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Indoor Air Quality

Studies have ranked indoor air pollution as one of the top five environmental risks to public health, since many people spend more than 90 per cent of their time indoors. Factors that can increase indoor air pollution include:

  • Poor building design and maintenance
  • Inadequate ventilation
  • Gases released from household consumer products or appliances
  • Smoking

Health effects of poor indoor air quality may include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Eye, nose and throat irritation
  • Worsening of pre-existing conditions such as bronchitis, emphysema, asthma and heart disease
  • Premature death

York Region investigates complaints relating to mould and indoor air quality issues in schools, child care facilities, ice arenas, public settings and rental housing for potential health hazard.

We also educate the public about air quality and advocate for healthy public policy.

Clean Air at Home – Five Simple Steps

Did you know there are harmful pollutants that you may not see or smell in the air at home? Mould, dust, smoke and fumes from cleaning products are some examples. Breathing these types of pollutants can harm everyone’s health. Children are at a greater risk of getting sick because their bodies are not fully developed, and they breathe in more air than adults.

Pollutants can bother children’s eyes, nose and throat and cause allergies and breathing problems like asthma. Over time, these pollutants build up in children’s bodies. The good news is that there are simple, low-cost steps you can take to immediately start cleaning your air.

Follow these tips on how to:

  1. Control moisture, clean mould
  2. Get rid of dust
  3. Let bad air out, fresh air in
  4. Reduce the use of toxic cleaning products
  5. Keep smoke out

These small steps make a big difference.

Step 1: Control moisture, clean mould

Mould can cause serious health problems for children. Keep all surfaces at home as clean and dry as possible.

Mould can grow in the home when there is too much moisture from things such as showering, cooking, flooding and leaks. It can grow on fabric, drywall, cardboard or anything that can hold moisture.

Take these steps to control moisture:

  • Turn on the fan or open a window before you shower and for a few minutes after
  • Turn on the fan or open a window when cooking on the stove
  • Wipe water droplets off bathroom tiles, windows and other surfaces
  • Clean up floods and leaks immediately and dry the area completely. Throw away items that cannot be fully dried
  • Remove clutter in your home
  • Make sure the air vent at the back of your clothes dryer is connected to the outside

Take these steps to clean mould:

  • Scrub small areas of mould with water and mild detergent as soon as you see them. Dry the area quickly and completely
  • If you have mould that is bigger than one square metre, discuss how to fix the problem with a professional or your property manager if you are a tenant
Tip
If you cannot clean up the mould right away, do your best to keep your children away from the mouldy area.

Step 2: Get rid of dust

Did you know that dust is one of the main sources of children’s exposure to harmful pollutants at home?

Children explore the world by crawling, touching and putting things in their mouths. Dust is made up of more than dirt, it can include a mix of toxic chemicals, pollen, pet dander, allergens, dust mites and other pollutants. When children breathe in dust, it gets into their lungs and can harm their health.

Take these steps to get rid of dust:

  • Clean floors such as tiles and hardwood with a damp mop or cloth, and vacuum carpeted areas at least once a week. Do this more often if your child is crawling. A dry mop or cloth pushes dust back into the air and does not get rid of it
  • Clean surfaces with a damp cloth
  • Take off shoes and wipe pets’ paws at the door to reduce dirt and dust from entering your home
  • Remove clutter to reduce dust and make cleaning easier
Tip
Did you know that with regular wear and tear, products like furniture and electronics slowly break down into dust over time. If these products are made with toxic materials, the dust will be toxic too.

Step 3: Let bad air out, fresh air in

We may not know it, but many things we do at home put pollutants into the air.

Take these steps to let bad air out, fresh air in:

  • Turn on the fan or open a window when you fry, sauté or grill food
  • Turn on the fan or open a window when you clean or use products like nail polish, hairspray, or craft materials like glue or paint
  • Make sure your air vents are not blocked by objects such as furniture to maintain good air flow
  • Make sure your appliances, such as gas stoves, and heating and cooling systems are working properly
  • Check your ventilation systems and replace or clean the filters and fans often. The manufacturer’s instructions or your landlord can tell you how often this should be done. Ventilation systems may be found in your bathroom, kitchen and furnace rooms
  • Make sure you have a carbon monoxide detector in your home and regularly check that the batteries are working
  • Do not use a barbecue or portable fuel-burning equipment inside a home or garage. It can cause carbon monoxide to build up in the home
Tip
If you use a window to let fresh air in, think about possible sources of outdoor air pollution around your home, such as heavy traffic or parked cars with running engines. You may want to open the window when traffic is minimized.

