Reducing Chemical Use In The Home

Posted by: | Posted on: February 12, 2014
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One of the most important ways to reduce your exposure to chemicals is to reduce them to a minimum in the home. You would be surprised how many products contain harmful stuff that we use for our whole family on a daily basis.

Cleaning products are by far the most common sources of chemicals, but you do need to be conscious about what they contain. The more bacteria a cleaning product promises to kill, the more chemicals are likely to be in the bottle. The first thing you should consider is switching to more natural based cleaning products. Something we have done in my house is buy a cheap and simple steam cleaning mop. The steam kills off as much germs as any common cleaning product.

Shampoos, shower gels and many cosmetic products will also be full of chemical compounds that can have a twofold impact. Either they can directly irritate our body, or they accumulate in the waterways and make it up the food chain and are ingested. Either way, the more you switch to more natural products the better.

Many people have started to make significant upgrades to their homes by improving energy efficiency. This greatly helps with the reduction of household carbon foot prints, but there are some things to keep in mind. One of the most common ways to improve energy efficiency is through blown in insulation, as it is a quick and relatively simple DIY job.

But what many people don’t keep in mind is the type of insulation material used, and its potential for adding to air pollution in the home. Once they have performed a blown insulation calculation, they simply go ahead and buy material at the nearest hardware store. But not all insulation materials are equal. Some of the best types you can use are natural and organic in origin.

Cellulose and wool are two of the most commonly used environmentally friendly materials. But in order to use it safely as an insulation material it does have to be treated with a fire resistant chemical. Before you choose an insulation material, make sure that you check with the maker what chemical treatment was used and whether it is known to become airborne once installed in the home.

Being surrounded by material that was intended to help make you more environmentally friendly should not result in you being exposed to harmful airborne materials. You should be able to enjoy lower energy bills, higher levels of comfort and the knowledge that you are actively making a positive impact on global warming, without exposing yourself and your family to harm.

As mentioned above, make sure you know how the insulation material was treated before you install it. Once you see all the benefits of improving your home in an environmentally friendly way make sure you tell all your friends and family about it. Show them your lower energy bills and invite them in on a cold or hot day to see how much of an impact it has made. The more people that opt for such home improvements and the more people understand what they are getting the more of an impact small communities can have.


What Is This Site About?

Posted by: | Posted on: February 11, 2014
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There are many things that are having a significant impact on the future of our society and human beings worldwide. We owe it to our children to make sure that the world they live in is safe, and that the mere action of breathing air does not make them sick or reduce their life expectancy and quality.

Our focus is to provide information to the public about how individuals can make a difference by making certain lifestyle choices and trying to become more active in their communities by engaging local and EU politicians. By demonstrating success stories at a grass roots level it is much easier to influence European policy decisions. Essentially we advocate a bottom up approach of educating the general public in a way that will convince them to engage ever larger levels of communities.

People often think of chemicals and those corrosive acids and highly toxic, immediately lethal materials used only during certain industrial processes. While certain chemicals without a doubt improve our quality of life when used in small and safe amounts, there are numerous chemicals that we use in everyday life that can slowly accumulate in nature and ultimately lead up the food chain.

By educating the public about how to identify chemicals and their immediate and long-term harm we hope to encourage a culture where people check the contents of the things they buy. Cleaning products are one of the biggest source of chemicals in the home, but the lesser known sources are the very construction and home improvement materials. This is one area where people can make a very active difference.

Air pollution is one of the main areas that we try to draw attention to. Here people can make a significant difference through a reduction in the use of fossil fuels, but also indirectly when they know that certain products involve certain chemical releases during the production process. Reduce the usage of such products and you reduce the amount of pollution. And once there is a popular demand for such reduction then it is much easier to affect influence on the regulation of such materials. Our children will thank us for it.


Household Chemicals to Avoid

Posted by: | Posted on: May 24, 2016
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Each year, Canadians spend over $ 275 million in household cleaning products. We buy these products to get rid of microbes, marks, stains and odors so that our homes are sparkling clean. Cleaning should aim to keep our homes healthy; however, some common household cleaning products contain chemicals that can be harmful to human health and the environment. What a mess!

