“The lungs are a very sensitive organ,” says Gordon. As a toxicologist, he’s always worrying about what he and his wife have inhaled over the course of their own DIY adventures. If in doubt, his advice is to do your research and wear a mask.
Meanwhile Yates advocates caution when using new products, which may have as-yet-undocumented health effects. “I think I’d suggest using more traditional materials, rather than fancy agents or materials which haven’t had their safety properly evaluated yet,” she says. She also recommends avoiding cheaper home improvement products which have been produced in countries with lower safety standards.
Another option is better labelling, but this can be challenging.
“The problem is that you can’t label something as dangerous if it’s already in there,” says Yates. Even with asbestos, where there are regulations requiring that home sellers acknowledge the presence of the material, people are often unaware of its presence when they embark upon DIY activities.
Meanwhile, Gordon is sceptical that labelling new products in home improvement shops would work either. “In California they label so many things ‘carcinogen’ that people ignore it,” he says.
And this would only help with products that have known or proven health effects, which can take decades to emerge. After all, the parents of children playing in asbestos pits in 1950s Wittenoom had no idea that it might kill them. Given the time lag, Yates agrees that it’s worth bearing in mind the possibility that some of what we’re using now will be regretted by future generations.
If you’ll excuse me, I’m off to buy a wood-cutting bee-suit.
* Zaria Gorvett is a senior journalist for BBC Future. Twitter: @ZariaGorvett
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