10 Everyday Dangerous Things in Your
by Cristen Conger
Browse the article 10 Everyday Dangerous Things in Your Home
Introduction to 10 Everyday Dangerous Things in Your Home
Either by accident or faulty manufacturing, household consumer products injure an estimated
33.1 million people in the United States every year [source: Consumer Product Safety
Commission]. These incidents rack up an astonishing $800 billion in related expenses from
death, injury or property damages [source: Consumer Product Safety Commission]. The
Consumer Product Safety Commission that regulates and recalls products on the market
emphasizes potential dangers to children in particular for hurting themselves with toys, furniture
or other common items in the home.
Angela Wyant/Getty Images
The U.S. EPA recently found that indoor air may be more polluted than outdoor air.
However, we can also pinpoint a number of invisible hazards from products we buy that aren't as
immediately apparent as a broken leg on a coffee table or a tear in a shirt. Scientists have
realized that chemicals found in a wide variety of the goods we use every day may be more toxic
than previously thought. In part because of the array of chemicals used to manufacture things we
use in our daily lives, the National Poison Data System estimates 4 million cases of poisoning in
the United States each year [source: American Association of Poison Control Centers].
We cannot discount that chemicals have made our lives easier. Note
Thanks to them, we easily keep mosquitoes at bay, stop moths from This article is
eating our clothing and make our houses instantly smell like a dewy informational only. When
spring morning. But the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency making purchasing
decisions, conduct your
recently concluded that indoor air may be more polluted than outdoor
own research into
air [source: EPA]. And since we spend an average of 90 percent of products known to
our time inside, our home sweet home may not be so safe after all contain toxins.
Where are these toxins coming from and what can we do about it? Read on to learn about 10 of
the most common products that people are starting to think twice about bringing into their houses.
Household Item 10: Mothballs
Stephen Schaner/Getty Images
If you want to keep moths from eating your clothes, try cedar chips instead of mothballs.
Mothballs emit one of the most distinctive and unpleasant household scents. Since moths will
chew holes through clothing or other textiles, people pack away these stinky repellents to kill any
moths that attempt to. But as they convert from a solid to a gas, you do not want to inhale too
much of it. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency even requires mothball manufacturers to
include a warning on packaging to "avoid breathing in the vapors."
Studies on one active ingredient in some repellents, paradichlorobenzene, found that it can
cause cancer in animals [source: EPA]. Although scientists do not know if it is also a human
carcinogen, the animal trials provided sufficient evidence to urge people to handle them with
caution. Other types of moth balls use naphthalene, which after prolonged exposure can
damage or destroy red bloodcells [source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention]. The
chemical can also stimulate nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
If you must use mothballs, put them in a sealed container in an area with separate ventilation
from the rest of your house [source: EPA]. Also, wash any clothing that has been stored with
mothballs before wearing it since the vapors will have absorbed into the fibers. For a safer,
natural alternative, cedar chips should work as well.
Household Item 9: Pesticides
David Buffington/Getty Images
Before using professional pest control services, check what chemicals they use.
According to the National Pesticide Telecommunications Network, 90 percent of households in
the United States use some form of pesticides [source: NPTC]. Pesticide is a broad term that
encompasses a variety of chemical formulas that kill everything from tiny microorganisms up to
rodents. They could be insecticides, fungicides, disinfectants or other varieties. Because these
are poisons, the U.S. EPA requires pesticide manufacturers to include the toxicity level of the
product on its packaging.
Although the EPA goes to great lengths to test new pesticides before they go on the market, they
should still be used with care and kept out of reach of children. In 2006, the American Association
of Poison Control Centers received nearly 46,000 calls regarding children under 5 years old who
had been exposed to potentially toxic levels of pesticides [source: American Association of
Poison Control Centers].
Since a majority of people's exposure to pesticides happens indoors, be sure to ventilate any
enclosed spaces after applying a pesticide and do not use unauthorized ones. If hiring a
professional pest control service, ask them to review with you the chemicals they will use in your
home before they spray.
Household Item 8: Pressed Wood Products
If you catch a couple episodes of "The Brady Bunch," you can see pressed wood paneling at the
height of its splendor. This faux wood is like the hotdog of timber products, taking bits and pieces
of logs and whatnot and combining them together. Pressed wood products also include particle
board, fiberboard and insulation, which were particularly popular for home construction in the
However, the glue that holds the wood particles in place can cause a sticky situation for people.
Some products use urea-formaldehyde as a resin, and the U.S. EPA estimates that this is the
largest source of formaldehyde emissions indoors, which can increase as well in hotter, more
humid conditions [source: EPA].
Angela Wyant/Getty Images
Classy pressed wood paneling may emit formaldehyde.
Formaldehyde exposure can be dangerous, possibly setting off watery eyes, burning eyes and
throat, difficulty breathing and asthma attacks. Scientists also know that it can cause cancer in
animals, which leaves open a possibility for the same in humans.
