FAQs and Fact Sheets
If you live in Ontario, the government provides a searchable website called Access Environment where you can find copies of approvals issued to companies who release pollutants that can impact the environment. Environmental approvals set out legally enforceable rules of operation. For example, pollution to waterways or from smokestacks require an Environmental Compliance Approval issued under Ontario environmental laws.
You can also review and comment on proposals to issue new approvals, or to amend existing approvals on the Environmental Registry
For information about pollution emissions across the country, (such as toxic substances and criteria air contaminants), you can use the federal government’s National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI). This searchable database includes information that must be reported by companies with high volume emissions on over 300 pollutants. It therefore does not include all facilities but does capture the large ones. You can also use the PollutionWatch website to search for information about pollution in your community. However, the most recent pollution data included on this site is from 2006. For the most recently available information, and different searching options, you will need to consult the NPRI site.
For residents of Toronto, use the ChemTRAC website. ChemTRAC stands for Chemicals in Toronto: Reducation and Awareness in our Community and flows from requirements in Toronto's Environmental Disclosure and Reporting Bylaw.
Last updated September 2012
This answer is excerpted from our longer FAQ about information for tenants facing renovations or energy efficiency upgrades.
Energy Upgrade Programs for Low-Income Ontario Residents
Programs are available for tenants to obtain energy efficiency upgrades. Information about qualifying for these programs is available from the Ontario Energy Board. This OEB guidance on eligibility is the same as what the OEB uses for deciding on eligibility for the Low-Income Emergency Financial Assistance (LEAP) program.
A province-wide effort is rolling out during 2012 to provide energy efficiency upgrades for low-income people in Ontario, including tenants. But, delivery is occurring by LDC’s or Local Delivery Companies. Your LDC could be your gas utility or your local electrical utility.
The following list is not comprehensive but should be a good starting point to find out about local programs:
- For electricity savings, check out the SaveOnEnergy Home Assistance Program. As of June 2012, this program is building but is not yet available across the province. Visit: https://saveonenergy.ca/homeassistance or call the Ontario Power Authority for information about local availability. 1-877-797-7534. See also, this useful FAQs page
- Eligible upgrades are dependent on the type of home, hot water and heating system, as well as the inefficiency of existing appliances and lights. HAP upgrades are provided and installed at no cost to participants.
- Typical upgrades include energy-saving light bulbs, low-flow showerheads, faucet aerators, weather stripping doors and windows, ENERGY STAR appliances (i.e. air conditioner, freezer, dehumidifier, or refrigerator), as well as wall, attic, or basement insulation. GreenSaver has been contracted by many utilities across the province to administer the HAP program.
- This $84 million program expires on December 31st, 2014 or until funds are depleted. To find out more, you can contact a GreenSaver HAP customer service representative at 1-855-591-0877,or HAP@greensaver.org or visit http://www.greensaver.org/programs/current-programs/home-assistance-program/
- For Enbridge Gas customers, programs are being delivered by various local champions. For more information, learn about who can apply, and to obtain an application form, for the following regions visit:
- GTA, York, Peel and Durham Regions – Green$aver website at www.greensaver.org and select Special Programs tab or call 416-203-3106 (1-888-855-3106 toll-free)
- Ottawa Area – EnviroCentre at www.envirocentre.ca or call 613-580-2582, ext. 4
- Niagara Region – Green Venture at www.greenventure.ca or call 1-866-540-8866
- Peterborough Area – Peterborough Green Up at www.greenup.on.ca or call 1-705-745-3238, ext. 202
- Simcoe County – Environment Network at www.environmentnetwork.org or call 1-866-377-0551
- Social housing providers should contact GLOBE (Green Light on a Better Environment), a subsidiary of the Housing Services Corporation (HSC), at www.globeservices.ca or call 1-877-733-7472
- For Union Gas customers, check out their Free Energy Efficiency Upgrade Program
For more information on the above programs and other programs, visit the Energy Assistance page provided by the Low-Income Energy Network
Last updated June 2012
Very young children should not be playing with electronics for two overall reasons – the presence of toxic substances, and their inadequate regulation in consumer products.
