Thursday, December 6, 2012

Lead and Asbestos: Common Renovation Hazards in Older Homes

In an uncertain economy, more homeowners choose to renovate their existing homes than relocate to new dwellings. Home renovations can make houses more livable and increase their resale value. Houses that were built during or before the 1970s, however, harbor potential health risks for the people who live there.

In 1977 and 1978, the United States government banned the use of asbestos and lead in insulation, paint and other construction materials. Before then, they covered practically every inch of American homes. Renovation projects in older homes could introduce toxic particles into the air, which could lead to serious health conditions.

Wise homeowners hire a home inspector to evaluate older dwellings and identify potential hazards. When identified, these dangerous materials are best removed by a professional contractor or building abatement company. Large renovations, especially in older homes, are not the best do-it-yourself (DIY) projects.

Lead Exposure

Common home renovation activities such as sanding and cutting can disturb lead-based paint. The hazardous paint dust and chips can be harmful to humans and pets. To protect homeowners from potential health risks, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) passed the “Renovation, Repair and Repainting Rule” in 2008. It calls for certified renovators for projects that involve lead-based paint.

According to the Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER), lead poisoning can be hard to detect. Even people who appear healthy can have high levels of lead in their bloodstream. Lead poisoning can cause high blood pressure, reproductive disorders, cognitive problems and mood disorders in adults. In children, high lead levels can lead to learning disabilities and stunted growth.

Asbestos Exposure

Asbestos exposure is another potential health risk during home renovations. Asbestos is a strong, fibrous mineral substance notable for its heat-resistant, flame-retardant properties. Most homes built before the late 1970s contained asbestos materials for insulation, flooring, roofing and more.

Solid asbestos that is still intact is generally safe. However, frayed or crumbling materials that contain asbestos are highly toxic and hazardous to health. Lung cancer and mesothelioma are the worst-case scenarios. Both of these cancers are life-threatening diseases with high mortality rates. Yet, even minor asbestos exposure can cause asbestosis, pleurisy and other respiratory problems.

Minimizing the Risks

Fortunately, homeowners can minimize their risks for lead and asbestos exposure during home renovations. The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the EPA have produced a number of safety guides for DIY renovators. Many are available online.

Practical steps include wearing protective gear, isolating construction areas with heavy plastic and misting walls before sanding and scraping. Homeowners can reduce the movement of airborne particles by shutting off their heaters and air conditioners during demolition and construction. If there are any known toxins they should only be handled by a professional.
Article written and contributed by Brian Turner

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