10 questions that will improve your health

1. Is that fibro extension a health hazard?

Fibro (fibrous asbestos cement) was a common building material produced inAustraliaby James Hardie but was outlawed in 1987 when substantial clinical evidence linked asbestos to lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis. Fibro dust particles are easily inhaled when disturbed and prolonged exposure may result in fatality from these diseases. As asbestos is a mined substance, research has focused on miners and manufacturers. Despite mounting claims, mining continued in New South Wales until 1983. By 2020, medical researchers predict that 50,000 Australians will have either died or contracted asbestos-related diseases due to asbestos exposure at home or at work. So call an asbestos consultant if you are concerned.

2. Should I microwave my child’s food?

Microwaves have been systematically banned in Russia since 1976 after forensic studies revealed food cooked in a microwave oven develops increased levels of carcinogens. Microwaves rely on electromagnetic waves, which agitate molecules within food to produce friction, resulting in heat. However research has shown that molecules leak electro-magnetic radiation and may mutate food into organ-toxic compounds. There is strong evidence that heating baby formula causes changes in the milk’s composition, such as a loss in vitamins. On top of this, the liquid may heat unevenly, causing burns and scalds. Reheating in a conventional oven or on the cook-top is much safer.

3. Is the night air bad for you?

Until 1854, scientists believed in the miasma theory of disease: that germs causing diseases such as the black plague and cholera were spread through night air. Miasma was considered to be foul-smelling vapour filled with particles of decomposing matter. The source of the miasma was believed to be rotting vegetables and stagnant water, particularly from swamps and urban ghettos. As fear grew, windows were kept shut and people stayed inside more. Scientific progress highlighted the importance of ventilation and eradicated the miasma theory of night air. For example, it was realised that the activity of mosquitoes at night (rather than the night air) was responsible for malaria.

4. Is your polar fleece harmful to your health?

Made from the synthetic fibre, polyethylene terephthalate (PET), “fleece” is lightweight and repels moisture, so is popular in mountaineering circles. Sensitive skin sufferers may wish to avoid fleece fabric as it could cause irritation and dermatitis. Fireside sparks melt the fabric of your fleece as it is essentially plastic and highly flammable. Many companies still rely on “virgin” polyester to produce fleece, so there is a large environmental consideration, but EcoSpun, ECO-Fleece and EcoPile products are at least made from recycled plastic bottles. Post-production, the concern is where the fleece fabric will end up when it is dumped.

5. Cloth nappies or disposables?

One baby uses a shocking 6000 disposable nappies before toilet training. Yet results from the 2008 update of a 2005 study by the Environment Agency in the United Kingdom revealed little difference in environmental impact between disposable and cloth nappies. Reusable nappies can use more energy, water and harmful detergents while disposables contribute more to landfill and have higher embodied energy. However, reusables can be passed on to other children and cost much less in total. On the other hand, a facility that opened in New Zealand in 2009 reduces 15,000 disposables per day into compost and disposable nappy technology now produces slimmer, more biodegradable versions. Finally, the increase in male infertility over the past 25 years may be linked to disposables hiking the temperature of boys’ testicles. The debate goes on…

6. Bottled water or tap water?

There is no evidence to suggest that bottled water is any better for health than tap water but there is certainly strong environmental evidence against bottled water. Plastic bottles contain PET derived from crude oil and every ton of PET production releases three tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. As well as being detrimental to the spring source, the energy cost of filling, transporting, refrigeration, recycling and disposing of plastic bottles is significant. Plastic bottles are among the top 10 commonest items collected on Clean Up Australia Day. Tap water can be filtered and is affordable, so invest in a good filter and a reusable bottle and render plastic bottles extinct. Those wanting to avoid chlorination can install a rainwater tank.

7. Should we ban plastic bags completely?

According to Planet Ark, Australians currently use around 3.9 billion plastic bags annually, which means more than 10.6 million new bags are used every day. Despite current campaigns, we fail dismally in our attempts at recycling plastic bags, with only 3 per cent currently being recycled. Production drains resources and contributes to greenhouse gases. Clean Up Australia says, “The energy consumed in the life cycle of one plastic bag is estimated to be equivalent to 13.8 millilitres of crude oil, or about a teaspoonful.” The reality is 80 million plastic bags per year litter our land and oceans — surely we can live without that?

8. Should I replace my ordinary light bulbs?

Legislation for the phasing-out of existing incandescent bulbs (including halogens) is currently in place inAustralia. Replacing with CFLs (compact fluorescent lamps) will cut carbon pollution by 600kg per year, according to the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency. Controversy has centred on the mercury within CFLs, a contaminant that can affect the nervous system. Focus has shifted to LEDs (light-emitting diodes) as the healthier option as they consume one-eighth the power of traditional bulbs and half that of CFLs and also have a long lifetime. Remember to dispose of broken fluoro bulbs as hazardous waste.

9. Dishwasher versus detergent?

Unless you have the latest eco-version of dishwashers, washing dishes in the sink may be better for the planet. Old-model dishwashers use 90 litres or more of water per load and are big energy consumers. Washing dishes by hand uses 15–20 litres of water per sinkful, though if you rinse under running water it will be considerably more. By contrast, the best four-star-rated machine can use as little as 11.5 litres per load. Purchasing aWELS (Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards Scheme) recommended dishwasher will help save 600 Olympic swimming pools of water per year. But nothing beats biodegradable detergent and youthful teatowel wielders to boost family chat time.

10. Do I really need my air-conditioning unit?

Not surprisingly, Queenslanders areAustralia’s biggest users of air-conditioning, spending almost one-third of their electricity bills on heating and cooling their homes. However, workplace illnesses including respiratory infections and sick building syndrome due to air-conditioning may also apply to your home. Bacteria and fungi are circulated through the system, so natural ventilation is essential for improved Health. If you are planning a renovation, consider passive cooling systems such as clerestory windows and louvres. Stack ventilation is a simple and relatively cheap way to improve airflow. Basically, it boils down to conscience and whether you can stand the heat.


The WellBeing Team

The WellBeing Team

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