CancerSmart 3.1



CancerSmart 3.1
• How to eliminate toxins from
your home and garden products
• How to make healthy choices for
your family and the environment
CancerSmart 3.1
by Sean Griffin
This CancerSmart Consumer Guide was produced by
Toxic Free Canada
Research by Vijay Cuddeford, Sean Griffin, Liam Griffin, Mike Mahay
Writing, design and production by Sean Griffin. Cover design
Advisory committee: Larry Stoffman (Chair), David Bennett, Dr. Jim Brophy, Dr. Paul Demers,
Dr. Norman Epstein, Dr. Dorothy Goldin Rosenberg, Dr. Margaret Keith and Cathy Walker.
Funding assistance provided by Endswell/Tides Canada, J.W. McConnell Family Foundation,
InspireHealth Integrated Cancer Care, B.C. Federation of Labour Health and Safety Centre, B.C.
Government and Service Employees’ Union, B.C. Nurses’ Union, B.C. Teachers’ Federation,
Canadian Auto Workers, Canadian Labour Congress, Canadian Union of Public Employees,
Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union, Federation of Post Secondary Educators of
B.C., Public Service Alliance of Canada, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1518, United
Steelworkers, Western Canada Wilderness Committee. Thanks to Canadian Auto Workers Local
3000, Local 4275 and Local 4276 for ongoing support.
Copyright © Toxic Free Canada 2011
First electronic edition March 2011
ISBN 978-0-9735886-5-1
INTRODUCTION: Changing the landscape ..........4
TOXIC TARGETS: what comes first ........................6
Charting the hazards: references list ..............7
Europe moves ahead with REACH policy ..........7
PESTICIDES: Toxic legacy of the 20th Century ......8
Insecticide still used for head lice ..................9
Not just neurotoxic to insects ........................9
Pesticide bylaws protect public health ............10
GUIDE TO THE PESTICIDE TABLES ........................12
What about Roundup?....................................12
Internal flea treatments ................................12
PESTICIDE TABLES, ingredients, alternatives ......13-15
FOOD: Avoiding toxins, making healthy choices ..16
Least contaminated, most contaminated list ..17
THE DIET LINK: eating for cancer prevention ........18
Antioxidant foods ..........................................19
Vitamin D may be tool for prevention ..............19
CLEANING PRODUCTS: a look at ingredients ........20
The case for right-to-know labelling ................20
Look for the Ecologo ......................................21
What’s the problem with low-dose? ................21
CLEANING PRODUCTS: ingredients to avoid..........22
NTA removed from laundry detergent ............22
Three ingredients you don’t need....................23
CLEANING PRODUCT TABLES................................23-25
PERSONAL CARE PRODUCTS: ..............................26
PHTHALATES: toxic ingredients that aren’t listed..28
Finding phthalate-free products ....................28
TOXINS OF MODERN LIFE: ..................................30
Teflon products, alternatives ..........................31
LEAD: still in places it shouldn’t be ....................32
Wine glasses: lead-free alternatives................33
WATER BOTTLES: checking the numbers ..............34
Reusable bottles: preferred options ................35
PLASTICS, toys and more phthalates ..................36
Receipts are source of BPA..............................36
Plastics to avoid, preferred alternatives ..........37
PBDEs: unseen chemical trespass ......................38
Call to restrict toxic fire retardants ..................38
Less toxic technology ....................................39
SPECIAL FOCUS: BREAST CANCER ........................40
Breast cancer reports links ............................41
ENDOCRINE DISRUPTERS and breast cancer ........42-43
OTHER PRODUCTS: garage, workshop..................44
Toxic products, alternatives ............................45
CARCINOGENS you don’t want ............................46
RESOURCES, books, links ..................................48-49
ENDNOTES ........................................................50
ABOUT CANCERSMART ........................................51
Changing the landscape of cancer prevention
was a word
hardly mentioned outside medical journals. And
in those days, the environment and environmental issues weren’t even part of the common vocabulary. The world has changed dramatically.
Today, cancer is a regular topic of conversation, a subject for talk shows and everyday news. Millions of people,
their families touched by cancer, participate in fund-raising activities to raise money for cancer research. Much
the same is true of environmental issues, as the undeniable reality of global warming has prompted an unprecedented number of Canadians to join in calling for new
environmental initiatives to protect the earth.
The world of cancer prevention has also changed since
the first edition of the CancerSmart Consumer Guide.
When that first issue came off the press in 2004, the link
between environmental and occupational chemicals and
cancer wasn’t readily accepted by the media or even the
country’s cancer agencies. Today, research is shedding new
light on the chemical-cancer link every day. Media stories that identify toxic chemicals as a critically important
part of our understanding of cancer are commonplace.
Much of the change has come following CBC journalist Wendy Mesley’s documentary, Chasing the Cancer
Answer. The television show — which also featured the
CancerSmart Consumer Guide — was first aired in
March, 2006 and has been re-run several times, each time
drawing thousands of comments from viewers. Many of
them have underlined the key importance of cancer prevention — and the close link that exists between our own
health and the environment.
More than 25,000 copies of the Guide have been sold
across Canada since it was first published and have undoubtedly contributed to the changes that have taken
place. Products have been re-formulated, new chemical
regulations have come into effect and a new national cancer prevention group has come into being. We hope this
third edition of the Guide will have even more impact
and provide useful information for the thousands of
Canadians working for environmental health and cancer
Chemical trespass
Over the past half century, tens of thousands of new
chemicals have come into use — in industry, in the workplace, in our homes. They’ve revolutionized industrial
processes and changed the way we clean our homes.
But many of those chemicals have also brought with
them a variety of toxic effects to human health and the
environment. Some have been shown to be carcinogens,
substances that can cause cancer. Some have been shown
to have toxic effects on reproduction, in humans and animals. Others may be endocrine disrupters, chemicals
that affect the hormone producing organs of the body.
In 1965, the UN’s World Health Organization established the International Agency for Research on Cancer
(IARC) to study the causes and prevention of cancer
Toxin or toxicant?
Information about toxic chemicals will sometimes refer to
“toxins” and sometimes “toxicants,” making it confusing for
the average consumer.
The term generally used by scientists to describe a toxic
chemical is “toxicant.” However, for many years, environmental groups have referred to toxic chemicals as toxins and
the term has been generally accepted in popular language
with that meaning. For that reason, we’ve used toxin rather
than toxicant throughout this booklet.
around the world. In its nearly 40 years of existence,
IARC has established an authoritative list of carcinogens,
based on the findings of worldwide research. Since then,
new agencies, such as the U.S. National Toxicology Program and California’s Office of Environmental Health
Hazard Assessment have also developed lists of toxic
chemicals. Canada does not yet have its own list, although
some substances have been declared toxic to health and
the environment under the provisions of the Canadian
Environmental Protection Act (CEPA).
Those lists are a powerful tool that we can use to identify potentially toxic chemicals and then eliminate or at
least reduce our exposure to them.
fice of Environmental Health Hazards Assessment as reproductive toxins are also carcinogens, such as benzene.
It suggests that there is a link between chemicals that have
an adverse effect on reproduction and cancer.
Children are often the most at risk because the effects
of chemicals are magnified in children whose bodies are
still developing and changing. While the incidence of
some cancers in adults is declining, for example, the rate
of childhood cancer and cancer in young adults, is rising.1
That’s why reducing exposure for children is important.
The prevention step
After years of research, the evidence is growing: eliminating exposure to carcinogens, such as lead and tobacco
smoke and other toxic chemicals is a key pillar of primary
cancer prevention. It has brought tangible results in the
workplace and in public health initiatives.
Doesn’t it make sense then, to do whatever we can to
Carcinogens and cancer
Look at cigarette smoking, for example. It is very well
established that if we get people to quit smoking, we can
prevent thousands of new cases of lung cancer. The reason
is simple: lighting a cigarette releases more than 50
known carcinogens into the air — and into the
In the 1970s, 1 in 5 people had a lifetime
lungs of smokers. Eliminate exposure to those cigprobability of developing cancer. Today, 1 in
arette carcinogens and you prevent many new cases
of cancer. Many of the same carcinogens that are
2.2 Canadian men and 1 in 2.5 Canadian
found in cigarette smoke, such as formaldehyde
women are expected to develop cancer over
and ethylbenzene, are also found in consumer
their lifetime.
products. It makes sense that if we can reduce those
—Canadian Cancer Statistics 2009, published by the Public Health Agency of Canada,
exposures as well, we can reduce the risk of cancer.
Statistics Canada and cancer agencies
Over the last five decades, there has been an unseen ”chemical trespass” on our bodies, from thousands of chemicals used in industrial and household
eliminate our exposure to those toxic chemicals in our
goods. Groups on both sides of the border, including the
homes and communities? We believe it does.
U.S. Environmental Working Group and Environmental
The right to know
Defence in Canada, have tested the blood of hundreds of
We realize that more is involved than just making
people through “bio-monitoring.” From those tests
choices. You need to know what’s in the products you use.
they’ve developed an inventory of our “body burden” —
If you’re working with products in the workplace, health
the toxins that are showing up in our bodies.
and safety regulations require that the potentially hazThe tests have revealed that North Americans carry as
ardous contents of those products be disclosed in a safety
many as 116 different chemical toxins in their bodies.
data sheet. Of course, workers have to assert their right,
Disturbingly, the levels are often higher in children.
but they do have a legal right to know what they’re being
On the other hand, bio-monitoring in different counexposed to and the health hazards associated with expotries shows that where some chemical have been banned,
sure. There are no such labelling requirements for most
the levels found in human blood are falling. That raises
consumer products. Shouldn’t people have the right to
the hope that if governments act to curb toxic chemical
know what they’re being exposed to in the products they
use, it can provide tangible benefits to human health.
buy? Again, we believe they should.
Reproductive toxins
You can make a difference by avoiding products conWhat about chemicals that affect reproduction, or
taining toxic ingredients. You can also multiply that effect
childhood development? Lead, for example, is a carcinomany times over when you work with others in your
gen, but it is also widely known as a developmental toxin.
community to press for better consumer product regulaIn fact, many of the chemicals listed by California’s Oftions that protect your health and the environment.
What should we try to eliminate first?
on hormones that control growth and development of
both humans and animals. Because of their mode of action, EDCs can cause adverse effects at extremely low levels. New research shows they may also play a role in the
development of cancer.
Three groups
This booklet focuses on three distinct groups:
• Carcinogens
• Reproductive toxins
• Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs)
Carcinogens are at the top of the list because they play
a key role in the development of cancer. Preventing cancer means, first and foremost, eliminating or reducing exposure to carcinogens, whether in tobacco smoke,
pesticides or household products.
Reproductive toxins are also a target because many of
them are also carcinogens and many can cause changes in
the developing fetus that may lead to cancer in later life.
EDCs are similarly important because of their effect
In plain language, carcinogens are substances that can
cause cancer. They do it by altering or damaging the cell’s
DNA — the basic coding system of cells — or by impairing the body’s natural defences that protect against
the formation of cancerous cells.
Since the 1960s, various national and international
agencies, including the UN-based International Agency
for Research on Cancer have compiled studies of carcinogenic substances. Most of the studies are based on experimental data with animals, but studies based on
occupational exposures in the workplace are also adding
to our knowledge. The lists of potential carcinogens have
been compiled based on that experimental data.
The standard that is used to determine whether a
chemical should be listed as carcinogenic is very rigorous — if a chemical appears on a list of carcinogens, then
that cancer-causing effect has been demonstrated in many
In the occupational field, a number of unions have
waged campaigns to reduce workers’ exposure to carcinogens such as asbestos and vinyl chloride. Often they have
eliminated carcinogens from the workplace.
Still, a number of carcinogens show up in common
household products and pesticide products where they
may potentially cause harm. Identifying those products
and avoiding them is a positive step in primary cancer
cleaners, garden pesticides, and paint
strippers, contain toxic ingredients that
can adversely affect human health and
the environment. But how do you know which products
to eliminate? Where do you start?
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the number of toxic
chemicals that you might be exposed to. But we know
that eliminating exposure to the carcinogens in tobacco
smoke reduced the incidence of lung cancer. We know
that eliminating the lead from gasoline reduced the incidence of lead-associated developmental problems in children. If we can focus on those areas where we can make a
change, it can break down a huge task into some logical
steps for action.
Over the last few decades, science has done a lot to
identify certain toxic classes of chemicals and to group
them into lists. That makes it easier for us to see the “toxic
targets” and to set our aim on them.
Charting the hazards
Europe moves
ahead with
REACH policy
These are some of the sources used in identifying toxins:
International Agency for Research on Cancer, U.S. National Toxicology
Program, California Office of Environmental Health Hazards
Assessment, U.S. EPA Office of Pesticide Programs
Reproductive toxins
California Office of Environmental Health Hazards Assessment
Endocrine disrupters
European Commission, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Reproductive toxins
Reproduction and fetal development can easily be affected by chemical substances, especially if that interference comes at a critical stage.
Reproductive toxins can have a number of adverse effects, from damaged sperm
in men to infertility in women, and early puberty. A sub-category of reproductive
toxins includes a number of developmental toxins that can potentially affect babies
during fetal development or children during the early stages of growth. Some pesticide ingredients such as triforine and substances such as toluene, used in paints and
lacquer thinners, are reproductive toxins.
California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment maintains a list
of substances “known to the state of California to cause reproductive toxicity.” Environment Canada also includes suspected reproductive toxins such as 2-butoxyethanol among the chemicals it has listed as CEPA-toxic, according to the
Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA).
Endocrine disrupters
Nearly a decade ago, U.S. scientists Theo Colburn and John Peterson Myers, together with science journalist Dianne Dumanoski, published Our Stolen Future, a
book that brought to popular attention the damage caused by endocrine-disrupting
chemicals, or EDCs. EDCs include a wide range of chemicals that act in ways similar to the hormones naturally produced by humans and animals. Sometimes they
block the natural hormones and sometimes they mimic or exaggerate their effect.
EDCs have opened a disturbing new dimension of toxicology because they can
cause adverse effects at extremely low levels, forcing researchers to reassess the old
saying that “the dose is the poison.” Usually in toxicology, the effects of toxic chemicals show as a rising line on a graph, with the magnitude of the adverse effects increasing as the dose increases. But researchers call the effect produced by EDCs
“nonmonotonic.” In other words, the toxic effects may actually be greater at lower or
even intermediate doses of a chemical substance.
Because of their mode of action, EDCs can have a profound effect on the sensitive
processes of growth and differentiation of cells. That’s why it’s so important to reduce exposures during pregnancy or at critical periods of child development.
Many phthalates, found in personal care products, are EDCs and can interfere
with the male hormone androgen, potentially causing birth defects and sometimes
cause later developing cancers in male children. For women, recent research has
shown that regular exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals during pregnancy
can potentially affect two succeeding generations, since the eggs for the next generation are already being formed in the developing fetus.2
For many years, environmentalists and health advocates have encouraged the use of the
“precautionary principle” in the
regulation of chemicals. That principle states that if there is a weight
of evidence that a chemical is carcinogenic or toxic to reproduction,
for example, there should be regulations restricting its use or even
banning it, even if conclusive proof
of cause and effect hasn’t been established yet.
In the U.S. and Canada, health
regulation is currently based on risk
assessment — essentially a calculation of the probability of harm,
based on dose and likely exposure.
In contrast, the European Union
has now adopted a precautionary
approach with its new chemicals
policy, known as REACH (Registration, Evaluation and Authorization
of Chemicals).
Under the policy, formally
adopted in 2006, the onus will be
on manufacturers to show that new
chemicals will not cause harm before they can be authorized for use.
Existing chemicals are already undergoing a rigorous process of authorization that will include health
and environmental testing and an
assessment of data submitted by
manufacturers. The process began
with the highest volume chemicals
and will eventually cover all chemicals produced in amounts of 10
tonnes a year or more.
Those chemicals that are considered to be carcinogens, reproductive toxicants or persistent
pollutants will be subject to restrictions, including a complete ban in
some cases. The EU has already
banned some 22 chemicals formerly used in cosmetics following a
review in 2007.
A toxic legacy of the 20th Century
T WAS MORE THAN 40 years
that scientist Rachel Carson
wrote her now famous work
Silent Spring about the environmental damage caused by the
powerful organochlorine pesticide
DDT. At the time of its development,
at the beginning of World War II,
DDT was thought to be a miracle pesticide because of its
effectiveness against a wide range of insects, particularly
malaria-carrying mosquitoes. In fact, the executive of a
leading pesticide manufacturer, the American Cyanamid
Corporation (now merged with BASF Corporation), condemned Carson’s book, stating: “If man were to faithfully
follow the teachings of Miss Carson, we would return to
the Dark Ages, and the insects and diseases and vermin
would once again inherit the earth.”
As it turns out, DDT was banned in many countries
— although it is still widely used outside Europe and
North America — and we were not overrun by insects
and vermin. But now virtually all of us carry DDT and its
breakdown product DDE among the many chemical contaminants in our blood. Like other persistent toxins, DDT
lingers in the environment — and in our bodies.
The manufacture of pesticides and herbicides has also
grown enormously since 1945, to the point that they are
used in millions of households across North America to
keep lawns free of weeds and to control insects on pets
and in the home.
Children most at risk
Children are most at risk when pesticides are used. A
standard pesticide application is proportionally more
toxic to children because of their smaller body size,
higher metabolic rate and greater skin-to-body ratio. Even
more important, the timing of the exposure can increase
the risk enormously, especially if it comes at a critical
point in development, such as brain development before
birth, or puberty.
Some pesticide ingredients have been shown to cause
cancer in animal studies but they also have been linked to
certain kinds of childhood cancer in a number of reports
and surveys. For example, the National Cancer Institute
in the U.S. found that the risk of childhood leukemia was
four times higher among children from households
where pesticides were used at least once a week. That risk
rose to six times higher in those households where pesti-
Insecticide still in use
as head lice treatment
While organochlorine pesticides have been banned in
Canada, one remains in use — as a head lice treatment.
