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Healthy Homes

Many of us are familiar with the kinds of health hazards that might be present in older homes. But regardless of the age of any given house, our modern lifestyle includes many well-intended products that create unhealthy conditions. Benton County Environmental Health endorses the practice of taking a holistic view of addressing issues in our homes that affect our health, safety, and wellbeing. Everyone can take actions to protect themselves and their families from health hazards in our homes.

Indoor Air Quality

There are a number of sources of indoor air pollution in homes. The quality of air in homes can be worse than some major cities due to the soup of chemicals and contaminants that are released inside. Depending on where you live and what is going on around you, opening your home to less fresh outside air can make the situation worse. High temperatures and humidity levels can increase the concentration of some pollutants. Especially if you have member of your household with asthma or allergies, inspect for the following conditions; eliminating triggers will improve the living conditions for everyone in the home.

Tobacco Smoke

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Second hand smoke is a leading cause of lung cancer in nonsmokers, can trigger asthma attacks, and lead to many other health problems. Even the clothing that smokers wear can contain unhealthy levels of toxins from tobacco smoke (third hand smoke).

Take Action
  • Prohibit all smoking in your home and cars.
  • Leave smoky, outside layers of clothing at the door.
  • Keep matches, lighters, and tobacco products out of reach from children.
  • Consider quitting smoking. Free resources are available!


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We don’t typically recommend testing for mold, because there is no standard for what amount is considered “safe”. If you can see mold, or if you have a mildewy or musty smell, you likely have mold. Spend your time and energy fixing the conditions that lead to mold.

Take Action
  • Check under sinks, behind furniture, outside walls, bathrooms, kitchen,
  • attic, air conditioners, and crawl spaces for visible signs of mold as well
  • as musty odors.
  • Inspect home for leaks, poor ventilation, and other causes of moisture in
  • the home.
  • Repair as necessary to prevent mold problems.
  • Clean up existing mold as directed by the EPA.

Fragrance Products

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The use of scent is common in many products we use every day. Personal care products, cosmetics, soaps, laundry products, drier sheets, candles, air fresheners may all contain fragrances. Ingredients labeled as fragrances, other ingredients, or inert ingredients may contain chemicals that are known to be toxic and are not regulated.

Take Action
  • Eliminate or reduce fragranced products in your home.
  • Read labels on products that you use and reduce or eliminate products with ingredients labeled fragrance, other ingredients, or inert ingredients.


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Cockroach droppings, body parts, and saliva are common asthma and allergy triggers. They prefer moist, warm habitat. Eliminating habitat is the first step in eliminating cockroaches. Pesticides should be your last resort. Cockroaches prefer to be out at night so daytime sightings may indicate a heavy infestation.

Take Action
  • Inspect under sinks, pantry, cupboards, and any place used for food
  • storage.
  • Repair plumbing leaks and drips.
  • Cleanup food spills, wash dishes frequently.
  • Store food in tightly sealed containers.
  • Seal cracks where cockroaches can hide or enter your home.
  • Eliminate their food sources and habitat prior to applying pesticides.
  • If you must use pesticides, follow instructions.

Dust and Dust Mites

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Dust mites live in dust and are asthma and allergy triggers. Human dander (skin flakes) are dust mites’ favorite food. Dander collects in bedding and is a common source of household dust.

Take Action
  • Conduct regular cleaning to eliminate dust.
  • Use High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filtered vacuum if at all
  • possible.
  • Keep amount of clutter in home down to ease cleaning.
  • Vinyl, wood, or tile floors are easier to keep dust free than carpeting.
  • Wash all bedding once per week in hot water to kill mites.

Carbon Monoxide

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Carbon monoxide alarms are recommended in each sleeping area and each floor of your home.

Take Action
  • Have all gas appliances and wood burning stoves checked annually for proper maintenance.
  • Never use charcoal grills or internal combustion engines inside the house or closed garage.


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Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S. The American Lung Association recommends that all homes be tested for radon.

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Pet dander (skin flakes) and saliva can be asthma and allergy triggers.

Take Action
  • Encourage and train pets to stay off furniture and out of sleeping areas.
  • Consider replacing carpeted floors with hard surfaces to ease cleanup of pet hair, dander, tracked-in dirt, and any potential messes.

Toxic Materials

Most homes contain toxic products. Some of the products may be relics of the past such as lead paint or asbestos insulation. Other items are recently purchased. Identifying the toxics in your home is the first step in learning to eliminate them and/or protecting the members of your household from their unintended effects.

