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
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 http://bulletin.aarp.org/ The Environmental
Protection Agency's Aging Initiative www.epa.gov/aging/ offers information on a variety of household and environmental hazards
for older Americans