Do Antiques Carry Environmental Health Risks?

Written By: Thatcher Michelsen January 6, 2014 0
Radium dials were a popular feature of turn-of-the-century clocks, despite their radioactive properties.

Photo: Wikimedia user Arma95.
Radium dials were a popular feature of turn-of-the-century clocks, despite their radioactive properties. Photo: Wikimedia user Arma95.

One of the best and easiest ways to limit your impact on the environment is to reduce your overall waste and purchase used, recycled furniture rather than new products. Although it's nice to invest in environmentally friendly products, which we recommend doing when used products aren't available or won't suffice, purchasing recycled consumer goods ensures that they won't end up in a landfill.

This line of thinking may lead you to believe that filling your home with antiques not only gives it a classy, ageless vibe, but also helps the environment. To an extent, this is true. But it's important for consumers to understand that antique items can come with their own health risks. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a number of resources on its website that provide information about which types of antiques may present risks.

The EPA focuses heavily on the presence of radioactive elements in many antique products, including watches, clocks, ceramics and glass. Manufacturers of old timekeeping devices would coat the hands and numbers of the clock face with radium because it would give off a glow at night, but would also slowly contribute to the development of bone cancer in those who were heavily exposed. The glaze on tiles and pottery made before 1960 would sometimes contain uranium, thorium or potassium-40, which gave off gamma, beta and alpha radiation. Additionally, glaziers would occasionally add uranium to glass products to give them a greenish tint.

Before you go purchasing antiques for your sustainable home, make sure that the items you invest in are free of these materials so that you don't put you and your family at risk for serious illness.

For more information on eco friendly products, keep visiting LifeIsGreen.com.

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