Toxics in Our Home

Speaker: Muhannad MalasWritten by: Sheena Jain & Esha Jain

Toxins exist throughout our homes; whether they are in our living room floors, our furniture or even in our cooking ware, they can be present all around us without us even knowing. Regardless of how cautious we may be toxins can be hard to escape. Many times we may be bringing harmful toxins into our homes without even realizing. This can occur due to either not knowing which products are detrimental to our health, or because of toxic ingredients not being listed on product labels. For instance, flame retardants which were originally developed as an industrial gimmick as a result of tobacco industries being blamed for causing fires. In order to overcome these accusations, tobacco companies collaborated with the furniture industry and created furniture soaked in flame retardants intended to delay the onset of fires. Unlike the U.S, Canadian policies have not mandated that flame retardants be included in product labels, in order to prevent an economic decline amongst furniture industries. This has resulted in many Canadian consumers being unaware of their presence when purchasing furniture; thereby unknowingly introducing harmful toxins into their homes. Additionally, many products include an ingredient labelled “*Fragrance”, which encompasses many toxic ingredients one of which includes phthalates. However companies are not required to include the specific chemicals that make up this ingredient on product labels. Although policies have been passed, to eliminate the use of toxins in some products, they do not necessarily prevent its use within other products. This has been demonstrated by the previous ban of BPA use in baby bottles but its continual presence in 2/3rds of Canadian cans.

Many toxins are known to be carcinogenic, and can be attributed to the development of a wide range of cancers. Other toxins are known as endocrine disruptors which affect the function of natural hormones in our body, potentially leading to reproductive problems, diabetes and obesity, among many others. Not only are toxins damaging to our health but they can also negatively impact our environment, including polluting our water and soil. In addition to polluting our environment, toxins can be present within these areas for long periods of time and can also travel long distances throughout our environment, which can be harmful to our wildlife. Studies have demonstrated toxins affecting the seal population in the arctic; this in turn introduces these detrimental chemicals into the Inuit population, as they commonly ingest seals as part of their staple diet. An example of this is flame retardants which have a high affinity for fatty tissue. Therefore pregnant women consuming contaminated seal meat can pass the toxin to their children through the process of breastfeeding.

(I.e. Flame retardants enter environment → Contaminate seals → Contaminated seals consumed by Inuit population → Flame retardants deposit in fatty tissue of these Inuit women → Thus toxins passed on to breastfed infant).


Some common toxins that are present within our homes and in household products include the following:

Bisphenol A & Similar Compounds


- Food cans

 → BPA used in lining of

      aluminum cans & in lids    

      of some glass jars

→  BPA can come out of

     some of the food cans

     and contaminate foods

→  More acidic and hotter

     foods (i.e. canned soups)

     contain & release more

     BPA in food   

- Plastic containers

- Plastic Reusable Bottles

- Cash Register Receipts

  → BPA makes plastics harder

- Endocrine/Hormone


- BPA linked to Breast Cancer

Flame Retardants


- Couches

- Office Chairs

- Mattresses

- Nail Polish

 →  flame retardants (i.e. PBDEs,  

        chlorinated organophosphate

        types, brominated diphenyl

        ethers) are widely used in

        polyurethane foam, upholstered

        furniture (i.e.couch foam) &

        carpets, delay the onset of fire  

- Hormone Disruptors

- PBDEs can impact fetal brain


- Cancer

- Low IQ in children

Phthalates & Parabens - Nail Polish

- Parfum/Fragrance

- Makeup

- Personal Care Products

- Vinyl Floors (Phthalates)

  →  Phthalates make plastics more


- Hormone Disruptors

- Reproductive Toxicants

- Allergens

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

(Terpenes, Toluene)

- Cleaning Products

- Air Freshener Sprays

- Air Pollutants

- Contribute to smog

- Some VOCs increase cancer   


Perfluorinated Compounds (PFCs)


- Non-Stick (Teflon) Cookware

- Water & Stain Resistant

  Clothing & Furniture

- Hormone Disruptors

- Some PFCs are carcinogenic

- Persistent Environmental

  Pollutants (POPs)

Triclosan - Often used as “Antibacterial”

- Toothpaste

- Hand Sanitizers

- Deodorants

- Hormone Disruptors

- Toxic to Aquatic Ecosystems

 (i.e. fish)

Lead - Makeup

- Imported Plumbing Supplies

- Old Paint

- Solder

- Reproductive toxicant

- Neurotoxic

- Environmental Pollutant

- No safe exposure level for children

Mercury - Compact Fluorescent Bulb

- Batteries

- Risk of exposure when

 bulbs/batteries break

 Proper disposal is important

- Neurotoxic; affects child


Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) - Fluorescent Bulbs

- Oil-Based Paint

- Caulking

- Most uses banned but can still

 be found in old electronic

 equipment & building material

- Hormone disruptors

- Carcinogens & Neurotoxins

Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) - Coal Tar Driveway Sealants  &

 Roofing Materials

- Cosmetics & Shampoos

 containing Coal Tar

- Highly Carcinogenic

- Hormone disruptors

- Pollute streams & lakes   

  through rainwater runoff

The toxins present within our homes were demonstrated by Mr. Malas, who isolated individual toxins present in different rooms within our homes and addressed various ways to manage these harmful chemicals.

