The Clean and the Dead 

RMOW Policy and Program Development

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Whistler’s mountain air is fresh and pure, a simple pleasure to be enjoyed with every breath… we can live our mountain lives virtually free of the smog those poor city folk are sucking in daily.

But don’t hold your breath. 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.

Phthalates, bisphenol A, cadmium, brominated flame retardants, formaldehyde, lead, methylmercury, perfluorinated chemicals, polychlorinated biphenyls, triclosan, volatile and semi-volatile organic compounds (xylene, benzene, and toluene) are all chemicals readily found in your indoor environment.

Household cleaners, carpets, furniture, paint, and cosmetics are all carriers of these 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.

A Canadian environmental group, Environmental Defence , released a report called Toxic Nation this summer and 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.

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