Home, we are told, is where the heart is. It also now must be a very strong heart, because many homes also harbor a collection of hazardous products that, when considered cumulatively, leave one wondering how the average person manages to survive from day to day.
The cumulative impact comes from the current hazards-priority list of the Consumer Product Safety Commission. The list, containing a dozen home hazards that CPSC deems worthy of special attention, is based on a chilling set of criteria, including the frequency and severity of injuries and the unforeseen nature of the risks. In each case, CPSC is attempting to take appropriate steps to reduce the hazard or more fully assess it.
Here are the leading hazards:
Indoor air pollution. This hazard apparently has increased in recent years because many homeowners and builders have sealed their homes as tightly as possible to cut heating and cooling costs. Gases such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, radon and formaldehyde build up in homes and "may pose a more serious health problem than outdoor pollution since Americans spend 70 to 80 percent of their time indoors," CPSC says.
Formaldehyde. This is a relative of the indoor pollution problem. The formaldehyde gas can be released by a number of common products found in homes, including plywood, particle-board and textiles. CPSC has proposed a ban on another potential source: unreaformaldehyde insulation, a foam that is normally pumped into walls.
Stoves. Stoves that burn coal or wood cause about 14,000 fires each year, and they present "a serious fire hazard if improperly installed or inadequately maintained," CSPC says. More fires are linked to chimneys, flues, fireplace inserts and other accessories.
Electric blankets. These cause about 2,200 fires each year. Higher standards of manufacture are sought.
Upholstered furniture. About 25,000 fires start in furniture annually, most of them directly traceable to smoldering cigarettes. The industry has a voluntary program under way to make upholstery more resistant to ignition by cigarettes.
Flammable plastics. Widespread use of plastics in products built into or taken into homes is stirring more concern, because some of the plastics catch fire easily or give off toxic gases when burning. Test methods to evaluate the products are being developed.
Chainsaws. Injuries are surging, and mandatory standards for safety are being sought.
Aluminum wiring. A campaign about the fire hazards of aluminum electrical wiring has been going on for years, and many consumers already have had adjustments made to reduce the danger. More than 1.5 million homes built between 1965 and 1973 have aluminum wiring, which oxidizes and sometimes overheats at connection points. CPSC still is attempting to get a court order requiring manufacturers to make repairs or replace existing wiring systems.
Regular electrical wiring. Defective or incorrectly sized fuses and circuit breakers and improper procedures made regular wiring another frequent source of fires. New or upgraded wiring standards are being studied.
Asbestos. A concer risk associated with inhalable asbestos fiber has caused many manufacturers to discontinue its use, but asbestos still is turning up in some products, CPSC says. More testing and better evaluation of the risks, with possible regulatory action, are being considered.
Benzidine congener dyes, used in clothing and other products.
Infant cribs, which are often so poorly designed that they injure infants.
It is comforting to know that a number of other hazards have been dealt with rather successfully, so some of the problems listed probably will not be with us forever.
For example, the perils of benzene created a stir a few years ago, but benzene largely has been eliminated as an ingredient of consumer products. Power lawnmowers, which used to cause about 77,000 injuries annually, are being improved as a result of mandatory safety standards, and the injury list is expected to be cut by more than 75 percent. Manufacturers voluntarily are setting back waterheater temperatures to reduce accidental scaldings.
Of course, there probably will be new products ready for the priority list by the time some of the current ones are eliminated.