Location Common Toxins in those areas Some Solutions
Living Room Flame Retardants:

- Couch

- In old & worn out furniture

 flame retardants can seep  

 through the furniture material,

 speeding up the process of


- Electronics


- Paint


- Paint in houses painted >20

  years ago


- Older electronics

 → PVC’s are used to insulate



(formaldehyde contaminate created through the process of gassing when chemicals are released into the air)

- Laminate Flooring

- Look at labels

 →  For curtains, carpets or

       upholstery choose

       untreated, naturally

       flame-resistant textiles like


- Air out new furniture before

 placing it in your home or open

 windows to air out new


- Remove dust regularly with

 damp cloth, by dusting &/or     

 vacuuming because flame  

 retardants attach to dust

- Bring out household plants to

  naturally remove toxins

- Throw out old/worn out


Kitchen HFCs


- Refrigerator


PFOA, PFOS (e.g. Teflon):

- Non-stick cookware (i.e. pans)


- Cooking utensils (if plastic)

- Food Cans

- Plastic packaging materials of




(Formaldehyde created when toxins released and react with ozone)

 → carcinogenic

- Cooking utensils (if plastic)

- Cleaning Products


- Pipes

Pesticide Residue :

- Foods

- Purchase and eat fresh, frozen

 & dried foods

- Do not heat frozen foods in

 plastic containers/packaging

- Purchase foods in glass or BPA

 free containers

- Look for foods that are free of

 BPA & BPA alternatives  

- Use ceramic, stainless steel or

 cast iron

- Avoid scratching non-stick

 cookware or using on high


- Avoid using plastic utensils for

 cooking. Use wooden utensils.

Bathroom Phthalates, Parabens:

- Personal Care Products

- Cosmetics

- Shampoo/Conditioners


- Personal Care Products


- Toothpaste

- Deodorant

- Hand Soaps

- Clothing

Flame Retardants:

- Nail polish


- Shower Curtain (if plastic)

- Look at labels

- Avoid labels that include the

terms “parfum” or “fragrance”

- Make own products

- Look for eco-certified products

- Use natural ingredients and


- Use BCAQ’s lists of toxic 20

- Avoid using plastic shower


  → If can’t avoid using plastic

       shower curtain, then air out

  → It can take up to 3 weeks to

       completely air out the

       toxins present in plastic

       shower curtains

As demonstrated, many small components of household products and material contain some type of toxin. On a larger scale, each of these individual chemicals has contributed to the massive amount of toxins we have present within our homes and their synergistic effects with one another. In order to prevent or at least reduce their negative effects, the first step is to be aware of what is present in the products around us. We must make a conscious effort to purchase materials that are known to be free of toxins and continue to educate ourselves about the ingredients in newer and previously used products.


1)  What is Toxic Home Syndrome? How is it caused and what can be done to prevent it?

Toxic home syndrome is the household equivalent to Sick Building Syndrome. Toxic home syndrome occurs when the polluted air within people’s homes causes their health to deteriorate. This essentially increases their risk of cardiovascular disease, respiratory problems, asthma and cancer.  Toxic Home Syndrome affects over 15 million homes, when common household practises such as gas stove cooking, or the use of a dryer emits toxins detrimental to our health into our homes. Additionally organisms and chemicals can seep through basement floors especially when insufficient ventilation prevents the dilution of contaminants. This further introduces harmful toxins into our household air such as mold spores, carbon monoxide, VOCs and radon.   

            Inadequately ventilated homes have higher carbon dioxide levels which can cause feelings of fatigue, lethargy and congestion.  Low to moderately high levels of contaminants can cause the following symptoms to present: coughing, sneezing, dizziness and watery eyes. At severely high levels, symptoms exhibited can include: nose bleeds, wheezing, asthma, lung disease, muscle pain and rashes.  