Lindane, a highly toxic and carcinogenic insecticide, is
the active ingredient in some head lice lotions and shampoos still sold in Canadian drug stores under the names
Hexit and PMS-Lindane.
In addition to being a carcinogen, lindane is a persistent toxic pollutant.
Combing with a comb, combined
with olive oil to help release nits, is
the toxic-free treatment. Another option is a non-insecticidal product sold
under the brand name Resultz. The
main ingredient, isopropyl myristate,
works by dissolving the louse’s waxy
outer skeleton. While its toxicity is considered to be low, it is a skin irritant to
which some people may be sensitive.
cides were also used in the garden once a month or more.3
Pesticide-cancer link
In 2004, the Ontario College of Family Physicians reviewed dozens of studies from Europe and North America, many of which had shown an association with
household pesticide use and an elevated risk of cancer, especially leukemia in children. “Given the wide range of
commonly used home and garden products associated
with health effects,” the College stated in releasing the review, “the overall message to patients is to avoid exposure
to all pesticides whenever and wherever possible.”
Numerous studies, including those in the OCFP review, have pointed to the health effects of one particular
group of pesticides, known as phenoxy herbicides, which
are widely used as weed killers in residential lawns. The
risk is particularly acute for children since they play on
the lawn and collect pesticide dust and residues on their
hands and clothing. Even Canada’s federal regulator, in
the reassessment document for the phenoxy herbicide
2,4-D, noted that the possible link to childhood cancer
merited more study.
For more than a decade, studies have repeatedly shown
a link between childhood brain cancer and pesticides, especially household flea and tick products. A 1997 study
in southern California found that the risk was significantly increased for the children of mothers who used
sprays or dusts to treat pets. “These findings indicate that
chemicals used in flea/tick products may increase risk of
pediatric brain tumors,” the authors reported.4
Pesticides are also associated with breast and prostate
cancer as well as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma as recent
studies demonstrate. In a 2006 study published in the An-
nals of the New York Academy of Science, Canadian researchers Jim Brophy and Margaret Keith found that
those women who had worked in agriculture were almost
three times more likely than the control group to develop
breast cancer. They suggested that exposure to pesticides
may have come at a critical time in the affected women’s
breast tissue development.5
A 2003 study in California published in the Journal
of Occupational Environmental Medicine found that
farm workers exposed to specific pesticides, including
lindane, dichlorvos, methyl bromide and simazine had
an elevated rate of prostate cancer.6 Lindane is still used
in Canada as a head lice treatment while dichlorvos and
simazine are registered for use as domestic pesticides.
Environmental contaminants
Pesticides are flushed from lawns into storm drains
and via groundwater into rivers, carrying the toxic effects
into the environment. Pesticides exceeding levels for protection of aquatic species have been measured in Toronto
and Ottawa rivers, for example. Many common pesticides
intended for household use contain endocrine-disrupting chemicals that can have a variety of effects on land
animals, birds and fish, ranging from impaired reproduction to birth defects.
The worst part is that we don’t need most of these insecticides, fungicides and herbicides. There are many
ways of dealing with weeds and insects in our households,
lawns and gardens and even when we may need chemical
controls, there are many safer, less toxic alternatives.
That’s good news because we can take steps to eliminate
the use of pesticides in our homes and communities.
They’re not just neurotoxic to insects...
In addition to those that are carcinogenic or endocrine-disrupting, many pesticides are neurotoxic, affecting the brain or
nervous system.
Products in two common groups of insecticides, known as
organophosphates and carbamates, work by interfering with the
enzyme cholinesterase, which is essential for the normal functioning of the nervous system.
Another family of insecticides, the pyrethroids, affect transmission of impulses along nerves. Other pesticides, such as the
herbicide 2,4-D, damage the insulation (myelin sheath), covering the spinal cord and nerves.
With pesticides affecting nerves in at least three possible
ways, it is not surprising that the evidence shows that the brains
and nervous system of humans, particularly children, are also at
risk. Exposure before and after birth poses a high risk of devel-
opmental damage. A 2006 review in the British medical journal
Lancet warned that we may be in the midst of a “silent pandemic” of neurobehavioural disorders among children caused
by various industrial chemicals, especially pesticides. The disorders include autism spectrum disorder and attention deficit
hyperactivity disorder, which are occurring at far higher rates
than even 25 years ago.7
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has registered 140
pesticide active ingredients that are neurotoxic by their mode
of action. Those that registered in Canada for domestic (household) use, include allethrin, chlorpyrifos, dichlorvos, malathion,
permethrin, phosalone, resmethrin, tetrachlorvinphos and
tetramethrin. Some of those active ingredients are already listed
in the pesticide tables in this booklet as carcinogens or endocrine disrupters.
Putting the lid on toxic pesticides
HE DISPLAY SHELVES INSIDE garden stores have
changed dramatically over the last few years.
Where once there were rows and rows of toxic
herbicides and insecticides, now many green
alternatives are dominant in the consumer market, even
in big box stores. It’s a testament to the work of many
community organizations and local health authorities
across Canada who have worked to alert people to the
risks of pesticides and have enacted local bylaws curbing
their use. In three provinces — Quebec, Ontario and New
Brunswick — public campaigns have also prompted
provincial governments to introduce provincial legislation that not only restricts the use of toxic cosmetic pesticides, but also restricts their sale.
But outside those provinces, there are still many “traditional” — and toxic — weed killers, fungicides and insecticides for sale in hardware and garden specialty stores.
Chronic hazards not labelled
Pesticides in Canada are regulated by the Pest Man-
agement Regulatory Agency (PMRA), which operates
under the authority of Health Canada and the federal
Pest Control Products Act. However, PMRA does not require pesticide manufacturers to provide information on
the long-term health hazards associated with their products, unless they are being used in the workplace. New
regulations enacted in 2004 provide for special Material
Safety Data Sheets covering workplace use of pesticides,
but consumer use is exempted, making it difficult for consumers to know the long-term risks that come with the
products they’re buying.
In 2001, PMRA began an extensive re-evaluation of
pesticides used in Canada, a review that is ongoing. The
process was expected to reduce the risks of pesticide use,
since children’s special vulnerabilities were being taken
into account and the inert ingredients used in pesticides
— known in the industry as “formulants” — were included in the re-evaluation. Some pesticide active ingredients have been taken off the market, either through
voluntary withdrawals by industry or government regu-
Pesticide bylaws help protect public health
The health and environmental impact of pesticides is more
than just a consumer issue — it’s a community right-to-know
issue, as thousands of people across Canada have shown.
In 1991, municipal councillors in Hudson, Quebec adopted a
landmark bylaw restricting the use of cosmetic pesticides in the
municipality. The bylaw was challenged by pesticide spraying
companies, launching what was to become a 10-year journey
through the courts. Finally, in 2001, the Supreme Court of
Canada upheld the right of Hudson — and other
municipalities — to enact pesticide bylaws
governing land within the municipality.
Since then, Quebec, Ontario and New
Brunswick have gone on to enact
provincial legislation restricting both
the sale and use of designated pesticides within provincial boundaries.
Across Canada, dozens of municipalities
have followed Hudson’s lead in establishing bylaws.
By April 2010, some 166 communities, representing more than 77 per cent of Canada’s population, had enacted bylaws or were actively working towards adoption of
bylaws to protect community health — and especially children’s
health — through curbs on toxic pesticide use. Many public
health organizations support the bylaw initiatives, including the
Canadian Cancer Society, Toxic Free Canada and the Ontario College of Family Physicians. They have also urged provincial governments where legislation doesn’t currently exist to follow the
lead of Ontario and Quebec and bring in laws that protect public health by restricting the use and sale of cosmetic pesticides.
At the heart of the initiatives is the precautionary approach.
“When we consider the evidence for exposure of children and
unclear but potentially serious health effects, we
believe there is sufficient reason to take preventive action and minimize the opportunities for everyone — and especially
children — to be exposed,” the Toronto
Board of Health stated in 2002.
The most effective bylaws are those
that have been combined with an education program. The Canadian Centre for
Pollution Prevention studied behaviour
change when there was only education,
which resulted in low pesticide reduction rates
of 10 to 24 per cent. That compared to a percentage rate of reduction of 51 to 90 percent during the first year in those communities that combined an education program with a municipal
The special vulnerability of children to toxic exposures
is an important factor in restricting pesticide use.
reproductive problems.” They also noted that Health
Canada’s 2005 assessment of 2,4-D “does not approach
standards for ethics, rigour or transparency in medical research.”
Subsequent peer-reviewed studies have demonstrated
that 2,4-D is linked to the form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma that is increasing most rapidly in North America.9,10 It also acts similarly to both of the hormones
androgen and an estrogen, explaining the links to hormone-related cancers such as breast, prostate and testicular cancer.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer currently classifies 2,4-D as a possible human carcinogen
(Group 2B). Products containing 2,4-D are not permitted
for use in Quebec, Ontario and New Brunswick under
provincial pesticide legislation.
While pesticide manufacturers and the PMRA contend that pesticides pose no danger if used as directed, the
findings of many studies and the toxic designations maintained by international agencies raise a warning flag for
the risks they pose. There is an increased weight of evidence demonstrating new links with cancer and reproductive effects and the assumptions about margins of
lation. In some cases, additional restrictions have been put
on their use.
Despite the lengthy process, current PMRA registrations for domestic use pesticides still include more
than 20 active ingredients that are listed by IARC
Peer-reviewed studies have demonstrated
or other scientific authorities as carcinogens, reproductive toxins or endocrine disrupters.
that 2,4-D is linked to the form of nonIn fact, 11 of the 21 active pesticide ingredients
Hodgkin’s lymphoma that is increasing most
listed in the tables on the following pages have alrapidly in North America
ready been banned in most Nordic countries of
Europe, including 2,4-D, amitrol, amitraz, carbaryl, captan, dichlorvos, endosulfan, permethrin
safety in consumer exposures simply aren’t valid anymore
and simazine. Some pesticides that have been taken out of
in light of new research on endocrine disruption.
domestic use, such as atrazine and triforine, are still regA precautionary approach would mean taking a pass
istered in Canada for agricultural use.
on the pesticide products listed on the following pages —
2,4-D risks flagged
and looking to alternative products and methods instead.
The information available on organic lawns and garOne ingredient, 2,4-D — the active ingredient in the
den has grown tremendously in recent years and numermost widely-used lawn and garden weed killers in
ous resources are available online and in print to help you
Canada — has actually been declared “acceptable for
create a pesticide-free home and garden. Some of them are
continued registration” by PMRA, despite many studies
listed in our Resources section on pages 48 and 49. Orassociating its use with an increased risk of cancer.
ganic gardening and landscaping services have also beIn 2005, four scientists and physicians reviewed the
come increasingly popular in many parts of the country
literature on 2,4-D in the medical journal Paediatrics and
— a testimony to the new awareness among Canadians
Child Health. They concluded: “the balance of epiof the need to reduce the pesticide load in our homes and
demiological research suggests that 2,4-D can be persuathe environment.
sively linked to cancers, neurological impairment and
A guide to the pesticide tables
HE LIST OF PESTICIDES on the following three
pages includes all those registered for domestic (household) use in Canada that are considered carcinogens, reproductive toxins or
endocrine-disrupting chemicals, according to the references below. It’s based on the Pest Management Regulatory Agency’s database of registered domestic products at
the time of publication (February, 2011).
The list is quite different from those in past editions
of the CancerSmart Consumer Guide. The herbicide active ingredients atrazine, chlorothalonil, and diuron have
now been de-registered for domestic use, as have the insecticides methoxychlor and dicofol and the fungicides
maneb, triforine and zineb. In most cases, the changes
What about Roundup?
Glyphosate, the active ingredient in the herbicides
Roundup and Rodeo, doesn’t make it to the table on pages
13-15, because it has yet to be placed on an authoritative
list. But the link with cancer and reproductive toxicity has
become distinctly evident in a number of recent studies.
A 2002 University of Saskatchewan study found that
men exposed to glyphosate for more than two days per year
had double the risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma than those
who were not exposed.11 A Swedish study the following year
also demonstrated an association between glyphosate and
Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.12 Some research has also
pointed to a link with breast cancer. A University of Minnesota study in 2000 found that both glyphosate and the
commercial product Roundup caused rapid increase in cell
division in breast cancer cells.13
A more recent French study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives
in 2005 suggested that
glyphosate acts as an endocrine disrupter, with a potentially adverse effect on
reproduction. The study’s
glyphosate worked by inhibiting a crucial enzyme necessary for the synthesis of sex
hormones. They also pointed
out that the adverse effect was
shown at levels of glyphosate
“100 times lower than its use
in agriculture.”14
have come about as a result of manufacturers withdrawing products from the market, thereby halting any further re-evaluation by PMRA. Only in a few instances has
PMRA actually banned pesticides because of their toxic
Several abbreviations and acronyms are used throughout the tables on the following three pages to indicate the
various authoritative bodies used as references. The following guide explains each one:
IARC: The International Agency for Research on Cancer. Pesticides noted here are IARC Group 2B (possibly
carcinogenic to humans).
P65-C: California’s Proposition 65 inventory of carcinogens, listed as substances “known to the State of California to cause cancer.”
P65-R: California’s Proposition 65 list of reproductive toxins, listed as substances “known to the State of California to cause reproductive toxicity.”
EPA-C: The U.S. Environmental Protections Agency’s
list of carcinogens. Pesticide active ingredients listed in
the tables are either Group B (probably carcinogenic to
humans) or Group C (possibly carcinogenic to humans).
EU-EDC: The European Union’s priority list of endocrine-disrupting chemicals, including known categories 1 and 2.
EPA-EDC: The U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency’s list of known endocrine-disrupting chemicals.
Internal flea treatments
What about the new flea treatments, given to pets topically?
It’s important to remember that all of the products are
insecticides, although their mode of action is usually more
specific to insects.
Four chemicals are in use as active ingredients: fipronil
(product name Frontline); imidacloprid (Advantage);
lufenuron (Program); and selamectin (Revolution). One of
those chemicals — fipronil — is listed as a carcinogen by
the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Pesticide Programs.
In general, it’s better to look to alternative methods of
flea control first. If there is a chronic flea problem, however,
the internal treatments do offer a safer alternative to insecticidal flea powders and sprays. But avoid the use of
products that contain fipronil.
Active ingredient
Toxic class
Weed Control
EPA-C (Group B)
One product:
• Later’s Calcide Liquid
Vegetation Killer
Boiling water will control weeds on hard
surfaces. Alternative products include
Eco Clear Weed Control and EcoSense
(with acetic acid), soap based
herbicides and weed oils.
(weed control around
roses, rhododendrons)
EPA-C (Group C)
One product:
• Casoron Granular
Landscape fabric under organic mulch
or compost will help prevent weed
growth. Use Turf-Maize early in season
to inhibit weed growth before weeds
2,4-D (phenoxy herbicide)
Endocrine disrupter
27 products, including:
• Home Gardener Ready-toUse Weedex
• Killex products
• Wilson and C-I-L Weedout
• Co-op Premium Lawn
Weed Killer
Manual removal of dandelions and
other broadleaf weeds using a
dandelion puller is the most effective
method. Alternative weed control
products include EcoSense Weed
Control (with acetic acid) and corn
gluten-based weed control products,
such as Turf-Maize. Corn gluten is also
available as generic product.
EPA-C (Group C)
One product:
• Later’s Calcide Liquid
Vegetation Killer
See above for weed control. For ponds,
manually rake or remove as much algae
as possible and ensure adequate water
circulation in pond. Adding nitrifying
bacteria (such as Bio-Pond) will help
remove algae nutrients.
(weed removal in
Endocrine disrupter
One product:
• Bio-Barrier Root Control
Use manual weed control wherever
possible. Try Eco-Clear or EcoSense,
Weed Control for spot weed control.
EPA-C (Group C)
Endocrine disrupter
30 products, Most common:
• Grub-B-Gon Grub
• Wilson and C-I-L Rose
• Sevin products, various
Insecticidal soaps for aphids; soap or
oil for white flies and spider mites. For
leaf-eating beetles, soap/pyrethrin
mixtures. Nematodes, available at
garden stores, are also effective against
ground-dwelling weevils. Safer’s and
Green Earth offer soaps and oils.
(Insecticidal vapour strip)
EPA-C Group C
One product:
• Ortho Home Defense Max
No-Pest Insecticide Strip
Use screens to keep insects outside.
Green Earth’s Cluster Buster trap is also
effective against flies.
Active ingredient
Toxic class
insecticides (cont)
Endocrine disrupter
One product:
• Wilson Weevil and Borer
Nematodes, available at garden stores,
are effective against ground-dwelling
weevils and borers. Btk, sold as
Aquabac, can be used to treat peach
tree borer at the larval stage.
EPA-C (Group B)
Two products, including:
• Wilson Rose Doctor
• Later’s Folpet Rose and
Garden Fungicide
Use insecticidal soaps to treat aphids,
mites and other insect pest. For black
spot and mildew, sulphur-based
fungicides, such as Safer’s Garden
Fungicide and Green Earth’s Aim.
(flea and tick control,
garden insecticide)
Endocrine disrupter
Seven products, including:
• Gardal Rose, Flower and
Evergreen Dust
• Wilson Hose Spray
See pet flea control section for fleas and
ticks. Use insecticidal soaps for aphids
and insecticidal soaps and oils for
white flies and spider mites.
(indoor moth control)
Four products, including:
• Recochem Moth Flakes
• Home Hardware
Naphthalene Moth Balls
Store clothing in garment bags with
closures or boxes with tight fitting lids.
