Indoor Air Toxins 101: Understanding Indoor Air Pollution

indoor air pollution - fireplace

Indoor air pollution can come from many different sources. It’s important to understand how to control these risks.

The most common sources for air pollution in the home include the burning of combustible materials, which creates particulates, and gaseous emanations from building materials and products brought into the home for cleaning, grooming, and hobbies. Outdoor contaminants, including radon, pesticides, and outdoor air pollution, may also enter the home.

Most combustible materials release nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and soot into the air. Heating systems, fireplaces, stoves, candles, and tobacco are all combustibles. NO2 is an odorless and colorless gas that can irritate the eyes and nose and cause shortness of breath. Soot, which is floating particulates in the air, can be inhaled into the lungs, become lodged, and cause irritation and tissue damage. With sporadic exposure, trapped particulates can slowly be cleared. If, however, soot exposure is frequent, the particulates will not be effectively removed. The resulting irritation to the lungs’ airways can lead to infections and diseases such as bronchitis, emphysema, and lung cancer. Radon, if present in the home’s air, may attach to soot particulates and be inhaled into the lungs, where it can become stuck and potentially cause cancer.

Combustible materials also emit carbon monoxide, an odorless and colorless gas that is particularly dangerous. At lower concentrations, carbon monoxide can cause vague, flu-like symptoms, such as dizziness, headaches, nausea, and fatigue. At higher concentrations, however, carbon monoxide poisoning can cause death. When inhaled, carbon monoxide enters the lungs and passes into the bloodstream where it binds to hemoglobin in the red blood cells. Unlike oxygen and carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide forms a permanent bond with the hemoglobin molecule. The affected blood cell becomes permanently damaged and unable to deliver oxygen to the rest of the body. Carbon monoxide effectively causes suffocation. It is important to install carbon monoxide detectors on each floor of your home and to keep batteries properly charged.

See all the posts in this series on airborne toxins in your home:
Indoor Air Toxins 101: The Basics of Indoor Pollution
Indoor Air Toxins 101: Understanding How We Breathe
Indoor Air Toxins 101: Understanding Indoor Air Pollution
Indoor Air Toxins 101: The Dangers of Candles
Indoor Air Toxins 101: Reducing Indoor Black Soot
Indoor Air Toxins 101: VOCs, Asbestos and Lead
Indoor Air Toxins 101: Understanding Mold & Health

 

Indoor Air Toxins 101: Understanding How We Breathe

indoor air toxins with curtain

The quality of our indoor air is of paramount importance to our health.

We need to breathe air that has an adequate percentage of oxygen. In the atmosphere, air is composed of approximately 21% oxygen and 78% nitrogen. Carbon dioxide, water vapor, and other miscellaneous gases make up the remainder.

Indoor air is quite different, and the percentages of oxygen and other gases can vary dramatically, as many products in the home can emit gases and particulates that “pollute” the air. When we breath polluted air, some health effects can be felt immediately (acute) while others occur over the long term (chronic). The physical effects of air pollution may depend on the specific type of pollutant, its concentration, and an individual’s propensity for disease or underlying immune status. For instance, a similar dose of pollen or cat dander may not have any effect on one person, while for another, it may cause a hypersensitivity immune response.

Acute health effects from indoor air pollution can include irritation of the mucous membranes, particularly in the eyes, nose, and throat. Indoor air pollution can carry allergens, thereby increasing the occurrence of allergic reactions and asthmatic exacerbations. Headaches, dizziness, fatigue, and fever are some additional generalized symptoms that may develop following exposure to some indoor air pollutants.

Chronic exposure to indoor air pollutants is more insidious and includes various lung diseases, heart disease, and cancer.5 The exact concentration of a pollutant, such as benzene, and the duration of exposure needed to cause chronic disease are not clearly defined. A healthy immune system can help prevent the development of chronic disease, but a weak immune system may be ineffective at preventing the chronic adverse health effects from ongoing exposure to air pollution. With this in mind, for your own health and the health of others living in or visiting your home, it is best to reduce the concentration of your indoor air pollutants as much as possible.

