Many aspects of our home environment can affect our health.
Children are at higher risk of health problems from exposures in their environment than adults. They breathe more air, drink more water, and eat more food for their size than adults do.
Young children are also more likely to put non-food items in their mouth. Because they spend a lot of time close to the ground, they can be exposed to potential harms. As they grow, some of these exposures could interfere with their development and cause long-term health effects.
Here are 3 common exposures found in our homes that can be harmful to children, and ways that you can reduce the risks.
Indoor air quality
Many of us, including our children, spend a good portion of our time indoors – especially during the winter months. Indoor air can often be more polluted than outdoor air because of things like tobacco and cannabis smoke, harmful chemicals from vaping, vehicle exhaust from the garage, pests, dust, building materials, and renovations.
Poor indoor air quality can lead to:
- Allergies or irritant symptoms
- Breathing problems (e.g., asthma, lung infections, and lung cancer)
- Carbon monoxide poisoning
Here are ways you can improve the air quality in your home:
- Never smoke or use vaping products (e.g. e-cigarettes).
- Don’t idle your vehicle in the garage or near an air intake. Exhaust can move inside.
- Install carbon monoxide detectors and replace them every 3 to 5 years.
- Dust regularly.
- Avoid wall-to-wall carpeting, when possible.
- Increase ventilation (the turnover of air) in your home:
- Open windows and doors when outdoor air quality is good
- Keep inside doors open when possible
- Keep vents clear
- Replace filters for forced air or HVAC units regularly
Cleaning and disinfecting products
Cleaning and disinfecting helps reduce the spread of germs (bacteria and viruses) that make us sick. A cleaning agent does not kill germs, but it does physically remove dirt and germs from the surface, limiting transfer. A disinfectant uses chemicals to kill germs, but it does not necessarily remove them from the surface. Typically, a cleaning agent should be used before a disinfectant, unless it is a product that includes both agents.
When used properly, these products help keep us safe. But they can be harmful if not used properly.
Cleaning and disinfecting products can cause:
- irritation of the eyes and throat,
- breathing problems and allergic reactions,
- headaches, and
- toxic effects or burns to the mouth, throat and stomach if ingested.
Here are some tips to reduce these health risks:
- Always follow label directions.
- Clean and disinfect in a well-ventilated area. Open windows and doors, when possible. Never use cleaning products in small or enclosed spaces.
- Avoid cleaning and disinfecting when children are near.
- Never mix cleaning products.
- Store products in their original container, and safely out of children’s reach.
Pesticides are substances that kill insects or other organisms. They include insecticides (for example, bug spray), herbicides (such as weed killer), or rodenticide (such as rat poison).
Pesticide poisoning is when someone swallows or inhales high doses, such as during fumigation procedures. Exposure to high doses of pesticides can cause headaches, dizziness, weakness, muscle twitching, difficulty breathing, skin rashes, eye burning, and/or changes in activity level.
If your child has been exposed to a pesticide and has these symptoms, seek medical attention and/or contact your local poison control centre immediately.
Long-term effects of small amounts of pesticide could affect a child’s development or increase the risk of childhood cancer.
Exposure to pesticides while pregnant can cause preterm birth, reduced fetal growth, or birth defects.
Here are some ways to reduce these health effects:
- Wash your produce thoroughly with water before eating.
- Where possible, use non-toxic alternatives to pesticides. For example, start with traps and barriers before moving to non-chemical products. Use chemical pesticides as a last resort.
- When you must use a chemical pesticide, use the least toxic option available.
- Read label warnings and always follow instructions.
- When applying pesticides indoors, open windows and doors.
- When applying pesticides outdoors, close windows and doors to avoid drift inside.
- Never apply pesticides when children are around.