Toxicity at Home and Work

When we think of toxic pollution, we think about car fumes, industrial effluent in waterways and smoke billowing out of factory chimneys. Some pollution though, is much closer to us that we realise – in our homes and some workplaces. It is all too easy to smell a strong smell, like when we are using superglue, and think that it is harmless.

Professor Paul Blanc, from the University of California, San Francisco specialises in occupational and environmental health and has published a book called ‘How Everyday Products Make People Sick - Toxins At Home And In The Workplace.’

Here is a short summary of some of the topics Professor Blanc’s book cover:

Glues used at home, like super glues and related products, contain toxins that can lead to skin problems and asthma. Glues used in building models like aeroplanes and other craftwork are also in this category.

At home, chlorine, bleaches, when mixed with acids, release chlorine gas. Apparently this can occur easily, because tile cleaners are mostly acid; some hydrochloric acid, some of them phosphoric acid or other acids. People don't realise that they are mixing it.  It is easy to be exposed to chlorine gas, which gives off irritating fumes, especially in a small confined space such as a bathroom. Repeated exposure to chlorine gas can cause lung injury or asthma. There is no way for people to know this before they go in and clean the bathroom.

The home renovator is exposed to a wide array of toxic substances. For example, urethane and polyurethanes used on floors are highly toxic. People are exposed to these when they spray paint and auto spray paint. Some neurological problems can result in exposure to these, also in workers in the glue and rubber cement industries. It has been a big problem in the shoe industry that used rubber cement, and also in glue sniffers. The benzene from rubber cement has been replaced with hexane, but it is also a potent cause of nerve damage.

Paints still contain toxic chemicals, even if without lead in them. A mercury-containing additive that prevents mildew is capable of causing mercury poisoning in some people.

An important solvent called carbon disulfide, traditionally used in the crayon industry (now concentrated in China) has been a cause of a Parkinson-like disease, along with excessive amounts of the metal manganese, also a cause of a Parkinson-like disease.

Wood preservatives contain pentachlorophenol, which is designed to kill off mould and other biologicals and really is a pesticide. Pentachlorophenol can be contaminated with dioxin in its manufacture, but even on its own it's quite toxic. It causes fatigue and fevers in some people.

Welders who think they have a 24 hour flu with the usual aches and pains, fever and sweating, may really have ‘fume fever’ often called Monday morning fever because people tend to get it when they have been away from exposure for a few days and then come back to it.

Professor Blanc covers a wide range of toxic exposure risks in his book, which is where you will find more information on this concerning topic.


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