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Unexpected Environmental Health Risks and How To Manage Them

Have you ever stopped to think about the health risks in and around your home? You may not realize it, but there are actually many potential dangers lurking both indoors and outdoors.

Dust, mold, airborne allergens, toxic plants, unclean fabrics, and pet-related illnesses can all create serious health risks if you’re exposed to them for too long.

Even something as seemingly harmless as toxic runoff or outdoor air pollution can affect your overall well-being.

Furthermore, an estimated 4.3 million deaths are attributed annually to outdoor air pollution. This puts poor air quality at the top of the list for leading causes of death worldwide.

The good news is that by understanding these unseen threats and taking steps to protect yourself from them, you can help keep yourself and your family safe!

To learn more about the potential health hazards in your environment - from air quality statistics to tips on avoiding toxins - read on.


Dust is an often overlooked hazard to your health both within and outside of the home. Common sources of dust particles include construction sites, natural and agricultural sources, materials such as pesticides, plastics, and synthetic fibers, as well as everyday activities like vacuuming.

It is estimated that over 11 million people in the United States suffer from asthma, which can be triggered by dust.

Dust particles can also contribute to inflammation within the lungs, which can worsen certain conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and heart disease.

High levels of dust have been linked to an increase in stroke risk. People living with allergies may also experience uncomfortable symptoms such as sneezing, coughing, itchy eyes and skin irritation when in contact or exposed to dust particles.

Dust mites are a common source of allergens as they release substances that can trigger allergic reactions in some people.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to prevent or reduce this risk. In the home or workplace, ensure good air quality by improving ventilation systems and increasing air filtration levels when necessary.


You should establish a routine of frequent dusting and cleaning with a vacuum that has an effective filter system to capture potentially harmful particles.

Finally, wearing personal protective equipment while engaging in activities like woodworking or gardening can further minimize your exposure to dust particles.

While dust may not be seen as the most pressing environmental health concern, it still poses a significant threat if not monitored and proper protection measures taken.


Mold is a type of fungus that can grow in damp and moist places, both within and around the home. Not only does it cause people to suffer from short-term symptoms such as skin irritation or watery eyes, but in the long run it could lead to more severe health problems due to its ability to create airborne toxins.

The risk and potential severity of the impact that mold can have on your health depends largely on how long you’ve been exposed to it.

  • Approximately 30 percent of all buildings are estimated to have visible mold growth.

  • Mold can cause health problems such as asthma, allergies and other respiratory issues in around 20 million Americans each year.


Fortunately, there are measures people can take within the home and outside of it that can help you reduce the risk or even prevent it altogether.

Common precautions include controlling moisture levels through proper ventilation, making sure water systems are regularly inspected for any signs of damage or leaks, using dehumidifiers in certain rooms, and performing regular mold testing throughout the home so you know what kind of environment you’re dealing with.

By familiarizing yourself with these preventive steps, you can ensure a safe environment that is free from any hazardous fungal growth.

Unwashed Fabrics

A 2018 study conducted by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences has found that leaving out unwashed fabrics can cause serious health risks.

The study focused on how dust mites, bacteria, and other allergens are present in dirty clothing and bedding, and how this can impact people who suffer from allergies or asthma.

Exposure to these contaminants in the air produced by the unwashed fabric may cause allergic reactions like sneezing, runny nose and eyes, and asthma attacks which could further lead to infections that could be dangerous for both children and adults.

To make matters worse, some bacteria are resistant enough to regular cleaning methods, meaning you should be extra vigilant about washing items like blankets.


Thankfully, it is simple to prevent these issues with regular laundering of any fabrics both inside your home as well as outside.

This process is not only relatively easy but also cost effective when compared to other more costly methods of cleaning such as using anti bacterial sprays or powders.

Make sure you aren’t keeping dirty clothes lying around to keep your home a safe and healthy environment for everyone.

People wearing protective face masks walking

Airborne Allergens

Airborne allergens represent a real health risk and are often unexpected. They are microscopic particles which can cause severe reactions in individuals who suffer from allergies. Inhalation of these particles can lead to an array of symptoms, such as respiratory problems, rashes, and even asthma.

