Toxic Substances

A toxic substance can be any chemical that may be harmful to the environment or human health if inhaled, swallowed or absorbed through the skin.

ToxicMany of the products found in your home contain toxic substances. While these products may be useful, some of the chemicals can irritate your skin, eyes, nose and throat, or can even poison you so it’s important to use caution.

Below you will find more information on how to protect yourself and your family from harmful substances that can be found in the home.

Formaldehyde/Wood Pressed Products

Formaldehyde is chemical used widely to manufacture building materials and numerous household products. It is also a by-product of combustion and certain other natural processes so it may be present in substantial concentrations both indoors and outdoors.

FormaldehydeFormaldehyde is a colorless, flammable gas at room temperature and has a strong odor. People are generally exposed to formaldehyde in their homes from the emissions of fuel-burning appliances, gas stoves, kerosene heaters, and from cigarette smoke. The highest exposure comes from the glue in wood-pressed products.

Exposure to formaldehyde may cause adverse health effects, including irritation of the skin, eyes, nose, and throat. High levels of exposure may cause some types of cancers.

You can reduce yours risks of exposure to formaldehyde by:

  • Purchasing “Exterior-grade” wood-pressed products for use in your home. These standards include limits on formaldehyde emissions.
  • Increasing the rate of ventilation in your home, particularly after bringing new sources of formaldehyde into the home.
  • Reducing formaldehyde emissions through the use of dehumidifier and air conditioning. The rate at which formaldehyde is released is accelerated by heat and may also depend somewhat on the humidity level so you can reduce those levels by controling or reducing humidity and maintaining a moderate temperature.

For more information on formaldehyde, see these resources:

Lead

Lead is a naturally occurring element found in all parts of our environment – the air, the soil, the water, and even inside our homes. While it has some beneficial uses, it can be toxic to humans, particularly children.

Much of our exposure to lead comes the use of fossil fuels, including the past use of leaded gasoline and past use of lead-based paint in homes. Federal and state regulatory standards have helped to minimize or eliminate the amount of lead found in air, drinking water, soil, consumer products, food, and occupational settings.

Lead poisoning illustrationEven though lead was banned from use in residential paint in 1978 and from gasoline in the early 1980’s, lead poisoning remains a significant health threat to children. Deteriorated lead-based paint in the child’s home environment is the primary source of lead poisoning. But consumer products, such as children’s toys or inexpensive jewelry, often imported from countries where there are few restrictions on the use of lead, can also contribute to cases of lead poisoning.

Children under the age of 6 years are especially vulnerable to the effects of lead because their growing bodies absorb more lead than adults do and their brains and nervous systems are more sensitive to the damaging effects of lead. While the damage to some parts of the body like the gastrointestinal system can be treated, the damage to the brain is irreversible.

Because many children with lead poisoning do not have any symptoms, the only sure way to tell is with a blood test. Ask your physician or health care provider about having your child tested.

The Department of Health also provides blood lead level testing and other services for children and families affected by lead poisoning.

For more information go to our Childhood Lead Poisoning Testing Page.

Mercury

Mercury is a naturally-occurring element that is found in air, water and soil.  Because of its properties, mercury is a useful substance for a variety of electronic devices and industrial applications, but it is also highly toxic to humans.Thermometer

Mercury exists in several forms:  elemental or metallic mercury, inorganic mercury compounds, and organic mercury compounds. Elemental or metallic mercury is a shiny, silver-white metal and is liquid at room temperature.  If heated, it is a colorless, odorless gas.

Exposure to mercury can affect the human nervous system and harm the brain, heart, kidneys, lungs, and immune system.  The most common way we are exposed to mercury is by eating fish or shellfish that are contaminated with mercury.

Another less common exposure to mercury that can be a concern is breathing mercury vapor.  These exposures can occur when elemental mercury or products that contain elemental mercury break and release mercury to the air, particularly in warm or poorly-ventilated indoor spaces.

Mercury is often used in everyday household objects, including thermometers, florescent light bulbs,  thermostats, gauges, clothes irons and some oil-based paint. So it’s important to dispose of those items properly.

You should never put mercury in the trash or pour it down the drain. In Allen County, you can take Items containing mercury to the Solid Waste Management District, or a mercury recycling location.

For more information on mercury, see these resources:

Methamphetamine

Methamphetamine (Meth) is an extremely addictive stimulant drug that is chemically similar to amphetamine. It takes the form of a white, odorless, bitter-tasting crystalline powder.

The drug is easily made in small clandestine laboratories, with relatively inexpensive over-the-counter ingredients such as pseudoephedrine, a common ingredient in cold medicines.

Methamphetamine production also involves a number of other, very hazardous chemicals. Toxicity from these chemicals can remain in the environment around a methamphetamine production lab long after the lab has been shut down, causing a wide range of health problems for people living in the area.

MethDwellings (including houses, apartments, duplexes and hotel/motel rooms) where meth is manufactured are considered uninhabitable until they are properly decontaminated per state law (Title 318 IAC 1). The process to test and clean can be expensive.

The law enforcement agency that closes the meth lab is to notify the local health and fire departments about the location.  The local health departments then works with the property owners to ensure dwellings where operational meth labs were identified are decontaminated before they are re-inhabited.

For more information on meth, see these resources: