Is the environment-your home environment-hazardous to your health? With new research continuing to show that unhealthy substances found in everyday products often pose higher risks for certain segments of the population, it's a question becoming more important for older Americans.
Paint and Solvents: If paint and paint solvents are used improperly, their fumes can stress your lungs and heart, contributing to irregular heartbeat, according to the Environmental Protection Agency's Aging Initiative. That's because many of these products contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Old containers of hazardous products can leak chemicals into the air over time, which can build up in enclosed areas. Use and store products in well-ventilated areas.
Cleaners: Chemicals to avoid in cleaners, says McRandle, "run from ammonia, which is known to trigger asthma, elements in chlorine bleach, which is a lung irritant and will kill you if you swallow it, to things like glycol ethers, which are used to dissolve grime and dirt, and are easily absorbed by the skin and can cause nerve damage." Protect your skin by wearing rubber gloves and your lungs by ventilating your work area or wearing a mask. For a less toxic cleaner, try hydrogen peroxide, baking soda or white vinegar.
Pesticides: Studies have suggested there may be a connection between pesticide exposure and Parkinson's disease. Some people may have a genetic susceptibility to the substance that later triggers the disease. In addition, pesticides can be dangerous for those with weakened hearts or lungs, the EPA warns, leading to arrhythmia or even heart attack.
Clothing: Although clothing labels aren't required to list chemicals used in finishes, many permanent press fabrics and some older water-repellent and flame-retardant fabrics contain formaldehyde, an upper-respiratory irritant. "In general you are better off looking for untreated clothing made of more natural fibers like cotton," McRandle says. Furniture/draperies/carpet pads/stuffing made before 2000, the Scotchgard anti-stain treatments on some furniture and draperies used to include chemical compounds that were potential carcinogens. Another potentially hazardous treatment can be found in some carpet pads and older stuffing in furniture and mattresses. "We don't advise that people throw out all their old furniture," McRandle says. "But we do recommend that you seal up that rip in an old couch."
Nonstick Cooking Pans: Nonstick surfaces aren't generally considered a risk at normal cooking temperatures, but some can release 15 different toxic chemicals, including two carcinogens, if left unattended on a burner, according to a study by the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit research group in Washington.
With good reason. Longer life spans may increase the chances that cumulative exposure will cause illnesses with long latency periods, such as cancer or Parkinson's disease, to develop. And older people are more likely to have conditions-such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, respiratory disease and diabetes that can dramatically reduce their ability to withstand exposure to environmental hazards. The stakes are high. Older people tend to process and eliminate toxicants from their bodies more slowly than younger people. Still, ferreting out potentially hazardous substances can be a challenge. "We're not suggesting that you do away with all these things immediately," says Paul McRandle, deputy editor at the National Geographic Green Guide. Here are products to watch out for and ways you can reduce risk.
____ Resources: The above material was taken in part from AARP on their web site The Environmental Protection Agency's Aging Initiative offers information on a variety of household and environmental hazards for older Americans