After I had my first son, I started to focus on toxins and their impact on our health. Once I started researching, I couldn’t stop. At first, I was horrified and overwhelmed at how many environmental toxins sneak their way into our daily lives. Over the years, I have made small adjustments to reduce my family’s toxic exposure, and I believe it has made a big difference. It is even more crucial for those of us suffering from Chronic Lyme and other chronic illnesses, so I wanted to bring an expert on the Heal Podcast to share her experience and advice with you.
Rachel Lincoln Sarnoff is an environmental consultant and founder of Mommy Greenest. In this podcast, she shares healthier parenting advice because you shouldn’t have to be a scientist to raise healthy kids.
With all of this in mind, you should not feel overwhelmed or scared, be excited that you can start to make small changes that will have a significant impact on your health. It’s all about creating healthier daily living habits one step at a time. Check out EWG as a resource to determine the toxicity of certain products and food.
Rachel, thank you so much for coming on today. I really appreciate it.
Thank you. It’s great to be here. Great to talk with you again.
I would love for you to first dive in and just talk to us about your interest in environmental toxins and pollution and how that came to be.
Yeah, it’s interesting. I trace it back to, well, a couple of milestones, one, I grew up in kind of like a hippie house in the canyons in Beverly Glen Canyon in Los Angeles and we have a big garden. We grew a lot of our own food. My dad taught me to thank the plants every time we like cut something, you know, so we had, it was a very like that kind of experience really fueled who I became as a young journalist. And so I went to work initially for Fairchild Publications, which was a partner with Conde Nast and I was working for a beauty and fashion magazine. And I always tried to push those, like those emerging green beauty brands, you know, and this was kind of before, that was really a trend because I am that old. But yeah, so, you know, that was really like the beginning of it all. And then when I had my second baby, you know, I made a little bit of a career shift. I started doing PR and I was nine months pregnant with my third and I was invited to come and meet with the director of an organization called Healthy Child Healthy world, which I know you’re totally familiar with. And so I kind of waddled into the office of Christopher Gavagan, who is the director at the time. And, you know, because I had this background, I had eaten organic. I was using organic lotion on my bump and, you know, all these things I thought, like I knew pretty much everything there was to know. And we started talking about paint and cleaning products and carpet and off gassing and VOC. And I just like, my mind was completely blown. And when I realized is that what I knew was just this tiny piece of the puzzle and that if I, from my background growing up with that kind of focus on organic and natural knew only that much, then most mothers probably didn’t know as much as I did. And so all of us had a big, big learning curve in terms of understanding how to create these healthier worlds for our children. That’s kind of the longer answer to a very short question, sorry.
No, no, it’s perfect. I mean, I’m glad you brought up the Healthy Child Healthy World because I don’t even know how long ago that video was, but I remember watching that amazing video about like, it was kind of like a cartoon and you were talking about like the toxins and I think it was, I don’t know, maybe 10, 15 years ago it had to be at this point. And I remember watching it and being like, and I was already kind of aware of what was going on and had already started taking everything out. And I kind of started doing that like 20 years ago when my son was born, but I started really diving into it and learning about Healthy Child Healthy World. And seeing that video, I was like, Oh my gosh, like, this is amazing. So can you just talk about healthy child healthy world and like you’re right.
