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How to Reduce Exposure to Common Toxins Found in the Home

When you consider toxins in the home, you might be tempted to say that all of the potentially hazardous materials in your household are under control. After all, you keep things like automotive fluids and paint thinner locked in a special cabinet in the garage, out of reach of children, pets, and others in your home. And you’ve even gone so far as to switch to green cleaning solvents in an effort to remove toxic substances from your living spaces. But you might be surprised to learn that these harmful chemicals could still be lurking around every corner, silently causing respiratory, cardiovascular, and immune problems (amongst others). Since half the battle is knowing your enemy, here are just a few of the most common toxins found in the home and how you can reduce your family’s exposure.

1. Carbon monoxide. This “silent killer” is an odorless, colorless gas most commonly produced by gas appliances and car exhaust, and it can seep into your home when appliances (like ovens and furnaces) leak or through an attached garage. Unfortunately, this gas is deadly to humans, and children are particularly susceptible to its effects. On the upside, it’s very easy to avoid exposure. All you have to do is place CO detectors (sort of like smoke detectors that you plug into a regular outlet) around your home. When levels of carbon monoxide exceed acceptable limits an alarm will sound to warn you.

2. Phthalates. These harmful toxins have been linked to problems with the endocrine and reproductive systems and they are also known to cause developmental issues in children. Although they are most commonly found in plastics, which we’re now learning should be largely avoided for a variety of health-related reasons, phthalates may also reside in all kinds of toiletries, such as shampoo, soap, and nail polish, just to name a few. You might be loath to give up some of your favorite products, but you’ll find that there are many organic alternatives that are just as good and far better for your health.

3. Radon. There has been some noise made recently about the presence of radon in homes and its potential to cause serious ailments, namely lung cancer. The thing is, a large number of homes will find readings of this odorless gas, which is released when uranium in the soil breaks down and seeps up through the concrete. As a result, it is particularly common in homes with basements. Generally speaking, levels will not be high enough to prove harmful. But in enclosed spaces with poor ventilation (windowless basement rooms, for example) it can certainly build up. However, you can hire professionals to test for dangerous levels and even order at-home test kits online.

4. Pesticides. Although you may have sworn off the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers in and around your home, choosing organic options instead, that doesn’t mean you are necessarily avoiding exposure. If you are purchasing produce, meats, animal products, and other foods that aren’t organic you are still ingesting trace amounts of these chemicals. Even thorough washing and cooking can’t eradicate them completely. And studies on weight loss have found these toxins in the blood of those shedding fat, proving that they remain in your system rather than getting flushed out. You may not be able to avoid them completely no matter what you do, but you can certainly take steps to reduce your exposure.

5. VOCs. Volatile organic compounds are found in a wide variety of products, from paint and varnish to pressure-treated wood to air fresheners and perfumes. They could be lurking in your carpet, your walls, and your coffee and end tables. This can make VOCs extremely difficult to avoid, but if you’re careful about the products you buy and you stick to mainly organic and toxin-free fare, you should be able to minimize the VOCS in your home.