It may surprise you to know that we all come into contact with hundreds to thousands of chemicals every day.  In fact, chemicals represent a major component of our daily lives, from our cars and our homes to our food and our medicines.  A phrase commonly used by those in the toxicology field is: “The dose makes the poison.”  Most chemicals, including water, can have harmful effects if we are exposed at high levels or over an extended period of time.  Even chemicals needed for survival (such as fats and carbohydrates) can cause health effects ranging from heart disease to diabetes when consumed in excess. The goal of governmental agencies and toxicologists is to keep consumer exposures to the chemicals at a safe level.

In 2011, the National Poison Data System (NPDS) had over 2 million calls regarding chemical exposures (Bronstein, 2012).  Of these calls:

  • • 91% were exposures that occurred at home
  • • 62% involved children under the age of 19
  • • 80% were unintentional

Of these unintentional exposures, over 70 percent of them required no follow-up because there were no adverse effects, or because they involved non-toxic chemicals or minimal toxicity.  Less than .5 percent had a major adverse effect due to chemical exposure.  Many of these exposures are the result of improper use of or overexposure to generally safe chemicals in the home.

Chemicals are useful tools in the home and community.  Chemicals can treat disease, kill dangerous bugs, fuel our bodies, and remove harmful bacteria from homes.  However, it is important to be aware that these chemicals have been extensively researched, and the doses set by doctors and manufacturers are to ensure the safety of the consumer.  As consumers, we need to be aware of the chemicals in our homes, and their responsible use.

In our next post, we’ll begin addressing the most common chemicals found in your home and how you can be sure you are using them safely.