Asthma is a chronic health condition in which the lungs’ airways become hypersensitive to chronic, repeated exposure of pollutants and other “triggers” that cause an allergic response. Triggers cause a transient narrowing or tightening down of the airways, reducing the flow of air into the lungs. If the airways are given a chance to relax for a prolonged period of time without irritation, the hypersensitivity response can lessen and even go away on its own.

See all the posts in this series on airborne toxins in your home:
Indoor Air Toxins 101: The Basics of Indoor Pollution
Indoor Air Toxins 101: Understanding How We Breathe
Indoor Air Toxins 101: Understanding Indoor Air Pollution
Indoor Air Toxins 101: The Dangers of Candles
Indoor Air Toxins 101: Reducing Indoor Black Soot
Indoor Air Toxins 101: VOCs, Asbestos and Lead
Indoor Air Toxins 101: Understanding Mold & Health

Indoor Air Toxins 101: Understanding the Basics

breeze showing indoor air toxins

Before we consider how indoor air toxins interact with our body, we want to be sure we understand the basics of how we breathe. Clean air is colorless, transparent, and intangible, yet it can contain all kinds of pollutants that make you sick. Some contaminants you can see with your eyes; others are invisible.

Air interacts with the body via two main mechanisms. You inhale air into your lungs during respiration (breathing) and you contact air with exposed surfaces of skin and mucous membranes. Breath is essential to life, but what exactly are we doing when we breathe? The body performs two functions with breath. One is to extract oxygen from the air because our cells utilize oxygen to produce energy and carry out their functions. The other is to release carbon dioxide, one of our body’s waste products. The aggregation of oxygen from the air and the release of carbon dioxide from the body occurs in the lungs.

When we inhale, muscles in the chest wall expand and a large flat muscle that separates the chest cavity from the abdominal cavity, called the diaphragm, contracts, creating negative pressure in the chest. This results in the movement of air through the nose or mouth, down the windpipe (trachea), and then into the lungs through passageways called bronchi and bronchioles. These passageways split and divide many times, normally becoming narrower as they reach farther and farther into the lungs. At the end of each passageway, there is a little balloon-type structure called an alveolus. Tiny blood vessels called capillaries pass through the walls of the alveolus, and as the blood within them enters, a protein in the blood cell called hemoglobin releases the carbon dioxide in exchange for oxygen. The blood cells then move back to the heart, which pumps them throughout the body, providing needed oxygen. This mechanism works because both oxygen and carbon dioxide form a reversible bond with hemoglobin.

When you exhale, the diaphragm and muscles of your chest relax and positive pressure is then exerted on your chest cavity. This causes air to flow backwards, out of the alveoli and through the bronchioles, bronchi, trachea, and finally out of your nose or mouth. This is the basic mechanism of respiration.

The body is well adapted—in most people—to clear out inhaled particulate debris. The cells that line the airways secrete mucous, which traps debris. Tiny hairs called cilia, which protrude from these cells, wave back and forth, moving the mucous and trapped debris up and out of the airway and into the back of the throat, where it is either swallowed or blown out of the nose during a sneeze. This mechanism helps keep the airways clean.

The other way in which we interact with air is via the skin, the largest organ of the body. Intact skin is lined by a layer of stratified squamous epithelium, which is the technical term to describe the layer of dead cells that forms a protective covering over the live cells. This layer of dead cells helps to prevent the underlying live skin cells from being harmed by the environment. Penetrating injuries, scrapes, and cuts cause a violation of this barrier and allow the environment to access the interior of the body. It has been shown that the outermost layers of skin absorb oxygen directly from the air. For this reason, it is sometimes preferable to leave skin injuries uncovered and exposed to the air.

All cells in the body, including skin cells and the cells that line mucous membranes, are surrounded by a protective envelope of fatty molecules called phospholipids, referred to as the cell membrane. Aerosolized solvents that dissolve into fat are able to penetrate cell membranes and enter cells directly.

