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The Nature Of Things


The Nature Of Things presents:

THE TOXIC HOUSE

Welcome to The Nature of Things Toxic House. This is a site about the hazards of indoor pollution, largely created by the synthetic and  organic chemicals that are a part of our daily lives. It might sound like a place you want to stay away from, but really it's a place intended to help you make informed decisions about the places and spaces in which you live. We can't  live without chemicals, and in many ways they help to improve our lives. However, as environmental engineer Dr. Richard Corsi points out, some chemicals are better than others, and we can make educated choices about their risks versus their benefits.

As you'll see, there are potentially harmful substances at every turn, but it's important to stress that most of us are only ever exposed to very low  levels of toxic compounds in our own homes. Therefore contact with the odd  chemical trace might not be so bad, but as scientists are discovering, it's exposure to traces of many different chemicals over a lifetime that may be cause  for concern. And, it is becoming increasingly evident that children are most at risk, as the chemical burden in their bodies could well affect their growth and  development. The long-term impact of chemicals in our everyday lives is yet to  be fully understood, but we hope that this site prompts you to evaluate your  indoor environment and to seek out more information.

KITCHEN

CUPBOARD - CLEANING PRODUCTS

Overview:
Household cleaners can be irritating, toxic, and sometimes carcinogenic. Vinegar, lemon juice and baking soda are good  alternatives.

Problems:
Cleaning products comes in all shapes and sizes and most of them contain one or more chemicals that are harmful. A few to be on the look out for: sodium hypochlorite, used in chlorine bleach, can cause lung and eye  irritation. Formaldehyde, a preservative in many household products, is a  suspected human carcinogen and is a strong irritant to eyes, throat, skin and lungs. Spot removers and carpet cleaners can contain perchloroethylene, an animal carcinogen and suspected human carcinogen. Phenol and cresol, found in  disinfectants have been linked to diarrhea, fainting, and kidney and liver  damage. Long-term exposure to certain metal polishes can cause damage to the nervous system, skin, kidneys and eyes.

Solutions:
Less toxic alternatives can be found at organic foods  stores, and even some conventional stores. Citrus-based cleaners are very effective as well as environmentally friendly. Made with orange peels, these products are nontoxic, petroleum-free, and biodegradable. Natural acids such as vinegar and lemon juice are good at cutting grease, and when mixed with water, ordinary baking soda can usually do the same job as a commercial can of cleanser or all-purpose spray - without leaving harmful chemicals behind.

FOOD - PESTICIDES

Overview:
Trace residues of pesticides are routinely found on  fruits and vegetables. Buying organic produce is the best way to reduce pesticide intake.

Problems:
Pesticides are assessed for safety by Health Canada's  Pest Management Regulatory Agency, and pesticide levels on foods are monitored  by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Pesticide residue on food could pose a  risk to your health. Most pesticide standards are based on the assumption of exposure to one pesticide at a time. There is little information available on  exposure to multiple pesticides or on the cumulative effects of low levels of  pesticides over a lifetime. Children are most at risk of ingesting concentrated pesticide residues because they tend to eat a much less varied diet than adults. They are particularly vulnerable because childhood is a period of critical organ  development and rapid growth.

Solutions:
Organic produce is the safest bet, but often expensive,  or not always readily available. There are other ways to cut back on pesticides.  If you eat conventionally grown fruits and vegetables, you could reduce your  consumption of the following foods, which an American study has shown to consistently have the largest number of trace levels of pesticides:  strawberries, bell peppers, spinach, cherries, peaches (U.S.), cantaloupe (Mexican), celery, apples, apricots, green beans, grapes, and cucumbers. You should also wash fruit thoroughly, especially apples, peaches and pears. Although some pesticides concentrate closer to the skin, they are still largely systemic, that is, they are throughout the fruit. Therefore peeling produce is considerably less valuable than the fibre and nutritional value that the skin of most fruit or vegetables provides. Parents should diversify children's diets,  spreading foods out over time, giving children's immune systems a periodic  break.

FORMALDEHYDE - CUPBOARD

Overview:
Pressed wood products often contain formaldehyde, a  suspected carcinogen. Try to buy wood products that emit little formaldehyde.

Problems:
Formaldehyde is a colourless liquid or gas with a pungent  odour. It adds permanent-press qualities to clothing and draperies; it is a  preservative in some paints and coating products; and a component of glues and  adhesives. Exposure to formaldehyde in the home is most likely to occur through  pressed wood products that contain urea-formaldehyde (UF) resins. Medium density  fiberboard contains a higher resin-to-wood ratio than any other UF pressed wood product, and thus may emit more formaldehyde than similar products. Symptoms associated with exposure to formaldehyde include eye, nose and throat  irritation, skin rashes, itching, nausea, headaches, dizziness, and fatigue.

