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If cleaning the recurring mildew in your bathroom gives you a headache,
if you're getting tired of spraying cockroaches that keep coming 
back, and if asthma attacks are a common occurrence in your 
household, your immediate concerns probably don't include learning 
how to be kinder to the environment.

But they should, says Nita Chaudhuri of the South Riverdale Community
Health Centre in Toronto and co-ordinator of the Hidden Household 
Hazards project.

Your home is an environment too. And it's possible that your headaches 
and your loved one's asthma are directly related to the chemical 
cleaners and pesticides you are using.

After all, sprays designed to kill insects are poisonous, and commercial 
mildew cleaners are among the most noxious of any cleaning product 
you can use in your home. But, Chaudhuri says there are substitutes 
for these chemicals that won't make you sick, and they are usually 

Hidden Household Hazards works with householders in the Riverdale 
area of Toronto to show them how to replace toxic cleaners and 
pesticides with less noxious alternatives. Toxic products are a 
particular problem in homes where ventilation is poor, where quarters 
are cramped, or where there are persistent insect pests.

To help the program achieve its goal, Environment Canada's Action 21 
Community Funding program supplied $55,187 to the two-year 
project. Between July, 1997, and June, 1999, project workers expect 
to have helped 1,000 households in the Riverdale area substitute 
their noxious cleaners and pesticides for non-toxic, environmentally 
friendly alternatives.

Hidden Household Hazards concentrates on fixed income families, new 
and expectant mothers, asthma patients, tenant groups and new 
Canadians. Interactive workshops -- sometimes presented in the form 
of an interactive play called Indoor Exposure -- are given at pre- 
and post-natal classes and at English as a second language (ESL) 
classes in the neighborhood.

The interactive community play uses humour and scenes from everyday 
life to help audiences realize how ingredients in some common 
household cleaners or pesticides can contribute to annoying health 
problems, such as allergies and headaches. The dramatization has been 
crafted by the Centre's Air Quality Workgroup so that audience 
members can stop the action and suggest solutions to indoor air 
quality problems.

"The play is very effective. It not only gets people thinking about the 
correlations between toxics in their homes and their health, but we 
have fun doing it," says project worker Karen Young.

Hidden Household Hazards has also recruited volunteer outreach workers 
to help spread the word. When Vasta Gibbons of Donmount Court learned 
how adding household plants, cutting out spray cleansers and 
substituting non-toxic cleaners could help her breathe easier, she 
volunteered to help spread the word within her 255-unit apartment 

"Because I am asthmatic, I find them (alternative cleansers) very helpful 
for my breathing," she says. Even though alternative cleaning 
products in general aren't quite as effective as the more 
conventional ones, "weighing the health concerns and the job (the 
cleaners do), I think it is much better now."

Gibbons believes many of her neighbours' breathing problems could be 
helped if they took a similar approach, and she is optimistic that 
she will be able to convince at least some tenants to adopt a 
toxic-free lifestyle.

"It isn't going to change the world," she says, but "it will help a lot of 

Not only does reduced use of household toxics have the potential to 
improve the health of project participants, it can reduce the amount 
of hazardous substances dumped every day into Toronto area landfills 
and washed down Toronto sewers. Eventually these products seep out of 
landfills and into groundwater supplies, or the are passed from 
sewage treatment plants into Lake Ontario. Either way, they 
eventually get back into Torontonians' 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 and 
sewage treatment plant discharges that include toxic ingredients 
from household cleaners and pesticides. Projects like Hidden 
Household Hazards contribute to the overall cleanup and 
rehabilitation of Toronto's watershed.

To find out if the Hidden Household Hazards program can help you, call 
Karen Young or Nita Chaudhuri at the South Riverdale Community Health 
Centre, 416-461-1925.

Hidden Household Hazards 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 Hidden Household Hazards include: the Eastview 
Neighborhood Community Centre, the Toronto Environmental Alliance, 
the Trillium Foundation and the Centre for Excellence in Research in 
Immigration and Settlement.

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