A tightly closed box or chest will control
moths better than scents from
(indoor moth control)
EPA-C (Group C)
Nine products, including:
• Home Hardware CedarScented Moth balls
• Recochem Moth Rid
See above.
(broad spectrum insect
EPA-C (Group C)
Endocrine disrupter
221 products, including:
• Sergeant’s Flea and Tick
• Raid House and Garden
Bug Killer
• Wilson Ready-to-Use
Home Pest Control Spray
See Pet Flea section for flea and tick
options. For ants keep area clear of
food, vacuum indoor nest with HEPA
filter vacuum. Green Earth’s Insect dust
(diatomaceous earth) is useful for
crawling insects. For hornets, physical
removal of nest is most effective.
Piperonyl butoxide
(Flea and tick control,
indoor and outdoor
EPA-C Group C
245 products including:
•Raid Flying Insect Killer 2
• Hagen Flea and Tick Killer
Pump Spray
• C-I-L Flower, Vegetable
and Ornamental Bug-X
See Pet Flea section for flea and tick
options. Citrus peel may be effective
against house and other flies. Use
insecticidal soaps for house plants.
Mosquito oils can be applied on the
surface of standing water.
(Flea and tick control,
indoor and outdoor
Reproductive toxin
17 products, including:
• Wilson Wasp, Hornet Killer
• Ortho Bug-B-Gon Max
Hornet, Wasp Eliminator
See above.
EPA-C (Group C)
58 products, including:
• Protect Plus
• Raid Home Insect Killer
See above.
Active ingredient
Toxic class
EPA-C (Group C)
Three products, including:
• Wilson’s Bulb and Soil
• Gardal Rose, Flower and
Evergreen Dust
Safer fungicides include borax,
fungicidal soap and sulphur-based
fungicides. Safer’s Green Fungicide and
Green Earth’s Garden Fungicide and
Garden Sulphur are some examples.
pet flea control
(flea, tick control)
Reproductive toxin
One product:
• Preventic Flea Collar for
Products containing insecticidal soap
(Safer’s, Scott’s, Green Earth). Essential
oils rose geranium and pennyroyal may
also be used (do not use pennyroyal on
(flea and tick control for
dogs and cats)
EPA-C (Group C)
23 products,all
manufactured by Hartz,
• Hartz 2-in-1 Flea and Tick
Collar for Dogs and Cats
• Hartz Ultraguard PLus Flea
and Tick Collar for Cats
When hygienic controls are insufficient,
use insecticidal soaps for ticks. For
fleas, see essential oils above, or use a
veterinarian-approved insect growth
regulator applied topically at regular
intervals on pets.
(wood preservative)
Endocrine disrupter
Three products:
• Cuprinol siding stains and
preservative (various
• Pentox Wood Preservative
• Osmose End Cut Wood
Wood rot can be avoided by keeping
wood well ventilated and away from
soil. If there is no soil contact and if the
wood will only get wet occasionally, a
water repellent sealer, or paint may be
adequate. Another alternative is to use
naturally weather-resistant woods, such
as cedar, redwood, or cypress. See the
section in this booklet on Other
Products for options in rot-resistant,
pressure-treated lumber.
(rat and mouse poison)
Reproductive toxin
Eight products, including:
• Home Brand Warfarin Rat
and Mouse Killer
• Wilson Warfarin Rat and
Mouse Killer Pellets
If preventive controls and trapping do
not work, the following products, with
cholecalciferol, are less toxic than
Quintox Rat and Mouse Bait Pacs
Quintox Mouse Seed Pacs
Avoiding toxins, making healthy choices
where we expect
to be exposed to toxic substances. And we
certainly don’t want children to be exposed.
But there is a troubling increase in toxins in our food supply, including carcinogens and endocrine disrupters. In many cases, they are pesticide
residues but there are also persistent organic pollutants,
the byproducts of chemical manufacturing, and sometimes even toxic additives.
For several years, the Canadian Food Inspection
Agency has been monitoring fresh and processed foods
for pesticide residues. The most recent results, from 200506, show that approximately 13 per cent of fresh domestic fruits and vegetables and 14 per cent of imported
produce contain pesticide residues, although close to 99
per cent of all samples are within the maximum residue
limit (MRL).
Still, those numbers don’t tell the whole story. The federal Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable
Development noted in his 2003 report to Parliament that
the number of samples tested by CFIA was very small
and “could prevent meaningful conclusions about compliance with the limits.” He also pointed out that while
the Agency was monitoring 269 pesticides, there were another 190 pesticides being used on foods sold in Canada
for which CFIA has no practical testing method. In contrast, the European Union routinely tests for 519 different pesticides and MRLs in Europe are much lower.
Pesticide residues
Some fresh fruits and vegetables sold in Canada come
with a disturbingly high number of pesticide residues,
several of which are in excess of MRLs. According to
2005 CFIA data, sweet peppers imported from Mexico,
for example, revealed residues of 18 different pesticides.
U.S. strawberries came with 12 different residues. In both
cases, residues on some samples were over CFIA limits.
The reports come at a time when Health Canada and
cancer agencies across the country are encouraging Canadians to eat more fruits and vegetable to promote health
and help prevent diet-related cancers.
It is important that our diet include at least five fruits
and vegetables every day. Given the results of residue testing, however, it may be just as important that those fruits
and vegetables be organically grown, and certified as such.
Organic certification standards in both the U.S. and
Canada require that pesticides not be used.
Organic food benefits
The benefits of organic food in virtually eliminating
pesticide residues were demonstrated in a 2005 study
published in Environmental Health Perspectives.15
Twenty-three children were tested for urine levels of the
pesticides malathion and chlorpyrifos as they started out
the study eating conventional foods. Then they were
switched entirely to organic food while urine testing continued. Significantly, the metabolites of the two pesticides
that had been found in the children’s urine when they
were eating conventional foods fell below detectable levels immediately after they switched to organic foods.
Those metabolites re-appeared when they were switched
back to conventional food.
“In conclusion,” the study’s authors reported, “we were
able to demonstrate that an organic diet provides a dramatic and immediate protective effect against exposures
to organophosphorus pesticides that are commonly used
in agricultural production.”
It’s not always easy to buy organic, given the high cost.
But it’s a good idea to find at least an organic source for
those fruits and vegetables that are most likely to be contaminated with pesticide residues.
Lists of the 15 most- and least contaminated fruits and
vegetables are included at the bottom of this page. The information is based on CFIA monitoring for 200405,which provides a more detailed picture than the data
compiled in 2006.
Canadians should have a right to know what they’re
being exposed to in their food. Federal and provincial
regulatory agencies should be working to reduce the allowable contaminants in our food supply and to encourage local organic agriculture. The more consumers who
demand it, the more likely it is to happen.
Some food additives and unwanted contaminants have
also been getting attention among researchers.
Nitrosamines are chemical compounds formed by the
chemical reaction of amines and amino acids with nitrite,
which is used a preservative in curing meat, such as ham,
sausage and hot dogs. Many of the nitrosamines are potent carcinogens. In 2005, researchers at the University of
Hawaii found that those who consumed large amounts of
processed meats, including hot dogs and sausages, had a
67 per cent higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer.
The findings were part of a seven-year study.16
Acrylamide has for many years been designated a
probable human carcinogen by the International Agency
for Research on Cancer (IARC). But it was only in 2002
that the Swedish National Food Authority discovered
that acrylamide was produced when certain foods were
processed at very high temperatures. The levels of acry-
Most contaminated
Leaf lettuce
Field tomatoes
Snow peas
Based on CFIA data from 2004-05 testing of residues on selected imported and domestic agricultural products.
lamide were particularly high for starchy foods deep fried
in very hot oil, such as french fries. Research hasn’t determined at what temperature acrylamide is formed, but
acrylamide has not been found in foods cooked at temperatures of 120 degrees Celsius or less.
Arsenic in chicken feed
For years, arsenic, sold under the trade name roxarsone,
has been added to chicken feed to combat intestinal parasites and promote chicken growth. But recent research
has shown that it may be showing up in chicken meat in
higher amounts than expected17 and is also being converted to its carcinogenic inorganic form in soil and
groundwater where chicken manure is used in fields.
Poultry growers’ associations insist the food levels are safe,
but the introduction of a carcinogen to soil and groundwater is reason for concern. A survey of Canadian suppliers showed that it is still widely used in conventional
chicken production, but specialty chicken producers generally avoid it. Organic chicken is the safest option, since
roxarsone is not permitted as an additive in organic feed.
Polychlorinated biphenyls
Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), now banned in
North America and Europe but once widely used in industry, persist in the environment — and bio-accumulate in the bodies of animals high up the food chain, such
as salmon. When farmed salmon are given feed that is
concentrated fish meal, the PCB levels can often rise
above 50 parts per billion. That’s the level of PCBs that
the U.S. EPA believes poses a risk to humans.
It’s wise to limit the intake of food where high PCB
contamination is a risk. Wild salmon, especially chum,
pink, coho and sockeye, are a better choice. PCB levels are
highest in farmed salmon and wild chinook.
least contaminated
Lychee nuts
Bok choy
Kiwi fruit
Green onions
(Domestic carrots
and tomatoes tend
to be safer than imported, based on
CFIA data.)
The diet link: eating for cancer prevention
cancer, the benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and fibre have been demonstrated repeatedly
in nutrition studies. In 1997, the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research published a global survey of those studies entitled
Food, Nutrition and the Prevention of Cancer: A Global
Perspective. They concluded that the incidence of cancer
worldwide — particularly stomach, colorectal and breast
cancer — could be reduced by 30 to 40 percent with a
diet based predominantly on plantbased foods, including a variety of
fruits and vegetables, grains
and legumes.
The relation of diet to
cancer varies significantly in different regions of the world.
Stomach cancer rates are
much higher, for examples in areas of the world
where there is a lack of refrigeration and perishable
food often becomes contaminated. In urbanized areas of Europe
and North America, on the other hand, stomach cancer
rates are much lower but colon and rectal cancer rates are
substantially higher, largely because of diets that are high
in fat and animal protein as well as refined foods and low
in fruits and vegetables.
Fruits and vegetables crucial
The report’s conclusion has set the framework for
many health agencies across North America. “Evidence
of dietary protection against cancer,” it stated, “is strongest
and most consistent for diets high in vegetables and
fruits.” According to the report, there is convincing evidence that such a diet reduces the risk of cancer of the
mouth, esophagus, lung, stomach, colon and rectum and
it probably reduces the risk of cancer of the larynx, pancreas, breast and bladder.
Both Health Canada and the Canadian Cancer Society
have been campaigning to change the Canadian diet and
have been urging Canadians to eat “between five and 10
fruits and vegetables a day.”
Obviously, achieving that objective will require a significant shift in social and economic policy as well as
changes in the diets of individual Canadians.
One of the most important determinants of health
outcomes in Canada is income — those at the lower end
of the income scale tend to have the poorest health.
Income support improves health
Across Canada, according to Statistics Canada, nearly
16 per cent of children are from families living far below
the poverty line who often don’t have the income to provide a variety of fruits and vegetables every day. Providing them with a means to achieve the nutritional
standards outlined in the world report — through increased welfare rates, higher minimum wages rates and
nutritious lunch programs, for example — would produce major benefits to the country
in improved health and reduced cancer rates.
The benefits of a fruit
and vegetable-rich diet
are clear. In many cases,
populations where a diet
rich in plant food is already is already the standard have demonstrated
those benefits — their rates
of diet-related cancer tend to
be significantly lower than the general North American population. Colorectal cancer is uncommon in developing countries but is the second most
common cancer for Canadian women and third for Canadian men.
There are not yet a lot of scientific data on people who
have changed their diets to include more fruits and vegetables, but those studies that have been done have tended
to shown similar benefits.
There are basically three reasons for that:
• The increased consumption of fruits, vegetables and
grains tends to replace meats and refined foods, eliminating some of the foods that pose a higher risk for
• Fruits and vegetables are key sources of vitamins as
well as anti-oxidants and other phytochemicals that
play an important role in preventing the development of cancer;
• Fruits and vegetables are rich in fibre (both soluble
and insoluble), a key factor in reducing rates of colorectal cancer.
Phytochemicals are non-nutritive components of plants that contain protective
and disease-preventing compounds. More than 900 phytochemicals have been identified so far and even one serving of vegetables may contain as many as 100 different phytochemicals.
Since the role of each phytochemical is not fully known, it’s recommended that
people eat a full variety of fruits and vegetables rather than attempt to get the benefits through nutritional supplements.
One group of phytochemicals known as anti-oxidants, is critical in curbing the
processes that can lead to cancer. Oxygen is necessary when the body burns calories to create energy, but that metabolic process leads to the formation of oxygen
byproducts, known as “free radicals.” They travel throughout the body where they
cause chemical cell damage that can lead to aging and disease.
Anti-oxidants, as their name implies, can neutralize free radicals and prevent
much of the cell damage. They may even play a role in preventing cell damage that
could be caused by exposure to some environmental carcinogens.
Vitamins C and E and Vitamin A (which is created in the body from betacarotene) are among the most important antioxidants, along with selenium, luteine,
lycopene and beta-carotene. Choose from a wide range of fruits and vegetable, using
frozen or canned where fresh isn’t available or is too expensive.
Carrots, cantaloupe, pumpkin, squash, sweet
potatoes and other orange-coloured vegetables
and fruits. Also in some green leafy vegetables
Green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale,
chard and collard greens
Tomatoes, watermelon, guava, papaya, apricots,
pink grapefruit
Brazil nuts, whole grains, wheat germ, ocean fish
Vitamin C
Citrus fruits, broccoli, kiwi fruit, brussels sprouts,
bananas, blueberries, cauliflower, bell peppers
Vitamin E
Almonds and other nuts, peanut butter, wheat
germ, vegetable oils, sweet potatoes, mangos
Vitamin D
may be tool
for prevention
A 2007 study published in the
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition has shown that Vitamin D supplements may actually reduce
cancer risk, especially for those who
are sunshine-starved for a large
part of the year.18
The study, conducted over four
years among
postmenopausal women in Nebraska,
found that those taking 1,100 international units of Vitamin D, together
with a calcium supplement,
showed a 60 per cent lower rate of
various cancers, including breast,
lung and colorectal cancer. Those
taking calcium only also showed a
lower cancer risk, but the difference
was not as significant.
“We found that improving vitamin D nutritional status substantially reduced all-cancer risk in
postmenopausal women,” the
study’s authors reported.
Earlier reviews of the literature
on Vitamin D have shown a link between dietary levels of the vitamin
and a lower cancer risk. But this is
the first study to test the idea in a
human trial.
Vitamin D is produced by the
body naturally when sunlight falls
on skin. But in areas where there is
frequent cloud cover, or when people spend much of their time indoors, supplements are necessary
to maintain adequate levels.
Although researchers caution
that more study is needed to determine if the effects extend beyond
post-menopausal women, most
agree that there is little reason not
to take supplements, as long as the
doses are not excessive.
The Canadian Cancer Society
recommends a supplement of
1,000 IUs per day during times of
low exposure to sunshine.
Taking a closer look at the ingredients
T SEEMS CONTRADICTORY: cleaning products are in-
tended to make our indoor environment cleaner —
how can any of them be toxic?
Many people wondered the same thing when the
Labour Environmental Alliance Society (now Toxic Free
Canada) first began researching cleaning products used
in a number of workplaces in B.C. In a project called
Cleaners, Toxins and the Ecosystem, researchers reviewed
Material Safety Data Sheets for hundreds of cleaning
products to identify those that contained toxic ingredients. Then they worked with workplace health and safety
committees to replace toxic cleaners with safer, environmentally-preferable alternatives. LEAS was awarded a
pollution prevention award from the Canadian Council
of Ministers of the Environment for its work in eliminating cleaners containing carcinogens and endocrinedisrupting chemicals from schools, industrial worksites
and other facilities.
But it’s much more difficult for consumers to know
what to use, especially when most of the cleaning products available on the retail market offer no information
on ingredients. Even the occasional product that does list
some ingredients doesn’t provide any information on the
potential long term health effects that might be associated with those ingredients.
Some environmentally-friendly consumer products
such as those manufactured by Seventh Generation, Nature Clean and Ecover, do make it a practice to disclose
their ingredients, setting an example for what should
properly be the industry standard.
Consumers should have the right to know what toxins they may be exposed to in the products they buy.
We’re not there yet, but informed consumers can make a
big difference in bringing about that change.
The case for right-to-know labelling
Federal legislation adopted in 1988 requires that any product
used in the workplace must have a Material Safety Data Sheet
(MSDS) that identifies the hazardous ingredients in the product
and the short and long-term health hazards that may be associated with those ingredients.
Both manufacturers and retailers contend that the same regulation would not be practical for consumer products because of
the huge number of products available in many stores and the
need to stock hundreds of different MSDS.
But don’t consumers have a fundamental right to know what
they’re being exposed to in the products they buy? Shouldn’t
there be labelling right on the product packaging — with a list
of hazardous ingredients and plain language phrases or symbols indicating any long term health hazards, such as cancer,
that may be associated with those ingredients?
Many Canadians answer those questions with a firm “yes.”
A poll commissioned by Toxic Free Canada in May 2007 found
that 93 per cent of respondents supported the idea of hazard labelling of toxic ingredients in consumer products.
Toxic Free Canada, together with the Option Consommateurs
in Quebec, the Canadian Cancer Society and the Prevent Cancer
Now coalition, has been calling for regulations that would give
consumers the right to know what is in the products they buy so
they can make informed choices.
New Westminster MP Peter Julien has introduced a private
member’s bill that would provide for labelling but government
MPs have not agreed to bring it forward for a vote.
At a time when Canadians are seeking to make changes that
will benefit their health and the environment, hazard labelling
is more than just a right — it’s an essential tool.
What’s the
problem with
a low dose?
