Indoor and outdoor pollution is a grave environmental concern. Our choice of products affects the air, water, soil, flora and fauna. The impact of living with a cocktail of chemicals found in household air and dust is now scientifically proven to be harmful to your health. Those at greater risk from chemical exposures include: the foetus, babies, children, women, the elderly, workers in a high-risk occupation, the poor, and people with chronic existing illnesses including allergies, asthma, and Multiple Chemical Sensitivity. Chemical exposures and their resulting symptoms can elude doctors because of exposure to many chemicals − people can even have different reactions to the same chemical(s).

We can all benefit from using products with zero to fewer toxic chemicals. We have complete individual control over what we purchase for our homes and families to eat, clean with, walk and sit on, or apply onto hair or skin. It makes good sense to opt for the safest products for indoor environments − especially our homes! People with environmental or chemical sensitivities, allergies, asthma, dermatitis and migraines must find non- or least toxic products in order to maintain good health.

Is indoor air quality a concern for you?

We spend 90% of our time indoors. The USA Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that indoor air can be 10 times or more polluted than outdoor air. Long-term exposures to chemicals may cause a variety of health risks. Some people are more sensitive to commonly encountered chemicals and continued exposure can lead to disability. These include people who suffer from chemical sensitivities.

Define “chemical sensitivity”:

Over one million Canadians have been diagnosed with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS), a recognized disability under the Canadian Human Rights Act. The number of diagnosed cases has been increasing (Statistics Canada, 2015-2016, 2020), with up to 72% – 75% being women and close to 50% being seniors (Statistics Canada, 2016, 2020). Despite these facts, it is likely that many people have never heard about this medical condition.

MCS is a chronic condition, which is initiated or started following exposures to substances commonly used in our living spaces. These exposures can be from chemicals contained in products that are used in daily life, such as fragrances, personal care and cleaning products, renovation and construction materials, pesticides, solvents, and even biological contaminants such as mould.

Exposures that can initiate/start MCS can be one or more large exposures, or long term or chronic low-level exposures at home or at the workplace. This results in sensitization of the individual, causing exposure to the substance, to result in symptoms. Removal of these exposures from the environment of the individual will result in the person being symptom-free. However, if this is not done, constant exposures can provoke an increased number of symptoms in many body systems and can also cause the individual to have stronger reactions/symptoms to lower doses of exposure and an increased number of unrelated chemicals.

People experiencing MCS have a higher percentage of other chronic conditions when compared to the general population.

Prevention of developing MCS begins with the use of healthy safe alternatives for daily living, for all applications. In order to be successful, it is important to know how to navigate through the maze of healthy product selection.

Natural ≠ Safe

Don’t be fooled by pretty logos or slogans. There are no legal definitions for words such as “natural”, “fresh”, “green”, or “botanical”. Read labels carefully to identify all ingredients in a product. Organic products must be certified and make sure the ingredients mention organic.

Read labels

Always read labels to find key ingredients in a product and evaluate their hazards. The first ingredient makes up the greatest amount in the product and the last ingredient, the least. Not all ingredients are listed. Components that are harmful to health may not be listed at all (e.g. manufacturing by-products of toxins present in personal care products). There are easy-to-find alternative products, but you need to read the labels and stay informed.

Avoid parabens, which are derived from petroleum. They are used in personal care products and have endocrine-disrupting properties. A chemical name in the paraben family is usually preceded by the prefixes methyl-, ethyl-, butyl- or propyl-. Look for these in the list of ingredients.

Endocrine disruptors

Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that either mimic or block hormones and disrupt the body’s normal functions when absorbed into the body. They have been linked to developmental, reproductive, neurological and immune problems in both humans and wildlife. Altering normal hormone levels, halting or stimulating the production of hormones, or changing the way hormones travel through the body affects the functions that these hormones control. Known human endocrine disruptors are: dioxin, PCBs’, DDT and other pesticides, and plasticizers such as bisphenol A (BPA) and its supposed “safer” alternatives, bisphenol S (BPS), bisphenol B (BPB), bisphenol F (BPF), currently used as “BPA-free” products (sources: S. Eladak, T. Grisin, D. Moison, M.-J. Guerquin, T. N’Tumba-Byn, S. Pozzi-Gaudin, A. Benachi, G. Livera, V. Rouiller-Fabre, R. Habert. (2015). “A new chapter in the bisphenol A story: bisphenol S and bisphenol F are not safe alternatives to this compound”. Fertility and Sterility, 103 (1), pp. 11-21 ; Min Kyong Moon (2019). “Concern about the Safety of Bisphenol A Substitutes“. Diabetes and Metabolism Journal, 43(1), pp. 46-48 ; Ullah, A., Pirzada, M., Afsar, T. et al. (2019). “Effect of bisphenol F, an analog of bisphenol A, on the reproductive functions of male rats”. Environment Health and Preventive Medicine, 24(41)).

