Living green: How to make ourselves, our families and our planet healthier on Earth Day

The first ever Earth Day was celebrated on April 22, 1970, after Gaylord Nelson, a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, called for “an environmental teach-in.” More than 20 million people participated that year, and now more than 500 million people in 175 countries observe Earth Day on April 22 by raising awareness for environmental issues around the world.

In the 42 years since Earth Day was founded, more attention has been brought to the dangers of pollution and global warming, to the importance of recycling, and the “green” lifestyle I’ve championed for decades. But a lot of other changes have occurred, many of them negative, most of them toxic, and nearly all of them preventable.

On Earth Day 2012, let’s consider some of these trends, how they have affected our health, and aim to make them obsolete.

Food derived from genetically modified organisms (GMOs) pervades the U.S. market because they resist pests and increase crop yields. These foods have had specific changes introduced to their DNA by engineering techniques, and include soybeans, corn, canola, rice, dairy, and more.

Such ingredients are hidden in nearly all processed foods, and can cause health concerns like allergies, antibiotic resistance, and liver problems. GMO foods can be avoided by purchasing 100 percent organic items, shopping locally, buying whole foods or growing your own food.

Babies are being born pre-polluted, meaning industrial chemicals have been found in umbilical cord blood – 200 on average, according to a 2009 report by the Environmental Working Group. In 2010, the President’s Cancer Panel at the National Cancer Institute noted that health officials still lack critical knowledge about the health impact of chemicals on fetuses and children.

The oceans now contain “dead zones,” which are parts of the sea floor along the coasts of major continents that have very low concentrations of oxygen. As a result, few organisms can survive there.  According to NASA’s Goddard Earth Sciences Data and Information Services Center, the apparent cause of dead zones is fertilizer, which runs off fields, into streams, and eventually the ocean.  Additionally, the North Pacific Ocean contains something called The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, two large masses of trash that scientists estimate is twice the size of Texas, and hazardous to marine life, fishing, and tourism. Recycling and proper trash disposal has never been more imperative!

The U.S. is replete with factory farms, which confine thousands of animals in awful, dirty circumstances and pump them full of antibiotics, all in the name of food production. Such farms generate huge amounts of manure containing deadly pathogens, antibiotics, drug-resistant bacteria, hormones, heavy metals, ammonia, and hydrogen sulfide that can seriously impact human health, as David Kirby details in his book Animal Factory. The activities on factory farms create massive amounts of pollution that harms the people living nearby, according to the Humane Society of the United States, not to mention what the meat from overfed, diseased animals can do to your body.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, cancer, cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, infectious disease, and birth defects are all associated with exposure to environmental contaminants, and all occur in epidemic proportions in the U.S.

There are currently 85,000 chemicals on the market in this country – 20,000 more than were available in the 1970s – and only a few hundred have been tested for their safety.  Lowering the levels of chemicals in our environment has the potential to lower rates of death and disease, and literally make us feel better.

It’s not easy to wrap your mind around these staggering facts, but here’s something a little easier to digest: we have the power to keep ourselves as healthy as possible and to raise a racket about the atrocities being committed against this beautiful planet.  Eat organic, whole foods and as much of a plant based diet as possible. Buy local, recycle and educate yourself and your family about the environmental toxins in your home, school and community that can make you sick. Live Green in every way.  You will be treating yourself and the Earth with respect.  Not just on April 22 – but every day. And for the rest of your life.

Deirdre Imus, Founder of the site devoted to environmental health,, is President and Founder of The Deirdre Imus Environmental Health Center™ at Hackensack  University Medical Center and Co-Founder/Director of the Imus Cattle Ranch for Kids with Cancer. She is a New York Times best-selling author and a frequent contributor to, Fox Business Channel and Fox News Channel. Check out her website at 'Like' her Facebook page here.