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Environmental Illness - Toxic Chemicals in Our Environment

Woodstoves and gas ranges

Woodstoves that are not properly maintained and vented can give off tiny particles (particulates) and gases, including carbon monoxide, nitrogen, and hydrocarbons. Children in homes heated with woodstoves are at increased risk for respiratory problems. Gas ranges, particularly when they are not well-vented or when they are used as a source of heat, may produce nitrogen dioxide, which can cause respiratory problems. Consider changing to an electric stove.

If your gas stove has a persistent yellow flame, it may be improperly adjusted. Ask your gas company to adjust the burners so the flame tips are blue. If you're planning to buy a new gas range or stove, consider one that does not use a pilot light.

If you use a woodstove, make sure the stove doors fit tightly. Burn only aged or cured wood that is completely dry. Never burn pressure-treated wood because it is treated with chemicals.

Have chimneys, flues, and furnaces inspected each year.

For more information, see the topic Carbon Monoxide Poisoning.

Building materials

Exposure to building materials, products used for home improvement, and textiles can cause health problems. For example, particleboard, insulation, carpet adhesives, and other household products emit formaldehyde, which can cause nausea, respiratory problems, dry or inflamed skin, and eye irritation. Newly built homes and the confined spaces of mobile homes can be a particular problem. Using environmentally safe products—such as paint that contains a low level of or no volatile organic compounds (VOCs)—can reduce the chemical load on your body.

Sick building syndrome and building-related asthma

Experts coined the term "sick building syndrome" to describe acute symptoms that occur only during time spent in a particular building and that cannot be explained by any specific illness or cause. Symptoms include headache, dry cough, dry or itchy skin, dizziness, nausea, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, sensitivity to odors, and irritation of the eyes, nose, or throat. Typically the symptoms improve after you leave the building.

Poor ventilation that restricts fresh air flow inside can be a cause of sick building syndrome. Carpet, adhesives, upholstery, manufactured wood, pesticides, and cleaning fluids can give off volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including formaldehyde. High concentrations of VOCs can cause cancer. Unvented gas and kerosene space heaters, woodstoves, fireplaces, and gas stoves can produce carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide.

Outdoor sources of chemicals can also cause sick building syndrome. Pollutants from cars and trucks and exhaust from plumbing vents and building machinery can enter a building through vents.

Building-related asthma is the term used when symptoms of a diagnosed illness can be linked directly to airborne contaminants within a building. Symptoms include cough, chest tightness, and wheezing. Leaving the building may not immediately improve the symptoms.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: August 07, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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