What Toxins Can Be in Your Home?

Medically Reviewed on 4/26/2022
What toxins can be in your home?
Learn the seven most common toxins found in our homes that pose a significant risk to our health and well-being.

Toxins are substances that can harm your health when you ingest (eat or drink), inhale, or come in contact with them.

We are well aware that various toxins in the outdoor air pose a threat to our health. However, toxins may even be present in your homes.

The seven most common toxins found in the home include:

  1. Lead
  2. Radon
  3. Asbestos
  4. Tobacco smoke
  5. Phthalates
  6. Perfluorinated chemicals
  7. Flame retardants

7 major toxins in your home

  1. Lead
    • A naturally occurring metal that is used to make various products such as paints, contaminated soil or water, certain cosmetics, gasoline, batteries, solders, ceramics, and plumbing pipes.
    • Due to the harmful effects of lead on health, the federal government started phasing out lead in gasoline in 1973 and completely eliminated it by 1996. 
    • Exposure to high levels of lead can lead to conditions such as:
    • Moreover, prolonged lead exposure can result in heart diseases, high blood pressure, and cancer.
    • Lead in the pregnant woman’s blood can cross the placenta and harm the unborn baby, causing brain damage, stillbirth, or abortion.
  2. Radon
    • A naturally occurring odorless, tasteless, and colorless gas.
    • Radon formed in soil or rocks can enter buildings (including homes, offices, and schools) through cracks in walls, foundations, basements, and other entry points. Additionally, radon can enter indoors through water coming from showerheads or faucets.
    • The indoor radon then decays to release various cancer-causing particles that can be inhaled.
    • Although outdoor radon concentration is generally low, radon trapped indoors can increase to very high levels.
    • Radon exposure is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States (the first being smoking). It is the leading cause of lung cancer in nonsmokers.
    • Indoor radon testing can be done easily and inexpensively. It can be done through professional testing or by using electronic or do-it-yourself detectors.
  3. Asbestos
    • A collective term for a group of heat and corrosion-resistant minerals
    • Asbestos can be mixed with other materials to enhance its strength. It is used for making various products such as fireproofing material, automobile brakes, insulation, and wallboard materials.
    • Asbestos exposure can occur by inhaling particles in the air. It can result in pleural effusion, lung cancer, and other types of cancer such as cancer of the larynx, kidney, and gut.
    • Asbestos exposure can cause a disease called asbestosis that causes permanent lung damage.
  4. Tobacco smoke
    • Tobacco contains various harmful chemicals that have been associated with various types of cancer, cardiovascular diseases, and lung diseases. Over 4,000 types of compounds are released from tobacco smoke, and over 40 of these can cause cancer.
    • Exposure can occur through active or passive smoking (inhaling smoke when someone else is smoking).
    • Smoking is the top cause of lung cancer in the United States.
    • Infants and children exposed to tobacco smoke have compromised lung function and are at a high risk of lung infections such as pneumonia and bronchitis.
  5. Phthalates
    • Also called plasticizers, phthalates are synthetic (manmade) compounds used for making durable plastics, personal care products (such as shampoo, soap, and hair spray), and vinyl flooring.
    • Phthalate exposure can occur by eating or drinking contaminated products or inhaling phthalate particles in the air.
    • Phthalate exposure in animals has been found to harm the reproductive system. Human studies on phthalate exposure, however, are limited. 
    • Research done so far suggests that phthalates may act as endocrine disruptors (substances that interfere with hormone action in the body by mimicking certain hormones, changing the levels of certain hormones, or blocking the action of hormones). This may result in problems such as the early onset of puberty or low testosterone levels or low sperm count in men. 
    • Check for the label while buying toys or personal care products to avoid phthalate exposure.
  6. Perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs)
    • Also called perfluorochemicals, PFCs are a group of chemicals used to make heat, oil, grease, and water-resistant products such as nonstick pans, microwave-safe food packaging, ski wax, and firefighting foams, and various building, medical, aerospace, and automotive products. They may be found in cleanings and personal care products such as dental floss and shampoo. 
    • Exposure can occur by consuming contaminated foods or drinks. Studies report that PFC exposure can result in hormone dysfunction, liver damage, immune dysfunction, and cancer.
    • PFC exposure during pregnancy may result in complications such as low-birth-weight babies.
  7. Flame retardants
    • As the name suggests, these chemicals are added to various materials to prevent the start of a fire or slow down its spread to facilitate extinguishing it, prevent damage, and provide enough escape time. Flame retardants may be found in electronic devices, mattresses, upholstery, carpets, and construction materials.
    • Exposure may occur through inhalation or consumption of contaminated foods or drinks.
    • Flame retardants can act as endocrine disruptors and lead to reproductive or thyroid dysfunction. Moreover, they can eventually damage the brain, cause cancer, impair immunity, and hamper fetal and child development.


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Medically Reviewed on 4/26/2022
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