Think Dirty: A Review

Photo by  freestocks.org  on  Unsplash

Post By: Molly Esselstrom, Upstream Research™ Marketing Manager

During my time at Upstream Research, I have learned more about environmental risks than I thought existed. The water, soil, air, socioeconomic, and cancer data that drive Reports all have a slew of consequences, impacts, and corresponding actions. There isn’t a day that goes by that I am not researching something to do with these risks and possible ways to abate them. A passion project of mine that has spun off from this, and in working with Amy Ziff at Made Safe, is advocating for non-toxic products.

In that vein, this blog serves as one part of the environmental health web: personal health. Recently, I discovered an app called Think Dirty that, in my opinion, could be a game changer for anyone looking to increase their personal health. The app allows you to scan any cosmetic product that has a barcode (or look it up by name if not) and it gives a ‘dirty’ score on a scale of 0-10, with 10 being the dirtiest. The three categories for the score are Carcinogenicity, Developmental & Reproductive Toxicity, and Allergies & Immunotoxicities.

Similar to our Upstream Reports, they use green, yellow and red to indicate the risk associated with each ingredient and how these ingredients contribute to the overall score. Think Dirty even offers an “Our Picks” section where they link ‘clean’ products to sites where you can buy them. I would most liken this Upstream’s new Action Steps. Since downloading, I have thrown out 90% of my cosmetic products because of their dirty score and switched to products that I believe are better for my health. The system, like Upstream, is hyper-personal, lays out why certain things put the user at risk, and offers a direct solution for consumers. It’s a powerful mix.

Personal health is one factor of overall health with genetics and the environment of course playing a large role as well. Furthermore, these clean products do not contain the harmful chemicals and are consequentially better for the environment by way of production, use and disposal. That’s what I call a win-win. 




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Lead in the Right Direction

The following is the second in our Guest Blog series from a Rhode Island mother of three who is concerned about the environmental health of her area. 

As hard as it was to watch the MisLEAD: America's Secret Epidemic documentary, it is what everyone should see; especially every mother. This documentary is the embodiment of raw truth and was hard for me to watch because of how much I could relate it to my own experience with lead exposure. 

In the film, Tamara (the filmmaker and star), talks about the affects lead has had on her family and how preventable it can/should be. It broke my heart to see her son who was poisoned at a young age talk on film about the struggles he faces as a result of the poisoning. How preventable his struggles have been! 

Then my sadness turned into rage because of the lack of knowledge mothers – and everyone else – have about lead. The smallest amount of lead causes permanent brain damage. Yes! Brain damage, like going head first through a windshield. This example from the film stood out to me. I'll reiterate: lead is so toxic that the damages of its poison are compared to going headfirst through a car windshield.

Why isn't this breaking news? 

Why aren't companies practicing lead-safe procedures? Why are some products (consumer products that often include children's toys) still being made with lead as an ingredient? Why isn't lead testing more important, more urgent? And more importantly why are the dangers of lead not expressed to mothers as a part of "baby-proofing" your home?

When I was pregnant, lead in my home was never brought up. Yes, I had several lab tests done because of the nature of being pregnant but I my opinion I should have been educated on this subject. Along with lactating or child birth classes, mothers (and all parents!) should be offered a class that teaches us how to lead-proof our homes, test our homes, buy lead-free products, etc. And, if our home tests positive, we should be taught ways to make the environment safe for the newborn. 

In reality before this film, before I even heard about Upstream Reports, I wasn't worried about lead. The reason? I wasn't educated. I thought "well my kids aren't eating paint chips, licking the walls, or chewing on window sills" so I was golden. The truth to the matter is, you don't know if you're exposed until you test. Now I've learned that playgrounds could be contaminated, advertised lead-free products use the legal level (which is still unsafe), and daycares could be exposing my child.

After watching this film I was more aware, more educated, and more cautious. I ask the right questions at daycare, observe the inside and outside when my kids play to see if it's safe, I'm more cautious when buying that cutely painted toy at the dollar store, and I test my home. I have tested my home and it has came back with lead positive in the old kitchen sink and the kitchen wall. I knew to test and I took proactive action and covered the wall and use a bucket in sink. I plan on epoxying the sink soon as well. Without this knowledge I wouldn't have known! 

Mothers when this film comes out, watch it please. Be proactive and protect your children from the hidden dangers of lead!

Post by Lauren M. 

Watch the trailer below: 



If you are a parent of young children and have stories about lead or other environmental risk, please email your stories to messelstrom@upstreamresearch.com 

The Mom Test

The following is the first in our Guest Blog series from a Rhode Island mother of three who is concerned about the environmental health of her area. 