The green alternatives
Many new environmentally-preferable cleaning products have
become available on store shelves over the last few years.
Some are from well-known and established manufacturers
that specialize in safer, green products, such as Nature
Clean, Bio-Vert, Attitude and Rona Eco, whose products
are environmentally-certified. Others, such as Seventh
Generation, Ecover and Method generally offer non-toxic
The most environmentally-preferable products are those that carry the EcoLogo
(Environmental Choice) certification and are identified either with the green maple
leaf ecologo or simply EcoLogo. Environmental Choice was launched as a federal
government initiative, but the actual certification is carried out by an independent
third party, Terra Choice Environmental Marketing, and is based on criteria
established through a multi-stakeholder consultation process. For cleaning
products, the criteria prohibit the use of any carcinogens and reproductive toxins
and also prohibit specific toxic ingredients, such as 2-butoxyethanol.
The best place to start in learning about what you’re using is product category.
There certainly are exceptions, but most hand soaps and liquid dish detergents
are fairly safe, for example. So are fabric softeners, although some people do experience allergic reactions to them.
Other products can be quite variable. Carpet spotters and degreasers may contain an ingredient known as 2-butoxyethanol, whch has been declared toxic under
the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA). Some specialty products may
contain nonyl phenols, which are endocrine disrupters, although regulations
adopted under CEPA should see them removed from most products by 2012. A
few powdered abrasive cleaners contain silica, a carcinogen.
The products to check particularly carefully for hazardous ingredients such as
carcinogens and reproductive toxins include carpet stain removers, floor strippers,
tile cleaners and graffiti removers.
How do you check ingredients?
First, check the product label. Although there’s usually not much ingredient
information there, ingredients such as the carcinogen perchloroethylene and the
reproductive toxins xylene and toluene or 2-butoxyethanol may be listed as ingredients. Avoid using those products.
Then check the listings in the tables on the following pages. We’ve identified
three ingredients commonly found in household cleaning products that are of
particular concern because they are known or suspected carcinogens, endocrine
disrupters or reproductive toxins. Many product labels have a 1-800 number that
consumers can call with questions and comments. Call that number and ask for
a Material Safety Data Sheet. The more that people phone up and ask for MSDS,
the more quickly companies will get the message that consumers want that information on the label.
What if the household products
we use do contain carcinogens or
endocrine disrupters? Aren’t they
very small amounts?
It’s often accepted that low
doses of toxic chemicals won’t affect you as much because there
isn’t excessive exposure. In fact,
that’s the reason given by many
household product manufacturers
in arguing against labelling of their
products — that consumers won’t
use them as frequently as they
might be used in the workplace.
But when it comes to endocrine
disrupters and some other toxic
chemicals, scientists don’t know at
what exposure level a chemical may
trigger the cell changes that lead to
cancer. They don’t know the cumulative effect of repeated exposure —
or the combined effects of different
substances in a mixture.
In a 2005 study, researchers
Bruce Lanphear and Donald Wigle
noted that neurotoxic effects of
such substances as lead,
methylmercury and PCBs show up
in humans at levels three times
lower than those used in lab experiments with mice and rats.19
Dr. Peter de Fur, a toxicologist
and associate professor at Virginia
Commonwealth University said:
“Scientific research demonstrates
the fact that chemicals are biologically active at incredibly low levels
— far below anything that might be
considered a threshold.”
In many ways, exposure to toxic
ingredients in consumer products
poses a different kind of risk than
workplace exposures. Children and
infants or pregnant women can potentially be exposed In the home. In
both cases, the timing of the exposure could be of greater significance
than the dose.
Cleaning products and ingredients to avoid
LEANING PRODUCTS ARE a multi-billion dol-
lar industry in Canada and the array of products available makes it difficult to know what
is safe to buy. The good news is that most products contain generally benign ingredients, but there are
definitely some to avoid.
Products to avoid
Plug-in air fresheners: After a positive trend away
from fragrances, the industry is again bringing back
scents in dozens of different ways, including devices that
plug in. Some either emit puffs of a scented solution or
use an electrical current to warm a scented oil and slowly
evaporate it. The problem is that if you also use an electronic air cleaner or otherwise have high levels of ozone
in your home, the ingredients can combine to form
formaldehyde. Even if you don’t have an electronic
cleaner, scented products degrade indoor air quality without adding any benefits. Ventilation is a better option.
NTA removed from leading
consumer laundry detergent
It’s a measure of the changes that we’ve helped bring
about that the last remaining consumer laundry detergent
containing a possible human carcinogen is now being sold
without the carcinogenic ingredient.
When the CancerSmart Guide was first published, Sunlight powdered laundry detergent was the eye-opener for
thousands of consumers when they read that it contained
trisodium nitrilotriacetate (NTA), which is classified by the
International Agency for Research on Cancer as Group 2B, or
possible human carcinogen. The ingredient is also considered an environmental pollutant because it can re-mobilize
heavy metals that have settled into sediments back into the
liquid waste stream.
A former Unilever brand, Sunlight was sold in 2008. New
owner Sun Products dropped the regular powdered detergent from its product line and re-formulated the Ultra Sunlight powdered detergents, removing the NTA.
The problem has not been
completely eliminated —
laundry and dishwasher detergents from various manufacturers are still being sold
in the institutional cleaning
market — but the change in a
leading consumer brand is a
major step in the consumer
cleaning industry.
Bleach (sodium hypochlorite): While not considered a
carcinogen or reproductive toxin, this is another ingredient to avoid as much as possible. The chlorine used to
make bleach is toxic to produce and bleach itself is
acutely toxic to fish.
Phosphates: They were generally removed from laundry detergents three decades ago when it was revealed
that streams and lakes were becoming choked with vegetation nourished by phosphate-rich wastewater. But no
action was taken on dishwasher detergents and most of
the products from major manufacturers contain 30-40
per cent phosphates. Products from companies such as
Seventh Generation, Nature Clean and Bio-Vert that
avoid the use of phosphates and chlorine-based sanitizers
are a better environmental choice.
Triclosan: This is the active ingredient used in dozens
of anti-bacterial hand and dish soaps. It produces carcinogenic chloroform in contact with chlorinated water
and can form carcinogenic dioxins in the presence of sunlight. It is also a endocrine-disrupter known to interfere
with thyroid hormones in amphibians. In human health,
the widespread use of anti-bacterial preparations may be
contributing to the growing problem of antibiotic resistance in bacteria.
What about carcinogens and reproductive toxins?
In the table listings beginning on the page opposite,
we’ve identified three ingredients in household cleaning
products that are of particular concern because they are
carcinogens, endocrine disrupters or known or suspected
reproductive toxins. They are also the most commonly
found in household products.
The ingredient Trisodium nitrilotriacetate was included on the list in previous editions of the Guide but
because it is an ingredient in only one manufacturer’s detergent brand available in Canada, it is listed separately
(see sidebar).
Also known as ethylene glycol monobutyl ether, this is
one of many glycol ethers used as solvents in carpet cleaners and specialty cleaners. It can be inhaled or absorbed
through the skin and may cause blood disorders, as well
as liver and kidney damage. According to the fact sheet
issued by the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services, it may also cause reproductive damage on
long exposure.
Environment Canada includes 2-butoxyethanol with
two other related chemicals, 2-methoxyethanol and 2-ethoxyethanol, in the CEPAtoxic list under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.
Ethoxylated nonyl phenols (NPEs)
This is a group of endocrine-disrupting chemicals still used in some products, Environment Canada has declared them CEPA-toxic under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act and regulations should see them phased out by 2012. The
threat posed to the environment by nonyl phenols prompted the European Union to
ban them from all cleaning products manufactured or used in the EU.
Made from finely ground quartz, silica is carcinogenic when it occurs as fine respirable dust. It’s found in that form in some abrasive cleansers, which are often used
on a regular basis around the home. For virtually all applications, abrasive cleansers
can easily be replaced with a cream cleanser such as Ecover Cream Scrub or Vim, or
a similar product that does not contain silica.
Following the tables
Check the brand listings on the next three pages. If a products contains one of the
three ingredients, it will be marked with a “yes” in one of the three table entries opposite the product name. Obviously, the list doesn’t contain all products that are available. It’s intended to be a representative list and every effort has been made to include
those products that contain the three designated toxic ingredients.
Ajax with Bleach
Arm and Hammer Essentials Laundry Detergent
Arm and Hammer Detergent plus hint of softener
Arm and Hammer So Clean! So Fresh!
Armstrong Floor Cleaner
Armstrong New Beginning Floor Stripper, Cleaner
BAM Grime and Lime Remover
BAM Universal Degreaser
Bissell Little Green Formula Carpet Cleaner
Bissell Upholstery Cleaner
Bissell Tough Stain and Pre-Cleanser
Bon-Ami Window Cleaner
Brasso Multipurpose Metal Polish
Brasso Metal Polish
Cameo Anti-Tarnish Cleaner
Cheer Detergent
Cheer HE Detergent
CLR Bathroom and Kitchen Cleaner
CLR Grease Magnet
Daki All Purpose Cleaner
Daki Patio Furniture Cleaner
Easy-Off Heavy Duty Oven Cleaner
Fantastic All-Purpose Cleaner
Fantastic Oxy-Power All Purpose Cleaner
Based on manufacturers’ MSDS as of January, 2011
Two ingredients
you don’t need
In some cases, only one or two
consumer products contain a specific carcinogen, making it impractical to include them in the
table. Here are two other ingredients to avoid:
Mr. Clean Magic Eraser, marketed as a scuff and crayon mark
remover, contains small amounts
of formaldehyde, a known human
carcinogen (IARC 1), according to
the International Agency for Research on Cancer.
Tarn-X Tarnish Remover, manufactured and distributed by Jelmar, and Hagerty’s Silver Jewel
Clean both contain thiourea,
listed by IARC as a possible
human carcinogen (2B).
Febreze Fabric Refresher
Future Floor Finish
Gain Ultra Detergent
Glass-Plus Glass and Multi-Surface Cleaner
Gunk Top Gun All-Purpose Cleaner
Hertel All-Purpose Cleaner
Hertel Bathroom Cleaner
Hertel Glass Cleaner
Ivory Snow Gentle Care Detergent
Ivory Snow Liquid Gentle Care
Kaboom Bowl Blaster Toilet Cleaner
Kaboom Shower, Tub and Tile Cleaner
Liquid Gold Wood Cleaner and Preservative
Lysol Disinfectant All-Purpose Cleaner 4-in-1
Lysol Powerons Toilet Bowl Cleaner
Lysol Tub and Tile Cleaner
Mean Green Cleaner Degreaser
Mop and Glo Floor Cleaner
Mr. Clean Clean Mop Advanced Cleaner
Mr. Clean Multisurfaces
Murphy Pure Vegetable Oil Soap
Nature’s Freshener Borax
No-Name All-Purpose Cleaner
No-Name Cream Cleanser
No-Name Glass Cleaner
No-Name Oxy-Pro Gel Cleaner
No-Name Shower Cleaner
Orange Glo Wood Polish and Conditioner
OxiClean Baby Stain Remover
OxiClean Versatile Stain Remover
Pinesol Original Household Cleaner
Pledge Furniture Polish Natural Beauty Lemon
Pledge Furniture Polish with Orange Oil
Pledge Wood Floor Cleaner
President’s Choice Baby Care Laundry Detergent
President’s Choice Green Detergent
President’s Choice Cold Water HE Free
President’s Choice Total Bathroom Cleaner
President’s Choice Ultra HE
President’s Choice Ultra Laundry Detergent
President’s Choice Ultra Detergent perfume free
Prosolve Dual Action Foam Carpet Cleaner
Prosolve Pet Stain Carpet Stain Remover
Prosolve Triple Action Carpet Stain Remover
Purex Liquid Laundry Detergent Classic
Purex Ultra Liquid Laundry Detergent
Sani-Flush Puck Toilet Bowl Cleaner
Sani-Foam Bathroom Cleaner
Sani-Gel Bathroom Cleaner
Scrubbing Bubbles Shower Cleaner
Scrub-Free Orange Spray Cleaner
Scrub-Free Oxy-Complete Bathroom
Scrub Free Soap Scum Remover
Septo-Bac Septic Tank and Bowl Cleaner
Shout Liquid Stain Remover
Shout Triple Action Gel Stain Remover
Silvo Multipurpose Metal Polish
Simple Green All-Purpose Cleaner
Spic and Span Extra Strength Power
Spot Shot Carpet Stain Remover
Spray ‘N Wash Laundry Stain Remover
Spray ‘N Wash Stick Stain Remover
Spray Nine BBQ and Grill Cleaner
Spray Nine Glass and Stainless Cleaner
Spray Nine Multipurpose Cleaner
Sprayway Glass Cleaner Aerosol
Swiffer Wet Jet Multi Purpose Cleaner
Swiffer Wet Jet Wood Floor Cleaner
Tide Original Cold Water
Tide HE
Tide Liquid HE Free
Tide to Go Stain Pen
Tide Ultra Free
Tilex Bathroom Cleaner
Toilet Duck Thick Liquid Bowl Cleaner
Twinkle Brass and Copper Cleaning Kit
Twinkle Silver Polish Kit
Vim Cream
Vim Oxy-Gel All-Purpose Cleaner
Windex Original Glass Cleaner
Woolworth Soil and Stain Remover
Zep Carpet Spot Cleaner
Zep Oven and Grill Cleaner
Zero Dark Wash Detergent
Zero Gentle Wash Detergent
Zud Heavy Duty Cleaner
Based on manufacturers’ MSDS as of January, 2011
Toxic effects may be more than skin deep
fragrances —
probably nothing is more closely connected to
human health than the personal care products
that we use all the times. According to consumer statistics, the average adult uses nine products per
day. But do we know what’s in them?
After years of waiting, consumers in Canada finally
have mandatory ingredient labelling on cosmetic products as a result of new Health Canada regulations that became fully effective in November, 2006.
What Canadians don’t have — unlike residents in California and those in the
European Union — is hazard labelling on personal care products.
Hazard labelling requires manufacturers to identify any carcinogens, reproductive toxins, or
endocrine disrupters in their products with a readily identifiable symbol. Many groups in Canada,
including Toxic Free Canada, have called for
hazard labelling of personal care and household products
and recent polls have shown that the overwhelming majority Canadians want it to help them in making informed product choices.
Health Canada does maintain a “Cosmetics Hotlist”
specifying ingredients that are not permitted in cosmetics or are subject to certain restrictions. But the list does
not have the same authority as legislated regulations and
several ingredients that are banned from use in cosmetics in Europe — dibutyl phthalate, for example — are
not on the hotlist.
Consumers will need to look closely at the product
packaging to see some of the ingredients to avoid.
Benzyl violet
Used as a colouring in various products, including nail
treatments, benzyl violet is a possible human carcinogen,
according to the International Agency for Research on
Cancer (IARC, Group 2B). On U.S. and European labels,
it is frequently listed as Violet 2 or Violet 6B.
Formaldehyde, which is sometimes used in cosmetic
products as a preservative, was recently re-classified by
the International Agency for Research
on Cancer to its highest toxic class,
known human carcinogen (IARC 1).
It is sometimes listed on labels as
formalin or methyl aldehyde. Nail
hardeners, typically contain the
most formaldehyde, although the
formaldehyde content to five per
cent. In some cosmetics, ingredients are formaldehyde-releasing, including Quaternium-15 and diazolidinyl urea.
Coal tar derivatives
Most of the hair colourings sold today are known as
permanent because they are used in conjunction with a
bleaching agent (usually hydrogen peroxide) to ensure
that the entire hair shaft is coloured. According to the industry, most coal tar derivatives are now synthetic and no
longer derived from actual coal tar although the name
has stuck. Nonetheless, studies continue to link ingredients in permanent hair colourings to cancer, including
bladder cancer and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
A 2001 California study published in the International Journal of Cancer found that women who used
permanent hair dyes once a month were twice as likely
the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s
to develop bladder cancer.20
Office of Pesticide Programs has listed it as a
substance “likely to cause cancer in huMuch of the attention has been focused on two ingremans.”
dients commonly found in hair colouring products (including products for men such as Just for Men),
para-phenylenediamine and tetrathydro-6-nitroParabens is the group name given to
quinoxaline. In 2005, Health Canada did act against one
various preservatives used in many coshair dye ingredient, lead acetate — found in the men’s
metic products and sunscreens. Easily
hair colouring, Grecian Formula 16 — by placing the inabsorbed through the skin, they are
gredient on the Cosmetics Hotlist.
endocrine disrupters and could poThere may be other factors involved with hair colourtentially affect estrogen-sensitive
ings. Studies in the U.S. have suggested that the chemical
functions of the body. Scientists
reactions created by hair colouring products may be havhave urged further research foling a carcinogenic effect and have also associated hair
lowing a 2004 study by British recolourings with an increased risk of Non-Hodgkin’s lymsearcher Dr. Philippa Darbre, who
phoma.21 Most researchers suggest avoiding dark hair
found parabens in the tumours of breast cancer patients
dyes entirely or choosing products made with natural inshe studied.23
gredients instead. Aveda has a line of non-coal tar based
hair colourings. Another product, Herbatint, available at health stores and online, also uses non-coal
‘In women, use of permanent and rinse-type
tar ingredients, but it contains the endocrine-dishair dye were associated with a modestly
rupting chemicals ethoxylated nonyl phenols.
elevated risk of bladder cancer...further
studies are needed that address the effects
In 2008, Health Canada tested a range of lipsticks and found that 21 of the 26 samples conof specific colours and types of hair dyes.
tained lead, which appears as an impurity in
—Andrew AS, Schned AR, Heaney, JA, Karagas MR. Bladder cancer risk and personal hair dye
product ingredients. The agency claimed that samuse. International Journal of Cancer 109 (4), 2004
ples were within acceptable limits, although one of
the lipsticks tested contained levels of lead in excess of
Recent research suggests that parabens could affect rethe current limit now in effect in California.
development in boys, making products with
Health Canada declined to name the brands tested, so
parabens an issue for pregnant women as well as children.
it’s impossible to know which had the highest levels. But
Parabens are identified on ingredient labels by their
lead is both a carcinogen and a neurotoxin and there may
individual name, such as methyl paraben, butyl paraben
be no safe level of lead exposure for a fetus whose mother
and propyl paraben. They are widely used in personal
uses lipstick containing lead. Lead-free lipsticks are availcare products, making them difficult ingredients to avoid.
able from such online sources as Green Beaver and
However, some companies, including Aubrey Organics
Gabriel Cosmetics (ZuZu Luxe). The Campaign for Safe
and Burt’s Bees, have a policy of not using parabens.
