Is Your Home Making You Sick?

    Photo: gracey/morguefile.comFeeling a little under the weather lately? One potential source of your illness could be your own home, thanks to the smorgasbord of toxins that tend to lurk inside, causing issues like difficulty breathing and infertility. Maybe it's time for your house to get a thorough going-over to look and eliminate potential culprits so you can live more comfortably, and healthfully.

    1. Mold

    Mold is a common cause of household illnesses, because it's not good to inhale, and it's often hiding in all kinds of surprising places. Worse yet, mold may not be visible, as it can live embedded between walls, inside the insulation of a roof, or under carpeting. If you're noticed respiratory problems or skin outbreaks along with a musty or dank odor around the house, you might have a mold problem. Your house needs to be warm and dry to prevent mold...and you might need to tear up some carpeting, punch into the wall to remove damaged insulation, and take other steps to get rid of a mold problem.

    2. Cleaning products

    What are you using to clean up around the house? Some bathroom and kitchen cleaners are very harsh. They can contain a variety of chemicals that are not good to inhale and have been linked with issues like lowered sperm count and cancers. Consider some all-natural cleaning alternatives and break away from the harsh chemical solution to household messes. If you live in a major city like Houston, your cleaning service should know about nontoxic cleaning options and should be willing to adopt them in your home.

    3. Herbicides and pesticides

    Using these products to kill unwanted visitors in the garden and around the house? You might want to think again. Many contain hormone disruptors and other chemicals that can cause illness after prolonged exposure -- and they don't just make you sick, they can also affect pets and developing fetuses. That's bad news, especially when there are so many natural pest control options you can pursue to keep your home pest-free and healthy, too.

    4. Flame retardants

    These chemicals are added to textiles and upholstery to make them fire-resistant, but they're also highly toxic. In many states, they're no longer required, or companies are using alternatives to traditional products because of the known toxicity of commercial options. When you buy new furnishings, rugs, draperies, and other home textiles, ask about what kinds of chemicals may have been applied or used in production.

    5. Paint

    Repainting is always a blast; adds color, changes the way a room feels, and more. But you might be getting more than you bargained for in that can of Sunshine Yellow. Consider low VOC paints, which are designed to offgas less, for a more comfortable repainting job, and one that won't make people sick.

    6. Formaldehyde

    This chemical is sometimes used in sheetrock, engineered woods, paneling, and other construction materials. You definitely do not want it in your house, as it's linked with a host of health problems, and it doesn't smell too hot, either. Buy formaldehyde-free for greater health in your home. Many manufacturers who produce without this chemical also take care to avoid other potentially hazardous compounds.

    7. Asbestos

    No longer used in home construction, asbestos was once extremely common in shingles and tile. It was durable, fire-resistant, and affordable. Unfortunately, it is also cancerous. If you're renovating or considering the purchase of an older home, you need to have it evaluated for asbestos first, and if it is present, you should discuss mitigation options with an expert. It may make sense to have it removed by a trained team, or to cover it over with an approved product.

    8. Solvents

    Whether you're cleaning paintbrushes or removing oil stains from the garage floor, you may be working with solvents in and around your home. These chemicals are often very harsh. Consider using green solvents, designed to lift grease and other compounds without the harsh side effects, and always remember to wear face and eye protection when working with chemicals.

    9. Lead

    If you have an older home, you probably already know about this problem: this toxic metal was once widely used in paints. Take care when stripping layers of old paint, as you may need to bring in specialists to handle it. Those considering a repainting job to cover lead paint are strongly encouraged to get this toxin out of their homes, but remember the warning above: don't replace it with offgassy modern paints!

    10. Treated lumber

    It's great for decking because it resists weather and insects, but it shouldn't be used indoors, and it shouldn't be burned, either. That's because treated lumber is filled with chemicals, and they aren't healthy. In fact, you might want to consider skipping it altogether and using a naturally durable wood (like redwood) instead. These woods have organic compounds that help them resist pests, and they don't make anyone sick.

    Organizations like Greenguard work on the issue of toxins in the home, and regularly issue advisories on common household chemicals and how to get rid of then. Do the residents of your home a favor and get the toxins out so everyone can live healthier, happier, longer lives -- and make sure to stay up to date with evolving information in science so you can keep up with newly emerging data. For example, many people believed for years that soft, flexible plastics weren't harmful. Today, we know that the plasticizers used to make them so flexible and durable are actually cancerous, especially when exposed to heat and repeated uses.

    Katie Marks writes for

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