Poisons you may have lying around your home


Q: A lady’s husband was very ill, so she eliminated or removed every toxic product in their household – bleach, harsh cleaners, tin cans of food, anything perfumed, etc.  What are the things in our homes that might be harmful or toxic?

A: There is a list of things that maybe your home, car, workplace, or anyplace else you may want to visit. Most of these things we assume are harmless because they are, in fact, things we encounter everyday. If they do not emit fumes, flames, or radiation, we may not perceive them as harmful.  Let’s look at some of the things you encounter every day that can bite you.

Formaldehyde is a known cause of cancer according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). It evaporates from plastic, seat cushions, glue, carpet, and carpet pads.  It may be in such trace amounts that you don’t smell it.

Lead can ruin your brain and kidneys, elevate your blood pressure, and depress blood cell and reproductive cell production.  A lot of lead has been taken out of the environment, but it will be in paint in older houses. Something we don’t think about much is that lead will be found in the dirt near major highways. It comes out of the exhaust of vehicles.

Everyone likes that “new car smell.” It is exciting because it means you have a new toy—and a new coupon book for your monthly bill. It may also mean that you are breathing vinyl chloride that can damage your liver. Open your new windows and run your new air conditioner in your new car.  Getting a new car is easier and more fun than getting a new liver.

If you are old enough to remember the decade of the 60s, you may recall that some people sniffed glue to get high. While they may have looked very happy, they were suffering significant brain damage. Some glues were actually taken off the market or restricted to adults keep kids from getting them. I remember this well, not because I sniffed it, but because I assembled model airplanes from plastic kits using a glue containing toluene. It has a very sweet, innocent, clean aroma. It goes right through your cell membranes and is a known carcinogen. It has close cousins in benzene and xylene, and you may find any of these in your home. Look at the labels of anything you use that is a cleaner or solvent.

While we are on Memory Lane, I remember seeing my Dad use chlordane, a white powder insecticide. It has been banned for about 20 years. Despite that, it may show up in older houses where it may have been sprayed or aerosolized in the crawlspace underneath you.

I have one more with which I have had personal experience. My wife and I live in a home built in 1948. Our downstairs furnace was about 20 years old and on its last legs. My wife and I would come home from work, turn on the television, and go to sleep. We attributed our sleep to exhaustion from work. When the house got cold, we called a heating and air company. The technician told us that the carbon monoxide levels in our cellar were so high he would not go down there till it had time to ventilate. Carbon monoxide bonds with your hemoglobin much tighter than oxygen, tying up the oxygen receptors in hemoglobin so that oxygen doesn’t get to your tissues, including the brain. It makes you sleepy. It may put you in “the big sleep.” If you have an old furnace, have it checked out. The carbon monoxide that you can’t see or smell may get you.

This is just a beginning list. If you run out of things to worry about today, reflect on these!  What can you do?  Be aware that there are things lying around at home that seem innocent. Be particularly wary of household chemicals when you have children or grandchildren at home. Keep your cabinets locked. Look at the things in your garage and put them on shelves where little ones can’t reach. Ventilate your house. Ask your pest control people what they are using and if you need to take any precautions.

Look at the label of any chemical you are using at home or work. There will be a telephone number you can call and ask for a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS).  This is required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).  The MSDS will tell you whether a chemical is harmful or potentially harmful, what to look for, and what safety precautions to take.

If you are particularly safety conscious, assemble a list of MSDS’s for the chemicals you use and keep them in a pantry. OSHA requires this of businesses, but it’s a great idea for home, especially if you have little people running around. Ω

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