Cosmetics also has a list of specific name brands and
Because of the possible link to breast cancer and recolours that it tested in 2007 and found to be lead-free.
productive effects in boys, parabens are also an issue in
Cocamide diethanolamine
sunscreens. Products without parabens include: KINeSYS
Cocamide diethanolamine, often listed as Cocamide
Kids 30 and KINeSYS Fragrance-Free 30, Ombrelle Sport
DEA, is used in numerous products, including shampoos,
30, London Drug Ultra Sport 40 and California Baby
lotions and creams. It is readily absorbed through the
Sunscreen Lotion 30.
Burt’s Bees has also introduced Chemical Free SunIn 1998, the National Toxicology Program in the U.S.
screen 15, which is parabens- and chemical sunblock-free.
published the results of a two-year study with mice and
And UV Natural, a SPF 30 sunscreen from Australia that
rats that showed liver tumours among mice dosed with a
uses only zinc oxide as sunblock, is available in health
topical skin application of cocamide DEA.22 Since then,
food stores and online retailers in Canada.
Phthalates: toxic ingredients that aren’t listed
to make plastics
more flexible, phthalates are a common — if unlisted — ingredient in dozens of personal care
products, from nail polishes to hair mousses and
gels to deodorants and fragrances.
Phthalates are endocrine-disrupting chemicals and a
growing body of medical literature links them to various
reproductive defects in the developing male fetus (when
the mother is exposed during pregnancy), as well as early
puberty in girls. Given that cosmetic and beauty products are directed at women of childbearing age, the potential effects of phthalates are a major public health
In 2000, the American Academy of Pediatricians’
Committee on the Environment issued a report expressing concern that there were too few studies on the effects
of phthalates on infants to be assured that the chemicals
are safe.24 “Phthalates are animal carcinogens and can
cause fetal death, malformations, and reproductive toxicity in laboratory animals,” the 2000 report stated, urging
further research on the effects of phthalates, particularly
at critical times of children’s development, before and
after birth.
Phthalates are persistent toxins in the environment
and are showing up in increasing levels in wildlife, with
unknown effects. One of them, dibutyl phthalate (DBP),
is listed as a “persistent, bio-accumulative toxin” (PBT)
by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Finding phthalate-free products
Despite growing awareness of their potential toxicity, phthalates are still used in many personal care
products. However, pressure is growing for companies to eliminate them. A number of companies,
including leading manufacturers as well as online distributors, have signed the pledge for safer
cosmetics set out by the U.S. Campaign for Safe Cosmetics to meet the EU standards wherever
products are sold. Retail shops Aveda and Body Shop have stated they will use no phthalates, while a
few of the large companies have announced that they will remove phthalates from nail polishes.
Safer cosmetics
See current list at Campaign for Safe Cosmetics
Aveda and Body Shop have stated they will formulate
products without phthalates
Nail polishes, cosmetics
Revlon, Avon and Estee
Lauder (Clinique and MAC lines)
announced in 2005 they would
remove phthalates from the nail
polishes that they manufacture.
Revlon, L’Oreal and Proctor and
Gamble have stated that all
their products will meet EU
standards, wherever they are
manufactured. OPI, Sally
Hansen and Orly announced
in 2007 that dibutyl
phthalate would be removed
from their nail polishes.
Phthalates not removed
Many phthalates are known as
anti-androgens because they interIn response to consumer and environmental organifere with male hormones and
zations, some companies did announce plans to begin recan cause a range of health efmoving phthalates from selected products. But a 2007
fects, particularly during male
report in Consumer Reports magazine, entitled Take a
fetal development. They have
Whiff of This, demonstrated clearly the limitations of inbeen implicated in a numdustry voluntary agreements. Despite claims by manuber of birth abnormalities
facturers that their products did not contain specific
in the reproductive systems
phthalates or, in some cases, any phthalates, Consumer
of baby boys.25 Research has
Reports found phthalates in all of the perfumes it tested.
also suggested that they may
On the list were products from several leading manufacbe involved in the significant deturers, including Coty, Clinique and Estee Lauder.
cline in sperm counts observed
However, perfumes were not covered when several
among men in many developed counmajor companies, including Revlon, Avon, Estee Lauder
tries. A 2003 U.S. study among men who had come to an
and Clinique, pledged in 2005 to remove phthalates from
infertility clinic found a clear link between phthalate
the nail polishes they manufactured. Since then, Revlon,
blood levels and reduced fertility.26 Those with the highL'Oreal and Proctor and Gamble have made an addiest phthalate levels also had the lowest sperm counts.
tional commitment that all of their products, regardless
Some phthalates found in personal care products also
of where they are sold, will be formulated to meet EU
mimic the female hormone estrogen, and may reduce the
effectiveness of the cancer drug tamoxifen among other
Cosmetics companies are under increasing pressure to
health effects.27
get phthalates out of their products as a result of the U.S.
In 2002, the Environmental Working Group, Coming
Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, which has called on comClean and Health Care Without Harm collaborated on a
panies to pledge to make safer products and has generated
joint report on phthalates in beauty products,
called Not Too Pretty (available at www.not‘Three recent reports suggest that The report analyzed dozens of U.S.
products, and found phthalates in more than 70
phthalates at current population levels
per cent of them, even though phthalates were not
may have measurable effects on male
listed on the product packaging as ingredients.
reproductive health.’
Since then, growing awareness and consumer
education has brought about changes, although
—Hoppin, J. Male Reproductive Effects of Phthalates: An Emerging Picture.
Epidemiology 14 (3), 2003.
consumers still don’t have a clear picture.
Consumer action, regulation
New Canadian regulations making ingredient labelling mandatory for cosmetics products came into effect in November, 2006. But as in the U.S., phthalates are
not specifically identified on product labels. They are
simply included in the catch-all phrase “fragrance.”
In Europe, DBP and another phthalate, di 2-ethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP), have been banned from use in
cosmetic products sold in EU member countries. The ban
was introduced by the EU in 2005 following a review by
the Scientific Committee on Cosmetics and Non-Food
Products (SCCNFP).
In 2009, Health Canada finally did take action on
DEHP, adding it to the Cosmetics Hotlist. But DBP is
still permitted in cosmetic products sold in Canada.
a list of some 500 companies that have signed the pledge,
known as the Compact for Safe Cosmetics. The founding
organizations for the campaign, which was launched in
2002, include the Breast Cancer Fund, Environmental
Working Group, National Black Environmental Justice
Network and Friends of the Earth.
Many of the signatories to the Compact are smaller,
local companies but the campaign has also reached into
the boardrooms of leading manufacturers. After initially
resisting, OPI and Sally Hansen, two international firms
that manufacture nail products, announced that they
would take steps to remove dibutyl phthalate from their
nail polishes. The list is available at
PFCs: Teflon’s toxic cousins
past few decades have given us a huge array of
new consumer products: Gore-Tex, Teflon and
Scotchgard have become household words,
along with products made from PVC and polycarbonate
plastic. At the same time, products that were once specialty items, such as lead crystal glassware and children’s
jewellery are everywhere in the marketplace and in Canadians’ homes.
The downside of that market innovation is that many
of those products are toxic, and we often don’t find out
until after we have bought and used them.
Some might call them the toxins of modern life — but
we shouldn’t have to trade off our health for technological innovation.
There are currently more than 80,000 chemicals in
use in North America and barely 10 per cent of them
have been fully tested for their health and environmental effects. Once they’re introduced,
those chemicals quickly become the feedstock for dozens of new consumer products
and mixtures.
In the past, manufacturers were not required to demonstrate the safety of a chemical substance before introducing it into the
market. That is changing now to some degree,
especially in Europe where the recently adopted
REACH policy has led the way in promoting a policy that ensures assessment of both existing chemicals
and new substances that may be entering the market.
Canada is also taking some steps under the Canadian
Environmental Protection Act, but the process is often
slow. Even where a chemical has been shown to be toxic,
regulation to restrict its use can be slower still. Con-
sumers are also left on their own to get the information
they need to determine whether products they buy may
contain toxins.
Toxic cousins
One of the most visible examples of the new world is
the use of the chemical polymer Teflon and the hundreds
of products related to it. The name has become a household word as much as non-stick frypans have become a
household staple.
One of the key components of Teflon is a substance
known as perflourooctanoic acid (PFOA). PFOA is part of
a larger group of perfluorinated alkyl compounds, or
PFCs, whose slippery molecular structure has led to their
being widely used as stain and grease repellents in carpets and fabric, microwave popcorn bags and other food
packaging coatings, additives to windshield cleaners and
many other applications.
But in the late 1990s, scientists began discovering PFCs, including PFOA, in the environment — and in the human
bloodstream. Bio-monitoring revealed
PFOA and a related compound, PFOS, as
consistent chemical trespassers in the
blood of Europeans and North Americans.
Since then, several international agencies,
including the U.S. EPA and the European Commission, have flagged PFOA as a persistent environmental toxin. In 2005, an EPA scientific panel completed an
assessment of PFOA that pointed to PFOA-induced liver,
mammary, testicular and pancreatic cancers in rats and
concluded: “The available animal data indicate a carcinogenic potential for PFOA in humans.”
A research study published in the
November 2006 edition of Toxicological Sciences also identified
PFOA as a potential developmental
toxin. Laboratory mice showed reduced birth weights and developmental delays, with different
deficits showing up, depending on
the times they were exposed to
PFOA in the womb.28
That has raised new concern in
the wake of a 2007 study conducted
by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg
School of Public Health. It took
blood samples from the umbilical
cords of 299 infants and found
PFOA in every single sample
provided. PFOS was found in all but two of them.29
In 2005, the major manufacturer of PFCs, Dupont,
reached a settlement with the EPA to provide studies it
had withheld from regulators since 1981, documenting
the toxicity of PFOA. The following year, the EPA and the
eight major manufacturers, including Dupont and 3M,
reached a voluntary arrangement to reduce PFOA emissions and product content by 95 per cent by 2010 and to
work towards eliminating them by 2015.
Environment Canada regulations
Environment Canada also took regulatory action
under CEPA in 2006, imposing a temporary ban on four
fluorotelomers that are suspected of breaking down to
PFOA in the environment. Fluorotelomers are PFCs
bonded with alcohol and used in stain repellent sprays.
The federal government also moved towards a ban on
the related compound, PFOS. Although it is no longer
manufactured in North America, stockpiles of PFOS remain for specialty use in industry where there is no readily available substitute.
The federal government has been slower to control
PFOA, but a draft proposal put forward in late 2010
would see PFOA declared toxic under CEPA because of
its environmental persistence. The best outcome of that
PFOS, used in stain repellent products before 2000,
has been replaced with PFBS in current formulations.
While the new substance is not considered as toxic, it
has still been shown to be environmentally persistent.
designation would be regulations setting out virtual elimination of PFOA from use in Canada.
Teflon cookware
The material used in non-stick pans is actually a compound called polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), but PFOA
is usually a key component in its manufacture. PFOA is
released as the product ages and wears. PFOA can also be
released, along with other toxic substances, if the pans
reach 360 degrees C, which can happen in just over three
minutes during pre-heating on high on an electric stove.
Non-stick pans are sold under a variety of names, including Silverstone, Swiss Diamond, and T-Fal Non-Stick
but all contain PTFE. A better alternative, although expensive initially, is enamelled cast iron cookware by manufacturers such as Le Creuset, whose pans are made in
France. For most uses, cast iron pans that are well seasoned and maintained with oil are a reasonable option.
A new line of non-stick cookware became available in
Canada in 2008 called GreenPan, which uses a ceramic
non-PTFE coating called Thermolon. That same year, the
Danish manufacturer ScanPan introduced its GreenTek
non-stick cookware, which is based on PTFE but eliminates any use of PFOA in the manufacturing process.
Stain repellents
Common source of PFCs are stain repellent treatments
for carpets, fabrics and upholstery. Products such as the
household standby, Scotchgard, were re-formulated after
2000 to eliminate PFOS and PFOA, but the substitute
chemical used in most of them, perfluorobutyl sulfonate
(PFBS), is also expected to persist in the environment.
Bio-monitoring has revealed PFBS in the blood of some
of the people tested, indicating that it is not metabolized
quickly in the body.
Wherever possible, choose carpets and other materials
that haven’t been pre-treated with stain repellents and
avoid applying stain repellent treatments at home.
Teflon products
Preferred alternatives
Teflon, Silverstone, Swiss Diamond,
T-Fal Non-Stick
Stainless steel
Enamelled cast iron (Le Creuset, similar)
Cast iron
Green Pan (non-PTFE coating); ScanPan (non-PFOA)
Lead: still in places where it shouldn’t be
EAD WAS FIRST IDENTIFIED as a developmental
neurotoxin as far back as the 1920s. Yet up
until two generations ago, it was still in use almost everywhere — as an additive in gasoline,
a component in household paint and children’s jewellery,
and the material of choice for fishing weights. In the
1970s, the efforts of citizen's health groups brought a
change in regulatory policy in both the U.S. and Canada
as lead was first removed from gasoline and banned as an
ingredient in any paints intended for children’s furniture
and toys.
Yet lead still lingers in many places where it shouldn’t
be and consumers need to be wary.
Children’s jewellery
Once the preserve of jewellery stores, jewellery marketing has moved into virtually all retail areas — including children’s stores and even vending machines. In
fact, jewellery intended for children is a common retail
item, including necklaces, bracelets and pendants.
Much of that jewellery contains lead, used because of
its low cost and because it adds weight, making the jewellery appear more substantial. On frequent occasions,
pieces of children’s jewellery have been tested and found
to contain in excess of 60 per cent lead, which can be dangerously toxic for young children if they put the jewellery
in their mouths.
In 2005, Health Canada introduced new regulations
to prohibit the sale or import of jewellery intended for
children containing more than 600 mg/kg of lead, a standard also adopted in California. Groups such as the Canadian Environmental Law Association had asked that lead
be banned from children’s jewellery entirely but the federal government argued that a higher standard would be
disruptive to importers’ and retailers’ businesses.
But it soon became evident that even that standard
was not being met. Spot checks by Health Canada routinely turned up jewellery that was in non-compliance
with the regulations.
Finally, in November 2010, Health Canada announced
a new standard. All products that may have mouth contact or are intended for children under the age of three
must have no more than 90 mg/kg of lead. The new standard reflects similar regulatory changes made in the
United States.
Still, enforcement will continue to be a critical issue,
since most of the non-compliant products contain lead at
levels far higher than the allowable limit. Health Canada
is advising Canadians on its website that “high levels of
lead continue to be found in a wide variety of children’s
jewellery products sold in Canada.”
Lead is a known human carcinogen, a developmental
toxin and a neurotoxin that can be toxic at extremely low
levels. Don’t buy costume jewellery for young children if
there is any possibility it may contain lead.
Children’s toys
Most parents probably thought that concerns about
their children’s exposure to lead in paint were a previous
generation’s worry. After all, regulations in North America and Europe have banned lead paint from use on children’s furniture or toys. But one of the unfortunate
results of globalization has been that
companies out-source production
to countries where environmental
health standards are
often as low as
labour costs.
In June 2007,
more than 90,000
Thomas the Tank
Engine toy train vehicles had
to be pulled off store shelves in the U.S. and Canada following reports that they had been painted with enamel
paint containing lead. The toys were made at a manufacturing facility in China that had switched paint supplies.
The toy recall is one of a number of such recalls over
the past few years. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, China leads all other manufacturing countries in the number of product recalls in the
U.S. Chinese-made products were the subject of 233 recalls in 2006, nearly double the rate of the previous year.
Lead contamination was — and is — a frequent cause of
the recalls.
There is little that consumers can do, short of lab testing, to check the paint on children’s toys. But the rising
number of product recalls suggests that looking for toys
made domestically or in European Union countries,
where health and environmental standards are higher,
might be a good option. Parents can also keep an eye on
product recalls at Health Canada's website. Go to > Consumer Product Safety > Advisories, Warnings and Recalls.
Fishing weights
Heading out on a fishing trip on Canada’s rivers and
lakes or the marine waters of its two coasts is still a summer pastime for thousands of Canadians. For years, lead
fishing weights and downrigger balls have been a standard part of the fishing gear that anglers take with them.
Unfortunately, that gear has left its own toxic legacy —
kids have been poisoned playing with and even ingesting
lead weights and thousands of lead sinkers and downrigger balls have been lost in lakes and streams, where
they’ve poisoned loons, eagles and many other birds. The
use of lead fishing weights has long been banned in
Canada’s national parks, but they’re still widely used in
both freshwater and marine recreational fishing.
Like many other products, there is no reason to use
lead fishing weights any more. There are numerous alternative materials available, including bismuth, stainless
steel, tungsten composite and even glass. Product manufacturers that make and distribute alternative-material
weights include Lucky Strike, Enviroball and, an Edmonton based online supplier of nontoxic fishing gear.
