We all want to live in a safe, healthy home, but unhealthy conditions are not always immediately obvious. The good news is that once you know what to look for, it’s easy to make note of a few things around your home, and then clean them up or improve them. Doing so can literally save your life. San Juan Basin Public Health (SJBPH), your local public and environmental health agency, cares about the health of your home as part of its mission to protect human and environmental health, through its Healthy Homes program.

Common sense dictates that your home should be clean, dry, pest-free, and free of dangerous contaminants. While we recognize these as good practices, it can be tricky to protect your home from dangerous substances that you may not be able to see or smell. We are sharing a “sneak peek” at some of the important items from a Healthy Homes checklist that SJBPH will be releasing in early 2020 to help identify and mitigate potential hazards in your home.

How old is your home?

Many construction materials have been identified as unsafe over time, and some of them may be in older homes. The biggest materials to be concerned about are asbestos (a type of insulation used between 1919 and 1990), and lead that was used in plumbing and paints until 1978. Home testing kits can identify lead-based paint and a drinking water test can identify lead that may be leaching out of your pipes. Asbestos generally needs to be identified and removed by a professional.

What you can’t see can hurt you

Contaminants in the home also include two toxic gases, carbon monoxide and radon. Buying a carbon monoxide detector is one of the easiest ways to protect your family from household contaminants, and is the only way to detect this odorless, colorless, deadly gas. Carbon monoxide detectors are especially important if you burn coal, wood, or natural gas for heating or cooking in your home. You should properly maintain your appliances that use these fuels to prevent carbon monoxide from being generated in the first place.

Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that enters your home from the ground, especially in winter. It is odorless, colorless, and is the leading cause of lung cancer in people who have never smoked. Radon testing takes three to seven days, and a radon reduction system is significantly cheaper than other major home repairs. Depending on your income, you may be eligible to have a reduction system installed for free, so there is no reason not to test for radon. Visit sjbpublichealth.org/radon to see our schedule of radon education workshops this winter, at which you can obtain a free radon test kit for your home. If you live in Durango, you should also contact the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to see if your property may have uranium mill tailings located on it. These materials produce radon gas and have some direct health risks, so they should be safely removed if found.

Daily dangers

Another category of potential home contaminant is household hazardous materials. These materials are used as cleaners, pesticides, paint, and adhesives. Some are dangerous because of poisoning risks; others put out air quality pollutants when they are used, especially in unventilated spaces. No matter what material you are storing or using in your home, make sure you read and understand the directions before you begin. Store them in locked or child-proof cabinets to prevent children from accidentally opening them and follow their disposal instructions when you’re done. Don’t dispose of chemicals down the sink drain without checking with your sewer provider; if you’re served by an individual septic system, contact SJBPH before disposing of anything that might harm your system.

These simple steps will keep your home free of the most common contaminants that cause illness. SJBPH encourages you to learn more about how to keep your home healthy and take the steps to keep your family safe. A full healthy home checklist will be available on SJBPH’s website in early 2020 at www.sjbpublichealth.org/eh.

Brian Devine is the Water and Air Quality Program Manager at SJBPH.