A Quick Bite with Adria Vassil

A Quick Bite with Adria Vassil

This Quick Bite is a slight variation on our normal theme of food and parenting conversations with high profile Moms and Dads. But given how you all respond to material we publish on environmental issues and product safety, I knew you’d be keen to hear more from this week’s guest: Adria Vassil. Adria writes the popular Ecoholic column for Now Magazine and has just published her third book, Ecoholic Body; Your Ultimate Earth-Friendly Guide to Living Healthy & Looking Good, Random House Canada. The book covers just about everything you put on or in your body – from lipstick to vitamins – and how they effect your health and the health of the planet. I love her humour and straight-talk approach. It can be a downer to think of the myriad of ways environmental toxins invade our bodies and our lives but talking to Adria you end up feeling hopeful and not discouraged. The whole book is a great read and I highly recommend it, but for the purposes of this column we just talked about kids. I don’t mind telling you I did some shopping after our conversation.

Just before calling Adria for our interview I read Elizabeth Weil’s incredible feature for The New York Times about the shift toward earlier and earlier puberty in North American girls. The piece is well researched and looks at several possible reasons for girls as young as 4 years old beginning to show signs of puberty, but environmental factors are among them. I don’t think you need to be the mother of a 5 year old girl to find it disturbing.

Q: Were you at all surprised?
AV:  It gets your skin crawling. I hate to say that I wasn’t that surprised, given my reseach into the vast amount of estrogen mimicking chemicals in our body care products. Anything that is scented in our house, the plastics, they are estrogen mimickers. It’s a cocktail of factors, there’s never a single smoking gun but we have to look at what we’re putting in these products. We have more and more girls coming into puberty at younger and younger ages. And now we’ve got boys being born with birth defects. The questions are out there and people are starting to make connections. None of it is conclusive yet.

Q: So, in terms of the personal care products we use on our kids, what should we be looking out for?
AV: Phthalates. But Phthaltes area funny one because phthalates they are hormone disruptors that are hidden behind the word fragrance. For babies and infants The Journal of Pediatrics had a study that came out a couple of years ago that said the more lotion and baby powder and baby shampoo that were used on babies, the higher the level of phthalates in their urine and 90% of the kids they tested had phthalates in their urine. I brought it up with Health Canada and asked them if they’re worried about this and why do we allow phthalates in personal care products for kids when we don’t allow it in their toys? Health Canada said well, as long as the baby doesn’t chew or suck on it we’re not worried about it yet according to current research. And I said, well then how come Denmark, as of 2011, announced they’re banning phthalates in all consumer products intended for indoor use? I mentioned a couple of other studies but of course they stick to the party line. Health Canada has only done so much, so that’s what they defend. It’s frustrating because we don’t need  young children exposed to products and ingredients that mess with our hormones in any way. That’s what hormone distruptors do.

What bother s me is we don’t take the precautionary road. And I think it’s because we’re so close to the U.S. and we’ve done more. In the US they’ve only outright banned 8 chemicals since they brought in their mointering system. Canada’s banned over 500 but Europe has bannd over 1300 so wer’e definitely falling behind.

Q: So fragrance on products should be on our no-fly list?
VA: Yes, Frangrance. If it’s a European brand and there’s fragrance it could have an asterisk and say, from essential oils. But synthetic fragrance – if you see that with no asterisk then that basically tells you that they are rich in a variety of hormone disruptors not just phthalates – that’s something to avoid. So look for unscented. That’s the easiest.

Then parabens. A lot of natural products will already be paraben free but make sure it’s paraben free. Parabens are estrogenic and have been tied to male reproductive damage, lower sperm count, that kind of thing.

Formaldyhyde releasing ingredients. It’s a carcinogen. You won’t see formaldyhyde on your ingredient list, you’ll quaternium-15 or DMDM hydantoin, or it will say diazolidinyl urea. They release formaldehyde and that’s how they work as preservatives. That’s how they function. It’s not on the lable but Huggies Natural Wipes has DMDM hydration, a product marked as natural will still have this in it. I’ve seen natural wipes that had parabens on them as well. Just because it’s natural doesn’t mean you’re not going to see parabens in there.

Q: So, looking for the word Natural on products isn’t going to help me.
VA:  It is a meaningless word. If you’re going to the health food store the odds of it being slightly more accurate are better but it depends on which health food store.

