Healthy Environment

On a typical day, most of us are exposed to a wide variety of potentially toxic substances while simply going about our regular routines at home, at school, at work and in our communities. For example, we can breathe in chemicals that “off-gas” from our furnishings, from dry-cleaned clothes, scented personal care products and harsh cleaning products. We can eat pesticide residues on foods. We can encounter biological agents like bacteria, viruses, dust mites and mould in indoor air, as well as electromagnetic radiation from computer monitors, cell phones and microwaves. We can come into contact with toxins by breathing, touching, eating or drinking them.

While we cannot totally eliminate these everyday “hidden exposures,” we can work to reduce them and make choices that minimize our exposure to them. For example, we can choose unscented personal care products, use baking soda and vinegar for cleaning, choose a dry cleaner that offers “wet cleaning” or other non-toxic cleaning methods, eat organic foods, use a HEPA (high efficiency particulate arresting) vacuum cleaner to reduce dust, get rid of mouldy items, sit at least 50 cm from computer monitors, and stand away from the microwave when in use.

These are just some examples of changes that we can make that contribute to a healthier environment for ourselves and our children.

In industrialized countries, the average person spends about 90 per cent of his or her time indoors. Unfortunately, the air quality indoors is often two to five times worse than it is outdoors.

It is particularly important to keep the air inside your home as clean and fresh as possible. Your home’s building materials, furnishings and care products, in addition to the activities you do in your home, can all have an effect on the quality of the indoor air.

There are many things in homes that can contaminate the air you breathe. The pollutants that affect human health can be biological, chemical or physical.

Biological contaminants are living organisms, such as:

  • Fungi, moulds
  • Dust mites
  • Bacteria
  • Animal dander

Chemical contaminants are gasses and particles that come from:

  • Furniture and carpets that emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
  • Tobacco smoke
  • Combustion by-products (furnaces, stoves, fireplaces)
  • Chemicals from cleaners
  • Paints, solvents and glues
  • Perfumes and fragrances
  • Pesticides
  • Plastics and polyvinyl chloride (PVC)
  • Lead (old lead paint, lead pipes)
  • Asbestos

Physical contaminants include:

  • Electromagnetic radiation
  • Radon gas
  • Heavy metals

To conserve energy, many homes built in the 1970s and 80s, and some remodelled homes, are well insulated and tightly built. Less fresh air can get in and the stale, contaminated air cannot escape. The levels of contaminants inside a home can build up until they are many times greater than the levels in outdoor air. This is why modern homes usually have heat recovery ventilators installed, and apartment buildings have heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. This equipment conserves energy, but at the same time ensures an adequate supply of fresher, outside air.

Common symptoms of exposure to poor indoor air quality include:

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Fatigue
  • Eye dryness and/or irritation
  • Stuffy nose and/or sneezing
  • Sinus congestion
  • Sore throat and/or husky voice
  • Dry cough
  • Wheezing and/or shortness of breath
  • Nausea
  • Skin dryness and/or rashes
  1. Biological Contaminants: Fungi and moulds grow on damp or wet surfaces that they can digest, such as paper, cardboard, drywall, leather, carpet and padded furniture. They can grow in humidifiers and heating, ventilating and air conditioning systems if the equipment is not properly cleaned and maintained. Dampness and a good supply of human or animal dander encourage the breeding of dust mites.
  2. Chemical Contaminants (Organic):
    1. Volatile Organic Compounds: Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are chemicals that are released into the air at room temperature. VOCs are given off by tobacco smoke, some glues, paints, solvents, some furniture, carpets, dry-cleaned clothes, cleaning products, air fresheners, moulds, mildew, fragrances, personal care products, and many other products commonly used indoors.

      Some VOCs, such as formaldehyde and benzene, have been classified as carcinogens by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Formaldehyde is a common component of particleboard, fibreboard, plywood, foam insulation, glues and fabrics. It can irritate the eyes and cause respiratory symptoms, such as stuffy nose, coughing and wheezing. Benzene can be found in a wide range of products, including glues, paints, furniture wax and detergents, as well as cigarette smoke. Benzene in the outdoor air comes from gas stations, motor vehicle exhaust and industrial emissions. This chemical can cause symptoms that range from mild to severe, even life-threatening.

