March 18th-26th marks National Poison Prevention Week, a week dedicated to raising awareness of toxins and the health detriments associated with exposure. While properly storing volatile substances and having an emergency plan in place can help prevent poisoning, the best means of staying safe is being aware of potential toxins in the home. The average home may contain many different types of toxins, but 3 of the most common ones found in houses are asbestos, mold, and carbon monoxide. It is imperative for all persons in a home as well as caregivers to understand the threats posed by these hazardous substances.
Asbestos and Cancer
Although asbestos usage in homes has been curtailed significantly since the 1980s, any home built prior still runs the risk of containing the material. Asbestos is a naturally-occurring silicate mineral used in many industrial and construction applications throughout the industrialization period. Due to its durability, strength, and fire resistance, asbestos was used as a fortifier in many different products, including insulation, flooring, and roofing, where remnants can still be found today. Although asbestos is heavily regulated, it is still not banned in the United States.
Asbestos began its fall from grace after workers who regularly handled the material fell ill. Their symptoms included chronic coughing, chest pain, and fluid buildup in the lungs. This illness later became identified as mesothelioma, a severe cancer stemming from direct exposure to asbestos. Prognosis for the disease is poor, as average life expectancy for a mesothelioma patient is 12-21 months upon diagnosis. Although great strides have been made in research and treatment, there is no cure for the disease.
Contrary to popular belief, there is no such thing as “toxic” mold. According to the Centers for Disease Control, toxic mold is a name given to certain varieties of mold capable of producing mycotoxins, which can cause health problems. The most dangerous of these molds is Stachybotrys atra, most commonly known as black mold. Stachybotrys is very common and will grow anywhere there is moisture, which makes damp basements a likely spot to find mold growth. Growths in indoor environments can occur from mold spores that enter the home through open doors or windows, where they settle and cultivate in high-moisture areas. These spores may also be carried through ventilation systems.
The health risks associated with mold exposure vary, but the most common ailments include respiratory issues and allergic reactions. People with asthma can struggle in environments with black mold, as exposure may further exacerbate wheezing and coughs. Those who are exposed to high levels of black mold can develop a fever and suffer from shortness of breath. Furthermore, people who have immune disorders or comorbid disorders such as cancer might develop more severe reactions and mold infections.
A Silent Killer
Carbon monoxide, chemically known as CO, is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas that commonly occurs as a by-product of combustion when there is not enough oxygen to form carbon dioxide (CO2). Carbon monoxide is perhaps one of the most dangerous toxins found in the home, as direct exposure may result in death. Carbon monoxide sources found around the home include automotive exhaust, gas ranges, and furnaces, which can cause exposure when not operating correctly. The CDC has declared that “everyone is at risk” for CO poisoning, however, infants, the elderly, and those with heart or breathing problems are more susceptible to sickness from exposure.
Each year, more than 400 Americans die from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning, and many more are hospitalized. The symptoms for CO exposure are headache, weakness, dizziness, upset stomach, and general flu-like symptoms. However, symptoms may not be discernible, especially in those who are asleep or intoxicated, which can be deadly.
How to Stay Safe
The most effective way to keep your home safe is to be aware of hidden toxins. If you suspect your house may contain asbestos, do not attempt to test and/or remove it yourself—call a professional. Mold can be remediated by professional cleaners but can also be removed with bleach, soap, and water. The most effective way to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning is to remain vigilant on appliance upkeep and to have a working CO detector with regularly changed batteries. When education and awareness on toxins take precedent, poison prevention can follow and keep inhabitants happy and healthy.
Author Bio: Shawn Tallet is a community outreach organizer with a passion for health and wellness, including mesothelioma awareness and education on the dangers of asbestos.