Solutions:
Try to avoid products that contain formaldehyde, especially pressed wood products. A new product known as "wheatboard" is a good  replacement for pressboard. It contains no formaldehyde and is currently  available in Western Canada and should be available in Eastern Canada by the end  of 2002. Opt for solid wood or pressed wood products that are fully covered with  a water-repellent finish. Coating unfinished products with water-based coating products can also reduce formaldehyde emissions. Finishes should be applied in multiple layers and should cover all surfaces of the product. Apply the finish in a well-ventilated area and allow the product plenty of time to air out.  Generally, increasing ventilation after bringing new sources of formaldehyde  into the home will help reduce exposure.

DISHWASHER - CHLOROFORM

Overview:
Chloroform gas builds up when you run your dishwasher  Allow dishes to dry in the dishwasher with the door closed

Problems:
Chlorination is an important method of water sanitization  used in most municipalities. However, its by-product is chloroform, an invisible gas that forms when the chlorine and organic molecules in the water mix  together. The higher the temperature of the water, the more chloroform produced. Many dishwashing detergents also contain chlorine, which increases the chloroform that escapes with the puff of steam when the dishwasher door opens.

Solutions:
Use a non-chlorinated detergent in the dishwasher. Leave the dishwasher door closed until the dishes are dry. Doing so without operating  the "dry" cycle will conserve energy as well. If you have to open the dishwasher  immediately after the wash cycle, try and avoid breathing the steam as it comes out of the unit. Turning on the kitchen fan and opening windows also helps steam  to travel out of your breathing zone.

STOVE - GAS EMISSIONS

Overview:
Unvented combustion sources can emit carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide. Make sure your gas stove has a vent that exits to the outdoors.

Problems:
Any unvented combustion source - gas stoves, kerosene  heaters, charcoal grills used inside - can release toxic gases inside your home. Carbon monoxide interferes with the delivery of oxygen throughout the body.  Symptoms include headaches, dizziness, weakness, nausea, confusion, and  disorientation, and fatigue in healthy people. Individuals with chronic heart disease should be particularly mindful. Nitrogen dioxide can irritate the mucous membranes in the eye, nose, and throat and causes shortness of breath after exposure to high concentrations. There is evidence that high concentrations or continued exposure to low levels of nitrogen dioxide increases the risk of respiratory infection.

Solutions:
Gas cook stoves should always have a vent. All natural gas appliances should be regularly inspected and well maintained to ensure proper function. Between inspections, make sure that the external openings of  all exhaust vents are not blocked by insulation, leaves, or other debris. Maintain good air supply and ventilation for your fuel-burning equipment. Never  use a charcoal or gas barbecue inside your home. A carbon monoxide detector is a must in any household. It too should properly located, installed, tested, and  maintained.

VINYL FLOORING - PHTHALATES

Overview:
Phthalates can affect the reproductive tract of male fetuses. Phthalate-free alternatives are available.

Problems:
Phthalates are chemical compounds that help give plastic products their flexibility and soft texture. These "plasticizers" are used extensively in the manufacture of products that range from children's toys to  plastic wrap to medical devices in hospitals. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) flooring can sometimes emit small amounts of phthalates into the surrounding air, along with other toxic additives. Phthalates can be absorbed through the skin, inhaled as fumes, ingested when they contaminate food or when children bite or suck on  toys.

Solutions:
There are competitively priced alternatives to vinyl flooring available. Ceramic, marble or stone tiles, or wood can be used if a harder surface is desired. Cork flooring is softer, but avoid cork that is sealed with artificial resins. Linoleum, which is often confused for vinyl flooring, is made of renewable materials and has good durability. Try and  prevent your child from chewing on plastic toys; better yet, buy natural fibre toys. Toys manufactured in Canada, the US and Europe are usually phthalate-free.  Store food in glass or ceramic containers, especially fatty foods like meat,  cheese, and butter. If you must use plastic wrap, leave a gap between the food and the wrap. Avoid re-using margarine or yogurt tubs. If you use plastic  cookware or containers, look for polyethylene plastic, which does not contain  plasticizers.

BLINDS - LEAD

Overview:
Lead is a harmful pollutant and poses a serious threat to  children's health. Remove old vinyl blinds that may be imported from Mexico or  Asia.

Problems:
Vinyl blinds deteriorate through prolonged exposure to direct sunlight, causing lead to leech out and join other dust particles, which  can be inhaled or ingested. Lead can also be ingested by chewing on the blinds, something children and pets might easily do. Lead affects practically all  systems within the body, and over the long-term, it can accumulate in the body's  bloodstream, organs and bones. Lower levels of lead can cause adverse health effects on the central nervous system, kidney, and blood cells. Blood lead  levels as low as 10 micrograms per decilitre can impair mental and physical development, particularly in children.

