Environmental Defence is urging mandatory disclosure of toxic product ingredients, publication of long promised federal regulations
Toronto, ON – A new report has found that popular cleaning products can cause indoor air pollution that is linked to respiratory illnesses such as asthma and that pose a threat to the development of unborn babies. Released today, The Dirty Truth: How toxic cleaning products are putting Canadians at risk is the first study conducted in Canadians’ homes that shows the impact of cleaning products on volatile organic compound (VOC) levels in indoor air.
“When Canadians are cleaning their homes, they should only be concerned about fighting grime, not fighting for their health,” said Maggie MacDonald, toxics program manager with Environmental Defence. “Canadians spend 90 per cent of their time indoors, so indoor air quality is extremely important. It’s time for government and industry to take strong action and protect human health by cleaning up these products.”
For the Environmental Defence study, 14 volunteers from Toronto, Montreal and Cobalt, ON cleaned their kitchens for 30 minutes, using either popular conventional cleaning products, certified green products or products with unverifiable green claims. The air in the homes was tested the day before the experiment, and again during the cleaning, to compare samples.
The first-of-its-kind research found that VOC levels went up in all the households due to the use of cleaning products, with a stark difference between the conventional and green products:

After the cleaning, the air quality in 12 of the 14 tested households exceeded the German standard for indoor VOC levels (no Canadian standard exists).
For eight households, air quality went from decent to poor during the cleaning. VOC increases for conventional products were three times higher compared to the green products.

For the nine homes where conventional cleaners were used, total VOCs increased by an average of 120 per cent.
For the three homes cleaned with certified green products, the increase averaged 35 per cent.
For the two homes cleaned with products with unverifiable green claims (ingredients not disclosed on labels), the increase in total VOCs averaged 100 per cent.

VOCs are a large group of carbon-based chemicals that evaporate at room temperature. Elevated VOC levels have been linked to long-term health effects, especially in children.
“During and after the cleaning there was a strong odour in the room and it bothered me,” said Shaun, a Toronto resident and one of the volunteers who participated in the experiment using the conventional products. “I’m surprised to see such a big increase in VOCs. I won’t be using those products again.”
“Consumers have the right to know what chemicals are in the products they buy,” said MacDonald. “It’s time for the government to end the guessing game by making full ingredient disclosure mandatory on product labels. We are also calling on the federal government to stop its foot-dragging and publish promised regulations for consumer product VOC concentration limits.”
Environmental Defence, the organization that successfully advocated for the ban of bisphenol A (BPA) in baby bottles and phthalates in toys, is urging provincial and federal regulators to introduce full mandatory on-label ingredient disclosure, including fragrance ingredients. When carcinogens or reproductive toxicants are present, consumer products should carry additional warning labels.
Last year, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne promised to “provide Ontarians with better information about chemicals linked with cancer.” Environmental Defence is calling on Ontario’s government to make good on their promise through stronger labelling rules.
Promised regulations for VOC concentration limits in certain consumer products, including cleaning products, have been delayed by the federal government for undisclosed reasons. Environmental Defence is calling on the federal government to publish these regulations without further delay.
The Environmental Defence report The Dirty Truth: How toxic cleaning products are putting Canadians at risk can be downloaded at environmentaldefence.ca/dirtytruth.
About ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENCE (environmentaldefence.ca): Environmental Defence is Canada’s most effective environmental action organization. We challenge, and inspire change in government, business and people to ensure a greener, healthier and prosperous life for all.
For more information or to arrange an interview please contact:
Tim Ehlich, Environmental Defence, 416-323-9521 ext. 223; 647-468-3641 (cell); tehlich@environmentaldefence.ca
Jen Mayville, Environmental Defence, 416-323-9521 ext. 228; 905-330-0172 (cell); jmayville@environmentaldefence.ca