January 12, 2021

You may think the most hazardous “gas” in your home is the one coming from your dog, but there are certainly many more toxic gases that you can be harmful if exposed. The American Association of Poison Control Centers reported that over 90% of poison exposures occur within the home. Hazardous gas exposure can occur from household cleaning products to naturally occurring environmental causes. What is the best way to stay safe? Be aware of toxic gas warning signs and equip your house with the necessary detection equipment.

Radon

The month of January is dedicated as National Radon Action Month for good reason.  This invisible toxic gas is a colorless, odorless, and present in the environment naturally. High radon levels afflict nearly 1 in every 15 homes in the United States, many people are unaware that this is a problem in their house. It is produced from a natural breakdown of uranium in soil, rock, and water. The poison gas enters homes, offices, schools, and other buildings through cracks in floors and walls, construction joints or gaps around service pipes, electrical wires, and sump pits. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that it is the cause of nearly 21,000 lung cancer deaths a year.

To find out if this is a problem in your home, purchase a certified testing kit.   The EPA website can help you find a radon test kit or measurement and mitigation professional near you. Do-it-yourself test kits also are available at many local hardware stores. Just remember, there are no acute exposure symptoms to radon.

Carbon Monoxide

Carbon monoxide, chemically known as CO, is another colorless, odorless gas that displaces oxygen causing asphyxiation. At lower levels, carbon monoxide causes extreme fatigue, headache, dizziness, and nausea. Severe exposure can cause unconsciousness or death. Carbon monoxide is the by-product of combustible engines and fuel-burning equipment.

It is recommended to check your appliances every year and provide ventilation while running these engines. Carbon monoxide in the home can easily be detected by a CO detector. They are sold in stores, often in combination with smoke alarms. Check or change the batteries every spring and fall during daylight savings time clock adjustments. Place your CO detector near sleeping areas in your home.

Household Solvents and Cleaners

Gases can come from a variety of household products such as paint, pesticides, certain glues, aerosol sprays, insect repellents, air fresheners, bleach, ammonia, and more. These dangerous poisons lurk in common areas of  kitchen cabinets, bathrooms, basements or garages and you may not give a second thought to their harmfulness. Many cleaning products can create deadly gases if combined. Some gases may cause slight irritation, such as eye and throat burning, but extended exposure to solvent fumes can lead to more serious damage to the lungs, kidneys, and nervous system.

The CDC recommends keeping toxic products in their original packaging and storing them out of sight and out of reach of curious children and keep the National Poison Control Center number, (800) 222-1222, in your cell phone contacts. The line is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  You can also generally provide ventilation like opening a nearby window when using products to reduce exposure.

Gas Leaks

Natural gas leaks can pose serious health risks because it is the vapors are extremely flammable. Since natural gas is odorless, suppliers have added a rotten egg smell to it to alert occupants of the danger. You may also notice a hissing or whistling sound, bubbles, or dust in standing water, or house plants suddenly dying as additional warning signs. The short-term exposure symptoms include headaches, dizziness, difficulty breathing, eye/throat irritation, ringing in ears, frequent nosebleeds, and mood changes.

To prevent gas leaks, conduct routine maintenance on any equipment that uses gas, and ensure proper ventilation when using those devices. In most cases you will detect the danger first by smell.  If you’re unsure, it’s still smart to turn off the pilot light on your stove, furnace, or water heater, open the windows, and get the folks who could be in danger out of harm’s way. Alert authorities immediately and don’t re-enter your home until a professional deems it safe. Safety tip: Carbon monoxide monitors are not designed to detect a natural gas leak, but natural gas can result in an increase of CO in the air.

Keeping our homes safe against poisonous gases is something we cannot take for granted.  Remember to stay aware and prepared for the potential dangers of hazardous gas.