    2. Tobacco Smoke: Smoke from cigarettes, pipes, and cigars contains many pollutants, including gases, particulate matter and VOCs. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), second-hand smoke is responsible for approximately 3,000 cancer deaths each year in non-smoking adults, and impairs the respiratory health of hundreds of thousands of children.
    3. Combustion By-Products: As fuels are burned in furnaces, heaters, fireplaces, and stoves, contaminants can be released into the air in the home. These fuels include natural gas, wood, kerosene and oil, and incomplete combustion can lead to the release of particles and harmful gases, such as VOCs, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide and carbon monoxide.
  3. Chemical Contaminants (Inorganic)
    1. Lead: If your home was built before 1980, lead may be present in your plumbing and in the paint on the exterior of your home. If your home was built before 1960, the paint inside your home may contain lead. You may be exposed to lead through the drinking water, soil, paint and paint dust, and leaded glass. Lead pipes have been gradually replaced in municipalities, but sometimes the piping from the main municipal water lines to old homes, or the piping within the residence has not been replaced.

      Lead poisoning can cause anemia and damage to the brain and nervous system. It is also extremely dangerous to the health of an unborn child.

      Peeling or chipping paint that contains lead can be a serious health hazard. Make sure that it is repaired properly by trained people – scraping and sanding lead paint can spread toxic lead dust around.

      To learn more, consult the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s Fact Sheet: Lead in Older Homes.

    2. Asbestos: Prior to the 1960s, asbestos was used in insulation, fireproofing, wallboard, and ceiling and floor tiles. It was often mixed with a cement-like material and sprayed or plastered on ceilings and other surfaces. Now these materials may be crumbling and releasing asbestos. The tiny asbestos fibres are small enough to float in the air. They can then be inhaled and lodge in the lungs. Exposure to asbestos fibres can cause lung cancer and asbestosis, a chronic scarring of the lungs that hinders breathing.

      Homes constructed in the 1960s and earlier have the potential for asbestos-containing floor tiles. Such resilient floor tiles are typically nine inches square and are stuck to the sub floor with a black mastic (gummy substance). Both the tiles and the mastic can contain asbestos.

  4. Physical Contaminants
    1. Electromagnetic Radiation: Some individuals have reported a variety of symptoms they associate with being near hydro towers, banks of computers or electrical appliances. Although short-term exposure to very high levels of electromagnetic radiation can be harmful to our health, there is limited evidence to confirm that exposure to low levels of electromagnetic radiation (from cell phones, for example) is harmful. Researchers continue to investigate a possible link between cancer and electromagnetic fields. The strongest evidence for possible harm exists for children; therefore, children’s use of cell phones should be limited.
    2. Radon: Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas. It results from the radioactive decay of the element radium, found in rocks, soil and groundwater. It can enter a building through cracks in the foundation, dirt floors, basement drains and via well water. Radon sticks to particles in the air, and, if the particles are small enough, can be inhaled and lodge in the lungs. When the radon then undergoes its natural process of radioactive decay, it damages the lung tissue, and increases a person’s risk of developing lung cancer. The combination of smoking and exposure to radon may lead to a higher risk of lung cancer.

      Radon is odourless and colourless. The only way to determine radon levels in your home is to test for it.

      To learn more, consult the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s booklet Radon: A Guide for Canadian Homeowners.

