Category Archives: Environmental Health

Is your nursery toxic?


There is nothing more exciting than waiting for the arrival of a new baby. Most parents spend a significant amount of time and money getting the nursery ready for the baby once it makes it arrival. Did you know that the average nursery harbours over 300 harmful chemicals floating in the air? That’s a lot for a little body to deal with.

Ways to have a healthier nursery.

  1. If you decide to redecorate and paint, choose non VOC, solvent-free paint. Conventional paints can off gas for years after the paint has dried and they contain toxic volatile substances that are known carcinogens. Look into other options to decorate the nursery that doesn’t require painting such as wall decals.
  2. Choose a solid wood crib with non toxic finish. If you do purchase or accept a second-hand crib, make sure to ask about the finish and avoid composite wood. Remember that in a few months, your baby is going to be chomping on the crib while they teeth.
  3. Avoid carpet in the nursery. Hard wood flooring with a carpet that is washable is much better.
  4. Purchase an organic/Greenguard certified mattress. Yes, it is more expensive but so are hospital bills and a lifetime of neurological and behavioural problems. Conventional mattresses contain flame retardants, anti microbial and water proofing finishes. These are all substances that are detrimental to a developing brain and respiratory system.
  5. If you must purchase a changing pad, make sure if it does not contain foam or PVC material. Wool and cotton filled pads will do the job. Foam changing pads are most likely loaded with flame retardants.
  6. Beware of phthalates, BPA, PVC, lead and cadmium in toys, diaper bags and teething products. Wooden teethers and PVC free teethers are available. Be cautious of old toys passed down since the paint finish may be questionable and it may be loaded with lead.
  7. Purchase organic baby care products or better yet make your own. If the product does not say certified organic, then it most likely isn’t. Beware of companies trying to green wash their toxic products by calling it natural. Read labels to check ingredients or visit the EWG website to see if the product you are using is safe.
  8. Opt for chlorine free diapers or better yet purchase cloth diapers and use reuseable cloth wipes.
  9. Ask yourself if it is absolutely necessary to purchase all this furniture and toys for your new-born.

Tips for a Chemical free summer (part 2)

I would hope that after reading my first blog, some of you would have rushed out to replace your Hawaiian Tropic sunscreen with something that is a little bit better for your health.

Pesticides are a significant source of toxicity. People are exposed to pesticides via food and the environment in particular lawn care. While research is usually focused on massive pesticide exposure, low dose long-term pesticide exposure is difficult to capture. Not to mention the fact that pesticide residue has been linked to everything from hypospadias to decreased intelligence, learning and memory in children. Children are particularly vulnerable because of their immature organs, rapidly dividing and migrating cells, higher metabolic rate and smaller size.

Ways to decrease pesticide exposure.

1. Eat locally and organically. Summer is the perfect season to do this. Farmer’s markets are filled with everything from organic produce to baked goods and plants. Summer is also a good time to  plant an organic garden and decrease your grocery bill while nourishing your body.

2. Avoid the herbicide atrazine. According to Health Canada, atrazine is used extensively in Canada as weed control for corn and rapeseed. It is also used on lawns, sugarcane fields and golf courses. According to healthy child healthy world, atrazine is an endocrine disruptor that has been linked to cancer, miscarriages, developmental and birth defects, miscarriages, weakened immune system, reproductive abnormalities and sexual changes. Visit the Health Canada site for ways to maintain a beautiful lawn without nasty pesticides.

3. Remove your shoes when you come in from outdoors. People who know me are aware that this is a big issue with me. There is a lot of environmental residue that gets attached to the bottom of our shoes. It is important to have a no shoes in the house policy for guests and family members.

4. Invest in a water filtration system that will get rid of organic pollutants. Atrazine has  shown up in drinking water. Water can be a significant source of environmental contamination and toxicity.

5. Keep your floors clean by vacuuming and moping regularly. This is especially important if you have small children that are crawling.

6. Petition the government in your city to make sure parks and areas that children play at is free of harmful pesticides and chemicals.