Meanwhile, long-term exposure may worsen symptoms and increase the severity of chronic illnesses like asthma. Unfortunately airborne allergens are a common risk, primarily found outdoors during high-pollen times of year. Inside the home they can be caused by mold spores or animal dander.

  • The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) estimates that 50 million Americans suffer from allergies each year, with airborne allergens being the leading cause of allergy-related health issues.

  • A 2009 study conducted by the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI) concluded that indoor air pollutants are up to five times higher than outdoor levels and can be a major source for allergens in homes.


Taking precautions such as changing air filters regularly and keeping indoor areas free of dust buildup can reduce levels of airborne allergens significantly.

Additionally, pay attention to outdoor pollen statistics before venturing outside.

Toxic Plants

The safety and health of you, your family, and your guests should be among your top priorities as a homeowner. That is why it is so important to be aware of the potential risks caused by toxic plants both inside and outside of your home.

Depending on the plant type, it can cause skin irritation or sickness when ingested. If a person touches, smells, or consumes this type of plant they may experience symptoms such as vomiting, nausea, itching, or rash.

The risk posed by toxic plants varies from mild to severe; the severity depends largely on how much contact was made with the plant. Unfortunately, these kinds of plants are becoming more common in our environment and thus present an increasingly serious danger for homeowners.

Toxic Indoor Plants

  • English Ivy
  • Dieffenbachia
  • Dumb Cane
  • Chinese Evergreen
  • Dracena (Dracaenas)
  • Philodendron
  • Elephant Ear Plant
  • Peace Lily
  • Poinsettias
  • Palms (Ryder Palm, Bamboo Palm, Areca Palm)

Toxic Outdoor Plants

  • Poison Ivy
  • Poison Oak
  • Hogweed
  • Giant Hogweed
  • Wild Parsnip
  • Water Hemlock
  • Deadly Nightshade
  • Jimson Weed
  • Castor Bean Plant
  • English Yew


With some basic botanical knowledge you can help keep yourself and others safe from potentially hazardous plants.

Be sure to research any unknown plant before coming into contact with it and if you suspect that you have come into contact with a toxic species, contact medical professionals immediately for further guidance.

Toxic Cleaning Chemicals

Cleaning chemicals such as detergents and air fresheners, while helpful in making your home feel and smell fresh, are exposing you to potential health risks.

These risks vary depending on the specific chemical and its usage frequency but they can generally be divided into short-term and long-term impacts.

In the short-term, exposure to toxic cleaning chemicals can cause headaches, allergies, skin irritations, eye irritation and respiratory issues.

In the long term it can increase the risk of cancer, damage reproductive organs and affect cognitive development in children.

The risk is surprisingly common – studies have shown that these harmful toxins are present in almost 60% of households with members suffering from serious health complications mostly due to regular misuse or inhalation of chemical fumes.

9 Toxic Cleaning Chemicals To Look Out For

  • Chlorine – Found in products such as bleach, toilet cleaners, and mildew removers.

  • Ammonia – Found in window cleaner and some polishes.

  • Formaldehyde - Found in glues, stain repellents and fabric softeners.

  • Phosphates -Found in laundry detergents, dishwashing detergents and all-purpose cleaners.

  • Triclosan– Found in hand sanitizers and soaps.

  • Nonylphenol ethoxylated (NPEs) – Found in laundry detergent.

  • Petroleum distillates–Found in furniture polish and other aerosols.

  • Acetone–Found in nail polish remover.

  • 2-Butoxyethanol (2-BE)–found glass cleaner 10 Toluene– found paint thinners.


To prevent this environmental health risk it’s important to always follow instructions when using household cleaners, use natural cleaning products where possible, ventilate your house as much as possible and store all cleaning products safely out of reach of children.

Nests and Burrows

From common household pests like bed bugs and cockroaches to wild animals like raccoons, bats, and squirrels, it’s important to understand the possible health risks they carry.

While these animals may seem harmless in many cases, they can still have a huge impact on your health both in the short term and long term.