            Toxic Home Syndrome can develop from exposure to the following contaminants due to some common household practises:  

Household Practises/Contamination Toxins/Contaminants Released Health Effects
Mold Contamination - Mold Spores & Fungal Particulates

- Toxigenic Molds may release       



- Allergic Rhinitis

- Asthma  

Drying Laundry - VOCs

 → Acetaldehyde & Benzene

      can be off- gassed by washing &

      drying clothes indoors


- Lung Irritation

- Headache

- Nausea

Acetaldehyde & Benzene:

- Carcinogenic

Using Fireplace - Particle pollution in smoke - Damage Lung tissue

- Respiratory problems

Carpeted Homes - Dust mites, fungus, dirt, dander &  

    pet hair can potentially hide in


- Triggers asthma attacks

- Severe allergic reactions

- Lung irritation

Cooking with Gas stove - Nitrogen Dioxide

- Formaldehyde

- Acrolein

- Carbon Monoxide

- Cancer

- Respiratory symptoms

Using Basement - Radon

 →  by-product released when     

         uranium in soil and rock breaks   


 →  Seeps in through cracks in

         basement floors, walls or

         foundations and enters home

- Lung Cancer

Increasing ventilation within homes has been shown to reduce the negative effects of Toxic Home Syndrome by as much as 38%. This can be achieved by checking HVAC systems, opening windows, or using a blower/fan indoors. Other ways to improve household air quality include:

  •  Drying clothes outdoors using a clothing line or opening laundry room windows
  • Using hardwood flooring instead of carpet
  • Keeping shoes off indoors, as shoes can introduce outdoor dirt, pollen and soil as well as spread contaminants and debris into homes
  • When painting homes, use low VOC painting products, open window to remove

             contaminants from paint and avoid using room until paint has completely dried

  • Ensure that vent fan above gas stove is functioning and is adequately venting to outside the home

2) What specific toxins can different plant species clear from our homes?

  •  Golden Pothos: Formaldehyde, other VOCs
  •  Ficus Alii: General air purifier
  •  Spider Plant: Benzene, Formaldehyde, Carbon Monoxide, Xylene
  •  Lady Palm: General air purifier
  •  Snake Plant: Formaldehyde
  • Aloe: Formaldehyde, Benzene
  • Moth Orchid: Formaldehyde
  • Dwarf Pygmy Date Palm: Formaldehyde, Xylene
  • Chinese Evergreen: Air Pollutants, Toxins
  • Chrysanthemum: Benzene
  • Gerber Daisy: Trichloroethylene, Benzene
  • Red-Edged Dracaena: Xylene, Trichloroethylene, Formaldehyde
  • Weeping Fig: Formaldehyde, Benzene, Trichloroethylene
  • English Ivy: Airborne fecal-matter particles
  • Azalea: Formaldehyde
  • Heart Leaf Philodendron: Formaldehyde, many other air pollutants
  • Warneck Dracaena: Pollutants associated with varnishes & oils
  • Boston Fern: Formaldehyde
  • Bamboo Palm: Benzene, Trichloroethylene, Formaldehyde
  • Peace Lily: Formaldehyde, Benzene, Trichloroethylene, Toluene, Xylene

3)  What are common toxins found in the tap water within our homes and what illnesses have been linked to its exposure?

Tap water has been shown to contain over 700 chemicals including cadmium, barium, lead, perfluorochemicals and polychlorinated biphenyls/PCBs to name a few. These toxins initially pollute soil, which in turn contaminates groundwater, and this eventually leads to their presence within tap water. Some of the negative effects of toxins present in tap water have been linked to such illnesses as: cancer, hypothyroidism and damage to the immune system. In higher concentrations some tap water contaminants can potentially lead to brain, liver and kidney damage in addition to various cancers.

When tap water contaminants are heated, they can become inhalable gasses, which can be inhaled while showering. Chloramines and chlorine, two chemicals commonly used in the treatment of drinking water are typically vaporized and inhaled while showering, increasing the risk of bladder cancer, hypertension, allergies and lung damage.  

Using a showerhead filter can prevent the exposure of inhalable gasses and chemicals. These showerheads filters can remove the following contaminants: chlorine, chloramines, barium, lead and mercury. This can prevent the development of the detrimental health conditions related to these toxins.


1)      "20 Houseplants That Clear Toxins From Your Home." 20 Houseplants To Clear Toxins From The Air In Your Home! N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Oct. 2016. (http://www.care2.com/greenliving/20-houseplants-to-clear-toxins-from-your-home.html)

2)      Admin. "Hidden Toxins in Your Home | Bottom Line Inc." Bottom Line Inc. N.p., 01 Feb. 2016. Web. 19 Oct. 2016. (http://bottomlineinc.com/hidden-toxins-in-your-home/)

3)      Admin, By. "Toxic Home Syndrome: Could Your Home Be Making You Ill?" Air Quality Testing by Air Quality Solutions 1844AIR TEST. N.p., 09 Apr. 2015. Web. 19 Oct. 2016. (http://www.airqualitysolutions.ca/toxic-home-syndrome/)