Too many people succumb to the mistaken belief that the important domestic hazards to look out for in the home are the ones that are obviously dangerous such as broken glass and sharp objects left carelessly, which are visible. Unfortunately this is not always the case. Domestic hazards present themselves in various forms and can pose either immediate or slowly-creeping danger to human life.
As explained by the Canadian Center for Occupational Health and Safety, Domestic Hazards can be defined as ANY source of potential damage, harm or adverse health effects within the home that pose a serious threat to human life and property.
A World Health Organisation (WHO) fact sheet on Household Pollution and Health (N°292) states that 3.8 million premature deaths that occur annually from non-communicable diseases including stroke, ischaemic heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and lung cancer are attributed to household air pollution, usually caused by exposure to open fires from stoves, cooking with solid fuels and toxic molds found in homes.
In an investigative report by MTV News (July 2010), it was reported that the cause of death for actress Brittany Murphy and her British screenwriter husband Simon Monjack may have been as a result of mould growing in their luxury Los Angeles home. Murphy, the star of Clueless and Sin City, was just 32 years old when she died in December 2009; and Monjack was 39 when he died less than six months later being May this year. Both were reported to have pneumonia and anaemia. US health experts have suggested that household mould might have contributed for the respiratory conditions that took their lives. If something as simple as household mould could be so serious, what other danger zones are hiding in our homes?
Research has found several hazards that are not commonly identified within the home but can potentially threaten the survival of individuals in a homes;
1. Legionella bacteria found in water pipes
Legionella is a pneumonia-inducing bacteria that thrives in water and is found in industrial air-conditioning units and water pipes. The inhalation of this bacteria can cause several respiratory diseases in human beings. Legionella grows best in warm water. Doctors recommend that you run all faucets in your home on for 10 minutes at a temperature above 140°F every three months to help kill this bacteria.
2. Mercury Gas from Energy Efficient Bulbs
Most homes now adopt the use of energy efficient lightbulbs. The most common of these are Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs). Because these CFL bulbs use less electricity than traditional incandescent bulbs and emit less heat, they are considered eco-friendly.
The downside of these bulbs is that they contain mercury gas can be released in the event that they get broken. Mercury gas is a neurotoxin that attacks the nervous system and can cause chronic kidney problems. It is recommended that when fixing energy efficient lightbulbs, one must hold the bulbs by the plastic base and not the glass and dispose of them securely when they are no longer in use.
3. Bacteria from Washing Sponges
Sponges used for wiping surfaces and washing dishes in our home can harbor thousands of bacteria at any given time. Dr. Joseph Laquatra, a professor of family policy at Cornell University suggests a great way to prevent such bacteria is by boiling the sponges or putting them in the dishwasher once a week.
4. Bisphenol A (BPA) chemical from Plastics
Bisphenol A is a chemical used during the production of plastics. It can often be found in water bottles, baby bottles, plastic wraps, and food packaging – especially the liners of canned foods. There is some concern about its effects on the brains of foetuses and children. Doctors suggest the use of glass products as an alternative. Where the use of plastics/canned foods is necessary, look out for BPA-free labeling on the container.
To combat hazards, awareness is key
While we are very conscious of the common domestic hazards like our cooking gas and electric kettles, we should never underestimate the dangers that hidden hazards like the aforementioned four pose to our homes and lives.