Your Health

Environmental Risks

Key Concepts/Main Points

  • Exposure to some common chemicals can increase your risk of health problems and lead to complications with your health and future pregnancy.
  • Pinpoint environmental hazards in her home and come up with an environmentally healthy solution.

Questions to Ask Yourself

  • Do you use any chemicals in your home or yard?
  • Do you have a cat?
  • What year was your home built?
  • Do you smoke? Are you around anybody that does?
  • What is the main source of your drinking water?
  • How many times a week do you eat seafood?

Environmental Risks at Home

  • Drinking water
  • Air Pollution
  • Pesticides
  • Mercury
  • Listeriosis
  • Toxoplasmosis
  • Herbal Supplements
  • Vitamin A
  • Thalidomide

Environmental Risks

  • Chemicals
  • Metals
  • Pesticides
  • Radiation
  • Strenuous labor
  • Viruses

Instructor Tips:
Section Goal: Increase awareness of the relationship between environmental hazards and outcomes of birth and health.

Environmental Risks at Home

Drinking Water

High levels of many chemicals can leak into city drinking water and come out of your tap.

Air Pollution

Poor air quality can impact your overall health and cause breathing problems like asthma.


Pesticides are chemicals used to kill rodents, insects, weeds, and bacteria. In people, short exposure can cause severe irritation or illness (including nausea, vomiting and headaches) while long–term exposure can cause cancer, nerve damage and reproductive problems.


Mercury is a metal found in nature that becomes methyl mercury in water. When this happens, it becomes concentrated in some fish and can be toxic if a person eats that fish. You should not eat more than 12 ounces of fish or shellfish in a week.


Food poisoning that is caused by eating contaminated meats, vegetables, processed foods and unpasteurized milk products. Symptoms include fever, muscle aches, nausea or diarrhea.


A parasitic infection caused by consuming infected meat, drinking infected water or cleaning an infected cat’s litter box. This is particularly dangerous if you have a weakened immune system.

Herbal Supplements

Herbal supplements are dangerous because the FDA does not regulate their content, making the effects unknown.

Vitamin A

Healthy forms of Vitamin A are found in vegetables, consuming other forms can be dangerous.


A drug used to treat AIDS, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis that can be extremely harmful to a baby. If you take Thalidomide, you must use reliable forms of birth control.

Instructor Tips:
Help participant recognize potential hazards in her home environment

Environmental Risks at Home

Here are some ways to prevent exposure to some environmental risks that might be affecting your home.

  • Watch local news reports on Air Quality Index and about water safety.
  • If you have a well, have it checked for pollutants


Avoid Using them by:

  • Cleaning up spills and crumbs right away, so that pests have no food source
  • Keeping your food and your pet’s food in sealed containers
  • Eating at table instead of walking around with food
  • Washing dirty dishes and draining the dishwater after every meal
  • Keeping a lid on your trashcan and emptying it often

Limit exposure by:

  • Storing pesticides away from food areas
  • Washing hands after handling pesticides

High Body Temperature

  • Stay out of saunas and hot tubs and avoid heavy exercise IF you could be pregnant. (This is particularly important in the first six weeks of pregnancy.)

Mercury and Listeriosis

If you could be pregnant, avoid these foods:
  • Raw fish
  • Large fish (swordfish, shark, king mackerel and tile fish)
  • Any uncooked or undercooked meat
  • Hot dogs or cold luncheon meats
  • Raw or partially cooked eggs
  • Soft cheeses (like brie or feta)
  • Any unpasteurized drink or product
  • Raw vegetable sprouts
  • Herbal supplements and teas
  • Vitamin A (other than in prenatal vitamins or beta–carotene in foods)


  • If you could be pregnant, avoid cat feces and sand boxes. (Ask someone else to clean the litterbox
  • Wash fruits and vegetables well
  • Wash your hands regularly
  • Wear gloves when gardening
  • Wash hands immediately after handling raw meat

Environmental Risks at Work

There are many potentially harmful factors that you could be exposed to at work. They are:

  • Chemicals
  • Metals
  • Pesticides
  • Radiation
  • Strenuous labor
  • Viruses

Workplace hazards are particularly dangerous for reproductive health and can lead to:

  • Menstrual cycle effects
  • Infertility
  • Miscarriage
  • Stillbirths
  • Birth defects
  • Developmental disorders
  • Childhood cancer

Instructor Tips:
Evaluate potential environmental risks present at the participant’s place of employment and identify the precautions she should take.