Many electronics like cell phones, computers, televisions, etc., are meant to withstand heat from either being plugged in or using batteries. As a result, flame retardant chemicals are incorporated into the often-plastic housings of electronics. A variety of chemicals have been used as flame retardants. Among them the PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers) have been progressively phased out and banned because they are highly toxic. The critical toxic effect, among several, in these regulatory decisions has been developmental neurotoxicity, that is, toxic effects on the developing brain.
Other chemicals of concern in electronics include heavy metals. These metals are generally inside these items and not likely available to children. However, toxic levels of metals will be available if play results in electronics being broken open. Also, any attached electrical cords can contain high levels of lead (3 to 5% or 30,000 to 50,000 parts per million). Again, the lead is used to provide flame resistance properties. Handling of any electrical cords will result in lead on the hands, particularly if hands are sticky. Mouthing cords will also result in lead exposure and such cords are one of the sources of lead in indoor dust.
While PBDEs continue to be phased out, they remain common in electronics, particularly older items. Experts agree that these chemicals are not tightly bound to plastics, foam, and in the many other products in which they have been used. Through normal wear and tear these chemicals are released to the indoor environment and end up mainly in the dust. We also know that indoor dust is the primary exposure pathway for children for PBDEs, lead, and is a source of other toxic substances as well. Alongside dust, handling, and especially mouthing, of electronics will add to a child’s exposure risk. Alternatives to PBDEs are being used to lend flame retardant properties in diverse products. But, where these alternatives are new chemicals, unfortunately the regulatory approach does not require that inherently safer alternatives be used. As a result, concerns about newer chemicals continue to be raised. Regardless, PBDEs will be in older products and are thus very likely to be in the products being used in the manner you describe.
Moreover, lead in electrical cords is routine and this fact alone should be a reason to ensure that children are not able to play with such items if there is a chance they are also playing with or mouthing electrical cords.
There have been recent and long overdue improvements in product safety law in Canada. These changes were prompted by many problems. The most well-known were the hundreds of product recalls affecting literally millions of toys that contained lead and other hazardous substances. The law has been changed to give the federal government new powers such as the power to recall unsafe products.
Regulation-making has continued in the area of children’s products and toys. Notably, this activity is focused specifically on applying various safeguards for products “intended for children.” For example, there have been regulations on the level of lead in various products including children’s jewellery, toys for children under three, and a regulatory proposal (early 2012) to extend this age range. As well, recent regulations have banned phthalates in toys for children.
The important point to recognize here is that such safeguards are in place for chemical exposures in products “intended for children.” For electronics, no such consideration is given and the normal use of such products is not anticipated to include mouthing or other play by children.
It is better to be safe than sorry. We know that many different toxic substances are found in indoor dust and that electronics are among the many products responsible for this situation. While children love to play with items that are important to their parents, it would be far better in this situation to create toy versions of such items out of safe materials intended for use and play by children. For more information on this and other issues related to child health and the environment, please see the CPCHE website at www.healthyenvironmentforkids.ca
Last updated May 2011
We mean making sure that home renovations or energy retrofits or upgrades don’t put your health and especially children’s health at risk. While home repairs or energy upgrades can make homes more comfortable, reduce energy bills, and help protect the environment, they can also be a source of toxic substances.
CELA is the lead partner in a project with the Canadian Partnership for Children’s Health and Environment that has researched this issue (see our Healthy Retrofits report) and developed educational materials for families, tenants, contractors and do-it-yourselfers. Simple steps can be taken to make sure home upgrade projects are child healthy.
Last updated June 2012
Talk to your child’s doctor about your concerns. If your child is not meeting the expected milestones in development for motor skills, speech, or social behaviour, or has low energy, then your doctor can discuss options with you. For example, tests can show lead levels and then detoxification treatments can be helpful, if needed. Some examples of developmental milestones include the following. By 18 months of age, your child should be able to:
- Point to several body parts when asked.
- Point to a picture using one finger.
- Use at least 20 words consistently.
- Demonstrate some pretend play with toys.
- Enjoy being read to and sharing simple books with you.
- Respond with words or gestures to simple questions.
- Show affection for people, pets, or toys.
- Walk on their own.