Lead crystal
It used to be that fine crystal glassware and decanters
were carefully taken out of the cupboard for special occasions and carefully put back again. But more and more,
wine glasses are a regular item on the dinner table, and
some of the leading names in crystal glassware, like
Riedel and Mikasa, are becoming commonplace in modern homes. And it’s not just wine that’s served in them —
frequently they’re used for sparkling fruit drinks and
juices. Often everybody in the family drinks from them
at family celebrations.
The problem is that much of the crystal glassware is
made from 14 to 24 per cent lead crystal. Each time
they’re used, minute amounts of lead leach into the liquid
in the glass — and the amounts rise the longer the liquid
is in contact with the glass.
While manufacturers insist that the amount leaching
into liquids is insignificant, lead is a carcinogen and a developmental toxin, according to California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (Proposition
65).That’s a particular problem for pregnant women —
even though they’re avoiding alcoholic drinks, they may
be given the same crystal glass for their juice or other beverage.
However, when it comes to glassware, lead can be a
completely avoidable exposure.
Many options are available, from ordinary glass to
lead-free crystal. IKEA, for example, sells a variety of wine
glasses made from soda glass that are a good, affordable
In some cases, manufacturers have caught up to consumers’ demands for safer products and produce lead-free
glassware. However, some of the leading names make both
lead crystal wine glasses and lead-free alternatives, so it’s
important to ask in those cases where the material isn’t
specified. The table below shows some of the options
available in lead-free glassware and also identifies some
of the brands that use lead crystal.
Lead Crystal
preferred (Lead-free)
Riedel Vinum series
Waterford Mondavi series
Laurel by Laura B
Gala by Laura B
Vogue by Laura B
Mikasa Cheers
Selection Vino
Spiegelau Vino Grande
Riedel Vitis series
Riedel Tyrol series
New Line (Slovakia)
Riedel Ouverture
Riedel Wine series
Ravenscroft Crystal
Stolze Oberglas
Schott Zwiesel
Riedel O series
Water bottles: checking the numbers
ater bottles: which one should I buy?
And what about the bottles that sit on
top of the water cooler? Those questions have come up more than any
other since the first edition of the CancerSmart Guide appeared in 2004.
Almost everyone carries a water bottle these days,
whether they’re just going to work or heading out on a
hiking trail. But the hard plastic, often coloured bottles
that used to be the most popular option have suddenly
become the subject of a national discussion in Canada
and the focus of action by both retailers and government.
Those bottles are made from a specialty plastic known
as polycarbonate. One of the key components of polycarbonate is an endocrine-disrupting chemical called
bisphenol-A (BPA). Research has shown that polycarbonate bottles can leach bisphenol-A into the liquid they contain and the growing body of evidence of BPA’s toxic
effects has led to demands from both environmental and
consumer groups for a ban on the chemical.
Even before the federal government released its report in April,
2008 declaring BPA toxic, many
large retailers, led by outdoor outfitter Mountain Equipment Co-op, had
pulled polycarbonate water bottles
from their shelves. However, while
the government announced plans to
ban polycarbonate baby bottles, it
did not put any restrictions on
polycarbonate water bottles and
many stores continue to sell them.
Cooler bottles
Also made from polycarbonate
are the large 18.5-litre plastic bottles used in home and office water
The International Water Bottlers Association, which represents
the water bottling industry, acknowledges that consumers are exposed to bisphenol-A when
drinking from polycarbonate containers. But it contends that the
levels are well below the reference
dose set by the U.S. Food and Drug
Administration (FDA) and safe. It cites a 1998 study published in the journal Food Additives and Contaminants.
Ironically, the study noted that human exposure to
BPA from polycarbonate would be 0.25 parts per billion
— exactly the same level that new research has shown
may cause changes in mammary tissue that could potentially lead to breast cancer (see Endocrine Disruption in
the Breast Cancer section for more details).
In fact, research into the health effects of bisphenolA has come a long way since 1998, when there were only
five published studies on BPA. Dozens of new studies have
pointed to a link between BPA and a number of diseases,
ranging from prostate cancer, male reproductive tract disorders, breast cancer (see the chapter on breast cancer for
more information on the health effects and sources of exposure for BPA) and even Alzheimer’s disease.
Low dose-effects
More important, researchers are finding adverse effects
at exposure levels that are significantly below that FDA
reference dose and even below the range of the estimated
human dietary exposure.
“Of the 94 low-dose studies reporting significant
health effects, 31 published studies have reported health
effects caused by doses of BPA at and below the reference
dose of 50 µg/kg/day,” Dr. Frederick vom Saal, a professor
in the University of Missouri’s Division of Biological Sciences and a leading expert on BPA, reported in the August, 2005 edition of Environmental Health Perspectives.
In a January, 2006 note prepared as background to the
article, Dr. vom Saal also noted a distinct contrast between
the findings of independent researchers and those working, directly or indirectly, for the plastics industry. Of the
152 published studies on BPA, 140 were conducted by independent researchers and 92 per cent of them found adverse health effects. None of the 12 industry-funded
studies did.31
With the increasing weight of evidence pointing to
toxic effects from BPA exposure, staying away from polycarbonate bottles is a good precautionary approach. Reuseable water bottles made from polycarbonate are
usually marked with a #7 in the recycling triangle, which
is sometimes accompanied by the letters PC.
Probably the best option for a reusable water bottle is
one made from stainless steel. Kleen Kanteen is one of the
most familiar brand names, but many different makers
are now offering stainless bottles.
a #7 in the recycling triangle. The number 7 is a catch-all
category for plastics and anyone buying a bottle will have
to make sure that they’re not getting a polycarbonate bottle that’s still on the market. It’s likely that Nalgene and
Camelbak, as well as any other manufacturers that use
Tritan copolyester will market their products as BPA-free.
Aluminum bottles are also available, but they’re not
all created alike. Most aluminum bottles are lined with a
flexible material, which typically is made from an epoxy
phenolic resin that contains BPA. The only aluminum
bottles we know of that have been tested and shown not
to leach BPA are those made by SIGG and Laken. SIGG
uses an enamel lining for its bottles.
The safest reusable plastic bottles are made of
HDPE, high-density polyethylene (identified by
the number 2 in the recycling triangle symbol on
the bottom), LDPE, low-density polyethylene (#4)
or PP, polypropylene (#5). Nalgene, which announced in 2008 that it would no longer manufacture polycarbonate bottles, currently makes
bottles from UVPE (#2), a form of high-density
polyethylene that resists deterioration from UV rays.
As consumers turn away from polycarbonate, Nalgene
and other makers, such as Camelbak, are moving to a new
material for their water bottles, called Tritan copolyester.
The manufacturer, Eastman, claims the material is BPAand phthalate free, while offering many of the same qualities as polycarbonate.However the new material has not
been tested for toxicity and most scientists are withholding endorsement until the testing has been done.
Consumers will also have to be wary as the new material becomes available, since it will also be identified with
PET bottles
What about the bottles of water sold in grocery and
convenience stores as well as restaurants and fast food outlets? They’re virtually all made of clear plastic identified
on the bottom as PET or PETE, accompanied by the
number 1 in the recycling triangle. PET stands for polyethylene terephthalate.
Although test results have varied, research on those
bottles has revealed that they can leach the toxic chemical di (2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) or a related chemical, di (2-ethylhexyl) adipate (DEHA) after they’ve sat on
store shelves for an extended period (upwards of a year) or
as the plastic wears from re-use.
The safest reusable bottles are made of
HDPE, high-density polyethylene (#2),
LDPE, low-density polyethylene (#4), PP,
polypropylene (#5) or stainless steel.
Canadian researcher William Shotyk also led a research study of PET bottles in 200632 that found antimony in PET-bottled water leaching from the plastic.
The health effects are unclear, however. Antimony trioxide, which is used as a catalyst in the manufacture of
most PET bottles, is a carcinogen, but the form of antimony that is soluble in water has not been studied extensively. In addition, the antimony found in the bottles
was still below the level of antimony permitted in drinking water in Canada. At the very least, don’t reuse clear
plastic water bottles.
water bottles
Polycarbonate #7 (PC),
PET #1, #3 (PVC)
#2, #4, #5
Stainless steel (various brands)
Aluminum (Sigg or Laken)
Plastics, toys, and more phthalates
in our society —
in toys, in packaging, computer casings and
food and drink containers. Because there are
so many areas where we come in contact with
plastic products, it’s important that we know what potential toxins there may be and the consequences of longterm, repeated exposure. It’s just as important for the
environment. Plastics endure for long periods of time and
while recycling programs have been effective in diverting large amounts from waste, plastics already constitute
20 per cent of the volume of landfills and the percentage
is rising. Whatever toxins may leach from landfills will
make their way into soil and groundwater.
Cash register receipts source
of exposure to bisphenol-A
Cash register receipts from retail stores, gas stations
and automatic teller machines can be a source of exposure
to bisphenol-A, recent studies have shown.
The issue was first raised in 2008 by researchers who
pointed out that BPA is used as a coating on heat-activated
thermal papers used in thousands of cash registers and
other point-of-sale devices across the continent.
In 2010, the U.S. Environmental Working Group took
samples from stores in seven different U.S. states and
found that 40 per cent of them had levels of BPA ranging
from 0.8 to nearly three per cent. Those levels are 250 to
1,000 times the levels of BPA that leach from the BPA-based
epoxy linings in food cans.
Researchers found that the BPA on the receipts could
easily be transferred to skin, suggesting that they could be
a source of both skin and oral exposure, especially if people eat with their hands after handling the receipt — at a
fast food restaurant, for example. Earlier studies have
shown that BPA can be absorbed directly into the bloodstream through skin exposure.
Surveys have also shown that retail workers — who typically handle receipts — have blood levels of BPA that are 30
per cent higher than the average U.S. adult. That makes exposure to BPA a workplace as well as a consumer issue.
But the EWG study did find that some receipts were BPA
free, demonstrating that alternatives are available. Some
retail unions in Canada have begun working with employers to make the change to safer receipts.
Consumers can also draw retailers’ attention to the
issue and encourage them to make the switch. In the meantime, it’s important to handle receipts as little as possible
and to wash hands after contact.
Plastics manufacturing poses particular health risks
for workers in the industry, especially for those producing
vinyl who are exposed to carcinogenic vinyl chloride. For
consumers, the primary focus is often on substances that
are added to plastic, intended to make it softer or more
flexible or to make it fire retardant.
Phthalates in toys
Of most concern in plastics are
phthalates, the chemical
substances used as “plasticizers” that make plastics softer and more
pliable. The most commonly used are diisononyl
(DINP) and di 2-ethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP),
which are added to PVC plastic to make it more flexible
for a wide range of applications. DINP may cause liver
and kidney damage while DEHP is listed under California’s Proposition 65 as a reproductive toxin.
Among the applications for PVC plastic are baby’s
teething rings and plastic wrap. Because the phthalates
used to soften PVC are not bonded to the plastic, they can
easily leach out when they’re in contact with liquids.
DINP has been the main phthalate used in children’s
toys, but other phthalates have often been included in
regulations because of their potential health effects.
Japan was the first to move in 2003 to ban the use of
phthalates in soft plastic toys for young children. The European Union introduced a temporary ban in 1999 and
then followed it up in 2007 with a full directive. That directive bans the use of three phthalates, including DEHP,
in any toys or articles intended for children and further
restricts the use of three other phthalates, including
DINP, in toys that may be mouthed by young children.
Health Canada regulation
Health Canada issued an advisory in 1998, suggesting
that parents avoid the use of soft plastic toys, but it was
not until June, 2009 that the federal government brought
in regulations parallel to those in the EU, (and since 2009,
in the U.S. as well). Introduced as the Phthalates Regulations under the authority of the Hazardous Products Act,
the regulations restrict the use of three phthalates from
any children’s toys and also restrict the use of three addi-
tional phthalates from any toy that may be mouthed by
a child under four.
Food wrap
Some food wraps are made from polyvinyl chloride
(PVC) plastic and the phthalates used as plasticizers can
leach out, especially if the wrap is used in the microwave.
It’s advisable to avoid using plastic wrap for microwaving
at all, but even for general use, it’s best to avoid PVC food
Since the second edition of the CancerSmart Consumer Guide, the makers of Saran Wrap have re-formulated the product to use polyethylene instead of PVC,
giving consumers an additional non-PVC choice. Wraps
made from polyethylene, such as Saran Wrap or Glad
Cling Wrap, are safer alternatives to PVC.
Use glass or microwave-safe crockery instead of plastic for microwaving and freezing and cover with a glass
lid or plate.
Baby bottles
Until recently, nearly all plastic baby bottles in retail
stores, including those from leading manufacturers, were
made from polycarbonate, which leached bisphenol-A
(BPA) into the baby formula or other liquid in the bottle.
But with an increasing number of studies and authoritative reports pointing to the low-level adverse health effects of BPA, many retailers pulled them off their shelves.
Then, in April 2008, federal health minister Tony
Clement announced that the government would introduce regulations banning the sale and importation of
polycarbonate baby bottles. Those regulations are now
fully in effect.
Japanese toxicologist Koji Arizono was one of the first
to raise concern in 1999 when he conducted
tests on baby bottles under conditions intended to simulate regular home use, including heating formula. His research
showed that a four-kilogram baby
drinking approximately a litre of formula a day could be exposed to 4 micrograms of BPA a day.33 Although the
potential health effects were not as
clear in 1999, more recent research
has shown exposures in that range
are 40 times higher than the levels
that have been shown to cause
changes in breast tissue that may
predispose cells to cancer.
Glass is the preferred material
for baby bottles a number of
manufacturers, including Born Free and
Adiri, are offering bottles made from alternative, BPA-free
plastics such as polyamide and polyethersulphone. Although those materials have not been extensively tested,
they are considered to be much more stable and heat-resistant.
The federal ban will not affect the sale of polycarbonate sippy cups, used for toddlers, so consumers will have
to look closely to see what they’re buying. Polycarbonate
sippy cups are potentially an even higher source of BPA
exposure, since they’re used for a variety of liquids and
are often put in automatic dishwashers for cleaning.
There are many more alternatives available from such
manufacturers as Thermos and Sigg in stainless steel and
enamelled aluminum as well as safer plastics, such as
polypropylene and low- and high density polyethylene.
Product category
Food wrap
PVC wrap
Glad Cling Wrap,
Saran Wrap
Equality PVC-Free Plastic Wrap
other polyethylene wrap
Baby bottles
Polycarbonate plastic
Polyamide, polyethersulphone bottles
(Born Free, Adiri, Green to Grow)
Sippy cups
Polycarbonate plastic
Polypropylene, polyethersulphone
( Munchkin, Born Free)
Stainless steel (various brands)
Enamelled aluminum (Sigg)
PBDEs: unseen chemical trespass
computers and televisions with plastic
housing in the 1980s, it became important to add fire retardant chemicals
to the plastics to make them less flammable. Enter the
brominated fire retardants (BFRs), a new class of chemicals with potential applications in polyurethane foam
furniture, mattresses and casings for computers and electronic goods. Until recently, the most common have been
polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs).
Over the last 20 years, the chemicals have arguably
prevented many fires. But those benefits are now outweighed by the toxic legacy they are leaving.
The chemicals are usually added to plastics for fire retardancy, and because they don’t bind to the plastics, they
can migrate into the environment, either as dust from
foams and computer casings, or as leachate from those
same materials after they’re dumped into landfills.
Persistent toxins
PBDEs are persistent and bioaccumulative in the environment. They have been found in orcas in the Pacific
Northwest and in the breast milk of women from Europe
to Japan to the Pacific Northwest and the Arctic. The levels of PBDEs in Canadian women are among the highest
in the world, second only to those in the U.S. In most
countries, the levels of PBDEs in women’s breast milk
Scientists call for action to
restrict toxic fire retardants
With stringent flammability standards for mattresses and
furniture now in effect across the continent — and PBDE
used widely restricted — manufacturers are turning to a variety of chemical fire retardants, including older persistent
and toxic substances.
As part of a study published in Environmental Science
and Technology in August 2009, researchers tested 26 samples of furniture and found six different fire retardants used.
Among them was a chemical compound known as TDCPP,
which had been used in children’s pyjamas decades ago
until it was found to cause gene mutations.
Scientists have called for strong government action to
prevent a renewed health and environmental risk from toxic
fire retardants. In a 2010 declaration known as the San Antonio Statement, leading researchers called for elimination
of the use of brominated and chlorinated fire retardants and
new research into alternative methods of fire protection.
have been doubling every five years — with one promising exception. In Sweden, where PBDEs have been
banned since the 1990s, those levels have begun to decline, clearly demonstrating the benefits of regulation.
A growing number of experimental studies with animals have linked PBDEs to a variety of health effects,
often at levels comparable to those found in women’s
breast milk. They may cause permanent memory and immune system impairment and they can interfere with
thyroid function, which is key to many other functions in
the body.
Eliminating PBDEs
As with other potentially toxic substances, the European Union was the first to act to restrict PBDEs. In August, 2004, the EU banned the manufacture and use of
two major commercial groups of PBDEs, known as pentaBDEs and octa-BDEs. A third group, known as decaBDEs, widely used in electronics applications, was also to
be banned. But in a controversial move, the European
Commission overrode the European Parliament and exempted decaBDEs from the ban. In response, Denmark
and the European Parliament launched court action and
the European Court of Justice ruled in their favour, ordering a reinstatement of the ban, effective July 1, 2008.
Several U.S. states, including Maine, California, Hawaii,
Washington and Oregon, also introduced bans on PBDEs,
that began to take effect in 2006. Two of those states —
Maine and Washington —have also passed legislation
that extends the ban to decaBDEs, beginning in 2011.
Canadian regulations
Canada finally took action in December, 2006, and
added PBDEs to Schedule 1 of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. That schedule includes substances
considered the most toxic and requires Environment
Canada to develop a risk management plan to control
them to minimize risk to human health and the environment.
