When raising children, it is extremely important to consider the health and environment of your home, as poor indoor air quality can significantly affect your family’s health. Most homes were built and decorated with components – walls, particleboard, insulation, roofing, paints, flooring and sealants – filled with toxic fumes and chemicals, and they can lead to lead poisoning, respiratory ailments, electrical injuries, and nerve damage, among other things. Your home should be a safe haven in this world filled with toxins. Every choice you make regarding your home environment can either help or hurt your family’s health. Children have the right to grow up in a healthy home, free of chemicals and environmental hazards, and it’s up to parents to do whatever they can to achieve that.
Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer – behind smoking – in the U.S. Radon is a naturally occurring, radioactive gas produced by the breakdown of uranium in soil, rock, and water within the earth. The negative effects of radon are 100 percent preventable. Test your home. There are many affordable self-tests on the market. Controlling radon involves three principles:
- Eliminating the radon pathways
- Reducing the “vacuum effect” that pulls radon into your home
- Incorporating radon-removal features
Carbon monoxide is an odorless, tasteless gas – produced by a lack of combustion of natural gas, wood, coal, kerosene, gasoline, and tobacco -- that can be released during the burning of fuel. Home sources include furnaces, gas stoves and ovens, heaters, generators, and vehicles. Carbon monoxide starves the body of oxygen and can cause long-term health and developmental problems, as well as death.
- Install carbon monoxide detectors (available at all hardware and home improvement stores) in your home and have your gas appliances safety-checked annually to ensure that they are functioning properly.
There are more than 50 million people in the U.S. affected by allergies, most of which are caused by indoor air pollution. Even in the cleanest homes, the air is loaded with microscopic particles, chemical gases, and bacteria that can trigger allergic reactions or negatively impact indoor air quality. Some symptoms include sinus infections, joint pain, and depression.
According to recent U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) studies, indoor air can be up to 100 times more polluted than outdoor air. It is estimated by the EPA that most Americans spend as much as 90% of their time indoors and that indoor air pollution is America's most serious environmental problem affecting the health of humans.
- Make sure that you have a good air filtration system. Standard filters may not be enough to remove dust particles, mold and pollen spores. I would recommend installing a HEPA filter if it’s within your budget.
Most home water comes from municipal reservoirs, which get their water from rivers, lakes, wells, and sewage treatment plants. All can easily be contaminated by agricultural runoff, pollutants, animal and human waste, and landfills. Contaminants commonly found in drinking water include:
- Particulates (which include heavy metals)
- Dissolved solids
- Volatile chemicals (which include pesticides)
- Prescription drugs
- There are many solutions. Though they do waste water, I recommend reverse osmosis filtration units. Most reverse osmosis units are combined with activated carbon to remove a wide range of contaminants. If water efficiency is more important to you than the water’s purity, I would probably recommend an activated carbon filter.
Paints & Stains
Beware of leaded paint – and dust from leaded paint – in older homes. An estimated 90% of all childhood lead poisoning is the result of deteriorating lead-based paint and lead dust found in and around the home – and from lead dust stirred up during painting and remodeling projects. Infants and toddlers are at greatest risk. Lead poisoning can lead to brain damage, poor physical growth and development, social and behavioral problems, and learning disabilities. If you live in a home built before 1980, test painted surfaces to see if they contain lead and hire professionals experienced in lead abatement if the presence of lead is detected in your home.
There is nothing like a new coat of paint to brighten a space, but the wrong kind of paint can cause headaches, scratchy throats and watery eyes from the offgassing of VOCs (volatile organic compounds) found in traditional paints. These VOCs continue to offgas into your environment for long periods, causing a host of problems, especially for children and sensitive people.
- Buy no- or low-VOC paints and take appropriate measures when dealing with old lead-based paint.
Coatings & Adhesives
When building or remodeling a home, adhesives are often overlooked entirely or considered at the last minute. However, adhesives are full of toxic volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and are often more toxic than the flooring and other products they bond. The volatile solvents are used to emulsify (or liquefy) the resin that acts as the bonding agent, and they contain formaldehyde, a possible human carcinogen, among other toxins.
Request that your contractors use water-based, formaldehyde-free adhesives (such as white glue and yellow woodworking glue) in your home, and use solid wood when possible, since many of the toxic adhesives are found in manufactured-wood products. If you must use manufactured-wood products such as plywood, particleboard, and MDF, if formaldehyde-free versions aren’t available, seal these products with something like BIN primer sealer to prevent offgassing of VOCs into your living space.
Most flooring is filled with gases, chemicals, and toxins (often from adhesives, as mentioned above). All flooring materials have distinct advantages and disadvantages. You need to research what is best for you.
I would recommend:
- Bamboo flooring
- Natural linoleum
- Cork flooring
- All natural, nontoxic solid wood flooring
- Straw, wool & soy carpets
Cleaning & Maintenance
Most household cleaners are safer and more effective than they used to be. However, there are still hundreds of chemical contaminants in the cleaning products being manufactured and used every day that cause indoor air pollution and account for large numbers of childhood poisonings. You need to read the labels and know what is contained in each of these products.
Mold can cause allergic reactions (as well as structural damage to your home) and can only grow in conditions that are damp and dark and where the air is still. Take whatever steps necessary to make mold-prone areas dry, light and try to move the air as much as possible. If you discover a mold problem in your home, please consult someone certified in mold testing and remediation. Keep in mind that it is vital that you remove the source of the mold before attempting any cleanup.
Garden & Yard
Lawns do not need synthetic fertilizers or pesticides to keep them healthy, beautiful and green. Chemicals actually harm your lawn by discouraging root growth, causing thatch buildup, and making your lawn more vulnerable to pests and drought. This sets up a vicious cycle of dependence on products you never needed in the first place. Pesticides are poisons and can make you, your pets and your family ill—children and developing fetuses are particularly vulnerable to their harmful effects. Pesticides can contaminate well water and groundwater and drift into surrounding areas when they’re applied. Birds, pets and other animals that eat worms, bugs, grass, and granulated pesticides from a treated lawn can be poisoned.
- Consultant a local garden expert on your specific needs. Be careful of anyone recommending “organic” manure or compost, especially if you have an animal that might track the manure into your house. As with food products, read the labels carefully. You do not want fecal matter on your lawn.