Solutions:
Health Canada issued warnings about lead in imported vinyl blinds starting in 1996. However, existing blinds in your home may predate  this advisory. If you suspect that your vinyl blinds are imported, you can buy  home kits that test for lead. Permanently remove the blinds and replace them if  possible. Keep small children and pets away from the blinds. Keep cribs and  furniture away from the blinds. Get blood tests for your children, even if they appear to be healthy. Wash children's' hands, bottles, pacifiers, and toys  often. Eat a balanced diet, rich in calcium and iron, which can help prevent a  buildup of lead deposits in the digestive tract, brain, bones and kidneys.

BATHROOM

SHOWER - CHLOROFORM

Overview:
Long, hot showers increase exposure to chloroform gas. Shorter, cooler showers mean less exposure.

Problems:
Chlorination is an important method of water sanitization  used in most municipalities. However, its by-product is chloroform, an invisible gas that forms when the chlorine and organic molecules in the water mix  together. The higher the temperature of the water, the more chloroform produced.

Solutions:
Install water flow restrictors in shower heads, reduce the temperature of the shower water, and cut down your showering time. Open the windows, or turn on the exhaust fan whenever hot water is used for showering,  bathing, washing dishes or clothes, and indoor spas.

CUPBOARD - CLEANING PRODUCTS

Overview:
Household cleaners can be irritating, toxic, and sometimes carcinogenic. Vinegar, lemon juice and baking soda are good  alternatives.

Problems:
Cleaning products comes in all shapes and sizes and most of them contain one or more chemicals that are harmful. A few to be on the look out for: sodium hypochlorite, used in chlorine bleach, can cause lung and eye  irritation. Formaldehyde, a preservative in many household products, is a  suspected human carcinogen and is a strong irritant to eyes, throat, skin and lungs. Spot removers and carpet cleaners can contain perchloroethylene, an animal carcinogen and suspected human carcinogen. Phenol and cresol, found in  disinfectants have been linked to diarrhea, fainting, and kidney and liver  damage. Long-term exposure to certain metal polishes can cause damage to the nervous system, skin, kidneys and eyes.

Solutions:
Less toxic alternatives can be found at organic foods  stores, and even some conventional stores. Citrus-based cleaners are very effective as well as environmentally friendly. Made with orange peels, these products are nontoxic, petroleum-free, and biodegradable. Natural acids such as vinegar and lemon juice are good at cutting grease, and when mixed with water, ordinary baking soda can usually do the same job as a commercial can of cleanser or all-purpose spray - without leaving harmful chemicals behind.

AIR FRESHENERS

Overview:
Air fresheners don't freshen the air, they just  counteract one smell with another. Open a window or use exhaust fans - or both -  to clear the air.

Problems:
Air fresheners work in one of the following ways: they might contain nerve-deadening agents which interfere with your ability to smell;  they could coat your nasal passages with an undetectable oil film; they often cover up one smell with another; but they rarely break down the offensive odour.  Air freshener is a misnomer - these products do little to "freshen" the air.  Aerosol fresheners can be harmful to the lungs if inhaled in high concentrations or for prolonged periods of time. Solid fresheners may be poisonous if eaten by  children or pets.

Solutions:
Many products found in the home have a longer lasting  effect than air fresheners. Putting sachets of fresh or dried herbal bouquets in  different rooms, or even soaking a cotton ball in pure vanilla and waving it  around does the trick. Simmer cinnamon and cloves on the oven to get rid of  cooking smells. Open windows and ventilate the air whenever possible.

VANITY - PERSONAL CARE PRODUCTS

Overview:
Personal care products contain chemicals which can be  harmful. Shop for products that are chemical free or hypo-allergenic.

Problems:
Products like nail polish remover usually have strong  smells associated with them, which is the first sign of a potentially harmful  chemical at work. Acetone and ethyl acetate are the culprits in this case, and  can cause irritation to the eyes, nose and throat, and can irritate the lungs if  ingested. Toluene is an aromatic hydrocarbon and shows up in some nail polishes,  but also in industrial paints and varnishes. It can irritate the skin and the  respiratory tract and cause liver damage. Dibutyl phthalate (DBP) has been shown to be a potent reproductive and developmental toxin, particularly for males. It  is a useful additive in many cosmetics because it has useful properties. It  imparts flexibility in mascara and nail polish, its oily texture gives skin a soft feel and helps lotions penetrate the skin.

Solutions:
Familiarize yourself with the terminology. Although  ingredient labels on cosmetics are often difficult to read, it's valuable to  know that a "plasticizer" and "butyl ester" are the same things as dibutyl phthalate. Other common forms of phthalates are diethyl phthalate, and dimethyl  phthalate. Women who are pregnant, nursing or thinking about getting pregnant should avoid all personal care products with any of these words on the label. There are products on the market that are largely free of synthetic chemicals.

