Homes may have environmental hazards and should be followed up by qualified (licensed or state certified) contractors that provide environmental inspections, testing and mitigation before closing. The following are brief descriptions of some possible hazards that can exist in a home. Check the EPA website for more information at http://www.epa.gov/ or contact your local or county health department. As per 13:40-15.16(b)13 Standards of practice, environmental hazards are not part of a general home inspection.
Asbestos is a mineral fiber that can be positively identified only with special types of microscopes( polarizing light, SEM and TEM) and by bulk analysis methods such as X-ray diffraction, IR (infrared spectroscopy) and Thermal analysis techniques (DTA, TMA, DSC). There are several types of asbestos fibers. In the past, asbestos was added to many products to strengthen them and provide fire resistance and heat insulation. If disturbed, asbestos material may release asbestos fibers, which can be inhaled into the lungs. Asbestos material crumbles easily and if disturbed by scraping, sawing, or sanding, will cause dust, and will create a health hazard. Breathing high levels of asbestos fibers can lead to an increased risk of lung cancer, mesothelioma (cancer of lining of chest and abdominal cavity), and asbestosis (lungs scarred with the tissue). Houses built between 1930 and 1980 may have asbestos insulation. Most of today’s products do not contain asbestos. If asbestos material is damaged or you plan renovations or upgrades that might disturb it; you will require a professional for repair, encapsulation or removal. Before home remodeling, find out if asbestos is present.
Adapted from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency “Asbestos and Vermiculite”.
Lead is a highly toxic metal used for many years in products in and around homes. Lead’s adverse health effects range from behavioral problems and learning disabilities to seizures and death. Because their bodies are growing quickly, children age 6 and under are at greatest risk. Primary sources of lead exposure for children are deteriorating lead-based paint, lead-contaminated dust, and lead-contaminated residential soil. Lead might be present in any home built up to the mid 80’s. Rarely found in source water, lead can enter tap water through corrosion of plumbing materials. Homes built before 1986 are more likely to have lead pipes, joints, and solder. New homes are also at risk: even legally “lead-free” pipes can contain up to 8 percent lead and leave significant amounts of lead in the water for the first several months after installation. Since the 1980s, EPA and its federal partners have banned or limited lead used in consumer products, including residential paint. Federal regulations limiting the amount of lead in paint sold for residential use started in 1978. If your property was built before 1978 to the mid 80’s or you are considering remodeling, renovating, or repair, you may want to think about lead inspection. Water quality can also be compromised by such other trace elements as iron, excess acidity, manganese, calcium, magnesium, mineral salts, hydrogen sulfide, selenium, chromium, arsenic, mercury, and cadmium.
Adapted from U.S. Department of Environmental Protection, “Lead in Paint, Dust, and Soil”.
Mold (fungi) is present everywhere, indoors and outdoors. There are more than 100,000 species of mold, at least 1,000 of which are common in America. Species of Aspergillus, Stachbotrys (Extremely toxic), Cladosporium, Fusarium, Penicillium, and Mycotoxins are some of the most commonly found species. Different mold species can have varying health effects. Mold most likely grows in bathrooms, basements, kitchens, attics, spa rooms, unconditioned spaces and anywhere else where there is dampness, water or roof leaks. Many types of mold routinely encountered aren’t hazardous to healthy individuals. Prolonged exposure to mold may cause certain conditions such as asthma, hay fever, and allergies or cause other health conditions to worsen. Fevers and breathing problems in a vulnerable individual are possible but unusual. When moldy material becomes damaged or disturbed, spores, which are reproductive bodies similar to seeds, can be released into the air. Exposure can occur if people inhale the spores, directly handle moldy material, or accidentally ingest the spores. Since all molds need water to grow, mold can grow almost anywhere where there is high humidity, dampness, or water damage. Most often molds are confined to areas near the water source. Removing the source of moisture through repairs and/or dehumidification is crucial in preventing mold growth. Correcting underlying water source, damage and cleaning the affected area is the best way to treat mold. If mold contamination is extensive, a professional abatement company should always be employed.
Adapted from The New York City Department of Health & Mental Hygiene, Environmental & Occupational Disease Epidemiology, “Facts About Mold”.
Radon is a radioactive gaseous element produced in the disintegration of radium, a radioactive metallic element. It cannot be detected by the senses and can be confirmed only by sophisticated instruments and laboratory tests. The gas enters a house through pores and cracks in the concrete or through floorboards of poorly ventilated crawlspaces, especially when wet ground allows the gas to escape easily through the soil and disperse in the atmosphere. Radon is a lung carcinogen: the National Academy of Sciences estimates radon causes approximately 21,000+ lung cancer deaths annually. The U.S. Surgeon General and the EPA recommend all houses be tested for radon. Houses with high radon levels can be mitigated. The most common type of radon mitigation is sub-slab depressurization system. This system uses venting and sealing to lower the radon levels in a home. A pipe is installed that runs from below the basement flooring to above the roofline, with a fan at the top that draws radon out from under the slab. Cracks and openings in the foundation are sealed. The radon is vented through the pipe to the outside, where it is quickly diluted. After mitigation is in place, a mitigation technician performs a post-mitigation radon test to ensure the system is functioning properly. The system should function to reduce the radon level to below 4pCi/L.
Adapted from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “Indoor Radon”.
Termites (Subterranean termites, drywood termites, dampwood termites, Formosan termites) which play a positive role in recycling wood and plant material in nature, become a problem when they consume structural lumber. Every year thousands of U.S. housing units require termite treatment. These pests cause serious damage to wooden structures and posts and can also attack stored food, household furniture, and books. Successful termite management requires special skills, including a working knowledge of building construction and an understanding of termite biology and identification. It is always advisable to hire a licensed professional pest control company to control the problem.
Wood-boring beetle larvae feed on wood and wood products. Adults of some species bore holes into plaster, plastic, and soft metals. Many species cause problems when emerging from wood in newly constructed buildings because they leave small circular or oval exit holes in the wood. To avoid these problems, infested wood must be kiln-fried before being used for lumber. The species Deathwatch Beetles is primarily found in soft woods (girder, beams, foundation timbers, some types of furniture, with some species attacking books).
Powderpost beetles female beetles bore a tunnel, or egg gallery, into wood or other materials, then deposit eggs in pores or cracks within the tunnel. Adults of some species bore through such soft metal as lead and silver, as well as plaster and other non-wood materials. Affected structural wood should be removed and replaced whenever possible.
Wood Wasps and Horntails link to (http://www.pestworld.org/database/pestsearch.asp) Wood wasp damage in buildings is likely to be more cosmetic than structurally weakening. Emerging wood wasps can chew through any substance: wallboard or plaster walls, hardwood floors, carpeting, linoleum, non-ceramic floor tiles, and other interior surfaces.
Carpenter Ants can damage wood in building and other structures. Though ants don’t eat wood, they bore into it to make their nests, sometimes causing serious structural damage. Also, they nest in hollow doors, cracks and crevices, furniture, wall voids, and termite galleries. New building infestation occurs when land cleaning in the area disturbs existing native colonies. It is important to keep gutters clean and trees trimmed back from the house to prevent the ants from accessing the house.
Adaptations and Excerpts from University of California Agriculture & Natural Resources, UCIPM Online, “Statewide Pest Management Program”.