Monthly Archives: April 2016
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.
My health impact overseas and in the classroom: Since the mid-’90s, I have worked in Asia and Latin America on issues related to the health and safety of the workers who make the goods we consume here in the United States. More recently, I have tried to conduct research that connects impacts across global supply chains, from workers to consumers.
In my role as a professor at UC Berkeley, I also teach a large undergraduate course on environmental justice. The course ends up focusing a lot on environmental health issues in the United States, in particular on inequitable distributions of health and environmental outcomes.
Flash flooding can literally happen in an instant, and even nonviolent, slow-moving thunderstorms can overwhelm creeks and rivers, leading to serious flooding. Regardless of the cause, flooding can jeopardize your family’s safety and well-being.
Flood Control Measures to Consider
It may be impossible to prevent flooding, but flood control is possible. Follow these practical flood control tips to limit potential damage inside and outside your home:
- Keep gutters clean and make sure downspouts drain water away from your house.
- Maintain clear paths for storm water to travel, ensuring that storm drainage ditches are free of sticks, rocks, and other debris and can alleviate overflow that damages homes and surrounding property.
- If you can, install a small floodwall or use sandbags to regrade your yard.
- As a flood control precaution, install check valves and backup sewer valves to prevent water from backing up in your home’s drains.
Planning and Preparation Help Reduce Losses
Considering flood control as you perform routine maintenance on your home is the first step in safeguarding your family and property in the event of a flood. Being prepared for flooding if or when it occurs is just as important.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the American Red Cross, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend these steps and precautions:
- Know your home’s projected flood elevation and place electrical sockets and other components at least 12 inches above that point.
- Situate your furnace, washer and dryer, and other appliances on concrete blocks or otherwise raise them so they, too, are at least 12 inches higher than you home’s projected flood elevation point.
- Create a flood plan and “flood file” with must-have information, such as your insurance policy number and agent’s contact numbers, and friends and relatives you can contact in case of emergency. Keep the file in a safe (high and dry) place, and let caregivers and babysitters know where to find it.
- Stock a waterproof box with at least three days’ worth of canned foods, bottled water, medications, first aid supplies, a battery-powered radio, flashlights, and fresh batteries (or a hand-powered generator), basic cleaning supplies, some cash, and any other essential items you will need in case of an emergency. If you have pets, remember their needs as well.
Flood Safety Tips to Remember
Unfortunately, the best laid plans and flood control precautions can’t prevent flooding. To keep yourself and your family safe during a flood:
- Never walk through flowing floodwaters; even seemingly shallow flows can be powerful enough to knock adults off their feet.
- Never drive through flowing floodwaters. Most flooding deaths occur in cars. If you are in a car during flooding conditions, get out and head (on foot) for higher ground.
- Avoid contact with downed power lines.
- Be wary of wild animals — when flooded out of their homes, they may take refuge in yours.
Lives can be turned upside down by natural disasters, from earthquakes and fires to hurricanes and tornadoes — as well as terrorist attacks and other human-caused disasters. Your best defense is emergency preparedness — having a plan and knowing the steps to take so that you and your family will be ready if disaster strikes.
Has your family put these emergency preparedness basics in place?
- Learn evacuation routes. Contact your local officials and find out how you should get out of your area if you need to.
- Have a family emergency plan. Sit down and talk about the emergencies that are most likely to happen in your area. Determine how your family will react in each situation. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has tools to help you put together an emergency preparedness plan.
- Assemble an emergency kit. In a tote or other easy-to-carry bag, store copies of important documents such as birth certificates, photo identification, medical cards, cash and extra checks, spare keys, a list of important phone numbers, an extra supply of prescription medications, a three-day supply of water and non-perishable food (don’t forget pet food), a first aid kit, a flashlight, matches, blankets, and changes of clothing.
- Keep your gas tank filled. Since you will likely need your automobile to evacuate your area, it is a good rule of thumb to always refill your gas tank when it dips below half.
