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Home health hazards

Modern, elaborately designed homes with the latest in furnishings and fittings are often the envy of the neighbours; kitchens loaded with high tech equipment, four door refrigerators, luxurious carpeting, exotically decorated children’s bedroom.

Depending on one’s budget, a designer house can cost millions, but toxicity hidden in an apparently harmless carpet or wooden panelling can turn a dream house in to a death trap. This week we are going to look underneath these fittings, furnishings and fixtures and hope we don’t frighten the living daylights out of ourselves.


Let us start in the kitchen; for consumers without a self-cleaning oven, periodic scrub and cleaning becomes mandatory. Unfortunately, commercially available oven cleaners can be just as onerous as the cleaning task at hand. Oven cleaners are full of dangerous ingredients, including lye — also known as caustic soda — ethers, ethylene glycol, and methylene chloride and petroleum distillates.

Because oven cleaners with these ingredients can burn the skin, it’s important to wear gloves while handling the item. Even spraying the aerosol contents involves releasing the neurotoxic solvent butane.

Alternately, a simple paste of baking soda and water, applied to the mess, may be all you need to keep your oven clean. Too reduce grease deposits, lay pans or foiled-lined receptacles at the bottom of the oven to help catch pan drippings.

Dining Room Candles

Burning candles can add more than atmosphere to an event. Cheap candles are usually made of paraffin wax rather than beeswax or soy. They can produce various volatile organic compounds. Scented candles often contain artificial fragrances and dyes that can produce harmful particles when ignited.

The candles’ artificial fragrances contain plasticizers and other solvent-type mixtures. Candlelight usually means the room is filling up with toxins. To enhance slow burning, many candles on the market, mainly those that are scented, have metal wires that contain lead inside their wicks.

Medical research professionals have reported that some of these types of wicks are responsible for a hazardous level of lead release, which has been associated with learning disabilities and Parkinson’s disease. It is important to note that toxicity risk can occur with all types of combustion, even when you’re burning natural beeswax candles.

Combustion involves the release of hydrocarbons which leads to oxidative damage and respiratory problems, best advice burn candles only on special occasions and not for long periods of time.


Compared to cigarette smoke, carpets are the worst polluters in the home. There is a very distinct difference in odours between a cigarette smoky room, and a wet carpet room. The odours are even more acute when entering a closed room. They contain a host of environmental chemicals, including flame retardants, anti-stain ingredients, and volatile organic compounds.

One substance in new carpets is p-dichlorobenzene, which is a carcinogen. And the “new carpet smell” that so many homeowners are proud of comes from 4-Phenylcyclohexene, which is a by-product of a process used in carpet backing, and has been linked to visual, nasal and respiratory problems. Environmental health specialists advises swapping out carpets for cotton throw rugs or, better yet, going barefoot on wood or tile floors.

Laundry Rooms

Everyone likes clean clothes. But using dryer sheets to impart fragrance to freshly laundered items may have harmful physical consequences. Read the labels. The components of synthetic fragrances, including benzyl acetate, benzyl alcohol and terpenes, are toxic, and some are carcinogenic.

Consumers who buy dryer sheets mainly for the fragrance need to realise that clothes being tossed in the dryer with these sheets are absorbing these toxins. They’ll eventually rest on the skin. One alternative is mixing a few drops of essential oil with water and misting that solution directly onto bedding and other articles of clothing after they come out of the dryer.

Children’s Playrooms and Bedrooms – Art Supplies

No parents want to inhibit their children’s creativity. However, caution must be practised when it comes to art supplies. Some items need to be carefully monitored.

High on the list are permanent and dry-erase markers, which contain solvents, including xylene. Xylene is a highly neurotoxic aromatic hydrocarbon which can irritate the nose, eyes, lungs and throat when used near the face. Parents are advised to substitute lead-free coloured pencils for permanent markets. Water-based markers, although less toxic than the permanent variety, usually contain toxic alcohols whose released vapours can be inhaled.

Parents often think that inexpensive particle-board furniture is good enough for the kids’ bedrooms, where beds, dressers and storage units get the brunt of high-energy playtime activities.

The issue here is that plywood and particle board — often called pressed wood — are typically made with formaldehyde or isocyanate glues. Both these glues are toxic, and the chemicals are out gassed and then inhaled. Brominated and chlorinated flame retardants, which are often found in upholstered furniture made with polyurethane foam, have been linked to cancer, neurological impairment and hormone disruption.

Some environmental health specialists suggest that even second-hand solid wood furniture is a healthier option. If you must use refinish wood pieces, use water-based, lead-free and non-VOC paints or finishes.

Baby Nurseries

Baby wipes used by parents may keep their infants clean and comfortable. But these items don’t always keep toddlers safe. The reason, experts say, is an antimicrobial chemical compound called Bronopol — a typical baby-wipes’ ingredient. Bronopol is toxic to the skin, immune systems and lungs. Pthalates, which are endocrine disruptors, are also typically found in wipes.

Experts recommend you either buy baby-wipes that are free of these toxic substances, or make your own by experimenting with safe cleansers and emollients. Another option is using simple soap and water.

Entrance Ways and Back doors

What happens when the wet clothes, footwear and sports equipment we bring home doesn’t dry properly? Partially wet items that stay wet for an extended period of time are a perfect environment where mold can grow and cause respiratory irritation, coughing and increase the symptoms of asthmas and allergies.

Research has also found that mold suppresses the immune system, and that depression is linked to a high mold presence in the environment. One way to decrease the risk of mold growth is by wiping off or shaking out excess water before hanging up items. Getting rid of a constant moisture source is critical.

Are you as concerned about what we found as I am? You should be, it is your home.

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