RUBBER DUCK - PHTHALATES

Overview:
Phthalates can affect the reproductive tract of male fetuses. Phthalate-free alternatives are available.

Problems:
Phthalates are chemical compounds that help give plastic products their flexibility and soft texture. These "plasticizers" are used extensively in the manufacture of products that range from children's toys to  plastic wrap to medical devices in hospitals. Phthalates can be absorbed through  the skin, inhaled as fumes, ingested when they contaminate food or when children bite or suck on toys. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) flooring can sometimes emit small amounts of phthalates into the surrounding air, along with other toxic  additives.

Solutions:
Try and prevent your child from chewing on plastic toys; better yet, buy natural fibre toys. Toys manufactured in Canada, the US and Europe are usually phthalate-free. Store food in glass or ceramic containers,  especially fatty foods like meat, cheese, and butter. If you must use plastic  wrap, leave a gap between the food and the wrap. Avoid re-using margarine or  yogurt tubs. If you use plastic cookware or containers, look for polyethylene plastic, which does not contain plasticizers. There are competitively priced alternatives to vinyl flooring available. Ceramic, marble or stone tiles, or wood can be used if a harder surface is desired. Cork flooring is softer, but avoid cork that is sealed with artificial resins. Linoleum, which is often confused for vinyl flooring, is made of renewable materials and has good durability.

LIVING ROOM

CARPET - DUST

Overview:
Carpets are reservoirs for mold, dust and other  allergens. Many of these culprits stay outside if shoes are removed at the door.

Problems:
For small children, house dust is a major source of  exposure to cadmium, lead and other heavy metals, as well as polychlorinated  biphenyls and other persistent organic pollutants. Despite regular vacuuming, dust and other toxic compounds easily accumulate in rugs. Plush and shag  carpeting in particular provide sticky fibres where dust can settle.

Solutions:
Investing in a good doormat will help prevent the  tracking of dirt inside the home. Better yet, insist that all family members and  visitors take off shoes at the door. Floors covered with wood, tile or linoleum  are the best, and the easiest to clean. If you do have extensive carpeting, use  an effective vacuum cleaner, one with a power head. A dirt-finder vacuum (which has a light that turns from red to green when the carpet is clean) is even better.

FIREPLACE - WOODSMOKE

Overview:
Woodsmoke generates hundreds of toxic compounds and many carcinogens. Have air-handling systems inspected regularly.

Problems:
Operating fireplaces with unbalanced air flows can cause combustion pollutants from vented appliances to spill into the house. This spillage can produce very high levels of indoor pollutants. Wood smoke is made up of several elements that can be damaging to your health. Tiny particles  (particulate matter - PM10) that are less than 10 microns in diameter can become  embedded in your lungs. Inhalation of PM10 causes coughing, irritation and permanent scarring and damage to the lungs. It contributes to cancer, heart disease and changes in DNA leading to autoimmune disease. Woodsmoke also contains a group of compounds known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which include many Class A carcinogens, the most carcinogenic materials known to  exist.

Solutions:
If possible, replace your woodburning appliance with a properly vented electric or gas fireplace or a vented gas heater. Do not use  leaking or malfunctioning woodburning appliances. If you do burn wood make sure it is clean - never burn wood that has paint or coating on it. Have your  woodstoves and fireplaces inspected each year. Check them for backdrafting and  spillage. These steps will greatly reduce indoor pollution from woodsmoke. Have  all air-handling systems including furnaces, flues and chimneys, inspected  regularly.

CANDLE - LEAD WICKS

Overview:
Candles with lead wicks emit lead into the air. Use other  lighting sources whenever possible.

Problems: Some candles contain dangerously high amounts of lead. The  lead is found in the core wick, a metal piece inserted into the candles to support the wick as it is being burned, providing an even and slower burn rate.  Votives, pillars and tea lights, scented candles and candles that produce puddles of wax are more likely to contain a lead core than other types. Lead is a serious poison that has been linked with behavioural and learning problems in  children, and can accumulate in the body's bloodstream and organs.

Solutions:
Not all candles are made with wicks that have metallic cores. Studies have shown that metal cores in Chinese candles to be made of  either pure lead or lead alloy, while those made in the U.S. or Mexico consisted  of zinc or lead-containing alloys. Leaded candles have recently been banned in  the Australia and in the United States. They are still available for sale in  Canada although the federal government has urged the Canadian candle industry to stop manufacturing and importing candles with lead core wicks. Look for candles that are labeled lead-free.

WINDOW FRAME - LEAD

Overview:
Lead is a harmful pollutant and poses a serious threat to  children's health. Leave lead-based paint undisturbed if it is in good  condition.