See all the posts in this series on airborne toxins in your home:
Indoor Air Toxins 101: The Basics of Indoor Pollution
Indoor Air Toxins 101: Understanding How We Breathe
Indoor Air Toxins 101: Understanding Indoor Air Pollution
Indoor Air Toxins 101: The Dangers of Candles
Indoor Air Toxins 101: Reducing Indoor Black Soot
Indoor Air Toxins 101: VOCs, Asbestos and Lead
Indoor Air Toxins 101: Understanding Mold & Health

Everything You Need to Know About Water Purification Systems

water purification systems

Water purification systems can greatly add to the safety and reliably of your water at home. Here’s everything you need to know, to choose that one that will work best for you.

Water Purification Systems: An Introduction

Whether you are getting your water supply from a public water system or a well, once the water is in your house, it should be purified. The specific purification method you choose will depend on your water source, what your level of contamination is, and your budget allowance.

There are several different purifying systems available for home use. These include gravity drip filters, ion exchange systems, and reverse osmosis systems. Not all water filters are created equal, and be aware that filters are not subjected to any governmental oversight or regulation. There is, however, the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) international certification program, which provides certification and standards for many filters and can be reviewed when deciding which filter to purchase for your home.

Water Purification Systems: Gravity Drip Filters

Gravity systems use the weight of a column of water to push the water through a filter that removes contaminants. The main component of a gravity drip system is activated charcoal. Activated charcoal is a processed piece of carbon that has been treated with steam at high temperature, thereby making it porous, with millions of tiny air pockets. In this way, the surface area of the charcoal is increased dramatically, similar to the method your body uses for gas exchange (oxygen and carbon dioxide) in your lungs. Water and gases permeate through the charcoal, and as they do, contaminants attach to the charcoal and stay behind. Activated charcoal is excellent for removing many organic compounds, including VOCs, pesticides, herbicides, heavy metals, chlorine and its byproducts, bromine, and iodine. However, some inorganic ions, such as fluoride, sodium, and nitrates, and some organic compounds, such as acetone, methyl chloride, 1,4-dioxane, and isopropyl alcohol, do not adhere to charcoal and will not be removed by an activated charcoal filter.

The ability of activated charcoal to absorb chemicals is described in probabilities, as the efficiency of filtration and absorption is dependent on many different variables, including the temperature and pH of the water. As these decrease, absorption increases. So a charcoal filter will remove the most contaminants from cold, acidic water.

Carbon filters need to be replaced periodically because as the binding sites get filled up a filter becomes less efficient, until finally, it no longer functions. The frequency for filter changes depends on how much water you drip through the filter and also on the porosity, or micron range, of the filter. Water will drip through a filter designed to remove tiny particles, down to 0.5 microns, slower than it will for a filter designed to remove particles measuring 5 microns or more, for example. A filter designed to remove tiny particles will also fill up with impurities faster and will need to be replaced more frequently. The micron range varies among systems and therefore the filters’ efficiencies vary. Most cartridges designed to remove chlorine and eliminate odors and bad tastes are 10-micron cartridges.

The most inexpensive gravity drip filtration systems would include the canister systems widely distributed by Britta, Pur, etc. These companies also sell faucet attachments, which are similar in technology and remove a similar number of contaminants.

There are significant differences between vendors in the quality of contaminant removal. In 2014, a study by the Natural News Forensic Food Lab found that the company Zero Water made the gravity drip filter that provided the most significant removal of heavy metals. The more popular brands were found to be much less effective. Bear in mind that these filters do not remove pathogens and should only be used with sterile or sanitized water.

More sophisticated gravity systems typically consist of at least two filters in series, one of which is usually an activated charcoal filter. The initial barrier in a more advanced gravity drip system may be a ceramic filter or micro-sponge that will limit the passage of particles into the rest of the filtration assembly. More common ceramic filters will optimally block all particles larger than two microns in size, thus eliminating almost all bacteria and microorganisms, including yeasts. Viruses, however, are smaller than two microns and will easily pass through many ceramic filters.

Countertop gravity drip systems need to be refilled often, as the canisters that hold the treated water tend to be small. This is by design, so treated water does not stagnate and create the possibility of pathogens growing in the fresh filtered water.