Step 4: Reduce toxic cleaning products

Many cleaning products you use at home put toxic chemicals into the air your family breathes and on surfaces they touch.

Cleaning products such as cleaning sprays, liquids and powders, drain cleaners and air fresheners can potentially cause harm to your family’s health. There are several effective, less toxic, low-cost household products available to clean your home, especially if you use a little extra muscle.

Take these steps to reduce toxic cleaning products:

  • Use non-toxic cleaning products more often. Consider using alternatives such as baking soda and vinegar instead of commercial cleaning products
  • Avoid products that come in aerosol spray cans as they can leave chemicals in the air longer

If you choose to use chemical cleaning products:

  • Always read and follow the label. Learn how to use the products safely and understand the health risks
  • Wear gloves and turn on a fan or open a window during and after use
  • Store products in their original containers and never mix them
  • Always store dangerous products away from children and pets
Tip
See the charts below to learn more about non-toxic cleaning methods and natural fragrances for your home.


Non-toxic cleaning chart

For everyday tasks, try using non-toxic products like baking soda and vinegar.

To clean: What you need How to use it

Surfaces and floors

Water

Use a damp mop or cloth to clean floors and a damp cloth to clean surfaces.

Windows and glass

Vinegar or lemon juice mixed with water

Mix one tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice with four cups of water. Spray onto surface and wipe clean with a cloth.

Sinks, tubs, tiles, stove tops

Baking soda and water

Sprinkle baking soda onto surface, scrub with a wet sponge or a cloth and rinse with water.

Toilet bowls

Baking soda or vinegar

Sprinkle baking soda or pour vinegar into the toilet bowl. Scrub with a toilet brush.

Ovens

Baking soda and water paste

Do not heat the oven while cleaning.
Put paste on all sides of the oven and let it sit overnight. Be careful to avoid the heating element. Scoop out the baking soda and wipe clean with a damp cloth. Use a scouring pad for tough spots.

To polish: What you need How to use it

Furniture

Lemon juice and vegetable oil

Mix one teaspoon of lemon juice with two cups of vegetable oil. Apply mixture to furniture with a soft cloth.

To deodorize: What you need How to use it

Rug

Baking soda

Sprinkle baking soda onto rug and vacuum after 15 minutes.

Refrigerators

Baking soda

Keep an open box of baking soda inside all refrigerators.

Note: The products listed in this chart are not disinfectants. It is recommended that you clean and then disinfect commonly touched surfaces like door knobs, toilet seats and handles, bathroom faucets as well as any areas contaminated with blood or bodily fluids.


Non-toxic fragrance chart

Your home does not need a fragrant smell to be clean! If you enjoy a fragrance at home, here are some natural options to try.

To fragrance: What you need How to use it

Indoor air

Essential oils*
Cinnamon and cloves
Potpourri, herbal or floral bouquets

Try one of the following:

  • Mix water with a few drops of essential oil in a spray bottle and spray into the air
  • Simmer cinnamon and cloves in water on the stove
  • Use potpourri, herbal or floral bouquets, or cotton balls scented with essential oil

Cleaning solutions

Lemon
Essential oils*

Add lemon juice, lemon peel or a few drops of essential oil into your water and/or vinegar cleaning solution for a fresh smell.

Closets and dressers

Cedar chips or herbs

Place cedar chips, lavender flowers, rosemary, mint or white peppercorns in your closets and dressers.

*Essential oils are highly concentrated liquids that come from plants. They come in many scents like lemon, lavender and grapefruit and can be bought at natural food stores. Read the label before using them and keep them away from children and pets.

“I like my home to smell clean”
Some of us use scented cleaning products and air fresheners like candles, sprays or plug-ins to give our home a clean smell. Many of these products have chemicals that can pollute your air instead of clean it. These chemicals can cause allergies and make asthma worse.

Step 5: Keep smoke out

No amount of second-hand smoke is safe for children to breathe.

Second hand smoke from tobacco and cannabis (marijuana) is unsafe for children to breathe. The smoke from both of these products have toxic chemicals that can cause serious harm to children’s health.

Tobacco smoke can get trapped in your furniture, carpets, toys and clothes when you smoke inside. This is called third-hand smoke, and it can stay in your home for weeks after your smoke. Tobacco smoke can also stick to your hands, skin and hair even if you smoke outside.

The health risks from second-hand vapour from e-cigarettes are unknown. This vapour should also be kept out of the home and away from children to protect their health.

