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GreenSpace: 2014's top tips for maintaining environmental health

Sometimes, paying attention to environmental health issues can be a real downer. Those issues often involve air pollution, water pollution, or harmful chemicals.

stock image of herring
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Sometimes, paying attention to environmental health issues can be a real downer.

Those issues often involve air pollution, water pollution, or harmful chemicals.

Fortunately, many potential problems can be alleviated with simple acts - making a wiser choice in the store, for instance, or simply opening a window to get rid of air pollutants.

Here are some of the suggestions gleaned from 2014 "GreenSpace" columns and other stories that will help you have a healthier 2015:

Reduce your exposure to bisphenol A. The industry is phasing out this endocrine disruptor, used in plastics and the linings of some food cans. But for extra precaution, reduce your use of canned foods, don't microwave foods in plastic containers, and opt for glass, porcelain, or stainless steel storage containers, particularly for hot foods or liquids.

Vent that gas stove. If you can't afford to buy and install a vent, open a window when cooking. The combustion process emits particulates, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, and formaldehyde. Each has its own concerns. Overall, the use of unvented stoves has been linked to asthma and chronic bronchitis in children.

Eat more vegetables, but choose wisely. Whole Foods ranks produce as good, better, and best, with the items in the best category least likely to have pesticide residue or other environmental effects. The Environmental Working Group, a research and advocacy nonprofit, has developed a food score app that can steer shoppers toward greener, healthier choices. It also issues an annual list of produce most and least likely to have pesticides, suggesting shoppers buy organic versions of those most likely to have pesticides. The 2014 "dirty dozen" list included apples, celery, cucumbers, grapes, peaches, potatoes, spinach, and strawberries.

Eat more fish, but choose wisely. In June, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration announced that women and children were not getting enough seafood, which is good for brain development and which can boost IQ. However, some fish contains mercury, a neurotoxin. The agencies advised women and children to avoid tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico, shark, swordfish, and king mackerel. They also advised limiting albacore tuna to six ounces a week, although Consumer Reports advised pregnant women not to eat any tuna. The Environmental Working Group suggested these fish as low in mercury and high in beneficial fatty acids: herring, mackerel, anchovies, rainbow trout, crab, and sardines.

Vary your diet: Rice has been shown to contain traces of arsenic, a toxin. Brown rice may have more nutrition and fiber, but basmati rice from California, India, or Pakistan has less arsenic, according to a Consumer Reports study. Consider varying your menu with other grains, such as wheat, barley, and oats.

Lock up cleaning supplies so children can't get to them. That advice applies especially to packets of laundry detergent, which are convenient but which can look like candy to children. When ingested, detergent delivers a concentrated dose of caustic chemicals that in some cases have required hospitalization for days. Calls to poison control centers started in spring 2012, when the packets were introduced in the U.S. By the end of 2013, more than 17,000 cases had been reported nationwide.

Test your basement for radon. Exposure to radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer, according to the American Lung Association. The radioactive gas, which is naturally occurring in the Philadelphia region, can enter houses in various ways, including through cracks in the foundation. Simple and cheap do-it-yourself test kits, available in home and hardware stores, can tell you whether you need to remediate.

Redecorating? If you're buying new carpet, look for the industry-run certification Green Label Plus. It means the carpeting does not emit volatile organic compounds, which can cause eye, nose, and throat irritation. Low- or no-VOC indoor paint also is widely available. If you're buying new upholstered furniture, ask if the item has been treated with flame retardants, which have been linked to cancer, reproductive problems, and lower IQs in children. Due to California legislation, more manufacturers are leaving furniture untreated.

Beware of chemicals on pet flea collars. The EPA took steps to eliminate the neurotoxin propoxur from the market, but collars that contain it may still be on shelves into 2016. It's good to protect your pet. Ticks carry diseases that can affect humans, including Lyme disease. Fleas can carry tapeworms and bacteria. But look for products that do not contain propoxur.