Water Purification Systems: Ion Exchange Systems

Ion exchange systems are mainly used to deionize water or to soften water. Both types of systems work by passing water through different resins that exchange ions with the water. In deionized water all of the salts, including sodium, are removed. By contrast, softened water is processed to remove ions such as calcium, magnesium, and other metals from the water, while leaving behind sodium. The resulting water may taste salty, but it does not damage appliances, sinks, or faucets with the deposits common to hard water. Soft water also requires less soap for washing clothes or dishes and leaves less of a film on dishes and bathroom surfaces after washing.

The states with the hardest water sources are Florida, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Wyoming, Nebraska, South Dakota, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Indiana. Although deionizing and softening systems are very efficient at removing inorganic contaminants, they do not remove organic contaminants. If not maintained properly, these systems can become breeding grounds for bacteria. Ion exchange systems should be used in combination with a gravity drip system or a reverse osmosis system to remove organic contaminants and bacteria.

Water Purification Systems: Reverse Osmosis Systems

The movement of water from an area with a lower concentration of salts (hypotonic) to an area of higher concentration of solutes (hypertonic) across a semipermeable membrane is known as osmosis. This natural phenomenon occurs until there is an equal concentration of solutes on either side of the membrane, a state referred to as equilibrium. If, however, external pressure is exerted on a hypertonic solution, water flow in the opposite direction can occur. In this way, water is forced under pressure across the membrane from a hypertonic solution to a lower concentration of solutes. During this process, salts and other inorganic contaminants are held back by the membrane and are effectively removed from the water. This is the basis for the reverse osmosis (RO) water purification method. RO systems are excellent at removing inorganic contaminants, including ions, ethanol, and fluoride. This is a purification method that can even be used to desalinate sea water.

RO water purifiers are usually placed in series with other filtration methods, similar to ion exchange systems. Most RO systems contain one or more activated carbon filters that remove chlorine and organic contaminants before the water hits the RO portion of the purification process. These “thin-film” RO units are the most common type sold. As RO systems have been shown to be breeding grounds for bacteria, inline micropore filtration and UV systems are good ways to ensure that water coming from RO systems is safe to drink.

Water Purification Systems: UV Water Purification

UV sterilization systems are commonly used in households that obtain water from private wells, particularly if the home relies on an ion exchange or RO filtration system. UV sterilization kills bacteria by denaturing their DNA with ultraviolet radiation, and has the advantage of being chemical free. As no chlorine is utilized, no chlorine byproducts are generated. UV systems are effective against Cryptosporidium, unlike the concentrations of chlorine typically used for routine sanitation. Although Giardia may be damaged by UV systems, it can sometimes still cause disease after treatment. It is important to pass the water through a pre-filter before it is exposed to the UV light so that all sediment in the water will be removed. Sediment can provide an effective blockade for bacteria to hide behind as they pass through the UV rays. UV systems are not filters and do not remove any organic or inorganic contaminants.

Water Purification Systems: Distillation

Only distillation is capable of removing virtually all of the contaminants found in water, including bacteria, inorganic salts, heavy metals, organic chemicals, and radioactive particles, but it is impractical for general home use. Distilling is also time-consuming and very expensive, because it requires a large amount of energy to produce a small amount of purified water. Demineralized water and distilled water in particular are not optimal sources of hydration for the body, as they are devoid of nutrients and needed minerals.

Water Purification Systems: Whole-house systems

A purification system designed to treat all of the water entering and distributed throughout a house is referred to as a whole-house system. All water purification methods offer whole-house systems. If you get water from a private well, it may make more sense to invest in a whole-house system than if you have access to a reliable public water supply. Technologies can be combined to ensure that you are not only removing organic and inorganic contaminants, but also bacteria. Ion exchange softening systems may be a worthwhile investment regardless of your water source, since they remove metals and therefore reduce water deposits, improving the life and performance of appliances. Water softeners also reduce the amount of soap needed for personal hygiene, laundry, and dishes. While external gravity drip systems are impractical for the whole house, they are useful at select faucets. Many companies make inline shower head filters, which remove chlorine and chloramine products before the water sprays onto your body. I highly recommend using one, especially if you are on a public water source or if your home system uses chlorine to disinfect your water.