Take these steps to keep smoke out:

  • Make your home smoke-free
  • If you smoke, do it outside and wash your hands when you return
  • Set up an outdoor smoking area away from doors and windows so other people are not exposed
Tip
If smoke from a neighbour enters your home, talk to your neighbour, property manager, or check out smokefreehousingon.ca


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Indoor Air Pollutants

Mould

Mould is a type of fungus that is present both indoors and outdoors. Mould prefers damp materials and can grow in your home on wallpaper, ceiling tiles, carpets, insulation material, chipboard and drywall. People who are immunocompromised, have respiratory conditions, are young or elderly, have the highest risk of suffering health effects from mould growth. It is difficult to prevent mould spores from being in our home, but we can prevent their growth by taking some important steps.

How to prevent mould in your home:

  • Ensure ventilation systems are working properly throughout the home (especially your kitchen and bathroom where moisture can build up)
  • Ventilate attics to stop moisture build-up
  • Discard clutter and excess stored materials to promote air flow
  • Repair all plumbing, basement and roof leaks quickly
  • Dry, repair or remove water damaged materials
  • Clean humidifiers according to manufacturer's instructions and refill daily with fresh water

Carbon Dioxide

Carbon dioxide is a colourless, unscented gas created in large part when we breathe. Since carbon dioxide is normally present in indoor environments, it is used as an indicator of general indoor air quality. If carbon dioxide is present at high levels, it may indicate that the ventilation system is not working properly and that potentially harmful gases or contaminants may also be present at higher levels.


Carbon Monoxide

Carbon monoxide is a colourless, unscented poisonous gas produced when you burn propane, natural gas, gasoline, oil, coal or wood. Carbon monoxide builds up in buildings without proper ventilation systems and can pose an immediate risk to human health. When breathed in, carbon monoxide combines with red blood cells reducing oxygen supply.


Temperature and Relative Humidity

Humidity, or excess moisture in the air, can result from washing, bathing, cooking and un-vented clothes dryers. High humidity levels may result in condensation forming inside a building, leading to the development of mould. Relative humidity below 30 per cent is associated with increased discomfort and the drying of the moist membranes and skin. It is recommended that for general comfort in the home a relative humidity of 30 to 60 per cent at temperatures between 20 to 25°C are maintained.


Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC)

Volatile organic compounds are gases that are emitted from products used in office and home environments. Common products which may contain VOCs are hairspray, perfume, cleaning products, building materials, paint, copiers and printers. Read consumer labels and try to decrease or eliminate the use of these products, or increase ventilation when using them indoors.

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Radon

What is Radon?

Radon is a colourless, odourless and tasteless radioactive gas. It is produced naturally in the environment when uranium in rock and soil breaks down. Radon gas released directly from the ground into the outdoor environment is diluted to low levels. Radon can enter a building any place that there is an opening in contact with the soil. Radon gas can also enter a building through cracks and openings where the foundation is in contact with the soil and build up to high concentrations in poorly ventilated areas, like basements.

Radon gas is found at low levels in almost every home. In Ontario, 4.6 per cent of homes have radon levels above the current Canadian radon guideline of 200 Bq/m3.

Why is it a health concern?

Radon can become a health risk if it is able to accumulate to high levels. The health risk from radon does not come from immediate exposure, but from long-term exposure to high levels. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer, after smoking, and is responsible for almost 850 lung cancer deaths in Ontario each year . Exposure to radon does not produce any immediate symptoms, like coughing or headaches, so you may not realize that you’ve been exposed. That’s why it’s important to test your home for radon levels.

Testing for Radon

Radon is found in low levels in almost every home, but the only way to know if a home has an elevated level of radon is to test for it. In 2012, Health Canada released a report showing that 6.9 per cent of Canadians live in homes with radon levels above the current Health Canada guideline. To get an accurate measure of radon exposure, Health Canada recommends testing your home for a minimum of three months during the fall and winter months, when windows and doors are generally closed. Radon test kits can be purchased for approximately $45 to 70 from a home improvement retailer, online or by contacting a certified radon measurement professional. Additional costs may be required for laboratory analysis. Visit Health Canada’s website to learn more about how to test for radon in your home.

Lowering radon in your home

Visit Health Canada’s website for information on how to lower the radon levels in your home if your test results show elevated radon levels.Health Canada recommends that homes with radon levels between 200 to 600 Bq/m3 be fixed within two years; homes with radon levels above 600 Bq/m3 should be fixed within one year. A certified radon mitigation professional should be hired who will have the expertise to fix the radon leaks properly. You can find a professional through the Canadian – National Radon Proficiency Program website.

For more information on radon:

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