Over these past months I have learned about lead. What it is, where to find it, and how toxic it truly is! The fact that I didn't know anything about it before is a travesty. I wonder why it isn't talked about more, why it seems like hidden information. The truth is that, yes, it's 2017 but water still has lead in it, most housing in my city still contains lead in the walls, and products that we buy still use it as an ingredient. Lead is in way more places than we think. 

As most moms have, I have heard these phrases repeatedly: "Don't let your kids chew on windowsills," or " Don't let them lick the walls!" But what the phrases should be are: "Test your water," or "Test the walls for lead exposure!" Why aren't mothers being told this? 

Lead exposure is a serious deal and being a mother of three children the severity is tripled. I have tested my water and I was curious about the walls due to the fact that my apartment was built in the 1920s. 

Last Monday I took it upon my proactive motherly-self to test the walls just to feed my suspicions. After dropping my kiddos off at daycare I drove right to Walmart hoping to find the test swabs to test the paint. Surprisingly, they told me that they did not have them in-store, only online. This news was mind-blowing to me! These swabs should be accessible in every shopping market. So, then I drove to Lowes and, thankfully, they had the swabs. The swabs were $10 for two Q-tip sized swabs. $10! Again I was shocked at the price. For me to test every wall in my apartment I would have to buy more than 10 swabs, totaling $100. Being a single mom $100 is food for the week, clothes for the summer, or gas to bring my kids to daycare. So, I bought a pack of two and swabbed the wall that was most suspicious and, instantly, the swabs was pink – a clear indication of lead. 

How the test works:

Open the swabs up and take them out. The packaging says to crush the back and the front where A and B are printed. After crushing these places you shake the swab and squeeze A as you rub the surface of choice (in my case, the wall pictured below). If lead is present in the surface, the swab will turn a bright pink color and if none is present it will stay orange – the liquid in the test reacting with lead immediately. 

After rubbing the wall and getting a positive read I felt instantly anxious, worried, and helpless. I started planning my move out of my apartment (unrealistic, but a normal holy-shit reaction). If this wall has lead, have my kids been exposed? Should I call for them to be tested for lead poisoning? What do I do now? These questions bombarded my brain and I was worried about my children. After the shock subsided a feeling of strength overwhelmed me. I had to do something. These are my babies and I had to protect them! 

Being proactive is key. The best option for me was to cover the wall, conceal the toxic lead underneath and, soon after, cover it further with wall paper. 

I had a will, so I made a way! 

Post by Lauren M. 



If you are a parent of young children and have stories about lead or other environmental risk, please email your stories to messelstrom@upstreamresearch.com 


Image from Unsplash 

Image from Unsplash 

Post By: Molly Esselstrom, Upstream Research™ Marketing Manager

According to a Wikipedia page, there are about 1,300 Superfunds sites in the United States. And these are the ones that are confirmed.

A recent article by Sharon Lerner for The Intercept, “Donald Trump’s Pick for EPA Enforcement Office Was a Lobbyist for Superfund Polluters,” is a well-researched piece focused on the contamination of Superfund sites and the negative consequences of improper cleanup.

Lerner’s piece focuses on Hoosick, NY, a small town whose water has been contaminated with PFOA (a synthetic chemical) from the nearby Superfund site that is associated with cancer and thyroid diseases. Lerner goes on to show that the contamination from the site and the corresponding ill-health of the community are closely linked and, because clean up has been “halted” in recent years, disease and cancer rates have increased.

The larger picture of fewer Superfund cleanups is startling with a domino effect of negative health consequences. To make matters worse, let’s go back to the title of Lerner’s article: “Donald Trump’s Pick for EPA Enforcement Office Was a Lobbyist for Superfund Polluters.” Susan Bodine is the new assistant administrator for the EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance but is a former lobbyist for superfund polluters. In addition to this, Albert Kelly (chair of Superfund Task Force) has reportedly no experience with environmental issues at all. Both are in charge of superfund cleanups, like the one in Hoosick, NY.

The same Wikipedia article that outlines the known Superfund sites lists them by state here. It’s important for citizens to be aware of a site’s location relative to where they live, where their children play and where they work or spend their days.

Articles like Lerner’s are helping to raise awareness and give background to a complex issue but they are one piece of the equation. It takes individuals and communities to learn about this information and become empowered to make a difference. Upstream Reports is, in part, trying to do exactly this by displaying terabytes of crucial environmental data in a readable and actionable way, even by reaching out directly to a government official responsible for the area.


The first step is, always, awareness. The second is action.

