How to protect your family from lurking dangers at home

With hectic weeks and busy weekends, home maintenance and repair can fall by the wayside. Unfortunately, there may be items around you right now that desperately need your attention, or even the attention of trained experts.

We have narrowed down four of the most harmful elements found in British homes, and hope we can make a difference in the lives of you and your family.

Mould

Because of its damp climate, mould in British homes is extremely common. Once you develop a serious mould problem, it becomes very difficult to rectify the situation.

How does mould affect health?

Mould often produces allergens and health irritants. Mould may appear ‘fuzzy’ in texture, but spores are often undetectable to the naked eye. Most people are either have strong enough immune systems to fight mould spores. For those with respiratory conditions, however, mould can provoke asthma attacks, increase allergy symptoms, and cause sinusitis. Some mould is considered toxic, and can cause escalated health issues.

Where does mould grow?

Mould thrives when temperatures increase in a cool, moist environment. Clothing, wallpaper, ceiling tiles, window frames, you name it: Mould can grow anywhere damp, and on almost every surface.

How to detect mould

Mould is typically noticeable in a home. It can often be detected by a persistent smell, especially if it’s located in one specific area. Occasionally, you can see white, yellow, blue, green, or black mould in damp areas in the home, but it’s possible that it isn’t visible. If you feel fine outside but you’re dealing with allergy symptoms inside, it’s possible that mould is the culprit.

Stop mould before it starts

Regularly open windows to get fresh air moving through rooms, especially when the weather starts heating up. Proper ventilation is one of the best deterrent to mould spores. Keeping relative humidity in your home below 65% should restrict the growth of mould.

If you routinely notice damp or wet areas in your home, repair them whenever possible. Get rid of mouldy materials like paper and cloth. Investing in a dehumidifier is a great solution for moist areas. There are a variety of methods and solutions that effectively kill most types of mould and spores, and you can take care of most of these yourself.

If you suspect black mould

Black mould, or Stachybotrys chartarum, is toxic and needs to be evaluated by a professional. You can typically distinguish black mould by its slimy top layer. Do NOT attempt to remove black mould yourself, as spores can break off and leave toxins throughout your home. Only an expert can determine whether or not the mould in your house is Stachybotrys chartarum or not.

If you live in rented or council accommodation and cannot remove mould – even after regular cleaning – speak with your landlord and/or housing department. If you continue to have mould-related issues, call Shelter, the UK’s housing charity at 0808 800 4444.

Carbon Monoxide

Carbon monoxide, or CO,  is a tasteless, odorless, and deadly gas that causes the hospitalisation of around 200 British citizens each year, and about 50 deaths.

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning

When CO enters the bloodstream and mixes with red blood cells to create carboxyhaemoglobin. At this point, blood cannot transport oxygen, and the body’s cells, tissues, and organs begin to die from oxygen starvation.

The most common symptom of mild CO poisoning is a stress, or tension headache. Other common symptoms of mild CO poisoning may include:

  • Dizziness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Tiredness and disorientation
  • Shortness of breath/difficulty breathing

The severity of symptoms will worsen the longer you inhale CO, or if the CO level inside is high. Such responses can occur within two or three hours:

  • Personality changes
  • Vertigo
  • Loss of physical co-ordination (ataxia)
  • Elevated heart beat
  • Seizures
  • Loss of consciousness

How to detect carbon monoxide

CO is undetectable by humans, so instal a carbon monoxide detector in your home. Place a carbon monoxide detector in the centre of corridors, near bedrooms, either near or on the ceiling.

If you suspect a carbon monoxide leak

If these symptoms come on suddenly and lessen whilst away from home, open your windows and turn off all fuel-based appliances (until a registered engineer tells you it’s safe to turn them back on). If possible, leave your home, and call the appropriate emergency number. Do not smoke, use light switches, or make any sparks of any kind!

Should you feel suddenly unwell, follow these instructions and call 999 immediately!

Stop carbon monoxide poisoning before it starts

Common CO poisoning culprits include:

  • Boilers
  • Fireplaces
  • Flues
  • Gas fires
  • Central heating systems
  • Water heaters
  • Cookers

If you use appliances which burn gas, oil, wood or coal, be sure there’s enough fresh air entering the room. Wood- and coal-burning stoves should be fitted by a HETAS-approved expert, chimneys swept, vents cleaned, and check chimneys and flues for blockages.

Almost all CO poisoning is caused by improperly installed, maintained, and ventilated appliances. These regular checks can be the difference between life and death.

