Healthy Home & Workspace

Carbon monoxide, Radon, and Lead in the Home: What You Need to Know

Three hidden dangers in the home are carbon monoxide, radon, and lead.

Left undetected, these things can cause serious illness and even death.

Understand more and find out how to protect your home, yourself, your family.

Carbon monoxide Poisoning

Carbon monoxide (CO), an odorless, colorless gas, that comes from burning things like kerosene, coal, or wood which can cause sudden illness and death, is produced any time a fossil fuel is burned.

Breathing air containing only a very small amount of carbon monoxide can cause carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide replaces oxygen in the blood.

What happens if a person breathes carbon monoxide?

  • symptoms like the flu or a cold
  • blurred vision
  • stomach aches
  • trouble breathing
  • sleepiness
  • ringing in the ears

Carbon monoxide can come from

  • broken gas water heaters and furnaces
  • space heaters that don’t have vents
  • gas clothes dryers
  • tobacco smoke
  • fuels burned in wood and gas stoves

Carbon monoxide detectors help prevent carbon monoxide poisoning in the home.

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You Can Prevent Carbon Monoxide Exposure:

  • Do have your heating system, water heater and any other gas, oil, or coal burning appliances serviced by a qualified technician every year.
  • Do install a battery-operated or battery back-up CO detector in your home. Check or replace the battery when you change the time on your clocks each spring and fall. If the detector sounds leave your home immediately and call 911.
  • Do seek prompt medical help if you suspect CO poisoning and are feeling dizzy, light-headed, or nauseated.
  • Don’t use a generator, charcoal grill, camp stove, or other gasoline or charcoal-burning device inside your home, basement, or garage or near a window.
  • Don’t run a car or truck inside a garage attached to your house, even if you leave the door open.
  • Don’t burn anything in a stove or fireplace that isn’t vented.
  • Don’t heat your house with a gas oven.
  • Don’t use a generator, pressure washer, or any gasoline-powered engine less than 20 feet from any window, door, or vent. Use an extension cord that is more than 20 feet long to keep the generator at a safe distance.

Radon in the Home

Radon is a colorless, odorless radioactive gas that you can’t see or smell. It comes from the natural decay of uranium or thorium found in nearly all soils. There is usually very little radon in the air outside, but sometimes radon can build up indoors. It typically moves up through the ground and into the home through cracks in floors, walls and foundations. It can also be released from building materials or from well water. Radon breaks down quickly, giving off radioactive particles.

About 1 out of every 15 homes in the United States have a level of radon that is too high. Breathing in radon over time can cause lung cancer, especially if you smoke. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that radon causes about 21,000 lung cancer deaths in the United States each year. While other estimates might be higher or lower, there is general agreement that radon exposure is the second leading cause of lung cancer after active smoking and the leading cause among non-smokers. Many radon-related lung cancer deaths can be prevented by testing for radon and taking the necessary steps to lower radon exposure in homes that have elevated radon levels. This process is known as radon mitigation.

Radon Testing: Quick Tips

If the radon level in your home is high, you can take steps to fix it. If you are breathing in too much radon, you won’t feel sick or have any symptoms right away. Testing your home is the only way to know if there’s a radon problem.

Test your home with a short-term test.

Testing your home for radon is easy and doesn't cost very much. You can test for radon yourself or hire a professional to do it for you. If you rent your home, ask your landlord to get it tested. There are 2 main types of radon test kits.

  • Short-term tests take between 2 and 90 days.
  • Long-term tests take more than 90 days.

Start with a short-term test.

  • Test for radon in the lowest level of your home where people spend time. If you use part of your basement for living space, like a playroom, test there. If you only use your basement for storage, test the first floor. Avoid testing in places that are damp – like the kitchen, bathroom, or laundry room.
  • You can buy test kits at home improvement stores, hardware stores, or online.
  • If your home has a radon level of 4 or higher, it’s time to take action. There is no safe level of radon, so you may still want to fix your home if the radon level is between 2 and 4.

Test your home again if the radon level is 4 or higher.

The radon level in your home can change. A long-term test is the best way to know what the radon level is over time.

  • If the radon level was very high or if you are in a hurry, use another short-term test.
  • If the level was close to 4 and you have time, use a long-term test.

It's also a good idea to test your home again after remodeling your home — or if you make changes to your heating, ventilation, or air conditioning systems.

If your home has a radon level of 4 or higher, fix your home.

If 2 radon test kits show that the radon level in your home is 4 or higher, make a plan to fix your home by hiring a qualified contractor. You may also want to take action if the radon level is between 2 and 4.