To help protect you and your family from potentially harmful toxic substances, here are some things you can do:

  1. About Biological Contaminants
    • Stop leaks and clean up moisture immediately, to reduce the chance of mould growth.
    • Replace any porous materials that have been damaged by water, such as sheetrock, carpeting and upholstered furniture.
    • Remove clutter, especially from basements (moulds) and bedrooms (dust mites).
    • Keep pets out of the bedroom.
    • Wash bedding in hot (not warm) water weekly, to kill dust mites.
  2. About Chemical Contaminants (Organic)
    • Reduce your exposure to VOCs by avoiding or removing as many sources from your home as possible, and by substituting less off-gassing (usually less odourous) materials or products. When painting, caulking or using cleaning materials, ventilate the area where you are using products that contain off-gassing VOCs.
    • Use a one-inch pleated filter in your furnace, rather than the usual flat surface filter. A pleated filter has more surface area to collect more dust particles. Remember to replace the filter regularly – as recommended by the manufacturer, or more frequently, especially if you have pets or are doing renovations.
    • Avoid indoor smoking.
    • If you have a gas stove, make sure your exhaust fan is functioning properly, and that you turn it on every time you use the stove.
    • Use environmentally safe cleaning products.
    • Open windows and use kitchen and bathroom exhaust fans if you use cleaning compounds, personal care products and other materials that give off VOCs.
    • When new furnishings are first brought into your home, make sure the area is well ventilated.
    • Choose solid wood or metal furniture when possible.
    • Choose sheets, blankets, curtains and other fabrics that are made of cotton and not treated with finishes to resist stains or wrinkles. If you do purchase treated fabrics, wash them thoroughly before storing them and air out before using them, to reduce the amount of VOCs you inhale.
    • Use a potpourri of dried flowers, herbs or citrus peels instead of synthetic air fresheners, if you wish to add fragrance to the air.
    • When renovating or painting, ensure that the area is sealed off, well ventilated and that you wear protective gear, such as a proper facemask, gloves and goggles.
    • Choose low-VOC paint, water-based urethane and other less toxic products when renovating.
    • If possible, consider alternatives to carpet, such as hardwood floors, ceramic tiles or cork flooring.
    • Avoid using pesticides indoors. Keep areas clean and dry. Use baits and less toxic products, such as borax or diatomaceous earth, if necessary.
  3. About Chemical Contaminants
    • Never mix ammonia with bleach. The chlorine in the bleach reacts with the ammonia to produce a very hazardous gas.
    • If you are planning to renovate an old home that may contain lead paint, first consult the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s fact sheet on Lead in Older Homes.
    • If your drinking water goes through old lead pipes, be sure to run your water for two to three minutes in the mornings before using, and never use hot water from the tap for cooking. Water filters containing activated carbon can remove lead, but must be changed regularly according to the manufacturer’s suggestions.
    • To remove any materials in your home that contain asbestos, speak to your local health department or look in the Yellow Pages under Asbestos Abatement and Removal.
  4. About Physical Contaminants
    • Keep a safe distance from microwaves, computers, bedside clocks and radios, and minimize cell phone use, while research proceeds on the health effects of electromagnetic radiation.
    • Have your home tested for radon and take remedial action if necessary.

Do you find that you dread cleaning or doing laundry because the cleaners and detergents sting your eyes, make you wheeze or give you a headache? Next cleaning or laundry day, try setting aside your regular cleaners and detergents and try some homemade or alternative products instead. They are healthier for you and the environment. Another bonus is that they are gentler on your clothes and typically more affordable.

Instead of cleaning products that contain harsh chemicals, try using:

  • White vinegar – to clean windows, counter tops, chrome, grease and floors
  • Baking soda – to absorb odours, and clean ovens, sinks and counter tops
  • Lemon juice – to clean windows, sinks and grease
  • Vegetable oil, lemon oil – as a furniture polish
  • Plant-based dish soaps
  • Borax – as a substitute for chlorine bleach. Borax should be used sparingly, as it too can be toxic in high doses
  • Washing soda – to whiten laundry and cut back on the amount of detergent needed
  • There are also a growing number of less-toxic products on the market. Canadian products that have been certified as safer for human health and the environment have an EcoLogo (three doves intertwined to form a maple leaf.)


