Indoor Air Pollution for pets. Besides toxic dust, air can also carry unhealthy gases and vapors, such as formaldehyde, ozone, chloroform, and radon. These waft into the atmosphere from household products, furniture, and many other common sources. A New Jersey study testing 20 common air pollutants showed that indoor levels were actually much worse than outdoor levels, in some cases 100 times greater.
This can happen because the air in the house is contained, not circulating as much, so when the furniture, carpet, paints, cleaners, and various household products give off volatile gases, they build up in the house.
Indoor, Outdoor Air Pollution for pets
A common contaminant is formaldehyde because it is used in so many products and is also a by-product of combustion. Formaldehyde can come from various types of gas and kerosene heaters, carpets, furniture, and the wood components used in construction (especially pressed wood or particle-board, softwood plywood, or oriented strand board).
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Another common one is radon, an odorless, colorless, tasteless radioactive gas that occurs naturally and is found in the soil and well water in low levels everywhere. It is produced naturally by the breakdown of uranium in the soil and gradually percolates up into the atmosphere. It can be trapped in buildings with confined spaces and build up to higher levels. That it is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States makes this common contaminant an important issue. It gets into homes by entering through small cracks in the flooring or around the holes for pipes and wiring in the walls—and these can be plugged.
Radon is also in natural gas used for heating or cooking. Many people really like gas stoves, but it is important that the stove be well ventilated while being used (same for a heater or fireplace using natural gas).
For crawlspaces, the EPA states “An effective method to reduce radon levels in crawlspace homes involves covering the earth floor with a high-density plastic sheet. A vent pipe and fan are used to draw the radon from under the sheet and vent it to the outdoors. This form of soil suction is called submembrane suction, and when properly applied is the most effective way to reduce radon levels in crawlspace home.
You would think that with all the available air outside, this would not be an issue, but we forget that some installations outside, like pressure-treated wood, can be a continued source of pollution. Because wood that has been sunk into the ground or exposed to water outside can quickly rot or be eaten by bugs, it is treated with a poison that does not allow any of these things to attack it. The usual substance is a combination of copper and arsenic. The wood is soaked in a liquid preservative under high pressure so that it penetrates the wood. This process allows the wood to survive 10 or 20 times longer than untreated wood, so it has a definite advantage. The drawback is that the chemicals remain on the surface as well as inside the wood and can run off with water and contaminate the soil around the post or structure built with it.
One of my clients, who had built a new screened outdoor enclosure for her cats with such wood, reported that cats going into the enclosure were having behavioral and health problems. After she covered the wood with a nontoxic sealer to prevent the fumes from reaching the animals, the cats returned to normal. It helps, therefore, to seal pressure-treated wood posts used to build a cattery or dog pen. Realize, however, that if your animal chews on this wood, it is still poisonous. Be watchful.
House and Garden Pesticides
Besides the insecticides used in flea and tick products, pets may also be exposed to high levels of other household pesticides. The National Academy of Sciences reports that homeowners use four to eight times as many chemical pesticides per acre as farmers do. Many home and garden insecticides are the same as those used on pets. Additional risks come from herbicides, fungicides, and rodent poisons. Because of their contact with the ground, pets are more likely to pick up these residues. In 1991, the National Cancer Institute found that dogs who lived where the homeowner used 2, 4-D, a common broadleaf weed killer, had twice the rate of lymphoma (a cancer of the lymph glands) of dogs who lived where it was not used.
Even if you don’t use pesticides, they may drift onto your property from neighbors’ yards or from heavily sprayed areas such as nearby parks, campuses, power line corridors, and orchards. Ask people to call you when they plan to spray so you can close your windows, since pesticides have a longer life span indoors.
Poisonous residues may persist in your house from previous occupants. The termite insecticide chlordane, for instance, has been detected in the air of some homes 14 years after application. It’s also been found in soil after 30 years. I am not sure what you can do about this once it has been applied, perhaps even before you bought the house, but be aware it can be a factor. If you are planning to do termite control, then choose a less toxic option.
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Though we must consider the possible danger to animals from what is stored in the garage, it is easy to overlook what might drip or leak from automobiles. One is antifreeze fluid. Sometimes when cars overheat, some antifreeze runs out on the ground. Apparently it tastes good (I have never tried it), and animals will lick it up, causing serious poisoning that often ends in death. Less toxic but still harmful are transmission fluids, used oils, even batteries left out on the ground. The battery posts are lead and the insides contain acid.
Store all of these things inside the garage in sealed containers, within locked cabinets, at least 4 feet off the ground. It’s not a bad idea to install childproof safety latches on the cabinet doors, either.
If you spill any of these hazardous materials, don’t wash it away. Sprinkle with sawdust or cat litter to absorb the spill, then sweep it up and put it in a plastic bag to dispose of as hazardous waste (at your recycle center’s hazardous waste day).