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Poisons in the Home: What Every Mom and Dad Need to Know

  • Most of us live with dangerous poisons lurking in kitchen cabinets, hallway closets, basements or garages.

    When warning labels are ignored or chemicals fall into the wrong hands, disaster can occur. More than 300 children are treated in the U.S. every day and two die as a result of poisoning, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    The CDC recommends keeping toxic products such as cleaning solutions in their original packaging, out of sight and out of reach of curious children. The Environmental Protection Agency defines a toxic substance as any chemical or mixture that may be harmful to the environment and to human health if inhaled, swallowed or absorbed through the skin.

    Children are more vulnerable than adults to the adverse effects of chemical pollutants. Their bodies are developing rapidly and their hand-to-mouth activities make them more susceptible to toxic exposure, according to the Children's Environmental Health Network, which studies primarily toxins in household products, home furnishings and building materials.


    Household Products


    Experts recommend scrutinizing all household products, including:

    • Laundry packets
    • Floor and furniture polish
    • Cosmetics
    • Paints
    • Markers
    • Glue
    • Drain and toilet cleaners
    • Oven cleaners
    • Glass, wood and metal cleaners


    These products may contain chemicals such as ammonia, sulfuric and phosphoric acids, lye, chlorine, lead, formaldehyde and phenol.

    Cleaners can burn skin, irritate eyes and cause respiratory harm, and formaldehyde, found in some air fresheners, is a highly toxic cancer-causing agent. Phenol, used to kill bacteria and fungi, is found in disinfectant and antiseptic products, mouthwashes and throat lozenges. Exposure to high amounts of phenol can cause burns, liver damage, irregular heart beat and death.

     

    Laundry Packets Pose Significant Risk to Children


    Laundry detergent packets are attractive to infants and toddlers because they are soft and colorful and resemble candy, toys and teething products. Children who eat detergent packets are at elevated risk because of the concentrated levels of chemicals in the packets.

    The American Association of Poison Control Centers reports children under the age of 5 ingested, inhaled or were exposed through skin or eye contact to single-load laundry packets 10,497 times in a 10-month period in 2015. Not all exposures were poisonings or overdoses, but more than one-third of all cases required medical attention.

    A study conducted by the American Cleaning Institute revealed 61% of parents are storing laundry packets within easy reach of children. Consumer Reports has called on manufacturers to develop child-safe packaging and prominent warning labels. ACI has devised tips for better living, including Doing Laundry – The Safe Way.

     

    Home Furnishings and Building Materials


    Some carpets, textiles, foam furniture cushions, curtains, wall decorations and electronic devices are treated with toxic flame-retardant chemicals that can be hazardous. 

    A 2012 study by Duke University and University of California Berkeley revealed 41% of couches tested contained TDCPP, a cancer-causing flame retardant removed from baby pajamas in the 1970s, and 17% contained pentaBDE, also banned in the U.S.

    Researchers noted that many of the flame retardants found in the sofas are associated with hormone disruption, neurological and reproductive damage, and cancer in hundreds of animal studies and a number of human studies.

    The chemicals continuously move out of furniture foam into house dust, which can then be consumed by pets and people, especially small children who are near floors and put their hands in their mouths, the researchers said. Results of the study were published by Environmental Science & Technology.

    When it comes to building materials, the Children's Environmental Health Network says to be wary of risks associated with items such as:

    • Particle board
    • Insulation
    • Asbestos
    • Treated wood (used for decks and outdoor furniture)

      
    The CEHN says some play sets and toys, as well as outdoor swing sets and playgrounds, may be treated with toxic chemicals, made from toxic plastics or include hazardous materials.

    Indoors, the concentration of cancer-causing asbestos depends on several variables, including whether asbestos was used for insulation, or ceiling or floor tiles, and whether the asbestos-containing materials are in good condition or are deteriorated and easily crumbled, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

    Dirty Secret About Pesticides


    Even though application of pesticides usually occurs outdoors, the National Safety Council says measureable levels of up to a dozen pesticides have been found inside homes. Often, these pesticides are found in dust particles or tracked in from contaminated soil.

    Health effects linked to pesticide exposure include memory loss, loss of coordination, reduced speed of response to stimuli, reduced visual ability and altered or uncontrollable mood or general behavior disruption, according to Toxipedia.

    While some of the most dangerous pesticides have been pulled off the market in recent years, including diazinon, others still could be tucked in the corner of your shed posing a risk.

    Instead of using pesticides to control weeds and insects, the National Resources Defense Council recommends safe ways to control pests in your home and manage weeds in your lawn:

    • Wipe up spills immediately with soap and water
    • Take out garbage daily and keeping garbage cans clean of food residue
    • Mow your lawn more frequently
    • Set your mower higher to keep weeds from elbowing their way in
    • Try organic, slow-release fertilizers

     

    What Can You Do to Reduce Risk?


    Make informed decisions about the type of products you bring into your home. Before you buy, read the label to make sure you know exactly what you're purchasing. Also, understand terms and definitions found on product labels:

    • "Caution" indicates the lowest level of potential harm
    • "Warning" indicates a higher level of potential harm, meaning you could become seriously ill or injured
    • "Danger" indicates the highest level of potential harm: tissue damage to skin, blindness, death or damage to the mouth, throat or stomach if swallowed


    NSC recommends periodically cleaning out storage cabinets and carefully following disposal instructions indicated on product labels.

    Living with chemicals is a reality. Understanding risk and limiting exposure are paramount to keeping your family safe.

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