March 28, 2016

Is Your Home Making You Sick?

By Dr. Belinda Chan, D.C.

With the focus on pollution and the toxic load on the outside environment, it is easy to overlook the chemicals that may be lurking under your own roof. This indoor pollution can be more harmful, and found in higher levels than in the outdoors. But knowledge is power. If we know what these toxins are, we can make adjustments in our lives to reduce our exposure.   

The following are 10 toxins you should be aware of.

1) Phthalates are chemicals with a vast array of uses, from softening plastics to giving lotions their consistency. They are hormone disruptors and can be particularly harmful to children. Health Canada is proposing to add Phthalates to the Hazardous Products Act to ban the sale, advertisement and importation of toys for children under three.

Sources: Plastic bottles, plastic toys and teethers, plastic storage containers, food wraps, and shower curtains. Phthalates can also be found in vinyl flooring, nail polish, soap, shampoo, perfume, and deodorant.

Reducing exposure: Look for natural alternatives such as stainless steel bottles, toxin free toys and chemical free products.

2) Heavy Metals are one of the most common industrial poisons found in the home. Pregnant women and young children are more susceptible to the effects of these toxins, which can range from developmental delays to serious illness. Since 1976 Health Canada has limited the amount of lead in interior paint by law however, it can still be found in old homes where the paint has not been removed.

Sources: Old paint, plumbing (tap water), toys, and leaded crystal. Mercury can be found in metal teeth fillings and in some fish.

Reducing exposure: Use water-based paint, buy natural toys made in Canada, use cold tap water which contains less lead than hot water, pregnant woman and children should not drink from leaded crystal and choose fish with low levels of mercury.

3) Perfluorinated chemicals (PFC) are suspected carcinogens. The Government of Canada has recommended that some forms be added to the List of Toxic Substances.

Sources: Non-stick pans, microwave popcorn bags, scratch and stain resistant coatings, carpets, fabric and cleaning products.

Reducing exposure: Choose pans that are PFC free (such as stainless steel and cast iron), use natural products where possible, and make your popcorn the old fashioned way on the stove or use a popcorn maker.

4) Bisphenols are polycarbonate plastics made with bisphenol A (BPA), a synthetic estrogen that may leach toxins and lead to cancer and infertility. Canada is the first country to place BPA on the toxic substance list, and the government is proceeding with regulations to ban the importation, sale and advertising of baby bottles containing BPA.

Sources: Some plastic bottles, the lining of some cans and many other products made from plastic.

Reducing exposure: Look for BPA free plastics and cans.

5) Pesticides are found on a number of foods and find their way in our homes from the outside environment. Pesticides are linked to cancer, nerve damage and birth defects. Health Canada now requires pesticide companies to report all of the adverse effects associated with their products.

Sources: Foods (produce), bug sprays, and can also be brought in your home on your shoes and clothes.

Reducing exposure: Buy organic foods, use natural alternatives for bug spray and take your shoes off at the door to minimize the toxins you track into your home.

6) Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are a group of chemicals that are known to be toxic in high doses and are a major contributing factor to ozone, which is an air pollutant.

Sources: Paint, carpets, deodorants, cosmetics, cleaning products, varnishes, air fresheners and dry cleaning.

Reducing exposure: Health Canada recommends ensuring sufficient ventilation during major painting or other home projects, choosing low emission products, preventing people from smoking indoors and avoiding certain personal care and cleaning products.

7) Chlorine is a highly toxic gas and is one of the most commonly used chemical agents. Chlorine can cause, among other conditions, respiratory concerns.

Source: Household cleaners.

Reducing exposure: Use natural cleaning products and alternatives such as baking soda and vinegar.

8) Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDS) are flame-retardants found in common household items. Some forms have been banned in Canada, but the substance is still ubiquitous.

Sources: Electronics, upholstery and drapery textiles and potentially your mattress.

Reducing exposure: Be a conscious shopper and keep your home clean, as PBDS can settle in the dust on your floor.

9) Radon is a natural radioactive gas that can seep into homes through cracks in the basement and the surrounding foundation. Health Canada states that exposure to high amounts of radon increases the risk of developing lung cancer.

Sources: Rock and earth beneath homes, well water and building materials.

Reducing exposure: Test your home for radon.

10) Carbon monoxide is an odourless, colourless, gas that reduces the amount of oxygen in blood. Low levels over long periods of time are dangerous, and high levels can cause unconsciousness and lead to death.

Sources: A leaking chimney or furnace, unvented kerosene and gas space heaters, gas water heaters, wood and gas stoves and automobile exhaust from attached garages.

Reducing exposure: Install carbon monoxide detectors on every floor of your home, keep gas appliances properly adjusted, use proper fuel in kerosen space heaters, install and use an exhaust fan vented to the outdoors over gas stoves and do not idle the car inside your garage.

The thought of these toxins accumulating in our home is extremely alarming and scary to say the least. Fortunately, with the greener consciousness and green movement there is more information and better alternatives available to help decrease our exposure to these chemicals.