We’d never think that our homes could potentially be hazardous – We do the best to ensure that our family and loved ones are safe and sound at all times, but often the dangers are not visible and lurk where we cannot see them. Some of what you are about to read may be of no surprise to you at all, but I’ll bet you will discover things in your own home that you had no idea were even remotely dangerous. As I walk you through potential dangers, I will also offer suggestions as to how they can be remedied.
While the paint on our walls can transform a blah space into one that is nothing short of spectacular, we must advise you that your spectacular space could potentially be harmful to your health, and more specifically to the health of your children. If you live in an older home (built or painted before the 1970s) there is likely to be lead-based paint lurking in your walls. Lead, a highly toxic substance when ingested, was banned from paint in 1978 when it became apparent that children were suffering from lead poisoning which gravely affects brain development. There are still, today, a high number of cases of toxic lead poisoning in young children. The preeminent cause is household paint.
Paint, over time, whether naturally or from general wear and tear, chips and peels from walls. These paint chips and particles infiltrate the air and land on surfaces where children walk, play and crawl. These particles or chips end up on little hands and fingers which always end up in children’s mouths. Lead poisoning is a serious matter. If you do live in an older home it is best to test your paint – even through layers, a professional or a home testing kit which is available at your local hardware store – will indicate whether lead paint is present. If it is, please do not take matters into your own hands. Hire a qualified professional to remove all the paint in your home. This is a laborious and time intensive project, but it is a critical one.
When repainting your home, whether or not your home does indeed contain lead based paint, do opt for a low or no VOC paint. VOCs (Volatile Organic Compound) as described by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) “are emitted as gases from certain solids or liquids. VOCs include a variety of chemicals, some of which may have short- and long-term adverse health effects. Concentrations of many VOCs are consistently higher indoors (up to ten times higher) than outdoors. VOCs are emitted by a wide array of products numbering in the thousands. Examples include: paints and lacquers, paint strippers, cleaning supplies, pesticides, building materials and furnishings, office equipment such as copiers and printers, correction fluids and carbonless copy paper, graphics and craft materials including glues and adhesives, permanent markers, and photographic solutions.” It is therefore imperative that we eliminate VOCs wherever we can. And this includes paint. All top paint manufacturers currently make a no or low VOC paint.
Mold can lurk anywhere especially in those rooms that tend to harbor moisture and humidity such as bathrooms and basements. Mold can cause serious health problems such as allergies and asthma, and when present in a building too long, can cause “sick building syndrome.” The best thing to do is to try to prevent mold from forming by eliminating the moisture in the air. In the bathroom always run a fan or turn on the overhead vent to keep the room as dry as possible.
If needed purchase a dehumidifier and keep one in the basement. Check for leaks in plumbing, air ducts and in the roof. Even the smallest amount of water can cause mold to form and grow in the most unexpected of places. You may want to hire a professional to check your roof and ducts regularly. Bleach kills and prevents the growth of mold spores, so should you see mold start to grow inside your home, in your bathroom or basement, you can easily treat it yourself.
Despite the Clean Water Act, toxins still infiltrate our water systems with everything from discarded pharmaceuticals to radioactive toxins! Older homes may have lead based pipes. The solution to this is not all that difficult. A water filtration system can be added to your water tank or your faucet. You can purchase free-standing models or a pitcher for your refrigerator. Another way to rid the toxins from your water is to run your faucet for 1 minute prior to using the water. The EPA suggests that you flush your pipes before drinking, and only use cold water for cooking and drinking. The longer your water has been sitting in your home’s pipes, the more lead it may contain. They also suggest to flush your cold water pipes if your faucet has not been used for six hours or longer. While we want to rid our water of these chemicals and toxins, we still need to conserve our water.
Showering, running the dishwasher or the washing machine will also flush the pipes. After this type of heavy water use, make sure you also flush the tap that you will use for drinking or cooking by running the water to clear the rest of the home plumbing to that tap. Furthermore it is important to use only water from the cold-water tap for drinking, cooking, and especially for making baby formula as hot water is likely to contain higher levels of lead. If you opt to use bottled water for drinking water, it is important that you also increase your fluoride intake. Tap water is high in fluoride while bottled water has none. Among children who drank mostly or predominantly bottled water, there was a significant increase in tooth decay compared to those children who drank filtered tap water.
