The Dirty Facts

The Dirty Facts

The Dirty Facts

Indoor Air

9 out of 10 breaths we draw are likely drawn indoors: at school, the workplace, restaurants, movie theaters and home. The average person breathes in 50,000 pollution particles a day, and takes 20,000 breaths a day. Poor indoor air quality can cause or contribute to the development of chronic respiratory diseases such as asthma and hypersensitivity pneumonitis. It can also cause headaches, dry eyes, nasal congestion, nausea and fatigue.


Children are most susceptible to indoor air pollution as their small bodies and undeveloped immune systems are less able to effectively cope. Also children’s lungs are still developing, they breathe faster than do adults and they tend to absorb pollutants more readily. For children and adults, this all translates to immune deficiency, lowered IQ rates, headaches, depression, anxiety, inability to concentrate, attention deficit hyperactivity, shortness of breath, joint pain, sexual problems, memory loss and cancer. According to the Canadian Institute of Child Health (published The Health of Canada’s Children 2000), Canadian children are exposed daily to a toxic soup of chemicals in their water, air and food, and that exposure may explain the dramatic rise in childhood cancers, asthma, sudden infant death syndrome and behavioral problems. The chronic, low-level exposure to pesticides, smog, food additives and other chemicals could also create a host of public-health problems for coming generations, including limiting the ability of prospective parents to conceive. The report states there has been a 25% increase rate of childhood cancers in the past 25 years, all believed to be influenced by exposure to environmental contaminants. Asthma is now the leading cause of hospital admissions in Canada, and the most frequent trigger for an attack is air pollution. Pollutants including lead, mercury, pesticides, PCBs and dioxins can reduce intelligence and slow central nervous system development in fetuses. A Canadian study conducted on hyperactivity disorder, among 20,000 children nationwide, found 11% of children have been diagnosed with the disorder, compared with less than 3%, 20 years ago. Some research has pegged the level among US children at 17%. Canadian children spend more than 90% of their time indoors, in the home (especially with the lure of personal computers and video games), school, hockey arenas and shopping malls. Research has shown that concentrations of pollutants can be up to 100 times higher indoors than outdoors.

Volatile Organic Compounds

The growth of synthetic chemicals after the 1960’s has been phenomenal. USproduction alone increases tenfold in each decade. By the 1980’s, 4 million new chemicals had been recorded, of which 60,000 were in common use, with around 1000 being added to this every year. An average home now probably stores more chemicals than a chemistry lab at the turn of the century, about 62,000 chemicals - most of them in the kitchen and bathroom. The Hazardous Products Act requires that manufacturers list only certain volatile organic compounds in their products. Chemicals can evaporate right through a container that isn’t properly sealed. Volatile Organic Compounds are off-gassed from new furniture, often lacquered with formaldehyde, particleboard paneling or shelving, stuffed furniture (often coated with a stain treatment) and even carpeting. VOC’s are also emitted from air fresheners, rug deodorizers, household cleaning products, dry cleaned clothing, glues, paints, solvents, pesticides, garden chemicals, personal care products and more. There are approximately 9000 Volatile Organic Compounds found in recently sprayed perfume - similar to numbers found in butane. Toluene, a chemical in almost all fragrances, is believed to trigger asthma attacks and other side effects. Aerosols and air fresheners contain dozens of volatile organic compounds such as xylene, ketones and aldehydes. The University of Bristol found that pregnant women who used aerosols and air fresheners most days, suffered 25% more headaches than those who used them less than once a week. The frequent users also experienced a 19% increase in postnatal depression. A study in Edinburgh found that babies under 6 months old who were exposed to air fresheners on most days, had 30% more ear infections than those exposed once a week, plus they had a 22% increase withdiarrhea.

According to the American Lung Association, carpets emit volatile organic compounds, as do products that accompany carpet installation such as adhesives and padding. Symptoms include eye, nose and throat irritation, headaches, skin irritations, shortness of breath or cough, and fatigue. Carpet can also act as a sink for chemical and biological pollutants including pesticides, dust mites, and fungi. Carpets, drapes, bedding and stuffed animals are all dust magnets. A 6 year old pillow can get 1/10 of its weight from mites and mite droppings.


Damp, moldy homes are becoming more of a problem, according to the Canada Mortgage & Housing Corp. Tighter homes make our indoor environments more prone to contamination by molds, spores, fungus, and mildew. Tighter homes can keep moisture trapped. Use of more outside air for ventilation can also make a building mold-prone, if that outside air is moisture-laden. Sinks, toilets, tubs, soap dishes and floors are prime targets for mold. While some molds are benign, others are toxic. Mold can suppress the immune system. One can become immediately sensitized and develop allergies upon contact with large areas of mold growth. Different species of mold have different potential health effects. Pathogenic molds are those that can cause disease in humans. Toxigenic molds are those that contain potent poisons (mycotoxins), usually on the surface of the spores. The spores of the pathogenic and toxigenic molds can be harmful even after the mold colony has stopped growing. When spores are airborne or the fungal mass is disturbed, an occupant with preexisting allergies to molds will react with running nose, eye and throat irritation, cough, etc. Prolonged exposure to mold in buildings may result in development of allergies in individuals who did not have allergies to mold before. Asthmatics are at risk of reacting to indoor mold with more frequent and severe attacks. Symptoms associated with toxigenic molds include headache, sore throat, cough, skin rash, flu-like symptoms, nosebleeds, fatigue, fever, etc. High exposures to stachybotrys chartarum have been implicated in several cases of infant deaths in homes. Bird and bat droppings are often infected with pathogenic molds and are a special concern in renovation and demolition of older buildings. Moldy materials remain allergenic, infectious, or toxic even after the surfaces have dried and further growth has stopped.