Acute And Chronic Effects

You are probably familiar with the hazard symbols that appear on some cleaning products accompanied by words such as “poison”, “corrosive” and “irritant”.

These hazard symbols warn consumers of the acute health risks, these being associated with a single exposure or short term chemical ingredients present in the product.

In Canada, there is however no similar requirement for manufacturers to warn consumers of the dangers to health and the environment associated with chronic exposure or long-term chemical ingredients used in the composition of household cleaning products. Most of us are daily exposed to small amounts of cleaning chemicals and their waste products.

cleaningWhen we use these chemicals to clean our homes, they are present in the air and we breathe them. US researchers have identified 133 volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which are emitted from a small sample of consumer products, including six maintenance products. Each product tested had between one and eight chemical substances deemed toxic or dangerous under U.S. federal legislation.

Chemicals found in cleaning products can also enter our body by being absorbed through the skin or ingesting house dust and chemical residue accumulated on dishes and utensils. And when maintenance products are in the sewers, they can cause serious impacts on aquatic ecosystems.

There is no regulatory requirement to inventory in a standardized manner the ingredients on the labels, so that it can be difficult to identify potentially hazardous chemicals. Here are some of the dangers that may lurk in your cabinets:

2 – Butoxyethanol (2-BE, also known as Butyl Cellosolve) – Irritant to the skin and eyes, this product is also associated with certain blood disorders. Laboratory experiments have shown that exposure to high doses of 2-butoxyethanol was causing problems related to reproduction. Due to its harmful effects to human health, this chemical is considered as toxic under the Canadian environmental protection act. Health Canada has determined that the air inside buildings and dermal contact were the two main routes of exposure to cleaning products. The regulations require that concentrations of 2 – BE are limited to 5 or 6 in most cleaning products, but higher levels are allowed in some other products, including stain removers for laundry (up to 22).

Found in: window cleaners, stain removers for laundry, carpet cleaners, cleaners for cars, windshield washer, degreasers, cleaners for cookers and rust removal products.

Ammonia – Vapors can irritate the eyes, skin, throat and lungs. People with asthma may be particularly sensitive to the effects of ammonia when inhaled. This substance can also cause damage to the kidneys and liver. Although ammonia exists naturally in the environment, the use of products containing this substance, in adding to natural sources, can lead to increased exposure to vapors. If ammonia is mixed with bleaching products containing chlorine (sodium hypochlorite), chloramine, a highly toxic gas, is formed.

Found in: cleaners for glass, lead-pipes, toilet cleaners, all-purpose cleaner for bathrooms, cleaners for ranges, stainless steel cleaners, polishes for cars and many other cleaning products.

Dyes/Tars – derivatives-based petrochemicals may contain trace amounts of heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium and lead. There are concerns that synthetic dyes may cause cancer, and that heavy metals could damage the nervous system and lead to other harmful effects on health. The dyes present in cleaning products can be absorbed through the skin or ingested in the case of SOAP on residue dishes. They contribute nothing to the cleaning of the product function.

Found in: most types of cleaning products.

Quaternary Ammonium Compounds – Irritants and sensitizers able to induce an allergic response following skin contact. Quaternary ammonium compounds are also considered to trigger asthma in the workplace, and preliminary data indicate that they can induce harmful effects on genetics and reproduction. Chemicals that are part of this family are persistent in the environment and are toxic to aquatic organisms. Quaternary ammonium compounds are antimicrobial agents and there is concern that their widespread use in household disinfectants and cosmetics contributes to resistance to antibiotics in bacteria, which limits the possibilities of treatment in the case of microbial infections. The Canadian Medical Association requested that antibacterial household products are banned.

Found in: cleaning products for bathrooms, all-purpose cleaners, fabric softeners and degreasers.

Dichloroisocyanurate Sodium Dihydrate – corrosive; irritating eye, skin and respiratory tract. This product can also form chlorine gas, which burns the eyes, nose and mouth. Studies have shown that high doses of the chemical may cause damage to the kidneys. In its concentrated form, this chemical is highly toxic to aquatic organisms and may include long term effects within aquatic ecosystems.

Found in: toilet bowl cleaners, deodorizers, cleaners for surfaces and disinfectants.