All water treatment system companies should provide you with a performance data sheet that lists all the contaminants a system is certified to remove. Hundreds of companies make and/or distribute water purification systems and it would be unwise to purchase a product that does not supply a performance data sheet.

Once your water is purified, keep it stored in the refrigerator in a capped glass bottle. Bacteria could potentially grow in your purified water, so it must be consumed within a few weeks. The amount of water you consume will vary depending on your activity level and, of course, your physical size. If your urine is dark in color or is odiferous, then you aren’t drinking enough water.

As you drink water, consider that it has a hidden, underlying organizational structure, as it is composed of billions of tiny magnets. Pure water will form a hexagonal shape when frozen and crystallized, akin to a snowflake. Masaru Emoto, a Japanese researcher, performed experiments that show focused attention to water will actually affect the energy flow within it and change the shape of the water crystals. Negative thoughts, such as anger and hate, had a disorganizing effect on the water’s energy and inhibited crystallization. Although his scientific method was questioned and his findings were not published in the scientific literature, his work suggests that water will resonate with your intent as you focus upon it. If you bless the water by imparting positive feelings such as gratitude, love, or joy, in effect “praying” to the water, you will impart harmonious frequencies into the water, which you can then drink. Playing music will also affect the energy flow and vibrational frequency of water. I mindfully drink water and believe it does make a difference for my well-being. Provide “blessed” water to your pets and plants too, and take notice to see if there is any observable change in their health.

Water Purification Systems: My Choice

Researchers are beginning to prove that water can hold onto an electromagnetic frequency, which can cause biological effects. A Japanese company, Nikken, has created a series of water filtration units that take into account the magnetic character of water. Their multistep filtration systems ultimately provide a magnetic filtration which is designed to cleanse the water of energetic impurities. The Nikken system produces water that then bathes in mineral rocks, creating a wonderful, slightly alkaline, mineral-rich water, simulating river water. This system has been my choice for water filtration for many years.

What You Need to Know About the Safety of Bottled Water

bottled water safety

Bottled water safety is top of mind of many consumers.

With few exceptions, purchasing bottled water is an unnecessary expense and a blight on the environment. The first time I saw a plastic water bottle for sale, I thought, “How ridiculous! Why would someone purchase water in a bottle?” How shortsighted I was. Bottled water is now a huge industry.

There are several different categories of bottled water in the market. These include distilled water, mineral water, purified water, sparkling water, and spring water. Bottled water is considered to be a food product and is therefore regulated by the FDA. According to regulations, bottled water must be 100% free of coliform bacteria and must be virtually lead- free. Interestingly, most municipal water sources will allow their water to contain up to three times more lead than is allowed in bottled water. Although this sounds like the bottled water industry is tightly regulated, it isn’t. Believe it or not, the US municipal water regulations in general are much more stringent than the regulations for the bottled water industry. Aside from bacterial and lead content, the regulatory requirements for bottled water are sparse.

Two water sources provide bottling companies with their product. These are fresh springs and municipal or treated water systems. According to the EPA, water may be classified as spring water if it comes from a groundwater source that flows naturally to the earth’s surface or from a well. Companies that bottle spring water are not required to disclose exactly where their water sources are located.

Naturally, the content and characteristics of spring waters vary depending on their sources. If the total number of dissolved solids in the water is greater than 250 ppm, the water is considered to be mineral water. Calistoga is a popular brand of mineral water. If water contains carbon dioxide (CO2), it is labeled sparkling water. If CO2 is lost from the water during processing, it may be added back at the same concentration it had when it emerged from its source and still be marketed as sparkling water. Perrier is a common brand of sparkling water.

