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Connecting the dots…breast cancer and everyday chems

breast cancer chemsAre chemicals in our environment connected to the rise in non-genetic causes of breast cancer? For lots of us following environmental toxin news, it seems like a no-brainer, but scientists are still trying to firm up the connections. A recent study by the Silent Spring Institute and Harvard School of Public Health published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives notes that exposure to chemicals that cause mammary gland tumours in rats is common, but “few studies have evaluated potential breast cancer risks in humans.” In the studies that have been done, researchers found that chems that cause tumours in rats are often associated with breast cancer in women.

The scientists eventually narrowed the list from 216 chems known to cause breast tumours in rodents to 17 common groups of chemicals that should be “top targets for breast cancer prevention.” On the list are substances found in gasoline/diesel fuel, flame retardants, stain-resistant fabrics, paint strippers and (gulp) disinfection by-products of chlorinated drinking water. The list goes on.

The study makes it clear that more research is definitely needed. Silent Spring’s goal was to identify high-priority toxins for further research and biomarkers for these toxins in women. While scientists continue to learn more about these chemicals, the authors of this latest study say there’s enough information to begin reducing our exposures.

On that note, here’s the Silent Spring Institute’s list of the most effective strategies:

• Avoid fuel and exhaust: Turn the engine off instead of idling. Give up gas-powered mowers and leaf blowers. Walk or take transit when you can. Don’t store gasoline in your home.

• Quit smoking, and avoid secondhand smoke.

• Limit consumption of carcinogens in charred foods and use ventilation fans when cooking.

• Go to perc-free dry cleaners or ask for “wet cleaning.”

• Avoid stain-resistant rugs, furniture and fabrics.

• Don’t buy furniture with polyurethane foam, or ask for foam not treated with flame retardants.

• Make sure you’re protected from toxins on the job. Push for good ventilation and protective equipment.

• Reduce exposure to chemicals in household dust by removing shoes at the door, using a vacuum with a HEPA filter and cleaning with wet rags and mops.

• Use a solid carbon block filter for drinking water.

This article originally appeared in NOW Magazine.

Earth Day Manifesto: I Think a Change Will Do Us Good

gettinggroveback_large

Most of us get antsy when we think about change. We brace for it like a bad smell coming downwind, cringing and turning our heads, hoping it won’t hit us if our faces are cranked the other way. But it always does. Maybe not the bad smell but change always finds us. The question is, can you welcome it?  I don’t know about you but no matter what shit storm I’ve been through in my life, it’s always made me change for the better. It’s made me stronger, gentler, wiser, more adaptable, more resilient. It’s cracked wide open my mind and expanded and unfurled my heart.

And that my friends, is the gift hidden, waiting, in the shit storm called climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel report released in stages over the last couple weeks has been clear as day. Change is coming, actually change is here and already knocking on our door, at our flooded city gates (hello, Calgary, New York, Toronto) and on our bone-dry barn doors (sorry, Prairies). Sooner or later, we’re going to get stronger, gentler, wiser, more adaptable, resilient and creative, we’re going to open our hearts and minds to it and we, as a people, as a civilization, will change for the better. The question is how much suffering do we want to cut off at the pass? After all the lessons I’ve learned from my brother Nick’s suicide and my father’s disabling stroke, I sometimes haggle with the universe, telling it, “you know what, I think I’m good with the hard lessons for now.” That’s when I negotiate, vowing to learn not just from all the things that go wrong in life -  the way humans usually do – but to keep trying to be a more conscious, caring, mindful, grateful human being day by day, to really awaken to the amazing gifts of living on this earth, in this lifetime, not just on my deathbed at the end of it.

So let me ask you again, how much suffering do we want to cut off at the pass? The wise IPCC scientists from all around this incredible planet say we still have time, but we have to H-U-S-T-L-E. What can I really do, you ask? I’m just one person. Well, for one, we have to care. And we have to vote for and support the politicians and policies that can help us thrive in the face of change that’s coming whether we like it or not. What you can do is tell all three levels of politicians elected to represent you – right or left – to bravely lead on renewable energy, on shifting away from fossil fuels and on getting the places we live in ready for a changing climate. Tell them you don’t want us to just turn our collective heads the other way hoping the stench of climate change doesn’t hit us. We need to walk towards change with our eyes, hearts and minds open.

For my Earth Day feature in NOW Magazine, I wrote about how cities like Toronto can lead the planetary rescue (to read it in full, click here).  Truth is no matter where you live – country, city, Toronto, Texas, Timmins – we all need to get involved, show we care and work on changing the world from our little corners, as my mom would say. There’s a lot of doom and gloom in the IPCC reports but if you read between the lines there’s also a hell of a lot of exciting potential for change, to build thriving, resilient, dynamic communities that our families can call home for generations to come. Places that remind us that, yes, a change can do us good.