  • To clean your oven, sprinkle with baking soda, spray with water and leave on for 12 hours, respraying the water periodically. Scrub until clean.
  • To open a clogged drain, use baking soda followed by boiling water or vinegar.
  • Try using herbs and spices or boiling a lemon instead of using commercial air fresheners.
  • For an all-purpose cleaner, use a 50:50 mix of water and white vinegar.
  • To save time, make your cleaners in advance.
  • Label all ingredients, and keep them out of reach of children.
  • Wear rubber gloves when cleaning. Even though products are environmentally safe, they may nevertheless irritate the skin of sensitive individuals.

Products to use sparingly or avoid:

  • Window and floor cleaners containing ammonia
  • Drain cleaners containing sodium hydroxide
  • Commercial air fresheners
  • Aerosol products
  • Anything with added fragrances or dyes


  • A mixture of one cup soap flakes, ½ cup borax and ½ cup washing soda as a laundry soap
  • Sodium perborate or hydrogen peroxide as a chlorine-free, natural bleach
  • ½ to 1 cup of white vinegar in the rinse cycle of your laundry, to soften clothes and remove odours and residual detergent (instead of fabric softener)
  • Less-toxic commercial
  • laundry products – look for ones that have been certified as safer, and carry an EcoLogo

Other tips:

  • If you still want to use a “regular” detergent, try one that is scent-free.
  • Instead of dry cleaning clothes, try hand washing or “wet cleaning” (a relatively new procedure that doesn’t use perchlorethylene (PERC), a strong irritant, known to be a neurotoxin and carcinogen at higher doses)

Products to avoid:

  • Detergents with dyes, perfumes and chlorine
  • Chlorine bleach
  • Commercial fabric softeners
  • Dry cleaning (uses a chemical called PERC)



  • Shampoo – unscented shampoos with natural ingredients
  • Soap – unscented glycerine soaps or other unscented natural skin cleansers
  • Deodorants – mineral crystal stones or salts, or unscented commercial deodorants
  • Toothpaste – salt crystals, baking soda or tea tree oil toothpaste
  • Moisturizers – plain almond oil, olive oil or cocoa butter, or use unscented, hypoallergenic products
  • Dusting powder – cornstarch or French Clay powder (available in health food stores)
  • There are also many other non-toxic products on the market.

Products that may be irritating include:

  • Products with perfumes or dyes
  • Aerosol spray deodorants
  • Hairspray

Other tips:

  • For a natural hair conditioner, work a small amount of olive oil or jojoba oil into your hair until it is coated. Cover your hair with a shower cap and leave on for 30 minutes. Shampoo and rinse as usual.
  • For a homemade hair gel, try dissolving one package of unflavoured gelatin into two cups of hot water. Store in a glass jar in the refrigerator.



Indoor moulds can trigger a host of respiratory symptoms, including increased susceptibility to respiratory infections and exacerbation of asthma. Other acute symptoms can include headache and fatigue, and longer-term exposure may result in environmental sensitivities. This page describes what mould is, how to recognize it and how to mould-proof your home.

Moulds are microscopic fungi, a group of organisms that includes mushrooms and yeasts. Fungi grow and reproduce rapidly.

Moulds can be useful. For example, the drug penicillin is obtained from a specific type of mould. But moulds are undesirable when they grow in our homes, and some types are very toxic. Over 270 species of mould have been identified as living in Canadian homes.

Moulds will grow if we provide them with moisture and nutrients. If we keep things dry, moulds do not grow. High moisture levels can result from water coming in from the outside, through the floor, walls or roof; from plumbing leaks; or from moisture produced by the people living in the home, through daily activities, like bathing, washing clothes or cooking. Water enters the building when there is a weakness or failure in the structure. Moisture accumulates within the home when there is not enough ventilation to expel that moisture.

Different kinds of moulds grow on different materials. Certain kinds of mould like an extremely wet environment. Other kinds grow even when no water can be seen – dampness inside the material can provide enough moisture to allow them to grow.

In addition to the damage mould can do to walls, fabrics and other materials, moulds growing inside the home can cause health problems. Moulds release spores and chemicals that can be irritating or toxic. Depending on the type of mould present, the amount and degree of exposure, and the health condition of the occupant(s), the health effects of mould can range from being insignificant to causing localized irritation, allergic reactions and even chronic illness, such as environmental sensitivities. Any sign of mould in the home should be taken seriously and the mould should be removed as quickly as possible.