How chemicals enter the body

The 3 main routes of exposures are the skin, lungs and mouth. Chemicals are absorbed, circulated and added to the total level of toxic chemicals in our bodies.

Skin – The skin is the largest organ of the body and can absorb chemicals in personal care and household cleaning products. Chemicals may come into frequent contact with the skin and some can cause irritation from contact.

Lungs – When we breathe, delicate lung tissue can be exposed to chemicals that enter the blood stream and are distributed without passing through the detoxification process of the liver. These chemicals can cause damage throughout the body and can injure lung tissue. The use of “aerosols” is a concern because the expelled particles are very small.

Mouth – Toxic chemicals that enter the mouth are absorbed through the gastrointestinal tract. These include chemicals on food, such as pesticides or in products we eat and drink, and from substances applied on or near the mouth, such as lipstick. Frequent hand to mouth activity makes children most vulnerable to ingesting toxic residues on floors, furniture, objects, etc.

Tips to improve indoor air quality

  • Never allow smoking indoors;
  • Avoid scented products. “Fragrances” may contain phthalates, which are endocrine disruptors and may cause obesity, reproductive and developmental harm. Choose products that don’t contain “perfume”, “parfum” or “fragrance” on the list of ingredients;
  • Keep the house well-ventilated, leaving windows open in summer;
  • Install air purifiers/air exchangers equipped with a HEPA filter to remove pollutants. Make sure to clean filters regularly!
  • Some household plants are natural air purifiers such as: spider plants, dracaenas, philodendra, common ivy, aloe vera, and rubber plants. Wipe with a damp cloth periodically to keep them filtering efficiently. Make sure there is no mould growth on the soil. If there is, remove the top soil and replace with fresh potting earth;
  • Choose renovations and construction material with low VOCs and that are the least toxic.

Mould

A Pervasive Issue

Half of all buildings have water damage, and one-fourth of the population have genes that can’t make antibodies to mycotoxins released by mould spores. In addition, mould is a severe contributor to indoor air pollution. It can grow inside walls, behind cabinets and under sinks for a long time before you even know it is there.

There are hundreds of species of moulds, some of which are toxic or allergy producing. The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) advises that no one should tolerate living with a source of mould in their home. Mould produces spores, which float in the air and settle in the dust in your home. Mould spores are often toxic and may cause a range of health problems including respiratory illness.

Symptoms of a Mould Issue

  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath, sneezing
  • Tachycardia, palpitations
  • Rashes, itchy eyes, headaches, migraines, histamine type reactions
  • Gut issues (diarrhea, constipation, heart burn, abdominal pain)
  • Weight gain/loss
  • Brain fog, poor concentration, word figuring issues and cognitive issues
  • Ice-pick stabbing pain in head and other body parts
  • Immune dysfunction (constant infections, chronic illness)

Mould grows in humidity levels above 70%. Here are some tips to detect and prevent mould:

  • Control humidity by using a hygrometer (available at your local hardware store) to measure humidity levels. Humidity should be between 30 and 55 degrees, closer to 30 in the winter. Remember that a reading in the middle of the room may be lower than one taken near a window or behind furniture;
  • Increase ventilation or use a dehumidifier to get ride of excess humidity, but make sure to clean it regularly to prevent mould growth;
  • Use toxin-free anti-mould paints that prevent mould;
  • Repair leaks and address water infiltration immediately;
  • Make sure the home is draining properly, that gutters and down spouts are draining away from the home, and that the soil is graded away from the home;
  • If you suspect mould in your home, get professional help to investigate, complete testing and resolve the issue in a safe and timely manner.