 

Is that asbestos in your reno dust?

asbestos home

It’s National Asbestos Awareness Week. Do you know where your asbestos is? Canada’s asbestos mines may finally be shuttered, but people are still finding the cancerous fibres tucked into all sorts of hidden corners of their homes. If your house was built before the 1980s/90s, it could contain asbestos in a dizzying number of spots. All fine and dandy if not disturbed. But if you’re planning any renos, you should really head to WorkSafeBC’s very useful hiddenkiller.ca. According to WorkSafeBC, one of the most common places is under vinyl flooring tile. The tape around old ducts and piping could have been made with asbes- tos fibres, too; just peeling it off will release it into the air. Ditto for drywall with sprayed-on texture (like stucco), drywall mud, acoustic ceiling tiles, roofing shin- gles and more.

Breathing in asbestos is astoundingly damaging. Just watch the video below for Heather’s startling story. Her husband Cameron contacted me about sharing her story with readers to help raise awareness about the ongoing dangers of asbestos. You might assume the story couldn’t happen today because asbestos isn’t allowed in this country, but any people working with brake pads (ie mechanics), cement pipes and reno materials are just a few of those potentially exposed to hazardous levels on the job. If you’re worried about disrupting asbestos in your home, get suspect materials tested by an accredited lab. And call a trained professional to remove it.

Mindful Living 2 Go: Resolutions & Apps for Mind, Body, Planet

Planet GoodwillWe’re only ankle deep into the new year and if you listen closely you can hear resolutions straining, cracking, and, wait for it, shattering left, right and centre.  All it took was a snotty cold to knock me off track with my resolution. Lying in my bed the morning of Jan 1, my vow was to turn love into a verb and put more mindfulness and heart-centred consciousness into each and every day. Hokey? Definitely, but life-shifting? 100%. My theory is if we choose to put more heart and awareness into literally everything – making breakfast, walking to work, working, shopping, eating, interacting with the world, including our family, friends and total strangers, well, we just can’t help but be better to ourselves and the world around us, including the planet as a unified ecosystem. Okay, fine, it’s not just my theory – there are a few thousand monks and yogis who’ve been saying it for eons, quite literally. And now a growing army of people around the world are turning on and tuning in to that very idea. I touch on it in my resolutions article.

Ratcheting up my morning meditations and yoga classes, I was feeling all zen and alive…until my face turned into a faucet and my body started begging for blankets and a soft couch. Goodbye enlightenment, hello, six of the seven dwarves (Cranky, Snotty, Sleepy, Grumpy, Sicky and Foggy). But now that the cold’s lifted, it’s time to get back into gear. So, I’m sharing here with you my Meditation on the New Year and Mindful Living to Go….5 apps that can help boost your mind/body/planet connection. Buddify‘s fun because you can take small ‘mindfulness’ breaks while at your desk, on the bus, on break, at the gym, eating lunch. Kind of cool. I’ve tried a lot of meditation apps and too many of them are just new age music on timers. There are, however, two others I didn’t have room to mention in print. Headspace is a proper good meditation app guided by a pretty hip British monk but after 10 free meditations, there’s a monthly fee – just a heads up. Omvana‘s got a big library of various self-help guru-led audios for meditation, sleep, relaxation, focus, inspiration. A bit hit n’ miss but worth exploring.

The other apps I mention are more about making conscious choices in our everyday routines, from the products we buy and food we cook up to the goodwill we spread. Go ahead try ‘em. They might just help keep you from falling off the resolutions wagon (it’s too soon to give up on ‘em!). To get the full low down, read on…

Toxin Toxout: the new brave book, the authors, and me?

Toxin Toxout coverI’m a huge fan of Slow Death by Rubber Duck, the bestselling book by Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie, so when Rick called me up and asked me if he could interview me for his next tome on toxins, I was pretty pumped. We met in a sunny east end Toronto park and chatted about the rise of green consumerism along with pseudo-natural and genuinely green products for a couple hours. He also asked me if he could include an excerpt of Ecoholic Body’s guide to label decoding. What an honour!