7. Make your own bug repellent by using essential oils instead of DEET and permethrin. Oil of lemon eucalyptus has been shown to be just as effective as DEET. DEET has been shown to be a neurotoxin. Just remember that you have to reapply often with essential oils. Avoid scented products and cover up when outdoors. Wellnessmama is a wonderful website with information on how to make your own natural insect repellent that works.

What are you doing to decrease your exposure to environmental toxins?

Tips for a Chemical Free Summer (part 1)

With the days getting longer and the nights shorter, summer has finally arrived here in the Pacific Northwest. We have been enjoying wonderful weather consistently for the past 3 weeks here in Vancouver and with that I am now declaring summer here.

Summer activities such as barbecues, picnics, water parks, camping or just plain lazing in the sun is just around the corner. However with all this merriment and enjoyment, our exposure to environmental contaminants is likely to increase. From sunscreens to lawn care, summertime is prime time for increase exposure to chemicals that may have an adverse effect on our health and that of our children. This blog will focus exclusively on sunscreens since there is so much information to be covered.

According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), melanoma (the most deadliest skin cancer) rates are on the increase and sunscreen alone cannot reverse this trend. The rate of melanoma has steadily increased in the past 35 years despite approximately 60% of adults claiming to apply sunscreen while out in the sun. While most sunscreens offer protection against sunburns, they are not effective at preventing DNA damage from exposure to UV rays. 

Sunscreens are made of either physical or chemical barriers. Chemical barriers contain ingredients such as Oxybenzone and octyl methoxycinnamate, are readily absorbed by the body and have been known to cause allergic skin reactions and disrupt hormones. Not something you want for your children or yourself for that matter if you are pregnant or trying to get pregnant. Physical barriers have mineral ingredients such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. They tend to contain nano particles which make the product non whitish when applied to the skin.

Tips for decreasing toxic exposure while in the sun.

1.  As mentioned above, choose physical barrier sunscreen instead of a chemical barrier. Avoid spray sunscreens because they contain nano particles that are not safe when inhaled and they get applied to the skin too unevenly.

2. Don’t be fooled by a higher SPF. Anything higher than SPF 50 does not offer additional protection and may actually make you stay in the sun longer and not re apply as often.

3. According to the healthy child healthy world website, it is best to avoid the sun between the hours of 10 am and 3 pm when it is the strongest. For children, wear breathable clothing that covers their hands and legs, put on a sun hat and stay in the shade. Of course adults can follow this recommendation. There are several companies such as Hanna Andersson who sell SPF clothing and sun hats. Sunscreen is not recommended for children younger than 6 months. I am aware that there are now new recommendations that say it’s ok but I say better safe than sorry. There isn’t any research looking at the link between toxicity in infants and sunscreen use.

4. Avoid any sunscreen with Vitamin A (i.e retinyl palmitate or retinol). While Vitamin A and it’s derivatives have been used for anti aging, research has shown it to accelerate the development of skin tumors and lesions on sun exposed skin

5.  Have your Vitamin D level checked by your health care provider. Higher levels of Vitamin D has been linked to a decrease rate of melanoma.

6.  Increase consumption of foods such as tomatoes, sweet potatoes, flax seeds, green tea, spinach, pomegranate, almonds, dark chocolate, broccoli, celery, apples, cherries. You get the point; a plant rich diet is chuck full of antioxidants that help reverse and at times prevent the DNA damage that occurs with UV exposure. Diet can offer significant protection in the fight against skin cancer.

7.  The University of  Maryland Medical Centre recommends herbs such as milk thistle, ginger, turmeric, billberry, ginkgo and hawthorn for their skin protecting abilities. Please consult a trained/licensed practitioner to prevent adverse reactions if you decide to take herbs.

8. Visit the EWG website to see if your sunscreen is safe. The database has over 1000 different products that can be looked up. While you are at it, don’t stop at your sunscreen, check out other personal care products that you use on a daily basis and see if they are affecting your health negatively.

What are your favourite healthy sunscreens?