Yeah, absolutely. So I know exactly how old that video is because as I mentioned, I was pregnant with my third child. Who’s now 14. So that was that many years ago. Right. So when I first met Christopher, so Christopher Gavigan was I think the second executive director of healthy child healthy world, which was founded by a couple, the Chuda’s Jim and Nancy Chuda who had tragically lost their daughter Colette to cancer. That was, there was a correlation between a pesticide that they, that their home had been fumigated with a pesticide while she was pregnant, that was correlated to the type of cancer that she got. And she died when she was five. So, you know, I was a mother of, at that point an eight year old, a five year old, and then I was pregnant with my baby. And that story as with all of us mothers, especially, you know, hits really, really hard, Christopher had taken over and was really bringing the organizations and national prominence. They had a lot of, they had done some amazing work with Mount Sinai in New York on passing legislation that actually President Clinton signed to protect children’s health, but Christopher was taking it kind of into an even bigger facing direction. And he published the healthy child healthy world book, which was incredible. And then that video came out and I came on to help them do PR and marketing and communications. And really that was kind of my lane and then started mommy greenest, which is my blog, which is still up today. I started a site called eco stiletto, which was fashion and beauty for women. And also there was a parenting component, but really these were like the early days of understanding, you know, natural toxics reduction. And also just like the early days of kind of building lists and growing websites and, you know, engaging people that way, you know, like I had my, I think my launch party for eco stiletto was, you know, like 200 people that, that was like an unheard of thing that people would find out about something online. You know, this was like 2009, I think. So I ended up leaving for a little while and then I came back as executive director of healthy child, which was such an incredible privilege. And part of what I had to do is, was obviously was speak on behalf of the organization. And usually what I would do is I would speak and then I would share that video and I kid you, not every single time I did that, I would burst into tears. Like it is impossible not to share that story and not cry, but I think that there’s been a huge amount of raised awareness. There hasn’t been a huge amount of the people that are making toxic chemicals and putting them into this world are still making those toxic chemicals. They haven’t moved away. However, I think there’s a growing market awareness. We, as consumers are more informed now we, as mothers are sure more fired up now, and there’s a lot more choice. So we can choose products that are healthier for our families, which, you know, didn’t necessarily exist 21 years ago when I was having my first baby.
My teenage daughter last night came to me and she said, mom, I don’t know if this is the right number. But she said, I just read somewhere that one in three people in the United States are going to have cancer. And she’s like, but we’re supposed to be the premier country in the world. Like, how is that possible? And I say, well, this is what I’ve been telling you about. It’s like the toxic chemicals that are surrounding us all day long. So can you talk to us about where you would find those chemicals? Like where people, you know, obviously there’s like the obvious ones, but where do people not even think about to find them?
Yeah. And also before we go into that, I think, you know, it’s really important to understand the context of those types of statistics, right? So yes, toxic chemicals are a huge factor, but they are disproportionately a huge factor for communities of color, because it’s not just that we are using these products in our home, it’s the production of these products. And those plants are typically situated in those communities. And so there’s a disproportionate effect there on the kind of production end and then on the consumer end, obviously, and also it’s not just our rate of cancer. All of our health rates are horrible because of our house system. So that, you know, that’s also the context that I think we need to to think about. But where do you toxic chemicals come into our world? So everywhere. I mean, that’s the short answer, right? I think that the more and more aware that we get, the more scary it is to live in this world. And so I battled between, you know, like oversharing with my family and friends and being really cognizant of the fact that there are still good things happening that we are still, like, there is a lot of movement towards cleaning up a lot of these problems. We are getting some of these chemicals banned. It’s a bit of a whack-a-mole, but we are moving. I hope towards a place where companies are being more responsible with what they’re manufacturing and putting into this world. Again, I went down a total rabbit hole.
Like I tell people, I guess there’s things that you can when you’re making decisions like, like painting, right? Like you were talking about low VOC or like No VOC. Right? So it’s like, there’s choices like that. Like we could pick out paint or you would never think like, the reason why you pick organic pajamas is it doesn’t have flame retardants on the pajamas for your children. Like you might think people are just like, Oh, why are they picking organic? It’s because those are chemicals on this pajamas or there’s chemicals on your mattress or your pillow. And so it’s everywhere, right? It’s not just your, what you’re spraying outside, it’s inside your house too.
