Toxic Talk and Labels

Is Your Home a Toxic Haven? Check for These Seven Dangers

+ CV Skinlabs Team

Some toxic substances capable of causing cancer may be lurking around your house-in places dangerous to you and your family. To be sure your home is safe, check for these seven things.

Antifreeze. It’s great for your car, but be careful where you store it. It’s highly flammable, and if you breathe it in, you may suffer from headaches, nausea, dizziness, shortness of breath, skin irritation, and more. If your dog laps up any spills, he could suffer kidney failure and death. Watch for any leaks underneath your car when you pull out of the garage, and store unused portions in an air-tight container out of reach of young children and pets.

Asbestos. We’ve all heard how dangerous this can be, but have you had your home tested? Asbestos contains toxic fibers that can cause mild to severe lung irritation and/or long-term respiratory problems-and at long-term exposure, lung cancer. To get your own test kit, check out the Pro-Lab Asbestos Test Kit in your local Ace Hardware, Lowe’s, Home Depot, or other home stores, or order online. (Note: Houses built between 1930 and 1950 may have asbestos insulation.) Even if your home has asbestos, usually it will not cause health problems if it’s in good shape. However, wear and damage such as tears, abrasions or water damage can release the asbestos from the fibers.

Asbestos floor tile. Some floor tiles, vinyl floors, and adhesives used for installing floor tile can also contain asbestos. Have a trained professional install or remove your tile, or make sure you’re aware of what’s in your materials if you’re doing it yourself. For more information, see the EPA’s site.

Asphalt/roofing tar. If you’ve got someone in the family who installs roofing, be careful, and make sure that person is following safety protocol. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), “exposure to asphalt fumes can cause serious injury and permanent damage.” Some people also have concerns that they may be exposed in their homes during roofing projects. The Department of Environmental Health & Safety (DEHS) at the University of Minnesota says that typically, exposure to roofing tar during projects is too low to be of concern. However, the department recommends you keep windows that are downwind of roofing tar closed during the project, set the air conditioner (if there is one) to recirculate inside (not outside) air, or simply vacate the premises untilt he project is completed.

Dry cell batteries. A dry-cell battery is a common type of battery-A, C, 9-volt, and watch batteries are dry cell batteries. They’re perfectly safe unless they explode, releasing toxic substances like lead, nickel, mercury, and lithium. Never throw batteries in a fire, and don’t put regular batteries into a rechargeable battery station. (Attempting to recharge a disposable battery can lead to an explosion.) When you replace batteries, replace them all at the same time. Mixing old and new can increase risk of leakage. Finally, don’t store batteries in your pocket or purse, as they could leak or rupture if they become overheated.

Wet cell batteries. Wet cell batteries are used in cars, trucks, tractors, and other motor vehicles. They contain lead and sulfuric acid, which can cause blindness, severe skin burns, and nerve damage. Never break the seal of these batteries, and be especially cautious when charging them-they can explode. Charge in a large, well-ventilated room, make sure electrical wiring is clear of the area, and perform other hot work like welding away from the charging vicinity. Plug chargers into grounded electrical outlets, avoid using extension cords, wear eye protection, remove hand jewelry before working around batteries, and keep some bicarbonate soda or lime around to neutralize acid or electrolyte spills. Leaking or damaged batteries should be placed in an acid-resistant, leak-proof container.

Arsenic. Some types of wood are treated with arsenic to prevent rotting. However, exposure to arsenic can cause cancer, dizziness, numbness, rash, headaches, and possible liver damage. To safeguard your family, ask about raw materials before purchasing them-some alternatives include wood treated with non-arsenic preservatives and wood that doesn’t require pressure-treatment. For existing structures that may contain arsenic (like decks or picnic tables), apply a sealant to the wood at least once a year, and wash your hands after coming in contact with it. If you saw or sand existing wood, be sure to properly clean up and discard the wood chips and dust. For arsenic test kits, see this site.

Have you scoured your home for toxic dangers? Please share your experience.

Photo courtesy Annie Cavanagh via

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