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57 Ways To Protect Your Home Environment (and Yourself)
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46. Prevent Contamination By Formaldehyde And Asbestos

major sources of formaldehyde

Formaldehyde is emitted from certain products, including certain types of plywood and paneling, furniture, and some foamed-in-place insulation. The gas can cause watery eyes, burning sensations in the eyes and throat, nausea, and difficulty breathing in some people.

Many products that use formaldehyde contain very small amounts and may cause problems only for the few people who have extreme sensitivities. More important are those products that (a) contain substantial amounts of formaldehyde and (b) are used in large quantities throughout the house. The products listed here are of special concern.

formaldehyde test

It’s sometimes possible to detect a formaldehyde problem simply by its characteristic odor. Another option is to test for its presence in the air by hiring an environmental testing firm. Although the accuracy of do-it-yourself kits is questionable for very low concentrations, a positive result can confirm a problem. Keep in mind that do-it-yourself kits may be difficult to find and relatively expensive.
formaldehyde levels

Formaldehyde can be found in nearly all homes, at least in low concentrations. Research suggests that some health problems can occur at levels of 0.10 parts per million (ppm), with sensitive persons affected at levels of 0.05 ppm. Consult a knowledgeable physician if you suspect you are reacting to formaldehyde exposure.
reducing formaldehyde exposure

To reduce exposure, block formaldehyde emissions by covering exposed particle board with two coats of polyurethane varnish or, preferably, lacquer. Use substitutes for particle board such as waferboard and softwood interior-exterior plywood. Use solid-wood furniture and cabinets instead of veneered. Also, use drywall instead of paneling.
reducing formaldehyde exposure

Use air conditioning and dehumidifiers to maintain moderate temperatures and reduce humidity levels. Heat and humidity increase the rate at which formaldyhyde is released. Increase ventilation, particularly after bringing new sources of formaldehyde into the house. Also, wash permanent-press fabrics before use.

Asbestos, a mineral fiber often found in the home, is another material that can become an air pollutant. Asbestos is only dangerous when the material is damaged and asbestos fibers are released into the air. Breathing high levels of asbestos fibers over a long period can lead to an increased risk of lung cancer and other respiratory diseases.
asbestos insulation

Most products made today do not contain asbestos, and the few products that still contain asbestos that can be inhaled are required to be labeled as such.
products that may contain asbestos

Here are some common products that might have contained asbestos in the past (and may be present in some homes today).
products that may contain asbestos

Additional products that might have contained asbestos in the past.
asbestos wraped pipe

Don’t panic if you think asbestos may be in your home. Usually, it’s best to leave asbestos material alone if it is in good condition. The asbestos pictured here is clearly not in good condition; but in cases where the asbestos is in good shape, disturbing it may create a health hazard where none existed before. If asbestos is damaged, seek expert help to repair or remove the material.
asbestos removal

Because of the hazards involved, asbestos repair and removal should be done by professionals who have received special training. Ask for proof of training and licensing in asbestos work, such as completion of a training course approved by the U.S. EPA. Professionals are also available to inspect your home for asbestos.

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