If you do not have a family doctor, or even if you do, your local public health department may have services available for you. For example, in Toronto if you have concerns about your child's speech and language development at any age from 0-4 years, call Toronto Preschool Speech and Language Services: 416-338-8255 (www.tpsls.on.ca) or if you have questions about your child's overall development, call Toronto Health Connection: 416-338-7600 (services are free and assistance is available in different languages).
Have a look around your home to see if there might be any contaminants remaining from the renovation work. For example, if you still have carpeting that was in place when renovations were done, consider replacing it with hard flooring. See related FAQ about product choices.
If recent renovations did not control for dust, do a thorough cleaning now following our dustbusting recommendations. Simple steps make a big difference: make sure your child washes his or her hands often, especially before eating.
Last updated June 2012
If you think there might be asbestos in your home, do not try to remove it yourself. You need professional help from people trained to handle this product safely. Look up “Asbestos Abatement and Removal” on-line or in the phone book.
Asbestos is a fibrous, durable, and heat-resistant mineral that was widely used in building products until the early 1980s. It was also a contaminant in vermiculite insulation until the early 1990s.
As a result, asbestos-containing products may be in Canadian homes built or renovated between the 1930s and the early 1980s. These products included ceiling tiles, vinyl flooring, textured paints, exterior fireproof shingles and siding, and wrapping or taping on stoves, furnaces, heating ducts and pipes. Asbestos fibres are also found in vermiculite insulation manufactured until 1990.
Asbestos is a carcinogen linked to lung cancer and other diseases. No safe level of asbestos has been established.
For more information see our series of FAQs on asbestos for a more detailed perspective from CELA on this issue.
Last updated June 2012
There is a growing demand for lower-risk or no-risk building materials as well as those that are “green” and “energy efficient.” However, many factors come into play in making such choices such as the source materials, energy inputs during manufacture, the potential for release of toxic substances during and after installation, among many others.
Guides and rating systems are being developed and can be found on-line. One example is The Pharos Project (www.pharosproject.net) that screens and ranks materials according to their impacts. It excludes building products from its approved list if they contain certain toxic substances.
During routine renovation and retrofit projects there can sometimes be no alternative to using products that contain toxic substances such as solvents or caulking that have strong odours. For containers with hazard symbols and warnings be sure to read the labels and carefully follow use and disposal instructions.
Some general guidelines when you are thinking about products to use in your home renovations and repairs:
- Choose hard flooring instead of carpeting. Hard flooring, such as wood, linoleum, vinyl, laminate, or tile, is easier to clean and to keep dust-free.
- Choose factory-finished wood instead of wood that has to be finished after it is installed in your home to reduce the release of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs).
- Choose low VOC or VOC-free paints.
- Compare products and seek those with the least hazard symbols or no hazard symbols at all. Products marked with the symbol for “corrosive” and the symbol for “poison” are the most likely to release toxic fumes when used.
Whatever products you choose to use, always seal containers well and keep them in a locked cupboard out of the reach of children. And read the label instructions every time you use or re-use the product.
Last updated June 2012
You are right to be thinking about this. Ask potential contractors how they plan to manage the dust and fumes created during the work. You can include in the contract the measures that the contractor plans to use so that everyone is clear on your expectations.
You may also want to ask them to consult the www.renovate-right.ca website to get more information. For starters, they can obtain CPCHE's Renovate Right brochure (available in six languages).
Last updated June 2012
You are right to be thinking about stopping renovation dust from getting into the rest of your home. The dust produced during renovation work contains contaminants that are harmful to human health, especially to young children and to a fetus. That’s why the best advice is for pregnant women and children to stay away from home when renovations are being done, unless the work area can be completely and effectively sealed off.
Renovation work is best done when the weather is warm enough that you don’t have to use your heating system and when any air conditioning system is turned off. This will help to keep dust in the work area. Ways to seal off the work area:
- Close all doors to rooms not being renovated.
- Hang plastic sheets across the doorway of the area being renovated. You will need three sheets of strong plastic with each sheet long enough to go from the top of the door to the floor. Tape one sheet of plastic to the side of the door frame and along the top. Tape another sheet on the other side so that the two sheets meet creating an opening. Tape the third sheet across the top of the door frame covering the other two sheets without taping either side. This arrangement keeps most of the dust in the room and provides an entrance way. Check the tape often and reapply more tape if the seal gets broken.
