Tips for reducing your exposure to harmful chemicals indoors

Accumulation of toxic chemicals inhaled, ingested and absorbed through skin every day is called “body burden.”Follow these simple ABCs to unburden yourself, your family and your home.

Woman hugging her baby in a toxic-chemical free homeEven extremely low levels of toxins can impact brain development  in children. Photo: Paul Hanaoka via Upsplash

A is for air fresheners

  • Some manufactured deodorizers mask odour problems, worsen air quality and can be painful, debilitating and isolating for people with environmental sensitivities. Open a window or turn on a fan!

B is for BPA

  • Bisphenol A is an endocrine disruptor found in plastic baby bottles, food storage containers and water bottles, receipts and more. Choose glass or stainless steel.

C is for couch, carpets and curtains

  • These items — and your TV, furniture and electronics — shed toxics every day. Solution: dust!

D is for Dirty Dozen

E is for earth

  • That’s diatomaceous earth (made from crushed fossilized algae)! It’s an eco-friendlier way to control ants.

F is for formaldehyde

  • Formaldehyde is used in clothing and textiles to prevent wrinkles and mildew during shipping. It also increases colour fastness and stain resistance. Wash new clothes BEFORE wearing and avoid “no-iron” shirts.
Home cleaners in reusable containersG is for “green”

Learn how to read product labels to shop smarter or make your own.

H is for hair dye

  • Some contain ammonia, petrochemicals, sulfates, phthalates and P-phenylenediamine, which can cause cancer and may be contaminated with brain-toxic heavy metals. Choose safer products or don’t dye at all.

I is for indoor air quality

J is for jojoba oil

  • Make lip balm with jojoba oil to avoid petrolatum, a petrochemical sometimes contaminated with cancer-causing polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.

K is for killing germs

L is for liquid dish soap

  • Add a handful of soap nuts (they’re actually a fruit!) to a jar of water. Shake and use the sudsy solution to clean dishes and more.

M is for mosquitoes

A cast iron pan and other ingredients and cooking equipment.N is for non-stick

Cook with cast iron to avoid toxic chemicals like PFOA and PTFE that coat many non-stick frying pans and bakeware.

O is for off-gassing

P is for “parfum”

  • Even “unscented” products may contain ingredients to mask odours from other chemicals. Read labels carefully. Avoid “fragrance” or “parfum,”  which can trigger allergies and asthma.

Q is for quats

  • Found in bathroom cleaners and fabric softeners, quaternary ammonium compounds can induce an allergic response, don’t readily degrade in the environment and are toxic to fish. Choose products that disclose a full list of plant-based ingredients.

R is for responsible

  • Some household products are hazardous waste. Look for the symbols indicating corrosive, explosive, flammable or poison and properly dispose of all HHW — aerosol cans, batteries, old paint, etc. to keep them out of the landfill.

S is for sunscreen

  • Ingredients found in chemical sunscreens — parabens, oxybenzone, benzophenone and camphor derivatives — are killing coral reefs around the world and posing risks to human health. Choose safer options.

T is for triclosan

  • It’s an anti-bacterial agent which may interfere with hormone function, contribute to antibiotic-resistant bacteria AND harm fish and other wildlife. Make your own toothpaste or use castile soap to make cleaning products!
Water flowing down a drain.U is for unclog

Avoid drain cleaners with highly corrosive ingredients that can burn eyes, skin and lungs. Prevent clogs or unclog with baking soda, water and vinegar.

V is for vinegar

  • Use white vinegar to deodorize, cut grease and disinfect against household bacteria like salmonella, E. coli and other “gram-negative” bacteria!

W is for wet cleaning

  • This professional cleaning uses environmentally-friendly, 100 per cent biodegradable soaps and conditioners to remove tough stains and treat “dry clean only” items without harmful solvents.

X is for xeriscaping

  • Use up to 50 per cent less water by landscaping with native plants better adapted to your area. You won’t need pesticides!

Y is for yuck!

Z is for zzzs

  • Rest easy with pillows made from natural rubber (renewable and biodegradable), kapok (flower seeds) or organic cotton and organic wool.


‘Slow Death by Rubber Duck’ book sheds light on everyday exposure to toxic chemicals

The new 10th anniversary edition of the book ‘Slow Death by Rubber Duck’ examines health impacts and calls for stronger regulations against toxic chemicals in Canada and around the world.

“Bruce and I poisoned ourselves so you don’t have to,” joked Rick Smith, speaking at the launch of the 10th anniversary edition of the book Slow Death by Rubber Duck: How the Toxicity of Everyday Life Affects Our Health in Vancouver on Wednesday.

Ten years ago, Smith and co-author Bruce Lourie set out to write a book about the insidious, invisible toxic chemicals found in the products consumers handle every day, from shampoo and shaving cream to non-stick frying pans.

They took an unconventional approach, and decided to become guinea pigs themselves.

Through a dozen experiments, Smith and Lourie examined the impacts of chemicals including Teflon, triclosan, and bisphenol A — better known as BPA — on their own bodies.

They sat in a new car for six hours to measure levels of volatile organic compounds, such as benzene. They slathered themselves in products containing phthalates and parabens. Lourie ate tuna for a day to see if it would lead to higher levels of mercury in his body.

Across the board, Smith and Lourie measured increased toxins in their bodies.

“If we took the science related to these toxic chemicals seriously, this would be a huge societal priority,” said Smith, who is also executive director of the Broadbent Institute, an independent research organization founded by former NDP leader Ed Broadbent that promotes democracy, equality and sustainability. “We’ve created an enormous problem for ourselves that’s at the root of a lot of the diseases our families experience.” MORE


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