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Healthy Home

  1. If you smoke, keep smoke away from others and you can get help to quit. Here are some reasons and ideas. Smoking (tobacco and other products such as cannabis) is the number 1 cause of cancer in the mouth, throat and lungs, it contributes to many other cancers and conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and stroke, and it also harms children from conception on.
  2. Avoid second hand smoke, also called environmental tobacco smoke, as it has been proven to cause lung cancer in non-smoking adults. Children and the fetus are particularly vulnerable to the many adverse effects of second hand smoke.
  3. Smoking bans work! The evidence is in and according to a study smoking bans clearly reduce harm. Avoiding second hand smoke is “no-brainer”. Do you know of a gathering area which could/should be smoke free? We all know that bad habits (like cigarettes, unhealthy food, sitting instead of exercising outside, etc.) are not good for us, but habits can be hard to change. Being mindful can improve your life in many ways, including healthier behaviours.
  4. Wash new clothes and clean toys and other items well before use. Toxic chemicals – even pesticides that are illegal in Canada– may be used before shipping from foreign manufacturers. Health Canada can’t keep up. Painted goods may include toxic preservatives. There are lots of good reasons to buy local!
  5. Go scent-free. Avoid conventional air “fresheners” that dispense potentially toxic chemicals to mask unpleasant odours. Natural absorbents such as baking soda, activated charcoal, or lava rock can reduce odours. Phthalates, added to make odours linger, affect hormone actions, while artificial fragrances contain many harmful chemicals that can contribute to the development of cancer. If you really want a scent, use toilet water or oils with natural scents (rather than perfume). To scent air naturally, boil spices like cinnamon and cloves in water in a shallow pan, or use bowls of natural potpourri.
  6. Use a mixture of olive oil and vinegar to polish furniture. Many commercial polishes contain toxic chemicals, and may even have a skull and crossbones or warning about ventilation on the label.
  7. Dust is a major source of toxins. Leave shoes at the door, mop floors, vacuum (preferably with a high-efficiency particle arrester “HEPA” filter), and dust surfaces with a clean, damp cloth frequently!
  8. Good choices for holiday decorations are numerous and include fragrance-free candles with cotton wicks, or – even better – beeswax. Natural materials are in the spirit of ageless traditions and the changing of the seasons. Make your holiday green with these tips, and email yours for us to share!
  9. For a healthy alternative to commercial polishes, polish brass with a soft cloth dipped in lemon juice or a baking soda/water paste.
  10. Beige is the new black. Use unbleached paper towels, coffee filters, lunch bags, napkins and paper plates, as white paper bleached with chlorine has a residue of dioxin, a known carcinogen. Effluents from pulp bleaching plants can also harm communities where the products are made. Depending upon the process, mercury released during bleach production can also pollute communities for generations. Mercury is blown around the world, building up towards the poles (e.g. accumulating in whales and polar bears).
  11. Avoid common fabric softeners as they contain toxic chemicals that may cause nervous system damage, respiratory problems and cancer. The raw ingredients (made from rendered animal remains) smell unpleasant, so fragrances (over 1000 possible chemicals) and agents to dull the sense of smell are added. These chemicals are significant sources of air pollution. Phthalates (endocrine disruptors) are added to make the fragrances last longer. Liquid fabric softeners add toxic chemicals to the waterways, while dryer sheets pollute the air. Instead, skip “softening” clothes altogether, or buy a set of re-usable dryer balls, or add a quarter-cup of vinegar to your wash cycle.
  12. Chemical fragrance stinks. Avoid purchasing goods containing artificial “fragrance”. Thousands of undisclosed chemicals go into cosmetics and consumer goods—and some are pretty nasty.
  13. Use chlorine-free treatments for pool water, such as ozone, salt water, or a water conditioner/hydrogen peroxide blend. Chlorinated water produces toxic by-products.
