Fact Sheet: Household Products and Furnishings

The unsafe use of many household products can cause many undesirable health effects. To protect yourself and your family, read on.

Q: What are some of the products I should be aware of?

A: Solvents, paint strippers, wood preservatives, aerosol sprays, moth repellents, air fresheners, stored fuels, automotive products, hobby supplies, pesticides, and some cleaners and disinfectants.

Q: What are the particular ingredients that I should be concerned about?

A: The products to watch for are those containing volatile organic compounds, which are organic solvents that easily evaporate into thin air. Some may be flammable. Following are some of the compounds listed on product labels: petroleum disillates, mineral spirits, chlorinated solvents, carbon tetrachloride, methylene chloride, trichlogroethane, toluene, and formaldehyde. Other household product ingredients can also be a hazard if they are used improporley.

Q: What are some of the health effects?

A: Short-term effects include eye, nose, and throat irritation, and headaches. Long-term exposure can cause loss of coordination, nausea, and damage to liver, kidneys, and the central nervous system. Some organics can cause cancer in animals and are suspected to cause cancer in humans.

Q: What are some of the ways I can minimize potential health problems?

A: First, read the labels of products you are considering buying. Note the product's ingredients and beware of any warnings of its use. Always use household products only for their intended purpose and according to the manufacturer's instructions. Use the product in a well-ventilated area. Choose products that are packaged to reduce the chance of spills, leaks and chil tampering. Also, keep household products in their original containers so that the safety information and directions for use are always with the product.

Q: Are there ways I can reduce my need for these products?

A: Yes, by practicing preventative maintenance. Quickly attend to spills and stains. Remove food wastes promptly. Also control excess moisture (such as standing water from air conditioner drains or refrigerator drip pans) and fix leaks, drips, and seepage problems.

You might consider using "natural" or "alternative" products, but these products also have pollution potential if not used correctly. Products may be labeled "environmentally safe", but any product that evaporates into the air has the potential to be an indoor air pollutant, depending on the quantity used, the method of use, the product's toxicity, and the sensitivity of the user.