8 Scary Health Risks in Your Own Backyard

Is your warm-weather oasis an accident waiting to happen?

July 1, 2011, 1:40 PM

July 3, 2011— -- Dangerous Grill Placement

Is your grill right next to the edge of your deck? You may want to move it.

A charcoal grill next to combustibles (say, a wooden deck rail or low-hanging tree branches) is a leading cause of BBQ fires, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

Always make sure to leave a 10-foot clearing between your grill and deck rails, the side of the house, and overhanging plants, says David Markenson, MD, chairman of the American Red Cross

Toxic Plants

More than 68,000 people a year are poisoned by plants, reports the American Association of Poison Control Centers.

Most end up with nothing worse than an upset stomach or an itchy skin rash. However, some plants can be fatal, especially to pets and small children.

Do your homework before choosing backyard vegetation, says Amy Stewart, author of Flower Confidential: The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful in the Business of Flowers. A few common plants require caution: Oleander, datura (also called jimson weed), and castor bean are all dangerous if swallowed.

Tiny Pools of Water

Even the smallest amount of standing water can give mosquitoes a hospitable place to multiply.

This raises your risk of annoying bites—and even infections such as West Nile virus. "I've seen mosquitoes breeding in a soda bottle cap," says Joseph Conlon, technical advisor for the American Mosquito Control Association.

Do a weekly check of buckets and plastic covers and dump any water to keep pests away. Also change the water in birdbaths and fountains.

Not-Quite-Extinguished Charcoal

Tossing still-warm coals can spark a fire.

Charcoal may feel cool to the touch, but if you throw away coals while the insides are hot, you risk starting a fire.

When you've finished grilling dinner, soak coals with cold water and then place them in a noncombustible metal can for safe disposal. Keep the can on a nonflammable surface, such as the driveway or a cement patio.


More from Prevention:

According to the Home Safety Council, nearly a quarter of all drownings in the United States happen near home.

Even if your kids are older, consider this: Easy access to your pool may lure neighborhood children or pets into the water when you're not around.

Whether your pool is built in or above ground, install a four-sided fence that is at least 5 feet high, with a self-latching gate. Don't use the house as one side of the fence, because an open door provides an easy entry, and never place patio furniture close enough to the fence that it could be used to scale the barrier.

Pesticide Residue

Misusing these bug-killing chemicals may make you sick.

Homeowners often use too many pesticides—conventional or natural—or apply them incorrectly, says Jennifer Sass, PhD, a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council. This not only wastes money but, in extreme cases, allows chemical levels to get high enough to cause flulike symptoms, she adds.

Cut down on pests naturally by attracting birds and insects that eat the bugs that are attacking your prized roses. Install a birdhouse designed for bluebirds, which feed on insects ($23; backyardbird.com). Or grow plants—such as those in the parsley and sunflower families—that attract predatory insects such as assassin bugs and parasitic wasps. Despite their ominous-sounding names, these critters do your garden good; predatory insects don't hurt plants or people but destroy the bugs that do. Growing plants native to your region, which are less susceptible to infestation, can help, too, advises Kimberly Rider, author of The Healthy Home Workbook.

Weather-Worn Deck

When was the last time you water-proofed your deck?

If you don't do this every 2 to 3 years, moisture can seep in and warp the wood, upping your risk of falls.

Inspect your deck every spring, paying extra attention to the ledger board, the place where the deck attaches to the house—it's the most vulnerable to water damage. Keep your eyes peeled for splits and cracks—signs that moisture has gotten in. If you can easily penetrate 1/4 to 1/2 inch of the wood with a screwdriver or ice pick, the wood should be replaced.

Too-Short Ladder

This tempts you to overreach—and increases your risk of falling.Use a ladder that lets you work while standing four steps from the top. Your max reach should be no more than 4 feet above the ladder.

Translation: If you're going up 8 feet, choose a ladder that's at least 4 feet high. Always follow the 4-to-1 rule: For every 4 feet the ladder extends up the house, bring the base out by a foot. "This gives you stability," says Meri-K Appy, president of the Home Safety Council.


More from Prevention:

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events