Imagine a Canada where people and health were a priority.

You could walk into any store and buy a product and not worry if it was toxic. The government would refuse to approve a product for sale until they knew it wouldn’t harm you or the environment.

If that sounds like your kind of Canada, you’d get along well with Adria Vasil. Adria is an environmental columnist at Toronto’s NOW Magazine. Every week since 2004 she’s told her readers how to protect their health by avoiding toxic chemicals in consumer products. She also writes about environmental news, including Ecojustice’s work to reduce your exposure to toxic chemicals.

Like you, she’s disappointed in a system that puts your interests second to those in the chemical industry.

Adria and I spoke over the phone in June. I asked her why she’s obsessed with people and health and the impacts of the everyday products we use.

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Adria: I’m Adria Vasil and I write the Ecoholic column at NOW Magazine.

Pierre: What is the Ecoholic column about?

Adria: The Ecoholic column started as a green advice column, sort of like a green Dear Abbey. Every week readers would write in with questions. They could range from question about greening your food choices, footwear, finances – literally everything in between. It started off as an outlet for me because I was an environmental news writer and always just pointing out the negative. And it was kind of nice to offer up some practical solutions on the side.

But it’s changed formats over the years. And now, as of last year, we expanded Ecoholic so that it’s not just the old style Q&A. We’ve got a product guide every week where I review five products, out of five, giving them a score on sustainability and ethics. You might also find on the page environmental news briefs, greenwash of the week or [the] great green find of the week.

Pierre: How did you get your start focusing on toxics?

Adria: From a young age, my mid-teens, I’ve been obsessed with the impact of our everyday products. It’s a bit of an obsession for me. And so when I decided to go back to school to be a journalist I wanted to focus on writing about the issues that matter to me.

At first I was writing a mix of environmental news stories, corporate sustainability or corporate irresponsibility stories and a lot of it was about how companies are harming the environment. But it became clear to me that those products weren’t just harming fish, rivers, air, etc. They were also ending up in our bodies and creating internal pollution.

Pierre: What do you hear from people who read your column?

Adria: Initially there was a lot of shock and surprise. And then it switched to anger. And now Canadians, a lot of my readers, are very much engaged in this issue in terms of taking that anger [and that] feeling of disappointment in the system that’s allowing these chemicals to be out there. And I feel like people are getting so much more engaged and actually going to the brands that make these products and demanding cleaner products, which is awesome to see.

I mean that’s why you have the big brands, the retailers – Walmart, Target, as well as Proctor and Gamble, the Johnson & Johnson’s coming out and saying, ‘You know what, our consumers are telling us that they are unhappy. They want us to get a grip on toxins and so we’re doing it.’ And that really is because people are engaged and people are speaking their minds on this issue and it matters to them.

Because I think it is the most intimate environmental issue. It’s the most intimate form of pollution and it’s the one that people can connect to the most in a way.

Pierre: What sort of vision would you have for Canada?

Adria: If we’re talking about toxins specifically today then we’d have a system where it wouldn’t be so reactionary. We wouldn’t be letting chemicals on the market and then waiting 30 years to find out whether they’re causing problems in humans.

We’d be demanding that companies demonstrate that an ingredient is safe and free of carcinogenic and hormone-disrupting impacts and other long-term subtle impacts that can take a while to detect. They’re free of those before they are allowed to get on the market so that Canadians can literally just go to the store and buy any random product and not have to think about it. Not have to look up Ecoholic. Not have to pick up one of my books and scan through it trying to figure out: Is that product really safe? Is that ingredient OK? Is that one of the bad ingredients, one of the good ingredients? To me it should not have to fall on the consumers.

That’s what it would look like on the toxins front. We just put the onus on companies to prove — and these chemical companies in particular — to prove that the ingredients are safe before they go to market.

Pierre: How did you learn about Ecojustice?

Adria: You guys are always doing such great work. It was just in my research looking for good environmental news stories and examples of Canadian environmental organizations taking action to protect the environment. Your name just kept popping up again and again affiliated with various eco organizations. And so it made sense for me to sit up and pay more attention to what you’re doing. Because, obviously, you’ve got a lot of really important work on the go.

Pierre: I want to extend a special thank you to Adria Vasil. To learn more about Adria’s work, visit her weekly column in NOW Magazine.

Thanks again and we’ll see you next time.