Home Hazards

There are a number of housing-related environmental hazards, such as poor indoor air quality, asthma triggers, lead paint, hazardous household chemicals, drinking water, pest infestation, physical injury risk and fire. Depending on the inhabitants of the home, some hazards may be more of a concern than others. For example, a home with young children may be more concerned with removing lead paint, installing window guards and properly storing household products and medications stored out of reach of children, whereas a home with elderly inhabitants may focus on preventing falls and injuries.

In this section we provide a brief introduction to many of these hazards and point you to more extensive resources. We start with home assessment tools and general tips, and then cover more specific hazards. You will see that while the list of hazards are extensive, many have similar root causes and all can be addressed through adherence to the Seven Healthy Homes Principles.

We also direct you to advocacy resources where they are available, such as public service announcements for carbon monoxide poisoning prevention; or specific campaigns that cab be promoted by community organizations such as “January is Radon Awareness Month.”

Home Hazards

Indoor Asthma Triggers

Asthma triggers are substances, events, or activities, that “bring on” asthma symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. Allergens, viral infections, irritants, exercise, breathing cold air, and weather changes are all considered asthma triggers. Exposure and sensitization to the following allergens and irritants found in the home and other indoor environments are major factors in the development and/or exacerbation of asthma.

  • Chemicals (such as fragrances and pesticides)
  • Dust mites
  • Mold/Moisture/Damp environments
  • Pests (especially cockroaches and mice)
  • Pet dander
  • Secondhand smoke
  • Wood smoke

Preventing and controlling indoor environmental asthma triggers is an important component of an asthma management plan. Home-based interventions such as the use of dust mite-impermeable bedding covers, improved cleaning practices, high-efficiency particulate air vacuum cleaners, mechanical ventilation, have shown to improve respiratory conditions and reduce symptom days (see research below).

Preventing and Controlling Asthma Triggers in Indoor Environments

General

Asthma Home Checklist (ARC)

Management of Indoor Environmental Asthma Triggers (EPA)

Trigger Controls (American Lung Association)

Air Purification
For Information on Air Purifiers , see our Research section.

Chemicals in Household Products
see Chemicals (Cleaners, Fragrances, Pesticides, Other)

Dust Mites
Controlling and Preventing Dust Mites

Mold and Moisture
Preventing and Getting Rid of Mold and Moisture
(Housing and Urban Development)

Pest Control
The Asthma Regional Council has extensive resources on eliminating pests in the home through the use of Integrated Pest Management.
For information on the Effectiveness of Home-based Environmental Interventions to Reduce Allergens, see our Research section.

Pet Dander
Pet Dander Control (Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America)

Secondhand Tobacco Smoke
 A Case for Smoke-Free Housing (ARC 2007)
Reasons to Explore Smoke-free Housing (National Center for Healthy Housing)

Chemicals

Chemicals (Cleaners, Fragrances, Pesticides, Other) Household products such as cleaners, deodorizers, degreasers, stain removers, disinfectants, and pest control sprays all contain chemicals that may be hazardous to your family’s health. Many of these products contain chemicals that cause eye, nose, throat and respiratory irritation. Others, such as those that disinfect or kill mold, ants, mice, cockroaches, bedbugs or other pests contain pesticides which can contain chemicals that cause developmental delays, disrupt our endocrine (or hormone) systens, or cause cancer. Many cleaners and pesticides have chemicals that can trigger asthma symptoms.

Children and pregnant women are particularly vulnerable to the toxic effects of household chemicals and all care should be taken to reduce exposure by using safer products and methods to clean and control pests. Find out more about what is in your products and safer solutions through the following resources.

General
Household Products Database Information on the chemicals in your products from the National Institute of Medicine.
A Healthy Environment Starts At Home (Massachusetts Water Resources Guide to Reducing Household Hazardous Products)
See our Research section for information on chemicals in household dust.

Building Materials
Formaldehyde in Wood Products (Healthy Building Network) Find out about sources of formaldehyde, health effects and alternatives.
Volatile Organic Compounds In Your Home (MN Dept. of Health)
Quick Guide to Green Tenant Improvements (City of Seattle)
See more on green products and renovation guidance at Building, Maintenance and Renovation.

Cleaners
Cleaning for Home Health (Inform, Inc.)
Asthmagens in Institutional Cleaners (Inform, Inc.)
10 Ways to find Safer Cleaners (Toxics Use Reduction Institute, MA)

Fragrances Massachusetts Nurses Association has information on the chemicals in fragrances and resources for fragrance-free products and policies.

