Health risks in the environment are not simply an “outdoor” problem. Air quality, chemicals, noise and pests are also present in indoor environments, including homes. Most Manitobans spend a large percentage of their time indoors, especially over the winter months, where they can be exposed to a variety of things that can be harmful to health. It is important to stay informed about the potential health risks when indoors, and to take steps to maintain a healthy indoor environment for you and your family.
Moulds are fungi that grow in damp environments. Their spores contain allergens and irritants that can be harmful to health. People living in homes where mould grows are more likely to suffer from health problems such as coughing, wheezing and headaches. People with existing health conditions such as asthma may be at greater risk.
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Asbestos is the generic name for fibrous minerals found naturally in rock formations around the world. Because asbestos fibres are strong, durable and non-combustible, they were widely used by industry, mainly in construction and friction materials.
When inhaled in significant quantities, and over extended periods of time, exposure to asbestos can cause asbestosis (a scarring of the lungs which makes breathing difficult), mesothelioma (a rare cancer of the lining of the chest or abdominal cavity) and other types of lung cancer.
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Radon is a colourless, odourless radioactive gas that exists naturally in the environment. Since radon is a gas, it can easily move through the soil, allowing it to enter the air we breathe. Outdoors, radon gas exposure is not a concern because gas levels are diluted quickly by the circulating air.
However, when radon enters homes and buildings, it can accumulate to levels that may pose a risk to health. Exposure to high levels of radon appears to increase the risk of developing lung cancer, especially in smokers. Health Canada recommends that the average annual level of radon in the air in a home in a normal living area should be 200 Bq/m3 or less to reduce the risk of lung cancer.
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Carbon monoxide is a colourless, odourless toxic gas. Each year numerous people die, are hospitalized or become ill as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning. Installing CO detectors in your home, and ensuring proper maintenance for fuel burning equipment such as furnaces, water heater/boilers, stoves and other appliances that run on fuels such as wood, oil, propane or natural gas can help prevent poisoning from this gas.
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Indoor air quality in ice arenas can be a health concern. The operation of machinery and equipment produces exhaust gases and combustion products, including carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide. Inadequate ventilation can allow exhaust gases to collect indoors, and make people sick.
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Research shows that secondhand smoke leads to the same health problems as direct smoking, including lung cancer, cardiovascular disease and lung ailments such as emphysema, bronchitis and asthma.
The best way to protect your family from second-hand smoke at home is not to allow the smoking of cigarettes, cigars or pipes in your residence or car.
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Lead is a heavy, soft bluish-grey metal that occurs naturally in the earth’s crust. Lead is used in the manufacture of many consumer products such as pipes, sheeting, and as filler in the automobile body industry. It can be found throughout the environment in soil, indoor and outdoor air, water, consumer products and food, and can enter living organisms by means of eating, breathing or by absorption through the skin. Although it occurs naturally, significant concentrations of lead, can pose a health risk. Children and the developing fetus may be at risk at much lower levels.
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Many Canadians use household chemical products, such as: cleaning liquids and powders, polishes, drain cleaners, paint and paint thinners, and windshield washer fluid. These products may present health risks when people are unintentionally exposed to the contents. The biggest risk is to young children who do not understand the hazards.
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Based on evidence and the consensus of leading health experts, the World Health Organization (WHO) has published a list of insects and rodents that it considers of to be of public health significance. These pests have the potential to transmit disease if uncontrolled. Please see the 2008 report entitled Public Health Significance of Urban Pests . Some of the pests to watch for in indoor environments in Manitoba include:
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Manitoba Health, Seniors and Active Living
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Winnipeg MB R3B 3M9