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Keeping your house toxic free

Michael Levine, MD, is a medical toxicology fellow at the Banner Poison & Drug Information Center. For more information, call the 24-hour hotline at (800) 222-1222.

Question: Are there household products that I should avoid because they introduce toxins in my home? Is there something I should look for on product labels?

Answer: With rare exception, any product purchased from a commercial vendor in the United States is safe to have around the house, and will not cause problems if used as directed. Many common household chemicals can be potentially dangerous if ingested. Therefore, all chemicals should be kept out of reach of children. In addition, it is important not to put chemicals in alternative or unmarked containers. For example, frequently people will take automobile chemicals out of the original container, and place them in a soda can, and later, inadvertently drink the can they believe contains soda. Clearly, this type of mistake can result in dangerous, if not fatal consequences.

Rarely, some people have true sensitivities to various common household products, such as fresh paint, perfumes or cleaning supplies. In predisposed individuals, a mild headache can ensue, which, while uncomfortable, is unlikely to be dangerous, and should resolve after exposure to fresh air. Some individuals, especially those with asthma, may have worsening airway symptoms after exposures to various household chemicals, dust, or other allergens. Accumulation of dust in the carpet, or inhalation of household cleaning products, for example, can result in an exacerbation of their underlying asthma.

Short of these scenarios, however, there are not specific products that one should avoid in the house. Much more important than avoiding bringing certain products into the household out of concern of introducing toxins, is ensuring not to overlook the obvious; child proof the house and make sure medications, guns, and chemicals are out of reach of children, and pools are appropriately fenced.

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