How toxic is your home?

how toxic is your home?We live in an environment constantly under attack from harmful outside influences. Despite how sanitised we think our homes are and however much we proudly polish and clean them, the toxicity of modern living is all around us. Our guide examines everyday situations around the home - you'll be surprised just how many hazards there are!


Children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of pesticides. Apart from the risk of ingestion, some also give off toxic ethers. Among the more serious risks are the development of brain cancer, childhood leukaemia, lymphoma, and asthma. Indeed, a study in the United States carried out by EPA (Environment Protection Agency) found 23 pesticides in the air breathed within the average home.

Hands & FeetHands & Feet

Every time you enter your home from the outside world, give a thought to what might be contained on the soles of your shoes and leave them safely on the mat. Dog excrement, phlegm, bacteria and dozens of other undesirable contaminants can be inadvertently brought into the home underfoot. If you fail to take your shoes off, these substances are automatically transferred to your floor surfaces which ordinary cleaning usually fails to remove.

Next time you do a supermarket shop, be sure to wash your hands. A survey carried out by the Korean Consumer Protection Board found that shopping trolley handles were the most bacteria-infested items in a list of commonly touched objects, containing an average 1100 colony forming units (CFU) of bacteria per 10 sq cm. Staphylococcal infections and food poisoning can easily enter the home via unwashed fruit and vegetables which have been in direct contact with the shopping trolley's metal surfaces. If you have had your shopping in carrier bags inside your trolley, do not make the common mistake of putting your bags on the kitchen worksurface for unloading as you are simply transferring the germs.

Living near pylonsLiving near pylons

Avoid living too near electricity pylons, radio and mobile phone masts if you possibly can. Some experts say that it is safe but there have been too many reports in the past twenty years to suggest this statement is categorically true. Living too near electricity pylons has been linked to childhood leukaemia and living in close proximity to a mobile phone mast is reputed to have a number of ill effects on the human body.

Think about flooringThink about flooring

Cast out old and worn out carpets. They harbour dirt deep inside the pile that an average vacuum cleaner cannot touch. Dust released into the air you breathe within the home contains carpet beetles, dead skin, bacteria and toxic black mould. Some woollen carpets are also treated with pyrethroids, an insecticide which acts as a nerve poison. Modern solutions such as timber flooring or, where appropriate, Amtico surfaces offer a floor solution which is easier to keep hygienically clean.

Road RiskRoad Risk

Living in a built-up area or too near a main road can pose a serious health risk in addition to the natural hazard of a road accident. Studies have shown that exhaust fumes which contain benzene are one of the main contributory factors in developing lung cancer. Soot from fuel combustion is also linked with lung and cardiovascular disease and can aggravate asthma. The key dangers are tiny particulates called PM10s. Although most modern cars run on unleaded fuel, lead is still a serious air pollutant and high concentrations in the blood can damage the central nervous system, kidneys and brain. Children exhibit vulnerability to the toxic effects of lead at much lower concentrations than adults and it has been shown that there is a strong link between high lead exposure and impaired intelligence in school age children. There is something to be said, therefore, for rural living.

Sleeping tightSleeping tight

Always sleep in 100% cotton sheets and vacuum and turn your mattress regularly. Synthetic fibres are more likely to harbour and encourage the growth of harmful bacteria - and an un-vacuumed bed makes the perfect home for dust-mites, bed bugs, dead skin and fungal spores. A build up of these can cause a number of skin problems.

Carbon MonoxideCarbon Monoxide

If you can site your gas boiler outside the house, do so! The silent killer, Carbon Monoxide is a highly toxic bi-product which reduces the oxygen carrying capacity of blood. Even at low levels, it reduces concentration but ingested at a higher level, causes nausea, headaches, dizziness and ultimately, death. One only has to think back to October 2006 and the Greek holiday tragedy involving young Robert and Christianne Shepherd who died in their holiday accommodation due to carbon monoxide poisoning. Learn more about the dangers of Carbon Monoxide at

Cooking with gasCooking with gas

Use electricity to cook with instead of gas. Nitrogen dioxide (NO2), one of the by-products of domestic gas ovens can have both acute and chronic effects on health, particularly in people with asthma. At relatively high concentrations, NO2 causes inflammation of the airways. Studies also suggest that long term exposure to NO2 may affect lung function and thus increase the level of respiratory infections in children as well as enhancing the response to allergens in sensitive individuals such as the elderly.

The humble PCThe humble PC

Got a PC, fax or copier in your bedroom? Millions of us have but few know that the circuitry and inks emit volatile carbon toxins into the air. Here's a few of the worst offenders lurking in your machinery: Lead - shown to cause damage to the central and peripheral nervous systems, blood system and kidneys. Barium - used in the front panels of old CRT monitors. Studies have shown that short-term exposure to Barium (through ingestion) can result in brain swelling, muscle weakness, and damage to the heart, liver, and spleen. Mercury - 22 % of the annual global consumption of mercury is used in electrical and electronic equipment. Found in batteries and LCD flat screens, it is more toxic than lead, cadmium or even arsenic! Other unfriendlies in your PC are tin, arsenic, beryllium, hexavalent chromium, selenium, arsenic, manganese and silver! Happy surfing!

Bedroom TVBedroom TV

Be aware of TVs viewed in bedrooms which tend to be viewed at closer proximity than the living room. EMFs (Electromagnetic Fields) emitted from the screens have been shown to damage melatonin levels which we all need for restful sleep. Plasma screen televisions also give off high magnetic and electric fields within a 6ft radius so sit well back.


If you live in an old property, be sure to carry out redecoration carefully. Old paint such as that discovered six layers deep in a Victorian property often contains lead which is extremely harmful to health. The most serious effect is encephalopathy. Permanent damage to the nervous system may also occur resulting in behavioural difficulties. Lead toxicity also has other insidious effects such as causing organ failure in the kidneys damage to the red blood cells.

Household cleaningHousehold cleaning

Going green with your household cleaning products does not mean you have to become an eco-anorak. However, normal bleach contains Chlorine, some of the proprietary spray polishes contain volatile toxins and other brands of cleaning products use dangerous toxic solvents, carcinogenic detergents etc.

Personal healthPersonal health

Switch soaps and personal hygiene products to safer alternatives and beware of using perfume or perfumed products directly on the skin. Why? Sodium Iauryl sulphate weakens human skin, allowing more toxins to be absorbed by the body. offers alternative cleaning products every bit as effective as their chemical counterparts.

    • By Barry Cashin
      03 March 2009