Renovating Carries Toxic Chemical Risks, but Hazards Can Be Minimized
During any home renovation project, care should be taken to protect the home’s residents from any toxic substances that might be removed or installed. Lead, asbestos and other harmful substances lurk in many homes and could cause serious health problems if disturbed. Here’s a look at some of the most common hazardous chemicals homeowners are faced with during remodeling and what can be done to reduce those risks.
Homes built in the 1980s or earlier may contain asbestos in tiles, walls, ceilings or pipe insulation. When asbestos is disturbed, its fibers are easily inhaled into the lungs. Even a single exposure to asbestos can cause numerous health problems and cancers including mesothelioma, which can take decades to produce symptoms. In most cases, asbestos shouldn’t be handled by amateurs. Instead, professionals should be called to test for asbestos. If any is found, a team of professionals can contain or remove the material according to local regulations.
Homes built in the 1970s or earlier may contain lead paint, but lead is also present in high levels in some modern renovation materials. Exposure to lead can cause problems throughout the body, including disrupted hormones and a reduced ability for the red blood cells to carry oxygen. The nervous system and bones can also be affected by lead poisoning. When dry lead paint is removed, toxicity can develop after inhalation of the dust. Lead is also present in some modern flooring and PVC wallpapers. To be safe, homeowners should have lead paint removed by a team of professionals and choose new flooring and wallpaper that has been tested for lead by a consumer protection agency.
Volatile Organic Compounds
VOCs include a wide range of organic pollutants, such as those derived from petroleum. In many cases, VOCs are inhaled as they are released by adhesives, pressed woods and paints that off-gas over time. Symptoms of exposure include eye and lung irritation, dizziness, headaches and memory problems. As VOCs are a fairly modern issue, little is known about long-term health effects in humans, but many have been found to cause cancer in lab animals. To avoid toxicity, homeowners should eliminate the use of high-VOC products inside the home as much as possible.
Other Hazardous Chemicals
A variety of other dangerous substances are common in products used for home renovation. In recent years, many flooring products have been found to contain high amounts of phthalate plasticizers that are banned in children’s products. Organotin stabilizers, which are potent hormone disruptors, have been found in about two-thirds of PVC floor tiles. Most wallpaper contains PVC, and about half of these contain toxic substances such as cadmium, tin, chromium and antimony.
To protect the health of occupants and visitors, homeowners should have the structure tested for toxic chemicals before renovation begins. Homeowners can reduce their use of dangerous substances by choosing safe materials, such as bamboo, cork, hardwood and linoleum flooring. By planning carefully and working with care, many of the risks associated with remodeling can be minimized or eliminated altogether.
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This article was authored by guest blogger Brian Turner, who is a health advocate and blogger. Brian can be reached via email at [email protected], and his blog posting additional articles on exposure to toxic substances can be found at www.mesothelioma.com/blog/authors/brian.
The author, John Caravella Esq., is a construction attorney and formerly practicing project architect at The Law Office of John Caravella, P.C., representing architects, engineers, contractors, subcontractors, and owners in all phases of contract preparation, litigation, and arbitration across New York and Florida. He also serves as an arbitrator to the American Arbitration Association Construction Industry Panel. Mr. Caravella can be reached by email: [email protected] or (631) 608-1346.
This is a general information article and should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. The content above has been edited for conciseness and additional relevant points are omitted for space constraints. Readers are encouraged to seek counsel from a construction lawyer who has experience with Long Island construction law for advice on a particular circumstance.