Much of the bottled water sold in the US is taken directly from municipal water systems and purified prior to bottling. The two most popular brands of bottled water in this category are produced by the two rival cola companies, Coca-Cola and Pepsico. These bottles of repackaged water may not contain more than 10 ppm of dissolved solids and must be treated to remove chemicals and pathogens through distillation, deionization, and/or reverse osmosis techniques. Aquafina, bottled by Pepsi, is UV-disinfected and ozonated. On the other hand, Dasani, bottled and distributed by Coca-Cola, is treated with reverse osmosis filtration prior to bottling.

Unfortunately, even though one would think that bottled water safety is a settled issue — free from hazardous toxins and bacteria — the Environmental Working Group in 2009 revealed thirty-eight low-level contaminants in bottled water, including:

  1. Disinfection byproducts
  2. Caffeine
  3. Tylenol
  4. Nitrates
  5. Industrial chemicals
  6. Arsenic
  7. Fluoride
  8. Bacteria

Included within the broad group of “industrial chemicals” are contaminants associated with the storage and distribution of water in plastic bottles. Although approved by the FDA, chemicals found in plastics previously deemed safe for the handling and storage of food have been discovered to cause disease — and can have serious effects on bottled water safety. These include:

  • PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers) – Flame-retardant chemicals used in This category of chemicals has been linked to reproductive problems and thyroid disease.
  • Phthalates – Found in many household products, these are a family of chemicals that increase the flexibility of plastic, but are now known to disrupt the endocrine They have also been shown to damage the reproductive system in animals.
  • BPA (bisphenol A) – Another additive to plastic that has been shown to disrupt the endocrine system by mimicking the female hormone estrogen. BPA is associated with unwanted hormonal effects in children and adults, even at low concentrations. As a result, industry has largely replaced BPA. Unfortunately, “BPA-free” plastic containers have also been found to contain other estrogen-mimicking chemicals.

There are numerous compounds used in the production of plastic and manufacturers are creating new chemical compounds each year. The potential for adverse health effects from many of them has yet to be determined.

If you do drink water from plastic containers, keep your plastic water bottles out of direct sunlight and away from all sources of heat, as heat increases the amount of chemicals that leaches out of the plastic and into the water. In addition, changes in pH can cause the chemicals in a plastic water bottle to leach into the water, so don’t add a squirt of lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, or the like to your water. Keep bottles away from detergents, cleansers, solvents, and automotive supplies and make sure that you don’t handle your plastic water bottle if you have solvents such as paint thinners, gasoline, or other petroleum products, including Vaseline, on your hand, as they can be absorbed into the plastic. Even particles from solvents, including household cleaning products, if left uncapped, can aerosolize, attach, and become absorbed into plastic bottles, thereby diffusing into your water. Plastic bottles should not be washed in a dishwasher or by hand for reuse.

Reverse osmosis water provided by a manufacturer may initially be a more purified product than well water obtained from some locales, but after packaging and storage, it’s hard to accurately gauge any bottled water safety. If you need to drink bottled water, opt for glass bottles whenever possible. Perrier is a good option if you like sparkling water. My suggestion, though, would be to have a home filter that will purify your well or tap water and then transport your drinking water with you in a reusable glass bottle for your daily use. Yes, it means that you have to plan ahead each day by filling your water bottle before you leave your house to go to school or work. It also means that you have to wash your glass bottle daily. But think of all the money you will save by not buying bottled water every day. Not only that, you will be drinking healthier water and lessening your ecological footprint. Try it!

Here’s a similar consideration of the issues concerning the safety of tap water.

Wondering About the Safety of Your Well Water?

well water safety

If you’ve been worrying about your well water safety, here’s where to start.

Whereas the recipient of municipal water is dependent on the utility company and government regulation for the quality of their water, the owner of a private well has the sole responsibility of ensuring the cleanliness of the water source. Typically, a well owner should assess water quality every year. Potential contaminants for a private well are the same as those for ground water in general and include hydrogen sulfide (sulfur), salt, and organic compounds, including methane gas, petroleum products, pesticides, fertilizers, biological wastes, septic system contaminants, and bacteria.