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Children at Risk

Screenshot from MSNBC piece

Screenshot from MSNBC piece

Post By: Molly Esselstrom, Upstream Research™ Marketing Manager

If you knew something was bad for your health, would you change your habits or behavior? Perhaps this is something that you eat/drink or it’s a behavior, like smoking. But what if this something bad was where you lived? More than ever, we are becoming aware that the environment can harm us – especially if it is unmonitored.

 A March 31, 2017 MSNBC piece, “Inside a ‘Super Polluter power plant,” focused on a small county in SW Indiana that is suffering from the devastating effects of the nearby power plants. MSNBC journalist Jacob Soboroff’s reporting of the Rockport Generating Station is a disturbing look at big polluters and their big consequences.

 While two men from the plant mention they are working to reduce emissions, Soboroff has to prompt them about the consideration of the public’s health in the area. Their reply? “Public health is a concern of ours” as they go on to list how they are abiding by all regulations.

 Yet the journalist sees a different side of the public health story when he waits outside a clinic and interviews a couple with a young child. Their 2-year-old had been to this same clinic for the same asthmatic issues over 50 times. Again, he’s only two. When interviewing the pediatrician, Dr. Norma Kreilein, she is visibly upset by the lack of regulations and the simultaneous ill-health of the surrounding community. Especially the children. At one point in the video, she begins to cry as she speaks about the lack of monitoring at the power plants. “They don’t have to take care of these kids,” she says.

 Unfortunately, this gap is a problem that is all too common. The first step? Monitoring. With proper reports from sites like the Rockport Generating Station, communities can be informed about what is in their air, water and soil and they can make the best decisions for the children. With accurate data, real change can begin.


Report for Rockport, IN: where the power plant is directly located

The Report shows an extremely high industrial pollution number, air pollution in the 84th percentile, 6 Superfund sites with 26 schools within 10 miles, and asthma in the 79th percentile.

Report for Washington, INwhere the pediatric office is located

The Report shows that air pollution risk is in the 84th percentile, there are 6 superfund sites nearby, 19 schools within 10 miles, in the 89th percentile for lead risk, and, perhaps most harrowing, 10 out of 1,000 children die before their first birthday (far above the average rate for infant mortality in this country).


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Touch the Earth

From Google Images

From Google Images

Post By: Molly Esselstrom, Upstream Research™ Marketing Manager

What children learn usually stays with them into adulthood. When children learn about the environment, they become earth advocates.

Julian Lennon (yes, he's John Lennon's son) and Bart Davis recently released a children’s book called “Touch the Earth.” The book is geared toward 3-6 year old readers (and their parents of course) and is about an educational journey on a plane called the White Feather Flier. Fun fact: Julian created The White Feather Foundation for the “conservation of life” by focusing on humanitarian and environmental issues. The name is in part inspired by his father and symbolizes connectivity and peace. 

In the book, the White Feather Flier can transport readers anywhere in the world so they can help save the planet. The goal is to bring children closer to the environment and teach them to love the planet and its people. Even better? The book is interactive (not digital for a nice change) and readers are meant to ‘fly’ the plane by tilting the book to steer and zoom in as well as press buttons that have positive environmental implications in the storyline.

The book is the first in a trilogy and all proceeds will support the efforts of the White Feather Foundation.

Buy it on Amazon here.


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3/3 – Visualizing Environmental Risk: Upstream Toxicity Index

Mockup of an Upstream Report

Mockup of an Upstream Report

The power of protecting your family from environmental concerns begins with awareness and an understanding of what the environmental risk is. Upstream Research has aggregated terabytes of already-available data and put it into a web application that anyone can use to see clearly what’s in their area. These are our Upstream Reports.

And, given the recent changes in the EPA, we have included an Upstream Toxicity Index to even more seamlessly outline the risk in a given area. When someone inputs the address of their choice into the web-app, the system generates a ‘score’ on a scale of 0 to 10 that helps visualize risk in this area. For example, this sample Report in NYC gives a score of 6.3 out of 10, which is “higher than 99 percent of American neighborhoods.”

Index values of 0 or 10 represent extreme cases, and currently no locations in the U.S. have such an extreme index value.  The Upstream Toxicity Index will be updated as new data becomes available and as we refine our indexing methods.

It is important to understand the caveat we include under every Toxicity Index score:

“This risk index gives an idea of the relative risk of toxic exposure in this location by boiling down multiple toxic exposure factors into a single number. Ranging from 0 to 10, a high number means that there is some cause for concern, while a low number means that few risk factors have been uncovered. The national average is 4.1.”

And, while the environment is not the only factor of good health, it is still a factor.


