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"It's basic stuff, but it works," says Landrigan. "In East Harlem in New York City, we have shown that families who use these methods actually get better pest control than families who bring in the exterminator every month."

In one study, the family using IPM had a serious reduction in the number of roaches after the first month. The family with the exterminator had roaches back just two or three days after the spraying.

3. Replace wall-to-wall carpeting. "Carpeting is an incredible sink for dust, mold, and mildew -- and those all can trigger asthma in children," says Landrigan. Pesticides, pet dander, lead dust, and chemicals from cleaners and other household products can settle into the fibers.

Some things to consider about carpet:

VOCs: New carpeting has many chemicals -- including formaldehyde -- in its adhesives, glue strips, and rug pads. These volatile organic compounds (VOCs) evaporate into the air, causing chemical fumes that can irritate eyes, nose, and throat as well as trigger headaches. That new carpet smell? Those are VOCs you're breathing in.

Most of these fumes "off-gas" into the air within a few months of installation, but some fumes may linger as long as five years later. 

PBDEs: Another set of chemicals -- polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) -- are also a concern. This family of flame-retardant chemicals is used to slow a fire, and carpet padding is full of it. They're also found in TVs and electronic devices, upholstered furniture, and mattresses. PBDEs end up in household dust, exposing everyone in the family.

Sonya Lunder, MPH, a senior analyst with Environmental Working Group, has conducted several studies of PBDE exposures -- including one that found toddlers had three times the PBDEs in their blood that their mothers had. "It's because they're on the ground more, putting hands in their mouths, toys in their mouths," she tells WebMD.

PBDEs accumulate both in the environment and in our bodies. Studies of laboratory animals have shown that even small doses of these chemicals impair attention, learning, memory, and behavior. After research raised concern about toxicity, two types of PBDEs were voluntarily taken off the market in 2005. But other forms of PBDEs are still out there. 

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