Fuel Efficiency In Emergency Response Vehicles

Posted by: | Posted on: August 11, 2014
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In a recent conversation with a group of emergency medical technicians and paramedics I was discussing how things had changed in their profession in general over the past few years. One thing I learned was that there have been some drastic changes made in many counties when it comes to replacing old ambulances and other emergency response vehicles.

Because of their size they need a lot of power and that has always meant very large fuel guzzling engines. But throughout the UK and the USA there has been a very notable drive towards making fuel efficiency a top priority when it comes to ambulances.

ambulanceThe meeting took place at a fund raiser for Green Peace where a local team of the emergency services department had taken part in, and had raised a significant amount of money. One of the paramedics was a neighbour of mine and I got talking to him and his colleagues. He originally did his Emergency Medical Technician training 25 years ago and has since completed his advanced and paramedic training and is a senior paramedic at his base. Since his original training he said that there have been a lot of medical procedures added that he can now do, but the biggest changes have come in the equipment.

My immediate thought was that changes would really only have been in the actual medical equipment, but this is far from reality. The whole team agreed that there have been huge changes in the vehicles that have improved their handling, navigation, safety and also fuel efficiency. This made the life of the designated driver on each call out a lot easier. Medical emergencies are so diverse in nature, but they all require that EMTs and the ambulance get to the location as quickly and efficiently as possible. Doing so with less fuel definitely helps, and when that comes with added bonus of better handling then it is certainly a win-win situation.

The actual engine have obviously changed and become more advanced and less of a fuel guzzler. But it is more down to the weight of the vehicles coming down that they now require far less fuel. A lot of materials are now made of high tech lightweight stuff like aluminum and carbon fiber. This means that engines can be smaller and less fuel is required. A lot of the medical equipment is now smaller as well, all adding up to savings in weight.

According to the EMTs it would probably still be a long time before we see hybrid or fully electric ambulances, mainly because of reliability issues and the fact that ambulances need to travel quite long distances before they can afford to require refueling through an electricity connection.

But it is great to see that local and national governments are taking proactive steps to improve the fuel efficiency of their fleet vehicles. The more money is invested in the enhancements and improvements the more affordable they will become for al sorts of other vehicles that we are reliant on.


Environmentally Friendly Pools

Posted by: | Posted on: July 23, 2014
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Today’s topic is somewhat different to a lot of our previous posts, but in many ways it very much keeps with the underlying philosophy of what we try to portray to people. Environmentally friendly solutions that use less chemicals have got a great impact on our health and that of our families, so any ideas we come across that promote this will be encouraged on this site.

Many people might think that pools are an unnecessary luxury that only poses strain on the environment. And I will be honest; I always felt that way too. But then on a recent trip to the US West Coast, I met a very interesting guy from a pool service Orange County CA based company.

Brian introduced me to some fantastic ideas that he and his colleagues had come up with that can be relatively inexpensively implemented and that make private pools a lot more environmentally friendly. In this post I want to highlight some of those ideas.

Saline Water

I had actually never heard of pool water treatments other than chemical that were actually viable alternatives. Usually people regularly measure the chemical balance of their pool water and then add a bit of chlorine whenever needed. But according to Brian there is an increasing demand for switching to saline water. By implementing a chlorine generator cell the salt is simply transformed into chlorine in a natural way utilizing electrolysis, meaning that you still get rid of bacteria and algae. At the same time the chemical content is much lower making it more pleasant and far less harmful to the environment.

Provide Shade

This was probably one of the simplest ideas to make pools more environmentally friendly. In the heat of the summer there will be a lot of water evaporation meaning that you will constantly need to top up with valuable water. To reduce the amount of evaporation, some simple landscaping ideas like bushes and trees near the pool can provide a lot of natural shade. In addition, it is advisable to have a retractable pool cover so that you can simply have the pool covered when it is not in use. This hugely reduces the amount of water needed and is also good for the finances.

Rain Water Harvesting

Another idea was to use a rain water harvesting system. Basically you collect the water that runs off your roof whenever it rains. This is then stored in tanks to then be easily accessed when your pool needs topping up. It can also be used in periods of drought to water lawns and other vegetation in your yard.