Pregnant women, infants, older people and people with health problems, such as respiratory disease or a weakened immune system, are at greater risk of developing health problems when exposed to mould.

Discolouration: Discolouration can be a sign of mould; however, not all discolouration is due to mould. Carpeting near baseboards, for example, can be stained by outdoor pollution entering the home. Stains or soot may also be caused by the smoke from burning candles or cigarettes.

Mould may be any colour: black, white, red, orange, yellow, blue or violet. If you notice white powdery stains or other discolourations, particularly if there is also a musty smell, it may be mould.

Smell/Odour: Sometimes moulds are hidden and cannot be seen. A musty or earthy smell often indicates the presence of moulds. But some moulds don’t smell. Even when you don’t notice a smell, wet spots, dampness or evidence of a water leak are indications of moisture problems and mould may follow.

Small Areas: Small areas of mould can be cleaned with a detergent solution. Wear a mask, safety goggles and rubber gloves. If there is a lot of mould or if mould comes back after cleaning, seek professional help.

Washable Surfaces: Scrub washable surfaces with an unscented detergent solution. Then sponge with a clean, wet rag and dry quickly. Using an unscented detergent will make it easier for you to detect residual mouldy odours.

Mouldy Drywall: Clean the surface with a damp rag, using baking soda or a bit of detergent. Do not allow the drywall to get too wet.

Mould that comes back after you have cleaned the area is usually an indication that a source of moisture has not been removed. Seek professional help from a trained indoor air quality (IAQ) investigator. Infants and other family members with asthma, allergies or other health problems should not be in the work area or adjacent room during the cleaning.

You may need help from a trained professional when:

  • there is a lot of mould
  • your home is very damp and moist
  • mould comes back after repeated cleaning
  • a family member suffers from respiratory or other health problems that appear to be aggravated inside the home


Repair to the building envelope is required if moisture is entering the home from the outside. At the same time, steps should be taken inside the home to reduce your exposure to mould.

  1. Discard mouldy or damaged materials. Wear a dust mask and gloves. Furnishings, such as mattresses, carpets, or sofas that got wet or have been stored in damp conditions, should be discarded.
  2. Proper vacuuming reduces the amount of mould spores. All surfaces in the home (floors, walls, ceilings, shelves) and non-washable furnishings (such as sofas, chairs) must be vacuumed thoroughly.
  3. Pull carpets and furnishings away from walls that get wet. Carpets and underpads that are mouldy should be cut out and discarded.
  4. Take steps to dry areas that get wet. Monitor the relative humidity of the air. Use a portable dehumidifier, if necessary. Ensure that the condensate drain pan of the dehumidifier is emptied regularly and clean the dehumidifier with a mixture of white vinegar and water.

If the mould is limited to one area, isolate the area if possible. Cover the affected surfaces with plastic sheeting secured at the edges with duct tape. Note that this is only a temporary measure to minimize your exposure.

Healthy individuals can regularly clean small areas of mould, thus preventing these from getting out of hand.

Consider seeking professional help from trained IAQ investigators, to identify appropriate remediation steps inside the home. Removing large amounts of mould will require the services of mould clean-up contractors.


Mould needs moisture to grow. Controlling the moisture and keeping your home dry prevents the growth of mould.

Check your home for signs of moisture and moulds.

  • Find out if water is coming in from the outside and if substantial moisture is produced inside the home.
  • Fix any water leaks promptly.
  • Think of the different ways moisture is produced inside the home (for example, cooking, bathing). Remove the moisture as it is produced by using exhaust fans. In the absence of fans, open windows for a short time, but note that the wind can push the moisture to other parts of the home.
  • Measure how much moisture is in the air. To find the relative humidity in your home, you’ll need a hygrometer, available from hardware stores. Relative humidity in the home should be under 45 per cent in the winter (or lower to avoid condensation on windows). If necessary, use a dehumidifier to lower the relative humidity.
  • Reduce the amount of stored materials, especially items that are no longer used. Moulds grow on fabrics, paper, leather, wood and practically anything that collects dust and holds moisture.

