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Environmental Illness - Toxic Chemicals in Our Environment

Household products

Many of the products you use to clean your home or use for hobbies and home improvement projects contain potentially hazardous chemicals. Some can be toxic and in sufficient doses can cause eye and respiratory problems, headaches, dizziness, visual problems, and memory impairment. One of the most important ways you can protect yourself is by following the instructions on the label. When you use cleaning or other products, be sure to open windows or use an exhaust fan to provide good ventilation. Never mix household chemicals, such as chlorine bleach and ammonia. Some mixtures can create toxic fumes that can be fatal.

It's better to use environmentally safe products. Vinegar, lemon juice, boric acid, or baking soda can be used instead of store-bought household cleaners. And they are less damaging to you and to the environment.

Be especially careful with products containing methylene chloride, including paint strippers, adhesive removers, and aerosol spray paints. If you use products that contain this chemical, make sure you have adequate ventilation or use them outdoors, if possible. Also, wear gloves to avoid skin contact. But whenever you can, use environmentally safe products instead.

Avoid exposure to benzene, which can cause cancer. Benzene is found in tobacco smoke, stored fuels, paint supplies, and vehicle exhaust. Also, try to limit your exposure to newly dry-cleaned clothing or furnishings. Dry-cleaned goods may emit perchloroethylene (also known as tetrachloroethylene) and trichloroethylene. These chemicals may cause skin rashes, headaches, and dizziness5. If your clothes emit a strong odor when you pick them up from the cleaners, they may not have been dried properly and can release more of this chemical. After removing the protective plastic from the clothes, hang them outside, if possible. Consider finding a dry cleaner that uses less toxic chemicals.

Asbestos

Asbestos is an insulating material commonly used from the 1950s to 1970s for soundproofing and to cover floors and ceilings, water pipes, and heating ducts. When it becomes crumbly or frayed, asbestos fibers can be released into the air. Breathing asbestos fibers may cause lung cancer, asbestosis (scarring of the lung tissue), or mesothelioma.

Radon

Radon is a colorless, odorless radioactive gas that can enter your home through cracks in concrete walls and floors and through floor drains. The most common source of radon is uranium that normally exists in the soil or rock on which homes are built. Problems show up when the concentration of radon builds up in a home or building. Both old or new homes can have problems with radon even if they don't have a basement.

Exposure to radon gas is the second leading cause of lung cancer. (Tobacco smoke is the leading cause.) The risk of radon-associated lung cancer is much higher for smokers than nonsmokers.6

You cannot smell or see radon. But it's easy to test for it with a do-it-yourself kit available in hardware stores or through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). For more information, see the topic Radon.

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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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