Health, Toxins, and Consumer Advocacy: HII’s workshop series on how we can live healthier lives and

On Saturday, March 14, the Human Impacts Institute held the last of four workshops on health, toxins, and consumer advocacy. The workshops were funded by generous grants from the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) Community Grants Program and Rochester Institute of Technology’s Pollution Prevention Institute (NYSP2I), and featured fresh healthy lunches from Whole Foods. The workshops, held at McCarren Play Center in North Brooklyn, were free and open to the public. Each week, guest experts touched on a different aspect of how our outdoor and indoor environment affects us, and how we, in turn, can positively effect change in our own lives and communities.

The goal of inspiring action and sharing of information is at the core of the Human Impact Institute mission. Too often it can seem that the ability to change the world around us has been taken from us, or is determined by unreachable industries and governments. And a lot of money is spent telling us that we need things like phthalates in shampoo, BPA in bottles, and brominated vegetable oil in sodas, or that they’re unavoidable, or that it costs too much to test their long-term health and safety effects, or at the very least, that they’re probably not that bad for you.

But the good news is that there really is a lot we can do to regain decision-making power and live healthy (and yes, clean and beautiful!) lives. We can take smaller steps (e.g. learning what the ingredients in our cleaning and beauty products actually are, and buying or making healthier alternatives; spreading the word among family and friends) and bigger steps (becoming active in community organizations and nationwide networks). Individually and collectively, we do have the power to change what is around us, and inside us.

Below is a brief blurb of each workshop, along with the handouts and presentations for each. Please email us at (we will respond!) with any questions you might have, or to get involved.

February 21: Environmental Justice & Consumer Advocacy (Presentation Link / Tipsheet Handout Link)

Human Impact Institute’s Executive Director Tara DePorte kicked off the series with an overview of the explosive growth of chemicals found in cleaning and beauty products, and how this trend is hurting our personal health. Just one example: a 10-country study of 3,500 individuals without asthma found that after 9 years, those who used spray cleaners at least once a week to clean their homes had a 30-50% increased risk of developing asthma. In addition, many of these impacts are disproportional, with lower income and communities of color adversely affected.

February 28: DIY Non-Toxic Cleaning (Presentation Link / Tipsheet Handout Link)

Special guest Ogannaya Dotson-Newman, Director of Environmental Health at WE-ACT, highlighted that our ‘environment’ is just as much our homes and workplaces as it is ‘the outside,’ and that what we use indoors (10 gallons of synthetic chemicals in the average U.S. household) can have even more of an impact on our health than outside pollution. We can change those statistics, though: participants were given a free non-toxic cleaning kit and encouraged to channel their inner, all-natural Mr./Mrs. Clean by making their own DIY non-toxic all-purpose cleaner at the workshop (recipe here!).

March 7: Health Impacts of Toxins at Home and at Work (Presentation Link / Tipsheet Handout Link)

Special guest Dr. Stephen Dahmer, Lead Physician for the Freelancer’s Union led a presentation on the effects that everyday chemicals are having on our (and our children’s) health. Short answer: we don’t know nearly enough, but what we do know is not good. He answered participant questions on common issues, from the efficacy of toxic ‘cleansing’ to what we can do to make ourselves safer and healthier.

March 14: Community Storytelling (Tipsheet Handout Link)

Special guest Amy Braunschweiger, award-winning journalist and Web Communications Director at Human Rights Watch led the workshop on Community Storytelling. Stories - whether fairytales, epic poems, or tv commercials - are an incredibly powerful way to share information and ideas. Amy - and special guest Annie Willis - helped participants think and talk about stories they wanted to tell - from improving school lunches to writing a DIY manual on combating climate change.


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