Basement or Crawl Space:

  • Reduce the amount of clothes, paper and furnishings stored in the basement. Discard badly damaged materials. Eliminate clutter to improve air circulation. Only washable items should be stored.
  • Dehumidify the basement during the warm months.
  • Avoid carpets on slab-on-grade or below-grade floors.
  • Periodically clean the drain in your basement floor. Use an environmentally friendly drain cleaner; let it stand for a few minutes, then flush with plenty of water. Keep the drain trap filled with water.
  • Avoid standing water. Keep sump pits covered (you can use plywood wrapped with plastic).
  • Regularly clean and replace furnace filters. Use a pleated one-inch filter, not a coarse pleat filter.
  • If you have a heat recovery ventilator (HRV), clean the filter often.
  • If you notice mould or signs of dampness, such as water on your windows or wet spots elsewhere, do not humidify. Disconnect furnace humidifiers that are no longer used.
  • If you have electric baseboards, vacuum the units, or have a professional clean them for you.

Laundry Areas

  • Check that your clothes dryer exhausts to the outside.
  • Remove lint every time you use the dryer.
  • Don’t hang-dry laundry indoors.
  • Dry your laundry tub and washing machine after you use them.


  • Check the bathroom fan to make sure it exhausts to the outside.
  • Turn the bathroom fan on when you shower. Keep it running for a few minutes after you finish your shower.
  • Take short showers.
  • Keep surfaces that get wet, such as the walls around the bathtub and shower, clean and dry.
  • If there is a carpet in your bathroom, remove it.
  • Check for water leaks.
  • Keep drains in good shape by removing debris from them.



  • If the fan over your stove exhausts outside, use it when you cook.
  • Minimize open boiling.
  • Keep your drains in good shape.
  • There’s a drip pan at the back of the refrigerator. Pull the refrigerator out to clean the drip pan. At the same time, vacuum dust from the coils at the back of the refrigerator.
  • Check under the kitchen sink to make sure there are no leaks.
  • Take out the garbage daily to prevent odours and spoiling.

Closets and Bedrooms

  • Get rid of clothes and other stored items that you don’t use. Keeping your closets and bedrooms tidy makes it easier for air to circulate – and harder for mould to grow.

Other Parts of the Home

  • A dehumidifier helps to reduce moisture in the home during the warmer months. Close the windows when the dehumidifier is running.
  • When family and friends come into the home, have them take off their shoes.
  • Vacuum often. If you are buying a vacuum cleaner, try to get one with a HEPA filter.
  • Clean hard floors with a damp mop.
  • Do not bring furniture, clothing, books, etc. that have been stored in a mouldy place into your home.
  • Cut down the number of potted plants in the house – soil is a good place for mould.


  • Regularly check the condition of the roof and exterior finish for any places where water might enter.
  • Make sure that your eavestroughs and downspouts are connected and working properly, and that they are free of debris.
  • Install downspout extensions, to lead water away from the building.
  • Deal promptly with any problems that you find.

Scent-Free Spaces

A growing number of people experience symptoms when exposed to perfume, after-shave and other scented personal care products. Commonly reported symptoms include:

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Watery eyes
  • Stuffy nose or sinusitis
  • Coughing, tightness in the chest
  • Wheezing, shortness of breath
  • Some people also report feeling anxious and/or depressed, having problems concentrating, a loss of appetite, seizures, muscle pain and numbness.

In workplaces and schools, the ability of people who have environmental sensitivities to work or study effectively may be negatively affected if they are exposed to fragrances. In hospitals, there is the added concern of exposing people with compromised immune systems to potential stressors.

A growing number of workplaces, schools, hospitals, places of worship and public places are adopting scent-free policies because:

  • Workplaces, schools and hospitals want to ensure good indoor air quality, to promote healthier and more productive environments for staff and students, and to protect clients and patients.
  • Indoor air can be two to five times more polluted than outside air. Fragrances are the most obvious indoor air pollutant, second only to tobacco smoke.
  • Perfumes and other strong scents have repeatedly been reported to trigger symptoms in people with asthma and people with environmental sensitivities.
  • Recent Canadian Human Rights legislation requires people with diagnosed environmental sensitivities to be accommodated in the workplace.

