Sustainable housing and real estate in Kitchener-Waterloo Region

Toxins in the home.

Now don’t panic, but many different types of toxins are found throughout the average home. These toxins can be extremely harmful to our health. While it is incredibly difficult to remove all the toxins from our households immediately, it is something you should be aware of and begin to take steps towards reducing. Many of these toxins are carcinogenic (meaning cancer causing), and fatal or life threatening to humans in certain doses. They can cause severe health issues. Many are not naturally eliminated from the body and can be stored over time with each exposure, eventually reaching potentially dangerous limits. Many of these toxins are accumulated in our bodies and can be passed on to our children. Some of these toxins can accumulate in our fatty tissues and only become more highly concentrated as they move up the food chain. This is something we should be concerned about. We can take steps to reduce the toxicity of our home ourselves, which I will detail shortly.

 The building industry needs to be aware of this issue and make some changes to ensure housing is less toxic and that toxic materials are not used in its making. They are slowly becoming more aware. Some companies have switched to using more environmentally friendly and non-toxic products. The government has taken steps to prevent some of chemicals (such as asbestos) from now getting into our buildings, but have not taken enough steps to fully protect us.

 Some carpets, electronics, furniture padding and mattresses, and other materials contain brominated flame retardants (BFR’s). These chemicals can disrupt hormone and reproductive systems.

 Pesticides are often introduced into the home to get rid of insects, weeds and moulds. Different types of soaps, household cleaning products, paints, wallpapers and other materials can be sprayed or coated in pesticides prior to sale. Pesticides can cause disruption of hormones, reproductive systems and are also very carcinogenic. Some also contain heavy metals, which can be absorbed, inhaled or ingested into the body. Pesticides are poison, meant to kill living things.

 A range of products contain perfluorinated chemicals such as perfluorooctanyl sulfate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). These are often found in floor polishes, denture cleaners, shampoos, herbicides, insecticides, adhesives, and for surface treatment of clothing, carpets and cookware. Perfluorinated chemicals are carcinogenic and can also disrupt horomone and reproductive systems.

 Many cleaners, paints, textiles and leather treatments, pulp and paper processing and agricultural chemicals contain alkylphenols which can also disrupt hormone and reproductive systems.

 Many of our electronics products are full of toxins that are highly dangerous to humans, especially during the manufacturing processes. People should take caution when repairing, breaking or disposing of these products so that they do inhale, ingest or expose themselves to toxins or leach the toxins into the ground water systems. Certain light bulbs can contain mercury, so can several newer electronics devices. Cadmium can be found in SMD chip resistors, infrared detectors, semiconductors, older types of cathode ray tubes, and some plastics. It concentrates over time in the body and can cause severe health problems. Electronics can also contain BFRs, barium, beryllium, hexavalent chromium, dioxins and furans; all highly toxic to humans and animals.

 Also toxic in the home: most paints, furniture polish, spot remover, varnish, glues, drain cleaners, oven cleaners, floor cleaners, disinfectants, ammonia, scouring powder, bleach, laundry detergents, flea sprays, fertilizers, air fresheners, aerosol sprays, batteries, and motor oil.

 There are easy (and usually cheaper) alternatives that are easy enough to make. Baking soda, washing soda, vinegar, lemon juice, cornstarch, table salt and borax when mixed in the right proportions can work fabulously in place of many cleaners, polishes etc. You can check out for more details or ask me for recipes or suggestions.

 When painting your home, you can look for paints with low volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These are now offered in many brands, colours and choices. They do not release toxins into the air.

 Avoid using no-pest strips as they can contain pesticides which are released into the air. Get good screens, and fix cracks and doorways. Cedar blocks or bags of cedar chips hung with clothes work to prevent mothballs. Placing dried bay leafs around the corners, cracks, windows or doors will help to prevent spiders from coming in and taking up residence in your home. There are lots of natural alternatives to pesticides.

 When buying new furniture or remodeling, consider using a company that is more environmentally friendly or that uses non-toxic materials. There are many sustainable and healthy choices now available. If you don’t know, ask. If they can’t tell you-look elsewhere. You don’t have to make giant leaps, take baby steps.

 If you want more suggestions, please ask me!