Solar Powered Pumps

Chances are that if you have a pool you live in a pretty nice climate with consistent sunshine. Even if you cannot afford to install large photo voltaic cells on you roof (these can be very expensive) you can still make your pool energy self-sufficient with solar panels. A small set of strategically places panels can provide more than enough energy to run a pool pump and filter out particles. This will also save a considerable amount of money over the years.


Energy Efficient Home Heating

Posted by: | Posted on: May 20, 2014
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With ever more interest in making homes more energy efficient, there has been a lot of innovation and radical evolution of clean energy sources for the average family home. Costs have come down significantly and there are quite a few options available that also come with tax incentives. In this post I want to highlight some great ideas for you to reduce your carbon footprint and in many cases make your home more comfortable for your family.

Gone are the days where reducing your energy usage meant putting on extra layers of clothing and wearing gloves while you watch TV in a totally dark house. Yes, by turning off the heating and lights you will reduce your energy usage, but how long does that realistically last before you become frustrated with the inconvenience and the cold. However, technologies and materials that in the past were prohibitively expensive are now available for the family home.

Insulation

As pointed out in this previous post, making sure your home is insulated should be one of the first things you do. You can have one of the most efficient heating systems, but if the heat is escaping straight away it is all still wasted. Ceiling, attic and wall insulation should be priorities before you make a significant investment in other areas.

You should also make sure that all hot water pipes in the house have been adequately insulated. Even if they have been insulated the insulation may be of low quality and could be improved. This is probably a job for a professional as some pipes may be difficult to get at.

Solar Energy

A great way to take advantage of solar energy is through solar water heaters that can be attached to the roof. These are usually a panel of black tubes through which water circulates. When exposed to sunlight, even in the winter, the water heats up and can be then used to feed hot water faucets or can be used to supply pre-heated water to your heating boiler.

Service/Upgrade Your Central Heating Boiler

Many people completely forget to regularly service their water boilers which over time can result in lower efficiency. But boilers also become outdated, and if you have had yours for several decades it may be worth investigating a replacement. The most modern systems are a lot more fuel efficient and can easily save 10 to 20 percent of fuel consumption compared to even models from 10 years ago.

Wood Fired Stoves

If you source your fire wood from reputable sources that have a process of reforestation in place can make your heating system near carbon neutral. Solid fuel stoves have become very efficient and will waste only about a quarter of the energy when compared to an open fireplace. You can even buy a stove that heats water and then feeds it into the central heating system, further reducing your reliance on fossil fuels.

There are countless great opportunities available to the average home and even with a limited budget you can make a big difference. Passive housing may be out of the reach of many budgets but that does not mean that you cannot take beneficial steps to reducing your carbon output.


Health Impact On Children And Adults

Posted by: | Posted on: February 11, 2014
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Most people will think of impacts of air pollution in the form of directly inhaling dangerous chemicals. Truth is though, that this is only one way that chemicals can harm us. For the majority of people direct exposure to industrial air pollutants is quite limited, as legislation has resulted in factories being located far enough away from large populations. And with the mandate for catalytic converters and strict regulations on fuel sources, the air in urban environments of Europe and North America has improved huge in the past decades.

However, of greater concern to most people is the fact that while many pollutants quickly dissipate into very small amounts per million, they do eventually rain back down to earth. This can ultimately lead to a higher concentration in water ways and ground water, which then moves up the food chain. Many water sources are directly used by humans for household consumption and a great deal of effort is being done to monitor the quality. The question is whether that effort is enough or not. But the waterways are also sources of plant and animal food and the further up the food chain you go the higher the concentration can become.

While the effects through the food chain are a lot more difficult to measure, in some cases even impossible, society would impact the food chain by simply focusing on the actual pollution of the air.

One of the most significant findings of the last few years is that the incidents of respiratory problems like asthma. Even very small amounts of toxins can have a huge impact on babies and very young children, and it should be a big concern for parents. A lot more research is being done into these findings as there are many factors that can influence asthma, including your genetics.

But so far studies have shown that there is a link between increases in air pollution and records of visits to medical practitioners because of lung and breathing related problems. This is especially noticeable in areas of increased industrialisation where the levels of chemicals in the air are the highest in direct proximity.