- Cover any heating or air vents with wood, strong plastic, or cardboard that you tape down. This will prevent dust from getting into your heating/air conditioning system and getting blown into your house when the system is turned back on. Check the seal often as dust can get under the tape and loosen the seal. Add more tape as needed.
Other ways to control dust:
- In addition to ongoing dust control, create negative pressure in a room by putting a fan by or in an open window in the sealed-off work area to blow fumes and any remaining airborne dust outside.
- Cover and seal off any furniture or carpeting left in the work area. Use only clean, disposable covers for furniture. Clean up regularly. When the work is finished remove the furniture covers carefully and dispose of them in a sealed plastic bag.
- Take debris away from the work area in a covered bucket.
- Leave work boots, coveralls, and hats inside the work area. Or put covers on boots when leaving the work area before passing through other parts of the house.
- Put mops, brooms, rags, etc. in a plastic bag when taking them out of the work area so that they do not release dust on their way to being cleaned or thrown out.
Get more dustbusting tips at www.renovate-right.ca
Last updated June 2012
Mould is one of the most common indoor air quality concerns. It can trigger asthma and other allergy-like symptoms including wheezing and itchy eyes and throat. It can be a very serious problem for children.
Mould grows when moisture is trapped and there is not enough ventilation.
If you find mould the most important step is to find the source, or sources, of moisture and eliminate them. Otherwise, mould will just return after clean-up.
For small mould problems less than about 3 square feet or 100 square centimetres, you can clean it yourself. Larger mould problems will need professional help.
To clean up smaller areas of mould, wear rubber gloves, goggles and a facemask or respirator. If you have respiratory health problems, consult your doctor before cleaning up mould. Use detergent and water. Clean up the mould and let it dry completely. Use of bleach or other biocides is not recommended as they can be hazardous to you and are also ineffective over the long term. If there is mould on porous materials like ceiling tiles, wallboard, or carpeting, these materials should be removed and replaced.
For larger jobs, get professional help.
For more information, two Technical Committees with the American Industrial Hygiene Association have created an 8-page brochure that includes frequently asked questions and links to more detailed resources for homeowners and professionals dealing with mould issues. See also on-line resources from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation
Last updated June 2012
Your everyday home vacuum cleaner should not be used to clean up the dust and debris produced during home renovation work. The contaminants in the dust you vacuum up can be blown out into other parts of your home the next time you use your vacuum. Your best options are to:
- Use a wet/dry vacuum that includes a filter and bag able to catching fine particles. If you don’t have one you can rent one and purchase the filter and bags at a hardware store.
- Use a sweeping compound (available at hardware or building supply stores) that makes it easier and safer to sweep up dust.
- Use a damp mop or damp rags to clean up the dust. Clean the mop well after use. Throw out the rags.
If you are cleaning up a small area or job and only have your home vacuum, an option is to put a damp cloth over the vacuum exhaust to reduce the amount of fine dust that is blown into the air in your home. After this use, empty the bag and throw out the cloth.
Clean up will be easier when you take everything you can out of the work area and use tarps or drop cloths to cover any remaining furniture and carpets. Controlling dust during home repair work is really important to minimize the health risks.
Last updated June 2012
Lead is a toxic substance that is dangerous at very low levels. It is linked to impacts on the developing brain that can cause learning challenges, lower IQ, and behavioural problems such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and increased aggression.
Since 1991 the lead content in paint has been greatly reduced. It is safest to assume there is lead in paint in your home if it was built before 1991.
The level of risk from lead is greater in homes built before 1978. The older the house, the more lead the paint will contain. For example, paint from before 1960 may contain up to 50% lead, a level that will create extremely dangerous levels of lead in dust if such paint is disturbed.
Lead was used to make paint more durable. Hence, paint with a high lead content was used on exterior surfaces especially on porches, railings and windows and indoors on “high-traffic” areas or those needing to be frequently wiped down such as window sills and trim baseboards, door frames, radiators, and throughout kitchens and bathrooms. Good information is available to deal safely with lead paint.
