Toxins in the Home: What You Should Know, What You Can Do

You may not think about it every day, but our homes contain many products that could potentially make us sick. While many of us are able to recognize what common toxins, like ammonia and bleach, do to our bodies, there are plenty of other chemicals, materials and metals capable of causing a wide array of health problems.

National Poison Prevention Week is coming up (March 18-24), and now is as good a time as ever to discuss several common, and uncommon, toxins found in the home. How can you protect yourself from them? Some are much easier to see than others are, but prolonged exposure to any toxin can cause serious damage to your health and those around you. With that said, many poisons can be avoided by taking proactive steps and staying clear of certain products.

Prescription and Over-the-counter Drugs

It’s not uncommon to find a medicine cabinet stocked with medications meant to treat nearly any ailment, whether it’s aspirin for a headache, cough medicine for a cold or prescription drugs to treat a variety of illnesses. Adults tend to take more medications as they grow older, making proper handling of these products a priority.

To prevent accidental overdoses and misuse of prescription drugs, always make sure to meet with your doctor to review medications and supplements you are taking. Your doctor can also tell you when certain medications need to be taken to avoid possible reactions. Keeping your own medication list will be effective when you need to reference your drugs and dosages. It is also incredibly important to remember not to share your medications or take someone else’s. Taking drugs that are not prescribed to you could damage your body or cause reactions with other medications.

If you are taking over-the-counter medications or supplements, it is best to check with a doctor before taking them, especially if you are unsure how they might react with other drugs. Do not forget to check side effect and active ingredient labels as well. Common over-the-counter aids, like antacids and cold pills, can sometimes cause negative reactions with prescribed drugs. It is also very easy to take too much of an active ingredient, especially if it is in two different products you are taking to treat the same illness.

Accidental Exposure to Lead and Asbestos

Spring is quickly approaching. With the warmer weather and longer days comes a slew of tasks to do around the house, including cleaning and renovation projects. However, even simple chores could possibly turn into bigger problems if you are not careful.

For example, while it might be a great idea to sand and repaint your windowsills, depending on the age of your home there may be lead paint present. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, older homes are more likely to contain lead-based paint underneath layers of new paint, and it is estimated that millions of homes across the United States are at risk.

Although lead does not pose an issue when painted surfaces are in good shape, if those areas become damaged or start deteriorating lead-tainted dust can become airborne. This is especially true for high-traffic areas and locations where renovation work creates dust. Lead is known to cause several health issues, ranging from high blood pressure and memory loss to headaches and joint pain, among more severe problems.

Older homes are also likely to contain asbestos, a mineral once used in everything from crock-pots, hairdryers and fire-resistant clothing to plasters, cement and vinyl flooring. Much like lead, asbestos is relatively safe when left alone, but if asbestos-containing products are damaged during a renovation, natural disaster or simply aging, asbestos fibers may become airborne and put people at risk of breathing them in.

Asbestos has long been linked to mesothelioma, a cancer affecting roughly 2,500 Americans each year, and asbestosis, a chronic lung condition. Despite facing heavy regulations and bans of certain products, asbestos was still being produced in the U.S. until the early 2000s and is still being used today. Thankfully, widespread asbestos application has waned since the mid-1970s, but that does not mean the damage is not there. Mesothelioma is typically an older person’s disease because of how long it takes symptoms to display following exposure. Often times, it can take several decades for the disease to present itself and, even then, is still hard to diagnose and attempt to treat.

The easiest way to prevent lead and asbestos exposure is avoiding contact with them. Keep your home dust-free, especially in high traffic areas, and have your home inspected by a licensed professional before starting any type of renovation project.

Your Home May Be Making You Sick

We do not often think about our homes as being a source of sickness, but it does happen. Americans spend close to 90 percent of their time indoors, and for hospitalized or homebound senior citizens, the percentage is even higher. Indoor air pollution comes from a variety of sources, whether it is pet dander, VOCs found in cleaners, mold caused by moisture or radon seeping into the basement through cracks in the foundation.

To keep your indoor air as clean as possible, try using cleaners without phthalates and VOCs. Keep vermin out of the house by making sure food is stored in sealed containers and by closing up cracks in your home where they might sneak in. Make sure pets do not jump on the couch or into bed and use a good-quality duster and vacuum while cleaning. Even going as far as banning smoking and adding a few air purifying plants to your home can help prevent you from getting sick.

National Poison Prevention Week is an excellent time to take inventory of the things around us that could harm our health and to learn how best to control those situations. In many cases, it is as simple as avoiding contact with toxins like lead and asbestos, being smart about how and when we take medications and keeping our houses as clean as possible. You can breathe a little easier knowing you have done your best by taking appropriate actions and safeguarding your home from toxins.


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Mesothelioma Asbestos Awareness Center

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