EarthTalk: My daughter loves those press-on
tattoos, and they’re frequently given out at birthday
parties and other events. But I’ve noticed the labels
say they’re only for ages three and up. Are they safe?
If not, are there alternatives?
—Debra Jones, Lansing, MI
U.S. Food and Drug Administration in the recent
past issued import blocks on temporary tattoos that
do not comply with federal labeling regulations.
Buyer beware: Make sure the ones you get clearly
list their ingredients on the packaging.
© Digital Vision/ Thinkstock
the most part, so-called temporary tattoos are safe for
kids and grown-ups alike, even if they do contain a long
list of scary sounding ingredients including resins, polymers,
varnishes and dyes. But if they are sold legitimately in
the U.S., their ingredients have been approved by the U.S.
Food and Drug Administration (FSA) as cosmetics, meaning
the agency has found them to be safe for “direct dermal
contact.” The FDA has received reports of minor skin
irritation including redness and swelling, but such cases
have been deemed “child specific” and were not
widespread enough to warrant general warnings to the public.
who are concerned anyway but still want a temporary tattoo
might consider an airbrush tattoo—they are sprayed
on over a stencil using FDA-approved cosmetic inks. The
rub on these in the past was that they didn’t last
very long, but new varieties are reported to last two weeks,
and can be easily removed prior to that with isopropyl alcohol,
just like their “press-on” cousins.
alternative way to go is henna-based tattoos, which typically
do not contain any additives whatsoever. Henna is a flowering
plant used since the days of our earliest civilizations
to dye skin, fingernails, hair, leather, and wool—and
it makes for a relatively natural—although monotone—temporary
the FDA warns consumers to steer clear of any temporary
tattoos labeled as “black henna” or “pre-mixed
henna,” as these have been known to contain potentially
harmful adulterants including silver nitrate, carmine, pyrogallol,
disperse orange dye and chromium. Researchers have linked
such ingredients to a range of health problems including
allergic reactions, chronic inflammatory reactions, and
late-onset allergic reactions to related clothing and hairdressing
dyes. Neither black henna nor pre-mixed henna are approved
for cosmetic use by the FDA and should be avoided even if
they are for sale in a reputable store.
else to watch out for are the micro-injection machines used
by some professional temporary tattoo artists such as might
be hired for a corporate event or a festival While getting
a microinjection-based temporary tattoo may not hurt, it
does puncture the skin. The United Kingdom’s Health
and Safety Executive recently issued a warning that improperly
cleaned machines could facilitate the spread of infectious
diseases including HIV and hepatitis. As a result, several
types of micro-injection machines with internal parts that
could carry contamination from one customer to another have
been banned there. Such machines aren’t as popular
in the U.S., but if you aren’t sure, it’s best
to avoid it. The more familiar press-on temporary tattoos
are a safer bet regardless.
in case you’re worried that the FDA isn’t checking,
the agency has in the recent past issued import blocks on
temporary tattoos that do not comply with federal labeling
regulations; buyers beware that the ones you get should
clearly list their ingredients on the packaging per FDA
Kingdom’s Health and Safety Executive.
EarthTalk: Is air quality in the United States
improving or getting worse? Is it cleaner in some parts
of the country than in others?
—K. Gould, Sherman Oaks, CA
quality across the United States has improved dramatically
since 1970 when Congress passed the Clean Air Act.
Nonetheless, some 175 million Americans -–
58 percent of the population –- still live
in places where pollution levels can cause breathing
difficulties or worse.
Air quality across
the United States has improved dramatically since 1970 when
Congress passed the Clean Air Act in response to growing
pollution problems and fouled air from coast to coast. According
to data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA),
levels of all major air pollution contaminants (ozone, nitrogen
oxides, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, particulate matter
and lead) are down significantly since 1970; carbon monoxide
levels alone dropped by more than 70 percent.
good news for everyone. A 2009 study published in the New
England Journal of Medicine found that efforts to reduce
fine particle pollution from automobiles, diesel engines,
steel mills and coal-fired power plants have added between
four and eight months to the average American’s life
expectancy in recent years. Overall, Americans are living
some two and three-quarter years longer than during the
Changes in smoking
habits and improved socioeconomic conditions are the biggest
reasons why, but cleaner air is also a big factor. “It’s
stunning that the air pollution effect seems to be as robust
as it is,” Arden Pope, the Brigham Young University
epidemiologist who led the study, told reporters.
Pope and his
team analyzed life expectancy, economic, demographic and
pollution data from 51 metropolitan areas, and found that
when fine-particle air pollution dropped by 10 micrograms
per cubic meter, life expectancy rose by 31 weeks—such
as in Akron, Ohio and Philadelphia. Where fine particle
counts dropped even more—by 13 to 14 micrograms, such
as in New York City, Buffalo and Pittsburgh—people
lived some 43 weeks longer on average.
to the American Lung Association (ALA), even though air
quality around the country is improving overall, some 175
million Americans—58 percent of the population—still
live in places where pollution levels can cause breathing
difficulties or worse. The group’s “State of
the Air: 2010” report looks at levels of ozone and
particle pollution found in monitoring sites across the
United States in 2006, 2007, and 2008, and compares them
to previous periods.
The biggest improvement
was found in year-round (annual) particulate levels, which
the ALA attributes to recent efforts to clean up major industrial
air pollution sources. “However, the continuing problem
demonstrates that more remains to be done, especially in
cleaning up coal-fired power plants and existing diesel
engines.” the group reports. ALA also found, by overlaying
census data with pollution maps, that Americans with the
lowest incomes face higher risks of harm from air pollution,
underscoring what environmental justice advocates have been
saying for years.
As for how to
protect ourselves from still problematic air pollution,
ALA recommends checking air quality forecasts and avoiding
exercising or working outdoors when unhealthy air is present.
The federal government’s AirNow website provides daily
air quality updates for more than 300 cities across the
U.S., as well as links to more detailed state and local
air quality web sites. And if air quality problems in your
area continue to be bothersome, consider picking up and
moving. Fargo, North Dakota or Lincoln, Nebraska, anyone?
According to ALA’s “State of the Air: 2010”
report, these two cities rank among the cleanest in all
of the air pollution categories studied.
State of the Air: 2010; AirNow.
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