With the last name Cousteau, it probably won’t come as a surprise when you I tell you I spend a lot of time thinking about water. And while my family and I may be better known for our time spent on and in the ocean, I spend a considerable amount of my time focusing on watery environments a bit closer to home, including the kitchen sink, bathroom, laundry room, gutters and storm drains. The fact of the matter is our homes are on the frontlines when it comes to protecting and conserving our critical water resources — more than that, they are also key to protecting our health. 

Philippe Cousteau JrIn many ways our homes act as one big drain that, through our daily relationship with water, carries many toxic substances into our waterways and the environment. Take personal care products for example: according to Environmental Working Group research, more than 500 products sold in the U.S. contain ingredients banned in cosmetics in Japan, Canada or the European Union. Studies show that on average, American women use 12 products containing more than 160 ingredients every day and men use six products containing more than 85 ingredients. Many of these substances and the toxins they contain are being absorbed, inhaled or ingested into our bodies; and if that isn’t scary enough, many of these toxins are then rinsed or flushed down the drains in our homes and find their way into our waterways and drinking water. While there are certainly other factors involved in water quality such as agricultural waste, development and climate change, there is no escaping the reality that our daily routines are contributing to the fact that up to 20 percent of water treatment systems in the United States fail the Safe Drinking Water Act, leading to millions of cases of human illness each year. This has a real impact, not just on the health of the environment, but on the health of people.

While the facts and figures may seem daunting, toxins in our waterways and the environment are a problem in which we all play an important role in finding solutions. Yes, we still need to put pressure on policymakers and industries to protect and conserve the environment and public health; however, we can take control of what happens in our own homes. Every hour of every day we have opportunities to make a difference. Most of it is common sense. If a product has an endless list of ingredients and you can’t pronounce half of them, I would think twice about bringing them into your home. If having a beautiful lawn means putting up warning signs several times a year to keep children and pets off of it, it’s probably a good idea to look into alternatives. Think of it this way: the majority of toxins and chemicals don’t “go away;” they just travel, and many times it’s through our waterways into our bodies, our food, our drinking water and critical ecosystems that support and sustain us. 

We can all play a role in stopping them before they start that journey. The key is knowledge, and that is one of the reasons my organization EarthEcho is partnering with Seventh Generation Foundation on their Campaign for a Toxin-Free Generation to provide easy access to information and practical tips that anyone can use in their daily lives. Organizations such as Waterkeeper Alliance and youth-led nonprofit Teens Turning Green can provide you with valuable information and home-front recommendations to reduce toxins and pollution in your community’s waterways. A wealth of information and resources are at our disposal, literally a few clicks away. 

If you are looking for an activity for you or your family to participate in this Earth Day, taking action at home and thinking twice about what’s going down the drain are great places to start.

Explorer, social entrepreneur and environmental advocate, Philippe Cousteau Jr. continues the spirit of his family’s legacy through new and exciting platforms. He is the president of the leading environmental education nonprofit EarthEcho International. Philippe is also a special correspondent for CNN International, covering environmental issues.

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It's time to defend the drain, says Philippe Cousteau Jr.
Philippe Cousteau Jr. on what you can do to stop toxins from polluting Earth's waterways.