Over the past week or so, frigid outdoor temperatures have driven many folks indoors after they've finished with outside fun. While many people live in and visit Whistler to experience our clean mountain air, how much consideration have you given to the indoor air quality of your home?
According to Environment Canada, Canadians spend 90 per cent of their time indoors. So while you're looking out the window at our clean coast mountain environment, take a second to look at two vitally important environments - your body and your home.
Household cleaners, carpets, furniture, paint and cosmetics are all carriers of potentially lethal toxic compounds. In small doses, none of them have been proven deadly, but in combination, surrounding you and your family every day, these chemicals can accumulate in the body, becoming a bona fide health hazard. Between 1995 and 2002, the volume of chemicals reported to be released and transferred in Canada increased by 49 per cent, according to a study done by the Canadian Environmental Law Association. Cleaning chemicals and their flame-retardant friends didn't really appear in households until after World War II, so we can reverse the trend.
Canadian environmental group, Environmental Defence , has a report called Toxic Nation. The findings of the study in some cases are enough to make one feel ill. This is the second study done by Environmental Defence. The first looked at 11 adult Canadians from across the country and tested their bodies for the presence of 88 harmful chemicals. The latest study screened children, parents and grandparents from five families for 68 chemicals. On average, 32 chemicals were detected in each parent and 23 chemicals were present in children. A grand total of 38 carcinogens, 23 hormone disruptors, 12 respiratory toxins, 38 reproductive or developmental toxins, and 19 neurotoxins were found in the study participants. Saltspring Islander and internationally recognized wildlife artist Robert Bateman, 75, was surprised to learn that 48 of the 88 chemicals, including 32 known carcinogens, were present in his system.
Household items such as furniture, cabinets, building materials, paint, wallpapers, cleaning products, glues and some cosmetics can emit gases into your indoor air. This is known as "off-gassing." Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are a large and diverse family of chemicals that contain carbon and hydrogen. They can be emitted into indoor air from a variety of sources including cigarette smoke, household products like air fresheners, furnishings, vehicle exhaust and building materials such as paint, varnish and glues.
Some VOCs such as benzene and toluene are known to be toxic, but only at concentrations far above those typically found in Canadian homes. There is limited evidence that directly links VOC mixtures found in homes to known health problems. However, concerns about VOCs arise from the hypothesis that, when combined and accumulated in our environment, the toxicity of hundreds of VOCs could "add up" to create health and environmental hazards.
Health Canada is in the process of proposing a new indoor air quality guideline for toluene. Indoor sources of toluene include building materials (e.g. solvent- and water-based adhesives, floor coverings, paint, chipboard), consumer and automotive products (e.g. cleaners, polishes, adhesive products, oils, greases, lubricants), and environmental tobacco smoke. In attached garages, toluene generated by running engines or by product storage may also infiltrate into the indoor environment.
Canadians are invited to comment to Health Canada on the new guidelines until Feb. 9, 2011. To register your support for increased indoor air quality go to: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/ewh-semt/consult/_2010/toluene/index-eng.php
If you are currently using green cleaning products in your home or asking your cleaner to use them, then you're already helping Whistler to move closer to its second sustainability objective, which states that "Whistler must reduce and eventually eliminate our contribution to the build-up of substances produced by society."
To KNOW MORE about other actions that are moving our community toward Whistler2020, to tell us how you're contributing, or to find out how we're performing visit www.whistler2020.ca .