Hazardous Substances in the Living Room

Learn about the hazardous substances that could be in your living room and how to keep yourself safe, including warnings on asbestos and formaldehyde.

| May/June 1984

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    Is your home a toxic chemical dump?

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Our section on the living room is really one that extends to all the materials from which your home and its furnishings are made. These hazardous substances will be of prime concern to people who are living in new, energy-efficient homes with low air-exchange rates. But even in the typically well-ventilated older home, the levels of some gases that may be inhaled can reach the point at which sensitive individuals are affected.

The Federal Trade Commission shares responsibility with the CPSC for regulating building materials, though its authority is mostly in the regulation of combustibility and appropriate labeling. During the recent uproar concerning the toxic gas emitted by urea-formaldehyde insulation, it was the CPSC that banned the use of that product. Subsequently, a federal court overturned the ruling, and urea-formaldehyde is once again permitted for residential and commercial use.

Few products that emit toxic compounds are labeled as such, so in the following notations we'll try our best to list all of the sources of the substances mentioned.

Asbestos: Asbestos was outlawed as a building material in the 1970's, and hair dryers with asbestos thermal insulation were recalled by the CPSC. Nevertheless, there may be existing sources of asbestos in your home.

Hazards: Causes asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma (a rare type of lung cancer) if inhaled. Ingestion can produce a variety of other cancers. Asbestos crosses the placenta into the fetus, affecting the unborn. It acts synergistically with other toxic substances. It remains suspended in the air for long periods. If asbestos products are damaged, have qualified, properly equipped personnel remove them from your home.

Found in: Thermal and electrical insulation; fireproofing materials, such as woodstove insulation boards and ironing board covers; plaster, drywall and drywall compound, ceiling tiles, and cement; exterior shingles; and roofing.

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