Upstream does not seek to outline correlation or causation with our datasets; we simply wish to inform and empower the public. Get your own 5 free Reports by clicking the button below.

2/3 – Visualizing Environmental Risk: Lead Exposure

Image from Unsplash

Image from Unsplash

As we have talked about many times in our blog posts, lead poses a big risk to our country. Flint’s crisis was only the beginning of a conversation that should have started long before it did. Our first words on the subject should have been about prevention of lead in the water, not just eradication. Now, the fact remains that we must do something to make sure that we do not have more crises like Flint’s water.

Unfortunately, in the datasets Upstream have input since our company’s beginnings in mid 2015, we have realized that there are many areas of high lead risk – some places where it’s even higher than Flint’s. On our website, we have added a two tabs to our risk mapLead Risk Exposure and Children Under 5 – that people can use to track their exposure. Lead Risk Exposure is self-explanatory and can be used to see in what percentile of risk someone’s area is. The Children Under 5 tab speaks to our mission of fighting for children’s environmental rights and outlines how many children in a given area are at a high risk for lead exposure.

The main point of these tabs on our risk map is to make people aware of their personal environment – with knowledge leading to empowerment.

Upstream does not seek to outline correlation or causation with our datasets; we simply wish to inform and empower the public. Get your own 5 free Reports by clicking the button below.

1/3 – Visualizing Environmental Risk: Chlorpyrifos

Image from Unsplash

Image from Unsplash

After the EPA announced the reversal of its decision to ban the harmful pesticide, Chlorpyrifos, Upstream Research took action. Chlorpyrifos is a toxic pesticide that attacks the nervous systems of insects and humans and is especially harmful to young children and pregnant women. The below excerpt from the National Pesticide Information Center outlines its harm:

“Researchers studied the blood of women who were exposed to chlorpyrifos and the blood of their children from birth for three years. Children who had chlorpyrifos in their blood had more developmental delays and disorders than children who did not have chlorpyrifos in their blood. Exposed children also had more attention deficit disorders and hyperactivity disorders.”

However, despite these findings the EPA still has decided not to ban the pesticide. Upon learning of their reversal, our team at Upstream Research worked to add a new dataset into Upstream Reports – presence of chlorpyrifos. Our website’s risk map now also includes an easily-searchable section on the agricultural use of the pesticide, which may be useful to people trying to find out if they or their children are at risk.

Upstream does not seek to outline correlation or causation with our datasets; we simply wish to inform and empower the public. Get your own 5 free Reports by clicking the button below.

Where You Live Matters

It’s the tagline to our company, but where you live truly matters to your health. In some studies, life expectancy in certain areas is linked to the environmental concerns.

In fact, a case study titled “Life Expectancy and the Environment” from 2009 by Fabio Mariani et. al has the following abstract:

“We present an OLG model in which life expectancy and environmental quality dynamics are jointly determined. Agents may invest in environmental care, depending on how much they expect to live. In turn, environmental conditions affect life expectancy. As a result, our model produces a positive correlation between longevity and environmental quality, both in the long run and along the transition path. Eventually, multiple equilibria may also arise: some countries might be caught in a low-life-expectancy / low-environmental-quality trap. This outcome is consistent with stylized facts relating life expectancy and environmental performance measures. We also discuss the welfare and policy implications of the intergenerational externalities generated by individual choices. Finally, we show that our results are robust to the introduction of growth dynamics based on physical or human capital accumulation. “

Below are 5 cities with the lowest life expectancy in the U.S with the corresponding Upstream Report. And 5 cities with the highest life expectancy. We do not seek to make direct correlation, simply demonstrate that environmental risks play a role in health.

Lowest Life Expectancy:

1. Gadsden, Alabama - 72.9 years

2. Beckley, West Virginia - 73.4 years

3. Florence, South Carolina - 73.8 years

4. Hammond, Louisiana - 73.9 years

5. Columbus, Georgia - 74.4 years

Highest Life Expectancy: 

1. Naples, Florida - 83.5

2. Sunnyvale, California - 83.3

3. Corvallis, Oregon - 82.1

4. Norwalk, Connecticut - 82.1

5. Ames, Iowa - 82.0


Image from Unsplash

Image from Unsplash

Post By: Molly Esselstrom, Upstream Research™ Marketing Manager

Solutions come in many shapes and sizes. Policy changes are one, large solution. Education, awareness, protesting, and inventions are others. When it comes to pollution eradication, there are many ways people can make a difference. But it’s also important to be aware of your own health in highly polluted areas.

