Tips to protect your family from chemicals and pollutants

Every day, we are exposed to chemicals and pollutants - in our air, food and water. There are chemicals in everyday products we use at work, at home and at play. While some chemicals may be beneficial to our health, others may pose a health risk if they're not handled properly.

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

Read the label

  • Always read and follow instructions on the labels of household chemical products and pesticides. Use them carefully, especially around children and pets.
  • Before starting a home project ensure you have all the correct safety gear and supplies you need.

Lock up your chemicals

  • Keep household chemical products locked in cupboards or drawers and out of reach and sight from young children and pets.
  • Do not expose chemical products to extreme temperatures. Keep them away from food, water sources, and open flames.

Dispose of chemical products the right way

  • Proper disposal of chemical products is important to prevent chemical contamination of our soil, air and water. Be sure to follow disposal instructions as stated on the product label. Do not dispose of chemical products and pharmaceuticals down the drain or by flushing them down the toilet.
  • Take any toxic household materials 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 one functioning carbon monoxide alarm (CO) outside of your bedrooms.
  • 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

  • Radon is an invisible and odourless radioactive gas. It is the number one cause of lung cancer in non-smokers.
  • Buy a radon test kit or hire a professional to do it for you, most importantly reduce the level if it is high.

Ventilate your home

  • Make sure you have enough fresh air coming into your home. Health Canada's publication Ventilation and the Indoor Environment is a good source of advice.
  • Exhaust fans that vent to the outside should be installed 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 are frying food or using a gas stove.
  • Open windows when renovating. Ensure adequate ventilation when using products that may release chemicals into the air, such as when you are painting, varnishing, working with composite wood, or installing new carpets.
  • Choose low-emission paints, varnishes, glues, wood furniture, and building products. Look for an independent certification label to help you select low-emission products (like the EcoLogo program that sets standards for sustainable products).

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Wash your hands often

  • Frequent hand washing often helps to prevent infection and reduce exposure to harmful substances. This is especially important before every meal and 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.

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Keep your home clean

  • Clean floors and household surfaces with a wet cloth or mop regularly to remove dust and dirt.
  • Consider installing a central vacuum that is vented outdoors or using a vacuum with a high-efficiency particle air (HEPA) filter that traps small particles.

Remove your shoes at the door

  • Don't track in harmful substances from outside. Keep a strict barrier between outside dirt and contaminants in 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. Mould spores can be released into the air in your home and get into your lungs. Mould in the home may cause eye, nose and throat irritation, coughing and wheezing, and make asthma and allergy symptoms worse.
  • Eliminate mould by keeping indoor moisture levels and humidity low, allowing for proper ventilation throughout your home, and cleaning up spills immediately. If a small amount of mould is found in your home, remove it with water and dish soap. There is no need for 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 drinking water, reduce your exposure by letting the tap water run until cold before using it for drinking, cooking, or making baby formula.
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