Health & Safety

Toxins in Home

Although our homes are intended to be a refuge from pollution and toxins, they often fall well short of this goal.

In fact, chemicals and toxins emitted by cleaning products, molds, and building materials may put our health at risk. We can breathe airborne toxins, drink them in our drinking water, or even absorb them through our skin.


Lead is a hazard when ingested or inhaled. Drinking water that has traveled through lead in pipes, breathing dust from sanding lead-based paint these poison the body. Even though the amounts taken in may be minute, this toxin builds up over time, causing serious neurological conditions.

Children younger than six years old are particularly vulnerable (this is why the hazards of toys containing lead paint make the headlines). If you have young children, itís wise to test for lead in your home. If you have concerns about lead in your plumbing, test your drinking water. Lead paint is a hazard when it is exposed as the surface coat, if it is deteriorating, or if you sand or scrape it when remodeling.

If you think that your house may contain dangerous concentrations of lead, you have a few options. You can start by conducting a preliminary test yourself. Manual testing kits are available online or at hardware stores or home improvement centers. Though these test kits are inexpensive and easy to use, hiring a professional lead abatement contractor or risk assessor is the only way to definitively quantify the risk.

Most professional lead inspectors tender one of two separate services inspections and risk assessments although some may be licensed to perform both. Usually, paint inspections will inform you as to the content of lead in your homeís interior or exterior paint. But these tests usually donít enlighten you as to the hazards or potential risks involved with the results. This is what a risk assessment is intended to do.

Risk assessors will alert you to any significant sources of lead exposure, such as peeling paint or excessive levels of lead in dust, and will provide you options for tackling the problem. Either of these examinations typically costs around $300 depending on the extent of the work, your location, and the service provider.

But before you hire someone to inspect your home for lead, you should determine what their credentials are. Many states but not all have established certification programs that endorse individuals to assess lead-related hazards in residential homes. If your state does not have such a program, check with the county and city in which you live to find out if they offer a similar one.

Combustion emissions

Nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide are introduced into houses by poorly maintained and inadequately vented ranges, water heaters, dryers, and other gas appliances; fireplaces; unvented kerosene stoves; and wood or coal stoves. To prevent the same kind of pollution, never leave a car or other gasoline engine running in a closed garage or shed. Make sure that your gas range has a hood fan or other exhaust fan that vents fumes outdoors. Never use a gas oven to heat your rooms. Have gas appliances and gas or oil furnaces inspected regularly by your local utility company. Convert to spark ignition in place of pilot lights, if possible. Check that all heaters are without cracks and are vented to the outside. Never cook with charcoal indoors. Be sure your fireplace or wood stove draws its combustion air from outdoors through a special duct. Keep microwave ovens clean, and do not operate one if it is not in top condition and especially if the door doesnít close tightly.


Read in detail about Asbestos hazards


It is usually found in homes in the form of urea formaldehyde foam insulation, whose use has been widespread. It also exists in the resins of particleboard, fiber board, and plywood paneling, which does not pose problems unless hot and humid weather draws emissions from newly installed materials. It may also come in some carpet, upholstery, and drapery fabrics.

Your best defense is plenty of fresh air. Improve circulation and install a good air cleaner (electronic ones are the most effective). Or block access to sources like particleboard with sealers and paint.

Other pollutants

Common bacteria and fungi are introduced into the home environment by people and pets on a daily basis. Keep air conditioners, air ducts, humidifiers, dehumidifiers, and heat exchangers clean. Replace filters on a regular basis. Vacuum frequently and thoroughly.