Hazardous Household Products

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Hazardous chemicals are found in many commonly used products including household cleaners, solvents, finishes, paints, pesticides, and polishes.

Take Action
  • Check your home for products labeled toxic, poison, danger, caution, flammable, or harmful.
  • Remove unwanted containers of hazardous products at a household hazardous waste collection event.
  • Never dispose of unwanted hazardous products down the drain.
  • Keep hazardous materials in original containers. Secure hazardous products away from children.
  • Keep Poison Control Center phone number ((800) 222-1222) where it can be found quickly in an emergency.
  • Consider alternatives to hazardous materials whenever possible.
  • Always follow label instructions for use including personal protective equipment and ventilation.


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Use pesticides according to directions and only after having tried other removal and prevention methods. Pesticides are designed to be health hazards so use them only as a last resort.

Take Action
  • Minimize the use of pesticides when you can
  • Make sure that pesticides are stored and used according to manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Keep them away from children.
  • Store them only in their original containers.
  • Empty containers should be discarded according to directions.
  • Unused and unwanted quantities disposed at a household hazardous waste collection event.


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Medications are the leading cause of child poisoning. Nearly 40% of childhood poisoning involves medication prescribed to a family member. Often, Police Departments provide a free prescription drugs drop off service.

Take Action
  • Keep all medications in their original containers.
  • Keep all medications out of reach of children.
  • Safely dispose of unused or expired medications.
  • Handle pet and livestock medications the same as you would human medications unless instructed otherwise.
  • Make sure everyone in your household adheres to the same safety practices for medications.


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Lead paint dust is the most common way people are exposed to lead. Homes built before 1978 may contain lead-based paint. Other sources of lead in the home to watch out for are pottery items, plumbing, ammunition, fishing weights, lead solder, and leaded glass.

Take Action
  • For homes built before 1978 check both interior and exterior painted surfaces for lead using a lead-check test.
  • Look for chipped or peeling paint.
  • Check window frames for lead-based paint that is rubbed off as the window is opened and closed.
  • The floor around windows should also be checked.
  • If you have or intend to do any remodeling that involves removal, scrapping or sanding painted surfaces be sure to follow recommendations for personal protection and cleanup.
  • Make sure that any contractors you hire are prepared to deal with leadbased paint.


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Asbestos has been used in building materials throughout the 1900’s. Homes built before 1990 carry higher risks of containing asbestos. Exposure to asbestos increases the risk of developing lung disease as fibers become embedded and accumulate in the lungs. In some cases, it is best to leave asbestos containing materials intact and not remove it. Removing it yourself is not recommended.

Take Action
  • Consult the Oregon DEQ website link below for information on where you might find asbestos in your home.
  • If you have any concerns about whether or not your home contains asbestos, consult the DEQ website for instructions on taking a sample and locating a suitable laboratory to send it to.
  • If asbestos is present a determination on whether or not to have it removed must be made.
  • Consult the DEQ website for a list of licensed asbestos abatement contractors.

Safety Hazards

There are many issues to consider regarding home safety. The items below are just the tip of the iceberg and should get your
immediate attention. For more information visit the National Safety Council’s website. The National Safety
Council estimates that 245 people in the U.S. die every day due to unintentional injuries in the home.

Choking and Suffocation

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Choking and suffocation is the third leading cause of home and community deaths in the U.S. Children are particularly vulnerable.

Take Action
  • Learn the signs of choking.
  • Check home for small objects that could choke children.
  • Small children should be seated when eating and food should be cut into bites size pieces.
  • Adults should be sure to slow down when eating.

Trips and Falls

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Falls kill more people than any other type of accident besides vehicle crashes and most falls happen at home.

Take Action
  • Hallways and stairs kept clear of trip hazards.
  • Stairs maintained.
  • Throw rugs secured to prevent slipping.
  • Home well lit.


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Deaths from fires and burns are the third leading cause of death in the U.S. Two-thirds of the deaths occur in homes without working smoke alarms.

Take Action
  • Smoke alarms should be on every floor of your house and outside every bedroom.
  • Test smoke alarms and change batteries on a regular schedule.
  • Check for electrical fire hazards such as overloaded plugs, misuse of extension cords, space heaters too close to flammables, unattended candles, wood stoves and fireplaces maintained.
  • Smoking should be restricted to outdoors.
  • Have a family escape plan and practice it.


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Even very young children can access firearms that are kept at home. As many as 20 children per day in the U.S. are victims of accidental shootings. Even if you don’t have firearms in your home, your children should be informed about what to do if they or someone they are with find a firearm in someone else’s home, in the neighborhood, or other places they may frequent.

