Make healthy homes a priority this New Year
RAYMOND, Miss. -- When the new year rolls around, people often resolve to focus on personal fitness goals, but it is a great time to make sure homes are healthy as well.
"There are a lot of hazards our homes can pose that could be harmful to our health," said David Buys, health specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service. "Some of these hazards give no warning signs."
Carbon monoxide, lead and radon are odorless, invisible contaminants that can cause serious health problems and even death if left unchecked.
Carbon monoxide can be deadly in a matter of minutes if undetected. The colorless gas is produced any time heating or cooking fuels are burned, including firewood, propane, kerosene, charcoal and natural gas. Running automobiles, engine-powered generators and other gasoline-powered equipment, including lawn mowers, also emits carbon monoxide.
“It is important to have fuel-burning appliances checked by a qualified technician annually and anytime you see signs that this equipment is not functioning properly,” said Buys. “Never leave a vehicle running. Don’t use a grill or generator inside a partially enclosed garage or shed.”
Prevention is the best way to keep carbon monoxide from building to deadly levels. All homes with fuel-burning appliances or wood- or gas-burning fireplaces should have working carbon monoxide detectors within 15 feet of every sleeping area, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends homeowners purchase carbon monoxide detectors that meet the safety standards of Underwriter’s Laboratory. These products will be marked with the UL seal. For more information about carbon monoxide, visit the EPA website at http://bit.ly/2bvlqBb.
Children who live in homes built before 1978 are at risk of lead poisoning from peeling and chipping paint. Although adults can be harmed by large amounts of lead, children are susceptible to serious health problems from much smaller concentrations. These risks include irreversible brain damage, behavioral problems and other health issues.
To reduce the chances of lead poisoning, the EPA recommends routine cleaning of any lead-based paint chips or dust. Pick up paint chips with a damp paper towel or piece of tape to avoid breaking them into smaller pieces. Dust window sills and other contaminated surfaces with a damp paper towel and then throw it away. Use a vacuum with a high-efficiency particulate air, or HEPA, filter to remove dust from carpet and upholstered furniture. A damp mop can remove lead-contaminated dust from hard, smooth floors.
“Anyone with children under 6 years old who live in a home built before 1978 should consider testing for lead,” Buys said. “There are easy, inexpensive cleaning methods that can help control the amounts of lead in the environment once you know where they are.”
For more information about lead poisoning and prevention, visit the EPA website at http://www.epa.gov/lead.
Radon is an odorless, colorless gas produced when naturally occurring, underground uranium deposits break down. It enters homes and other buildings through foundation cracks and other openings. According to the U.S. Surgeon General, exposure to elevated levels of radon is the leading cause of lung cancer for nonsmokers and increases the risk for smokers.
Although the EPA does not report extremely high levels of radon in the state, there are some northeast Mississippi counties that have elevated levels of the gas -- between 2 and 4 picocuries per liter of air. The EPA recommends installing a mitigation system in homes with 4 picocuries per liter or higher of the gas.
“Some areas in this region can have potentially toxic levels of radon in the air,” said Mary Linda Moore, an Extension agent in Alcorn County. “There is no way to know if you are exposed to this gas unless you test for it.”
Inexpensive, do-it-yourself test kits are available at some hardware stores and from online merchants. Acceptable tests will be marked with the phrase “meets EPA requirements.” Qualified inspectors can also perform radon tests. For more information about radon in Mississippi, visit the Mississippi State Department of Health website at http://bit.ly/2griMjH.
MSU Extension is a partner of the Healthy Homes Initiative, delivering education to improve the health of families, homes and communities. The initiative is a program of the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture. For more information or to request a workshop about keeping homes healthy, visit the Extension website at http://extension.msstate.edu/hhi.