Health Care Perspectives: Common toxins
May 10, 2011
Between the ages of 11 and 17, American children spend nearly two-thirds of their lives inside the home, and one would like to think they are safe there. But are there hazards that people are not aware of? Public health experts say “yes.”
CARBON MONOXIDE: The most immediate, potentially lethal danger in the home environment is carbon monoxide. Early symptoms of poisoning are flu-like headaches, fatigue, nausea, and dizziness, but without the fever.
In too many cases, the first indication is death. That’s why your pediatrician probably asks you routinely whether you have a carbon monoxide detector in the living area of your home.
Carbon monoxide can be emitted from a furnace, gas stove, space heater, dryer or even a poorly functioning wood burning stove or fireplace. Warming up an automobile in an attached garage or nearby driveway can also leak fumes into the house.
Whenever carbon monoxide is suspected in your home, make sure everyone goes outside immediately. And then call your gas company.
LEAD: Lead poisoning builds up in the body over a period of months or years and can be hard to detect until dangerous amounts have been accumulated. But even small amounts can affect nearly every system in the body and cause serious health problems.
Lead-based paint was banned for use in housing in 1978, but it’s safe to assume that any house built before that date has at least some lead-based paint. When this paint deteriorates and flakes, the risk is high, particularly to children under six who are growing rapidly and likely to crawl on the floor and put their hands and other objects in their mouths.
VOLATILE ORGANIC COMPOUNDS (VOCs): You may like the smell of volatile organic compounds, but that doesn’t mean they are good for you. Scented petroleum-based detergents are the most obvious source of VOCs, but they are also present in some paints and in pressed wood and particle board cabinets and other furniture.
If your child has asthma, VOCs can make breathing problems worse. And they increase the risk of cancer and other serious health problems. Protect yourself by choosing unscented laundry products and paint and by avoiding plywood and particle board when buying new furniture.
VINYL, PHTHALATES: Phthalates are “plasticizers.” They are industrial chemicals used to make vinyl softer and more pliable, and they are frequently used for toys, food packaging, hoses, raincoats, shower curtains, vinyl flooring, wall coverings, nail polish, shampoo, hair spray and virtually anything with an artificial fragrance, including candles.
FLAME RETARDANTS: Flame-retardant chemicals delay a fire but cannot really prevent one. On the other hand, they have been linked to a number of health problems such as hormone abnormalities, infertility, thyroid problems and learning disabilities. These chemicals are likely to be found in carpet and carpet padding, furniture foam and electronic equipment.
NON-STICK COOKWARE: Non-stick and stain-resistant cookware products are commonly made with polyfluoroalkyl chemicals that have been linked to infertility, ADHD, high cholesterol and thyroid disease. While these chemicals are usually locked into the surface, they can be released when scratches or chips develop. Cast iron and stainless steel offer many of the same cooking benefits at lower cost, and without the risk.
These are just a few of the hidden hazards that may be lurking in your household. As much as 25 percent of all illness worldwide can be attributed to the environment. For that part of the environment that is inside your home, you can delete some of the dangers by making a few simple choices.