Eleven common health hazards in your home
The American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM) offers ten tips to make sure your home is free from common health hazards. Here is a checklist you can use to eliminate 11 common health hazards in the home.
The ACOEM urges you to stop smoking in the home. Second hand smoke can put your family at risk for cancer. Studies show third-hand smoked can also be dangerous to health. Make a commitment to stop smoking. You can get help and support online at Freedom From Smoking® , 1-800 QuitNow, by speaking with your doctor about medications that can help. Another resource to tap into is the American Lung Association HelpLine at 800-LUNGUSA [586-4872] or visit Lung.org.
Radon is an odorless gas that can get into your home in a variety of ways that include cracks in floors, gaps around service pipes, emitted from building materials and well water. Health hazards from the gas are higher for smokers.
Radon occurs naturally from the breakdown of soil, rocks and water to enter the air we breathe. According to the EPA, the gas is responsible for approximately 21,000 deaths from lung cancer each year.
You can buy a kit to test for radon in your home or hire someone to test levels. You can find out how to reduce levels of the gas by reading the EPA’s "Consumer's Guide to Radon Reduction".
If you live in a home built between 1920 and 1978 check for asbestos that was commonly used for insulation. If you find the substance, do not disturb it. Call a licensed contractor to remove and replace it.
Breathing asbestos is linked to lung cancer and scarring of the lungs or 'asbestosis' that can appear 20 years after exposure to the mineral fiber.
You can find information by reading "Asbestos in the Home, CPSC Document 453".
Poisoning from lead can harm children by interfering with mental and physical development; especially those under age 6. Lead was commonly used in paints in homes built before 1978.
Most states require that homes be tested for lead before they are sold. If you think your child may have been exposed to the toxin that also comes from soil and the air, speak with your healthcare provider about testing.
A licensed, trained professional should be hired to remove lead from the home. Trying to do it yourself could lead to even greater exposure.
Furnace, heaters and chimneys
Carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxide are gases that can cause flu-like symptoms, respiratory illnesses, or death. Sources include kerosene heaters, clogged chimneys, gas stoves, water heaters and furnaces.
If you use a gas stove, make sure the pilot light stays on. Consider an alternative stove that doesn't require a pilot light to stay on. Use a vent above the stove.
Have your furnace and chimney cleaned every year and make sure your furnace and water heater are well-vented.
Install a carbon monoxide detector in the home.
Your water tap
What comes out of your kitchen tap may not be safe. If you have a well, have it tested annually for bacteria, nitrates, radon, pesticides and other chemicals. Check your plumbing to see if you have lead pipes that were more common before 1988.
Let your water run cold before using it for drinking or cooking. Water that has been sitting has higher levels of lead.
Consider using a water filter in the home, but make sure it is maintained.
- Chemicals in the home can pose many hazards. Make sure yours are stored properly.
- Check that they are tightly capped and stored out of the home away from the living area.
- Don't forget that pets are vulnerable to toxins too. Keep chemicals in areas that your furry friends cannot access.
- Make sure all chemicals are labeled properly. For proper disposal, contact your local Fire or Health department.
Pesticides: We all want a beautiful pest free lawn and garden. If you are using toxic products, consider finding ways to naturally repel insects and keep your lawn 'green'.
Visit the EPA website for tips on caring for your lawn in an environmentally friendly way.
Store your food tightly to eliminate household pests and the need for more pesticides.
Keep firewood away from the home to avoid infestation from insects.
- Brush your pets out of doors to eliminate danger that can cause sneezing, itching and wheezing. The ACOEM suggests keeping furry animals out of doors, but that isn't always feasible or popular for pet-lovers. You can at least keep them out of the bedroom to help reduce chances of allergy.
- Tend to leaks and other moisture problems promptly to avoid mold and mildew that can also cause allergy problems.
- Avoid using humidifiers. If you do use them, maintain them properly to ensure they are clean and working properly.
- Use allergy proof covers for pillows and mattresses.
- The American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology has more tips to keep each room of your home allergy-free.
Food-borne illnesses are on the rise, according to recent reports from the CDC, making it more important than ever to ensure you handle and store food properly.
- Check your refrigerator temperature. To prevent bacteria in food, the temperature should be below 40 degrees.
- Refrigerate perishable food promptly. Bacteria can quickly grow at room temperature, putting you and your family at risk for food-borne infection.
- Never allow raw meat or fish to come in contact with food that is not well-cooked.
- Avoid eating raw or undercooked eggs.
- Check your local fish advisory for reports of chemicals that can pose health hazards. Eating fish is healthy, but not if they contain harmful chemicals or infectious agents.
Keeping your home free from environmental toxins and allergens benefits everyone. Use this list once a year to remind yourself of common health hazards that you might miss in your home.
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Updated November 25, 2014