Short-term concerns include getting bitten by mosquitos or ticks who could be carrying dangerous diseases such as Lyme disease or even rabies, while long-term concerns involve more indirect but equally serious issues like allergies caused by animal dander or asthma caused by hazardous particulate matter that can become airborne from droppings of animals like rodents.


Common prevention methods include keeping areas tidy where wild animals might frequent, using insect repellent when outside during peak mosquito season, and cleaning houses regularly to keep pest populations down.

Regardless of these precautions though, it's always important for you to stay aware of your environment and any potential risks it poses to your health in order to better protect yourself.

Pet-Related Illness

Caring for a pet is an incredible experience, but it’s important to recognize the potential risks involved with pet ownership. Illnesses associated with pets can range from moderate to severe depending on the initial exposure and severity of symptoms.

There’s a common misconception that it’s only outdoor activities, such as gardening or playing in the park, that put one at risk of catching infectious diseases.

While this is true, there are also several unexpected environmental health risks inside your own home caused by pet-related illnesses.

Even when maintained properly, signs and symptoms of pet illnesses such as skin rashes and coughing could go unnoticed until they become more severe.

This can cause the effects to last far longer than expected and potentially threaten your health both short-term and long-term.

Common Pet-Related Illnesses

  • Ringworm – a fungal infection that can be spread through contact with an infected animal and cause a red, itchy rash on the skin.

  • Leptospirosis – a bacterial disease that is caused by contact with urine from infected animals and can lead to fever, headaches, vomiting, jaundice and muscular pain.

  • Salmonellosis – an infection from salmonella bacteria found in contaminated pet food or surfaces; symptoms include nausea, abdominal cramps and diarrhea.

  • Campylobacteriosis – an infection caused by contact with contaminated feces of cats or dogs; symptoms include stomach ache, diarrhea and fever.

  • MRSA(Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) – a bacterial skin infection resistant to many antibiotics which can be spread through direct contact or through airborne particles when grooming pets.

  • Lyme Disease – caused by tick bites; symptoms may vary but usually include fatigue, joint pain and occasional rashes.


Taking preventative measures like vacuuming regularly, washing hands after touching animals or their food bowls - and even getting regular checkups (including for fleas!) - can help you avoid being negatively impacted by pet-related illnesses.

Protecting yourself from these threats is crucial when it comes to maintaining a happy, healthy household with any furry family members included!

Toxic Runoff

Toxic runoff can be a serious environmental health risk, both from hazardous pollutants that are discharged in sewers and waterways as well as from lawn pesticides, wastewater, fertilizer and other contaminants.

This kind of runoff can have harmful effects on your health in both the short term and long term, as certain toxins can accumulate over time.

Toxic runoff is much more common than many people realize – even everyday activities like watering your lawn or washing your car can have unintended consequences if you're not careful.


To prevent this risk, be sure to always read directions before using any kind of chemicals or fertilizers in or around your property and always practice responsible disposal when it comes to hazardous waste.

It's also smart to check with local government organizations for guidelines on proper lawn maintenance practices to ensure you aren't unknowingly doing anything that might contribute to toxic runoff.

Outdoor Air Pollution

A chilling statistic about the risk of Outdoor Air Pollution is that, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), it is estimated that around 7 million people die every year as a result of air pollution-related diseases.

Out of all the environmental risks to our health, outdoor air pollution may be one of the most overlooked yet concerning.

Studies show that both short- and long-term exposure can have a devastating effect on overall wellbeing and endanger the health of millions around the world.

In the short term, you may experience coughing, wheezing, dizziness or nausea; in severe cases it even leads to asthma and cardiovascular disease.

There are various sources to worry about - from oil refineries and municipal waste incinerators to car exhausts and industrial factories.


This kind of risk is all too common across many metropolitan areas, but thankfully there are steps you can take to prevent such risks without resorting to drastic measures.

  • Start by staying informed about local notifications regarding regulations or restrictions on outdoor activities during smoggy days;

  • if possible consider walking or biking to work if living nearby;

  • invest in an air purifier for your home with HEPA filters that can proactively improve indoor air quality;

  • use less fossil fuel powered vehicles when traveling longer distances;

  • and always install high quality HVAC systems where possible.

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