Last updated June 2012
Even though it is a very common thing to fix up the baby’s room when you are expecting, we actually recommend that you avoid all home renovation work when you are pregnant. You already know that your developing fetus is at risk if you smoke, drink alcohol, or take drugs. Likewise, toxic substances in the environment like lead or solvents also create health risks for a developing fetus. These and other toxic substances can occur at very high levels during home renovation and repair activities, especially in older pre-1990 homes.
- Renovations and repair work can create dust containing high levels of lead. Other toxic substances in airborne or settled dust may include asbestos, PCBs, and toxic flame retardants.
- New building materials, insulation, paints, caulking, and sealants may give off Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). VOCs often have a strong chemical smell. Some VOCs, such as formaldehyde, are very toxic, and many others can have harmful health effects.
- Normal house dust is already a key source of exposure for children to toxic substances. Renovation and repair activities, especially in pre-1990 homes, can greatly increase levels of toxic substances in dust.
Ask yourself if the work is really necessary or let someone else to do it. Stay away while the work is going on, and make sure your home has been well aired-out and is as dust-free as possible before you come back. Be sure that the person doing the work follows best practices (see more information at the www.renovate-right.ca webpage on the CPCHE website).
Last updated June 2012
Yes! Radon is a naturally occurring colourless, odourless gas that comes from the natural breakdown of uranium in soil, rock, and water. It can enter your home through cracks or gaps on the lower floor, basement, or crawlspace such as openings for basement windows, pipes, sump pumps, or cracks in the basement floor or foundation.
Radon is found all over Canada at varying levels. Health Canada and the Canadian Lung Association recommend that everyone test their home for radon since your radon level could be quite different than in other parts of the country or even in your neighbour’s house. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer. Your risk of lung cancer is even greater if you are exposed to high levels of radon and you smoke or are exposed to second hand smoke.
Energy retrofits and some home renovation work will seal a home more tightly to reduce energy loss. Also, some energy efficiency work, such as installing ventilation fans, may create negative pressure in a home and can draw radon into the home from the surrounding soil. Even if you have already checked your home for radon, it is a good idea to check radon levels after energy retrofit work has been completed.
Testing your home for radon is easy. Buy a radon test kit at a hardware or home improvement store or on-line. Be sure to buy a kit that does a long term test (over several weeks not several days) for the most accurate results. Do the test between October and April. You can also order a test kit from provincial branches of the Lung Association of Canada. They will also send you helpful educational materials.
Take the Lung Association Radon Quiz
Last updated June 2012
All forms of asbestos are considered carcinogenic, and no safe minimum level of exposure to any form of asbestos has been identified. CELA does not support the Canadian asbestos policy of ‘controlled –use’ or ‘safe use’. As a result, CELA believes Canada should ban the use of asbestos within products and the export of all forms asbestos, for which we advocate as a member organization of Ban Asbestos Canada.
CELA also supports the establishment of a national registry for Canadians suffering from asbestos-related diseases in order to ensure they have access to all relevant information and receive due compensation, if eligible.
- For more information on asbestos and CELA's perspective on asbestos law (provinvial, national, and international) download the Asbestos FAQs. (également disponible en français)
Last updated January 2012
Yes, for the most part.
Based on monitoring results collected by the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, municipally treated drinking water usually meets Ontario’s drinking water quality standards. However, there continue to be communities in Ontario and across Canada that are subject to boil water advisories.
Communities in Ontario have learned not to be complacent about drinking water. In May 2000 the province’s drinking water became the focus of intense concern when seven people from the town of Walkerton died, and more than 2,300 others became ill from drinking contaminated water. This tragedy underlined the importance of protecting public health against the risks of unsafe drinking water, and led to a public inquiry conducted by Mr. Justice Dennis O'Connor and the subsequent development of provincial legislation intended to ensure drinking water safety, such as the Safe Drinking Water Act, 2002, and its Regulations, the Nutrient Management Act, 2002, and the Clean Water Act, 2006.
