Worried about chemicals from plastic wrap leaching into your portabella panini? Concerned that global warming will spawn dengue fever — in Schenectady? Or that your mountain meadow air freshener is causing you respiratory woes?
Uncle Sam offers a treasure trove of useful facts, statistics and advice on how things you ingest, breathe and touch affect your health. Trouble is there's so much you have to be a Washington insider to find it all. Here are five good sites to get you started:
HHS (Department of Health and Human Services — www.hhs.gov): The grandmama of federal health information — HHS oversees health-agency heavyweights like the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and NIH (National Institutes of Health). For a sampling of eco-health data available from these and other HHS sub-agencies, this is your starting portal.
But be forewarned — environmental health is just one of many health topics covered. On the homepage, start by exploring the links on the left. "Safety and Wellness," for instance, offers an environmental section with articles on sun exposure, homes, air, etc. For other topics, use the A-Z index or do a search.
CDC — www.cdc.gov: Thanks to the user-friendly homepage, you should have no trouble locating eco-health info embedded within this vast cache of disease topics (preventing diseases is the CDC's mission). Click on "Environmental Health" and begin exploring the bodily repercussions of everything from climate change and mold to poor cruise-ship sanitation and asbestos. If you don't see your topic right away, try the A-Z index or do a search. Chances are if there's a disease link, you'll find it.
One of the site's strengths is that there's something for every attention span: simple overviews for skimmers (e.g., short dos and don'ts on carbon monoxide exposure), as well as rigorous reports for true eco-health geeks (check out the ToxGuides for health risks on dozens of chemicals).
NIEHS (National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences — www.niehs.nih.gov): The beauty of this site — besides being entirely devoted to eco-health topics (NIEHS's entire focus) — is being able to search in multiple ways: by disease; environmental agent (e.g., endocrine disruptors and pesticides); exposure pathways (water, air, etc.); and vulnerable populations (including children and farm workers).
Good news, too, if you're a scientist, health professional, teacher or student. There are detailed reports, guidelines and curricula, as well as a kid section with games and educational activities.
FDA — www.fda.gov: Which cosmetics contain health-harming dyes? Do cell phones cause brain tumors? Will that unwanted tattoo immortalizing your first love (specifically the ink) cause more than mere regret? If these questions resonate, this is your go-to source.
The FDA ensures the safety of the nation's pharmaceutical drugs, nonmeat food supplies, cosmetics, radiation-emitting devices, blood products, and more, so the information here is, not surprisingly, limited to these areas. You might have to nose around, but most information is accessible via the (somewhat cluttered) homepage: by category, alphabetical index or the fact-filled consumer section. For tech-savvy searchers, get product recall alerts and updates via RSS feeds or e-mail.
EPA (Environmental Protection Agency — www.epa.gov): Unlike the health agencies mentioned above, the EPA is all about environmental preservation, meaning its eco-health offerings are mixed in with loads of nonhealth-related tips on green living and saving energy.
On the homepage, click on "Learn the Issues" and scroll down to "Human Health." There's data on drinking-water contaminants, mercury, lead in paint, indoor air pollution, pesticides, radiation, and more. Other topics — like recent headline-grabber bisphenol A — may require a search. Sign up for the Greenversations blog, RSS feeds or a widget to get eco-health and other green updates.