Stealth enemies may be hiding inside your house. Here's how they happen, and how to eliminate them now.
1. Poisoned Produce
How it happens: You already know bird-borne salmonella can kill you. Even if you treat raw poultry like toxic waste when cooking it, you may not be in the clear. While cutlets defrost in the fridge, salmonella can drip onto porous produce.
The fix: When defrosting poultry, cover it with plastic wrap and place it on a plate away from other foods, says Stanley Maloy, Ph.D., associate director of the center for microbial sciences at San Diego State University.
2. Perilous Pipes
How it happens: You inhale Legionella, pneumonia-inducing bacteria that thrive in water and are found in industrial air-conditioning units and water pipes. The result is Legionnaires' disease, named after a 1976 American Legion convention where the bacteria killed 29 people.
The fix: Every 3 months, crank your hot-water heater above 140°F and run all the faucets on hot for 10 minutes, Maloy says. The heat kills off the bacteria.
3. Lethal Lightbulbs
How it happens: You replace your incandescent lightbulbs with more-energy-efficient compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFL). But when these eco-friendly beacons break, they release mercury gas, a neurotoxin that attacks the nervous system and can cause chronic kidney problems.
The fix: Hold the bulbs by the plastic base, not the glass, when inserting and unscrewing them. Put spent bulbs into the original boxes or in double plastic bags before recycling. No excuses: Ikea stores offer free drop-off.
4. Putrid Sponges
How it happens: Even when it appears "like new," the sponge you use for wiping the table and washing dishes can harbor 10,000 bacteria per square inch. The Journal of Environmental Health recently suggested microwaving the sponges to kill the bacteria, but hundreds of people have found that dry sponges catch fire when zapped.
The fix: "A great way to disinfect dish sponges is to boil them or throw them in the dishwasher once a week," says Joseph Laquatra, Ph.D., a professor of family policy at Cornell University.
5. Toxic Furniture
How it happens: Those assembly-required bookshelves may be more trouble than they're worth. Particleboard is glued together with the toxin formaldehyde, the vapors of which irritate the eyes and skin of some people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The fix: Slap on a coat of varnish to trap the formaldehyde. You'll stave off exposure and maybe convince people you don't have cheapo shelves.
6. Deadly Soil
How it happens: Your home may be built on soil with dangerous levels of decayed uranium, called radon. "A home is like a vacuum cleaner over soil," says Laquatra. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer. (Cigarettes are the first.)
The fix: Conduct a radon test at least every 2 years. If your home fails the test, hire a contractor to install a ventilation pipe that stretches from below the basement floor to the roof. It will siphon off the deadly radon particles—an easy fix for a dangerous problem.