It seems like an ideal family afternoon: your kids are playing peacefully with their toys while you chop meat for dinner in the kitchen. And yet, looks can be deceiving. Both of these seemingly innocent scenarios carry with them potential hazards, according to those who specialize in helping families stay safe from toxins in the home. "Parents need to be informed and understand the risks, they need to read labels and educate themselves," notes Gary Schwartz, of PHASE Associates, LLC, a firm specializing in safety, industrial hygiene, and indoor air.
Obviously, your home is not a chemical plant, and the Environmental Protection Agency is unlikely to come knocking on your door anytime soon. But there are lots of toxins possibly lurking in your living room. Here are a few tips to keep your home safe:
Rethink Plastic Toys
That rubber ducky in the bathtub may be cute, but is he safe? That's a question of much debate among scientists around the globe. Animal and human studies have linked chemical phthalates found in plastic toys to a broad range of health problems, including prostate and breast cancer, and altered genital development. While some argue against these findings, most child safety advocates tell parents to avoid using any soft plastic mouthing objects (teethers, sippy cups, pacifiers, etc.) unless they are clearly marked PVC-free or phthalate-free.
Keep It Hot
That hamburger may look delicious. But meat can be hazardous to your health. E. coli is a germ that thrives in undercooked meat, causing severe illness and in some cases, death. Best defense? Always scour cutting boards with soap and water, wash your hands before and after food preparation, keep children away from any raw meat, and make sure that any meat you eat is thoroughly cooked at the center.
Mind the Moisture
Beware of wet. A damp basement or crawl space can be a breeding ground for mold, which is a very large group of microscopic fungi that live on plant or animal matter. A leak doesn't need to be big to cause big problems. Dribbles from plumbing and sewer lines, or leaks in your roof, whether large or small, all lead to excessive moisture. The effects of mold can range from unexplained bloody noses and breathing difficulties to chronic fatigue. If you suspect a mold problem in your home, take steps immediately to address the issue.
Clean With Caution
Each day, the poison control service is inundated with calls about children who have swallowed or been exposed to toxic pesticides and cleaning products. And they're not all infants. Even school age children, well past the teething and crawling stage, may experiment with these dangerous products. "Keep them locked away, always," reminds Schwartz. And don't spray aerosols or other cleaning agents in kids' proximity. Inhalation is dangerous.
Beware of Paint
If your home was built before 1978, it may contain lead-based paint. Lead is a highly toxic metal that has been found to cause a range of serious health problems, particularly in children under the age of six. Even if your house has been repainted, there still may be lead residue underneath, especially on surfaces that get a lot of wear and tear, such as windows, doors and door frames, stairs, railings, banisters, porches, and fences. And if your house is being remodeled, your family may be at risk for exposure to lead-based dust and other toxic particles. Fortunately there are many laws set up for your protection, and lots of information to help safeguard your home.
Ultimately the best way to ensure that your home is clean, serene, and toxic-free, is to arm yourself with information. These websites are a great place to start:
- Environmental Protection Agency: www.epa.gov
- Mold information and tips: http://www.moldinspector.com
- Alternatives to PVC-containing toys: http://pvcinformation.org/assets/pdf/PlasticSubstitutesPVCtoys_Tickner.pdf