Tobacco Smoke

Tobacco smoke contains more than 4700 chemicals including cyanides and carbon monoxide. The chemicals linger past the burn, absorbed into drapes, linens, furniture and clothes. According to Dr. Kenneth Chapman, director of the Asthma Centre of the Toronto Hospital, new smoking trends are fueling the rise in asthma. Although many people have kicked the habit in recent decades, we have actually been losing the war against smoking in young women of child-bearing age. Studies suggest that children and fetuses exposed to cigarette smoke are more likely to develop asthma.


Both scientific and anecdotal evidence is mounting that the flames of candles, whether aromatic or unscented, release black soot into interior environments. They also can load the air with deep respirable particles that some compare to the particulate hazards of second-hand tobacco smoke.

Candle burning and smokeless oil lamps often leave a trail of ghost images and mysterious soot tracks on carpets, walls, ceilings and furniture.

Candles can vary in their soot generation, as some can produce 100 times more soot than other varieties. A candle placed in an air draft can increase its soot production by a factor of 50.

Soot production from certain candles can be significant and may cause indoor levels of airborne soot to exceed concentrations allowed in outside air by the Environmental

Protection Agency.

Candle sales in the US have increased 400% in the past seven years, to approximately $2 billion. A significant portion of the growth is in the aromatic candle market, which now amounts to an estimated $750 million annually.


The thrust for lead abatement in the US was primarily due to health concerns. It was recognized decades ago as a serious problem that affects children. (Research and documentation could fill a small library). A US federal regulation requires real estate agents and owners of dwellings built before 1978, to disclose the property’s lead history and the health hazards related to lead.

A rough gauge of how low a priority lead is in Canada, is reflected in the fact that Deleading magazine, the official publication of the US National Lead Abatement Council, is circulated to 8000+ readers per month in the United States, but less than twelve issues are sent to Canada. The population most likely to be affected by lead poisoning in Canada are the young and the poor, as they have the least amount of protection. The older buildings that contain lead paint are usually inhabited by lower income families. Child occupants (especially those under the age of ten) are at the greatest risk, and are the most adversely affected by lead poisoning. In many municipalities, the demolition of buildings is allowed with no site assessment for hazardous materials.

Household Pets

A study conducted in East & West Germany, by Dr. Erika von Mutius of the University Children’s Hospital in Munich, found that childhood asthma rates were very few for children living in a heavily polluted city of the former Communist block, than in a relatively cleaner city of the West. House pets, especially cats are major culprits to initiate asthma and allergy attacks. Cats have grown in popularity among urban dwellers, displacing the dog as man’s (or woman’s) best friend. There are now 66 million cats in US households, compared with 53 million dogs. No figures exist for Canada, but cats are no less popular in Canada. Dr. Meyer Balter, director of the asthma education clinic at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, has stated that an amazing amount of his patients sleep with a pet sitting on their face.

Asthmatics don’t even need to live with a cat to suffer its ill effects, notes Dr. Malcolm Sears, a professor of medicine at McMaster University. Cat dander easily clings to the clothing of cat owners, who can then spread it to other homes as well as offices and classrooms.

Outdoor Air

5000 Canadians die annually from air pollution - the brownish or yellowish haze most evident on warm sunny days - according to Environment Canada. The most vulnerable are kids, because their lungs are still developing and they breathe in more air than adults; the elderly because of the compromised immune systems; asthmatics and others with lung disease; and anyone with heart problems.

According to the Ontario Medical Association’s report, “The Illness Costs of Air Pollution In Ontario” (2000), smog causes 1920 deaths per year, 9800 hospital admissions, 13,000 emergency room visits, 47 million lost work days. Approximate conservative cost estimate to the Ontario economy is $1 billion.

As many as 5 million tons of latex particles wear off tires in the United States each year.

The Denver Allergy Institute discovered that tiny black particles flake off from tires and are thrown into the air by motorists. The latex particles have been increasingly associated with many medical conditions such as asthma, skin rashes, etc. The heightened irritation might explain why asthma has become increasingly prevalent and severe since the use of radial tires, which flake off in smaller, more readily inhaled particles than previous tires.

Allergies, Asthma & Respiratory Illnesses

Poor air worsens conditions for those with allergies, asthma, lung disease and chronic infections. Studies have shown that pollution doesn’t actually cause asthma. It just makes a bad situation worse. People exposed to a lot of outdoor air pollution are more likely to suffer from other lung ailments, such as chronic bronchitis. True asthma initiators, which provoke an inflammatory condition in the lungs, tend to be some of same things that trigger allergies. And these allergens can be found indoors -- at home and work.

Lung disease claims close to 335,000 lives in America every year and is the third leading cause of death in the United States. One in 5 Canadians has some form of respiratory problem. According to Asthma Society of Canada .....Asthma kills 500 Canadians every year. As many as 1 in 5 children have been diagnosed with asthma. More women than men have asthma - 8.5% of Canadian women, compared to 7.2% men. Women’s symptoms develop later in life. Almost twice as many women as men die from asthma, according to Statistics Canada. Asthma can start at any age. Boys usually start wheezing on the playground, while girls are more likely to come down with their first symptoms in their teens or early 20’s. Asthma can also start later in life if person is exposed to a lot of smoke or chemicals at work or home. Only 25-40% of asthmatics ever get diagnosed. Up to 70% of asthmatics also suffer from allergies, which can play a role in bringing on their symptoms. Some studies suggest that asthma rates may also be driven up by another aspect of modern living: fewer childhood infections. Vaccines and antibiotics have been responsible for a decline in childhood infections - and that’s a good thing. But some researchers now suspect that many of these once-common infections played a crucial role in training young immune systems to combat foreign microbes. Without real microbes to fight, it’s possible the immune system may be crusading against the measly mite and cat dander.

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