Besides mold and dust, there are other toxic troublemakers that can cause problems in your home. Here’s a short list and what to do about them.
If your house was built before 1978, there is a 75% chance that it contains lead paint. Undisturbed lead paint is harmless, but dust or paint chips created during paint prep or other remodeling projects post health hazards, especially to young children. For more information on lead-paint safety, log on to National Safety Council’s web site at www.nsc.org.
If your tap water smells like rotten eggs and tastes a little funny, is it unhealthy? Probably not. You can’t really tell about water quality from its look, smell or even taste. It’s the “silent” contaminants, the ones that don’t trigger your senses, that you need to worry about: lead from pipes in old houses; arsenic that naturally occurs in the earth; or microorganisms, pesticides and fertilizers that wash away from farms and lawns into storm drains and wind up in our drinking water supplies. All of these have been linked to serious illnesses.
Experts agree that the U.S. has one of the safest drinking waters supplies in the world, but that is no guarantee. For the best assurance of safety, you should periodically test your water through an independent, certified lab. Labs offer a variety of testing packages (lead, minerals, volatile organic chemicals, radon, bacteria, pesticides) at a range of prices ($30-$250). There are also home test kits for various contaminants. To find a lab, check your local yellow pages, get suggestions from your health department, call EPA’s Drinking Water Hotline (1-800-426-4791), or visit www.epa.gov/safewater/.
In one form or another, asbestos has been used in home construction for almost 100 years. If your home is more than 30 years old or so, you could be at risk. The two most common forms are cement asbestos, used in siding, and asbestos insulation, used to insulate heating pipes.
The risk of asbestos exposure is based on how friable it is (how easily it gets deteriorated). If the asbestos can be easily released to the air, then there is a substantial risk of exposure. This would be the case, for example, with heating pipe insulation made of asbestos. On the other hand, the risk of exposure from cement asbestos (such as siding), in which the asbestos is contained with in a cemet binder, is very low. If you suspet you have asbestos in your home, it is best to get it tested by an independent lab to confirm it’s asbestos content. If presence of asbestos is confirmed and the material is friable, then removal by a trained professional is recommended. Under no circumstances should you try and remove asbestos yourself. Doing so could easily contaminate the entire home.
Radon is a colorless, odorless gas that occurs naturally when uranium in the soil breaks down. If inhaled, radon can cause damage to your lung tissues and can lead to lung cancer. It typically moves up through the ground to the air above and into your home through cracks and other holes in the foundation. The radon then becomes trapped inside your home, where it could build up to dangerous levels. Radon has been found in every state, in brand new homes and old homes, as well as homes with and without a basement. There are ways to test for radon in your home and, if necessary, reduce radon levels. The best source for radon information and remediation is www.epa.gov/radon.