Environmental health risks in the home are a major concern for people throughout the world. By becoming familiar with some of the potential environmental risks we can then take the necessary steps to mitigate the problems.
Environment Risk #1 – Indoor Air
Although various U.S. government agencies are responsible for maintaining the quality of outdoor air, the quality of indoor air is still the sole responsibility of the resident and/or homeowner.
Polluted indoor air and other residential environmental risks can cause illnesses and injuries. This is especially true for some of the most vulnerable members of our society – pregnant women, the elderly, babies, children, and people who live with chronic medical conditions or disabilities.
Most Americans are indoors for at least 90% of the day. For the most part we all spend our time either in our homes, at work, in school, or in daycare agencies.
Given that we are indoors for roughly twenty-one hours per day, it is very important to understand the nature of the pollutants that we are exposed to. Once we are aware of the potential indoor environmental risks that are be in our home or workplace then we can take the necessary steps to eliminate them.
Air pollution levels in residences are affected by the use of cleaning products, pesticides, and air fresheners. Smoking indoors will also pollute the air.
Environmental Risk # 2- Lead Contamination
Lead is a heavy metal. It is a neurotoxin that affects the central as well as the peripheral nervous system.
Before being phased out between the late 1970s and early 1980s, lead was used in a lot of consumer products such as paint and gasoline. Even though it is no longer being used, lead dust continues to pollute many urban areas.
If a home was built prior to 1978 lead paint was probably used to coat the interior as well as the exterior walls.
Lead dust can settle in the soil outside and be tracked inside. Chipped and/or peeling indoor paint can become a hazard as well. And, if an older home is being remodeled, any sanding can propel lead dust into the air.
Environmental Risk # 3- Carbon Monoxide
When any type of fuel is not completely burned one of the bi-products is carbon monoxide (CO). It is also a bi-product of smoking.
Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas that binds to hemoglobin and displaces oxygen in humans and animals. When this happens a condition that resembles anemia is created. The longer the exposure the more devastating will be the effects.
Neurological symptoms include headache, fatigue, dizziness, and confusion. Ultimately it can impair learning, judgment, concentration and memory
CO can also exacerbate cardiac disease and cause angina, arrhythmias, and cardiac arrest.
Environmental Risk # 4 – Radon
When uranium in the soil decays naturally radon is produced. Radon is a clear, odorless, radioactive gas. The EPA has estimated that it is the cause of twenty-one thousand lung cancer deaths per year.
Radon gas rises through the ground and ultimately gains entrance into homes via holes, cracks, gas lines and water pipes. It can also seep into well water.
Environmental Risk # 5 – Pesticides
Pesticides are products that are designed to repel, destroy, prevent, or mitigate pests. The EPA has estimated that three-quarters of all U.S. households use at least one indoor pesticide every year.
Often used as a spray to kill fleas, ants, flies and other pests, pesticides ultimately will become part of the household dust. They then will settle into carpets, bedding, children’s toys and stuffed animals, etc.
The main health problems of pesticides that are used in the United States are associated with effecting people’s neurological systems. Common symptoms of exposure to pesticides include headaches, nausea, dizziness, excessive perspiration, excessive saliva, and papillary constriction.
More sever exposure can cause convulsions, bronchospasms, muscle weakness, and death.
Environmental Risk # 6 – Volatile Organic Compound Exposure (VOCs)
Volatile organic compounds are chemicals that become gaseous at room temperature. People are Virtually everyone is unknowingly exposed to thousands of different volatile organic compounds on a daily basis.
Come common sources of indoor VOCs are paints, household cleaning products, lacquers, disinfectants, air fresheners, pesticides, cosmetics, craft and hobby materials, and dry-cleaned clothing.
Furniture that was made from particle board and carpets are other potential sources of VOCs.
The health hazards will vary depending on the length of exposure and the nature of the compounds. However, the more time that young children, the elderly, and folks with respiratory conditions spend indoors, the greater is there risk.
Short term health effects can include headaches, dizziness, respiratory problems, loss of coordination, and throat and eye irritation. Long term health effects might include kidney damage, cancer, liver damage, and damage to the central nervous system.
In order to reduce many of these risks the simplest, lowest cost approach would be to prevent them from happening.
Environmental Risk # 7 – Storm Water Runoff
Storm water runoff happens when melting snow or rain flows over the ground around your home. Water-resistant surfaces such as sidewalks, driveways, and streets can stop storm water runoff from soaking into the ground.
Potential problems arise when storm water picks up chemicals, debris, dirt and other pollutants. The runoff then flows into storm sewers or directly into lakes, streams, wetlands, rivers or coastal waters.
Everything that enters into storm sewer systems continues to flow untreated until it becomes part of the water we use to drink, swim or fish in.
Environmental Risk # 8 – Drinking Water Wells
Shallow pumping wells are often used to provide drinking water because they are one of the low cost alternatives to deeper wells. However, there is a greater risk of contamination associated with these wells. That’s because any impurities that are on the surface of the surrounding land can easily reach the shallow sources.
Potential contamination can be caused by viruses such as hepatitis A and E, bacteria, fungi, parasites, and chemicals such as pesticides, dry-cleaning, fuel additives, and volatile organic compounds from gasoline.
Environmental Risk # 9 – Household Wastewater Treatment
Household wastewater carries bodily wastes, dirt, grease, food and soap out of your house and into a wastewater treatment system. Wastewater systems such as septic tanks are designed to break down and remove contaminants before they can enter groundwater or nearby streams, lakes and wetlands.
If your septic is on-site and cannot handle the load requirements or if it is old or was improperly installed or maintained then it probably does not meet the latest safety standards.
Environmental Risk # 10 – Air Conditioning Systems
If improperly cared for air-conditioning systems can promote the spread and the growth of microorganisms such as thermophilic actinomycetes and Legionella pneumophilia, which is the infectious agent that caused Legionnaires’ diseases.
Health hazards can often be avoided by treating the cooling tower with a chlorine treatment.
Air conditioning can also cause dehydration and can have negatively effect on skin, causing it to dry out.
Environmental Risks # 11 – Household Trash
Household trash includes things such as old newspapers, cans, bottles, kitchen waste such as residues from meat, fish and rice preparation, vegetable peelings, plastic bags, and left-over foods. If not properly managed, household trash and household waste can cause a wide variety of health problems.
If garbage is left to pile up in front of a house then rats, dogs, cats and other scavengers can scatter the garbage. Much of it will end up in sewage systems and canals.