Feeling fatigued, walking around the house constantly sneezing and possibly dealing with a chronic runny nose is no way to go through life. Yet, for half of the U.S. that can be the reality.
People go about their daily lives without knowing about the hidden toxins in your home. The four walls you’re surrounded by every evening could be harboring as much as 100 times more pollutants than the outdoor air.
When air pollutants are discussed, the context is usually relating to the air beyond your front door. Very little is shared about the massively higher amount of hidden toxins in your home.
Given that indoor spaces are more compact, concentrations are higher than outdoor air pollutants by volume, making these potentially lethal, and in some cases, they are, lethal toxins in what you thought was a clean and sanitized home.
Guidelines are available for manufacturers to produce material within safe limits of exposure. But, when you consider that the manufacturing industry knew Asbestos was killing people since 1918 yet it took until 1989 for the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) to announce it would be phased out, only to have lobbyists petition the courts to overturn the ban just two years later… it stands to reason you need to take action yourself. Nobody else will!
Some things are outside of your control. Other things like the pollutants inside your home, you can do something about. This is how to do just that because…
The only way to reduce the toxicity levels in your home is to take matters into your own hands, research the hidden toxins around your home exposing your family to long-term health concerns and take the steps to test for the toxins and then reduce them, if you can’t eliminate them.
The information discussed here covers five of the major toxins affecting homes across the United States, the symptoms associated with them as well as how to test for toxins in your home.
The 5 Hidden Toxins in Your Home You Need to Know About!
1 – Lead-Based Paint
Over half the homes in the U.S. built prior to 1978 could have lead-based paint. In particular, if during renovations, existing paint wasn’t removed but instead painted over. Under the surface of old paint could be layers of lead-based paint that’s been banned for decades.
We’ve known for years that high levels of lead in the environment cause serious damage to health, including having the potential to be lethal. In smaller doses though, the problem’s just as severe.
If you do have lead-paint in your home, Government advice is to leave it alone. If you’re going to be renovating, you may be considering stripping the paint off areas such as woodwork to give it a fresh coat.
Before, you do, you may want to use a lead test kit to find out if the paint you’re working with is lead-based. If the paint hasn’t been completely stripped from the surface in decades, but instead painted over, chances are, there’s old paint that could disperse dangerous dust pores when disturbed.
The best areas to check are your window sills, and the paint behind the door handles because many homeowners will cover the handle with tape, painting around it, rather than behind it.
Lead from paint-based products are particularly problematic in family homes, mainly in the kids bedroom as low levels of lead exposure has been found to reduce IQ levels, deteriorate hand-eye coordination, affect long-term memory and cause children to have slower reaction times.
The paint itself isn’t the problem. It’s the lead dust spores that come from it that are a hazard to health when inhaled.
If you have lead present in your home taking up more than six square feet, and intend to use a private contractor, they’ll need to be trained and EPA approved to disturb lead paint.
For those who want to go ahead and get rid of it D.I.Y style, there’s government guidance available here on how to do that safely.
The main things you’ll need is a HEPA mask to prevent inhaling the spores and for everything in the room you’re working in, protective sheets should be doubled and taped down to ensure that any lingering dust with lead present doesn’t transfer into soft furnishings, carpets, furniture and clothes.
2 – Contaminated Water
Erin Brockovich took legal action against Pacific Gas and Electric in 1996 when high levels of carcinogen chromium-6 contaminated the water supply.
However, that’s only one of hundreds of chemicals in the tap water you pour every day to drink, bathe and brush your teeth with.
Water systems have been neglected for far too long. So long, it’s going to cost an estimated $384 billion in future investments just to keep water clean. How clean’s clean though? Safer than before, because right now, the water is contaminated with hundreds of chemicals.
To test for toxins in your water supply, there are various testing kits available.
The key elements to test for are what’s known as PFAS – Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances.
These are man-made chemicals that take years to break down and it’s believed a number of them are already in our bodies. The chemicals are used in food products, most notably on non-stick pans with Teflon coatings. Handy for sliding your scrambled egg over your toast straight from the pan, but not so healthy in the long-run.
One of the largest health studies of recent times studied the effects of PFAS in the water supply of Mid-Ohio between 2005 and 2013. A half dozen categories of diseases were believed to have probable links to PFAS.
