What it is: If your home was built before 1978, it may contain lead-based paint (sometimes under newer layers of paint) that can become hazardous when it peels or chips. Other sources of lead in your home may include: surfaces that get a lot of wear and tear (like doorframes), dust, old pipes, and children’s toys manufactured outside of the U.S. or in the U.S. before 1978.
What it does: Lead exposure has been linked to cardiovascular and nervous system problems. In children ages 6 and under, lead exposure can cause permanent damage to the brain and nervous system, which can lead to behavioral problems and learning disabilities. Pregnant women should also be careful, as lead exposure can result in miscarriage or premature birth.
Fix it: There are several steps you can take to reduce your exposure to lead in the home, including:
What it is: Behind the wallpaper and family portraits, you might find asbestos lurking deep inside your walls. Asbestos is a fiber that is often used for insulation or as a flame retardant in construction. Asbestos is generally harmless if it remains undisturbed. However, construction work — including remodeling, repair and demolition — can release asbestos particles into the air.
What it does: Asbestos exposure increases your risk of lung cancer, mesothelioma (a rare cancer that occurs in the lung, chest, abdomen and heart) and asbestosis, a serious, noncancerous disease of the lungs.
Fix it: Asbestos can only be released into the air if materials containing asbestos are disturbed. If you’re not sure if a material contains asbestos, leave it alone. If you’re planning to remodel, or if you notice drywall or insulation in your home that needs repair, have a trained professional inspect your home for asbestos.
What it is: Radon is an odorless, invisible gas found in the soil. It can move from the ground into your home through cracks, holes and gaps in your home’s foundation.
What it does: Radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer (behind cigarette smoking), accounting for 21,000 lung cancer deaths each year.
Fix it: The only way to determine if your home contains radon is to test for it. Radon testing is fairly easy and inexpensive — many places sell self-test kits with simple instructions, or you can hire someone to come in and test your home for you. If radon levels are high, consider fixing the holes in your home’s foundation.
What it is: Perchloroethylene (perc) is a clear, strong-smelling liquid used by dry cleaners. Perc removes stains and dirt from clothing, yet doesn’t make clothes shrink or dyes bleed.
What it does: According to Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), perc might increase your risk of cancer. Brief exposure to perc can cause dizziness, confusion and headaches, and can irritate your eyes, nose and throat. Exposure to high levels of perc have been associated with damage to the body’s central nervous system, liver and kidneys.
Fix it: Clothes cleaned with perc release small amounts of the chemical in the air after they are dry cleaned; when you bring a load of freshly laundered clothes home from the cleaners, be sure to air your clothes out by hanging them in a well-ventilated area before putting them into your closet.
Published March 4, 2013.
Eve Harris helps healthcare providers, patients, advocates and researchers bridge communication gaps. Her knowledge of the patient experience ensures compelling stories while her understanding of medicine ensures accuracy.