Toxic Household Gases

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Close-up of latex paint being poured.
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The home can be hazardous to your health. In fact, the American Association of Poison Control Centers has reported that over 90 percent of poison exposures occur within the home. The home, with its stockpile of cleansers, chemicals and manufactured items can be a cesspool of toxic gases. Manufactured goods contain a surprising quantity of chemicals, many of which have not been thoroughly tested for their effect on human health. Fortunately, homeowners can alleviate the dangers of toxic gases in their homes by using these products sparingly and safely.

Radon

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Radon, a colorless and odorless gas, occurs in the environment naturally, a by-product of decaying uranium in the soil and bedrock. High radon levels afflict nearly one in every 15 homes in the United States, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that radon exposure causes nearly 21,000 lung cancer deaths annually. The most accurate method for detecting radon is a certified testing kit, available through state radon offices. Radon mitigation systems are very successful in removing most toxic radon gases from the home.

Formaldehyde

Plywood installation in home interior walls.
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Formaldehyde is one of many volatile organic compound (VOCs) pollutants common in the home. The chemical is commonly found in pressed wood products such as plywood, particle board and wall paneling, countertops, textiles, and other construction materials and home furnishings. Newly manufactured products containing formaldehyde can emit gas for weeks or even years. Urea formaldehyde foam insulation, installed in homes in the 1970s and 1980s, released toxic formaldehyde gases for many years after installation. Increasing the flow of fresh air into the home with an air exchanger or heat exchanger helps alleviate gas concentrations. Latex paints and vinyl wall coverings block formaldehyde off-gassing.

Solvents and Cleaners

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Household solvents that produce toxic gases include paint, paint strippers, pesticides, model glue, aerosol sprays, moth repellents, air fresheners, dry-cleaned clothing, bleach, ammonia and a host of other materials. These products may produce toxic off-gases that become even more harmful when combined. Some gases may cause slight irritation, such as eye and throat burning, but extended exposure to solvent fumes can lead to more serious damage to the lungs, kidneys and nervous system. The EPA advises homeowners to purchase solvents in amounts adequate only for immediate use and to promptly dispose of unused quantities. Provide plenty of fresh air when using, and always utilize solvents according to manufacturer instructions.

Carbon Monoxide

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Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that inhibits the circulation of oxygen throughout the body. At lower levels, carbon monoxide causes extreme fatigue, headache, dizziness and nausea. Severe exposure can cause unconsciousness or death. Carbon monoxide is the by-product of combustible engines and fuel-burning equipment: gas-fueled furnaces, gas ranges, wood stoves, kerosene heaters, electrical generators and more. The most common sources of carbon monoxide in the home are faulty furnaces and unvented heaters. The EPA recommends that homeowners check their appliances yearly and provide fresh air and ventilation while gas-burning appliances are in operation.

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Rebecca Mecomber

Rebecca Mecomber, a former radio broadcaster, has been a professional blogger and writer since 2006. Her articles and interviews have appeared in "The Wall Street Journal," Salon.com and several other publications, covering topics such as Federal Trade Commission policy and media regulations, blogging, home improvement and New York travel.