- High cholesterol
- Ulcerative colitis
- Thyroid disease
- Testicular cancer
- Kidney cancer
- Pregnancy-induced hypertension
According to the Natural Resource Defence Council (NRDC) an estimated “15% of 70 million homes” (that’s 10.5 million people) have tap water with health-based contamination.
Some of the worrisome toxins in tap water include:
- Arsenic – Yes, the poison. Since the 1960s, regulatory standards were 3 parts per billion. It’s since been lowered
- Nitrates – while a naturally occurring chemical, its use in pesticides is a concern for ground water contamination. It’s harmful during pregnancy as it can cause blue baby syndrome
- Radioactive contaminants
- Vinyl Chloride
- Perchlorate (interferes with thyroid hormone production)
- Prescription drugs flushed down the toilet can make their way into the water system.
How to Test for Toxins in your Home’s Water Supply
You can use a Smart Water Test kit called TapScore to identify all the contaminants in your water supply. As it is a Smart test, it is expensive. A number of cheaper tap water test kits are available.
These are only useful to tell you the extent of the contamination, but it’s safe to assume that your tap water is not the healthiest. If you want to know just how bad the problem is, you can use water test strips, color disk kits or a handheld digital water quality tester.
You can also find out what’s in your water without a test by using the Environmental Working Groups database by using their zip code search. The results will tell you the number of detected chemicals that are above health guidelines and additional contaminants detected that have no guidance but are hazardous to health.
As you can see in that video, these chemicals are legally allowed to be in your tap water and there’s 160 contaminants identified with no regulations on them at all. The only way to safeguard your family’s health is to run your tap water through a filter.
There’s two ways you can go about filtering your water. One is to use a faucet/tap water filter, the other is to use a pitcher with a water filter, which you can then fill in the morning and put in the fridge for chilled water that’s purified.
To prevent showering in contaminated water, attach a shower filter to get rid of the toxins before your hair and skin’s doused with impurities.
3 – Radon!
Radon gas can find its way into your home through the building’s materials or by rising up from the foundations of your home. Like carbon monoxide, it’s an invisible and odorless gas.
Radon is radioactive! The EPA estimates it’s a cause of “21,000 fatal cases of lung cancer” – second cause to smoking.
The guidelines are to get radon levels down to 2 pCi/L (picocuries per liter) of air because it’s hard to get it lower than 2. The average home tested for radon has 1.3 pCi/L.
In terms of the level of risk radon presents, if a non-smoker was exposed to this level over their lifetime, the possibility of developing lung cancer is 1 in 500. If the radon levels are 4 pCi/L, the risk of lung cancer is 3.5 times higher.
The only way you’ll know if radon’s present in your home (and at what levels) is to run a test specifically for it using a radon testing kit.
A number of things can be done to lower the radon levels in your home. If you get a high reading, over 4 pCi/L , it’s probably best to hire someone certified to tackle the problem. The average cost to hire a radon certified professional is $1,500.
For levels under 4 pCi/L, a far cheaper solution is to work with the science and boost air circulation in combination with a negative ion generator.
To get the air flowing better, consider installing a ceiling fan. What will happen when ions are charged and the rooms have improved air circulation is the radon will become positively charged causing it to be attracted to the walls, ceilings, furnishings etc. instead of lingering in the air for your family to inhale the gas.
Use a ceiling fan and a negative ion generator in the room(s) your family spend the most time in and they won’t be filling their lungs with radon.
To read more about the effects of ions on health, see this page on the OrganicLifestyleMagazine.com.
To ensure you’re getting accurate test results from your radon test kit, refer to EnviroVent’s Guide on Testing for Radon in the home. Most quality radon test providers will provide detailed instructions on how to use the test kit accurately.
4 – Mold and Mildew
All types of mold are a hazard to health.
The Institute of Medicine (IOM) released a report in 2004 linking mold exposure indoors to upper respiratory tract conditions, wheezing, coughing, asthma, and a shortness of breath in those exposed to mold.
You don’t really need to know how to test for mold as it’s easy to spot. They’re black spots although they can be white, yellow, gray and green too. Mostly though, it’s black spots that’ll gather where moisture is high and then spread sporadically.
You’ll see them on damp areas of your home, including on furniture, wallpaper, damp patches of carpet, in your bathroom, kitchen, and around doors and windows.