7 Disasters and the Steps You Should Take
Here are emergency preparedness specifics for each of the following types of disasters:
- Earthquake. “Drop, take cover, and hold on.” This means you should drop to the ground, get under a sturdy shelter, maybe a desk or table, and hold on until the ground stops shaking. When the earthquake is over, follow the instructions of local authorities and put your family’s emergency plan into place.
- Explosion. Take shelter under a desk or table during the explosion, and exit the building as soon as possible once it’s over. Avoid using elevators and be careful of hot doors, since there may be fire on the other side.
- Fire evacuation. Have a fire evacuation plan for your family with multiple routes of escape from all rooms of the house. If you live in a multi-level home, consider installing escape ladders in the upper levels. If a fire occurs, get out immediately. Do not put yourself in danger by placing a phone call or gathering your valuables.
- Flood. Listen to the TV or radio for information on where the flooding is happening. In the case of a flood warning in your area, you may be advised to evacuate; in this case, do so immediately. If you are under a flash flood warning, seek higher ground immediately.
- Hurricane. If you live in a coastal area, have a hurricane plan in place with supplies to cover your home’s windows and secure outdoor objects. If a hurricane is approaching, listen to a local TV or radio station to stay informed, and be prepared to evacuate. Before you leave your home, remember to turn off your utilities and propane tanks as recommended.
Indoor air quality may be invisible, but it still has an impact on your family’s health and your home safety. Levels of many pollutants can be far higher indoors than they are outdoors — and indoor pollutants can seriously affect your health. Major factors impacting indoor air quality and home safety are air circulation and moisture levels.
Ted Schettler, MD, science director of the Science and Environmental Health Network, says that air filters, which help capture particulate pollution, play a major part in home air quality.
Clean, efficient fans and filters on dehumidifiers, furnaces, refrigerators, and other appliances allow them to function efficiently and can also reduce moisture in the air and minimize particulate pollution in your house.
Similarly, for home safety, it’s important to vacuum or dust smoke and carbon monoxide detectors frequently, as spider webs and dust can limit their effectiveness. While you’re dusting, take a moment to test them and make sure the batteries are still working.
Take these steps throughout the year to improve the air quality inside your home:
- Be sure air vents between the indoors and the outside aren’t blocked by snow, leaves, dirt, or other debris, depending on the season.
- Vacuum rear grills on refrigerators and freezers, and empty and clean drip trays to prevent mold growth.
- Be diligent about fixing any plumbing leaks — even small drips can create favorable conditions for mold growth and affect air quality.
- Clean clothes dryer exhaust ducts and vents.
What’s in Your Garage?
In general, air circulation inside a home should be encouraged, but air shouldn’tcirculate freely between an attached garage and your family’s living space. Car exhaust and other pollutants found in garages can have a serious, negative effect on the air quality inside your home and on your home safety. Make sure the door between the garage and your home seals completely, and keep weather stripping in good repair.
Tips for Year-Round Home Health
These seasonal tasks can help improve your home’s “health:”
- Clean your air conditioner and have it serviced as necessary, at least every two years; clean and replace the filters as necessary.
- Turn off the gas furnace and fireplace pilot light if applicable.
- Check your home’s sump pump to ensure it’s functioning properly before the spring thaw.
- Clean ceiling fans so they don’t spread accumulated dust particles throughout the house.
- Inspect and repair vermin screens on chimney flues.
- Inspect chimney flues and outdoor electrical fixtures for bird nests, which can prevent ventilation of combustible gases, decreasing air quality and posing potential fire hazards. Repeat this task in the fall.
- Inspect the outside perimeter and trim shrubs and bushes away from the house, foundation, and roof, as growth that’s too close to the house can promote algae and mold.
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 Healthy Meals Kit
To start, plan to create a “hurricane healthy meals kit” that includes essential nutrients from three of the five food groups, says Stacey Whittle, a registered dietitian and co-owner of Healthy by Design Nutrition Specialists, in Santa Monica, Calif. “The most important group is protein, then vegetables and fruits, and then so-called fillers, or starchy items.” A balanced meal would include something from each group.
