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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 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.

An Ocean of Trouble: the slippery world of sustainable fish oil

NMFSC_036_0306 fish oilMy family pops a lot of supplements. We could probably each start a mini health store with the vitamins cramming our cupboards and counters. And like a lot of North Americans, most of us are taking fish oil. Fish oil has grown to be a billion dollar business on this continent. The question is, which ones are safe, sustainable and healthy? Slippery subject. I’ve written about fish oils in past columns and in Ecoholic Body and I have to say good, green fish oils are a moving target. I’ve always told people to choose supplements from small fish, though in 2010 warned you guys against buying supplements from overfished American menhaden or European anchovies. Small fish tend to be low in contaminants and reproduce quickly. At the time, Peru’s small fish sector seemed to be doing swimmingly well. I started popping Ascenta fish oils (made of Peruvian anchovy, sardines, herring) and recommended the Canadian brand in Ecoholic Body. But the ocean doesn’t stay still for long.

Peru happens to have the world’s largest anchovy fishery, most of that going to fishmeal (feeding industrial cattle, chicken and fish fish farms the world over) and fish oil. After collapsing a couple times in previous decades, Peru’s anchovy fishery was, by all accounts, thriving, on course to get Marine Stewardship Council certified. Then last year, Peru’s president said “The Peruvian anchovy is in danger of disappearing…We recognize the irresponsibility and corruption of large companies NOR-03790-4that have pillaged the anchovy.” Then came a federal crackdown, slashes to quotas, introduction of million dollar fines and voila, as of October, the announcement that anchovies had rebounded. Brands using Peruvian anchovy, like Nordic Naturals, maker of the most popular fish oil supplements in America, assured me the dip came from warming El Nino waters, not industry pillaging and shared stats on how stocks were now healthy. Could all be rosy? Greenpeace’s ocean campaign coordinator Sarah King told me not to hold my breath. That these large fishmeal fisheries are too volatile to score favourably.

Turns out Marine Stewardship Council (a certifier that enviros often criticize for being too lax) says Peru still has some work to do beefing up patrols and laying out longer term “harvesting strategies” before MSC will give them the thumbs up. And now weather experts say there’s another El Nino coming in 2014, destined to wreak havoc on Peru’s fishery. Add to that recent news that climate change is going to double extreme El Nino weather events and Peru’s anchovy seem destined for a rollercoaster ride. I hope supplement makers like Ascenta and Nordic Naturals, which pride themselves on sustainability policies, are taking note.

All this to say, there was a lot of back story behind this week’s column that just couldn’t be squeezed into my little product guide (above). No fish oils, in the end, got really high scores. Wild Alaskan salmon oil is still doing well, mostly because it’s not all that wild – the feds actually spawn rivers with salmon eggs to boost stocks.  And Nordic Naturals’ Norwegian cod seems to be relatively in the clear sustainability wise, though fish oils from larger fish are generally higher in trace contaminants, they’re just tested to fall below federal standards, which have their critics. Honestly, I could write a dozen columns on fish oils alone and barely cover the tip of the iceberg but I tried to distill as much as I could into the column you see above. Swim on over to NOW Magazine’s site to read the column there.

As for me, I’m going to finish the Ascenta NutaSea fish oil in my fridge but you can bet I’ll be trying a vegetarian algae oil next.

Getting to the bottom of your yoga mat & lessons from Wisdom 2.0

NMFSC_036_0227yogaWhere do you find your bliss? Face first on a yoga mat? In a quiet moment to yourself? In a bowl full of ice cream? Well, this week, we dive into two of three, anyway. First up, you’ll find my Ecoholic guide to yoga mat materials, which I think may be pretty controversial. Long story short, too many eco mats claiming to be green are totally stretching their credibility (some puns can’t be avoided). It’s pretty astounding how many companies just say their eco mats contain TPE, when TPE is a broad category of synthetic rubber that can be all kinds of things. Turns out most of those “eco” TPE mats are made of styrene-butadiene-styrene – hello, styrene and butadiene are both human carcinogens! I dug up some government reports that document the elevated cancer rates in workers who make SBS. These compounds may not leach necessarily, the way hormone disrupting phthalates would from PVC mats, but these mats are certainly famous for crumbling (proof, manufacturers say, that they’re “biodegradable”). I’d say these mats are less biodegradable (returning to compounds found in nature) and more just degradable, breaking down into smaller bits over time – two totally different things. Creating SBS dust in your home isn’t what I’d call a selling feature. The whole thing makes me want to take a few deep breaths, just not next to most yoga mats.