For an in depth collection of Frequently Asked Questions on the Safe Drinking Water Act, 2002 and its Regulations, see: http://www.cela.ca/publications/faqs-safe-drinking-water-act-2002-and-its-regulations
For other publications about the Safe Drinking Water Act, see: http://www.cela.ca/collections/water/safe-drinking-water-act
For information about Ontario source water protection and the Clean Water Act, see: http://www.cela.ca/collections/water/source-water-protection
For detailed information about the Nutrient Management Act, see: http://www.cela.ca/collections/water/nutrient-management-protecting-water-resources-manure-and-biosolids
Last updated October 2012
The Ontario Safe Drinking Water Act, 2002 (SDWA) and its regulations comprise one of four legislative changes recommended in the Report of the Walkerton Inquiry. While the SDWA is an important part of the overall protection framework, the Inquiry also recommended legislation to address source protection (e.g. Clean Water Act, 2006), agricultural issues (e.g. Nutrient Management Act, 2002), and financing water systems (e.g. Water Opportunities and Water Conservation Act, 2010).
The SDWA addresses the treatment and distribution of drinking water in Ontario, its main features include:
- drinking-water quality standards,
- licensing for water-testing laboratories,
- approvals process for private water supply systems,
- duties on owners,
- operating authorities and laboratories to immediately report adverse water tests,
- enforcement mechanisms, and
- an annual drinking-water report published by the Environment Minister.
The SDWA also establishes the Advisory Council on Drinking-water Quality and Testing Standards, to consider issues and provide recommendations relating to standards for drinking-water quality and testing in Ontario.
Regulations enacted under the SDWA include the:
- Ontario Drinking Water Quality Standards Regulation (O. Reg. 169/03),
- Drinking Water Systems Regulation (O. Reg. 170/03) as amended,
- Compliance & Enforcement (O. Reg. 242/05),
- Drinking Water Testing Services Regulation (O. Reg. 248/03),
- Certification of Drinking-water System Operators & Water Quality Analysts (O. Reg. 128/04),
- Schools, Private Schools & Day Nurseries (O. Reg. 243/07) and its lead standard amendment (O.Reg. 417/09),
- Financial Plans Regulation (O. Reg. 453.07), and the
- Licensing of Municipal Drinking Water Systems (O. Reg. 188/07).
For an in depth collection of frequently asked questions on the Safe Drinking Water Act, 2002 and its Regulations, see: http://www.cela.ca/publications/faqs-safe-drinking-water-act-2002-and-its-regulations
Last updated October 2012
No, not in our opinion. Bill C-36 was awaiting final proclamation before the May 2, 2011 federal election. It will likely be passed into law during the new Parliament. It will replace a major portion of the Hazardous Products Act, a law that has not been modernized since it was first enacted in the late 1960s. New powers in Bill C-36 include the ability to legally require the recall of unsafe products. The bill also updates and clarifies powers that already exist for Health Canada inspectors. For example, inspectors already have the authority to enter and inspect, without a warrant, a place where regulated business-related activities occur, such as consumer product manufacturing. This inspection power, including the updated powers provided for in Bill C-36 is typical of many provincial and federal statutes. Bill C-36 does not add new or extraordinary powers to inspectors. Where a regulated business occurs in a private home, Bill C-36 requires that the inspector obtain the owner's consent or, where this consent is refused, the inspector must first obtain a warrant to conduct an inspection. Bill C-36 also contains specific language noting that, "for greater certainty, this Act does not apply to natural health products as defined in subsection 1(1) of the Natural Health Products Regulations made under the Food and Drugs Act." In summary, we have reviewed Bill C-36 and many other pieces of legislation and regulations and we do not agree that the constitutional or legal rights of consumers or manufacturers are under attack by this bill.
Last updated June 2011
ANSWER: No. Compensation obligations only arise if a municipality or source protection authority exercises its expropriation powers to implement an approved Source Protection Plan pursuant to section 92 of the Clean Water Act, 2006.
The overall purpose of Ontario’s Clean Water Act, 2006 (“CWA”) is to protect existing and future sources of drinking water against “drinking water threats.” “Drinking water threat” is defined... download two page fact sheet below.
Last updated April 2008
ANSWER: Terms of Reference are locally drafted “work plans” to direct the source protection planning process now underway in Source Protection Areas and Regions across Ontario. The mandatory content requirements for Terms of Reference are largely prescribed by regulation. There are key opportunities for public review and comment upon proposed Terms of Reference before these documents are approved by the Minister of the Environment.
Background: The overall purpose of Ontario’s Clean Water Act, 2006 (“CWA”) is to protect existing and future sources of... download 4 page fact sheet below.
Last updated May 2008