  14. Fix all moisture, leaks and drips in your home and workplace promptly, and keep the humidity low in the basement. Indoor molds can produce extremely potent toxins (mycotoxins) that are readily absorbed by the intestinal lining, airways, and skin, and can have toxic effects ranging from short-term irritation to immunosuppression and cancer. Any mould in your building should be sealed off until the mouldy material can be safely removed and repairs completed. Safe work practices include isolation of the space, ventilation to the outdoors, personal protection, and thorough cleanup. If you have a large mould problem, it’s a job for a professional.
  15. Opt for smooth, natural flooring – best are hardwood, ceramic tiles and natural washable throw rugs. Composites or synthetic carpeting may off-gas up to 120 volatile chemicals, especially in the first few months after installation. Dyes, binders, flame retardants and stain-resistant treatments in the synthetic carpets are hazardous to your health, and carpets also collect dust with other toxicants and allergens. Hazards are greatest for young children, crawling in the “dust zone.”
  16. Inquire about pest control history if you are looking for an apartment or condominium. Talk to the landlord or building manager before making a decision – better safe than sorry! Sanitation and non-toxic strategies such as filling cracks are the way to go, rather than spraying toxic pesticides. If your current dwelling (or surrounding grounds) has an infestation of pests, explore and advocate for least-toxic strategies for their control and removal.
  17. Know your mothballs. Do not use mothballs containing naphthalene or paradichlorobenzene as they are suspected human carcinogens that may damage the eyes, blood, liver, kidneys, skin, and central nervous system. Instead, place clean clothing in sealed bags for storage. Otherwise, use natural alternatives like cedar balls or panels, and dried marigold, lavender, citronella and pennyroyal. Some people may be sensitive to the chemicals released by natural products.
  18. Location, location, location. If possible, choose to live in a community where you can commute to work or school and can run your errands on foot or by bicycle. While doing so, try to avoid heavily trafficked roads, as air pollution can be an important cause of cancer. Also, ensure that no industries or dumps used to be in your new area, as soil contamination can remain, and “brownfield redevelopment” was not done as carefully historically as it is supposed to be done today.
  19. Plant a tree, or lots of trees! Adopt and care for trees in your neighbourhood. Foliage acts as an air filter and cools the environment. Air pollution including smog that occurs with higher temperatures, causes cancers and other chronic diseases, and deaths.
  20. Varnish and paints may contain harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as aromatic hydrocarbons. Choose a low-VOC or no-VOC water-based product. If you must use solvent-based products, you can limit your exposure to harmful vapours by wearing protective equipment including eyewear, gloves and a fitted mask with carbon canisters. Use the product outdoors or in a well-ventilated room. Avoid products that have a skull and crossbones on the label.
  21. Use white distilled vinegar and water to clean your home, office or automobile. It is a mild disinfectant and cleaning eliminates many odours.
  22. As a safer alternative to harsh conventional cleaners, use white vinegar or baking soda to clean and remove stains from the toilet bowl. Peroxide bleach may be mixed with vinegar for cleaning and disinfection, but avoid contact with eyes, skin or clothes, as peroxide is a potent chemical. (Never mix chlorine or hypochlorite bleach with vinegar!)
  23. A third of your life may be spent in bed, so choose wisely. Most conventional mattresses and pillows contain flame retardants that can interfere with hormone actions. Cotton and wool are naturally flame retardant, so organic mattresses and pillows of these materials should not contain petrochemicals and flame retardants that may contribute to cancers. A less expensive alternative could be high quality washable covers for your mattress and pillow. Aim for non-toxic options for upholstered furniture and cushions too.
  24. Check your home for radon! It’s a naturally occurring carcinogenic gas that can migrate through the foundation to your home’s lower levels, or come in ground water supplies. Residential exposure to radon is estimated to cause 16% of Canadian lung cancers, making it the second highest cause of lung cancer after tobacco smoke. To avoid infiltration, repair cracks and holes in the basement walls and floor, and ventilate the basement with positive pressure. Although it is recommended that houses should be tightly sealed for energy efficiency, adequate and appropriate ventilation is necessary to remove indoor air pollutants, including radon from the basement. A good motto is “seal tight, ventilate right.”
