While most of us would like to think that our home is kept clean and tidy, it might come as a surprise to learn about the harmful toxins that lurk in some of the most innocuous places in and around your house.
Here are 4 places in and around the home you probably didn’t know might have toxic materials and what you can do to minimize the risks.
Before you let your kids play on the lawn, keep in mind that it may be blanketed with toxic pesticides. The commonly used herbicides for lawns are chemical first cousins of Agent Orange, which was used in Vietnam and many pesticides can have an impact on your health.
Fortunately, many cities have enacted neighbor-notification laws, requiring residents to issue warnings before spraying outside so people can shut their windows or even clear out along with their kids and pets (the health danger lasts for days for the commonly used insecticides and weeks for the herbicides).
On your own lawn, do only integrated pest management (IPM), which is a gentler and more environmentally sensitive way of preventing, monitoring, and controlling pests. Safer eco-friendly and organic lawn sprays and other nonchemical options such as aphid-eating ladybugs are surprisingly effective.
Commonly used mothballs are very dangerous chemicals. Not only are the vapors carcinogenic, they are also irritating to the nervous system. Be careful with children. If your child swallows one, it can be fatal. We suggest using a natural moth-repelling alternative such as dried-lavender and cedar products.
And those dry-cleaning bags? They harbor perchloroethylene, the most common dry-cleaning chemical, which causes cancer in lab animals, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Heavy exposure to this substance can cause dizziness and confusion, even in adults, so it’s best to minimize your use of dry cleaning. Another option is to find a professional cleaner who uses less-toxic solutions, like CO2, or does wet cleaning (a combo of water, biodegradable soap, and steam in special machines).
If you have an item conventionally dry-cleaned, remove it from the plastic and air it outside for several hours before hanging it in the closet. This will give the chemicals time to evaporate, reducing the health risk.
Your cat’s litter box
Anyone who has changed a litter box knows about the dust cloud that emits when you pour the bag into the litter box. It likely contains low levels of crystalline silica, a carcinogen, so check the label on the bag. If the warning says to go to the ER if you swallow, it’s safe to assume it’s very toxic. Replace with greener versions made from corn, wheat, alfalfa, cedar, and even pine—all of which work well. You can find natural litters at major pet stores. To give the natural variety an odor-eating boost, mix in a little baking soda. And be sure to keep the litter box in a well ventilated area.
Your home office
What could be toxic in your home office? Eye and lung irritants from copy-machine toners and fax-machine ink cartridges, in addition to gases from permanent markers, vapors from pesticides, and formaldehyde fumes from particleboard furniture.
At your office, avoid printers and copiers in your immediate work space and take 10-minute walks outside during the day to get fresh air. At home, keep printers and fax machines out of the bedroom, crack windows, and add chemical-removing plants that help act as air purifiers. The Areca Palm removes xylene (from permanent markers and rubber cement), Boston fern removes formaldehyde (from fiberboard furniture, glues and adhesives, and permanent-press fabrics and, English Ivy removes benzene (from oven cleaners, detergents, furniture polish, and spot removers).