So, I mean, I think a couple of things, see, it’s interesting. I was talking to a mom blogger today and she has a young child and she’s new to the space. And she was like super fired up about a study that just came out, which showed that if you eat USDA certified organic for seven days, that you basically can flush, you know, 90 something percent of the pesticides out of your system, this is true. However, this study has been done again and again, and again, and again, it’s like a new study every five years, but it’s the same outcome. Yes. This is true. The fact that it’s news every time is like, that’s the part that throws me, like, how is it that all produce is not organic at this point? Like, that’s really how it used to be, right? It used to be all organic produce. You didn’t have a sticker on it. It just wasn’t grown with toxic chemicals. But in terms of like the short answer of things that you can do, eating organic, especially for meat and milk products is really, really critical. EWG has great guides on the highest levels of produce that are, you know, most contaminated to least contaminated. Some of the rules of thumb are like anything that you could peel is typically going to be, if it’s not USDA certified organic, that’s conventional like an Apple versus an orange, you can peel off the skin of an orange. So typically the orange is going to have less pesticide load. Those kinds of things in our homes, opening our windows, something people don’t actually about that often. But you know, most of our homes are super tight, right? So our we’re trying to be energy conservation is right. So with them, we’re trying to lower energy bills, frankly. So we make these very, very super airtight homes. But what that means is if you have any chemicals in the paint, in the floor, in the things that you’re cleaning your house with, you’re trapping those in your home and you’re inhaling them. So keep your windows open, you know, do like a flush out a couple of times a day, at least. And then what we’re cleaning our homes with this really important. Oh, and this is one of my favorites. Most of the world does this. We don’t for some weird reason, take off your shoes. When you come into a house, reduce the amount of led pesticides you’re tracking inside, especially for homes with have had little babies that are crawling on the floor. It’s like super easy, no brainer. And it makes a huge amount of difference.
No, it’s true. And also airing out. I was always thinking like, you know that new car smell, like that’s really bad for you, right? Like just open as much as you can open your windows and let that smell get out.
That’s vinyl, literally that’s a VOC. That’s what you’re smelling that new car smell is like not good. Absolutely. Roll down your windows.
Yeah. Or like the other thing is like your dry cleaning, like take the bag outside and hanging outside is what I’ve been told. I do things like that as well.
I don’t even take a bag. I mean, I rarely dry clean, but when I do, I ask them to take it off and I don’t bring it into my car even. I just hang this stuff up.
You know what gets me mad at you were mentioning something that fires you up for me. It’s like companies that I know, especially like for beauty, I know this for a fact for beauty, the same company makes a lipstick in Europe, but they reformulate it in the United States just because they can save money. They know how to already formulate it cleaner. They just choose not to. And that’s what fires me. Like these companies know that they’re making a product that’s not as superior as what they’re offering other places in the world because they know they can get away with it. And I think until we, as consumers realize that that’s happening, we have to wake up and keep pushing these companies to do better.
Oh totally. Yeah. Read your labels. You know, I think, and it’s not even a question of like the same company, manufacturing, something in Europe and manufacturing it here. It’s actually they’re manufactured in the same plant. They just use different formulations for where their target market is. So it’s even like, so nail polish, funny people don’t really know this, but usually the actual physical plants that are manufacturing, it were very small number. And then they just subcontract out to all the different brands who stick their little label on it. And then it’s like basically the same thing, but they would, they would manufacture in the same plant in California, one for export in Europe and one for here, because Europe was really early to ban specific toxins that are in Polish longer conversation. Polish is not great for you in any form. Right. But you know, we all do it sometimes. Right? I think that’s a big thing too, is like everything, grain of salt, right? We can’t start thinking about the world as a terrifying place because then we will never go out into it and make it better. Right. We have to think of the things that we can control and manage those things that we can control and accept that this is our world right now. And we can do what we can do. And that’s really all we can do. Right. I think, I think it gets too scary otherwise,
But I feel like now it’s so much better than it was 10 years ago. It is for someone who has like a health issues or chronic illnesses. And it’s up to them like to get better. This is an area that you definitely have to take serious. I really believe that because being ill, it means like your pot is overflowing at this point, and it’s not just the toxins. It’s like what you’re eating. And it’s also, you know, the parasites and the mold and everything that’s kind of added on. And so the more you can take away and get that pot simmered down, you’re going to get better. So they need to do that. Do you know why, like what these chemicals are doing? Like the different things that they can cause like the chemicals are causing for health. And sometimes it’s just even a little bit like, it can just be a little drop that causes, like you said, Colette, I think you said, you know, that was one or a couple of times that she got exposed to that and it caused her to get cancer later on in life. So it’s not like an ongoing, like every day. It can just be even a little bit.
