Protecting people at greater risk

Some people may be at greater risk of exposure to chemicals and pollutants.

On this page

Children

Young children often touch objects and put them in their mouths. Their smaller bodies, faster breathing and heart rates, and developing organs make them more vulnerable to pollutants and chemicals.

Keep kids safe by learning about sources of exposure and ways to protect them.

  • Read the label. Look for hazard symbols and teach your children to recognize them.
  • Only use products intended or approved for use by children. Many product labels indicate the appropriate age (for example, for children 6 years of age or older).
  • Keep all household chemical products locked away and out of reach.
  • Clean floors and household surfaces with a wet cloth or mop regularly to remove dust and dirt. Dust and dirt may contain harmful substances such as lead, which can affect children's development.
  • Keep your children away and ventilate the area when using household cleaners.
  • Wash your children's hands often, especially after playing on the floor and before eating.
  • Avoid microwaving and pouring hot liquids into plastic bottles which are not intended for such use.
  • Do a visual inspection of living areas regularly to prevent hazards. Don't forget to look underneath furniture where dust and dirt may gather.
  • Never smoke indoors or in vehicles.
  • Take care to prevent exposure to smoke. If exposed, children may have difficulty breathing, coughing, and may develop eye, nose, and throat irritation. They can develop ear and lung infections and asthma. And very young children have an increased chance of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
  • Children spend more time outdoors being physically active, which can increase their exposure to air pollution. Check the Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) before planning outdoor activities.
  • Use boric acid free recipes to make slime and playdough. Exposure to boric acid may cause developmental effects.
  • Mould can grow in items that have been damp or wet. Check non- washable furnishing such as pillows and stuffed animals for mould. Throw away carpets, sofas, cushions, mattresses, pillows, stuffed toys or bedding that have gotten wet, have been exposed to damp conditions or that have been stored in a wet environment.
  • Replace or repair damaged covers on products that contain foam, such as upholstered furniture and mattresses. Certain chemical flame retardants in foams may cause cancer, developmental and/or reproductive effects.
  • Schedule renovations and home repairs when your children are out of the building. If this isn't possible, keep them away from the area.
  • Choose low-emission composite wood products (for example, furniture, cabinets, countertops, flooring), paints, varnishes and glues.

Seniors

If you spend more time indoors, have a reduced immune system, or other medical conditions, you may be particularly vulnerable to certain chemicals and pollutants around the home. Keep safe and comfortable by following a few simple rules.

  • Read the label. Look for hazard symbols.
  • Keep all products stored properly and follow the directions of your doctor or pharmacist when taking medications. Purchase pill containers to help you keep track of your pills.
  • Take unused or expired medications to a pharmacy for proper disposal. Do not flush them down the toilet or throw them in the garbage. Keep them out of our water, soil and air.
  • Clean floors and household surfaces with a wet cloth or mop regularly to remove dust and dirt. Dust and dirt can contain lead or other contaminants.
  • Make a special effort to have a clean play area for visiting children.
  • Open windows and run the furnace fan or air conditioning system regularly, to ensure proper ventilation in your home.
  • Install and check certified smoke detectors and carbon monoxide alarms. Low levels of carbon monoxide from appliances can cause flu-like symptoms. They can also lead to an increased risk of heart disease.
  • Wash your hands before handling or preparing food. Wash fruits and vegetables before cooking or eating them.
  • Check the AQHI for the air quality readings in your area before going outside.
  • Drink plenty of water and keep your home cool if there are extreme heat alerts.
  • Open windows to ensure adequate ventilation when undergoing any home renovation and using products like paints, varnishes, paint strippers, or cleaning products.
  • Schedule renovations and home repairs when you are out of the building. If this is not possible, avoid the area where work is happening.
  • Do not smoke or vape indoors.
  • Have your fireplace or woodstove checked and maintained regularly by a professional. Exposure to smoke can mean difficulty breathing, coughing, eye, nose, and throat irritation, lung infections, and the development or worsening of chronic diseases.

