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Tips to protect your family from chemicals and pollutants

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Organization: Health Canada

Published: November 2022

Every day, we’re exposed to chemicals and pollutants in the air, food, water and products we use in our home. While some chemicals may be helpful, others may pose a risk to your health if they're not handled or used properly.

Here are some simple steps you can take to help protect yourself and your family.

Read the label and follow the instructions

Always read the labels of household chemical products and pesticides. Use them carefully, especially around children and pets.

Follow the instructions to ensure you are properly protected, and to prevent injuries or death. If you don't understand something on the label, contact the manufacturer.

Look for and understand hazard symbols found on the front of the product.

Wear personal protective equipment

Wear the recommended personal protective equipment when you're using household chemical products.

Protective equipment may include:

  • gloves
  • safety glasses or goggles
  • a proper mask
    • there are different masks to protect you, depending on the product you are using

Protective equipment can also prevent you from spreading substances onto other objects and people.

Read the product label for more detailed information about additional safety equipment you should wear.

Lock up your chemicals

Store and maintain your household chemical products properly. Keep them locked in cupboards or drawers and out of reach and sight from young children and pets. Make sure closures on child-resistant containers are working.

Dispose of chemical products the right way

Follow municipal guidelines as well as the directions on the product label to dispose of chemicals and other hazardous waste safely.

Don’t dispose of chemical products and pharmaceuticals down the drain or by flushing them down the toilet.

Take any leftover household chemical products to your local hazardous waste disposal depot, where they can be disposed of safely. If you don't know where yours is, check with your municipal government or waste facility.

Bring unused and expired prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications and natural health products to your local pharmacist for proper disposal.

Install alarms and prevent carbon monoxide poisoning

Install a certified smoke detector and ensure you have at least 1 functioning carbon monoxide (CO) alarm outside of your bedrooms.

Test existing CO alarms and replace them according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Avoid CO exposure by keeping the door between your home and garage closed.

Watch for signs of CO poisoning, which may include mild flu-like symptoms and loss of consciousness.

Know your rights and obligations. Depending on where you live, having working alarms in your home, workplace or rental units might also be the law.

Test for radon

To test for radon, you can:

Most importantly, take action to reduce the radon level if it’s high.

Ventilate your home

Make sure you have enough fresh air coming into your home. However, during periods of high levels of outdoor air pollution, reduce the air entering your home from outside by closing your windows and turning on your air conditioning, if possible.

Install exhaust fans that vent to the outside in bathrooms and above stoves to remove moisture and pollutants produced indoors. Make sure to turn them on when showering or cooking, especially if you’re frying food or using a gas stove.

Open windows when renovating or when using products such as paint, varnish, composite wood or new carpets that may release chemicals into the air.

Use low-emission products

Choose low-emission paints, varnishes, glues, wood furniture and building products.

Paint or varnish products often have a noticeable smell. The smell comes from emissions that will contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Some household chemical products that are labelled as "low emission" may give off fewer VOCs.

Wash your hands often

Frequent hand washing helps to prevent infection and reduce exposure to harmful substances. This is especially important:

  • before preparing and eating meals
  • if your hands come into contact with a household chemical product

To clean your hands thoroughly, scrub with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds.

When it's not possible to wash with soap and water, use an alcohol-based sanitizer to kill harmful microbes.

Keep your home clean

Clean hard floors and surfaces with a wet cloth or mop regularly to remove dust and dirt. Vacuum carpets, curtains and all soft furnishings frequently.

If possible, use a central vacuum that’s vented outdoors or a vacuum with a high-efficiency particle air (HEPA) filter that traps small particles.

Remove your shoes at the door

Take off your shoes in your home. When you are outside, your shoes can pick up dirt and harmful chemicals, which you can track into your home.

This may be particularly important if you have young children who spend a great deal of time playing on the floor.

Prevent mould

Mould grows in damp or wet areas.

Eliminate mould by:

  • cleaning up spills immediately
  • allowing for proper ventilation throughout your home
  • keeping indoor moisture levels and humidity between 30 and 50%
  • finding and removing all sources of excess moisture and existing mould throughout your home

If you find a small amount of mould in your home, clean it up with water and dish soap. You don’t need to use bleach.

Let tap water run until it's cold

Lead from old pipes and plumbing materials can leach into your water if it has been sitting in your pipes for several hours (like overnight).

If you know or suspect you have lead in your drinking water, reduce your exposure by letting your tap water run until cold. Use this cold water for drinking, cooking or making baby food.

If you’re concerned about lead in your pipes, check with your municipality or water utility to see if there are lead service lines in your area.

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