Category Archives: Home Improvement

Expert Resource for the Conscious Consumer

Imagine a marketplace where retailers and manufacturers are compelled to make only safe, environmentally sustainable products from ethically sourced raw materials, produced by a fairly treated workforce. For Dara O’Rourke, it’s not an abstract idea; it’s his vision for the future. As associate professor of environmental and labor policy at the University of California at Berkeley, O’Rourke is a co-founder of GoodGuide.com, an online consumer resource that uses scientific calculations to create sophisticated ratings and assign “health” scores to thousands of products and companies.

Sound complicated? It’s actually quite the opposite. It’s O’Rourke’s way of giving consumers the information they need to understand the personal and social health costs that may go in to producing that household cleaner they’re using, the baby’s diaper, the jeans they’re wearing — the list includes more than 115,000 products so far.

“The idea for GoodGuide came about while I was putting sunscreen on my then 3-year-old daughter’s face. I started wondering about the ingredients in her sunscreen, so I went back to campus at UC Berkeley, where I teach, did some research, and found out that the sunscreen contained traces of potentially toxic chemicals. I then researched the rest of my daughter’s stuff and found that her shampoo, her favorite toys, and even her furniture contained ingredients with potential health hazards. This surprised and angered me,” O’Rourke says. “I realized that even though I have a Ph.D., and study products and supply chains full-time, I knew almost nothing about the products I was bringing into my own house. This motivated me to create GoodGuide, to give consumers the information they need to make better decisions about which products best match their health, environmental, and ethical concerns.” O’Rourke shares more of his findings and story here.

My health breakthrough: I grew up never really thinking about health issues. My family was luckily always very healthy and active. I was a swimmer and water polo player growing up and through college. My father is still a masters runner (in his seventies). So I honestly didn’t really think much about health issues until I was in my twenties conducting research in factories in Southeast Asia. While living and working in Southeast Asia, I got sick a number of times from poor water and hygiene. But more importantly, I saw firsthand the incredibly tough health conditions of workers in factories producing shoes, clothes, electronics, even food for the U.S. market. Over a number of years in the mid-’90s, I was able to get inside these factories and conduct research on worker health and safety conditions. This research ultimately led to a report on the working conditions of Nike workers in Vietnam, which ended up as a front page story in The New York Times and helped spur my interest in health conditions around the world.

A Guide to Eating Healthy in an Emergency

In the case of a hurricane or tropical storm, your family’s physical safety is your first concern, so it’s important for you to prepare an emergency plan in advance. But even if your home is not directly hit by a storm, your neighborhood or community could be affected for several days or longer by power outages, blocked roads, and damage to grocery stores, gas stations, and other businesses.

Hurricane disaster experts with the National Hurricane Center, the Red Cross, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency advise each household to put together a preparedness kit that includes such basics as a flashlight, a radio, batteries, maps, a first-aid kit, a manual can opener, medications — and, of course, food and water. But exactly what foods should be included?

Healthy Meal Plans

Every household should stock up on healthy, easy-to-store food items, but it’s especially important to include diet-specific foods for any family members who have high blood pressure, diabetes, gluten allergy (celiac disease), or another health condition that requires a special menu.

Read the shopping lists and sample menus below for choices that can help your family eat healthfully during an emergency; these lists include options for those with diabetes, high blood pressure, a heart condition, food allergies, and more.

 

Hurricane Preparedness: Shopping Lists and Sample Menus

Shopping Lists and Sample Menus by Condition

Healthy Eaters/High Blood Pressure/Heart Disease

How to Make No Smoking Zone on Your Home

There’s really no debating it: All homes should be smoke-free spaces. Not only does cigarette, pipe, and cigar smoke expose other people in your home to the dangers of secondhand (and third-hand) smoke, it sharply increases the chances of a house fire and makes your home less desirable to live in and visit.

The Dangers of Secondhand Smoke

Secondhand smoke is more dangerous than it sounds. Declared a human carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, secondhand smoke is a combination of the smoke exhaled by the smoker and the smoke coming from the tobacco product itself. This double whammy increases the risk of serious health complications and death.

A smoker in your home compromises his life and the life of everyone around him. And that includes pets: Cats exposed to secondhand smoke have double the risk of developing malignant lymphoma.

Many state governments are taking the health risks of secondhand smoke and indoor air pollution so seriously that they have banned smoking in most public areas, including restaurants, workplaces, and bars. More than half the states and the District of Columbia have put comprehensive smoke-free laws into place.

Some of the specific potential health effects of secondhand smoke include increased risk of:

  • Lung cancer
  • Heart disease
  • Pneumonia
  • Bronchitis
  • Pregnancy complications
  • Coughing
  • Excess phlegm production
  • Wheezing
  • Ear infection
  • Reduced lung function
  • Severe asthma symptoms

Home to Make Your Homes Safe for Children

After losing their only child, Colette, at the age of 5, to a rare, non-genetic form of Wilm’s tumor, Nancy and Jim Chuda founded Healthy Child Healthy World in 1991. The mission of this national children’s charity is to inspire parents to protect children from harmful chemicals. In Colette’s memory, the organization has mobilized parents and caregivers, environmental groups, the scientific community, and media to advocate for policy changes that will protect children worldwide.

In the mid-1980s, few of us knew much about the possible dangers of environmental chemicals that are all around us in everyday life — or the potential cumulative effects of some of these chemicals. It took time for scientific studies to reveal that some chemicals are linked to the development of certain cancers, and it took even more time to prove that heredity may predispose some people to these cancers.

Although there is no way to definitively show that Colette’s cancer was environmentally caused, the Chudas consulted an expert on Wilm’s Tumor, who told them “that it was possible that something Nancy had ingested or was exposed to in the environment during her pregnancy could have triggered the destructive mechanism that caused Colette’s cancer to later develop.”

“As parents who lost a child to a non-hereditary form of cancer, we believe that Colette would have survived had we had the knowledge and tools Healthy Child Healthy World provides parents today,” say the Chudas. “Many years ago, we decided we weren’t going to let our personal tragedy, losing our only child, beat us. Instead, we decided to set some winning goals — to help others — so that other children would not have to experience our daughter Colette’s fate.”

Extreme Winter Storms On Eating

Big winter snowstorms, like nor’easters and blizzards, bring on extreme cold, major snow accumulation, and other immobilizing conditions. Winter storm experts at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) National Weather Service, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the American Red Cross offer advice on how to prepare and stay safe and healthy during blizzards and other winter storms.

In addition to dressing appropriately for the weather, experts recommend stocking up on disaster supplies: flashlights, batteries, candles, waterproof matches, a radio, a first-aid kit, sand or rock salt for icy walkways, a snow shovel, and extra blankets.

However, your most crucial disaster supplies will be your food, water, and any prescription medications you, your family, or your pets need. Even if your home doesn’t suffer any storm damage, you could have trouble getting to the supermarket, pharmacy, or doctor during extreme winter weather conditions.

Healthy Meal Plans in Extreme Winter Snowstorms

A bad snowstorm or blizzard doesn’t have to derail your regular healthy eating regimen. As soon as you hear a winter storm warning, start stocking up on emergency water and healthy, shelf-stable and frozen foods that your family will enjoy. Be sure to pay special attention to the diet-specific needs of family members with health conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, celiac disease (gluten sensitivity), or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

It is essential for people with health conditions like these to pay attention to their diets during winter storms. People with diabetes must stay on a regular eating schedule to keep their blood sugar stable, and people with high blood pressure must remember to stick with low- or no-sodium canned goods and packaged foods — not the high-sodium prepared foods that are typically set aside for times when the electricity goes out.