Other toxins

  • Radon is a serious problem in homes across the country. You can use a test kit to determine if radon is present in your home. Fortunately, the problem is relatively easy to correct and eliminate.
  • Lead paint is found in older homes and is especially harmful to children and pregnant women. If the paint is chipping, or you want to remove lead paint, consider hiring an expert to do it. If you do it yourself, follow carefully specific safety guidelines available here. It is important to note to keep your family out of the house until the clean up is complete and a professional cleaning of the entire house has been done. Remember to seal off your air ducts before work begins and open them only after a through clean up. If there is a leak from your ceiling and your suspect that there could be lead in the paint, consider this a hazard and take precautions.
  • Asbestos is a natural fiber used in household products. It can be found in insulation in older homes, or in vermiculite insulation in attics or roofs. Never disturb asbestos or vermiculite insulation or try to remove it yourself. Call a professional immediately. There is a disagreement among professionals about whether or not it is safe to leave asbestos products undisturbed in homes.
  • Carbon monoxide is poisonous, but exposure can be prevented with good ventilation and proper maintenance of fuel-burning appliances. In addition to having smoke alarms detectors in your home, make sure to have carbon monoxide detectors as well and change batteries regularly. If you have a garage attached to your house, it is a safe practice not to park your car or store chemicals, including pesticides, inside the garage, as fumes and/or chemicals can enter your home.

Detox strategies

Reduce toxic intakeStay informed of the products in your food, beverages, personal care and cleaning products, bedding and clothing, furnishings, and just about anything else you expose yourself to.
Support your body’s natural detox pathwaysEat cruciferous vegetables, sulphur rich foods (such as onions and garlic), selenium rich foods (like Brazil nuts), and fiber.   Use an infrared sauna to sweat out toxins as sweat contains lots of chemicals and heavy metals.   Daily intermittent fasting gives your body a change to break down decaying cells, build new proteins, burn fat and better regulate your immune system. Leave 14 to 16-hour window everyday in which you don’t eat to give your body the chance to detox.

Major Pollutants in the Home

Safe Alternatives

Floors and cupboards

  • Hard surface flooring (tile, hardwood) is preferable. Avoid carpeting, which retains mold and dust. There are now many water-based sealants and oils on the market for hardwood floors;
  • Avoid pressed woods with glue that has formaldehyde in cupboards. Alternative products are available.

Walls

  • Avoid vinyl or vinyl-coated wallpaper;
  • Strip off old papers and use VOC-free paints.

Windows

  • Choose something that can be cleaned easily. Cotton curtains can be laundered frequently; metal blinds are low emission and can block electromagnetic waves;
  • Avoid vinyl and any fabric that needs to be dry cleaned;
  • Check your windows for condensation and mould growth;
  • Increasing ventilation will improve your condensation problem, but mould must be removed at the source.

Furniture

  • Most furniture today is at least partially constructed from particle board or medium density fiberboard (MDF), or manufactured wood products which contain significant amounts of urea formaldehyde glues;
  • Keep this in mind when purchasing furniture and look for real wood or other, healthier alternatives, such as second-hand furniture;
  • For waxing furniture from kitchen cupboards to fine mahogany: mix 1/3 cup lemon juice to 2/3 olive oil. Let the cleaner/polish set overnight and buff in the morning.

Closets

  • Try not to cramp your closets so full that it is difficult for air to circulate. An area with “dead air” is an invitation for mould and mildew to grow. This is especially true if your closet is on an outside wall, as the temperature is likely to be colder and condensation is more likely;
  • Mothballs, deodorizers and other chemical “protectants” for your clothes have no place in your closet. Clean and well-aired clothing will not need deodorizers and is less attractive to moths.

The Bed

  • Standard mattresses contain foam, other synthetic materials and/or flame retardants;
  • Many people are now choosing to buy organic cotton or natural latex mattresses, or organic cotton futons. Organic cotton, silk and wool bedding and pillows are now available to replace synthetic fabrics.

Laundry Methods

  • Standard laundry detergents contain toxic chemicals which end up in the water;
  • Non-toxic brands of laundry detergent are available in health food stores;
  • If you are allergic to dust, your water temperature needs to be between 140- and 160 degrees Fahrenheit to kill dust mites and their particles;
  • Avoid fabric softeners. Vinegar works well in the rinse cycle to remove soap residue and soften fabrics;
  • For static cling, try using a ball of aluminum foil (shiny side out) in your dryer. Do not over-dry your clothes.

