Common household products and materials can serve as sources of dangerous chemicals. However, some of these chemicals will be more threatening than others. There are plenty of measures that residents can take to estimate the levels of toxic chemicals in their homes.
Six Dangerous Household Chemicals
Certain indoor air pollutants are more hazardous than others.
- Green Facts (GF) indicates that formaldehyde, naphthalene, and benzene are among the worst indoor air pollutants in terms of their potential health consequences.
- The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) highlights the dangers of flame retardant chemicals.
- Radon is considered a danger by the "Thirteenth Report on Carcinogens" from the National Toxicology Program (NTP).
- UL Environment (ULE) notes the dangers of volatile organic compounds.
Fortunately, there are things residents can do to reduce their exposure to all of these chemicals, but they will need to understand the problem first.
Chlorinated and Brominated Flame Retardant Chemicals
The NRDC indicates that flame retardant chemicals can be found in upholstered furniture, carpeting, and curtains, meaning an average household could contain multiple sources. Individuals that live in houses with a lot of furnishings may be inhaling large quantities of flame retardant chemicals on a regular basis.
The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) has said that chlorinated and brominated flame retardants have been linked to problems with developmental disorders, hormone disruption, cancer, immune system changes, and reproductive abnormalities.
How to Identify
The NRDC recommends that consumers shop for furniture that is free of flame retardants, which are indicated by a TB 117 label. People who have not shopped accordingly may be suffering from exposure to chlorinated or brominated flame retardants without knowing it.
While a recent new law regarding flame retardants will help consumers who are in the process of purchasing new furnishings now, as indicated by the NRDC, the products that people currently own were all created before the law was passed. They still have a high chance of containing flame retardants. People with even older furniture may run into more problems since the NRDC indicates that older furniture labels may be unreliable.
Households can contain many potential formaldehyde sources. According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), a lot of the formaldehyde in modern homes is going to come from pressed-wood products. The NCI also indicates that households that use kerosene heaters, gas stoves, or wood-burning stoves will contain higher levels of formaldehyde than those that do not. The American Cancer Society (ACS) indicates that permanent-press fabrics, some adhesives, and paper product coatings can all contain formaldehyde, so it could be found throughout a person's home.
- According to the ACS, formaldehyde exposure has been linked to leukemia, cancer of the nasal sinuses, and cancer of the nasopharynx.
- The NTP's report has classified formaldehyde in the category of known human carcinogens.
- Even short-term exposure to formaldehyde can cause nausea, watery eyes, coughing and wheezing, and skin problems, according to the NCI.
How to Identify
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends that people only buy composite wood products that are designed to be within certain formaldehyde limits. The EPA refers to set standards on medium-density fiberboard, hardwood plywood, and particleboard, so individuals that purchased these products without knowing about their compliance with formaldehyde emission standards may be using products that emit high levels of formaldehyde.
There are now testing kits available for people that want to measure the formaldehyde levels in their homes, some of which are available through Amazon, which can help residents get some direct evidence.
The EPA indicates that napththalene can be found in resins, dyes, moth repellants, and insecticides. The NPIC also indicates that napththalene is used in plastics and fuels, so people that burn fuel indoors may be exposed to comparatively high levels of napththalene on a regular basis.
Naphthalene can cause a wide variety of short-term and long-term health consequences. The EPA indicates:
- A link exists between chronic napththalene exposure to liver damage, negative reproductive effects, hemolytic anemia, and neurological damage in infants
- Napththalene is a possible human carcinogen.
How to Identify
Residents that are concerned about napththalene levels in their homes should consider whether their homes contain any of the common household naphthalene sources, such as mothballs. The NPIC indicates that the tests for naphthalene exposure in humans are not regularly performed in the offices of many physicians.
The NCBI indicates that various heating and cooking systems, building materials, solvents, and pieces of furniture can all release benzene into the air indoors. The NCBI indicates that people who burn fuel for the sake of cooking and space heating may be increasing the benzene levels in the indoor air of their homes.
In terms of health consequences, the NCBI links benzene exposure to immune system damage, anemia and other blood disorders, and the development of cancers like acute myeloid leukemia. Having a damaged immune system alone can lead to a multitude of other health problems.
The Wisconsin Department of Health Services (WDHS) indicates that benzene can also effect a person's reproductive health, and that even short-term benzene exposure can cause dizziness, drowsiness, and headaches.
How to Identify
There are different vapor testing kits that can help residents get a sense of the benzene levels in their homes. The Organic Vapor Test Kit from Sylvane can test for a wide range of air pollutants, including benzene. People that suspect that they may be suffering from adverse reactions to benzene exposure can get themselves tested as well as indicated by the WDHS.
The EPA indicates natural uranium decay in the soil primarily contributes to radon problems in homes, but that some building materials also emit radon gas. Even if these building materials aren't the primarily source of a home's radon contamination, they may cause the radon levels in a home to cross the threshold in which they become genuinely harmful to the occupants.
According to the NTP, radon is regarded as a known human carcinogen.
How to Identify
Radon contamination is a common enough problems that there are many measures in place to test for it and eliminate it entirely. The EPA indicates that radon reduction systems can get rid of as much as 99 percent of a home's radon contamination. Radon tests themselves can be performed quickly and inexpensively, and the EPA urges all people to test their homes, especially the bottom stories that are closer to the soil. People that are uncertain about radon in their areas and uncertain about their homes' building materials should be especially wary.
Volatile Organic Compounds
ULE indicates that volatile organic compounds are among the most pervasive of all indoor air pollutants, since furniture, building materials, carpeting, solvents, electronic equipment, paint, paint strippers, drywall, office supplies, cleaning products, and upholstery are all common sources of volatile organic compounds. Toxic chemicals vary in terms of how easy they are to avoid, and volatile organic compounds almost seem to be ubiquitous in many indoor environments.
People exposed to volatile organic compounds for extended periods of time may be at an increased risk of developing cancer or chronic illnesses according to ULE. The U.S. National Library of Medicine links volatile organic compounds to central nervous system, liver, and kidney damage.
How to Identify
While people can check the labels on some products for listings of common volatile organic compounds, evading all of them is going to be tricky, particularly while in office or corporate buildings. People can't always control their indoor environments.
Dangerous Chemicals in Different Homes
Many residents can reduce their exposure to various hazardous chemicals simply by avoiding burning fuel indoors. Home testing kits are more widely available than ever before, so residents can more easily evaluate the safety of their homes. The greater availability of information concerning the sources of hazardous chemicals is also putting the power back into the hands of consumers.