Because of construction materials and smaller spaces, trailers and prefab homes often give off
higher levels of formaldehyde emissions [source: EPA]. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention released a preliminary report in February 2008 detailing this problem in FEMA
trailers along the Gulf Coast occupied by hurricane victims [source: CDC]. The people reported
an unusual spike in illnesses suspected to have happened from prolonged formaldehyde
exposure. As a result, the agency recommended that the people move out of the trailers.
If you live in an older house with pressed wood paneling or insulation, the good news is that it
releases less formaldehyde as it ages [source: EPA]. Using a dehumidifier and air conditioning to
keep the indoor environment temperate can help. Today, pressed wood products also are more
closely regulated to reduce formaldehyde emissions.
Household Item 7: Carpet
Indoor carpeting has recently come under greater scrutiny because of the volatile organic
compounds (VOCs) associated with new carpet installation. Although the popular floor covering
isn't inherently dangerous, people have reported health problems associated with it [source:
The glue and dyes used with carpeting are know to emit VOCs, which can be harmful to one's
health in high concentrations [source: Consumer Reports]. But often, the initial VOC emissions
will subside after the first few days following installation [source: Consumer Reports].
Amy Ecker/Getty Images
New carpet can give off volatile organic compounds the first couple of days after
Scientists are still researching what specific chemicals new carpets may release and whether
they are in fact dangerous for the average person [source:EPA]. To alleviate this, the Carpet and
Rug Institute in Dalton, Ga., has developed two Green Labels that guarantee lower VOCs, and it
continues to test indoor air quality associated with carpets.
To be on the safe side, you can request your retailer to unroll the carpet and air it out a couple of
days before bringing it in your home [source: EPA]. You should also keep the newly carpeted
area well ventilated during installation to minimize VOC build up.
Household Item 6: Laser Printers
A 2007 study from the Queensland University of Technology in Australia found that some laser
printers give off ultra fine particles that could cause serious health problems [source: He,
Morawaska and Taplin]. Another study from the National Institute of Public Health also confirmed
that laser and ink-jet printers can release volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and ozone
particulates [source: Kagi et al].
Mario Lalich/Getty Images
Beware of the sinister laser printer lurking in the background. It may release ultra fine
particles that can get into your lungs.
Tests so far have shown that concentrations of the released particles return to normal levels after
a couple of minutes [source: CBC]. But depending on the size of the specks and exposure time,
they have been linked with heart and lung disease [source: Davis]. For that reason, the biggest
implication for this finding is in office settings, where someone may sit next to a printer.
Not every printer will do this. In the Queensland study, of the printers tested, researchers found
that 40 percent gave off the ultrafine particles and 27 percent of those sent out high
concentrations of them. The emissions also varied with the type of printer, its age and toner
In response to these findings, companies including Xerox and Hewlett-Packard have publicly
denied any health hazards linked to their products. According to Xerox's President of
Environment Health and Science, the company continually tests for the health effects of contact
with toner particles.
If you're choosing a new printer, Energy Star recommends many types that are better for the
environment. Although the Energy Star Web site does not stipulate whether it tests for particle
emissions, its endorsed brands do use less electricity.
Household Item 5: Lead Paint
In 1991, the U.S. government declared lead to be the greatest environmental threat to children
[source: EPA]. Not a big surprise considering the nasty effects that lead exposure can have on
adults and children alike. Even low concentrations can cause problems with your central nervous
system, brain, blood cells and kidneys [source: EPA]. It's particularly threatening for fetuses,
babies and children, because of potential developmental disorders.
The hubbub surrounding lead paint isn't a new one, but still warrants discussion since many
houses built before 1978 contain lead paint [source: EPA]. The intact paint on a surface won't kill
you. Only once the paint begins to peel away will it release the harmful lead particles that you can
inhale. For that reason, do not try to remove lead-based paint by sanding, scraping or burning it
because that will liberate the toxic metal. Leave it to a professional instead.
Dougal Waters/Getty Images
Do not remove lead-based paint yourself -- call a pro.
This is the same type of paint that set off the widespread recalls of toys from China in late 2007.
Retailers feared that children could ingest the paint, possibly contributing to brain damage
[source: Lipton and Barboza]. Regulated commercial paints and painted products in the United
States today do not contain lead.
Household Item 4: Air Fresheners and Cleaning Solutions
Air fresheners and cleaning solutions freshen and sanitize our indoor habitats. However, a study
by the University of California at Berkeley found that when used excessively or in a small,
unventilated area, these products release toxic levels of pollutants. This comes from two main
chemicals called ethylene-based glycol ethers and terpenes [source: Science Daily]. While the
EPA regards the ethers as toxic by themselves, the non-toxic terpenes can react with ozone in
the air to form a poisonous combination [source: ScienceDaily].
Image Source/Getty Images
Keep bathrooms well-ventilated when cleaning them.
