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Seventh Generation

Is it better to use precaution or to wait for proof?

That's a complex and contentious question in many ways — but especially when it comes to regulating chemicals.

In general, the European Union has taken a more public precautionary stance on these regulations, while the United States generally requires a stronger proof of harm to regulate or restrict chemicals.


In 2007, the 28 member nations of the European Union implemented a new screening system to regulate ingredients in cleaning products, food, cosmetics, and home goods. It’s a five-part program that essentially boils down to a "better safe than sorry" approach. In general, if scientific research shows that a product may be harmful to humans, animals, or the environment, the EU doesn’t allow it.

In Europe, peer-reviewed science is a tasty part of every government's policy making.

In the U.S., the law governing chemicals is the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act. You read that right — the act hasn’t been updated for 40 years. The Environmental Protection Agency as well as many Americans would like to see it strengthened, but in the past it’s been, to put it mildly, difficult to get any updates passed.

For a chemical to be restricted or banned in the U.S., there has to be strong proof of harm. The EPA generally identifies potential risks after a chemical is at market. Testing of new chemicals isn’t required unless there’s believed to be a risk of harm, and even then, it’s rare for the EPA to outright ban a product.

So wait ... does this mean American products are less safe than their European counterparts? Not necessarily. Does it mean the European Union needs to lighten up? Again, not necessarily. Both approaches are complex, and it's no easy job for anyone to balance all of the interests at play.

Let's look at three examples that highlight the complexities of these regulations.

When a product contains formaldehyde-releasing chemicals, should it be restricted or get a warning?

Pictured: Formaldehyde. Image by iStock.

Formaldehyde, also known as the stuff your creepy ninth grade biology teacher used to preserve dead animal specimens, is one of the 61 chemical groups regulated/restricted by the European Union.

Aside from its Frankenstein-y uses, formaldehyde is also a popular ingredient in laminate floors, resin, industrial antibacterial cleaners, and chemical hair straighteners. Unfortunately, it is also a “probable human carcinogen” (according to the EPA). Prolonged exposure to formaldehyde fumes can also exacerbate asthma and cause headaches, among other health effects.

Since 2014, the European Union has used its carcinogenic risk as a reason to strongly restrict the use of formaldehyde in industrial and consumer products.

The U.S. EPA limits the amount of formaldehyde that can be present in some construction materials, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn't restrict the use of formaldehyde-releasers, or "donors," in cosmetics or personal care products because these may not be harmful.

What the FDA does instead is require all cosmetic or personal care products that contain formaldehyde (or formaldehyde-releasing chemicals like those in Brazilian blowout hair treatments) to disclose that information on their ingredient labels. Consumers can find out the risks associated with a specific product and make the decision themselves whether to use it or not.

Under regulations from the United States Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), industrial cleaning products that include formaldehyde are required to state so clearly on the label, along with the possible risks of use.

Is the buzz about neonicotinoids killing bees for real? The EU isn't waiting to find out.

Image by iStock.

The global food system depends on our insect pals, the bees, helping plants pollinate. When scientific research started to indicate that popular neonicotinoid (aka neonic) insecticides could be causing bee colonies to die off in record numbers, the European Union took action.

In 2013, it set in place a temporary two-year ban on the pesticide (not completely observed in the U.K.) to allow researchers more time to study impacts and make a decision on whether the ban should be made permanent.

While further decisions from the European Union are still pending, French lawmakers recently adopted a bill that would ban neonics in their nation starting in 2018 if it passes votes in their Senate and National Assembly later this year.

In the United States, regulators are taking a wait-and-see approach. The EPA has approved several neonicotinoid pesticides for use in the U.S.

Though there appears to be growing consensus that bees are exposed to neonics and some harm is caused to them, it’s not yet known if neonics are responsible for significantly damaging honeybee populations. The EPA says it is spending 2016 and 2017 compiling research on four popular neonics, promising to review regulations once that work is done.

In the interim, the EPA requires that all pesticides sold and used in the United States list all ingredients — along with associated risks to humans or animals and recommendations for safe storage/accidental exposure — on their product label.