Bathroom

  • Anti-chlorine charcoal filters are available for showers;
  • Keep the bathroom well-ventilated and avoid excess humidity;
  • Make sure your tub and shower are sealed properly. Replace worn caulking around the edge of the tub or shower;
  • Most personal care products (shampoos, deodorants, soaps, hair products, perfumes, cosmetics) contain harmful chemicals. More natural products are available at health food stores. You can find safe alternatives to cosmetics at www.safecosmetics.org.

Ventilation

  • Keep your home well-ventilated, keeping doors and windows open in summer, or use a mechanical ventilation system if you live in a tightly-sealed home;
  • Do not allow smoking in your home;
  • Make use of exhaust fans and range hoods.

Computers

  • If you are buying a new computer, choose a company which has stopped using flame retardants, PBDEs are highly toxic chemicals which persist in the dust in your home or office;
  • Be aware that toners and ink emit chemical gases and ensure your office is well ventilated.

General maintenance

  • Frequent dusting and vacuuming of all surfaces are important. Dusting with a slightly damp cloth will keep the dust from flying around for you to breathe. Rinse the dusting cloth frequently in running water to avoid spreading harmful chemicals in the dust;
  • Use baking soda, vinegar, or one of the many non-toxic cleaners on the market to clean your home.

HEALTHY ECOLOGICAL SOLUTIONS: CLEANING

Prevention tips:

  • Keep the house clean – especially the kitchen and bathroom
  • Empty garbage cans everyday
  • Store food in containers with fitting lids
  • Don’t leave overripe fruit on the counter
  • Repair leaks to avoid moisture problems
  • Fill holes and cracks to prevent insects from entering
  • Remove any firewood and tree branches in contact with the house

Safe and environmentally friendly ingredients:

  • Sodium bicarbonate (baking soda):  General cleaner, removes satins, deodorizes, unclog drains
  • Sodium carbonate (washing soda): General cleaner, removes stains, removes grease very easily
  • Vinegar: Removes grease, disinfects, kills mould and mildew, and softens fabrics
  • Lemon: Removes grease and stains
  • Salt: Scours and disinfects
  • Cornstarch: Deodorizes, removes grease stains and stiffens fabrics
All-purpose cleanerRECIPE #1 1 2/3 cups baking soda ½ cup liquid Castile soap ½ cup tap water 2 tbsp white vinegar (add last) Combine all ingredients (adding vinegar last) in a spray bottle. Spray onto the area to be cleaned and wipe off with a sponge, rag or cellulose sponge cloth.
RECIPE #2 6 cups (1.5 L) water ¼ cup (60 ml) liquid Castile soap Combine ingredients in a big bowl or jug. Stir and pour into labelled spray bottle(s). (This is a massive batch. Keep a bottle under kitchen and bathroom sinks, in the dining room, etc.)
RECIPE #3 2 tbsp baking soda 1 tbsp liquid Castile soap about 1 ½ cups water (or distilled water) Mix all ingredients in a spray bottle and shake or stir to combine.
Mirrors, glass, dusting, counter tops, sink, tub, tiles, car interior, general cleaningUse water in spray bottle and wipe with microfiber cloth. If very soiled, add few drops of unscented, biodegradable liquid soap in bottle, shake and spray area before wiping with a microfiber cloth.
Toilet bowlSprinkle baking soda. Pour a little vinegar. Brush and flush.
Degreaser2 parts baking and washing soda, 2 parts vinegar. Apply/rub onto surface, leave for 10 minutes. Rinse well. Good for stove hood and filters.
FloorsHot water and vinegar to mop. If soiled, add 2 tbsp unscented biodegradable liquid detergent to water. Mop and rinse. Do not use on marble or surfaces that vinegar should not be used on.
Tile grout, mould & mildewSpray area with equal parts vinegar and hydrogen peroxide. Leave on for 10 minutes, then wash off with a brush. OR mix 2 parts baking soda, 1-part vinegar. Scrub gently with a toothbrush. For shower curtains, apply undiluted vinegar to a sponge and wipe mildew. Hemp shower curtains naturally resist mould and are machine washable.
DrainsTo deodorize, pour baking soda down drain and rinse. To unclog, pour 1 cup baking soda down drain. Add ½ cup vinegar. Flush with hot water after 1 hour.
DisinfectantFill spray bottle with equal parts hydrogen peroxide and vinegar. Spray surface and wipe.
DeodorizerCarpets, rugs and shoes: Sprinkle baking soda. Leaver overnight, vacuum.
Closets and fridge: Place open box of baking soda. Replace every 3 months.
Cat litter box, diaper pail: Sprinkle baking soda before adding litter or diapers.
Air freshenerA clean, fresh home without the aid of chemicals is all that you need. If you need a scent: Bring a pot of water to boil and add a cinnamon stick, a few cloves or some dried herbs. Simmer for 15 minutes. Empty garbage regularly; use baking soda in garbage can, open windows for fresh air. Stay away from air fresheners (plug-in, counter, candle or spray variety).