Q: What about BPAs? Do we have to worry about them anymore?
VA: You’re not allowed to have BPA baby bottles in Canada anymore. But Health Canada did test BPA-free baby bottles that were on the market and did find amounts of it – I didn’t include it this book – a large percentage can still contain BPA and they wouldn’t name the brands. Personally, I would like to see that list. We’re assuming the ones on the shelf are BPA-free and the safest option still is the glass and putting gone of thoese silicone holders. That’s the safest option. That’s the reality. That was a year after the ruling came out.

Q: Are the things we put on our body have as much impact as what we put in our body?
VA:  100% I think people put too much weight on what we put in our body being more important.  We are realizing the products that we’re bringing into our homes and putting on our bodies are a major source of internal pollution. I just got my own urine and hair checked and even thought I use natural prdocts at home and eat organic at home I still had parabens, phthalates, I had lead and mercury, uranium. And we wonder where these exposures come from? Having a pesticide-free diet is really important, especially for young children in particular. But having a phthalate free and paraben free body care diet is also equally important in my view. We haven’t been thinking that way in Canada, we don’t think it’s worth spending our money on.

Q: Okay, let’s talk about another category that effects our kids. Cleaning products.
VA:  Our kids are breathing in the vapours from household products like bleach, Tylex, a lot of VOC (volatile organic compounds) like those are big headached and asthma triggers.  And also over sanitizing our households, stripping them of all bacteria is a really bad thing for our immune stytems. Harvard just came out with a study confirming the link that over sanitizing our environments actually weakens our immune systems. So you’re seeing more parents now saying okay, if my kid wants to pick something up off the floor and eat it I’ll let them eat it.  We were getting too paranoid about that. Lots of parents are overly protective around germs. It’s only to our detritment. Give up on the disenfectatnts for them most part. Unless it’s cold and flu season. And you don’t need to get disenfectant from the cleaning aisle  you can just buy some thyme-base disenfectants that are certified to kill 99% of bacteria on those odd occasiona when you realy need a disinfectant. But as I say you really don’t need it most of the time.

Q: Are you against antibacterial products in general?
VA:  I’m against the antibacterial products like the plague. Get rid of antibacterial handsoap in your home, by the way, it’s triclophan and it’s just been declared toxic by Health Canada. Health Canada and the Canadian Medical Association have both said that it’s more effective to get rid of germs for 20 seconds  with soap and water than it is using antibacterial soap. And I’ll tell you why, the antibacterial soap, the triclosan, the Candian Medical Association, came out 6 years ago saying they actually contribute to super germs, to antibiotic-resistsant bacteria. And so, in the end, they’re doing us way more harm than good. And there’s a huge antibiotic resistance crisis going on not only in Canada but the world. And so the doctors are really lining up against triclosan and tha antibacterial hand washes. I knowwhen you change a dirty diaper you’re inclined to reach for the antibacterial soap but in the end it’s doing more than good. And doctors will tell you wash really well, get under your nails, for 20 seconds and you’re getting grid of everything. That’s a big one.

Q: There’s a lot of greenwashing all over but in the cleaning aisle I just feel like throwing my hands up.
VA:  The problem with the cleaning aisle is that unlike personal care products they don’t have to discolose the ingredients – it’s not required by law, they can put these half arsed lists on their labels. Look for the ones that are third-party certified that have an eco logo on there at least that tells you that someone else is verifying the claims and it’s greener than 75 % 85% of the products on the market. It doesn’t mean that it’s 100%natural but at least it means that the claims made were verifited for biodegradabitliy and that kind of thing.

Q: Is there such a thing as too late to clean up your house, clean up your bathroom, all these things?
VA:  It’s never too late. The moment you stop using products with articifical scents, phthalate levels drop. Phthalates only stay in your body for 24 hours. Or less. The problem is they keep staying in our bodies because we keep adding them. But the moment you take them out, the hormone disruptor is gone. Others stick around longer. Lead stays in your body for life. But the nice thing about the body care ones and the cleaning ones as well, as VOC that cause headaches, as soon as you take them out of the environment  they stop polluting us.

Q: We have to be our own advocates.
VA:  Very much so. We have to be our own watchdogs. Unfortuantately the government has left the fox in charge of the hen house and so we’ve got to do our own policing of products. And there are certain chemicals,  that we can ‘t control because of the global nature of pollution – polar bears have them – but why not take control of the ones we really can reduce. Get moving on reducing those levels in our family today. Don’t beat yourself for not having done it until now but there’s no better time than the present to make the change. And now I feel like breaking outy in to Micahel Jackson ….. Man in theMirror!


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  1. Ok Thats Great.. Thanks Your information is very informative for me. According to my ideas some way to clean any place. Some company provide a best service to clean a home,restaurent,Pub,Offices etc..The busiest spot in your house, the bathroom is the place every guest visits.

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