Children's Environmental Health Network
Toxic Chemicals in Your Home

Chemicals play a major role in our every day lives. They are part of what we eat, where we work, and how we live. Despite their prevalence in our lives, many chemicals are hazardous, or toxic. Toxic chemicals can be found in our soil, water, air, and bodies. This contamination has seriously effected the health of humans and wildlife everywhere.

Children are often more vulnerable than adults to the harmful effects of chemical pollutants because they are growing and developing rapidly. In addition, children’s behavior, including increased hand to mouth activity, a tendency to crawl and play in spaces that could be contaminated, and a lack of awareness about proper safety and sanitary habits, all put children at a higher risk. In some cases, childhood exposure to toxins can cause serious health damage to an individual later on in life.

Our built environments, including schools, residential areas, and places of work, can all be sites of hazardous chemical contamination. In fact, many toxic chemicals can be found right in your home.

  • Household products such as detergent, floor and furniture polish, paints, and various cleaning products for glass, wood, metal, ovens, toilets, and drains may contain hazardous chemicals such as ammonia, sulfuric and phosphoric acids, lye, chlorine, formaldehyde, and phenol. Air fresheners can also contain chemicals that are harmful to health. Art supplies, such as markers, paint, and glue, may also contain toxic materials. When not properly handled, these products can make the home environment a dangerous place, especially for kids.

  • Home furnishings, such as carpets, curtains, wall decorations, and some furniture, may be treated with chemicals and are potentially dangerous. It is important to note that a few days after installation, new carpets emit volatile organic compounds, which are chemicals associated with carpet manufacturing that can be harmful to humans and the environment. Gas and wood stoves and kerosene heaters may also release dangerous chemicals.

  • Building materials such as particle board, insulation, asbestos, and treated wood (used for decks and outdoor furniture), can also pose health threats. Some play sets and toys, as well as outdoor swing sets and play grounds, may also be treated with toxic chemicals, made from toxic plastics, or include hazardous materials. The more time that children spend playing in such an environment, the higher their exposure to toxic chemicals, and the greater a risk to their health.

Various health effects can result from toxic chemical exposure, including allergic reactions, asthma, migraines, dizziness, nausea, eye, skin, and respiratory tract irritation, various forms of cancer, and even death. The health effects resulting from exposure depends upon many factors, including how toxic the chemical is and the degree of exposure.

You can help protect children from the hazards of toxic chemicals at home and in school.


Make an effort to use nontoxic products. Use natural products for cleaning agents such as baking soda, soda ash, vinegar, and cream of tarter. A variety of nontoxic products can be found in health food stores and some supermarkets. Make sure to check labels carefully and keep all hazardous products well-marked and away from children. Check to see if various school and household appliances, toys, and learning materials are hazardous. Keep living, playing, and learning areas, especially the kitchen and bathroom, clean and safe.

Educate yourself! Learn more about toxic chemicals by visiting informational websites. Become active with groups working to promote policies designed to protect children from toxic chemicals.

Toxic Chemical Information Resources

  • www.epa.gov/epahome/topics.html - website for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) which can be searched for a variety of information about toxic chemicals and pollutants and US regulations regarding such materials
  • www.epa.gov/kidshometour - part of EPA’s website geared toward children information and a tour of toxic chemicals in the home
  • www.atsdr.org - website for the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, a government agency that provides information about hazardous substances, the health effects of hazardous substances, and relevant news updates
  • www.nrdc.org/health/default.asp - website for the Natural Resources Defense Council which contains a variety of information including an article about toxic chemicals and health
  • www.childproofing.org - the website for Childproofing our Communities Campaign, a locally based, grassroots effort coordinated by the Center for Health, Environment, and Justice (CHEJ), a national environmental organization dedicated to making the indoor and outdoor environment more safe for children. This site also provides many useful links to other organizations.
  • www.igc.org/psr/ihw.htm - a document by Physicians for Social Responsibility about various toxic threats to child development and information linking developmental disorders and toxic chemicals
  • www.greenhome.com/learn - an on line department store and information resource that sells environmentally friendly products from home appliances to apparel. It also contains various informational articles, including one on how to make non-toxic cleaners for your home which can be found at www.greenhome.com/learn/make/cleaners.shtml (Note: these products have not been officially tested by CEHN, nor are they officially endorsed by the Network)
  • www.eohsi.rutgers.edu/rc - the Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute provides educational material about toxics, including ToxRAP material for classroom lessons
  • www.cehn.org - website for the Children’s Environmental Health Network, a non-profit organization that works to protect children from environmental hazards and to promote a healthy environment, with a useful resource guide to other organizations and links to other resources

10/13/2004


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