Helping Earth without Harming Body

by Ellen

Photo Credit: Jimmy Brown, on flickr

I’m all for being as eco-friendly as possible, but there are times when it’s healthier to think through some green ways of living.  Here’s a list of tips for staying healthy while we conserve:

  • Run the water. If you live in an old house, water sitting in your pipes overnight or longer may contain lead.  To minimize lead levels,  run water through the pipes until it’s cool and fresh.  Save the stale water for your flower bed, if you’d like.
  • Use cold tap water for cooking and drinking. Hot water leaches lead from pipes more quickly than cold water does.  Although it saves cooking time to boil water that’s already hot from the tap, you run the risk of exposure to heavy metals or impurities from your hot water heater.  Besides, unless you have a solar hot water heater, you’ll probably need to use gas or electricity to heat the water either way.
  • Wash those cloth shopping bags! Just as it’s important to wash cutting boards after preparing raw meat, it’s a good idea to wash reusable shopping bags.  Unwashed bags can harbor bacteria, mold and yeast.  If you shop for meat one day and carry your organic farmers’ market raspberries in the bag the next day, you risk contaminating your berries.  (Although a similar study was funded by the  Canadian Environment and Plastics Industry Council –biased?– it makes perfect sense that a bag that held a dirty diaper or gym clothes shouldn’t be used to hold food.)
  • Think twice about eating the local strawberry that has been sprayed. If your local vegetables are on the list of produce with the most pesticides, be careful how much you eat.  Better yet, find out what your local farmer uses for pest control.  Sometimes I choose to eat fresh, local produce that isn’t organic, because it’s so full of vitamins.  It’s worth it to me to eat local fruits and vegetables (well-rinsed), as long as they aren’t ones with the most dangerous pesticide levels.
  • Reuse salvaged building materials with caution. While recycling construction demolition materials is a great way to keep them out of landfills and add beauty to your home, it’s always a good idea to know exactly what you’re using.  King County lists some health hazards to watch for:

Lead. Widely used until 1978, lead paint is primarily a concern when it flakes or forms dust (such as that caused by scraping or dry sanding). Old plumbing fixtures (faucets) often contain lead solder and leaded brass, as well, which can leach into drinking water. Lead solder was frequently used to join copper pipes until it was banned in 1980. If you have concerns or questions about lead, visit the U.S. EPA’s lead information page at or call the National Lead Information Center at 800-424-LEAD.
Asbestos. This known carcinogen was used in many building products, particularly from the 1940s until the 1970s. Older materials that may contain asbestos include 9-inch square flooring tiles and older sheet vinyl flooring, “popcorn” textured ceilings, roofing and siding, ductwork insulation, window glazing compound, and vermiculite insulation. For more information, visit and click on Asbestos in Your Home.

Mercury, PCBs, and arsenic. Old thermostats, “silent” light switches as well as those with internal lights, and all fluorescent tubes and bulbs contain varying amounts of mercury. Pre-1978 fluorescent light fixture ballasts may have carcinogenic PCB (polychlorinated biphenyls). Pressure-treated woods often contain of a variety of toxic substances such as arsenic.

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1)  Salvage and Reuse: King County, August, 2005.

Back to plastic? Reusable grocery bags may cause food poisoning, National Post, May 20, 2009.

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