  25. Try a plunger first, instead of using toxic drain cleaners. Alternatively, pour 1/2 cup of baking soda down the drain then add 1/2 cup white vinegar and cover the drain tightly. The resulting chemical reaction can dislodge the debris so that it can be washed down the drain. Do not use either method after trying a commercial drain opener, as the resulting release of toxic chlorine gas can be dangerous.
  26. Minimize your garbage. Do all that you can, as waste disposal (and particularly incineration) lead to many environmental impacts that can increase cancer risks. Plastic fragments in waterways and soil, even in municipal compost, accumulate pollutants and harm small creatures at the base of the food chain. The pollutants can even move up the food chain to your plate. Remember too, that you paid for all that stuff in the garbage can, and that all the resource extraction, manufacturing and trucking emit greenhouse gases and other toxins! Let’s all aim for least-toxic options and Zero Waste. Ask manufacturers and retailers to reduce, reuse and recycle packaging.
  27. Lead is a probable carcinogen, a potent neurotoxin, and has many other toxic effects. Use protective equipment and careful, safe work practices when refinishing old wooden surfaces painted before the 1980s, and surfaces painted with marine paint, as these may well have a high lead content. Keep children well away, clean up daily, and wash clothes that might contain lead residue separately. A miniscule amount of lead dust can harm a child’s developing brain.
  28. Avoid lead in products. Do not store drinks in crystal decanters, because lead will leach into the beverage. Use alternatives when making “leaded glass.” Carefully handle and recycle old batteries. Use alternatives to lead ammunition. Be aware of lead at work.
  29. Avoid paradichlorobenzene. PDB is a possible carcinogen found in “pucks” for diaper pails and urinals, mothballs and, ironically, “deodorizers.” PDB has a strong odour and may pollute the air in an entire building. Avoid these products, and if you come across it in public places, inform management that they should not be used.
  30. Always recycle batteries – even the smallest ones add up. Changing batteries in smoke/carbon monoxide alarms is widely encouraged in the autumn, and there are many reasons to recycle all batteries. Some contain toxic elements such as the carcinogen cadmium, that can leach from landfills. “Greener” energy sources require storage, and specialized chemicals in rechargable batteries are limited resources with significant environmental footprint to mine and process – recycling is best!
  31. Don’t purchase goods made of PVC plastic (polyvinyl chloride, recycling symbol 3), or packaged in tough, clear packaging. PVC is not easily recycled. It is the most toxic plastic to manufacture, it requires hormone-mimicking plasticizers to be flexible, it contains potentially toxic stabilizers, and forms dioxins (very toxic chemicals) when burned. PVC from China is made using a process that releases mercury – a global pollutant that migrates north and pollutes Canada’s bears, fish and whales.
    • Avoid PVC packaging.
    • Tell store managers and manufacturers (call the number on the product, or via their website) that you want minimal packaging with no PVC. Recycled cardboard may be a good option.
    • Tell your politicians that they should ban this type of packaging.
    • Consider organizing take-back-the-package events at local stores.
      • Learn more about recycling plastic
  32. Lead is a probable carcinogen, a potent neurotoxin, and has many other toxic effects. Always use water from the cold water tap to drink and cook. Old service pipes and plumbing can leach lead into drinking water, and Health Canada reports that lead levels can be many-fold higher after water sits in pipes. We recommend testing water that sat in pipes many hours – overnight or through the day. Pipe and plumbing replacement is the long term solution. Lead levels can be lowered with special filters, or perhaps with running the tap for 10 minutes. Prevent Cancer Now is speaking up for worst-case testing to find fixable lead sources, rather than the suggestion to test for “typical” levels. Check your ceramicware as the glaze could contain lead or cadmium. The FDA has identified significant lead exposure from improper formulation, application or firing of the glaze on ceramicware. Read more about lead exposure at Tamara’s website .