One of the benefits of well water is that it’s free, aside from the energy required to run the pump and the materials needed for disinfection. But water analysis can be pricey, depending on which contaminants are surveyed. (Here’s what the CDC says about it.) If your well water is contaminated, remediation may or may not be possible. For example, ground water contaminated by saline can be very difficult to remedy. Perhaps the greatest potential hazard for well water safety is the presence of methane gas. If your well water contains dissolved methane gas, you need to install a special venting system for the water to prevent a possible explosion.

There are a few things you can do to help protect your well water safety. First of all, make sure that your septic system is distant enough from the well, and if you have livestock make sure their wastes are deposited far from the well head. Although many well owners install chlorination systems, it is best to limit the exposure of your water to this source of potential pathogens. While maintaining your property, try not to use any pesticides, fertilizers, or herbicides in the vicinity of your well head. Conventional pesticide and fertilizer residues can leach into the water table and persist for decades!

Here’s a similar consideration of the issues concerning the safety of tap water.

What You Need to Know About the Safety of Tap Water

tap water is safe

Wondering if your tap water is safe?

Most tap water comes directly from freshwater sources such as lakes, rivers, reservoirs, and aquifers. The water is first collected in a treatment plant to undergo sterilization and disinfection by chlorine. The water you receive in your home should be free of bacteria and other organisms, but it can contain other contaminants.

The government has set up parameters for water safety, executed by the EPA and other federal agencies, to limit the concentration of some of these contaminants in the drinking water supply. Municipalities provide their citizenry with annual water test results that provide a basic analysis of their public water sources, but the tests are in no way inclusive of all the potential contaminants. If you look at the water test performed by my municipality, for example, you’ll notice that of all the possible organic compounds known to infiltrate ground water from industrial processes, it only tests for two: trihalomethanes and haloacetic acids, the two chlorination byproducts regulated by the WHO and EPA! Volatile organic compounds (VOCs), both natural and industrial, can easily dissolve in water. Although there are hundreds, if not thousands of VOCs, only a small fraction of them are monitored and regulated by the EPA.

If you receive municipally treated water, you should check annually to find out if the water you are drinking and bathing in is contaminated with VOCs such as benzene or toluene. If you have a well, it is important to also test for methane. Independent water testing companies can provide a more complete evaluation of the water that comes from your faucet.

It is important to study these water test results. Consider that the maximum acceptable limits for contaminants are sometimes made with underlying political pressure by industry, and not necessarily for optimal public health. Given the extensive industry in many regions of the country, the maximum contaminant levels may represent a compromise of industry needs and the limited capability of water treatment plants to filter industrial chemicals from the water supply.

Regardless of your location, it is potentially dangerous to drink your tap water without any further filtering. If you choose to drink unfiltered tap water, especially if you haven’t run the faucet in a few hours, run cold water through your pipes for twenty or thirty seconds before collecting water to drink. This will help allow any potential lead or other toxins that may have leached into your water over time from household pipes and tubing to be eliminated. If you have any questions about whether your tap water is safe, it’s also best to draw cold water instead of hot water for drinking, as hot water can contain more heavy metals and other dissolved solutes within it than cold water.

Looking for more wellness tips? See Dr. Rob’s plan for your best-ever healthy morning

How I Choose the Safest Sunscreen for My Family

I waited.

“Dad, it’s a process,” my daughter said. She took the caps off each appealingly labelled product and sniffed. “This one smells like the beach!”

I took a whiff and smiled. “Yes. It does.”

Then I muttered something about chemicals as we made our way to the register.

Every spring, I review the Environmental Working Group’s sunscreen review and order a product I consider safer and more effective than the commercial brands available in most retail stores. This year, though, I forgot the sunscreen. Which meant my daughter and I headed into the shops.

What I saw there confirmed my suspicions: products focused on hyped-up marketing claims, with dubious ingredients. It used to be that you could walk into any beach store and buy sunscreen products from a variety of vendors, with an SPF of 2 through 15. Then, 30 came out … then 45, then 50, 60. Now, there are sunblocks claiming an SPF of 100!

