same.

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