Initially, the federal government introduced a formal
ban that only applied to penta- and octaBDEs, leaving decaBDEs to further review. However, in response to growing evidence of the toxicity of decaBDEs — including
evidence that they can degrade to the more toxic octaand pentaBDEs in the environment35 — the government
moved in late 2010 to add them to the list. The regulations will not become fully effective until 2013 but after
that date, decaBDEs, along with the other two PBDE
groups, will be banned from sale, importation or use in
Consumers will find it welcome news that PBDEs are
now being phased out. Still, the problem of fire retardants
in furniture and mattresses has not gone away. In fact, new
flammability standards for furniture first introduced in
California and then adopted throughout the U.S. in 2007
will see wider use of chemical fire retardants, even in this
country. Health Canada has proposed that a standard
similar to the one now in effect in the U.S. — which requires that products not catch fire after being subjected to
an open flame for 70 seconds — be adopted in Canada.
Among the fire retardants currently being used to replace PBDEs are a group of organophosphate chemicals,
some of which have been linked to reproductive effects.
The problem for consumers is that retailers often don’t
know what their products contain and manufacturers are
increasingly unwilling to disclose. As with other consumer products product labelling that would disclose
hazardous ingredients is an urgent need.
Reducing exposure
• Most mattresses as well as sofas and easy chairs use
polyurethane foam. Because it is a highly flammable material, fire retardants are needed to prevent it catching fire
under an open flame. But there are alternatives that avoid
the use of chemical retardants — natural latex (foam rubber) furniture and wool and latex for mattresses. Most
latex mattresses use an outer wrapping of wool, since it is
naturally fire resistant and some mattresses are made entirely of wool. The alternative materials are more expensive but the added benefit is that many manufacturers
also use non-toxic glues and textiles.
Manufacturers of latex-filled furniture include Upholstery Arts and Pure in Vancouver. Natura makes a line
of latex mattresses and Shepherd’s Dream offers wool
mattresses. Retailers offering latex and wool mattress options include The Good Planet Co. in Victoria, BC; the
Mattress and Sleep Company in Edmonton, AB; Aviva
Natural Health in Winnipeg, MB; Sleeptek in Ottawa,
ON; and Soma Sleep and Wellness in Toronto, ON.
• Manufacturers of electronic products, such as televisions, computers, monitors and cell phones, have been
slower to remove brominated fire retardants (including
PBDEs) from their products. But in response to pressure
from environmental groups in Europe, some have set
timetables to make their products greener by eliminating the use of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and brominated
fire retardants (BFRs). Check the list below for their performance in meeting those standards.
Brand name
All of Apple products PVC- and BFR-free as of the end of 2008
Personal computing products scheduled to be PVC and BFRfree by the end of 2011
Products introduced 2011 and later will be PVC and BFR-free
Phones currently PVC free; BFRs scheduled for phase-out by
All models introduced after 2008 are PVC and BFR-free
Phones currently PVC, BFR-free; phaseout delayed to 2012
for TVs and computers
New products introduced after 2010 free of PVC and BFRs
PVC, BFR phaseout scheduled for completion in 2011
Personal computing products scheduled to be PVC and BFR
by end of 2011
No products are yet PVC-and BFR-free; no timetable set for
PVC, BFRs phased out of mobile products by mid-2011; no
date set for other products
Phones, computers to be PVC-, BFR-free by mid-2011;other
products delayed
Products introduced after 2010 PVC- and BFR-free
LG Electronics
Source: Greenpeace Guide to Greener Electronics, Oct. 2010
Special Focus
Prevention and the environmental link
in Canada
not touched by breast cancer.
More than 22,000 Canadian women every
year are diagnosed with the disease and the impact of that diagnosis is felt profoundly in families and
friendships. More troubling is that cancer incidence rates
— which are adjusted to take into account an aging population — have continued to rise since the 1970s, especially for women 50 and older, according to Canadian
cancer statistics.
Across the country, breast cancer survivors, their families, friends and co-workers have mobilized tremendous
resources, raising funds for cancer research and treatment
on a scale that exceeds any other health sector. That research has led to new insights into the disease and new
treatments, and has given new hope to those who have
been diagnosed with breast cancer. Mortality rates have
gone down by 25 per cent since 1986.
Incidence rate climbing
Yet we still have to ask: why it is that breast cancer
rates, especially for women over 50, continue to climb despite the immense resources devoted to research? Why
do women have to accept, almost as an inevitability, that
another relative or a friend will be diagnosed?
Many researchers believe that industrial and consumer chemicals in women’s everyday environment are
a key part of the answer to that question.36,37 Doesn’t it
make sense then that prevention programs should also
address those chemical pollutants?
Many risk factors that are outside a woman’s control
have been identified in breast cancer, including age at the
time of a woman’s first period and the age of first full40 • CANCERSMART BREAST CANCER
term pregnancy as well as a family history of breast cancer. Those factors are estimated to account for only about
30 to 40 percent of cancers.38 That leaves a large percentage of unexplained cancers where there are other factors
at play.
Certainly some prevention programs have been developed that have focussed on lifestyle changes such as
improved diet and exercise and quit-smoking programs.
But it’s only recently that more attention has been directed to what may prove to be a more important prevention priority — reducing exposure to toxic chemicals.
“Although journalistic reports have recently implied
that scientific evidence shows that environmental pollutants are unrelated to breast cancer, a review of research in
this area reveals a much different picture,” Julie Green
Brody and Ruthann Rudel wrote in an 2003 Environmental Health Perspectives article on Environmental Pollutants and Breast Cancer. “Strong toxicological evidence
points to a large number of ubiquitous
pollutants that are plausibly linked to
breast cancer because they
mimic or disrupt hormones known to affect
breast cancer risk, initiate mammary tumors
in animals or permanently alter breast development,
affecting susceptibility.”
In many
w a y s ,
poses unique questions for researchers and prevention advocates. Unlike most organs of the body, the breast is not
fully developed at birth and does not reach full development until the end of the first full-term pregnancy. At
many critical periods in a woman’s life — from conception through puberty and into motherhood — she is vulnerable to critical changes in breast cells that can be
triggered by chemical exposure or hormone disruption.
Even low dose exposures during fetal development or puberty, for example, can create the first in a cascade of
events that can lead to cancer in later life.
Smoking evidence important
The effect of cigarette smoking on breast cancer is particularly helpful in understanding the critical timing of
exposure. Although smoking has long been recognized as
a cause of lung cancer, the link to breast cancer was hard
to find because older women who were smokers
were not being diagnosed with breast cancer any
more often than non-smokers.39 But when researchers looked further back into women’s lives,
the results were dramatically different. A 2002
study conducted by Dr. Pierre Band of the epidemiology section of the B.C. Cancer Agency
found that women who began smoking within five
years of their first menstrual period were 70 per
cent more likely to develop breast cancer than non-smokers. A U.S. study found those exposed to second-hand
smoke between the ages of 12 and 20 had a much higher
risk of developing breast cancer than those who were not
exposed or even those who were exposed later in life.40
It’s not only important that we take steps to reduce exposure to toxic chemicals that may promote breast cancer,
but also that we do it early in life before the risk may even
be apparent.
The following are substances found in consumer products that are linked to breast cancer:
• Atrazine, a herbicide. It is still widely used in agriculture, although the only domestic product that
contained atrazine was de-registered in 2007.
• Dichlorvos, an insecticide found in household pest
strips, sold under the brand name Ortho Home Defense Max Insecticide Pest Strip.
• Methylene chloride, a solvent found in many consumer paint removers (see brand name list on page
45) .
• Tetrachlorethylene, a solvent, also known as perchloroethylene, found in some consumer automotive products, including Liquid Wrench
Non-Flammable Super Lubricant, Gunk Brake
Clean, Gunk Disc Brake Quiet and Jig-A-Loo Invisible Lubricant. Perchloroethylene, or “perc” as it’s
known in the trade, is also the solvent used in most
commercial dry cleaning operations.
• Hormone replacement therapy: a landmark 2002
study demonstrated that combined hormone replacement therapy (HRT), using synthetic estrogen
and progesterone together, resulted in a 28 per cent
increase in breast cancer for women using HRT.41
There was no increased risk for those using estrogenonly therapy for up to five years but the risk did increase beyond that time. Studies of the birth control
pill and breast cancer have not been as definitive but
the evidence does point to an increased risk. One
study found that the risk declined significantly a
year after women stopped using the pill.
It’s not only important that we take steps to
reduce exposure to toxic chemicals that may
contribute to the development of breast
cancer, but also that we do it early in life
before the risk may even be apparent.
• Smoked and barbecued meats: postmenopausal
women who regularly consumed smoked and barbecued red meats (but not poultry or fish) were
found to have a 47 per cent higher risk of breast cancer, according to a 2007 study in the Journal of Internal Medicine. The study suggested that
carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons
(PAHs), formed when meats are smoked or barbecued, may be a factor.42
Two key reports on environment
and breast cancer link are online
Two important studies are available that outline in much
greater detail the connection between environmental toxins
and breast cancer. The first, entitled State of the Evidence:
The Connection between the Environment and Breast Cancer is published by the Breast Cancer Fund. Originally published in 2002 it was most recently updated with the sixth
edition in 2010. It is available from the Breast Cancer Fund
In 2005, the UK Working Group on the Primary Prevention of Breast Cancer produced the 96-page report Breast
Cancer, an Environmental Disease. It is available at
The new horizon: endocrine disrupters
EW RESEARCH on endocrine-disrupt-
ing chemicals and their connection
to cancer is changing the face of cancer prevention, although that change
is only just beginning. Many substances in common use, such as bisphenol-A (BPA), used in many
plastics, and nonyl phenols, used in cleaning products, have been known for years as “xenoestrogens,”— substances that mimic the female
hormone estrogen.
Bisphenol-A was first identified as a xenoestrogen in 1936, long before it came into widespread
use as a component of plastics and resins. But it
has only been in recent years that science has revealed two startling new dimensions to substances
like BPA. First, they can cause cell changes at extremely low levels. And second, they apparently
Studies of mice exposed to BPA have shown pre-cancerous
changes to the mammary gland at BPA levels in the range
of human exposure.
play a role in the development of cancer, even if
that role is not fully understood.
Another group of endocrine-disrupting chemicals called phthalates are found in many plastics
and personal care products. Some of them are also
xenoestrogens but many also work in a different
way, as “anti-androgens” that interfere with male
hormones. Exposure to phthalates during pregnancy is linked to developmental defects in male
children, but phthalates may also play a role in
breast cancer. Some phthalates have been shown
to increase proliferation of breast cancer cells in
lab experiments and to reduce the effectiveness of
the anti-cancer drug tamoxifen.
Phthalates are found in many plastics as well
as cosmetics and personal products (see those sections for more information on phthalate-free
Nonyl phenols
Many nonyl phenols, a group of chemicals used
in cleaning products and pesticides, are also xenoestrogens, and have been shown to cause proliferation of breast cancer cells. The federal
government began taking action under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act to reduce
nonyl phenols in cleaning products in 2002, but
the phase-out will continue until 2012. Nonyl
phenols are still found in some specialty consumer cleaning products, as well as some personal
care products. Check those sections for products
that may contain nonyl phenols.
One endocrine disrupter that has suddenly
started appeared much more frequently in research papers is bisphenol-A (BPA). In fact, BPA is
the poster child of the effects of endocrine-disrupting chemicals because as researchers look
more closely at the low-dose effects of BPA, they
are finding more links to cancer — including
breast cancer.
BPA is widely used in food packaging, polycarbonate plastics, paper coatings, food can linings
and dental sealants. It does not persist in the environment, but because Canadians are exposed to it
on a daily basis, it shows up regularly in biomonitoring surveys. The levels of BPA found also suggest that there may be additional routes of
exposure not considered, such as skin absorption
from coated papers and inhalation of BPA in dust.
The plastics industry has dismissed much of
the debate, arguing that BPA is changed to a less
toxic substance in the human gut. But that claim
was thrown into doubt in a 2006 study, which
found that even the modified form of BPA stimulates breast tumor cell growth.43
Many recent studies on BPA have focussed on
pre-natal exposure of laboratory rats and mice to
Research in 2007 showed that exposure to bisphenolA in the womb could potentially affect the next two
BPA in the womb, simulating conditions that could occur
when pregnant women are exposed to BPA.
Several of those studies found that the BPA induced
changes in the mammary gland of the animals that could
lead to pre-cancerous lesions, or even cancer in later
life.44,45 “These changes, which are apparent long after the
period of exposure is over, strengthen the hypothesis that
in utero exposure to environmental estrogens may predispose the developing fetus to mammary gland carcinogenesis in adulthood,” researchers concluded in a 2001
study entitled In Utero Exposure to Bisphenol-A Alters
the Development and Tissue Organization of the Mouse
Mammary Gland.46
A later study, published in PloS Genetics, documented
another finding — that BPA exposure in the womb can
cause chromosomal changes in the third generation, by
disrupting the formation of eggs or “oocytes” in the female fetus.47
Effects at low doses
Significantly, the experiments were carried out using
“environmentally relevant” doses of BPA — in other
words, exposures that many people could readily encounter in the course of their daily lives. The study results showed that BPA causes physical changes that can
potentially lead to breast cancer at levels as low as 0.25
micrograms per kilogram of body weight per day.
That’s one part in four billion — or the equivalent of
one second in 128 years.
Most Canadians are routinely exposed to levels of BPA
much higher than that on a daily basis. In fact, the European Food Safety Commission has estimated that the average North American’s daily exposure to BPA from
canned foods is the range of 1.5 to 10 parts per billion. In
other words, we’re being exposed to BPA on a daily basis
at levels 6-40 times higher than the levels at which research studies have demonstrated adverse health effects.
Despite that, the U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency has not changed its “reference dose” — the maximum level the Agency considers safe — of 50 micrograms/kilogram of body weight per day. That’s more than
200 times the levels at which researchers have found adverse health effects.
Health Canada has not yet developed a specific standard but uses 25 micrograms/kg as the provisional limit.
The federal health agency also joined with Environment
Canada in April 2008 to release a screening assessment
of BPA that declared the chemical toxic under the provisions of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.
That sets the stage for regulatory action, although initially, the federal government has proposed only to ban
the sale and importation of polycarbonate baby bottles
and to work with industry to reduce BPA migration from
cans containing infant formula.
Japan was one of first countries to work to reduce BPA
migration from canned foods. As a result of measures
worked out by government and food manufacturers and
new coatings, BPA levels from cans have been reduced by
an estimated 95 per cent over the past decade. The
changes point in a direction that manufacturers on this
continent could follow.
Cutting down on bisphenol-A
• Avoid using polycarbonate water bottles and containers. They are often marked with a #7 in the recycling triangle on the bottom of the bottle and the
letters PC. The large 18.5 litre bottles used for water
coolers are all made from polycarbonate.
• Use fresh or frozen foods wherever possible instead of
canned. Tests conducted in the U.S. and Europe have
shown a wide variation in level of BPA migration
from food cans. The highest levels were in canned
meats and fish, canned pasta, soups, meal replacements, evaporated milk and canned coffee. The lowest levels came from canned fruits.
• Buy beverages in bottles rather than cans. BisphenolA migration from beverage cans tends to be lower
than from cans that contain foods, but levels are
highly variable.
Carcinogens in the garage and workshop
ANY OTHER PRODUCTS — in the home,
in the garage or workshop — can also
pose a toxic risk. But there, too, consumers can take steps to substitute safer,
environmentally-preferable products to reduce or even
eliminate the risk.
A number of toxic ingredients are commonly found
in home maintenance products, but increasingly alternatives are available that provide a less toxic formula.
Methylene chloride
For years, people have been using methylene chloride,
or products containing methylene chloride, as a paint
stripper. Methylene chloride is listed as a possible human
carcinogen (2B) by IARC.
There are no warning label requirements in Canada
for methylene chloride, which is sold in hardware and
home improvement outlets, both as a pure product and as
a common ingredient in paint strippers and similar products. Avoid using those products and look for alternatives
instead (see list).
An extremely toxic ingredient, which is often found
in graffiti and scuff removers, paints and some adhesives,
is xylene, a neurotoxic and suspected developmental
toxin. It can also cause dizziness and fainting on high exposure and repeated exposure can lead to memory loss
and poor concentration.
Another widely used solvent is toluene, found in lacquer thinners and numerous paint products. It is also sold
as the pure product. Toluene is a known reproductive and
developmental toxicant, listed by California’s Office of
Occupational and Environmental Assessment as a substance “likely to cause birth defects or reproductive
harm.” Pregnant women should certainly not use products containing toluene.
Toluene is almost always found as an ingredient in solvent-based spray enamels, especially those intended to be
used over rust, including such brand labels as Tremclad,
Krylon and Rona. Another common ingredient in rust
paints is ethylbenzene, which has been classified by
IARC as a possible human carcinogen (2B). Avoid using
aerosol spray paints and use water-based latex paints for
all indoor applications and outdoor applications wherever possible.
Latex paints
Latex paints, which are water-based, rather than solvent-based, are the preferred choice for home painting
applications and there are few areas where a latex paint
can’t replace an oil-based or alkyd paint.
To protect indoor air quality, look for a low- or noVOC paints that are now widely available. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) include a number of chemical
substances that contribute to smog formation and can degrade indoor air quality. Low VOC paints have now been
on the market for a few years and while some of the early
products did not perform well, most of the quality issues
have now been addressed.
Environment Canada’s Environmental Choice and
the U.S. Green Seal have set similar standards for low-and
no-VOC paints and those standards have been adopted
by green building councils in both countries. Low VOC
flat paints must have no more than 50 grams/litre of
VOCs — gloss paints are allowed up to 150 g/l — while
no-VOC paints must be no more than 5 g/l.
Rust paints can contain xylene, toluene
and the carcinogen ethylbenzene.
