Everyday Chemicals: How Bad Could it Be?


With the ever-changing world of technology and science research continuing to inform us of new hazards and new ways to prevent or deter said hazards it can give society a sense of hope, and possibly some comfort in thinking the government has our best interests and safety at heart. With everything we know now, how bad could it really be? The answers may surprise you.

1. Where You Live

One area of chemical exposure that leaves sufferers little option for change is those exposed from their surroundings, while in the comfort of their homes. Everyone will be exposed to chemicals and toxic fumes in some form, but some are suffering at a higher rate. An indigenous community in Sarnia, Ontario, is just one example. The Aamjiwnaang community is adjacent to 57 petrochemical plants. "A number of studies have found that about 40 percent of Aamjiwnaang's residents use inhalers", which is no surprise considering the air usually consists of smells such as "plastics, burning rubber and sulphur". Source A study done by Canadian Researchers found a relation between cases of "acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and Canadian border towns (industrial cities), including Hamilton, Thunder Bay, Sault Ste Marie, St. Catharines and Sarnia". Source On top of airborne toxic fumes, entire communities are warned against swimming in, or even drinking their community's water supply.

Employee with face shield doing metal work in workshop surrounded by smoke and fumes

2. Where You Work

With WHMIS 2015 put in place to set guidelines for employer's and the safety precautions they must provide their employees, it is hoped that one is always safe in their workplace. This isn't necessarily the case, since "the majority of workplace fatalities in Ontario are a result of repeated exposure, resulting in occupational disease, such as; lung and bronchial cancers, asbestosis, and more." Source Construction and Mining jobs account for two of the higher-risk occupations, with new information continuously surfacing regarding hazardous materials and exposure. In 2017 'Workplace Safety North' released an infographic, "'Health effects of diesel exhaust' [which aimed] to raise awareness about the health risks of diesel exhaust exposure…Approximately 9,100 workers in the Ontario mining industry are estimated to be exposed to diesel exhaust." Source

Shopping cart full of products going down aisle with shelves full of stock

3. What You Buy

Although Canada is often known to have guidelines that are more strict than other countries, the number of chemicals in everyday products is quite astonishing. Since items for household purchase do not require a Safety Data Sheet it can be easy to over-look the dangers on the label. Everything from household cleaners, makeup and food contain chemicals, whether to enhance the aesthetic, the flavour, or to make the product fire retardant. Much like the previous two exposures, these chemical exposures do not often show instantaneous results, but more results overtime, from prolonged exposure. The list of hazardous chemicals is seemingly never-ending, but consists of chemicals such as formaldehyde, parabens, mutagens, and more. Source

"Chemicals have replaced bacteria and viruses as the main threat to health. The diseases we are beginning to see as the major causes of death in the latter part of (the 1900's) and into the 21st century are diseases of chemical origin."
- Dr. Dick Irwin, Toxicologist, Texas A&M University

It is bad enough that society needs to worry about the negative consequences they may face from the exposure of chemicals in their everyday lives whether it be the air that surrounds them at work, or the water they grew up swimming in next to their family home. But also, the chemicals they use daily when cleaning the house, cooking for their family or getting ready to start their day. "Many of the world's foremost chemical researchers are convinced that the presence of hazardous chemicals in the world is a global threat comparable to climate change." Source

So what can be done to lower your chemical exposure? Communities like Aamjiwnaang, thankfully have strong community advocates fighting for their rights, you could look up to them for inspiration. At work, employees can look at the Safety Data Sheets for the hazardous materials you work with and ensure you and your employer are taking the appropriate precautions. And for household items, you can begin to purchase less toxic or non-toxic alternatives.

Taking the time to get informed is a step in the right direction!