Now, drum roll please, I’m excited to announce Toxin Toxout: Getting Harmful Chemicals Out of Our Bodies and Our World is on shelves and it, my friends, rocks – and not just because I’m in it, of course. You’ll learn more about how easily everyday toxins seep into our bodies, in the most up close and personal way, as the authors, once again, turn themselves into human guinea pigs. This time they take on the often whacky world of detoxing in some pretty hilarious experiments. If you’ve ever eyeballed ionic footbaths or infrared saunas and wondered whether they actually pull toxins from your bodies, well, the boys dig up some answers. I sample a few of those answers in the latest Ecoholic product guide (hint: organic food and green products actually do lower your body’s chemical levels!). You’ll also find my Q&A with Bruce and Rick. Click here for the full story, Ranking Detox Strategies. If you pick up the book, I promise you this: you’ll laugh, you’ll wince, and you’ll learn a hell of a lot.

 

The Bright Idea Edition: lightbulbs & Tzeporah Berman

Lightbulbs guide image

In this issue of Ecoholic, we’re just brimming with bright ideas, both literal and figurative. The literal ones come from the latest innovations in lighting – figured a roundup on light bulbs would be useful right about now since most basic incandescent bulbs are being phased out in a couple weeks. The figurative ones come from Canadian activist extraordinaire Tzeporah Berman. I got to have dinner with Tzeporah when I was hosting Earth Day’s Beyond Green Youth Summit that she was speaking at. I have to say I love this woman. She’s a power house for change and the new green economy. (I definitely recommend putting her bio “This Crazy Time” on your holiday reading list. You can read some snippets from her fascinating speech on Petropolitics here, along with my bulb guide and greenwash of the week (Raw Essentials!).

Busting lice & the campaign against hormone disruptors

Lice guide

Hey kids, After taking a few weeks off work to get away from it all and unplug, I’m digging back in the vaults to share the columns that have been running while I was living the Luddite life!

First up, got something crawling on your scalp and it ain’t just a bad feeling? Well, have no fear Ecoholic is here with a breakdown of all your options, both toxic and non…and yes, you can get a grip on the situation without resorting to nasty pesticides banned from lawns but allowed on heads. Plus you’ll get a roundup of the latest heavyweight campaigns to get hormone disruptors out of our products for good. For the full column read on here.

Sweaters and the new green economy

Sweater guide imageHey peeps, this is prime example of a week that blends and stirs together different living, breathing elements of sustainability in action. You’ll find my guide to greener sweaters, made lovingly, without sweatshop labour and with greener, more sustainable fibres. You’ll also find my Q&A with a prominent thinker on the new green economy – Tim Jackson, and funnily enough, the two have a lot in common. Why? Well, those businesses making those feel-good green sweaters are actually live examples of just what a green economy should embrace! Healthy, happy jobs that produce healthy, happy products. Plus you’ll also find my greenwash of the week is a moisturizer many of you have probably have in your homes (they’re that good at greenwashing). Check it all out in this issue of NOW by reading on here.

Blackout issue: alt power guide, tales of a dark night & more

NMFSC_025_0718Summertime and I’m totally behind on blogging! Just wanted to catch you guys up before I head out of town again for a couple days….Here’s a column I did post-Toronto floods, including my own reflections on being holed up without power and water on the 15th floor with my father (who now depends on a wheelchair). Thought it was only fitting the product guide that week be on gadgets that keep you fired up without plugging in. I also wrote up a Greenwash of the Week that I happened to spot in my mom’s shower – sorry, mom, you weren’t the only one duped by Organix hair products! Plus Nature Notes on Kellogg’s dirty palm dealings & news on Lac Megantic. Here’s a link to it all.

Think. Eat. Save This World Environment Day and Beyond

savewaterHappy World Environment Day! Yep, today’s the big day when a bearded man dressed in green squeezes down chimneys worldwide making note of who’s been environmentally naughty or nice. Not really, but it is the day the UN designates for environmental education and this year’s theme is Think. Eat. Save – an anti-food waste and food loss campaign that encourages you to reduce your foodprint (love that term).

Some fast facts: a jaw-dropping 1.3 billion tonnes of food is wasted every year – the same amount produced in all of sub-Saharan African, according to the UN. Stats say that we end of tossing a good third of all food produced.

The lovely infographic on the left (courtesy of Lochness Water Gardens) gives you an idea of all the water that goes into making everything from a glass of milk to a pound of veggies or a cotton shirt. That’s a hell of a lot of H20 wasted every time we buy more than we need and end up with spoiled milk/rotting veggies/barely worn clothes.

More hard facts: global food production is also to blame for 80% of deforestation, 30% of greenhouse gas emissions and is “the largest single driver of biodiversity loss and land-use change,” says the UN.

So use today as an excuse to kickstart a conversation around the water cooler or at home with friends and fam about all this crazy waste and buying less of what we don’t need. For some tasty ideas for cutting back on food waste and putting wilting/spoiling foods to good use, read my column as well as my blog on the topic.