Leaving them will only cause them to multiply to spread mold spores across surfaces and contaminate the air you’re breathing. This is why mold is linked to respiratory tract diseases.
If you do have mold and mildew, don’t just wipe it down with a damp cloth. Mix a solution of 1 cup bleach with a gallon of water and wash the surface with that.
To keep mold away, keep the moisture level low. Use a digital hygrometer indoors to monitor the moisture levels. The zone to be in is under 50% relative humidity.
If you still see condensation on your windows, you may want to increase ventilation to bring the room’s relative humidity down to 40%. Without a hygrometer, you’d be guessing. If you’re experiencing damp, mold or mildew problems, a hygrometer is a must.
To increase ventilation, opening windows and doors is the simplest fix. If heating’s a concern, such as during winter months, make sure when you’re cooking, showering, or running a bath that exhaust fans are on to prevent moisture levels building up.
Another thing to consider is an attic vent as a lot of stagnant air can get trapped in the attic, resulting in air with a lot of moisture penetrating through the attic floor, raising the moisture level of your entire home. Best to let the air that reaches your attic, out.
That is, if humidity is increasing because of condensation and not related to water leaks, which can come from a roof leak or a burst pipe.
See this video so you can tell the signs apart.
5 – Air Pollutants
The number of air pollutants in homes can be ridiculously high, especially in homes where fragranced products are used as they have high amounts of VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds).
Like candles – they smell gorgeous. But they’re made of paraffin, which while safe in the product, when you burn them, they’ll release elements of toluene and benzene into the air, both of which are carcinogens. There is a zero-safe limit on those as they are cancer causing chemicals.
Air fresheners, especially aerosols contain high amounts of ethylene-based glycol ethers. These can contribute to neurological disorders in the worst of cases, but even in small doses, can leave you feeling fatigued, and nauseous.
A number of cleaning products that contain alcohol, petroleum-based solvents and ammonia can have similar effects on your health.
If you must use scented products, load up on air plants as they’ll absorb a lot of the VOCs released from fragrances, and you can buy them by the pack online, already potted and shipped to your door.
The safer alternative is to stop burning fragranced candles and switch to fragrance free cleaning products, including your laundry detergent.
There’s no question about whether or not your indoor air is polluted. It’s how bad is your air quality?
How to test for toxins in your home air is to use any of the testing products above, but if you’re going to improve it, you need a baseline so you know what changes improve your air quality and which methods or product changes are ineffective.
You can do that by using indoor air quality monitors, sometimes referred to as IAQ devices for short.
Top of the market brands include Foobot, Awair, and NetAtMo.
That being said, it has its place and it’s mostly going to be of use to those with Smart Homes.
For the rest of us using a bunch of electronics, running our heating systems, having the dog leaping around and shaking his/her wet fur over the carpet and your kids coming in from soccer tossing their wet kits on the kitchen floor… something a bit more practical would be a better solution because after all, we want the fixes. Not the problems.
“Complaining about a problem without posing a solution is called whining.”
The solution: Coway Mighty Air Purifier
… because it’s also an ionizer so when used in combination with increased ventilation, it’ll work to lower radon emissions too. Add with a HEPA filter to capture up to 99.97% of bacterial lingering in the air around your home, it really is an ALMIGHTY solution to cleaning your home’s air covering up to 360 ft2 with just the one device!
Furthermore, it uses a triple filtration system and can capture particles as small as 0.1 um (micrometer), making it capable of capturing the world’s deadliest air pollutants – PM2.5, – PM being the abbreviation for Particulate Matter and the number representing the size in micrometers. PM2.5 is so small it’ll easily penetrate through the body, reaching the lungs, entering the bloodstream, which then brings on the health problems.
Any air purifier needs to capture these finer particles and trap them before you inhale them.
The Coway will. And it’ll ionize the air. All you need for even cleaner air is better circulation.
The only thing it won’t do is purify your water. For that, use a faucet filter.
I have two Associate’s degrees, one in Medical Assisting and the other in Computer Technician, and I am roughly five classes from a bachelor’s degree. Though I never ended up working in the medical field, I have five and a half years of experience in IT. I recently became a stay-at-home mom to my two young boys, and I’m so excited to start this adventure with them! In my spare time, I love to bake and read pretty much anything I can get my hands on.