Lead

In the UK, the most common cause of lead poisoning comes from flaking or chipping lead paint, though lead poisoning from water can occur as well. When lead enters the body, it accumulates in organs like the liver, kidneys and brain, as well as bones and even teeth. Once absorbed, it can take years for the human body to expel lead from its system, and can cause long-term central nervous system issues.

The most at-risk population for this type of poisoning is in children under 7, pregnant women and their foetuses, and those working in industries which use lead regularly.

Symptoms of lead poisoning

Children

Low levels of lead poisoning aren’t always obvious until much later. Higher levels in a short time frame, however, can result in vomiting, diarrhoea, wrist drop, anaemia, coma, and even death. Long-term lead poisoning in children may result in brain damage, learning disabilities, and behavioural issues like aggression. In fact, studies have also shown that cities with higher traces of lead in paint and water tend to have higher crime rates.

Adults

In addition to symptoms in children, adults with lead poisoning may also experience infertility, kidney failure, and high blood pressure. Pregnant women have experienced miscarriage, premature birth, and developmental birth defects in foetuses.

In any case, if you suspect lead poisoning, contact your doctor immediately.

Where is lead found in British households?

Paint

Many Victorian and post-war homes in Britain contain some level of lead paint, especially when taking into account that domestic lead paint was used in Britain until 1992. Crumbling and flaking paint layers is the largest source of lead poisoning for British children.

Water Pipes

Until the 1970s, lead was commonly added to paint and petrol, and used for water pipes. Even though the fitting of lead pipes has been prohibited by the UK government, original lead plumbing may remain in properties built before 1970, or underground service pipes and water mains connecting to properties.

If you suspect lead in your home

Paint

Lead paint in good condition can safely be covered by a few layers of modern paint. Should lead paint be too brittle or in too poor condition to paint over, be sure to follow the UK Government’s instructions for handling the task and disposing of the material.

Water Pipes

To check pipes, look behind cupboards or under stairs to find the water pipes leading to the kitchen sink. Lead is a soft metal, so use a knife to gently scrape the surface of pipes. Lead pipes will typically reveal a shiny, silver surface underneath.

If you have concerns about your water quality, contact your water company who routinely takes samples. Should your pipes be under the jurisdiction of a governmental agency, they are responsible for their replacement. You may also request your water company to replace your service pipe that runs between your water main and stop valve. If you find lead pipes on your property, however, you are the party responsible for replacing them.

For the time being, run water 1-2 minutes through the taps to clear out standing water, and only drink from your kitchen tap.

Asbestos

About 50% of buildings in the UK contain asbestos, which was a silicate mineral used for nearly every domestic product conceivable: fire prevention, insulation, strengthening of concrete, and even brake lines. Exposure at low levels isn’t much to be concerned with – in fact, most Brits have likely been exposed to it – but if you do any sort of home remodeling, construction, or apprentice work, you’ll have definitely come across higher levels than most.

As of 1983, the HSE has mandated that all contractors be given proper asbestos awareness training to understand how to properly work around asbestos-based materials.

Symptoms of asbestos exposure

One of the biggest dangers of this mineral is that side effects occur anywhere from 10-40 years after exposure. Inhalation of asbestos fibres are known to cause mesothelioma (a terminal form of lung cancer), and asbestosis, a chronic lung condition that causes shortness of breath and persistent dry cough. Asbestos-related diseases do not have a cure.

Where can I find asbestos in a household

If you reside or work in a building constructed before 2000, it is probable that you’ll come across asbestos products, though it may not be easy to detect. In fact, with such a wide range of domestic and building products like cement, tiles, siding, pipes and insulation, it can be quite a task to determine.

Checking suspected products online is an excellent way to investigate suspected materials. However, the British government mandated that asbestos products required proper labeling after 1973 and many manufacturers created identical products for decades. There isn’t one sure method to determine the makeup of an item or material unless you’ve hired a professional.

If you suspect asbestos

If asbestos materials are in excellent, intact condition, it’s best to leave these products alone. Be sure to monitor these household products every so often to determine the shape they’re in. Asbestos removal should be a last resort, as dismantling these items releases asbestos fibres into the air. Do not attempt to remove asbestos yourself. Contact your local HSE office to find a licensed expert.

Though these household elements are incredibly common throughout the UK, there are a plethora of professionals to help you appropriately handle and remove them. The most important thing you can do is protect the health of you and your loved ones.

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