Speaking of deep breaths, you’ll find my mini write-up on some of what I learned from the Wisdom 2.0 conference I was talking to you guys about. So much happened over the 3 days it’s hard to squeeze it into 500 words. I’ve got a way bigger piece coming out in the next issue of Corporate Knights magazine discussing the rise of corporate mindfulness and what it all means from an environmental angle so stay tuned for that. In the meantime, hope you enjoy the latest Ecoholic! If you can’t read the version above (click on it then click again to blow it up full size), head hear from the full online story.

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.


Worry-free water canisters, latest on BPA-free plastic suit & more

NMFSC_024_0808In honour of the end of summer (did I just say that?), I’m reviewing the vessels that carry the very key to life on earth. Yep, I’m talking water canisters. Ever since purportedly leach-free polycarbonate plastics found in old Nalgene bottles were caught seeping estrogen-mimicking BPA, then Sigg finally came clean about the BPA in its linings back in 2009, the whole topic of a safe place to put H20 on the go has gotten, well, complicated. We get into some of the newest options on the block in the latest issue of NOW Magazine. You’ll also find the dirt on a lawsuit and countersuit between one of the world’s biggest BPA-free plastics makers and a lab that accused them of “estrogenic activity.” All this, greenwash of the week and more in the latest issue of Ecoholic! Just click on the pic above to read on…

Natural vs green: what does it really mean?

Natural vs green labels

After a lunch time talk I gave at Edmonton’s city hall last month, one woman approached me and asked me if I could spend more time talking about the difference between green/eco-friendly and natural. The terms, she said, were too often used interchangeably, and she’s right. We tend to flip back and forth between the two as though they’re twins, but that isn’t always the case. Sometimes there are gaping distances between them (more like Danny Devito and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Twins). So I clarified the issue in this week’s Ecoholic column. To dive into the details, read more here.

You know I love to call out companies that claim they’re natural, claim they’re green but are really just full of BS. What of companies that can honestly claim to be both, to some degree? I had a lengthy conversation with a chemist at Nature Clean, one of Canada’s oldest ‘natural/naturally-derived,’ ‘nontoxic,’ ‘biodegradable’ cleaning companies, certified by EcoLogo. I’ve given good reviews to their Tub and Tile cream and all purpose cleaner, but started getting agitated by the fact that it contained a palm-derived ingredient. Natural, yes? But green? Well, not so much. I’ve been itching to know why they’d use palm-derived fatty polyglycoside when palm is such a controversial ingredient plagued by sustainability woes (hence why it’s on my Ecoholic Body Mean 15 list). So I gave Nature Clean a call and ended up in a surprisingly open, frank dialogue on green versus natural with their chemist Martin Vince.

Nature Clean LabelMartin first tells me their palm ingredient is fully certified via the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil. I know the RSPO is the only sustainable palm certifier out there and is the only organized attempt at greening the industry, but the RSPO has faced a lot of flack for letting violations slide, I point out. Martin responds, “We know the Roundtable is not the ideal situation, but it’s better than not having it.” Why not avoid the ingredient altogether then? “We are actively looking for alternatives. We’re looking at grapeseed derived surfactants, but they’re not suitable for cleaning products currently. Alkyl polyglucosides are one of very few surfactants that are 100% natural (palm oil mixed with dextrose). Most are hybrids like alcohol ethoxylates, which has chances of contamination with [carcinogenic] 1-4 dioxane. We’ve chosen the purest we can currently use. And we do need surfactants because that’s what does the cleaning.”

What do you think? I know Martin’s right when he says says that replacement ingredients aren’t without impact either. Coconut plantations (like all monoculture crops) also encroach on natural habitat and basic table salt (used in natural cleaners) can certainly be ecologically disruptive to mine. Everything we buy has an impact somewhere, whether we’ve taken it from nature or concoct it in a lab, but let’s agree some are worse than others.