Sunscreen is convenient, smells good, and looks clean, especially when it blends in, allowing your natural skin to show through. In today’s culture, an uncovered body at the beach, glistening in the sun, is much more alluring than one cloaked in a long-sleeved shirt, long pants, and a hat. Even though the latter is much more effective at blocking the sun’s potentially damaging rays, sunscreen is clearly most people’s choice.

It is important, though, to understand how sunscreen can potentially damage your body while it protects your skin. The skin is alive. It is our body’s largest organ — and we need to protect it. Sunscreens can help do that, by blocking a small bandwidth of electromagnetic radiation from reaching and harming your skin. That bandwidth — and the effectiveness with which they can achieve this protection — are specific to each product. But sunscreens touting an SPF are designed to block the ultraviolet blue-B (UV-B) frequencies. Broad-spectrum products block a wider swath of UV radiation, including both the UV-B and UV-A bandwidths.

Without that protection, with increasing sun exposure, your risk for sunburn increases. Unfortunately, unpredictable effects, referred to as stochastic effects, also occur with increasing exposure, which can include the development of cancer.

It can be a balancing act, though, because while sunscreen can help protect your skin, many sunscreens do so through the use of chemicals. Skin absorbs many materials applied to its surface, which can enter the bloodstream and affect the body’s function. Chemicals used in personal care products, including sunscreen, can affect the endocrine system and throw your hormones off kilter. We slather this liquid all over our bodies, and if following directions, repeat application several times a day. By the end of a beach vacation week, you have undoubtedly absorbed a heck of a lot of toxins through your skin, depending on the product(s) you used each day.

That’s why I consult the EWG every spring and choose one of their recommended sunscreens.The EWG considers zinc oxide and titanium dioxide as the safest sunscreen ingredients to effectively block UV-B radiation. The EWG even considers nanoparticles of these compounds as safe for skin application, since the nanoparticles aren’t apparently absorbed into the skin, at least according to blood tests. From my experience though, blood tests don’t usually tell the whole story. Toxins can bioaccumulate in the body’s tissues without continuously circulating in the blood, where it can be extracted during a blood test. The detrimental environmental impact of nanoparticles is another matter you may wish to consider before choosing a product utilizing this technology.

Which SPF to Choose?

We’ve been trained to look for the highest possible SPF. I think the general, nonscientific consensus is that if you want to protect yourself from sunburn, you want the higher number — because in Western culture, more is better. But a super-high SPF is no guarantee of protection. You have no doubt witnessed people at the beach or the pool spraying on a product touting an SPF 50, missing large swaths of their skin surface, only to have angry red splotches and bands of sunburn at the end of the day.

When some people apply a sunscreen of 50 or 60, they think they can spend the whole day out in the sun, completely protected from damaging ultraviolet rays of the sun. But they aren’t. Although most of the discussion re: skin cancer is centered over our exposure to ultraviolet light, some believe that all frequencies of electromagnetic radiation can have biological effects and in excess can cause skin damage, including cancer formation. And, by the way, I’m one of them. You have no doubt heard that melanoma can occur between your toes and in other parts of your body where the sun don’t shine!

What I Recommend

Taking antioxidants such as 1000 mg Vitamin C twice a day is a great supplement that can help rid your body of unwanted potentially damaging compounds brought from excessive sun exposure. In addition to taking antioxidants, I do recommend you wear sunscreen if you plan to spend an extended amount of time in the summer sun. Check out the Environmental Working Group’s sunscreen list. See how your usual product rates and then choose from among the many brands they deem safe. I personally like thinksport for lip protection and sunumbra for body and face. But, there are many excellent brands to choose from.

I believe SPF choice is personal and dependent on skin type. I personally wear a sunscreen with a lower SPF because I like to feel the sun’s intensity so I can better judge when I’ve had enough and need to either head inside, or go under cover. Regardless of the SPF you choose, if you are going to be spending the whole day out in the sun at the beach or elsewhere, bring an umbrella, a hat, sunglasses, and perhaps long-sleeve clothing to cover up in when you’ve had enough sun exposure. Plan to spend at least part of the day under cover. Giraffes do it, so can we!