By Dr. Catthie Lippman, MD
Why talk about the home environment? Because poor air quality in our home environment can make us sick. Well, what are some of these items in our home environment that can be affecting us? One is gases and chemicals. Carbon monoxide is a by-product of the burning of natural gas, such in our stoves, our ovens, and our water heaters. A leak of carbon monoxide can kill a person. Formaldehyde.  Formaldehyde is found all over the place, for example in the grooves of new furniture, carpeting, and it also has toxic effects on the body. Solvents are found in paints, and paint thinner. Other volatile chemicals can come from newly dry-cleaned clothes, air fresheners, new furniture, and new carpeting.

Pesticides. Many people use pesticides to kills pests in their homes. Mold is pervasive in our environment, and it becomes a problem when there is standing water, whether in a pool or as a leak in a wall. Mold puts out chemicals that really can be dangerous for our health.

Fragrances are another issue. They’re really not from flowers anymore, they’re all synthetic chemicals, and the problem is they’re put in so many things now because we want to smell good. But they’re, again, just chemicals that can affect our health.

Cleaning supplies, such as what we use for our dishes, our floors, and our laundry, are another major source of chemicals that we get exposed to.

Personal care products are another source of chemicals that can affect us. Most people don’t realize that what we put on our skin actually goes into our body — we absorb it so we absorb whatever chemicals are in there as well. Many personal care products are derived from petroleum, like Vaseline and mineral oil. We also use products that volatilize, like hairsprays, that really affect our respiratory tracts. Hair dyes contain lead and other chemicals. Anti-perspirants contain aluminum. None of these is healthy for our bodies.

The next issue is water. Our municipal water supplies contain chlorine and fluoride, which are toxic for our bodies. The water can also contain agricultural run off, industrial run off, and even prescription drugs that we have flushed down the toilet. Besides that, lead is often used to weld water pipes so that we take in lead from the water that we drink and use.

Another issue is electro-magnetic fields. It’s going to take us a while to really figure out what are the long term affects of all the radiation we’re getting exposed to from our cell phones, cordless phones and wifi.

Let me give you an example of how the home environment can affect one’s health:

Mary is a fifty year old woman who came to me complaining of headaches for three months and a cough for one month. We determined that her new clothes dryer was emitting a strange smell, and it also turned out that her water heater was leaking carbon monoxide. She fixed these appliances, and within two weeks, all her symptoms were gone.

What is a person to do? The first place to begin is with water filtration. For drinking and cooking water, there is a range of filters. From one that will just get rid of chlorine, to reverse-osmosis, or distillation and filtration which will get rid of chloride and fluoride, and the other major chemicals.

Two thirds of the pollutants we take in actually comes from our bath water. The reason for that is most of us take hot showers or hot baths. The heat dilates our blood vessels and volatizes the chlorine so we actually take more of it into our bodies. Thus, it’s important to have a shower filter that will eliminate the chlorine.

The real ideal is to have a whole house filtration system. The next area is ventilation. Even in cold weather, it’s important to open the windows even briefly, every day, to let fresh air in so the air doesn’t become stale. In addition, for any gas powered appliances, it’s important to ensure that they are well ventilated, to the outside of the residence.

I recommend practicing pest management, rather than pest elimination. Remember, pesticides kill, and they can kill us too. So what is a person to do? Exclusion is really important. Seal up any cracks and crevices and holes, wipe up crumbs rapidly, vacuum frequently.

Another area is to limit use of your microwave oven. There’s actually a good use for your microwave oven, and that is to sterilize the sponges you use to wash your dishes. That’s really about all it’s good for.  In addition, instead of a cordless phone or cell phone, use a land-line.

The next area is the cleaning agent you use. Commonly used safe ones are Bon Ami and distilled vinegar. Fortunately now, there are safe cleaning agents made from plants that are available in health food stores and even some of the regular markets. If you or anybody else smells gas in your residence, or there is a water leak, repair them quickly.

In conclusion, now you are more aware of what can be affecting your health in your own home, and what you can do to create a safe oasis. If you have more questions about wellness issues, consult my handbook, Staying Healthy in a Challenging World.

Visit Dr. Cathie Lippman, MD for more information.