Products qualifying as no-VOC include: Devoe Coatings Wonderpure, General Paints Z-Coat, ICI/Dulux Lifemaster
2000, Pittsburgh Paints Pure Performance, Sherwin-Williams Harmony and
YOLO Colorhouse. Benjamin Moore’s
Pristine Ecospec is considered a low-VOC
paint, with 10g/l of VOCs.
Pressure-treated lumber
In the rainy climate of many parts of
Canada, the introduction of pressure-treated
lumber a number of years ago seemed like a welcome innovation for fences, decks, and children’s wooden playground equipment. Unfortunately, the chemical that was
pumped into the wood under high-pressure — chromated copper arsenate, or CCA — tended to leach out of
the wood as arsenic, a carcinogen. Researchers studying
playground equipment found elevated levels of arsenic in
the surrounding soil and found that children were coming into contact with the toxin while playing on the
A number of environmental groups raised the alarm
and over the last five years, parks and school boards in
many jurisdictions have been dismantling CCA-treated
equipment and replacing it with other materials. The
substitution program hasn’t yet extended to power companies, however. Many of them continue to use CCAtreated wood for their utility poles and while the use may
not pose the same exposure risk as playground equipment, a change would benefit public health.
ACQ-treated lumber standard
Among the environmentally-preferable substitutes are
building materials made from plastic (including recycled
plastic) and wood treated with other chemicals, including borates and a chemical mixture known as alkaline
copper quaternary (ACQ ).
The manufacturers of CCA-treated lumber voluntarily discontinued making consumer products in 2003 and
most suppliers now carry ACQ-treated lumber, which is
sold under a variety of brand names, including Futura,
Proguard and Purekor Naturewood (which is certified by
the Forest Stewardship Council as a sustainable product).
ACQ lumber is a safer, environmentally-preferable alternative, although it should not be used in wetland areas
where copper, which can be toxic to aquatic life, could
leach into the water.
An even better alternative, although there is not yet
national distribution in Canada, is a new product called
TimberSil. Instead of using chemical treatments, the
product infuses wood with a form of amorphous glass
which, when heated, fills the cellular structure of the
wood. The result is insoluble wood fibre and an inhospitable environment for microbes that would normally
rot the wood over time. The contact for Canada is Advanced Building Materials in Sarnia, ON.
Rot resistant woods
In many cases, naturally rot-resistant woods, such as
cedar or redwood will do the job, as long as the project is
not being built below grade or in areas where it will be
damp for long periods. Borate-treated lumber will also
work well in those applications. But if you need treated
lumber for damp areas, check to ensure that it is ACQtreated.
You can do the same in your community. Check with
the school or park authority to make sure that the playground equipment is not made from CCA-treated lumber.
Toxic ingredient
Better choices
Behr, The Stripper
Recochem Heirloom Furniture Stripper
Heirloom Heavy Body Paint Remover
Polystrippa Super Strippa
Polystrippa Super Strippa Semi-Gel
Bio-Wash Furniture Paint Stripper
Methylene chloride
Methylene chloride, toluene
Methylene chloride
Methylene chloride
Methylene chloride
N-methyl-2-pyrrolidone (a
reproductive toxin)
3M Safest Stripper
Removall 330 All-purpose
Paint Stripper
Dumond Smart Strip
Dumond Peel-Away Paint Remover
Xylene, ethylbenzene
Dumond Lift Away Graffiti Remover
Removall 400 Graffiti Remover
Goof-Off Adhesive, Tar
and Latex Paint Spill Remover
Goof-Off Graffiti Remover
Goof-Off 2
Carcinogens you don’t want at home
or the attic, some carcinogenic
substances still linger around
Canadians’ homes. You can take
steps to eliminate them, both as a consumer and
through action with others in the community.
Also known as perchloroethylene, this ingredient is classified as a probable human carcinogen
(2A) by IARC. It was once widely used in a variety
of products, including carpet spot treatments, and
is still found in some automotive and workshop
related products. Among those sold in Canada are
Liquid Wrench Non-Flammable Super Lubricant,
Gunk Disc Brake Quiet, Gunk Brake Clean
aerosol and Jig-A-Loo spray lubricant.
Perchloroethylene is also the solvent used in
most commercial drying cleaning. Although Environment Canada introduced strict emission regulations in 2003 to curb release of
perchloroethylene into the air and community
wastewater, “perc,” as it’s known, continues to offgas from newly dry-cleaned clothes. Perchloroethylene-based dry cleaning dominates the
industry but alternatives are available in some
areas, including CO2-based dry cleaning (Hangers
Cleaners), as well as wet cleaning, a silicone-based
system (Green Earth) and use of petroleum-based
solvents. As of this printing, Hangers Cleaners has
only one outlet — in Edmonton, Alberta — while
Green Earth has operations in Charlottetown,
Moncton and a number of Ontario centres, including Toronto. Fletchers Fabricare in Vancouver uses a hydrocarbon-based solvent rather than
perc in its dry cleaning machines.
Asbestos is the stealth killer among occupational and environmental carcinogens. Classified
as a known human carcinogen by IARC, it was responsible for a third of the occupational deaths in
Canada between 1993 and 2005 — and that
number only includes those registered with workers’ compensation boards in the various
provinces.48 Many more thousands of people die
from asbestos related cancers and other diseases,
including the wives of asbestos miners in communities in Quebec where the fibrous mineral is
still mined.
Because there is such a long latency period between exposure and the development of cancer,
the numbers of people diagnosed with asbestos related cancers is continuing to rise as a result of exposures from exposures 30-40 years ago from
insulation materials, brake pads, wall joint compounds and many other materials. Yet many
Canadians are unaware of the rising death toll, in
part because mesothelioma — a cancer of the lining around the lungs or the abdominal organs
caused almost exclusively by exposure to asbestos
fibres — is not specifically listed in Canadian
Cancer Statistics.
Fortunately for consumers, asbestos has mainly
been removed from consumer products where it
was once used. However, thousands of Canadians
could potentially be exposed to asbestos in their
attic insulation, since the material used, vermiculite sold under the brand name Zonolite, came
from a mine in Libby, Montana and was contaminated with amphibole asbestos, a particularly
dangerous form of the mineral. More information
on identifying Zonolite insulation is available
from Health Canada (click on media advisories >
warnings, recalls and advisories 2004) or from
websites such as: The site includes
photos of the Zonolite to assist in identifying the
Asbestos ban urged
New regulations introduced by the federal government in 2007 will also keep the door open to asbestos in
consumer products. They permit the importation of
products containing asbestos — including children’s toys
and building materials — as long as airborne asbestos
cannot become separated from the product. While Health
Canada has stated that no children’s toys currently contain asbestos, the regulations allow continued use of a carcinogenic material in manufacturing and justify
continued mining of the hazardous mineral.
Recently, the Canadian Cancer Society announced a
new policy that calls on the federal government to eliminate all exposures to asbestos in order to eliminate asbestos-related diseases. The Society urged safe removal of
asbestos from homes and public buildings, substitution of
safer materials where asbestos is currently being used and
a fair transition program to ensure that communities dependent on asbestos mining can adjust.
Canada has come under heavy criticism throughout
the world for its continued export of asbestos. More than
95 per cent of Canadian asbestos is exported to developing countries where its use is responsible for the cancer
deaths of thousands of people. Numerous organizations
in Canada, including Toxic Free Canada, have joined
forces to launch the Ban Asbestos Campaign, urging that
the federal government ban asbestos from all products in
Canada, and support international conventions that call
for a worldwide ban on the deadly mineral. More information is available from
Classified by IARC as a known human carcinogen,
formaldehyde is an ingredient used in numerous products. It’s a significant concern in two areas: adhesives used
in plywood and particle board and as an ingredient in
recreational vehicle (RV) tank deodorizers.
Typically, plywood, particle board and multi-density
fibre (MDF) are manufactured using adhesives made with
urea formaldehyde, or sometimes phenol formaldehyde.
Because of that, the wood products all off-gas formaldehyde for several months after they’re used in shelving,
cabinets and other home projects. It was to eliminate that
off-gassing that contractors working to green building
standards began specifying formaldehyde-free plywood
and particle-board and many of the products are now
available on the consumer market. Instead of formaldehyde, the products use an adhesive made from methylene diphenyl diisocyanate (MDI).
In the case of RV deodorizers, the formaldehyde builds
up in the confined space of RV bathrooms when
formaldehyde-based products are used in black and grey
water holdings tanks. Fortunately, alternatives are available. Non- formaldehyde RV deodorizers are readily available (see list) but in the case of particle and MDF board,
you’ll have to go beyond your local building supply store.
Columbia Forest Products makes Purebond formaldehyde-free plywood and recently introduced formaldehyde-free particle board under the same name. Several
dealers that carry the products are available in the vicinity of most major cities in Canada. A dealer locator is
available at:
Sierra Pine Products also makes formaldehyde-free
MDF board under three product names, Medec, Medite
II and Arreis. It is widely available at dealers throughout
Canada. A dealer locator is available at: > Sierra Pine Distributors.
Panel Source International also carries Purekor plywood as well as particle and MDF board, but it is only
available in Mississauga, ON, St. Joseph du Lac, QC and St.
Albert, AB. See to obtain more information on Purekor products.
Toxic ingredient
Formaldehyde-Free products
Conventional plywood
Conventional particle board
Conventional MDF board
Purekor, Purebond plywood
Purekor, Purebond particle board
Purekor MDF board
Medex, Medite II, Arreis MDF board
Thetford Campa Chem
Holding Tank Deodorant
Thetford Aqua Kem
Westchem Zyme-Out RV and Marine
Holding Tank Deodorizer *
Blue Lagoon Waste Digester
and Deodorant *
Thetford Aqua Zyme *
* Environmental Choice EcoLogo certified
Cancer: 101 Solutions to a Preventable Epidemic. Liz Armstrong, Guy Dauncey and Anne Wordsworth. A handbook
for consumers and activists on cancer prevention steps they can take in their communities. New Society Publishers, 2007.
Having Faith. An Ecologist’s Journey to Motherhood. Sandra Steingraber’s memoir of childbirth is also a study of the
link between the environment and fetal development. New edition, Berkeley Publishing, 2003.
Living Downstream. Renowned environmental author Sandra Steingraber, herself a cancer survivor, writes about cancer and the environment. Her book was the first to link data on toxic releases to cancer registries. Vintage Books, 1998.
Our Stolen Future. The original groundbreaking work tracing reproductive abnormalities among wildlife to chemical
endocrine disrupters. By Theo Colburn, John Peterson Myers and Dianne Dumanoski. Penguin Books, 1997.
The Secret History of the War on Cancer. Devra Davis. An impassioned account of how the U.S. war on cancer has been
diverted from any effective offensive against occupational and environmental carcinogens, while millions are poured into
treatments and and the quest for an elusive cure. Written by a leading U.S. environmental oncologist. Basic Books, 2007.
Prevention of Occupational and Environmental Cancers in Canada: A Best Practices Review and Recommendations. May 2006. A review of cancer surveillance, hazardous chemicals legislation, community health and prevention programs in Canada, along with best-practices recommendations. Produced by the National Committee on Environmental and
Occupational Exposures, a sub-committee of the Canadian Strategy for Cancer Control. Available in pdf from:
Canadian Cancer Statistics 2010. The latest statistics on cancer incidence and mortality in Canada, compiled by Health
Canada in conjunction with cancer agencies. Available from the Canadian Cancer Society or as a pdf download from:
Environmental and Occupational Causes of Cancer: A review of the recent scientific literature. Richard Clapp,
Genevieve Howe and Molly Jacobs Lefebre. Produced by the Boston University School of Public Health and the Environmental Health Initiative, University of Massachusetts Lowell. 2005. Available in either pdf or Microsoft Word from:
State of the Evidence 2010. An informative review of the latest scientific literature on the environmental links to breast
cancer., updated annually. Produced by the U.S. groups Breast Cancer Fund and Breast Cancer Action. Available as a pdf
download from:
Breast Cancer: An Environmental Disease. A British report reviewing the literature on environmental links to breast
cancer. UK Working Group on the Primary Prevention of Breast Cancer. Available as a pdf download from:
Canada’s Asbestos Legacy at Home and Abroad. Jim Brophy, Margaret Keith, Jenny Schieman. A review of Çanada’s
policies on asbestos and the devastating health impact of the carcinogenic mineral. Available free at:
Chemicals policy
Not Too Innocent. A detailed study comparing the chemicals policies of Canada, the U.S. and the European Union, with
recommendations for best practices. Richard A. Denison, produced by Environmental Defense (U.S.) in conjunction with
Pollution Probe. Available as a pdf download from:
The Food We Eat: An International Comparison of Pesticide Regulations. A report on pesticide regulations in Canada,
the U.S. and Europe, showing how Canada is lagging behind in monitoring and reducing pesticide use in agriculture. Written by David Boyd for the David Suzuki Foundation, 2007. Available as a pdf download from:
Pesticides Literature Review. A review of the findings of dozens of studies conducted between 1992 and 2004 on the
health effects of exposure to pesticides, especially cancer.. Produced by the Ontario College of Family Physicians in 2004.
Available online and as a pdf from:
Internet links
Scorecard: About the Chemicals. An online database providing health effects of thousands of chemicals, searchable by
name or Chemical Abstract Number.
Canadian Food Inspection Agency Pesticide Monitoring Data. A database of pesticide residues on fruits, vegetables
and other foods, based on CFIA monitoring in 2004-05. Listed alphabetically for domestic, imported food. Available at:
Prevent Cancer Now. A national coalition aimed at creating a national movement for cancer prevention and ensuring
that more research funding is dircted towards prevention.
Pesticide Free Naturally. A campaign of Green Communities Canada. Information on pesticide elimination, organic
lawn care and more. Go to:
Guide to Less Toxic Products. A website maintained by the Environmental Health Association of Nova Scotia, providing information on getting the least toxic personal care, household and products.
Ban Asbestos Canada. The website for the Ban Asbestos Now campaign in Canada, providing information on asbestos
use in Canada and asbestos-related disease, as well as news and events surrounding the international campaign to ban asbestos. The website for the Environmental Working Group, a leading U.S. environment-health organization, with extensive information on toxic chemicals, including those found in cosmetics.
Greenpeace Guide to Greener Electronics. A regularly updated guide on electronics products.
Environment Canada’s CEPA registry. An introduction to the chemicals listed under the Canadian Environmental
Protection Act as toxic and programs developed to eliminate or restrict their use.
Our Stolen Future. An online continuation of the pioneering work on endocrine disrupters that was begun with publication of the book by the same title. Includes information on new studies and developing science, with references and a
searchable archive.
Collaborative on Health and The Environment. A U.S. website linking human health and the environment. Maintained by John Peterson Myers, one of the authors of Our Stolen Future.
Canadian Association of Physicians on the Environment. The website for a leading Canadian physicians’ organization, with information on toxins, children’s health and climate change.
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CancerSmart is a project of Toxic Free Canada, which
was established in 1998 as the Labour Environmental Alliance Society (LEAS) to bring workers and environmentalists together in cooperative projects to eliminate toxins
in our homes, workplaces, schools and communities.
Much of Toxic Free Canada’s work has been based on
the link between human health and the environment. In
2000, the organization launched its innovative Cleaners,
Toxins and the Ecosystem project to begin reducing the
use of toxic cleaning products in various industrial plants,
recreational facilities, schools and health care facilities.
For more than a decade, Toxic Free Canada researchers
have continued to assist workplace health and safety committees in identifying toxic ingredients, such as carcinogens and reproductive toxins, in cleaning products, and
then worked with those committees to replace products
with safer, non-toxic alternatives that are also easier on
the environment.
In recognition of its work, LEAS-TFC was the recipient of a 2002 Pollution Prevention Award, presented by
the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment.
The effectiveness of the project in reducing exposure to
carcinogens prompted the CancerSmart initiative and a
new focus on toxins in consumer products as well as toxins in the community, including pesticides. The CancerSmart program combines cancer prevention through
reduced exposure to environmental and occupational carcinogens with education about the impact of toxins on
the environment.
CancerSmart materials have been used widely in
schools, integrated health programs, union health and
safety workshops and cancer education. More than
40,000 copies of the three printed editions of the CancerSmart Consumer Guide have been sold across the country.
In 2009, Toxic Free Canada also received funding from
the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation BC-Yukon to
produce a special focus publication on breast cancer, entitled Environmental Exposure: The CancerSmart guide to
breast cancer prevention. The 24-page booklet is also available as a free pdf download from the Toxic Free Canada
CancerSmart 3.1
The CancerSmart Consumer
Guide should be required reading
in every Canadian’s home.
Toronto Star
For those of us who are trying
to figure out which foods and
products are safe and which are
not, help is close at hand in the
form of the CancerSmart
Consumer Guide. The guide
gives consumers easy-to-read
information on carcinogens,
reproductive toxins and
endocrine-disrupting chemicals
found in lawn and garden
pesticides, home cleaning and
home maintenance products ...
and most products with toxic
ingredients, from cleaners to
computers, can be replaced with
safer substitutes that are readily
available in stores.
North Shore News
North Vancouver
Creating healthy environments, preventing cancer
A carcinogen in laundry detergent? Hormonedisrupting chemicals in water bottles? Since it was
first published in 2004, the CancerSmart Consumer
Guide has helped thousands of Canadians identify
the toxic ingredients in their everyday household
products and pointed the way towards safer,
healthier products they can substitute.
CancerSmart 3.1, The Consumer Guide makes the
booklet available for the first time in electronic form.
Revised and updated throughout, CancerSmart 3.1
• an updated cleaning product and pesticides table
• new information on phthalates in children’s products
and cosmetics, toxins in home maintenance products,
and bisphenol-A in cash register receipts
• special focus section on breast cancer
• Internet resources with updated links
A project of Toxic Free Canada