Take Action
  • Firearms stored in a locked location, unloaded, out of reach and sight of children.
  • Ammunition stored in a locked location separately from firearms, also out of reach and sight of children.
  • Keys and lock combinations hidden.
  • Firearms that are not locked up kept in your line of sight.
  • All firearms equipped with child-resistant gun locks.
  • Talk to children about what to do if they or someone they are with find a firearm.


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While medications are the leading cause of child poisoning, other substances in your home can still be toxic or poisonous. Nine out of ten childhood poisonings happen in the home.

Take Action
  • Poisonous items secured and out of reach of children.
  • Products kept in original containers to prevent misuse.
  • Pay particular attention to medicine cabinets, under sinks, garage, pantries, and laundry rooms.
  • Store separate from food items.
  • Remove and properly dispose of products that are no longer needed.
  • Look for safer alternatives.


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Drowning kills more than 1,000 children each year. For every child that drowns, 20 will end up in the hospital or emergency room because they almost drowned. Small children can drown in as little as 1 inch of water.

Take Action
  • Home pools and hot tubs should be fenced on all sides or otherwise secured to prevent children from accessing them without adult supervision.
  • Young children should not be left alone in bathtubs or near other pools of water.

Food Safety

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One in six Americans will get sick from food poisoning this year. The problem is more serious than many people realize. Food poisoning not only sends more than 100,000 Americans to the hospital each year – it can also have long-term health consequences.

Take Action
  • Handwashing with soap and warm water before, during, after food handling and preparation.
  • Utensils, countertops, and cutting boards cleaned and sanitized after use.
  • Separate handling and preparation of raw (uncooked) foods, especially meat, poultry, eggs, and seafood, from other foods.
  • Cook foods to proper temperature.
  • Refrigerator at 41 degrees F or less.
  • Perishable foods refrigerated.
  • Food protected from insects and rodents.
  • Pesticides, cleaning, and other chemicals stored in original containers and separate from food areas.

Rural Sanitation and Drinking Water

Unless rural properties are connected to community wastewater and drinking water services, they will be dependent on individual wells and onsite wastewater (septic) systems. The below checks are minimum actions to take if you live on a property with a well and/or a septic system. If you would like more resources, or are planning to install a new septic system, please visit our Rural Domestic Water Systems page.

Septic Tank

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Septic tanks should be pumped every 3-5 years to remove sludge and scum layers. Pumping the tank can greatly improve the life expectancy of your system. Septic tank additives are not recommended, may do more harm than good, and are not a substitute for pumping the tank.

Take Action
  • Have septic tank pumped and inspected by a licensed service provider every 3 to 5 years.
  • Keep pumping records.
  • Refrain from using additives in your septic system.
  • Don’t flush medicines or hazardous materials down the toilet.
  • Don’t plant deeply rooted plants near the tank.
  • Know the location of your septic tank.
  • Practice water conservation.

Drain Field

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A properly functioning drain field should remain dry enough to mow over in the summer. There should be no sewage odor and vegetation should be healthy but not excessive.

Take Action
  • Inspect your drain field for soggy soil, ponding, surfacing waste water, and sewage odors.
  • Avoid digging over the disposal trenches.
  • Keep livestock of the drain field to prevent damaging the leach lines and compacting the soil.
  • Don’t allow vehicles to drive over your drain field.
  • Don’t plant deep rooted plants on your drain field.
  • Know the location of your drain lines and the replacement area.

Sand Filters (ATT)

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Many homes require additional treatment due to soil conditions or space restrictions. Maintenance by a certified maintenance provider is required by Oregon law in some instances. Replacing a these units is very expensive so maintaining them is time and money well spent.

Take Action
  • Sand filters and alternative treatment units require regular maintenance.
  • Follow maintenance requirements provided when the system was installed.
  • Maintain a contract with a certified maintenance provider.
  • Keep records of your system.
  • Practice water conservation.

Domestic Well

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Water wells must be maintained to protect your drinking water. The U.S. EPA recommends that at a minimum well water be tested annually for nitrates/nitrites and coliform bacteria. Other tests may be recommended depending on your location.

Take Action
  • Check the sanitary seal/well cap on top of the well casing to ensure that it has a tight fit and is in good repair.
  • Check the vent screen for an intact screen and that it is free of debris.
  • Well casing should extend a minimum of 1 foot above the ground surface.
  • Well head should be protected within a shelter or pumphouse.
  • The well head shelter should be free of animals and hazardous or toxic materials.
  • Contact your local environmental health office for a list of a certified water quality labs and recommended tests.
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