There can be up to 500 chemicals in one perfume. In most modern fragrances, up to 95 percent of these chemicals are petroleum-based.

Many of the chemicals used in fragrances are known respiratory and skin irritants. Some of the chemicals used in fragrances have been linked with long-term health problems, such as cancer, birth defects and nervous system disorders, when used in larger amounts.

What Can You Do?

If you want to improve the air quality in your workplace and reduce health problems related to scents, consider initiating a scent-free policy. Here are some tips to get you started:

  • It is important to educate all staff and management about why such a policy would be beneficial. If your workplace is unionized, speak to your union too.
  • Work with your Occupational Health and Safety Department to develop the policy or guidelines.
  • Develop and post a clearly worded scent-free policy. Keep it simple yet specific.
  • If you have clients or patients, notify them of the policy prior to appointments and ask them to not wear scented products.
  • Make it easy – provide information on alternative scent-free products.
  • Develop a communications mechanism, such as notices in payroll envelopes and articles in the company newsletter.
  • Consider making other improvements to the indoor air quality in your workplace, whenever possible. For example, make sure there is proper ventilation – open windows (when appropriate); use alternatives to scented office products, such as scent-free markers; and avoid pesticides and harsh, strongly scented cleaning products.

What to Avoid:

  • Perfume
  • Cologne
  • Scented aftershave
  • Scented hairspray, hair gels and other styling products
  • Scented creams and lotions
  • Scented sunscreen and self-tanning products
  • Scented antiperspirant and deodorant

The term pesticides refers to a wide variety of chemical products, including herbicides, which are used to control weeds; insecticides, used to control insects; termiticides, used to control termites; rodenticides, used to control mice and rats; and fungicides, used to control fungus.

Pesticides are among the most widely used chemicals in the world and among the most hazardous to human health. They cause serious acute and chronic health effects.

A report published by the David Suzuki Foundation, in 2007, found that every year, 6,000 Canadians suffer acute poisoning from pesticides. Almost half of those are children under the age of six. (It should be noted that these numbers reflect only reported cases; if unreported and misdiagnosed cases were included, the number would almost certainly be significantly higher).

In addition, pesticides cause many more to suffer chronic health problems, including headaches, neurological problems, learning problems, nerve damage, kidney damage, infertility and other reproductive problems. Research also suggests that pesticides can cause non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, leukemia, soft tissue sarcomas, brain tumours and other cancers.

  • Eat organic foods.
  • If you are not able to buy organic foods (because they tend to be more expensive or they are not readily available):
    • Buy local produce when in season. Eating food grown close to home is healthier for the planet and pesticide regulations in Canada are more stringent than in some other countries.
    • Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables to avoid eating the same type that may have a higher level of residue.
    • Throw away the outer leaves of leafy vegetables, such as lettuce and cabbage.
    • Wash fruits and vegetables in warm water, or a mixture of water and baking soda, and scrub with a brush. Do not peel because the vitamins gained by leaving the peel on outweigh the health risks from pesticides.
    • Trim the fat and skin from meat and fish because some pesticide residues tend to concentrate in animal fat.
  • Buy organic fibres. Cotton uses more insecticides than any other crop.
  • Don’t use chemical pesticides in your home. Instead, identify where the insects are getting in and fill the cracks; store foods in airtight containers, and keep your home crumb-free and clean. If you require the services of a pest control company, hire a company that uses alternative products. (For more information on Dealing with Pests at Home, visit the Pesticide Action Network website.)
  • Avoid using anti-bacterials that contain pesticides. Use soap and water instead.
  • Rid the buildings where you work and live of pesticides. Talk to building management and landlords about using less toxic alternatives.
  • Use non-toxic or less toxic alternatives to pesticides when caring for your lawn and garden.
  • Join or start a group to ban pesticides from your municipality.