HEALTHY ECOLOGICAL SOLUTIONS: LAUNDRY

PrewashUse a baking soda and water paste or scrub stains with unscented, biodegradable dishwashing liquid. There are also eco, scent-free prewash products available.
Laundry detergentUse non-toxic, phosphate-free, unscented brands. To whiten and deodorize clothes, add 1 cup baking soda with soap and clothes.
Fabric softenerDon’t use perfumed fabric softeners − they leave chemical residues on clothing and pollute outdoor air through dryer exhaust. Add 1 cup vinegar or bicarbonate per full load − this deodorizes and removes soap scum. Fragrance-free softeners are available in health stores and are healthy choice.
BleachBleach produces gases that are harmful to health and the environment. Use eco- and health-friendly products from the health store.
StaticDon’t over-dry clothes. Clothes and dryer balls that eliminate static are safe and reusable alternatives.
Dry cleaningMany garments labelled as “dry cleaning only” can be hand-washed in cold water, hung to dry and ironed.

HEALTHY ECOLOGICAL SOLUTIONS: INSECTS & LICE

AntsAnts hate the smell of strong citrus fruits, so save your orange, lemon and grapefruit peels and scatter them around entry points. Ants don’t like cinnamon either, so place cinnamon sticks near doors, windowsills, floors, flower pots and any tiny gaps to discourage them from creeping in.
FleasAdd 1-2 tbs of nutritional yeast to your cat or dog’s food. Frequently wash/vacuum all pet bedding. Empty vacuum cleaner bag after each cleaning session.
Head liceIn well-lit room, coat hair with coconut or olive oil. Place white cotton cloth on shoulders. Comb hair in sections (ensure to keep over white cloth) using a special comb designed for head lice (available at pharmacies). Dip comb in bowl of hot soapy water after each pass to remove eggs or lice. Ensure white cloth doesn’t have any lice on it. Shake cloth outside house. Wash hair thoroughly. Repeat daily until lice and eggs are removed.

RESOURCES

Recommended Less-toxic Cleaning Brands

  • Attitude
  • Benefect
  • ECHOCLEAN
  • Ecomax
  • Ecover
  • Granny’s
  • Moss Creek Wool Works
  • Nature Clean
  • Nellie’s
  • Simply Clean
  • Seventh Generation
  • The Unscented Company

Books

General

Exposed: The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products and What’s at Stake for the American Power – Mark Schapiro

How Everyday Products Make People Sick: Toxins at Home and in the Workplace – Paul Blanc, MD

Home Safe Home (ISBN: 0-87477-859-X) – Debra Lynn Dadd

Cleaning Products

Better Basics for the Home: Simple Solutions for Less Toxic Living – Annie Berthold Bond

Clean House, Clean Planet – Karen Logan

Clean & Green. The Complete Guide to Nontoxic and Environmentally Safe Housekeeping – Annie Berthold Bond

Websites

Environmental Working Group – https://www.ewg.org/

Sustain Eco-Store – https://shop.sustainecostore.com/

The Case for Making Health-Care in Québec Fragrance-Free – https://www.aseq-ehaq.ca/fragrance

Register to receive our newsletter – https://www.aseq-ehaq.ca/newsletter/?lang=en

Want up-to-date news on environmental health? Join us on Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/aseqehaq1

Building efficient and healthy, Green homes – www.ecohabitation.com

Ecological products – http://cooplamaisonverte.com

Campaign for safe cosmetics – www.safecosmetics.org