Terror in the Home: What household dangers do we fear and are they justified?

What is the most dangerous object in your home? Is it the stairs, the stove, or the shower? Or is the greatest danger external; burglars and home invasion? Or are the people you live with the greatest danger? We all have our preconceived notions about the dangers surrounding us. But are they real, or just imagined?

As a frame of reference, over 33,000 deaths occur from over 10 million motor vehicle accidents each year in the U.S. Of those, 17,400 deaths are caused by drunk driving. So if you regularly find yourself in a car, this is a good baseline for you danger threshold. Additionally, 2,437,163 people died in the U.S. in 2010, which will be used as a baseline in determining overall probability of death. So the probability of death in a motor vehicle accident is 1.35%.

Top 10 Dangers in the home most dangerous to least:

Unintentional Poisoning: In 2009, 31,758 people died in the U.S. as a result of accidental poisoning (not location specific). This includes misuse of drugs (over doses) and accidental ingestion of hazardous materials. In 2008, 91% of all unintentional poisoning deaths were caused by drugs, so the medicine cabinet is much more dangerous than under the sink. The highest mortality rates were among people 45-49 years of age, and men were almost twice as likely to die as women. Probability of death by unintentional poisoning: 1.3%.

Radon: Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer next to smoking. It is the cause of 21,000 deaths each year, according to the EPA. Radon is the result of radioactive decay in the ground being released into the air. This then accumulates in the house and can be extremely toxic. Inexpensive radon tests are available at home improvement stores. There are also a variety of professional and do-it-yourself resources to help reduce radon in the home. Probability of death by radon: 0.86%.

Slipping in the shower: Gravity and bathrooms are a dangerous mix. In 2008, an estimated 234,094 nonfatal bathroom injuries were treated in the U.S., according to the CDC. This reflects injuries occurring to people over the age of 14. Of these, 81.1% were due to falls. So while it probably won’t kill you, there is a good chance the powder room can land you in a hospital.

Fire: Did I leave the oven on? In 2010, there were 362,100 residential fires, resulting in 2,555 deaths and 13,275 injuries. This is definitely not as dangerous as driving to work. The leading cause of fire was cooking, which accounted for 44% of reported home fires. Make sure to have a smoke detector and fire extinguisher handy and know your escape routes. Also, remember to NOT pour water on a grease or electrical fire. Probability of death by house fire: 0.1%.

Home Invasion: Should I buy an alarm system, a safe room or a shotgun? In 2010, there were an estimated 51,888 residential burglaries, according to the FBI. This does not, however, reflect people breaking into your home and holding your family hostage. The incidence of violent home invasion is extremely difficult to gauge, but it does happen. In Kershaw County, SC, a man was shot and killed in front of his five-day-old child and the mother during a break in. Some precautions should be taken to make your home secure, but this does not get top billing when it comes to dangers in the home.

Spouse: In 2005, there were 810 homicides committed by a spouse or ex-spouse of the victim. This is compared to 4,783 committed by a friend or acquaintance (most) and 2,319 by a stranger. While a spouse is not the number one homicide perpetrator, they are more dangerous than carbon monoxide or the accidental discharge of firearms. Probability of death by spouse: 0.00032%.

Firearm Accidents: Across the nation, there are there were 588 unintentional firearm –related fatalities in 2009. For those under 14 years old, the number was only 62 in 2008. However, 18,689 people committed suicide by firearm and there were 11,406 homicides by firearm in 2009. This makes suicide the number one cause of gun related deaths in America. Probability of death by firearm accident: 0.00024%.

Carbon Monoxide (CO): How likely am I to suffocate in my sleep? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 400 people in the U.S. die each year from accidental CO poisoning. The US Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that 8,000-15,000 people are hospitalized from CO each year. This is a pretty low percentage of incidences. Granted, you shouldn’t be leaving your car running with the garage door closed, but it is highly unlikely that C0 will creep up and strangle you in your sleep like the boogey man. The leading cause of CO poisoning is damaged equipment that burns fossil fuels, such as gas burning heaters and ovens. Probability of death by CO poisoning: 0.00016%

Mold: Am I inhaling wet, stinky death with every breath? If there is mold in your home, yes it poses a health hazard. A study co-sponsored by the EPA found that around 21% of U.S. asthma cases can be attributed to dampness and mold. The study reported that approximately 33% of U.S. households have mold, so this is a real threat. If you find mold in your home, get rid of it as soon as you can. However, mold it typically attributed to ill health effects and is not tied to death.

Insect Infestations: What unspeakable horror is crawling through the walls of my house? Cockroaches are disgusting little disease carriers, and are known to pose health risks, especially to asthma sufferers. However, pesticides can also cause health problems of their own, so it is important to make sure the cure isn’t worse than the disease. While insects may carry disease, they usually are not directly responsible for death.

Additional Resources

National Safety Council: http://www.nsc.org/Pages/Home.aspx

World Health Organization Indoor Pollutants: http://www.epa.gov/iaq/voc.html

U.S. Motor Vehicle Accidents: http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/2012/tables/12s1103.pdf

U.S. Fire Administration: http://www.usfa.fema.gov/statistics/estimates/index.shtm

FBI Crime Statistics: http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2010/crime-in-the-u.s.-2010/tables/10tbl23.xls

Fifth Suspect Arrested in Deadly Home Invasion Case: http://www.wltx.com/news/article/137102/2/Fifth-Suspect-Arrested-in-Deadly-Home-Invasion-Case

Home Invasion News: http://www.homeinvasionnews.com/welcome/

CDC Carbon Monoxide Statistics: http://emergency.cdc.gov/disasters/cofacts.asp

CDC Bathroom injuries: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6022a1.htm

NationMaster.com U.S. Mortality rates: http://www.nationmaster.com/red/country/us-united-states/mor-mortality&all=1

Alliance for Healthy Homes on Cockroaches: http://www.afhh.org/dah/dah_cockroaches.htm

EPA Guide to Radon: http://www.epa.gov/radon/pdfs/citizensguide.pdf

ABC News Radon in Utah: http://www.abc4.com/content/news/top_stories/story/Dangerous-level-of-radon-gas-in-34-5-of-Utah-homes/DSPKNKlNCEi92SnQcKtEbA.cspx

Industry Intelligence Reports Firearms Injury Statistics: http://familiesafield.org/pdf/IIR_12_page_4_Hunting.pdf

CDC Accidental Poisoning: http://www.cdc.gov/homeandrecreationalsafety/poisoning/poisoning-factsheet.htm

CDC Deaths and Mortality: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/deaths.htm

Public Health and Economic Impact of Dampness and Mold: http://www.iaqscience.lbl.gov/pdfs/mold-2.pdf

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