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Healthy Children, Safe Homes a Winning Combination

SATURDAY, Jan. 14 (HealthDay News) -- From the air you breathe to the foods you eat, hidden dangers may be lurking in your home, experts warn.

Researchers at the Children's Environmental Health Center at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City offer some simple steps to help keep your children healthy and your home safe:

  • Test for radon. Levels of this invisible gas increase during the winter months. Be sure to inspect your home for radon, particularly the basement if it has cracks in the floor. Radon detectors are not expensive and can be found at local hardware stores.
  • Be energy efficient. Heating equipment that's energy efficient can lower your costs and reduce air pollution if it is properly sized and maintained. Also, make sure that all ducts are sealed to prevent leaks, which could lower your efficiency by as much as 20 percent. Equipment more than 15 years old may need to be replaced.
  • Buy organic produce. By choosing organic fruits and vegetables, you can minimize your family's exposure to pesticides, particularly those with soft skin, such as strawberries, raspberries and peaches. Wash all produce before eating to reduce your risk for infection.
  • Recycle old electronics. By e-cycling (recycling old electronics, such as computers, televisions and cellphones) you can reduce waste and help manage toxic chemicals. Your state's environmental agency has information on where you can recycle your old equipment.
  • Eat the right fish. Although fish is a good choice for a healthy diet, some types of fish are safer than others. Certain types of seafood, such as swordfish and shark meat, may contain contaminants, like metals, industrial chemicals and pesticides. Safer seafood options include tilapia, mussels, clams and shrimp.
  • Be smart about plastic. Some plastics contain potentially harmful chemicals known as phthalates and bisphenol-A (BPA). These chemicals can leak out of everyday products into children's bodies. Studies have shown these chemicals can have a negative effect on brain development and reproduction. Exposure to phthalates and BPA can be avoided by choosing plastics #1, 2, 4, 5. Avoid heating plastic. Microwaving food in plastic containers or plastic wrap is a common way for chemicals to leak out of plastic and contaminate your food. Also avoid putting plastics in the dishwasher and do not pour warm liquids into plastic containers.
  • Avoid lead paint. Children who come into contact with lead dust can ingest it easily. Even minimal lead exposure can result in severe brain damage. If your home was built before 1970, have your paint tested for lead. If lead is detected it must be removed by an expert, when children or pregnant women are not present.
  • Check the water. Water can also contain lead, particularly if the plumbing is more than 10 years old. Test your pipes for lead. To avoid lead exposure, you should also run the water for several minutes if it hasn't been used for a while and use cold water for cooking.
  • Don't smoke. Smoking cigarettes is the most common cause of indoor air pollution. Secondhand smoke can trigger asthma attacks and cause respiratory problems in children.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides more tips for a healthy home.

-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas

SOURCE: Mount Sinai School of Medicine, news release, Jan. 9, 2012

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