Health Hazards in Your Home Furnishings

The EPA has found that the air quality inside most condos and houses is three times as bad as the air quality outside in terms of pollution and harmful fumes and gasses. Most home and condo owners aren’t aware of this fact, but they are probably aware of the way this type of pollution makes them feel in terms of health. Everything from breathing problems, allergies, headaches, nausea and even in some cases the possibility of increased risk of cancer can result from being exposed to certain chemicals commonly found in the home and in home furnishings and finishes. To improve both your health and quality of life, not to mention the environment, you need to know what items could pose a potential threat, especially if you’re buying an older condo or house and want to renovate or remodel it yourself.

Pressed wood products are one of the most serious offenders when it comes to toxic emissions in the home. Pressed wood can include such building materials as particle board, paneling and some types of insulation. The problem stems from the glue that is used to hold the pressed wood products together. The idea of using wood scraps that would have otherwise been landfill is great in theory and still is, but the older glue gave off formaldehyde, which is highly irritating at the least and can cause allergic reactions, respiratory illness and possibly some forms of cancer.

Though there are a lot more regulations now days to control the levels of formaldehyde in wood glue, you need to be aware of any pressed wood products that may be in older condos or houses that you purchase or move into. Wood paneling, kitchen or bath cabinets or even particle boards used in construction can still pose health problems. One bright spot is that the older the pressed wood product is, the less formaldehyde it gives off. Humid air and smaller condo rooms or houses make the problem worse. So the best thing is to try and find out how old the house or condo is you live in or are buying and if any pressed wood is present. Paneling and cabinets can be replaced and might be the best idea in the long run.

Because of raised awareness about these potentially dangerous substances and the growing trend in green building, most new construction condos like these have fewer hazardous materials than older homes. You can even go a few steps further and check out the eco-friendly Chicago real estate developments that have LEED certification.

Another big culprit of indoor pollution is the VOCs or volatile organic compounds that new carpeting emits or off-gasses. Again it is the glue and dye in the carpeting that contains chemicals that can irritate people. The highest amount of VOCs will be off-gassed right after laying new carpeting. One way to avoid this is stay out of your condo or house for a couple of days after new carpeting is installed and air the rooms out before coming back for good. You can also shop for carpeting that has lower levels of VOCs in the materials.

Probably most people have heard of the dangers of lead paint. Unless your condo or home was painted before 1978 you most likely don’t have anything to worry about. Today paint in the United States contains no lead. But if you do believe and the paint is flaking or you need to scrape it or sand it to repaint, then there is a serious danger of tiny lead particles being thrown into the air and inhaled.

Even in small doses lead can cause major health problems for adults and especially for children and pregnant women. Everything from damage to brain cells and your nervous system can result from exposure, and if children pick up the paint chips and eat them it can be even more harmful. If you’ve bought an older condo with the intention of remodeling and suspect there is lead paint present, then you should hire a professional to remove it in a safe way.

Another source of potential health problems is the chemicals used in making such items as draperies, furniture coverings, mattresses, televisions, computers and even some pajamas resistant to fire. Flame retardants are probably a necessary evil and can slow fires giving a homeowner a chance to escape and survive. But they contain PBDEs or polybrominated diphenyl ethers, which are given off into the air and inhaled or even ingested. When inside your body, they stay there and can possibly impair your memory, cause learning problems in children, decrease fertility and cause thyroid problems. Cancer is even a possibility. Some forms of PBEDs have been discontinued since 2004, but the old products that contained them are still present in some homes and the one type that is still in use is suspected of causing similar health issues.

By familiarizing yourself with potential hazardous building materials and chemicals in furnishings you can reduce your exposure and improve the quality of your indoor air and life. Both your body and the environment will thank you for it.

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