Yeah. And just to qualify that story, you know, and that’s really the challenge. I mean, you talk to researchers, right? Is that their family was not exposed to pesticides. It’s not a cause and effect, right. You can’t make that link. You can say the type of cancer that she got, had a link to this type of chemical and that’s a problem. And honestly, it really speaks to what you were just saying about small levels because those chemicals are tested for toxicity in a vacuum. And yet we are exposed to all of them simultaneously. So the best example of that are endocrine disruptors. So Thalates right. You hear a lot about Thalates BPA, right? BPA is a thalate. So, you know, these things, thalates work on your endocrine system. And basically your endocrine system is what regulates everything in your body. And so this is especially important for those of us who are raising young people because that’s how they grow up. So you start looking at things like why are girls getting their periods so much earlier? Why is all this development happening so much faster than it used to? Well, maybe we can start looking at some of the chemicals that we’re putting into their world, which include endocrine disruptors. Now the challenge with endocrine disruptors like phthalates is that you will find them everywhere. They are in plastic. They are in fragrances, you know, they’re like in everything. So in those ways, like how can we control for that? Well, we can use less plastic. When we use plastic, we can like, absolutely don’t heat it. Don’t put it in the microwave because any time you have plastic that you heat, the plastic is not stable. So it’s basically letting different chemicals out of it’s out of its stability, right? Every time it’s softer, don’t heat. It cans. If you’re eating canned food, look for cans that are BPA free. When you are shopping. I never take receipts because the receipts are coded with basically endocrine disruptors. Right. So, and they have shown studies where you like put a receipt in someone’s hand and you test their blood and it’s literally shows up like within seconds. So, you know, just say no to a receipt. If you have to take your receipt, wash your hands, right afterwards, hand washing. I think we are only beginning to understand the importance of washing right now and in COVID times. But yeah, you know, there’s, there are absolutely ways that we can control our world in a way that we reduce those exposures. And it is absolutely important and especially important for the community that we’re talking about to make sure that we are constantly updating on where those exposures come from and what we can do about it.
Right. So you mentioned before the environmental working group, which I love, they have the, is it called the living app now, or it used to be called a different name and now they re named the app, the skin deep app skin-deep yeah. I thought they re-named to something else. Yeah. So that is a free app for people who have not downloaded it, cause it, it rates every product pretty much. And so it’s a great tool to use as you’re shopping. Is there anything else that you would recommend for resource, for people to find either books or maybe it’s your newsletter or blog, any other places that they can kind of go and get some good tips and places to find information?
Yeah, so I think EWG is a huge, huge, it’s like my library of information, honestly, every time I, and it goes way beyond the app. I think they’re best known for skin deep because that was the website that allowed beauty companies to be ranked and, and basically exposed if they had certain toxic chemicals in them. And because the beauty industry was one of the earliest to kind of adopt natural and green and healthy as like marketing phrases that really had no basis in facts at all. Skin deep was a huge resource, but also they are a great resource to find out what’s in your water and you can search by zip code and find that out. They do the dirty dozen list every year where they analyze all the data, showing you what fruits and vegetables are the most contaminated this year, what’s your safest, dirty dozen and the clean 15, you know, not to be like a EWG promoter, but, you know, and I don’t, and I don’t work for them, although I have, but it is really kind of a one stop shop for me in terms of getting that knowledge and really trusting the source. I think also, you know, there’s also this idea of voting with your wallet, right? Which is, you know, we know that there are products that are better for us out there. We know that they’re safer. We know if we’re doing our research, that there are those that are better for the environment and the way that they’re made and better for workers in the way that they’re made to. So those qualifiers are all part of what we can look at when we’re choosing what to buy. And then I think there’s like a layer on top of that, which is that there’s also, and this may be like a little too political, but you can also look at where those companies are spending their lobbying dollars and find out what they’re donating to. There’s a great app, which I wrote down called Goods. I don’t know if you’ve seen the Goods app, but you can search a brand and find out like where they’re donating. And for me, you know, there’s certain parties and campaigns that I am more apt to want to support through supporting those brands. So that’s another layer that I add on to it.
