How to Stay Safe and Avoid Toxic Injury

 Dangers of Toxic Injury

An unfortunate side effect of our modern, industrialized society is the presence of toxic substances in the air we breathe, the personal care products we use on a daily basis, the household cleaners and pesticides we use to beautify our homes, and the materials we use as we work to make our living.  This Help Center article will first explain the dangers of toxic injury in different environments, and then give you helpful tips you can use to prevent toxic injury.

At Home

The home is often our sanctuary to get away from the stress of the world.  Most people think of the home as a safe place, but many people are unaware of the dangers of hundreds of toxic substances found lurking in everyday household items such as drain cleaners, oven cleaners, laundry detergents, floor or furniture polish, paints, and pesticides.   The average Americans uses 25 gallons of toxic, hazardous chemical products every year in the home. A major portion of these can be found in household cleaning products.  Specific types of products that contain high levels of toxic substances are paints, varnishes, and enamels; specialty cleaning products; motor vehicle and passenger car bodies; adhesives and sealants; and wood preservatives.

Household cleaners are not the only potential sources of exposure to toxic substances at home.  Chemicals are also found in other household products.  Three highly toxic chemicals (Phthalates, Bisphenol A and Polybrominated Diphenyl ethers) are found in common products used by the average American every day. In the home, these products include baby bottles, shower curtains, cosmetics, couch cushions, computers and toys.    Whether they are found at home or at school, children’s toys can even be a source of toxic chemicals. Toys made of polyvinylchloride plastic contain a chemical that can damage the liver and kidneys. Children sometimes put these toys in their mouths and the chemical can leak into their mouth through the toy.

Lead is another dangerous toxin that can be found in the home. It can be found in paint and lead pipes. Paint can leave lead dust particles, especially during construction. When lead gets into the bloodstream of a child, there is an increased risk of learning disabilities, behavioral problems, anemia, and brain damage. In adults, lead poisoning can lead to high blood pressure and memory problems.  Radon is another common cause of toxic injury at home.  When radium in the soil decays, it produces a radioactive gas called radon. Radon can be found in basements, the foundation, well water, and in the cracks in a home.  It enters the body through the airways and is the second leading cause of lung cancer in America.

Controlling the weeds in the garden and insects in the home can be a source of toxins. Pesticides and insecticides can have negative health effects ranging from skin rashes to cancer. When children play outside at school, they can be exposed to pesticides.

Formaldehyde, a carcinogen, can be found in everything from glues at school to plywood and soap at home. It can also evaporate from cushions. Exposure in the home can lead to allergies, nasal irritation, and asthma attacks.  Also found in the home, more specifically in the closet, is perchloroethylene, a solvent commonly used in dry cleaning, which may increase the risk of cancer.

At Work

Workers may come into contact with chemicals because of the product they make, the way the products are made, or the type of building they work in.  Exposure most often occurs when the worker breathes chemicals in, whether as a vapor, dust, gas, or mist.  Workers also absorb toxic chemicals through the skin or by swallowing them.  Chemicals in the workplace may be obviously harmful – such as solvents, acids, carbon monoxide.  But minerals such as asbestos and silica and metals such as nickel and lead can also cause toxic injury.  Workers in non-industrial environments can also be exposed to harmful toxins if they work in a “sick building” and breath in harmful mold spores or air that is otherwise contaminated.

How to Avoid Toxic Injuries

Toxic injury from household products can be prevented by substituting the product with a less toxic version.  Household cleaners should always be locked in a cabinet so that children cannot gain access to them.  Read the labels of your household products to determine what toxins they contain. Word like “danger” and “warning” are clear indicators that the product could be harmful.  Also, always avoid using chemically laden products in areas that are not well-ventilated.

Some toxins, such as lead and radon, can be tested for.  Older houses, particularly those constructed prior to 1978, might contain walls with lead paint. Technicians can test the paint for lead and then have it removed. The risks from lead paint can also be decreased by another coat of paint.  Testing for radon can be done by purchasing a kit. If there is a radon level, a new mitigation system is recommended.

Refraining from the use of pesticides can be a simple way of possibly preventing toxic injuries. Some alternatives are to put food away after meals and seal up holes and cracks around floorboards. For pesticides hiding in the food, make sure to wash hands and food well and thoroughly before and after meals and consider switching to organic foods, which are believed to have lower pesticide residue than conventionally grown foods. 

To have a safe closet and eliminate the risk of perchloroethylene, look for an alternative water-cleaner for dry-clean only clothes. If you do still dry-clean, make sure to take the plastic bags off the clothes and let them air-dry until the sweet smell is gone.  Arsenic in wood can be prevented by choosing naturally pest-resistant wood, such as cedar and other alternatives such as steel for playground equipment.

In the workplace, a good starting point for avoiding toxic injury is to educate yourself about what chemicals are present.  Ask your employer for information on chemicals in the workplace, and do outside research as well.  Once you educate yourself on the current chemicals and the procedures in place to prevent injury, be sure to insist that proper measures are taken to reduce the risk of injury.  Examples of ways to reduce the risk of toxic injury include:  substitution of a less toxic substance; adequate ventilation in the area near the chemical and throughout the building; using personal safety equipment (i.e., gloves and safety goggles); and following the proper procedures when handling harmful substances.

Read the next article:  Toxic Injury – What You Need to Know 

Contact an attorney in your area.