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When we think of asbestos, we don’t typically think of it as being a poison, and the phrase “asbestos poisoning” isn’t one that’s commonly used. However, according to the National Library of Medicine’s MedlinePlus, the definition of a poison is any material that causes harm, no matter if it’s inhaled, ingested, absorbed, or injected into the body. Known to cause asbestosis and mesothelioma, science and history have proven asbestos to be extremely poisonous when inhaled into the lungs.
This week is National Poison Prevention Week, and a lot of individuals, agencies, and organizations are spreading word about how to identify and secure poisons as well as prevent and treat poisoning in various ways. We thought we’d add our take by discussing how to find things in your home – such as asbestos – that aren’t often considered poisons but which can be toxic when ingested or handled improperly.
Before You Begin
In an ideal world, people would live in homes and work in offices that meet up-to-date safety standards. The reality, however, is that there are many buildings that don’t meet codes and regulations out there . Also, people sometimes bring dangerous substances inside, whether they realize it or not, potentially endangering families, friends, co-workers, employees, customers, and even passers-by.
If you are going to be living and working in places with potentially harmful materials, be sure to take appropriate precautions:
- Eye protection – Put on a set of safety goggles to shield your eyes from unexpected sloshes, splashes, and drips.
- Lung protection – Wear a facemask to avoid breathing any fumes, dust, or fibrous materials, like asbestos.
- Hand protection – Cover your hands with heavy-duty work gloves or rubber gloves to help keep them safe.
Even wearing protection, if you come across anything you think might be extremely dangerous or volatile, call 911 or local hazardous material disposal experts. If at any time you think you or someone you know may have been exposed to a toxic substance, you should also call the Poison Help line at 1-800-222-1222.
Hidden Toxins in the Home
Potentially toxic substances are everywhere. Even things that seem harmless can be really bad for your health and safety. Following are some toxic substances frequently found in homes.
The presence of asbestos is common for any home even a couple decades old. Asbestos can be found in any part of the house, from basement to attic, including:
- Roofing and siding shingles
- Floor tiles
- Around hot water and steam pipes
- Gaskets on furnaces, coal stoves, and wood stoves
Although there may be little danger when these parts of the home are intact, over time they may become damaged and need repair or replacing. Since asbestos is most dangerous when disturbed, when doing any sort of maintenance or construction in a home that may contain asbestos, find an asbestos abatement professional who can remove it safely.
A corrosive substance is anything that dissolves other materials. Some corrosive materials are used in cleaning agents, such as bleach or ammonia-based solvents. These types of corrosive materials are commonly found in garages, basements, closets, and areas where cleaning supplies might be stored.
However, corrosive materials may also be found in common household items like the batteries in a remote control or a child’s toy. Especially dangerous are battery-driven electronics that have not been used in a long time. Batteries can become punctured or burst, causing corrosive fluid to leak out and damage floors, furniture, clothing, or skin. If it gets on someone’s hands and they rub their eyes, it could cause loss of sight.
For those who have pools or jacuzzis, chemicals used to treat the water – like chlorine and bromine – are very corrosive, especially in concentrated form. They should be stored properly and out of the way, and proper protection should be worn whenever they are handled.
Paints, Stains, and Dyes
There are many different types of paints, stains, and dyes – for walls, woodwork, hobbies, clothing, etc. – and for some reason or other, every home tends to have a collection of half-used paints lying around somewhere. These are usually safe if kept in airtight containers, but if left for long periods of time, they may release noxious fumes that can lead to health problems from triggering asthma attacks to chronic issues and diseases like certain forms of cancer.
When using paint, make sure your work area is well ventilated and that you wear proper protection. Stored paints should also be kept in a well-ventilated area so that fumes are less likely to build up and cause any potentially dangerous reactions.
If you own an older home, you should have the existing paint tested for lead. If positive, you may need to remove it. Professional cleaning and removal of lead-based paint will ensure it is done properly, and may be required by law in some areas.
Pesticides, herbicides, and any other kind of “-cides” (a suffix derived from the Latin word caedere, “to kill”) are literally deadly. They may not kill humans as quickly as the things they are designed to kill, but if used improperly they can make you sick, and given enough time and exposure, they can ultimately lead to death.
Whenever using these types of substances, be sure to take all the same precautions you would take with any other hazardous material, including gloves, goggles, and face masks. (Hopefully you’re seeing a pattern here!) Store them in a safe place where they won’t be exposed to extreme temperatures, and never use “-cides” that are in damaged containers or that have been sitting around for a long time.
Disposing or Recycling Toxic Materials
In general, however, you should never simply throw the following materials in the garbage or pour them down the drain:
- Cleaning solvents, pastes, powders, oils, etc.
- Chemicals for pools, jacuzzis, wells, water tanks, etc.
- Paints, stains, dyes, turpentine, paint stripper, wood preservatives, nail polish, etc.
- Fluorescent or compact fluorescent light bulbs
- Computers, handheld devices, and other electronics, as well as cords and peripherals
- Styrofoam, foam peanuts, and other forms of packaging
- Automobile fluids such as motor oil, antifreeze, brake fluid, windshield washer fluid, etc.
- Garden supplies including plant food, herbicides, pesticides, etc.
- Fuels and accelerants like gasoline, kerosene, propane, lighter fluid, etc.
- Pharmaceuticals including prescription and over-the-counter drugs, vitamins, supplements, herbal remedies, etc., as well as medical implements like needles, blood testing supplies, etc.
Most, if not all, municipal waste departments and contractors have strict guidelines about where and how hazardous materials like those listed above can be disposed or recycled. Since the laws, regulations and drop-off points may be different in each area, you’ll need to check with local officials to determine the correct approach.
Resources for Mesothelioma Patients and Their Families
- Request a Free Mesothelioma Treatment Guide
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- Locate the Nearest Comprehensive Cancer Center