The Household Toxics Tour: Toxic Substances that are common in our homes that can make us sick

The Household Toxic Tour

Added and Adapted from:
Gary A. Davis and Em Turner

University of Tennessee - Knoxville Waste Management Institute



The Problem: Toxic Carpets ... Sick of Dust Report ... Sick House Syndrome ... Scroll Down To Find Out What is Poisoning Your Home

The Solution: Non-toxic Eco-friendly Flooring (info & photos) ... Instructions for Preparing Safe Cleaning Products Yourself ... Non-toxic, Healthy Personal Care Products

Identified toxic substances in your home:



In the Kitchen

Aluminum: Foods cooked in aluminum pots can react with the metal to form aluminum salts associated with impaired visual motor coordination and Alzheimer's disease. Recommendations:

  • It's important to keep to keep aluminum cookware in good condition. The more pitted and worn out the pot, the greater amount of aluminum will be absorbed.
  • Don't store food in aluminum containers. The longer food is cooked or stored in aluminum, the greater the amount of aluminum that gets into food.
  • Never cook highly acidic or salty foods (such as tomato sauce, lemon juice, wine sauces, or sauerkraut) in aluminum pots may increase the amount of aluminum that enters the food
  • Alternatively, look for pots made from anondized aluminum as it has been treated to develop an aluminum oxide (extremely hard and non-reactive) coating on the surface of the cookware. Commercial Aluminum Company, the manufacturer of one such cookware, claims that a final stage in the anodization process seals the aluminum, preventing any leaching into food. Anodized aluminum cookware doesn't react to acidic foods.

Teflon: Non-stick finishes like Teflon and Silverstone scratch easily and may release little bits of inert plastic into the food when cooked, as well as toxic fumes over high heat. DuPont studies show that Teflon offgases toxic particulates at 446°F. At 680°F Teflon pans release at least six toxic gases, including two carcinogens. DuPont acknowledges that the fumes can sicken people, a condition called "polymer fume fever." A study by Environmental Working Group, in collaboration with Commonweal in 2005 found chemicals in the umbilical cord blood of US-born infants including the Teflon chemical PFOA Similarly, researchers at John Hopkins Hospital, who released findings in 2006, found PFOA the Teflon chemical, in umbilical cord blood in 99% of 300 newborns tested. The Canadian government is introducing legislation to ban PFOA.

  • Self-cleaning ovens: Do not run the self-cleaning cycle on ovens when birds are around. Self-cleaning ovens are lined with PTFE (Teflon) and reach 900 degrees Fahrenheit during the self-cleaning cycle and emit gasses into the air that kill birds rather quickly.
  • Teflon:
    • Do not overheat Teflon cookware - Nonstick coatings are a risk is if they are over-heated. This can happen if an empty pan is left on a burner. In this case, the fumes released can be irritating or hazardous. If you plan to continue using Teflon, only cook foods at low heat.
    • Overheated teflon is toxic to birds. It is best not to use teflon cookware around your birds
  • Enameled Cookware: Some older enamel cookware contained the potentially toxic substance cadmium, which was sometimes contained in the red, yellow and orange pigments used to color the interior of enamel cookware. Cadmium was used mostly by foreign manufacturers. But manufacturers have discontinued its use, and consumers today are not in danger of cadmium poisoning from enamelware marketed today.
    • Some countries do not have strict lead and cadmium limits. If you bring in glazed ceramic cookware from abroad, be aware that it may not meet permitted levels for lead and cadmium.


  • Crock-pots and Terra Cotta: Generally considered safe for cooking. However, lead has been used in some glazes for slow-cooking pots (also known as crock-pots). As a general rule, terra cotta cookware without lead glaze is the best choice.
    • To ensure safety in using pottery dishes or cookware, ensure that there is a label that reads “Safe for food use.”
    • Avoid using imported pottery items in the kitchen due to the potential high levels of lead.


  • Plastic & Styrofoam:
    • Don't use plastic bowls or wrap in the microwave unless they are labelled as microwave safe. If you reuse items for storage, such as dairy product containers, let the food cool before storing, then refrigerate it immediately.
    • Never heat or store food in plastic containers that were not intended for food. Plastic cookware handles that get too hot may emit toxic fumes.
    • Choose cookware with handles that stay cool on the stovetop for a reasonable amount of time but are oven-safe.
    • Do not use Styrofoam cups for drinking (especially hot drinks or soups!)