Problems:
Lead affects practically all systems within the body.  Lead at high levels (lead levels at or above 80 micrograms per decilitre of blood) can cause convulsions, coma, and even death. Lower levels of lead can cause adverse health effects on the central nervous system, kidney, and blood  cells. Blood lead levels as low as 10 micrograms per decilitre can impair mental  and physical development, particularly in children. Lead also accumulates in the body's bloodstream and organs.

Solutions:
Keep areas where children play as dust-free and clean as possible. Don't use antique cribs and toys as their paint work probably contains  lead. Do not remove lead paint yourself. Do not bring lead dust into the home.  If your work or hobby involves lead, change clothes and use doormats before  entering your home. Eat a balanced diet, rich in calcium and iron, which can  help prevent a buildup of lead deposits in the digestive tract, brain, bones and  kidneys. Note that all paint should be kept in good condition since it can contain other chemicals like mercury and cadmium.

PESTS - PESTICIDES

Overview:
Many households store at least one chemical pesticide in the house. Most basic pest problems can be dealt with through prevention.

Problems:
Pesticides are poisons that can be inhaled, that can linger on surfaces, or make their way into mouths. Organophosphates, which are a  key ingredient in insecticides, can affect the nervous system; cause headaches, dizziness, twitching, and nausea. These chemicals can also be found in most pet  products like flea collars and powder. Rodenticides pose a particular risk for  accidental poisoning of humans and pets because of their proximity to our  everyday environments.

Solutions:
Deny pests their basic needs for air, moisture, food,  and shelter by getting rid of their original supply. Fix water sources like leaky plumbing. Remove or block off indoor pest hiding places. Caulk cracks and  crevices to control pest access. Avoid storing newspapers, paper bags, and boxes  for long periods of time. Block pest entry ways by installing screens on floor  drains, windows, and doors to discourage crawling and flying pests from entering your home. Remove food by using well-sealed food and waste containers. Use herbal flea collars for your pets, or use simple measures like regularly washing and brushing them.

BASEMENT

IMPROPER STORAGE - VOCs

Overview:
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) can escape from bottle and cans. Store closed containers away from your living space in a shed or garage.

Problems:
Organic chemicals are widely used in common household  products, as well as in paints and varnishes. These products can release organic  compounds (VOCs) in small amounts, even when sealed and stored. Even the rags and brushes used to apply the products should be stored or disposed of safely. Their impact on our health depends on how VOCs interact with their environment: they can be exchanged to the outdoor air, which is a good thing. They can stick  to or be absorbed by indoor materials such as carpeting or even the surface of  fruit. These VOCs can then be re-emitted by the contaminated material, which  means that toxic compounds can be in your immediate environment for months or years. Symptoms associated with VOCs are eye, nose, and throat irritation; headaches, loss of coordination, nausea; damage to liver, kidney, and central  nervous system. Some organics can cause cancer in animals; some are suspected or  known to cause cancer in humans.

Solutions:
Solvents, paints and household products should be sealed and stored in a well-ventilated area, away from children and pets. If the product is flammable or an aerosol, it should also be stored away from heat, flames or sources of ignition. The best way to dispose of solvents is to use them up as intended. Otherwise, solvents and similar products should be secured  and stored for professional hazardous waste collection, or taken to a hazardous  waste site.

WALLS - RADON

Overview:
Radon is a colourless, odourless, radioactive gas that may be harmful. Detection kits are easily available for preliminary testing.

Problems:
Radon gas occurs naturally in the environment. It forms  during the natural decay of uranium, and can be found in high concentrations where soils and rock contain uranium, granite, shale or phosphate. Studies have  shown that long term exposure to low levels of the gas can cause lung damage and  lung cancer. It can build up in your basement. Lung cancer has been associated  with radon gas.

Solutions:
No two houses are alike when it comes to radon.  Elimination of the gas depends on the source. Among the steps that can be taken  to lower radon levels are: renovations to existing basement floors, particularly  earth floors, sealing cracks and openings, and sub-floor ventilation of basement  floors. Certified analysts should be consulted if radon is suspected.

PAINT - LEAD

Overview:
Lead is a harmful pollutant and poses a serious threat to  children's health. Leave lead-based paint undisturbed if it is in good  condition.

Problems:
Lead affects practically all systems within the body.  Lead at high levels (lead levels at or above 80 micrograms per decilitre of blood) can cause convulsions, coma, and even death. Lower levels of lead can cause adverse health effects on the central nervous system, kidney, and blood  cells. Blood lead levels as low as 10 micrograms per decilitre can impair mental  and physical development, particularly in children. Lead also accumulates in the body's bloodstream and organs.