Not only can carpets be a tripping hazard, when not properly tacked down, but they are saturated with chemicals. I bet you never really paid attention to that. Carpets are also havens to dust mites, dander and dirt. It’s important to clean your carpet regularly with a high efficiency vacuum or have it professionally cleaned by an environmentally-friendly cleaning service to ensure that no additional chemicals and toxins are deposited onto your rug. If you plan on replacing your old carpeting, think about replacing it with one made from natural fibers and toxin-free glue. Hardwood floors are a better option but they are not ideal for families with the very young or the elderly.
In the US alone there are over 76 million cases of food borne illnesses a year. These occur mostly because foods are not stored or handled properly. It is imperative that you clean your refrigerator regularly. Make sure all your items are well organized and well marked. Check for expiration dates, bruising and other signs of aged food often. A well organized fridge is a safe one. Keep all raw meats well sealed in plastic and away from produce and cooked meat. Make sure that all your fruits and vegetables are well washed before consumption, not only to eliminate pesticides but to remove any traces of e-coli or salmonella. Make sure your refrigerator is cold enough so that food doesn’t turn and know that a full fridge is actually a more energy efficient one.
Flame retardant chemicals are added to material used on furniture and are highly toxic. These toxins will rub off onto skin and clothing and permeate the air in household dust. When these toxins find their way onto our hands they enter our bodies. The best solution is to buy green, but this is not always possible and the best thing you can do for your own health is to vacuum your furniture regularly to remove these toxins.
Shower curtains and wallpaper
Shower curtains, vinyl blinds and wallpaper contain something called phathalates, which are chemicals used to enhance plastic’s flexibility. These toxins are also found in detergents that have “fragrance” in them. This chemical affects the body’s hormone system and is linked to asthma and allergies. When possible use metal, glass, ceramic and wood products in lieu of the plastic. In the case of shower curtains, where there is no substitute, bring new shower curtains outdoors for a day or two before use.
Pots and Pans
Your non-stick cookware may be easier to cook on and wash but the chemicals found in these pots and pans contain PFCs (Perfluorinated chemicals) that have potential effects on both pre- and postnatal growth. It has been documented in the Journal of the American Medical Association that exposure to these chemicals can contribute to obesity and diabetes. Exposure to these chemicals is associated with impaired hormonal growth. Consider replacing your non-stick pans with stainless steel or cast iron. Do not place non-stick pans in ovens with temperatures exceeding 500 degrees. Use your exhaust fan whenever you cook.
Carbon monoxide is a naturally occurring, odorless, toxic substance emitted when organic fossil fuel is being burned without proper ventilation. Space heaters, gas water heaters, natural gas furnaces, fireplaces, wood burning stoves, automobile exhaust and tobacco smoke all produce carbon monoxide. It’s imperative that you outfit your home with working carbon monoxide detectors. There should be one on every living level as well as in the basement. Your detectors should be tested once a year and batteries checked and replaced regularly. Plants naturally remove airborne toxins from our homes. Healthwise states that the following plants are most effective in removing toxins and improving air quality in your your home: Peace lily, dracaena, chrysanthemum, bamboo palm, golden pothos, English ivy, Chinese evergreen, Areca palm and the rubber plant.
Pests such as termites hide deep within your home’s walls and may be present for months or years before they even get noticed. There are signs to look out for that may indicate a problem. You may notice that your wood is buckling, swelling or rotting. You may notice piles of sand, dirt or dust piled up near a wall or on the floor. You may see an actual hole in the wall. If you suspect that your home has termites you will need to hire an inspector. Termites are never alone, and like bees and ants, live and work in colonies. They can be highly destructive. A qualified inspector will confirm and kill the termite colony and maintain your property to ensure that termites do not reappear.