Toxic Injury at Home and in the Community

At Home

Regardless of how clean your home is, it can still cause health problems.  These health problems may stem from products used in the home or the structure of the home itself.  Examples of toxic materials in the home that pose health threats are asbestos, lead, poisonous gases (i.e., carbon monoxide and radon), mold, and dust.

Household products – Common products used in the home for cleaning or other household duties can be harmful.  Batteries, bleach, cleaning products, disinfectants, drain cleaner, dry-cleaned clothing, glue, hair dye, mildew remover, moth balls, nail polish, nail polish remover, paint, paint thinner, varnish, and shoe polish are examples of consumer products that most of us have in our homes.  These products, however, can cause toxic injury if used improperly, used excessively, or if inhaled.   In the garage and in the garden, products such as antifreeze, diesel fuel, fertilizer, gasoline, pesticides, motor oil, pool chemicals, septic tank cleaner, and wood preservatives are all potential sources of exposure to hazardous chemicals.

Indoor air quality – The quality of the air in the home can be a predictor of whether its inhabitants will suffer from allergies, respiratory illnesses, or asthma.  Mold is a common cause of these health problems.  Burning oil, natural gas, kerosene, or other fuels in the home can release harmful chemicals that compromise indoor air quality.  Radon is a colorless, odorless gas that can contaminate the air inside a home.  Radon is a cancer-causing gas that forms naturally underground, in rocks and soil.  Unfortunately, radon can enter the home through cracks in the foundation of the house, polluting the air and causing illness.  Homeowners can purchase home detection kits to determine whether radon is a problem.

Construction materials – Materials used to build, roof, insulate, and paint homes can cause toxic injury.  Older homes, for example, may have been painted with lead paint (lead paint was banned in the late 1970s).  This can cause childhood lead poisoning.  Asbestos, a cancer-causing insulation and fireproofing material banned in 1989, may also be found in older homes.  Prior to being banned, asbestos was used in shingles, electrical and plumbing insulation, furnace covering, and ceiling and floor tiles.


At School

While parents are at work, children spend their days at school.  Approximately 74 million children (and 3.5 million teachers) spend 9-10 months of the year in schools.  The indoor and outdoor environments of schools can pose health risks to students, teachers, and staff.  Indoor air quality is one concern at schools.  Like any other building, a school can be affected by mold and moisture.  This can cause asthma and allergies.  Chemicals from building materials and cleaning materials can cause toxic injury.  Dust and pest residues are another concern in the school environment, causing asthma and respiratory problems in some children.

Children are especially sensitive toxic substances.  This is particularly true when children are exposed to pesticides or lead.  Pesticides may be used inside school buildings and in play areas; lead can be found in school drinking water.  Mercury is commonly founding school materials such as thermometers, switches, thermostats, lamps, and laboratory equipment.

Radon, a problem in homes, is also a problem in schools.  Certain areas of the country have schools with high levels of radon, which can cause lung cancer.  Older schools might also contain asbestos from insulation or pipes made with that material.  Asbestos can also cause lung cancer.

Due to overcrowding in schools, many schools use portable classrooms (also known as “temporaries” or “trailers”) to provide students with a place to learn.  However, these portable classrooms present health risks for children due to poorly functioning ventilation systems, water seepage, mold growth, and chemically treated wood.

School buses often park and idle near the school building at the beginning and end of the school day.  Students and staff can be exposed to harmful diesel fumes and outdoor air pollutants if they are outdoors while school buses are waiting.


Environmental Problems in the Community

Environmental problems contribute to chemical exposure, depending on where you live.  Contaminated drinking water is one source of chemical exposure.  Drinking water is drawn from groundwater, wells, rivers, lakes, streams, and reservoirs.  Urban dwellers are likely to drink water that has been cleaned at a water treatment plant.  Rural residents often drink water pumped from a private well.

The quality of drinking water and the amount of contaminants it contains is affected by the activities that take place nearby.  For example, marinas and boats can emit contaminants that find their way to drinking water.  Other sources of contamination include: pesticides, fertilizers, animal waste, faulty septic systems, landfills, mining, and industrial pollution.  Runoff from farms, storms, and industrial or construction sites can also harm sources of drinking water.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has limits for contaminants in water, and all water contains some impurities.  However, poor quality drinking water can have serious health effects if you drink the water for several years at levels above those set by the EPA.  Water containing solvents, radioactive elements, and arsenic can cause serious problems such as cancer, reproductive problems, and liver or kidney problems.

Another environmental danger in the community is electromagnetic fields.  These are invisible lines of force that occur as a result of an electric charge.  Natural sources of EMFs include: natural light, ultraviolet light, and storms.  Manmade EMFs can be produced by electric power lines, electrical wiring, and electrical equipment.  Microwaves, X-rays, radios, cell phones, and computers all produce EMFs in varying frequencies.  Short-term exposure to EMFs does not appear to be harmful to human health.  However, long-term exposure at high levels can be harmful.

Read the next article:  Legal Issues and Toxic Injury 

Contact an attorney in your area.