If you have pesticides and pesticide containers you want to dispose of, be sure to dispose of them in an environmentally responsible way. Never burn or pour pesticides down the drain. Do not re-use empty containers. Contact your city officials to find out how to dispose of hazardous waste.

Given the serious hazards of pesticides to human health and to the environment, a growing number of governments, including Ontario and Quebec and many municipalities, are reducing or banning the cosmetic use of pesticides, and organic gardening is becoming increasingly popular.

Lawn Care:

When caring for your own lawn, try the following:

  • Mow High. Grass doesn’t drink its food through its roots; it manufactures its food in its leaves – the green parts. Grass cut an inch high is as healthy as you would be on one meal a week. Two inches (5 cm) is the absolute minimum for healthy grass, three inches (8 cm) is best. Long grass shades its roots to keep them cool, and shades out weeds so they find it harder to grow.
  • Water Deeply and Seldom. Allow the sprinkler to soak the grass. Bluegrass lawns need about one inch of water once a week. (Fescues and perennial ryegrasses need only about half that much.) Put a small can on the lawn before turning the sprinkler on to measure watering accurately. Frequent light sprinklings encourage shallow weak roots.
  • Mulch Clippings. Mow often enough that no more than one third of the leaf length is removed at one time, and leave the clippings in the grass. This reduces the need for fertilizer by 30 percent.
  • Aerate and Overseed. Grass roots must breathe air to work properly. Grass growing in soil packed tight as concrete is as healthy as you would be with your head in a plastic bag. That is also a perfect environment for dandelions. Rent a small aerator once each year, or ask an organic lawn care business to do it. June is best, when there are the fewest weed seeds blowing around. Then rake it all smooth, overseed with a bit of high-quality grass seed, and water it. A dense lawn will crowd out weeds.
  • Fertilize in Fall. Use a slow-release granular fertilizer once a year. Never over-fertilize – too much fertilizer weakens grass. Organic fertilizers are best – they last the whole year and prevent weak green growth that bugs love to eat.
  • Enjoy It! Only the weeds and bugs that threaten a lawn’s health or ours really need to be removed. A lawn is healthier when several kinds of grass cooperate to deal with differing conditions around your home. And 90 percent of insects around your home help your lawn grow.


You can have a beautiful garden without using pesticides. There are many products available that offer natural alternatives to chemical pesticides. It is still important to follow the manufacturer’s directions closely. Products that require spraying or dusting should only be used if absolutely necessary.

Also note that some products are harmful to beneficial insects. Because beneficial insects often need the harmful ones as a food supply, it is better to tolerate small numbers of them than to destroy them all. Before treating the garden, collect of few of these in a small container and release them again after the treatment is done.

Alternative products include:

  • Insecticidal Soap (liquid):
    • Used to control aphids, earwigs, mealy bugs, mites sawfly larvae, white flies and others
    • Harmless to beneficial insects
    • Do not use household detergent for this purpose.
  • Organic Insect Killer (liquid)
    • Controls most species of caterpillars
    • Harmless to beneficial insects
  • Pyrethrins Plus Piperonol Butoxide (liquid)
    • Controls flea beetles, leafhoppers, Colorado potato beetles, rose chafers and tarnished plant bugs
    • Harmful to beneficial insects. Breaks down rapidly after application
  • Rotenone (spray or dust)
    • Controls Colorado potato beetles, corn borers, cucumber beetles, currant and raspberry sawflies, raspberry fruit worms, flea beetles and leafhoppers
    • Harmful to beneficial insects and fish. Breaks down rapidly after application

Because pyrethrins and Rotenone kill many beneficial insects, they should only be used to control severe insect infestations. Spot treatments, directly on harmful insects, will limit the fatal effect to the beneficial insects.

  • Dio Slug Killer (dust)
    • Attracts and kills slugs and earwigs
    • Harmless to beneficial insects and to dogs. (It’s important to note that other types of slug killers, which contain metaldehyde bait, are not safe for dogs.)