Obviously you should always seek medical help if you or someone in your family is finding it difficult to breath, and your family physician will be able to advise you about the best course of action. But in order to make a change and influence legislation about pollutants, you need to become more knowledgeable about sources of pollution and how to best avoid it. While moving to a different part of the country may not be possible you should at least get away from cities and sources of pollution on a regular basis. More information on this will follow in another post.


Influencing EU policy

Posted by: | Posted on: February 11, 2014
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Once people understand that there are so many areas where chemicals enter our lives it becomes much easier to get them to try and influence policy. This can initially start at local levels by joining environmental support groups and starting to engage with local politicians. The more those local politicians hear from constituents’ concerns about air pollution the more this will become an election matter and a source for policy change.

Our children are ultimately the ones that could pay the price. Chemical accumulation is often very gradual, but once a level of toxicity is reached it can have life altering effects. We should all be very concerned about our children’s health and wellbeing as well as our own. This is something that many pregnant women do not consider; chemicals enter our bodies all the time, and while they may be harmless at those levels to an average adult, they may well be toxic to a fetus.

If significant momentum can be created at a local level about all matters around our current and future health, especially the future health of our children, then this will not go unnoticed. MEPs are forced to go to the electorate on a regular basis and if we can create enough noise in constituencies then our message will be heard.

The first thing everyone should do is actively and directly engage with local politicians and councilors. Get all your friends and family to do so as well and don’t do it through a single letter signed by many people. Do it by getting as many people as possible to send individual letters and emails. Book a time with a local politician during constituency hours. The impact of ten individual people making contact is far greater than one single letter being sent with ten signatures.

The very same can be done around European elections. Get likeminded people to engage with the people who call to the doors and ask them about air pollution policies. Tell them what you think and that you would like to see it become part of the election mandate. This is by far the best place to start.


Main Sources Of Manmade Air Pollutants

Posted by: | Posted on: February 11, 2014
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According to the US EPA and the European Lung Foundation there are many pollutants that, but the most significant and dangerous ones are:

  • Sulphur Dioxide
  • Carbon Monoxide
  • Carbon Dioxide
  • Nitrogen oxides
  • Lead
  • Particulate Matter

This by far not an extensive list, but it does give a brief overview. The thing is that the majority of people will think that these are products of heavy industry like power plants and oil refineries. While this is certainly true, it is by far not the full extent. The average citizen releases these same pollutants while commuting to work, heating or cooling the home, and essentially we are the customers of the big stationary factories that pump out the and many more chemicals into the atmosphere.

We cannot even hide behind our efforts to regulate and limit their release within our communities like the EU. Because so many products we buy are made all over the world we are effectively paying for the pollution to happen. And unless we change our lifestyle and buying decisions this will not change significantly enough.

The danger with such chemicals being release is that they do dissipate quickly in our atmosphere and it only very rare incidents result in very sudden harmful effects. But when looking at measurements of chemical content in the atmosphere over a longer period of time it is very clear that these materials may dissipate, but they are gradually accumulating.

Certain chemicals have seen a great reduction or levelling off in concentration over time, and these are some success stories that people should hold up. Anyone remember DDT? But the real danger lies in these materials that are toxic at a certain unknown level. Scientists are spending huge amount of time to try and identify those toxic levels, but if it takes them too long, and we get to the toxic level before they figure it out in labs?

The effects of the above chemicals are profound. The discussions around the effects of CO2 are long and it is pretty clear what the outcome is. But because the effects are slow impacting it is difficult to get people to take drastic and immediate action.

Lead levels in the atmosphere have reduced, but the dangerous thing about lead is that it accumulates in the food chain, especially for sea living animals. One of the main sources of lead pollution was the use as an additive to the gas you put in your cars. The use of lead has long been prohibited, but its true effects are still unknown. How many health problems of today can be traced back to small amounts of lead?

The question is whether we as the people and the parents of the future generation should allow for risks to be taken with chemical build up in the atmosphere. Should there be a public opposition to the chemical air pollution levels set for today’s businesses and citizens? Erring on the safe side is by far the more prudent way to approach this subject.