Solutions:
Keep areas where children play as dust-free and clean as possible. Don't use antique cribs and toys as their paint work probably contains  lead. Do not remove lead paint yourself. Do not bring lead dust into the home.  If your work or hobby involves lead, change clothes and use doormats before  entering your home. Eat a balanced diet, rich in calcium and iron, which can  help prevent a buildup of lead deposits in the digestive tract, brain, bones and  kidneys. Note that all paint should be kept in good condition since it can contain other chemicals like mercury and cadmium. Acrylic paint has the lowest emissions and keep in mind that pigment also increases emissions, therefore  white paint is safest.

FURNACE - EMISSIONS

Overview:
Fuel-burning appliances are potential sources for carbon monoxide.Make sure appliances like your furnace are well maintained.

Problems:
Carbon monoxide (CO) is a by-product of the incomplete burning of fuels, including natural gas, wood, heating oil, propane, kerosene,  gasoline, diesel fuel, coal and charcoal. Some potential CO sources include natural gas heating systems and appliances that are not properly maintained; an  inadequate fresh air supply for the safe burning and venting of exhausts; a blocked chimney or flue. Carbon monoxide is odourless, colourless, tasteless and very toxic, and interferes with the delivery of oxygen throughout the body. Symptoms of poisoning include headaches, dizziness, weakness, nausea, confusion, and disorientation, and fatigue in healthy people. Individuals with chronic  heart disease should be particularly mindful.

Solutions:
A natural gas furnace, water heater or other equipment that is properly installed and regularly maintained should not release carbon monoxide into your home. But all natural gas appliances should be regularly  inspected and well maintained to ensure proper function. Between inspections,  make sure that the external openings of all exhaust vents are not blocked by  insulation, leaves, or other debris. Maintain good air supply and ventilation  for your fuel-burning equipment. A carbon monoxide detector is a must in any  household. It should properly located, installed, tested, and maintained.

BEDROOM

CARPET - DUST

Overview:
Carpets are reservoirs for mold, dust and other  allergens. Many of these culprits stay outside if shoes are removed at the door.

Problems:
For small children, house dust is a major source of  exposure to cadmium, lead and other heavy metals, as well as polychlorinated  biphenyls and other persistent organic pollutants. Despite regular vacuuming, dust and other toxic compounds easily accumulate in rugs. Plush and shag  carpeting in particular provide sticky fibers where dust can settle.

Solutions:
Investing in a good doormat will help prevent the  tracking of dirt. Better yet, insist that all family members and visitors take  off shoes at the door. Floors covered with wood, tile or linoleum are the best,  and the easiest to clean. If you do have extensive carpeting, use an effective  vacuum cleaner, one with a power head. A dirt-finder vacuum (which has a light  that turns from red to green when the carpet is clean) is even better.

DRESSER - FORMALDEHYDE

Overview:
Pressed wood products often contain formaldehyde, a  suspected carcinogen. Try to buy wood products that emit little formaldehyde.

Problems:
Formaldehyde is a colourless liquid or gas with a pungent  odour. It adds permanent-press qualities to clothing and draperies; it is a  preservative in some paints and coating products; and a component of glues and  adhesives. Exposure to formaldehyde in the home is most likely to occur through  pressed wood products that contain urea-formaldehyde (UF) resins. Medium density  fiberboard contains a higher resin-to-wood ratio than any other UF pressed wood product, and thus may emit more formaldehyde than similar products. Symptoms associated with exposure to formaldehyde include eye, nose and throat  irritation, skin rashes, itching, nausea, headaches, dizziness, and fatigue.

Solutions:
Try to avoid products that contain formaldehyde, especially pressed wood products. A new product known as "wheatboard" is a good  replacement for pressboard. It contains no formaldehyde and is currently  available in Western Canada and should be available in Eastern Canada by the end  of 2002. Opt for solid wood or pressed wood products that are fully covered with  a water-repellent finish. Coating unfinished products with water-based coating products can also reduce formaldehyde emissions. Finishes should be applied in multiple layers and should cover all surfaces of the product. Apply the finish in a well-ventilated area and allow the product plenty of time to air out.  Generally, increasing ventilation after bringing new sources of formaldehyde  into the home will help reduce exposure.

INCENSE

Overview:
Burning incense can expose you to fine particulate matter. Freshen the air by using natural sources like flowers or herbs.

Problems:
Burning incense, like any combustion process, emits fine particulate matter in large quantities, which can settle in the respiratory  tract. It has also been shown to elevate airborne concentrations of carbon  monoxide and benzene.

Solutions:
Ventilate the air if you burn incense.

CLOSET - DRYCLEANING

Overview:
Traces of a number of potent toxic chemicals cling to dry  cleaned clothing. Take dry cleaned clothes out of the plastic bags to air them out.

