Pressed wood products like particle board and fiberboard are popular materials for big box furniture and home building because they offer a cheap alternative to solid wood. The problem is with how these products are made: manufacturers take bits and pieces of scrap wood and sawdust and press them together using chemical-laden glues and resins, including urea-formaldehyde. That formaldehyde then leaches into the air, leading to watery eyes, burning throat, and breathing difficulties. Worse, scientists warn that this dangerous chemical may be a carcinogen for humans, meaning it could cause certain types of cancer. The good news, if you already have particle board in your walls or furniture, is that pressed wood products emit less formaldehyde as they age. You can also minimize your risk of exposure to formaldehyde fumes by running a dehumidifier and air conditioner during the muggy summer months.
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- 10 Ways You're Accidentally Poisoning Your Home
10 Ways You're Accidentally Poisoning Your Home
Pressed Wood Paneling & Particleboard Furniture
The glues and dyes found in carpeting and rugs are a major source of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), a major source of indoor air pollution. Eye, nose and throat irritation, headaches, nausea, and a worsening of allergy symptoms are common side effects of short-term VOC exposure. To reduce the amount of VOCs in your household air, choose carpeting with a low-VOC label, or spring for a cotton or wool rug instead of a synthetic one. If you can't afford one of the more health-friendly options, schedule an install before an out-of-town trip so the carpet has a chance to air out for a few days and continue to keep the area well ventilated once you return home.
The printer that sits so benignly next to your home computer may be a source of VOCs, ozone, and other particulates. Some laser printers give off ultra fine particles that could cause serious health problems, including heart and lung disease. Early research indicates that these particles disperse after a couple of minutes, but it is probably a good idea not to sit next to the printer while it is in use.
Sure, everyone wants their home to smell clean and fresh, but you might be better off just opening the windows, rather than relying on canned air fresheners. When used excessively or in a small, unventilated area, these products release toxic levels of pollutants, including ethylene-based glycol ethers, a toxic substance, and the normally-non-toxic terpenes, which when paired with ozone in the air, forms a poisonous combination. A quick spritz of air freshener probably won’t make you sick, but you should keep air circulating throughout the area to prevent a dangerous buildup of airborne chemicals.
No one wants their winter sweaters to become food for moths, but these effective pest repellents can be a hazardous source of several toxic chemicals, including paradichlorobenzene, which can cause cancer in animals, and naphthalene, which can cause nausea and other digestive ailments. If you do use mothballs, place them in a sealed container and use them in an area with separate ventilation from the rest of your house, such as an attic. Wash any clothing that has been stored with mothballs before wearing it to dislodge the toxic vapors, or switch to cedar chips for a safer, natural alternative.
Plastic Baby Bottles & Tableware
Most refillable plastic bottles and plastic dinnerware contain BPA, a chemical that is unsafe because of its estrogen-like structure, which can interfere with the natural human hormones, especially in young children and babies. If you must buy plastic, choose products that are labeled as BPA-free. Otherwise, stay on the safe side by switching to glass, ceramic, or metal containers.
No doubt about it—flame-retardants used in mattresses, upholstery, television, and circuit boards have saved many lives. However the same life-saving chemicals that reduce the risk of fire have been linked to learning and memory problems in animals, and may cause cancer in humans. Some states, such as California and Washington, have recently banned these toxic chemicals from being used in upholstered furniture, so consider buying new furnishings if you're worried about your exposure.
It may seem obvious pesticides are poisonous but many homeowners handle these toxic substances with casual disregard for the potential health hazards. The ingredients in pesticides, organophosphates, to be specific, are some of the most deadly poisons in the home. Pesticide poisoning can occur after direct exposure to these chemicals, and may cause disruption of the nervous system, seizures, and other serious conditions. When using pesticides, always follow the manufacturers’ instructions and use them sparingly. If your weeds can be banished with a trowel and elbow grease, it may be better to leave the chemicals on the shelf.
Cleaning products—including drain openers, toilet bowl cleaners, and rust removers—can cause chemical burns that are just as painful as burns from a fire. These injuries occur because of the cleaning products' caustic or acidic chemicals. Always wear gloves when using powerful cleansers, and rinse splashes and spills from your skin and clothing immediately to limit the damage.
Antifreeze, motor oil, brake fluid, and gasoline may keep your car running but they can be deadly if misused. Pets and small children attracted to the sweet smell of antifreeze may put themselves at risk by reaching for the liquid, while other fluids can seep into the ground, where they contaminate your lawn, garden, and groundwater. Keep automotive fluids up high, away from children, and when it's time to throw away outdated products, consult your local trash center for proper disposal information.