Pest Control (Building and Grounds) National Pesticide Information Center Factsheets on pesticides and links to least-toxic products and safer pest control.
Simple Steps to an Organic Lawn (Marblehead Pesticide Awareness Committee)

See more under Integrated Pest Management.

Falls and Injury

With respect to Healthy Homes, Unintentional Injury can encompass many potential safety hazards including poisonings, such as from carbon monoxide or chemicals; falls; electrocution; fires and burns. Unintentional injuries are the fifth leading cause of death in the U.S., and injuries in the home are the second leading cause of unintentional injuries.

According to the National Safety Council, in 2007, falls in the home and community caused or led to 20,600 deaths. While all age groups are vulnerable, older adults are most at risk for falls within the home. Particular attention should also be paid to children and their risk for falls from windows. Below we provide you with some links to important national resources for preventing injuries in the home. Also, see your state department of public health’s webpage.

Resources

Take Action to Prevent Falls: A Home Environmental Assessment
(Fall Prevention Center of Excellence)
Window Safety Checklist (National Safety Council)

Poisoning (Chemical)
According to the Centers for Disease Control, In 2005, 72% of poisoning deaths (from drug or chemical substances) in the United States were unintentional, In 2006, poison control centers reported about two million unintentional poisoning or poison exposure cases.
Preventions Tips for Chemicals and Carbon Monoxide (CDC)

Advocacy

June is National Safety Month. You can get media kits and other resource for disemination in your community from the National Safety Council. Additionally, April 5-11 is National Window Safety Week.

Fall Prevention Awareness Week – September 20 – 27, 2009 – Activities for Community Coalitions from the Fall Prevention Center of Excellence.

Gases

Carbon Monoxide

Carbon monoxide (CO) gas poisoning is another serious and preventable home hazard that kills over 500 people in the U.S. each year and causes many more injuries. Like Radon, it is a colorless, tasteless, odorless gas. Unlike radon, CO is a byproduct of combustion. If combustion sources are not properly installed, used, vented or maintained properly, dangerous levels of CO can build up in indoor environments.

Preventions Tips for Chemicals and Carbon Monoxide
Carbon Monoxide Source Diagram
Portable Generator Hazards
See Advocacy actions below.

Radon

Radon is a naturally occuring radioactive gas that can be present in your indoor air and in your well water. Radon is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers and causes approximately 21,000 lung cancer deaths annually. It is very important to understand that the current action level of 4pc/L is an action level established in the 1980s based on best available to mitigate the gas in homes. It is not a health-based standard. In fact, the majority of lung cancer deaths tracked in this country are based on an average indoor radon level of 1.3pCi/L in indoor.

General recommendations are that you test your house every two years or after a major renovation. You should also test your well water periodically. State’s have Radon Potential Maps that give a general picture of about radon test level, but each site can be different.

Radon can be mitigated with a subslab depressurization system or with other techniques. New homes can be build with radon resistant new construction.

Visit your state’s website or contact your specific state program to learn about testing recommendations, do-it-yourself test kit information, qualified testers, radon potential maps, test data interpretation, qualified mitigation contractors, and other available resources.

Resources
The National Safety Council operates the National Radon Hotline (800-SOS-RADON) provides a basic information packet on radon, what and how to test for it. The packet also contains a coupon for a low-cost radon test kit.
Radon Publications (EPA- for consumers, home-buyers, professionals)
Radon in countertops (EPA)

Advocacy
January in National Radon Action Month. Contact your state radon program in advance to get public information materials to distribute. The EPA also has extensive Public Service Media Campaign Materials for distribution all year round.
Public Service Announcements for Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Prevention

Lead

Exposure to lead is a serious hazard to children age six and under. It is also a concern for pregnant women because lead can effect the unborn child. Lead poisoning can result in developmental delays such as learning and IQ deficits, behavioral problems, brain, liver and kidney damage.

There are several potential sources of lead exposure in homes including interior lead-based paint (pre-1978 housing) which can chip and be in household dust. Exterior paint can also chip and be in soil around the exterior of the home, and be tracked indoors. Lead in pipes and solder can contaminate drinking water. Lead can also be in toys and hobby supplies such as paint for pottery or solder for stained glass. The wires for computers and electronics as well as holiday lights can also contain a lead coating that can rub off onto hands. For important information on reducing and eliminating exposure to lead sources, see the following resources.

Resources
EPA Resources on Lead

For information about where lead is found, the health effects, how to protect your family and other resources.

National Lead Hotline1 (800) 424-LEAD [5323].

The National Lead Information Center (NLIC) provides the general public and professionals with information about lead hazards and their prevention.

Lead in Drinking Water (CDC)

Toys and Childhood Lead Exposure

Product Recalls