In an emergency, the top priority is to get enough calories and stay hydrated. “You need to stay fueled and focused and not get sick,” Whittle says. She suggests that the hurricane healthy meals plan provide three meals a day, spread out as evenly as possible. Each meal should have a protein source as its main component, as well as something from each of the other major food groups.
Shelf life is another consideration. “Keep foods that require little or no cooking, water, or refrigeration, in case utilities are disrupted,” says Mitali Shah, MS, RD, LDN, a clinical and research dietitian at Boston Medical Center’s Center for Endocrinology, Diabetes, Nutrition, and Weight Management.
“Plan to have at least a three-day supply of food on hand,” she says. “Canned foods and dry mixes will remain fresh for about two years, but date all food items, and use and replace food before it loses freshness.”
While you’re stocking your pantry, remember to include plastic utensils, paper plates and cups, and cooking fuel, such as canned sterno or propane for a camp stove.
Healthy Proteins: Canned tuna, chicken, and salmon are healthy protein choices, with a portion size equaling half of one can. Other good proteins include beans, boxed tofu, nuts, seeds, and nut butters.
Pick “superfood” proteins and you’ll get the added nutritional benefit of omega-3 fatty acids, says Caroline Apovian, MD, director of the Nutrition and Weight Management Center at Boston Medical Center and associate professor of Medicine at Boston University School of Medicine. “Sardines or?tuna fish packed in water, salmon packed in its own juices, and walnuts all have protein plus omega-3s, DHA, and EPA,” she says.
The loveable Disney fish Nemo and the less endearing Captain Nemo will now share their names with a potentially devastating snowstorm. For those in the northeastern United States, the problem has shifted from finding Nemo to avoiding Nemo as the winter storm rolls in.
Many in the Northeast have already begun to prepare with the memories of Super Storm Sandy’s destruction still fresh in their minds. Here are some tips for those still looking to make last-minute preparations:
Stock up on gas, food, batteries, and other supplies. Sandy left many cars without gas and homes without power. If you haven’t restocked your supply cabinets, now’s the time to make sure you have several days supply of food and bottled water, plus flashlights and batteries. Lines are already forming at some gas stations, and they could get a lot worse before they get better. Try and have one full tank of gas ready to go in case of an emergency.
Check your heating systems. The U.S. Center for Disease Control’s website recommends that you “have a safe alternate heating source” — like a clean fireplace or portable space heater. They also recommend checking your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.
Dress appropriately to avoid frostbite and hypothermia. If you have to go outside, make sure to wear a winter coat, hat, boots and gloves. Don’t touch snow without wearing gloves, and remember that frostbite most often affects the parts of your body not covered by clothing. The risk of contracting hypothermia or being frostbitten increases the longer you are outside.
Be careful when using a snow blower. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, snow-blower accidents are responsible for more than 5,700 annual injuries requiring emergency room visits.
“Keep hands and fingers out of the snow-blower mechanism whether it’s running OR turned off,” said R. Michael Koch, M.D., chief of the microsurgery and replantation service at Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla, New York, in a press release.
Dr. Koch also recommends wearing thick gloves, paying careful attention when operating the blower, and taking advantage of safety devices built into most snow blowers.
Take precautions while shoveling snow. Using a shovel might seem safer than using a snow blower, but both carry risks. Drinking water, avoiding caffeine and nicotine, and lightening the amount of snow per lift can help you clean your driveway and sidewalks pain-free. Remember, snow can be heavy, and shoveling can be a form of weight lifting. If you have heart problems, consider hiring someone to shovel for you. Overworking yourself can lead to severe consequences, such as heart attacks.
Avoid driving in the snow. The CDC recommends avoiding travel when the weather service has issued advisories. According to icyroadsafety.com, there were 477 deaths due to icy road conditions during the 2008-2009 winter season and 458 deaths during the 2009-2010 season. A major storm like Nemo could inflate those numbers. If you must drive, wait until after snow plows have driven through and cleaned the roads in your town.