Problems:
Most dry cleaners rely on a chemical solvent called  perchloroethylene, or "perc". The fumes of this chemical are carcinogenic and  acutely toxic. Perc has been shown to have harmful effects on the nervous system  and all major organs. Residue from freshly cleaned clothes can cause throat, eye  and nose irritation. Lower levels, like those found in a closet containing  dry-cleaned clothes, can produce disorientation, nausea, dizziness and sleepiness. Other chemicals used in the dry cleaning process include  trichloroethane, benzene and toluene, which also pose a range of short term and long term health risks.

Solutions:
Take clothing out of the plastic bags, and allow them to sufficiently air out in a well-ventilated area. Hang them outside. Many fabrics  that say "dry clean only" don't require it. Manufacturers often put it on the label to prevent liability - they must accept the return if a garment shrinks or loses its shape. Dry cleaning is the only guaranteed method of cleaning that prevents this. In many cases, you can safely handwash "dry clean only" items (silk and rayon tend to wash well, wool does not) using rules that apply to most  delicate clothing. Another option is to seek out "wet cleaners". The  professional process uses steam and mild soaps instead of toxic solvents.

CLOSET - MOTHBALLS

Overview:
Mothballs are classified as a pesticide, and are poisonous when eaten. Mothballs contain either 100% of either naphthalene or paradichlorobenzene. Both of these ingredients can produce harmful effects when  inhaled. Irritation to nose, throat, and lungs, headache, confusion, and liver  and kidney damage can result from extended exposure to mothball vapours.

Solutions:
Store all woolens, fur and feather items in airtight boxes or chest. Cleaning clothes before storage will destroy the moth larvae that feed on clothes. Airing clothes out in the sunshine may also help. Although they are a popular alternative, cedar chips or sachets do very little to repel  moths.

CRIB - PHTHALATES

Overview:
Phthalates can affect the reproductive tract of male fetuses. Phthalate-free alternatives are available.

Problems:
Phthalates are chemical compounds that help give plastic products their flexibility and soft texture. These "plasticizers" are used extensively in the manufacture of products that range from children's toys to  plastic wrap to medical devices in hospitals. Phthalates can be absorbed through  the skin, inhaled as fumes, ingested when they contaminate food or when children bite or suck on toys. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) flooring can sometimes emit small amounts of phthalates into the surrounding air, along with other toxic  additives.

Solutions:
Try and prevent your child from chewing on plastic toys; better yet, buy natural fibre toys. Toys manufactured in Canada, the US and Europe are usually phthalate-free. Store food in glass or ceramic containers,  especially fatty foods like meat, cheese, and butter. If you must use plastic  wrap, leave a gap between the food and the wrap. Avoid re-using margarine or  yogurt tubs. If you use plastic cookware or containers, look for polyethylene plastic, which does not contain plasticizers. There are competitively priced alternatives to vinyl flooring available. Ceramic, marble or stone tiles, or wood can be used if a harder surface is desired. Cork flooring is softer, but avoid cork that is sealed with artificial resins. Linoleum, which is often confused for vinyl flooring, is made of renewable materials and has good durability.

COMPUTER

Overview:
New computers emit vapours which can irritate the eyes,  nose, and throat. Ventilate the room where your computer is kept.

Problems:
New computers provide ample opportunity for toxics to  enter our systems. Some vapours come from the solvents used to clean electronic parts, others from adhesives used to glue components together. Still others come from the plastic casing. Although they don't need any help, the fan that keeps  the processor cool pushes the toxic compounds into the air.

Solutions:
A brand new computer is the most toxic, but the amount of chemicals it releases decreases fairly quickly after it is out of the box. The best solution is to leave it in a well-ventilated room or area, out of the reach of children, for several days.

ASHTRAY - ENVIRONMENTAL TOBACCO SMOKE

Overview:
Secondhand smoke includes a long list of harmful chemicals. No smoking inside the house.

Problems:
Secondhand smoke, technically known as environmental tobacco smoke, is a mixture of the smoke given off by the burning end of a cigarette, pipe or cigar and the smoke exhaled from the lungs of smokers. Health effects include eye, nose and throat irritation; headaches; lung cancer; and may contribute to heart disease. Secondhand smoke is particularly harmful to children - it can increase the frequency and severity of asthma episodes, and  cause a range of respiratory-related problems.

Solutions:
Do not smoke in your home or permit others to do so. Do  not smoke if children are present, particularly infants and toddlers. If smoking indoors is a must, increase ventilation. Do not smoke in the car. The high concentration of smoke in a small area substantially increases the exposure for other passengers.

GARAGE

IMPROPER STORAGE -VOCs

Overview:
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) can escape from bottle and cans. Store closed containers away from your living space in a shed or garage.

