As a consequence of the rise in synthetically manufactured home products, an average modern home now contains north of 60 environmental toxins. These are actually just as ominous as they sound, and do not play well with your and your family’s health. Behavioral problems, serious illnesses and even a spike in the rate of birth defects can all be linked to toxins. In fact, indoor air can turn out much more harmful than the outdoor air, depending on home products that you use. This is largely owing to the fact that the air in your home is prone to containing pollen, mold and ozone, in addition to potential pet dander and pollutants from household cleaning products. Getting introduced to the world of toxins is of utmost importance.
The definition of Toxic
Any substance that can be poisonous and/or cause health (physical or mental) effects is considered toxic. Although people usually share concerns about polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB), dioxin and other similar chemicals that are common on waste sites, many aren’t aware that mundane products that are used on a daily basis, such as over-the-counter and prescription drugs, household cleaners, alcohol, cosmetics, fuel, pesticides, gasoline, etc. are also very toxic. Noting that any chemical is potentially toxic under certain conditions is vital.
Toxic vs. hazardous
Toxicity is often mistakenly perceived as hazardous, and although both of these two chemical properties are potentially highly dangerous or even deadly, knowing the difference between them is essential. When a chemical is hazardous, it is due to its physical properties; meaning that it can burn, react with other chemicals easily and explode. A substance is toxic if its wrongful use can cause vomiting, diarrhea, drowsiness, burns, or death. Take note that some substances, such as gasoline, are both toxic and hazardous, as drinking it can cause all of the mentioned symptoms of toxicity, while also being flammable.
Toxicity Substances and Their Effects
Not all substances are equally toxic, which is exactly what substance toxicity deals with. Here are some categories that play a key role in describing the toxicity of a substance by types of effects it may cause, along with its potency:
- Types of effects – Some chemicals can cause vomiting or diarrhea, others may even cause cancer.
- Exposure – A chemical causes health effects only when it gets in contact with or enters the body.
- Means of exposure – Getting in contact with or entering the body is far more complex than it may seem. Although ingesting and being in direct contact with a toxic substance means definite exposure, so does inhalation in some cases.
- Dose – This is an important consideration, seeing as how almost every substance becomes toxic in large enough amounts.
- Length of exposure – Short-term exposure is also referred to as acute exposure, and long-term exposure is called chronic exposure.
- Exposure medium – This substance trait deals with compounds/items/substances that serve as a medium for exposure.
- Potency – This important substance trait deals with the strength of a chemical.
Toxins in the home
Now that we know the essential basics of toxic substances, let’s deal with those that are commonly found in an average home and the problems that they can potentially cause.
- Bleach – This commonly used household item can cause reproductive problems in men and behavioral changes in children, in addition to being highly toxic upon ingestion.
- Toilet bowl cleaners – Certain toilet cleaning products contain chlorine and hydrochloric acid, which are dangerous upon inhalation.
- Carpet cleaners – Some carpet cleaning products are very toxic to children and may cause liver damage and cancer.
- Chlorine – Chlorine gases can be inhaled while taking hot showers. A shower filter can prevent this.
- Lead – Older paints, old plumbing, as well as soil near busy roads can contain lead, which can cause neurological and kidney damage, reproductive problems, high blood pressure and impaired cell production.
- Hydrofluoric acid – This substance causes intense pain and burning upon contact with the skin. It can be found in household rust removers.
- Carbon dioxide – In addition to other commonly known sources, furnaces that burn propane or butane oil contain this carcinogen.
- Vinyl chloride – This substance found in the plastic interior of new cars can cause liver damage.
- Asbestos – This fibrous mineral was commonly used in concrete construction until it was pronounced a health hazard that afflicts respiratory organs. Contacting a trusted asbestos removal company, especially when buying a new home can prevent potential problems in the future.
- Freon – Freon keeps air conditioning units, refrigerators and freezers cold, but can cause cancer.
- Teflon – Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a chemical used in Teflon production, can cause hypothyroidism and is carcinogenic.
VOCs and minimizing the exposure
In truth, completely avoiding home products that present a health hazard is next to impossible, but the majority of health-related issues with these tend to occur as a result of a prolonged and combined exposure. Always keep an eye out for products that are “Low-VOC” and “Zero-VOC”, as VOCs (volatile organic compounds) are generally hazardous substances. VOCs can riginate from cleaning agents, solvents and furniture and are even emitted by humans. When you have an enclosed space, these can accumulate and pollute our fresh air. Making sure that you allow new products such as couches and armchairs to off-gas before bringing them inside is also essential; unwrap them and keep them in your garage for a couple of days. Keep the room temperature and humidity low, as hot and humid areas are prone to have high concentration of VOCs. Finally, make sure that you frequently ventilate, as this, too, can lower your indoor VOC concentration.
Knowing the basics of toxins and which toxins to keep an eye out for is the essence of improving your indoor living quality. Always looking to minimize the exposure to them is the pillar of a healthy home.