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You may not realize it, but when you clean your house with conventional
products and treat your lawn with conventional pesticides, it's not 
just germs and bugs that you may be hurting. You could also be posing 
risks to the health of your family and pets.

Home Safe Home, a project of the Toronto Environmental Alliance (TEA), 
encourages Toronto area householders to use non-toxic substitutes for 
common cleaners and pesticides.

"A general rule of thumb is that whenever you spray something on and you
don't have to use any elbow grease, it should ring warning bells in 
your mind, because there is probably a corrosive chemical that is 
doing the work instead of you," advises Janet May, head of  the Home 
Safe Home project.

The project also shows how to keep insect pests out of the house and away 
from lawns and gardens rather than deluging them with poisonous 
chemicals after they've arrived.

And May has more helpful advice:

If your lawn won't stay green without constant fertilizing, watering and 
spraying for pests, it's not healthy and it needs a different kind of 

If cockroaches keep coming back no matter how many times a year you 
spray, the pesticide applications are probably doing more harm to you 
than to the bugs.

TEA helped more than 1,500 Toronto homes switch from poisonous to 
environmentally friendly products in 1997, and it continued
encouraging conversions this year by concentrating on low-income 
householders. Home Safe Home began in 1996 with the help of $24,300 
from Environment Canada's Action 21 Community Funding Program. A number 
of other organizations contributed money and materials as well.

Through local publicity TEA workers were able to find clients in houses and 
apartment buildings who were not only willing to learn how to keep 
their homes and gardens chemical-free but were willing to hold open 
houses for other prospective students of Home Safe Home.

With the original funding exhausted, the group is hoping to find money for 
a similar project aimed at multi-unit low-income neighborhoods, says 
May. People with limited incomes and few options for housing are less 
likely to be aware of alternatives to toxic cleaners or pesticides. 
But, at the same time, crowded low-income housing often makes indoor 
air quality an even bigger concern.

Integrated pest management (IPM), which involves repairs to buildings and 
changes to lifestyle habits that make areas less attractive to 
roaches, is particularly important in multi-family dwellings. In 
these environments, IPM can work only when everyone does it, and only 
if the buildings themselves are altered to remove persistently damp 
areas or cracks and crevices where the bugs can hide. This means 
coaching tenants on how to get their landlords involved.

For most people, says May, it's a matter of finding out what the alternatives 
are and learning how to use them: "People are really willing to stop 
using toxic products, but they don't know what to do."

So, Home Safe Home workers don't simply tell householders what the 
alternatives are, they find out locations of neighborhood outlets for 
the basic ingredients in non-toxic cleaning products such as borax 
and baking soda. And, project workers give instructions in toxic-free 
house cleaning, household pest control and organic lawn and garden 

"We thought, if we make it as easy as possible, people really don't have 
that much of an excuse not to switch," explains May.

May concedes keeping a non-toxic home is more work than the more 
common alternative. But project workers try to sell clients on the 
positive aspects of changing over: better indoor air quality, 
cleaning house as a physical workout, and lawn care that helps rather 
than hinders plants' natural defenses.

Not only do poisonous household compounds pose potential problems for 
families and pets, they add to the tonnes of hazardous substances 
discarded every year in the Toronto area. Many of these chemicals end 
up in landfill sites where they eventually leak into the groundwater 
supply; or they are poured down drains and routed to municipal sewer 
systems. Since sewage treatment plants are not built to filter out 
chemicals, these toxic substances are passed on to Lake Ontario and 
eventually make their way back into the city's drinking water.

The Toronto area has been designated an Area of Concern (AOC) by the 
International Joint Commission, the Canada-US body that monitors the 
Great Lakes water quality agreement. Among factors contributing to 
poor water quality are contaminated runoff from urban areas -- such 
as lawns and gardens --  and sewage treatment plant discharges that 
include toxic ingredients from household cleaners and pesticides. 
Projects like Home Safe Home contribute to the overall cleanup and 
rehabilitation of Toronto's watershed.

Home Safe Home is one of more than 100 Ontario initiatives that have 
received partial funding from the Action 21 Community Funding Program 
since its inception in 1995. Recently renamed EcoAction 2000, the 
federal government program encourages non-profit organizations to 
take environmental action at the local level. To be eligible, 
projects must have matching funds or in-kind support, respond to 
community needs and have measurable environmental results. Funding 
applications are continually being accepted for deadlines that fall 
on May 1, October 1 and February 1.

Other partners in Home Safe Home have been: the Canada Trust Friends of 
the Environment Foundation, the Green Thumb Project, Canada Mortgage 
and Housing Corporation (CMHC), City of North York, It's Not Garbage 
Coalition, Grassroots Environmental Products and the Ontario Ministry 
of Environment and Energy.

To find out more about EcoAction 2000 funding in Ontario and how your 
community group can qualify, contact the EcoAction information line 
at 1-800-661-7785, or email to: ecoaction2000@ec.gc.ca. See the 
EcoAction 2000 web site on Environment Canada's Green Lane at