  • Granite Countertops: Consumers are not aware of the danger of exposure to radiation and radon from their granite countertops. There have been more reports of potentially hazardous countertops, particularly among the more exotic varieties from Brazil and Namibia. Concerns that granite countertops may emit dangerous levels of radon and radiation have increased over the past decade. Health physicists and radiation experts agree that most granite countertops emit radiation and radon at extremely low levels. But with increasing regularity, the EPA has been receiving calls from radon inspectors and concerned homeowners about granite countertops with radiation measurements several times above background levels. (Source: New York Times July 24, 2008)


  • Toxic cleaning products: All-purpose cleaners, ammonia-based cleaners, bleach, brass or other metal polishes, dishwater detergent, disinfectant, drain cleaner, floor wax or polish, glass cleaner, dishwashing detergent, oven cleaner, and scouring powder contain dangerous chemicals.



In the Utility Closet

A number of products are likely to contain toxic ingredients:

  • carpet cleaner, room deodorizer, laundry softener, laundry detergent, anti-cling sheets, mold and mildew cleaner, mothballs, and spot remover all usually contain irritant or toxic substances.



In the Living Room and Bedroom

Even the furnishings of the typical American home can be harmful.

  • Substances such as Scotchguard and other stain repellants, new carpets and furniture, and dryer sheets/fabric softeners continue to release toxic fumes into the environment for months after they have been applied.

Scotchgard is made from a chemical that breaks down into PFOS. "PFOS is of significant concern on the basis of evidence of widespread human exposure and indications of toxicity. ... These chemicals 'combine persistence, bioaccumulation, and toxicity properties to an extraordinary degree.' " (EPA internal memorandum, May 16, 2000)

  • Fabrics that are labeled "wrinkle-resistant" are usually treated with a formaldehyde resin. These include no-iron sheets and bedding, curtains, sleep wear -- any woven fabric, but especially polyester / cotton blends, marketed as "permanent press" or "easy care."


  • Modern furniture is made of pressed wood products emits formaldehyde and other chemicals.


  • Toxic Carpeting


  • Incense contains: charcoal, starch, karaya gum, clay, aromatic chemicals and essential oils. Chemicals, obviously, but even essential oils have the potential for causing toxicity in birds. However, I have been using a nebulizer situated next to me with Lemon Essential Oil, Lavender, Patchouli, Peppermint and some other Essential oils being dispersed into the air -- with my lovebird right on my shoulder. This being said, I am being sensible about it. I never use incense -- only organic Essential oils and only when I need a "lift" (lemon oil helps me when I feel tired or can't concentrate) - the other scents I chose because of specific health-conducive properties that I personally benefit from for a short time, or I run the nebulizer if I feel like dispersing a fragrant scent through the living area. I place the nebulizer as far from my birds as possible -- and they are doing wonderfully, and the living area smells beautifully. Far better than any commercially available deodorizer.



In the Bath

Numerous cosmetics and personal hygiene products contain hazardous substances.



In the Studio or Hobby Room

Although legislation controlling many of the dangerous ingredients in hobby materials has recently been passed, exposure to certain art materials remains a health risk. Dangerous chemicals and metals include:

  • lead in ceramic glazes, stained-glass materials, and many pigments; cadmium in silver solders, pigments, ceramic glazes and fluxes; chromium in paint pigments and ceramic colores; manganese dioxide in ceramic colors and some brown oil and acrylic paint pigments; cobalt in some blue oil and acrylic paint pigments; formaldehyde as a preservation in many acrylic paints and photographic products; aromatic hydrocarbons in paint and varnish removers, aerosol sprays, permanent markers, etc.; chlorinated hydrocarbons (solvents) in ink, varnish, and paint removers, rubber cement, aerosol sprays; petroleum distillates (solvents) in paint and rubber cement thinners, spray adhesives, silk-screen inks; glycol ethers and acetates in photography products, lacquer thinners, paints, and aerosol sprays.



In the Garage

A number of dangerous substances are frequently present, including paint, paint thinner, benzene, kerosene, mineral spirits, turpentine, lubricating/motor oils, and gasoline.



In the Garden Shed

Pesticides, one of the most important single hazards in the home. Around 1,400 pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides are ingredients in consumer products. Combined with other toxic substances such as solvents, pesticides are present in more than 34,000 different product formulations.

  • For non-toxic ways to control pests in the house or garden, please visit this webpage.



On the Patio

  • Charcoal lighter fluid contains petroleum distillates. Besides being flammable and imparting a chemical taste to food, some petroleum distillates contain benzene, a known human carcinogen


  • Citronella Oil: Citronella oil is a volatile oil that contains approximately 30% citronellal and 40% geraniol. Its fumes are potentially toxic to birds. Even though I know of no reports of toxicities from citronella in the avian species, I would not feel comfortable using it around my birds. Please note: Citronella Oil is often used in combination with other essential oils in air fresheners.


Source / Ref.: http://es.epa.gov/techinfo/facts/safe-fs.html


Information contained on this website is provided as general reference only. For application to specific circumstances, professional advice should be sought.




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