I’ve got to admit that at least Nature Clean has put itself out there more than other “green/natural” cleaners who refuse to list their full ingredients and simply offer up vague terms like “plant-based surfactants” or, in the case of Eco-Mist, “potatoes, corn, grains” (come on, that’s a recipe for stew not a clear, watery cleaner). Ultimately, as consumers, we’ve got to keep reminding companies that we’re watching and that yes, we want it all. Not everything we buy will be totally green (in its many senses of the word) and natural, but we’ve to push them and ourselves to come close.


How close is too close? The ins and outs of cell phone safety

news-eco-0228_largeWondering about cell phone safety and whether it’s worth looking for a phone lower in radiation? The answer is complicated…and may surprise you. Check it out the column in Ecoholic.

Since we can’t live in a bubble: Tackling hormone disruptors


Ever feel like you’ve got a lot to get off your chest? I did this week so I wrote about hormone disrupting chemicals, not once, but twice (three times if you count this blog). First, in my column covering a conference on hormone disruptors, talking about what the feds are or aren’t doing to protect us from this family of disruptive chemicals.  And since that got me thinking, I wrote some more, in a blog NOW entitled Dying for Us: Considering the Women That Make Our Stuff. 

 It got me thinking about all the women that work with hazardous chemicals for a living, the women that make the stuff we use everyday – from the canned food and beverages we buy to the cars we sit in, the women who style our hair, do our dry cleaning or help heal us in hospitals, the women who work with cleaners, plastics, solvents, the list goes on. [James] Brophy and [Margaret] Keith found, as a whole, this highly exposed group has a 42% greater chance of getting breast cancer, and depending on where they work, that rate jumps dramatically (think women who make any of the metal goods that surround you, the women who grow the non-organic foods you may buy).

It also got me thinking about something the New York Times said, how hormone disruptors are the tobacco of our time. In truth, they’re worse since they’re so many different products from our cosmetics and our cleaners to our canned foods and our cars. And they’re making us sick in so many different ways - thyroid problems, early puberty, fertility woes, rises in breast/prostate/ testicular cancer, fibroids, endometriosis, genital birth defects, obesity, heart disease, ADHD, the list goes on. Not to mention their impacts on wildlife and biodiversity. Consider it, with climate change, the one-two punch to the planet. 

And yeah, while I talk about hormone disruptors almost every week in my columns on flame retardants, bodycare, BPA, reno materials, stain proofers, you name it, and have for years now, something about the conference I went to struck a deeper cord. Having all those scientists, researchers, cancer orgs, women’s networks and workers unions in one room standing together saying, ‘listen we are in crisis, Houston, we have a problem,’ it got my attention and I hope it gets yours. These are the people on the ground looking at the data pleading to be heard by our government regulators, to be heard by corporations, to be heard by chemists, saying look, you can’t keep playing whac-a-mole, tackling one harmful hormone disruptor like BPA or PBDE flame retardants at a time. They just get replaced with other hormone disruptors. You have to take them on as a whole – something Europe is voting on the coming weeks.

I’m going to keep talking about how to minimize the toxins in our lives, sharing tips with you on how to be smart shoppers and how to avoid the chemical minefield out there.  But it can’t all fall on us, the people doing the shopping.  That still leaves the majority of Canadians swallowing estrogen-mimickers like BPA and exposes the women and men making our stuff to illnesses that shouldn’t come with your paycheque.

So please, tell your politicians elected to represent you that it’s time to deal with hormone disruptors head on. In the meantime, we all have to press for safe chems where we work, safe cleaners in our schools, safe products on shelves – because, despite the rumours, we can’t really quarantine ourselves with bubble wrap.



EcoholicTV: Dry Skin SOS

Ecoholic TV: Dry Skin SOS from Adria Vasil on Vimeo.

Ecoholic TV is back! Yep, we’re here with more Ecoholic Health Corner and this time I run to my old friend and naturopath Alexandra (aka Alex) Triendl for some extra help tackling winter’s dry skin curse. Got eczema? Psoriasis? Or just plain dry skin? Tune in for some ideas on supplements, masks and more. Oh and in case you missed it, here’s a link to our last video on beating colds and flus naturally and sustainably.