hazardous waste sign

5 Hidden Dangers That Can Make Your Home Unsafe

Do you feel safe in your home? Most people do.

But even though you may have thought to put up the fencing to keep your kids or grandkids from venturing too close to the pool, are there other lurking dangers in your home?

Here is our list of the top 5 dangers in most people’s homes that can cause their family harm.

Danger # 1: Household Hazardous Wastes

Household hazardous wastes consist of things we all use in our homes like cleaning products, pesticides, laundry detergents, automotive chemicals…and the list goes on and on, even including compact fluorescent lamps/bulbs (CFLs), batteries and thermometers. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the average U.S. household generates more than 20 pounds of household hazardous waste per year, and we each may store as much as 100 pounds of household hazardous waste in our homes as well!

These types of products present 3 dangers to your family.

  • First, simply exposing your family to these toxins is unhealthy. Just check out the Environmental Working Group website, org, to learn specifics about how each of these products can cause skin irritation and allergic reactions, hormone disruption and other serious health issues.
  • Storing them can be a potential health and/or fire hazard. People routinely keep gallons of household toxins – for years and years – in unlocked cabinets that kids may get into. People errantly store chemicals together, such as chlorine bleach and ammonia, which are dangerous if they come in contact with each other; if accidentally mixed they can cause a gas called chloramine, which can cause serious breathing problems or even be fatal. Many stored chemicals are also extremely flammable.

And kids are attracted to these stored household hazards. Products like laundry detergent pods can be outright fatal should they be ingested. Some 62,254 calls were made between 2013 and 2014 to poison control centers in the U.S. reporting unintentional exposures to dishwashing and laundry pods. Batteries, too, are a common choking hazard for small children and pets. CFLs and thermometers contain mercury, an extremely toxic element. Should the product break it can damage the brain and nervous system.

  • Disposal of these toxins poisons the environment long-term. You should not just toss them in the garbage or down the drain! These types of toxins need to be taken to a hazardous materials drop-off location (most communities have these; just search your city and the term “household hazardous waste disposal”; or visit earth911.com and enter your zip code to find out about disposal options for specific types of waste). Consider this: we purchase more than 3 billion household batteries in the U.S. each year and when left in landfill the metals and corrosive acids can leach into the soil and water supply.

Danger # 2: Non-working Smoke Detectors, Carbon Monoxide Detectors, Fire Extinguishers

Research has shown that many people don’t routinely check these life-saving products. And others simply don’t even have them.

Carbon monoxide is a naturally occurring, toxic substance emitted when organic fossil fuel is being burned without proper ventilation. It is odorless, so very difficult for a person to detect before they experience health effects. Gas appliances and gas water heaters, natural gas furnaces, fireplaces, space heaters, wood burning stoves, and automobile exhaust all produce carbon monoxide. These are usually vented safely, but everyone should outfit their home with working carbon monoxide detectors (it is actually legally required in some states) should that venting be compromised. There should be a carbon monoxide detector on every level of your home.

Smoke detectors should be in every room of your home, and ideally, you should have a blend of types: Install ionization (detects fast flames – 90% of people have these in their home) and photoelectric (better for detecting slow, smoldering fires); you can buy “dual” detectors which do both. Test routinely. Smoke detectors should be replaced every 8-10 years or if they do not “test” as working.

Along with testing, smoke and carbon monoxide batteries should be replaced regularly. An easy to remember strategy is to change your batteries with Day Light Savings time clock changes twice a year.

Fire extinguishers don’t help if you don’t know how to use them. Read the instructions and make sure everyone knows how to use them (and where to point, at the base of the flame). Know that the larger 7-8 lb. extinguishers only work for about 15 seconds. Yes, that is correct! 15 seconds, so you have little time to put a small fire out (and if the fire is larger than the space created when you put your arms together in a hug, just get out of the house and call 911). For home use, a dry chemical ABC extinguisher is best. Check the expiration gauge and replace or refill when indicated. Shaking the extinguisher a few times a year will prolong its life.

