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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Killing Animals at Home

Air Date: Week of

Some recent home repairs lead Living On Earth’s Daniel Grossman to question why people use toxic materials in their houses. He sent us this reporter’s notebook.


CURWOOD: Some recent home repairs led Living on Earth's Daniel Grossman to question why people use toxic materials in their homes. Here is his reporter's notebook.

GROSSMAN: Okay, so my beat as a journalist isn't all that glamorous. I've been to a chemical weapons depot, nuclear waste dumps, and hazardous waste sites. At least when I get home I can forget about lethal doses and parts per million. So I thought until snakes began appearing dead on my own front steps, and clean-up crews in my basement.

(A loud ripping sound)

GROSSMAN: That's the sound of duct tape being used for a toxic clean-up in my cellar.

(Ripping continues)

GROSSMAN: Ever since my wife and I bought an old fixer-upper, I found almost as many hazards at home as in the field.

(Ripping continues)

GROSSMAN: The former owners coated the walls inside and out with layers of lead paint. We found asbestos in our floors and asbestos in the insulation covering our pipes. Last summer I had a contractor look at the insulation and he said it had to go.

CONTRACTOR: This material, it's old, it's damaged, and it's lived its useful life. And it's about time to get rid of it.

GROSSMAN: He and his crew line the floors and walls with plastic. It took about seven rolls of heavy-duty polyethylene, a half a case of extra-wide duct tape, and countless staples. Then, dressed in white suits and face masks and wielding knives and scrapers, they cleaned off the pipes and carted off the debris.

(Crinkling sounds from large rolls of plastic)

GROSSMAN: I often curse our predecessors for the money and peace of mind they've cost us. But sometimes I wonder, am I any better? After all, before moving in, my wife and I asked the sellers to spray for termites, even though the evidence of insect activity was skimpy. It seemed like the right thing to do. Everyone told us we had to protect our investment, that we had to spray to be certain of being pest-free.
Wisdom we didn't question until the next spring, when 2 dead snakes, limp and a little shriveled, appeared on the walk. Had they inhaled poison wintering in our stone foundation? Were we being poisoned, too? I'll never know for sure, but I did learn a lesson. We like technology because it can be simple to use and effective. But when a chemical poison, or even something as apparently benign as paint, is used with too little regard for the possible downsides, it may just come back and bite you. For Living on Earth, I'm Daniel Grossman.



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