Be sure to hire a contractor who is qualified to fix radon. The contractor will make changes to your home that helps keep radon from getting inside. It’s a good idea to get at least 2 price estimates.

Protect Your Family from Lead

Coming into contact with lead can cause problems with kids' learning, behavior, and development. That’s why it’s important to take steps to protect your family.

You can come into contact with lead by swallowing it or breathing it in. In the United States, most people come into contact with lead from paint in homes built before 1978.

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Who is at risk for health problems from lead?

Children under age 6 and pregnant women are most at risk for problems related to coming into contact with lead.

  • When children are young, their bodies are still growing and are more sensitive to the harmful effects of lead.
  • If a pregnant woman has too much lead in her body, it can increase her risk for miscarriage (losing the baby). Lead can also pass from the pregnant mother to her unborn baby.

People who come into contact with lead don’t have any signs or symptoms, but it can cause serious problems over time. Some effects of coming into contact with lead may never go away.

How do people come into contact with lead?

Paint in homes or other buildings that were built before 1978 often has lead in it. When old paint cracks and chips, it creates lead dust. Children can then breathe in this lead dust or swallow it when it gets on their hands and toys.

Lead can also be found in the soil around your home, drinking water, and products with old paint, like toys, furniture, and jewelry.

Keep your family safe from lead.

If your home was built before 1978, have it tested for lead paint. Take these steps to keep your children safe:

  • Keep them away from lead paint that is chipping or peeling.
  • Wash their hands and toys often.
  • Ask a doctor to test your children for lead if you have any concerns.

If you are pregnant, it’s important for you to stay away from lead paint that is chipping or peeling.

Take Action!

You can help protect your family from lead by taking these simple steps.

Keep children away from lead dust.

If you live in a home built before 1978, treat all paint as if it has lead in it. To keep kids from swallowing or breathing in lead:

  • Keep children away from rooms with chipping or peeling paint.
  • Cover peeling or chipping paint with duct tape or contact paper.
  • Use a wet paper towel or mop to clean up dust regularly, especially around windows and on the floor.
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Renovate safely.

If you live in an older home and you are doing any home remodeling or repairs, be sure to follow lead-safe work practices. Keep children away from the work area. If you are pregnant, you’ll also need to stay away during any remodeling or repairs.

Wash your child’s hands and toys.

Lead dust from chipping and peeling paint can get on children’s hands and toys. Wash hands and toys often, especially before eating and sleeping.

Test your home for lead.

If you live in a home built before 1978, have your home tested, or inspected, for lead paint by a licensed lead inspector. Ask the inspector about testing your soil and water, too.

To learn more, contact your local health department. Ask if they have a program to inspect your home for lead at no cost to you.

What if I rent my home?

Ask your landlord to have your home tested for lead. Your local health department can tell you about your landlord’s responsibilities.

Test your child for lead.

People who have been in contact with lead don’t have any signs or symptoms. A lead test is the only way to know for sure if your child has come into contact with lead.

A lead test measures the amount of lead in your child’s blood. If you are worried about lead, ask your child’s doctor or nurse to test your child for lead.

If your child has a high lead level, do these 5 things to help lower your child's lead level:

Make a plan with your doctor.

    Work together with your doctor to find the best treatment for your child. Ask questions if you don’t understand something. You may need to:
  • Go back for a second lead test.
  • Test your child for learning and development problems. This test is called a “developmental assessment.”

Find the lead in your home.

    1. Most children get lead poisoning from lead paint in homes built before 1978. It is important to find and fix lead in your home as soon as possible. Have your home inspected by a licensed lead inspector.

Don’t remodel or renovate until your home has been inspected for lead. Home repairs like sanding or scraping paint can make dangerous lead dust.
Clean up lead dust.When old paint cracks and peels, it makes lead dust. Lead dust is so small you cannot see it. Children get lead poisoning from swallowing dust on their hands and toys.

  • Use wet paper towels to clean up lead dust.
  • Clean around windows, play areas, and floors.
  • Wash hands and toys often with soap and water. Always wash hands before eating and sleeping.
  • Use contact paper or duct tape to cover chipping or peeling paint.

Give your child healthy foods.

    Feed your child healthy foods with calcium, iron, and vitamin C. These foods may help keep lead out of the body.
  • Calcium is in milk, yogurt, cheese, and green leafy vegetables like spinach.
  • Iron is in lean red meats, beans, peanut butter, and cereals.
  • Vitamin C is in oranges, green and red peppers, and juice.

Learn more. Get support. 

Contact your local health department. Trained staff will answer your questions and connect you to other resources in your community.

Dealing with lead poisoning can be stressful. Be sure to ask for support. You may want to talk to other parents who have children with lead poisoning.

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