Either by accident or faulty manufacturing, household consumer products injure an estimated 33.1 million people in the United States every year [source: Consumer Product Safety Commission]. These incidents rack up an astonishing $800 billion in related expenses from death, injury or property damages [source: Consumer Product Safety Commission]. The Consumer Product Safety Commission that regulates and recalls products on the market emphasizes potential dangers to children in particular for hurting themselves with toys, furniture or other common items in the home.
However, we can also pinpoint a number of invisible hazards from products we buy that aren’t as immediately apparent as a broken leg on a coffee table or a tear in a shirt. Scientists have realized that chemicals found in a wide variety of the goods we use every day may be more toxic than previously thought. In part because of the array of chemicals used to manufacture things we use in our daily lives, the National Poison Data System estimates 4 million cases of poisoning in the United States each year [source: American Association of Poison Control Centers].
We cannot discount that chemicals have made our lives easier. Thanks to them, we easily keep mosquitoes at bay, stop moths from eating our clothing and make our houses instantly smell like a dewy spring morning. But the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently concluded that indoor air may be more polluted than outdoor air [source: EPA]. And since we spend an average of 90 percent of our time inside, our home sweet home may not be so safe after all [source: EPA]. Where are these toxins coming from and what can we do about it? Read on to learn about 10 of the most common products that people are starting to think twice about bringing into their houses.
- Mothballs. Since moths chew holes through clothing and other textiles, people pack away these stinky repellents to kill them. But studies on one active ingredient in some repellents, paradichlorobenzene, found that it can cause cancer in animals. Other types of mothballs use naphthalene, which after prolonged exposure can damage or destroy red blood cells, and which can also stimulate nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
- Pesticides. Ninety percent of households in the United States use some form of pesticide, a broad term that encompasses a variety of chemical formulas that kill everything from tiny microorganisms up to rodents. In 2006, the American Association of Poison Control Centers received nearly 46,000 calls regarding children under 5 years old who had been exposed to potentially toxic levels of pesticides.
- Pressed Wood Products. This faux wood takes bits and pieces of logs and wood leftovers and combines them together. Pressed wood products include paneling, particle board, fiberboard, and insulation, all of which were particularly popular for home construction in the 1970s. However, the glue that holds the wood particles in place may use urea-formaldehyde as a resin. The U.S. EPA estimates that this is the largest source of formaldehyde emissions indoors. Formaldehyde exposure can set off watery eyes, burning eyes and throat, difficulty breathing, and asthma attacks. Scientists also know that it can cause cancer in animals. The risk is greater with older pressed wood products since newer ones are better regulated.
- Chemicals in Carpets. Indoor carpeting has recently come under greater scrutiny because of the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) associated with new carpet installation. The glue and dyes used with carpeting are Laser Printers Chemicals.
- Lead Paint. In 1991, the U.S. government declared lead to be the greatest environmental threat to children. Even low concentrations can cause problems with your central nervous system, brain, blood cells, and kidneys. It’s particularly threatening for fetuses, babies, and children, because of potential developmental disorders. Many houses built before 1978 contain lead paint. Once the paint begins to peel away will, it release the harmful lead particles that you can inhale.
- Air Fresheners and Cleaning Solutions. Air fresheners and cleaning solutions, when used excessively or in a small, unventilated area, can release toxic levels of pollutants. This comes from two main chemicals called ethylene-based glycol ethers and terpenes. While the EPA regards the ethers as toxic by themselves, the non-toxic terpenes can react with ozone in the air to form a poisonous combination. Air fresheners, in particular, are linked to many volatile organic compounds, such as nitrogen dioxide, and some fresheners also contain paradichlorobenzene, the same chemical emitted by mothballs.
- Baby Bottles and BPA. Canada has taken the first steps to outlaw the sale of baby bottles made from polycarbonate plastics, which are the most common type on the market. It has done so because the plastics are made with a chemical called bisphenol-A (BPA). BPA has a structure very similar to estrogen and for that reason is referred to as a “hormone disruptor.” Hormone disruptors can interfere with the natural human hormones, especially for young children.
- Flame Retardants. Commonly used in mattresses, upholstery, television, and computer casings and circuit boards, flame retardants use polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs for short. Two forms of PBDEs were phased out of use in manufacturing in the United States in 2004 because of related health threats, but the products containing them linger on. Studies have linked PBDEs to learning and memory problems, lowered sperm counts and poor thyroid functioning in rats and mice. Other animal studies have indicated that PBDEs could be carcinogenic in humans, although that has not yet been confirmed.
- Cosmetic Phthalates. Phthalates, also called plasticizers, go into many products including hair spray, shampoos, fragrances, and deodorants. Phthalates bind the color and fragrance in cosmetic products and are also used to increase the durability and flexibility of plastics. Like BPA, these hormone-like chemicals are linked to reproductive and developmental problems in animals. Because of these findings, California and Washington State have banned the use of phthalates in toys for younger children.
Note: This article is informational only. When making purchasing decisions, conduct your own research.
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