Dermalogica is one such invention and solution to rapidly aging skin for those in areas that are highly polluted. Upon entering the website, users receive a personalized Skin Pollution Index based on pollution in their area. This gives a number and calculates the risk based on the pollutants in the area and then goes on to explain ground-level ozone.

That’s not the only function of the website, though. Dermalogica is a skincare product line that is specifically designed to deeply cleanse skin of pollutants and reduce the signs of aging in higher risk areas. The company also tries to educate people on the harmful affects of pollution on skin and other aspects of health. Although it may seem like a small step in the progress against pollution, awareness and personal action are where any big goals begin. 

To see their full list of products and read about their stories, click here

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In Children We Trust

Image from Unsplash

Image from Unsplash

Post By: Molly Esselstrom, Upstream Research™ Marketing Manager

Kid President is certainly a joke, a satire even, but it brings to mind an important question. What rights do the children of the United States (and the world) have? They cannot lead a country, they cannot vote, they cannot decide policy. Yet, the leaders, voters, and policies that we put in place now are going to affect them the most. Their unalienable rights should be the same as anyone else over the age of 18 and, in fact, their voices deserve to be heard as well.

Our Children’s Trust is a true illustration of children’s rights. This is a lawsuit where kids are suing the government. Let that sink in: kids are suing the government. The mission according to their website is to “elevate the voice of youth to secure the legal right to a stable climate and healthy atmosphere to the benefit of all present and future generations.”

The lawsuit is present and future-oriented, and the end-goal is to affect climate change policy and give a voice to those most vulnerable (and those climate change will most impact in future). Our Children’s Trust does this by facilitating youth programs that provide public education and civic engagement in these environmental matters. A press release on February 28, 2017, mentioned the progress of the plaintiffs and federal defendants, specifically regarding role of oil and gas industry in impacting climate change. 

A recent BBC article, “Is there a way to tackle air pollution?” by science editor David Shukman, posited this question in light of the World Health Organization’s calculation that “92% of the world’s population are exposed to dirty air.” In recent news, Paris, Athens, Mexico City and Madrid are planning to ban all diesels by 2025.

The article mentions that the University of Leicester conducted a study where children volunteered to carry around pollution monitoring devices in their backpacks. The personal monitors showed levels that were much worse than they had been expecting. The implications of such a study (and others like it) have the potential to be life-changing to many people around the world. Especially children, who are most at risk to air pollution.

Now, more than ever, is the time when children can take a stand in their environmental education and their impact. Not only is proper knowledge of environmental concerns and solutions critical to curriculums, but the empowerment of children’s voices being heard as those of the future is invaluable. When we trust in our children and give them the environment they deserve, we are making huge, forward-thinking changes that will surely benefit more than our generation.  

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Image from Unsplash

Image from Unsplash

Post By: Molly Hover, Upstream Research™ Marketing Manager

You’re running low on gas and, as you watch the needle get closer to the big E on your dashboard, you can’t ignore it any longer. So, you pull into the nearest gas station, uncap your gas tank and reach for the pump. Then there’s the choice of what type of fuel you’d like: regular unleaded, plus unleaded, premium unleaded, diesel. You make your choice without a second thought to the type of gas you’re using. What does unleaded really mean anyway?

Well, it means it doesn’t contain lead. Obviously.

Before 1974, “unleaded” gasoline was not an option for patrons using the pump. “Tetraethyl lead was added to fuel to reduce the volatility of the gas and increase the octane rating” (Quora.com...). Lead was an additive that was meant enhance gasoline, but the harmful effects of breathing in lead for children and the negative environmental impacts led to the switch in the mid ‘70s.

In 2017, we take the bi-weekly look at “unleaded” for granted. In a time where lead is on the mind of the nation (think Flint, MI), we should be focused on our consumptions that do not contain lead.

Among its worst effects, lead “attacks the brain and central nervous system to cause coma, convulsions and even death." Children are the most at-risk group because they absorb as much as five times the amount of lead that adults do. The effects in behavior and neurological functions are commonly believed to be irreversible, which makes avoidance of exposure vital.

Most alarming of all, “there is no known safe blood lead concentration” making any exposure, a hazardous one especially for young children.

See our other blog posts for a guide on toxic-free products, risks of toxics to expecting mothersa look at the water crisis, and at the harmful effects of lead paint. While many companies and cities have made advances in “unleaded” products and city services, there is still much work to be done. The next time you need to gas up, think about the effort that was made to turn a necessary chore into a safer one.



See Upstream environmental risk map here, which highlights lead risk especially in children under the age of five.

Lead prevention tips: https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/lead/tips.htm

Certified lead contractors: http://www.leadsafelist.com/renovators/





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