And so that kind of talks to my last question for you. Is there anything we can do as consumers, voters, parents to help build awareness to these growing issues, and o the toxic world that we’re living in? It’s trying to make it to hold people accountable, right?
Yeah. So I think we have to vote. Like I know it sounds trite and small, like, you know, we hear it everywhere and everywhere, but I really think that for me change happens when individuals are motivated and we pressure corporations to do the right thing. And then we elect politicians that also pressure corporations and that way we kind of triangulate and move forward. So I think it’s really important for all of us to look at the party platforms and also those individual races that are in your, you know, in your state, in your community. Like it can go down to a fairly, even in terms of your like community engagement, like who’s representing you in your neighborhood, you know, what is that platform? What do people believe? Because really what happens is we feel like those decisions are made so far from us, but it all comes from our environment, our small communities, we are making those decisions. We’re moving them up the ladder, but they like come from us. So I think that’s really the most important thing we can do right now. There’s a great project called the environmental voter project, EVP, which is totally nonpartisan, has, you know, no party affiliation at all. All it does is simply motivate people to vote based on their already indicated desire for a healthier environment and that they do a lot of voter registration and that can be applicable everywhere. That’s a great, a great thing to take a look at.
It’s true. And I also say like, like you said before, voting with your dollars, because the more people demand like organic food. Now you see it’s in Costco, it’s in Walmart because people are demanding it. Right. And then the other thing I learned from working with Beautycounter is it doesn’t take a lot of phone calls to call your Congressman or Senator for them to actually flag it. I mean, really, I think it’s like under a hundred, like it’s not that many, I don’t know how many you would know exactly, but it doesn’t take many to text or call and just say, Hey, I’m behind this. Or why have you not dealt with this? Or because they kind of have, then after that many people, they put it on their radar and they kind of start looking into it.
Definitely. And for those who are interested in, I mean, we didn’t dive in this conversation really deep into plastic, but for me, you know, my years of working on toxic chemicals in human health, at a certain point, I started realizing that the delivery mechanism for most of these chemicals into our bodies and our world is plastic. Like plastic is the way that we’re basically bringing things into our lives. And so it became really important for me to work on plastic, which you know, is a lot of like my Ted talks, both of them are on plastic pollution and how to reduce that. There’s a lot of mommy greenest about plastic in the last five years, but there’s a great project called the break free from plastic. It’s like a collective and you can sign up for updates there as an individual. And that, you know, that’s the core of a lot of these problems. So we work on that. We can work and solve a lot of these environmental toxins problems as well. Because again, it goes back to where, where are those chemicals being made? So they’re being made from oil, they’re being made from petrochemicals. So like we have drilling, then we have petrochemical chemical production and then it becomes chemicals. It becomes plastic, it becomes all these things, but it all is coming from the same place. So if we start working on basically that we solve a lot of the problems downstream. So that is another resource I would, I would recommend for people who are interested to get involved there. And in California, we just had the sad news that, uh, the plastic pollution reduction act, which we’d gotten really, really far failed this week. But with that said, yes, legislators do respond. They respond to tweets, they respond to, you know, Facebook comments. They respond to a lot of things. And those types of direct engagement opportunities like calling it’s really, really impactful. So I think we can all get involved there more, hopefully. Right?