Air fresheners in particular are linked to many volatile organic compounds, such as nitrogen
dioxide. Concentrations of this chemical are two to five times higher indoors than outdoors, which
can cause cancer in some animals [source: EPA]. Some fresheners also contain
paradichlorobenzene, the same chemical we discussed earlier with mothballs.
Cleaning your bathroom or spritzing air freshener shouldn't make you sick, but you must keep air
circulating through the area as a precaution. Professional house cleaners should especially
ensure that they aren't breathing harmful levels of these chemicals on the job [source:
Household Item 3: Baby Bottles
Canada has taken the first steps to outlaw the sale of baby bottles made from polycarbonate
plastics, which are the most common type on the market. It has done so because the plastics
are made with a chemical called bisphenol-a (BPA). When heated, these types of baby bottles
can release BPA.
Laurance Monneret/Getty Images
Canada has banned the sale of polycarbonate plastic bottles because they can release
What's wrong with a little BPA mixed in with a baby's formula? BPA has a structure very similar to
estrogen and for that reason is referred to as a "hormone disruptor." As the name implies,
hormone disruptors can interfere with the natural human hormones, especially for young children.
According to a joint U.S.-Canada study conducted by a group of environmental health
organizations, BPA in products and inside a woman's body (from using BPA-containing products)
may cause development and neurological problems for fetuses and infants based on the results
of extensive animal trials [source: The Working Group for Safe Markets].
In one study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 93 percent of participants
had detectable levels of BPA in their systems [source: CDC]. Of those, children had the highest
concentrations [source: CDC]. Other common products containing BPA include refillable plastic
bottles, compact discs and some plastic eating utensils [source: CDC].
In 2006, the Whole Foods grocery chain stopped carrying plastic baby bottles [source:
Underwood]. In response to Canada's removal of polycarbonate plastic baby bottles from the
market, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has formed a BPA task force to study any risks
associated with the material. Based on the research so far, the agency maintains that the bottles
being sold in the U.S. are safe for use [source: FDA].
Household Item 2: Flame Retardants
Commonly used in mattresses, upholstery, television and computer casings and circuit boards,
flame retardants have likely saved many lives by preventing unexpected fires in homes across
the world. However, science has revealed a darker side to these chemical superheroes, called
polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs for short, found in a variety of consumer plastics.
Two forms of PBDEs were phased out of use in manufacturing in the United States in 2004
because of related health threats [source: CDC]. However, the products containing them and their
cousin deca-PBDE linger on.
Patrick Strattner/Getty Images
Flame retardants keep your TV from bursting into flames and also can cause
developmental problems in animals.
Studies have linked PBDEs to learning and memory problems, lowered sperm counts and poor
thyroid functioning in rats and mice [source: Underwood]. Other animal studies have indicated
that PBDEs could be carcinogenic in humans, but that has not been confirmed [source: CDC].
People can inhale them through air and dust or ingest it by eating animal products that contain it
[source: Duncan]. And once these get into our bodies, they set up camp. These chemicals have
spread so extensively that traces of them have also shown up in waterways.
In humans, PBDEs accumulate in females' wombs and breast milk, passing the chemicals along
to infants [source: Cone]. Likewise, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has
discovered levels of PBDEs in almost all people tested for it [source: CDC]. Future CDC studies
will focus on the safety of deca-PBDE, which could lead to a complete phase out of these flame
Household Item 1: Cosmetics
Forget about bat poop in mascara. There's another icky ingredient that could be floating around in
your favorite beauty products. Phthalates, also called plasticizers, go into many products dotted
around your bathroom and vanity, including hair spray, shampoos, fragrances, deodorants and
even your rubber ducky. Along with increasing the durability and flexibility of plastics, phthalates
also bind the color and fragrance in cosmetic products.
Julia Smith/Getty Images
The FDA is testing whether phthalates in lotions are harmful to babies.
Why worry about this chemical additive? They may demand a higher price for beauty than you
wish to pay. Like BPA mentioned earlier, these hormone-like chemicals are linked to reproductive
and developmental problems in animals. Because of these findings, California and Washington
state have banned the use of phthalates in toys for younger children [source: Underwood].
Nationwide manufacturers no longer use them in baby pacifiers, rattles or teething rings [source:
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention plans to complete more research on the
effects of phthalates before judging its safety in consumer products. However, the agency
recognizes a potential for lowered sperm count in boys and premature breast development in
girls, among other things [source: CDC]. As for cosmetic products, the Food and Drug
Administration maintains that levels in products are safe for adults but also is studying the
potential effects in infants and children [source: FDA].
Lots More Information
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More Great Links
Environmental Protection Agency
Food and Drug Administration
National Geographic -- The Pollution Within
NPR -- Toxins in the Home
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American Association of Poison Control Centers' National Poison Data System." Dec.
1, 2007. (May 29, 2008)
CBC News. "Office Printers Emit Hazardous Particles." Oct. 22, 2007. (May 30, 2008)
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Cone, Marla. "Researchers Link Flame Retardants to Hazards." Los Angeles Times.
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