Pregnant women

Not only can your own health be jeopardized, but exposure to chemicals can harm your unborn child, too. Many substances can travel through the placenta, leading to serious developmental problems for the fetus. Chemicals can also cause premature birth, low birth weight, and miscarriage. If you are planning a pregnancy or are already pregnant, talk to your health care provider about chemicals that you may be exposed to.

To stay healthy before and during your pregnancy, avoid exposure to chemicals and pollutants as much as possible.

  • Read the labels on chemical products. Look for hazard symbols.
  • Keep all household chemical products sealed when not in use to avoid exposure.
  • Clean floors and household surfaces with a wet cloth or mop regularly to remove dust and dirt. Dust and dirt may contain contaminants such as lead, which can affect unborn children's development.
  • Choose fish that are low in mercury so that you can take advantage of the benefits of eating fish while minimizing the risks from mercury.
  • Avoid microwaving and pouring hot liquids into plastic bottles which are not intended for such use.
  • Open windows and/or run an exhaust fan when using household products. Avoid all exposure to smoke if possible.
  • Check the AQHI to avoid extreme heat and drifting smoke when planning outdoor activities.
  • Do not use boric acid to make arts and crafts materials. Exposure can cause developmental and reproductive health effects.
  • Protect yourself by wearing appropriate protective clothing, gloves, eye goggles, and a mask when using any harmful chemicals.
  • Schedule renovations and home repairs when you are not home. If this is not possible, avoid the area where work is happening, especially if lead is involved. Lead from older painted surfaces or pipes can cause developmental problems, birth defects, and miscarriage.

People with pre-existing health conditions

As someone with a pre-existing health condition, you might have a more sensitive immune system or compromised organ, blood, or respiratory systems. You may not be able to fight off viruses or adverse health effects from exposure to harmful substances as easily as others.

It's important to prevent unnecessary exposure and protect yourself.

  • Read the labels on chemical products. Look for hazard symbols.
  • Always consult your doctor before using anything that might jeopardize your health.
  • Keep all hazardous chemical products sealed to avoid exposure when not being used.
  • Clean floors and household surfaces with a wet cloth or mop regularly to remove dust and dirt. Dust and dirt may contain contaminants such as lead.
  • Wear appropriate protective gear such as a mask, eye protection, and long-sleeved clothing when cleaning areas of mould. Susceptible individuals such as pregnant women, infants, children, the elderly, (or pets) and occupants with asthma, allergies or other health problems should not be in or near the area where the mould is being cleaned up. Mould can cause asthma attacks, pneumonia, and allergic reactions.
  • Schedule renovations and home repairs when you are out of the building. If this is not possible, keep away from the area. Open windows/doors and run exhaust fans to ensure adequate ventilation when using products like paints, varnishes, paint strippers, or cleaning products.
  • Choose low-emission composite wood products and paints that are low-or zero-volatile organic compound. These are gentler, safer products, especially for people with allergies, children, and people with respiratory illnesses. They will not release a strong odour, will not off-gas, and are better for the natural environment.
  • Avoid exposure to smoke and install at least one carbon monoxide alarm, preferably near bedrooms.
  • Consult the AQHI before planning outdoor activities. Air pollution, extreme heat, smog, and smoke should be avoided, if possible.

Indigenous peoples

Indigenous peoples in Canada can be particularly vulnerable to environmental conditions. Populations living in the North who rely on traditional lifestyles face exposure to environmental contaminants that originate in other parts of the world.

There are a number of environmental health concerns for Indigenous peoples in Canada, including adequate housing that is free of environmental contaminants, safe and secure water supplies and traditional foods, and a variety of effects related to climate change.

Get simple steps to keep yourself and your family healthy while at home or out on the land.

Report a problem or mistake on this page
Please select all that apply:

Thank you for your help!

You will not receive a reply. For enquiries, contact us.

Date modified: