EHANS to research building materials
for the chemically sensitive

UPdate Fall 2007

The Environmental Health Association of Nova Scotia (EHANS) has received a grant from the Chebucto West Community Health Board to research tolerable building materials for people with chemical sensitivity and where these materials can be purchased in HRM.

The central goal of Home Safe Home: Identifying Tolerable Building Materials for the Chemically Sensitive is to assist people who are chemically sensitive to create and maintain a safe home environment.

EHANS frequently receives questions from chemically sensitive people who want to know what materials they may be able to tolerate to make repairs or renovations in their homes. “A safe physical environment at home is a crucial foundation for physical and mental health for people who are chemically sensitive,” says Barb Harris, project coordinator.

Most physicians familiar with chemical sensitivity believe that people who are chemically sensitive cannot begin to improve their health until they can find or create a healthy home. The home environment is at risk each time that repairs or renovations need to be done, because most materials on the market contain toxic chemicals which trigger reactions.

Labels on paint, caulking, glue, sealant and other materials do not reveal ingredient information. Chemicals in these products may off-gas into the home environment for weeks, months or even years. The result can be long periods of increased illness involving both physical and emotional symptoms. In some cases, homelessness is the result.

Most people who are chemically sensitive are low income. Many have lost jobs or careers due to their illness. Most rent their accommodations. One aim of the project is to provide chemically sensitive tenants with a list of potentially tolerable materials which they can show to their landlords. This will help to reinforce the fact that chemically sensitive tenants have a recognized illness which requires special accommodation. Hopefully, one outcome of the project will be to increase landlords’ willingness to use materials which chemically sensitive tenants can tolerate.

Homeowners need this information as well. Locating the least harmful, most tolerable materials is a complex and time consuming process.

By helping the chemically sensitive population to create and maintain safe home environments, EHANS hopes the project will improve both physical and mental health. “The fear that at any time something in your home may break and the materials used to fix it could destroy what little health and security you have is a major cause of anxiety and despair for people with chemical sensitivity,” Harris says.

Physical environment is one of the 7 major determinants of health recognized by international health organizations. For the chemically sensitive, it is a central foundation of health. Households where individuals have asthma, chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia also need to use healthier building materials to reduce or avoid illness. Use of healthy building materials is also a preventative health issue for the entire population.

Information gathered through the project will be made available through a new Special Needs section of EHANS’ popular Guide to Less Toxic Products at