So this has been amazing and I don’t want to overwhelm the listeners, especially a lot of them are really ill, but I think it’s really important to just kind of slowly as you like get through, you know, your toothpaste, go look for an organic toothpaste or as you get through your ketchup, go buy an organic catch-up. It really does make a difference, not having the GMOs and the, the chemicals. And that’s when you get organic, right. It’s kind of, you’re taking out the GMOs that we’re just talking about. Right. Cause they can’t be in there if it’s organic and yeah. And you’re reducing toxic load and it really does make a difference. It’s worth it down the road.
You know, it’s like USDA certified organic is kind of your top line, but non-GMO like most genetically modified fruits and vegetables are modified to withstand higher levels of pesticides. So really what you’re talking about is like a modification to allow for pesticides. So like, you know, non-GMO is a great, most USDA certified organic is already non-GMO. But if you can’t find that, look for non GMO, eat higher on the food chain, the higher we eat. So the lower on the food chain, fruits and vegetables, as opposed to meat.
I always say like, stay around the outside of the grocery store,
You know, it’s for us. But also I think we have to always keep in mind that big picture of where our food is coming from, where our products are coming from and that pesticide load on a tomato that we choose to buy, you know, is high. And obviously not something we want, if we can avoid it, but the person that is getting the most impact of that is that worker who is picking that tomato. That’s the person that’s actually getting them the highest level of that pesticide. So the more I think that we can do to shift as we have, you know, markets so that we are seeing organic being chosen more, you know, EWG comes out with a study that shows that apples are the most contaminated of all fruits. That was, I think, three years ago, all of a sudden you see organic apples everywhere, right? You see people are demanding organic apples, and guess what the price of apples comes down, organic apples comes down until now there’s parody between organic and conventional apples. Well, now that there’s price parody, why would anybody choose a nonorganic apple? You know, like it just doesn’t make sense. So of course this is like, you know, I live in Los Angeles in an area that is not part of a food desert. Like I, this is coming from a place of extreme privilege, right? However, I think we can make that we can push that everywhere. Walmart is a huge seller of organic food. Costco’s a huge seller of organic food, smart and final, you know, organic is growing and it’s growing because we’re demanding it. And I think we need to keep that ball rolling.
And it really matters to people. I, you know, I don’t think people think it does, but it does. So it’s your food, your skin is your largest organ. So just be aware of anything you’re putting on. If you can’t say the word on your food or your bottle of whatever you’re putting in, as far as cleaning your house or putting on your body, don’t use it. Right. If you can’t pronounce it, it’s probably not good for you.
Yeah. I’ve been cleaning with vinegar for like 12 years. And I, I remember growing up and like the smell of clean and my house was like lemon, fresh pledge, right? Like that that’s what smelled or like pine Sol, like those were those fake smells, which are thalates, by the way, you know, those fake smells are what I thought smelled as clean. And my kids have grown up with the smell of vinegar to them that’s what smells clean. So within generation we’ve shifted to a healthier way of cleaning our homes. Cause then my kids take that into their own homes. It’s just habits, right? It’s just these habits. And sometimes we don’t stop to think about our habits because there are habits who thinks about habits. You know, they just are who we are, but once you start looking at it and don’t get too scared, you know, but like really start looking at it, taking control over those pieces that you can control. I think it gets to be a really empowering process and certainly healthier for you and your family. And as we talked about, you know, the environment and the people who are, who are working in those areas to bring food to us.
That’s great. Well, thank you so much for your time, Rachel. I really appreciate it.
Thank you, it’s been really good talking with you.
Yeah. Thank you so much. Each week we will bring you different voices from the wellness community so that they can share how they help their clients heal. You will come away with tips and strategies to help you get your life back. Thank you so much for coming on. And I’m so happy you are here. Subscribe now and tune in next week. You can also join our community at lime three 60 warriors on Facebook and let’s heal together. Thank you.