And while on the subject of fires, get rid of those space heaters and portable floor heaters. They are the cause of many home fires every year. If you must have them, ensure they are UL approved and have emergency tip-over shutoff feature, as well as heating element guards (and ensure children and pets are never allowed nearby). And while you are getting rid of those, check your dryer for lint build-up. Lint is highly flammable and can build up both inside – as well as outside – of your dryer. What’s the big deal? If your lint is building up next to something like your water heater, with its pilot light, you have a very combustible situation brewing.

Danger #3: Stored Medication

Medication should be discarded when expired. Discard via a household hazardous waste drop-off center or pharmacy as meds should never be thrown in the garbage or tossed down the drain (goes into the landfill or water supply).

Store medication where kids can’t find them. Use safety locks to prevent younger kids from accessing them. And given that teenagers routinely have pill parties (referred to as pharming or skittling parties where they play pill roulette with pills emptied out of their parents’ medicine cabinet), it is important to keep medication locked up even with older children/teens in the home.

Always have the number of your local Poison Control Center handy with other emergency information.

Danger #4: Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

So many things in your home emit gases, referred to as VOCs. These gases have been found to have both short- and long-term adverse health effects. VOCs include: paints, cleaning supplies, pesticides, glues and adhesives, building materials and furnishings, even innocuous things such as carpets, fabric softeners and cosmetics!

What can be done? Attempting to avoid these chemicals is step one, so purchase low or no VOC paint, and minimize your exposure to the obvious VOCs. If you must work with paint remover or other VOCs, try to do so outside. When installing new carpet, keep your windows open for several days to air out the VOCs that come from the glues and dyes in the carpet.

Formaldehyde is found in pressed wood products such as wall paneling, fiberboard, particleboard and even furniture. The problem again is the “off-gassing”, breathing in the gases that these products emit in our home. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) it can cause itchy eyes, throat and other irritations, but high levels can cause some kinds of cancer.

The best way to deal with VOCs is to reduce your family’s exposure (so don’t buy new products having VOCs identified on their labeling…check out the EPA site to learn more about how to purchase products that do not contain formaldehyde (Older houses in particular may have issues with this).

Formaldehyde off-gassing can be accelerated by heat and humidity, so using an air-conditioner or dehumidifier can help reduce the effects, as can ventilating the home.

Here’s an informative chart on “dangerous chemicals found in your home”, which includes VOCs.

Danger #5: Pet Flea and Tick Treatments

 Many of us routinely use these treatment products on our pets, and they contain pesticides such as imidacloprid, methoprene, fipronil, pyrethrins, and permethrin. We buy collars, sprays, shampoos and “spot-ons” (the vials of liquid that are squeeze onto the cat or dog’s skin) without thinking twice about the potential toxic effects on the animal – or ourselves.

Not surprisingly, there have been chemicals contained in these products that have been found to be dangerous – and subsequently banned. Studies with collars have shown that chemical residues are transferred/found in the animal’s bedding (where your child may also hang out). Fluffy may lick his brother’s fur and get a mouthful of recently applied “spot-on” chemicals. There are many experts who believe that these treatments pose health risks (to Fluffy and your own family), especially if people aren’t careful in how they use them.

Guidelines to keep your pet, children and home safe can be found at https://www.nrdc.org/stories/nontoxic-ways-protect-your-pet, and include:

  • Follow directions exactly. Do not use dog products on cats, etc. Adhere to weight categories. If the label says it is for the house, do not apply directly on the pet.
  • Separate pets after applying product so one animal won’t groom the other and ingest the chemical.
  • Monitor your pets for side effects. Don’t use chemicals on pets that are old, sick, weak, pregnant or nursing.
  • Wash your hands immediately after applying product (or wear protective gloves)
  • Do not let family members pet an animal for at least 24 hrs. after applying chemical treatments.
  • Wash animal bedding often to remove chemical residue.
  • Vacuum often to remove chemical residue in your home.
  • Clean pet-frequented surfaces to remove chemical residue.
  • Store products away from children’s reach, and away from food.

So how many of these dangers are in your home?

The good news is that many of these risks can be minimized with a little action by you! Try to make small changes over time and share the information with those that you love.

Diane Blum is a freelance writer. Please visit her at http://www.DianeBlum.com or at http://www.ObsoletedSoccerMom.com

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