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Posted by on Sep 25, 2012

The Toxic Home

By Claudia Anrig, DC

No one can deny that industrialization has created quite a few conveniences. But with these modern-day conveniences have come modern-day health hazards – the worst being those that are potentially toxic to ourselves and our children.

Let’s learn more about the toxic dangers in your home and a few common household items that may be putting you and your family at risk.


This word was first used in 1966 to describe the release of gaseous chemicals from a solid. For instance,
the Construction Dictionary defines “off-gassing” as the release of airborne particulates, often from installed construction materials such as carpeting, cabinetry, or paint that can cause allergic reactions and other health problems in building occupants. Off-gassing, while commonly attributed to carpeting, can be caused by several unexpected sources. [1]

The top 10 sources of off-gassing in order of concern include common household items/products:
mattresses, stains and varnishes, carpet, insulation, flooring materials (vinyl, glues, finishes, adhesives), countertops, cabinets, particle board, paint strippers and cleaning supplies. [2]

The Environmental Protection Agency defines “off-gassing” as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emitted as gases from certain solids or liquids. The typical symptoms of exposure to VOCs include eye, nose and throat irritation, headaches, nausea or vomiting, dizziness, and/or worsening of asthma symptoms. For those who have long-term exposure to VOCs there is an increased risk of cancer, liver and kidney damage or central nervous system damage.

The elderly and very young, or anyone with a history of asthma, allergies or lung problems, will generally be more susceptible to the effects of off-gassing. With regards to the off-gassing of carpeting, flooring or other building materials, infants, toddlers and even pets may be more quickly affected due to prolonged, close proximity to the materials that are off-gassing.


Petroleum-based chemicals are used in some foam mattresses, and synthetic fabrics are treated with chemical fire retardants. Mattresses and bedding made using these particular chemicals can potentially cause reactions in people with chemical sensitivities. The majority of these chemicals have not been tested on young children and have rarely been tested for long-term exposure.

Dr. Jim Sprott, a New Zealand scientist and chemist, has studied the possibility of a relationship between off-gassing baby mattresses and SIDS. [3] Chemical compounds containing phosphorus, arsenic and antimony have been added to mattresses as fire retardants and for other purposes since the early 1950s.

For the concerned consumer, there are actually many good choices for non-off-gassing mattresses, but it’s important to research for a knowledgeable retailer. One should not assume that the average salesperson has been trained appropriately or has optional products to offer. For those without a latex allergy, many memory foam mattresses made with latex are gas and chemical free; however, it should be specified that they are chemical free. Not all memory foam mattresses are the same.

Others might consider a 100 percent organic cotton mattress that are made intentionally without chemicals and are not treated with chemicals at the factory. For those concerned about the firmness of a typical cotton mattress, consider a pure wool or rubber mattress topper. [4-5]

“Green” Light Bulbs

Highly efficient fluorescent light bulbs are supposedly environmentally friendly, but this is one of those times when “going green” comes with a caution. These bulbs contain mercury and are not supposed to be disposed of in the garbage, but instead at an approved recycling facility or a toxic waste dump. If these bulbs are going to be thrown in the trash (because approved facilities are rare and may not be available in your community), they are to be sealed and double-wrapped in plastic bags.


  1. Volatile Organic Compounds in Your Home.
    Minnesota Department of Health.
  2. 20 Off-Gassing Culprits
    (CalFinder.com, online post)
  3. Sprott TJ.
    Cot Death – Cause and Prevention. Experiences in New Zealand 1995-2004 (special report).
    J Nutr Envir Med, Sept 2004;14(3):221-32.
  4. Chamberlin C. 10 Steps to an Organic Bedroom.
    TheCleanBedroom.com (originally published on Organic.com, January 2006).
  5. Prevent Toxic Off-Gassing When You Can’t Afford to Buy an Organic Mattress.
    Published on HealthyChild.com.

Read the rest of the article at Chiro.org

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