When we think of toxic or hazardous materials, our minds often jump to industrial products such as chemicals or building materials. However, in reality, there are many seemingly innocuous items lying around your home which can pose a threat to human health and the environment. This week, we take a look at three common household items which can be a health hazard, and some harmless, natural alternatives you can substitute them for.
Somewhat ironically, using air fresheners in a confined space is actually toxic and releases pollutants into the air, even if they don’t smell like it. Most air fresheners contain terpenes, ethylene-based glycol ethers, volatile organic compounds like nitrogen dioxide and paradichlorobenzene (a chemical also emitted by moth balls). Many of these toxic chemicals accumulate in the body over time, and have been linked with a whole range of health problems, particularly immune disorders. Proper ventilation is really the best substitute for air fresheners, but if this is beyond your means, consider making your own out of natural ingredients.
Non-stick pans have been a kitchen staple around the world since the 1940s, and they are a fantastic way to reduce the amount of oil in your cooking. Unfortunately, many people put their health at risk by failing to use non-stick pans properly. The polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) which creates the non-stick coating, is perfectly safe to cook on provided it is heated to a maximum temperature of 260˚, but once it goes beyond this, the coating will begin to decompose and flake off and mix in with whatever you’re cooking. If temperatures exceed 350˚, the coating may release strong toxic fumes which could make you feel stick, and may have an adverse effect on small household pets. Whilst these temperatures might seem high, they can be reached very quickly if a pan is left empty on the stove between two and five minutes.
To avoid these outcomes, use stainless steel or cast iron pans when you need to brown or fry something at a high temperature and reserve your stainless steel pan for recipes which require a low-medium heat range. Making sure whatever you are cooking is evenly spread out across the surface of the pan is also a good way to regulate temperature.
Like air fresheners, scented candles might smell pleasant, but their contribution to the air quality of your home is actually far more nefarious than a light citrus smell. Many scented candles contain limonene, which is used to create lemon fresh scent, but when it mixed with the air, it can produce formaldehyde which can cause irritation to the eyes and airways, and is also a known carcinogen. There are a number of things you can do to counteract the air pollution caused by scented candles including introducing air purifying plants into your living area such as lavender, and spider ferns, opening a window when you light these kinds of candles, or limiting their use and investing instead in some fragrance free candles made from natural beeswax.
Alpha Environmental are environmental consulting specialists who work to assess environmental health hazards in properties and businesses across Melbourne. To learn more about our capabilities, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us by calling (03) 9415 8002.