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Could Your Home Be Toxic?

 By now, most of us know the importance of using car seats, putting infants to sleep on their backs, and talking to children about the choices they face. But how many of us inadvertently expose our children to toxic products in our own homes?
   Numerous reputable sources agree that developmental disabilities are in part caused by exposure to toxic chemicals. The bad news is that many products designed for use in the home contain toxic ingredients that leave a residue long after their application. The good news is that by changing materials and methods, you can eliminate the problem and still maintain your home. Here are some simple tips to make your home a safer and healthier place for your family:

Check out that dresser!
   Some veneer-finished furniture can release toxic vapors. Veneer is a very thin layer of wood attached to particle board to create the look of solid wood, but the result contains sawdust and many adhesives (including toxic ones). In one study by, different furniture was placed in separate rooms in a house that had been remodeled. The same demolition methods, floor refinishing and paint had been used in each room. The furniture in one room was veneer-finished; in the other room it was solid wood.
   The difference was striking.  The odors from the veneer furniture were easily detectable, even in the hallway outside the door of the room.   While the odors themselves aren't necessarily toxic, veneers generally have particleboard that contains formaldehyde, a carcinogen. So if the veneers on your furniture give off detectable odors, chances are formaldehyde is part of the vapors and is being absorbed by your body.
   Unlike some products that emit toxic vapors for a short period when they are new, veneer products tend to give off gas for a long time. Selecting solid wood with a non-toxic finish is a safer bet.

Painting the Walls 
   Most paints contain Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), which evaporate and can cause serious health conditions including heart, lung, and kidney damage, as well as short-term problems such as nausea, dizziness, and irritation of the eyes and respiratory tract. Children, asthmatics, and those with weakened immune systems are particularly susceptible.
   A good first step is to use No-VOC paints and primers for interior painting.  No-VOC paints can be found in most paint stores; check out the labels or ask the salesperson.
Forget the Shag
   If you or your loved ones have asthma or allergies, then get rid of your carpeting.   If you are concerned about noise or heat, use area rugs.  Aside from mites (and mite droppings) living in carpeting, pesticides and toxic products get tracked in and stay on carpets.

Making the Cut
   When installing a wood floor, cut outside or vacuum the shavings so the wood dust (a human carcinogen) doesn’t remain in your home. remodeled two rooms identically, but cut the wood inside for one and outside for the other.  The wood shavings were detectable for months in the first room.

Terminating Termites
   Traditional termite pesticides are highly toxic, and the toxic residue remains a long time after the application.  Fortunately, safer options, such as heat, microwave, and borates, are effective. If your pest control company doesn't offer non-pesticide solutions or claims the pesticides are safe, then change companies.  

Fresh Air Beats Air Fresheners
   Chemical air fresheners and plug-ins frequently interfere with the ability to smell by masking odors and coating nasal passages with an oil film.  Many contain toxic ingredients that can be harmful to the lungs and irritate the skin, eyes, respiratory tract, and throat.  If the air outside is fresh, open the windows and get a cross breeze. Or you can spray mists of hydrogen peroxide (being careful not to whiten anything).

And for Fido…
   If you have pets, don't use pesticide drops on their necks for flea and tick prevention.  The "flea medicine" actually contains pesticides that can adversely affect you, your children, and your pets.  Children hug their pets (frequently close to the back of the neck where the pesticides have been applied).
   Instead use non-toxic methods for controlling them, such as regularly vacuuming all surfaces, including couches.

MICHELLE MILLER is the founder of, a company that researches and tests non-toxic building materials and methods and compiles the results into guidebooks. For more information, visit or email

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