Problems:
Organic chemicals are widely used in common household  products, as well as in paints and varnishes. These products can release organic  compounds (VOCs) in small amounts, even when sealed and stored. Even the rags and brushes used to apply the products should be stored or disposed of safely. Their impact on our health depends on how VOCs interact with their environment: they can be exchanged to the outdoor air, which is a good thing. They can stick  to or be absorbed by indoor materials such as carpeting or even the surface of  fruit. These VOCs can then be re-emitted by the contaminated material, which  means that toxic compounds can be in your immediate environment for months or years. Symptoms associated with VOCs are eye, nose, and throat irritation; headaches, loss of coordination, nausea; damage to liver, kidney, and central  nervous system. Some organics can cause cancer in animals; some are suspected or  known to cause cancer in humans

Solutions:
Solvents, paints and household products should be sealed and stored in a well-ventilated area, away from children and pets. If the product is flammable or an aerosol, it should also be stored away from heat, flames or sources of ignition. The best way to dispose of solvents is to use them up as intended. Otherwise, solvents and similar products should be secured  and stored for professional hazardous waste collection, or taken to a hazardous  waste site.

WEED-KILLER PUMP - PESTICIDES

Overview:
Pesticides pose risks for humans, pets, wildlife and entire ecosystems.Various gardening techniques can reduce the need for pesticides.

Problems:
Chemicals used on lawns and gardens easily enter groundwater, streams and rivers. Pesticide particles attach to dust and soil,  which can drift or get tracked indoors on shoes. Those same particles become easily airborne and can be deposited great distances from where they were originally used. Lawn and garden chemicals can cause irritation to the eyes, nose and throat and some have been linked with behavioural problems in children, damage to the nervous system and kidneys, developmental and reproductive defects, and also an increased risk of certain cancers. In addition to the active ingredient, pesticides are also made up of so-called "inert" ingredients, and there is growing evidence that many inerts are toxicologically and environmentally hazardous.

Solutions:
There are many organic alternatives to conventional  pesticides on the market and there are organic gardening methods for home gardeners. Try to grow plant species and varieties which are well-adapted to your climate, soil conditions, and available light levels. Plant a variety of plant life so that no single pest can destroy your garden. To fight slugs, create a protective border around your plants with sand, lime, or ashes. Fennel,  calendula, garlic, basil, green onions and marigolds can be interspersed around your garden as they ward off several types of pests. For indoor plant health,  wash plants regularly with a mild soap solution.

CAR - VOCS

Overview:
A new car smells great, but it means toxic chemicals are in the air. Roll down your windows, and air out the car before driving.

Problems:
That new car smell, considered seductive and compelling  by auto dealers, indicates the presence of toxic chemicals which can linger for months. Sitting in a new car can expose you to levels of toxic emissions many  times beyond established standards. Studies have shown that trace amounts of the following chemicals may be emitted inside new cars: benzene, a known human carcinogen; acetone, a mucosal irritant; cyclohexanone, a possible human carcinogen; ethylbenzene and MIBK - systemic toxic agents; and xylene isomers, a  fetal development toxic agent. More immediate impacts on your health are eye, nose and throat irritation, headaches, nausea, drowsiness and fatigue, and  disorientation.

Solutions:
To avoid some exposure to these toxic compounds, people  who buy new cars should make sure there is plenty of outside air entering the vehicle while they drive, for at least six months after the vehicle has been purchased. Ventilation may not always be possible or advisable in heavy traffic  due to air toxics from car exhausts. If you don't need to drive your new car, leave it in a shaded, well-ventilated area. The heat from the sun increases the rate at which these compounds off-gas into your breathing zone.

PAINT CAN - VOCS

Overview:
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) can escape from bottle and cans. Store closed containers away from your living space in a shed or garage.

Problems:
VOCs are released from products such as paints and solvents, aerosol sprays, disinfectants, automotive products, and also from burning fuel. Their impact on our health depends on how VOCs interact with their environment: they can be exchanged to the outdoor air, which is a good thing. They can stick to or be absorbed by indoor materials such as carpeting or even the surface of fruit. These VOCs can then be re-emitted by the contaminated  material, which means that toxic compounds can be in your immediate environment  for months or years. Health effects of VOCs range from minor eye, nose, and throat irritation to headaches to damage to the liver, kidney, and central nervous system at higher doses. Some organic compounds are known to cause cancer  in animals; some are suspected human carcinogens.

Solutions:
Basic steps that you can take to eliminate the build-up  of VOCs include using household products according to manufacturer's directions. Making sure there is plenty of fresh air when using these products. Rather than  storing partially used containers, buy the product in quantities that will be  used up. If you do have old, half-full containers, they should be disposed of  safely. Household products should be kept out of reach of children and pets. You  should never mix household care products unless directed on the label. Always use water-based products whenever possible.

 

© 2003 Article Presented by Dr. David Suzuki and The Nature Of Things

 

 

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