Triclosan: the antibacterial cleaner banned in Europe. And Minnesota.

Image by iStock.

If you've used antibacterial soap any time over the last decade, chances are you've come in contact with triclosan. This popular antibacterial and antifungal chemical is most commonly found in hospitals, but it has also been used in everything from dish soap to toothpaste to children's toys.

It is extremely effective, but science shows it's also pervasive — research shows it sticks around in the environment long after we've finished using it, and scientists have observed that it can kill helpful algae while accumulating in the bodies of other organisms, including earthworms and even dolphins.

Because there's still so much unknown about triclosan, the European Union banned its use as a personal care product on Jan. 1 this year.

In the U.S, both the FDA and the EPA require products that contain triclosan as an active ingredient to disclose that on the label. As for its other potential health risks, the FDA's stance is that "FDA does not have sufficient safety evidence to recommend changing consumer use of products that contain triclosan at this time." It does note, though, that "several scientific studies have come out since the last time FDA reviewed this ingredient that merit further review."

In 2010 the Natural Resource Defense Council sued the EPA for inaction on regulating triclosan. It has been under review since 2013, except in Minnesota where a 2014 law has banned its use beginning Jan. 1, 2017.

While government agencies in America study whether certain chemicals should be banned or restricted, some companies are making voluntary updates to their ingredients.

In 2013, Procter & Gamble announced it would be removing triclosan from most of its products by the end of 2014. Many garden supply companies and retailers are voluntarily phasing out neonics.

Rather than wait for regulations to catch up, they are being proactive and transparent — something that's always comforting to see from the products we trust with our health and our homes.

While there are pros and cons to both precaution and waiting for definitive proof, there's one thing we know for sure: Basing decisions on good, thorough, peer-reviewed science, and continuously reviewing the guidelines that govern chemical regulation, is never a bad idea — no matter how long it takes to get there.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

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Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

That first car is a rite of passage into adulthood. Specifically, the hard-earned lesson of expectations versus reality. Though some of us are blessed with Teslas at 17, most teenagers receive a car that’s been … let’s say previously loved. And that’s probably a good thing, considering nearly half of first-year drivers end up in wrecks. Might as well get the dings on the lemon, right?

Of course, wrecks aside, buying a used car might end up costing more in the long run after needing repairs, breaking down and just a general slew of unexpected surprises. But hey, at least we can all look back and laugh.

My first car, for example, was a hand-me-down Toyota of some sort from my mother. I don’t recall the specific model, but I definitely remember getting into a fender bender within the first week of having it. She had forgotten to get the brakes fixed … isn’t that a fun story?

Jimmy Fallon recently asked his “Tonight Show” audience on Twitter to share their own worst car experiences. Some of them make my brake fiasco look like cakewalk (or cakedrive, in this case). Either way, these responses might make us all feel a little less alone. Or at the very least, give us a chuckle.

Here are 22 responses with the most horsepower:

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How do you explain the transition from the brown and orange aesthetic of the '70s to the dusty rose and forest green carpeting of the '80s if you didn't experience it? When I tell my kids there were smoking sections in restaurants and airplanes and ashtrays everywhere, they look horrified (and rightfully so—what were we thinking?!). The fact that we went places with our friends with no quick way to get ahold of our parents? Unbelievable.

One day I described the process of listening to the radio, waiting for my favorite song to come on so I could record it on my tape recorder, and how mad I would get when the deejay talked through the intro of the song until the lyrics started. My Spotify-spoiled kids didn't even understand half of the words I said.

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"Veteran" mom and "new" mom parent differently.

When a couple has their first child, they start out with the greatest of intentions and expectations. The child will only eat organic food. They will never watch TV or have screen time and will always stay clean.

But soon, reality sets in and if they have more kids, they'll probably be raised with a lot less attention. As a result, first-born kids turn out a bit differently than their younger siblings.

"Rules are a bit more rigid, attention and validation is directed and somewhat excessive," Niro Feliciano, LCSW, a psychotherapist and anxiety specialist, told Parents. "As a result, firstborns tend to be leaders, high achievers, people-pleasing, rule-following and conscientious, several of the qualities that tend to predict success."

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