Finding a Healthy Home
Lead-based paint in the home
Approximately three-quarters of all houses in the U.S. built before 1978 contain some lead-based paint. When properly maintained and managed, this paint poses little risk. However, 1.7 million children have blood-lead levels above safe limits, mostly due to exposure to lead-based paint hazards.
Lead-based paint is a major source of lead poisoning for children and can cause permanent damage to the brain and many other organs and causes reduced intelligence and behavioral problems. Lead can also cause abnormal fetal development in pregnant women.
Consumers can be exposed to lead from paint
Eating paint chips is one way young children are exposed to lead. It is not the most common way that consumers, in general, are exposed to lead. Ingesting and inhaling lead dust that is created as lead-based paint "chalks," chips, or peels from deteriorated surfaces can expose consumers to lead. Walking on small paint chips found on the floor, or opening and closing a painted frame window, can also create lead dust. Consumers can also generate lead dust by sanding lead-based paint or by scraping or heating lead-based paint.
Consumers can have paint tested for lead
In-home test requires a trained professional who can operate the equipment safely. This test uses X-ray fluorescence to determine if the paint contains lead. Although the test can be done in your home, it should be done only by professionals trained by the equipment manufacturer or who have passed a state or local government training course, since the equipment contains radioactive materials.
Consumers may choose to have a testing laboratory test a paint sample for lead. Lab testing is considered more reliable than other methods. Lab tests may cost from $20 to $50 per sample.
Contact your state and local health department lead poisoning prevention programs and housing authorities for information about testing labs and contractors who can safely remove lead-based paint.
Mold inside the home
Molds are part of the natural environment. Outdoors, molds play a part in nature by breaking down dead organic matter such as fallen leaves and dead trees, but indoors, mold growth should be avoided. Molds reproduce by means of tiny spores; the spores are invisible to the naked eye and float through outdoor and indoor air. Mold may begin growing indoors when mold spores land on surfaces that are wet. There are many types of mold, and none of them will grow without water or moisture.
Can mold cause health problems?
Molds are usually not a problem indoors, unless mold spores land on a wet or damp spot and begin growing. Molds have the potential to cause health problems. Molds produce allergens (substances that can cause allergic reactions), irritants, and in some cases, potentially toxic substances.
Inhaling or touching mold or mold spores may cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals. Allergic responses include hay fever-type symptoms, such as sneezing, runny nose, red eyes, and skin rash. Allergic reactions to mold are common. They can be immediate or delayed. People with asthma may experience an attack when exposed to mold. And mold exposure can irritate the eyes, skin, nose, throat, and lungs of both mold-allergic and non-allergic people. Symptoms other than the allergic and irritant types are not commonly reported as result of inhaling mold.
How do I get rid of mold?
It is impossible to get rid of all mold and mold spores indoors; some mold spores will be found floating through the air and in house dust. The mold spores will not grow if moisture is not present. Indoor mold growth can and should be prevented or controlled by controlling moisture indoors. If there is mold growth in your home, you must clean up the mold and fix the water problem. If you clean up the mold, but don't fix the water problem, then, most likely, the mold problem will come back.
How do I know if mold is present?
If you see evidence of mold or suspect mold may be present in a house you are considering, you should arrange for inspection of the property by a professional inspector. Your real estate professional should be able to provide assistance in locating a qualified inspector.
Asbestos in the Home
Asbestos is a mineral fiber that was commonly used in a variety of building construction materials for insulation and as a fire retardant.
Most products made today do not contain asbestos. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) have banned several asbestos products, and manufacturers have voluntarily agreed to limit the use of others. Any products made that still contain asbestos are required to be clearly labeled. However, many types of building products and insulation materials made before the 1970s contain asbestos- These products include pipe and furnace insulation
materials; asbestos and cement shingles, siding, and roofing; millboard; resilient floor tiles, the backing on vinyl sheet flooring, and floor tile adhesives; soundproofing or decorative material; patching and joint compound; fireproof gloves and stove-top pads; and automobile brake pads and linings, clutch facings, and gaskets.
The most dangerous asbestos fibers are too small to be visible. They can become airborne when asbestos- containing materials are disturbed or during improper removal. Once they are inhaled, the fibers can remain and accumulate in the lungs. Breathing high levels of asbestos fibers can lead to an increased risk of lung cancer, mesothelioma (a cancer of the chest and abdominal linings), and asbestosis (irreversible lung scarring that can be fatal). The risk of lung cancer and mesothelioma increases with the number of fibers inhaled. The risk of lung cancer is also greater to people who smoke. Symptoms of these diseases do not show up until many years after exposure begins. Most people with asbestos-related diseases were exposed to elevated concentrations on the job.
Usually it is best to leave asbestos material that is in good condition alone. Generally, material in good condition will not release asbestos fibers. Try to prevent the material from being damaged, disturbed, or touched.
Periodically inspect the material for damage or deterioration. Properly dispose of damaged or worn asbestos gloves, stove-top pads, or ironing board covers. Check with appropriate officials on how to properly handle and dispose of those materials.
The only way to tell if an object contains asbestos by looking at it is if the material is labeled. Otherwise, you should have it sampled and analyzed by a qualified professional. Until you receive the results, treat the material as if it contains asbestos. Samples should be extracted only by qualified professionals. If improperly done, extracting samples can be more hazardous than leaving the material undisturbed.
If the asbestos material is more than slightly damaged, or if you are going to make changes in your home that might disturb the asbestos, repair or removal by a professional is needed. Repair usually means either covering or sealing the asbestos material. Covering involves placing a protective wrap over or around the material that contains the asbestos to prevent the release of fibers. Sealing involves treating the material with a sealant that either binds the asbestos fibers together or coats the material so fibers are not released. Repair is usually cheaper than removal, but may make it more difficult to remove later if the need arises.
How do I know if asbestos is present?
If you believe asbestos may be present in a house you are considering for purchase, you should arrange for inspection of the property by a professional inspector. Your real estate professional should be able to provide assistance in locating a qualified inspector.
Radon in the Home
Why Do You Need to Test for Radon?
Radon is a radioactive gas that has been found in homes all over the United States. It comes from the natural breakdown of uranium in soil, rock and water and gets into the air you breathe. Radon typically moves up through the ground to the air above and into your home through cracks and other holes in the foundation. Radon can also enter your home through well water. Your home can trap radon inside.
Any home can have a radon problem. This means new and old homes, well-sealed and drafty homes, and homes with or without basements. In fact, you and your family are most likely to get your greatest radiation exposure at home. That is where you spend most of your time.
Nearly 1 out of every 15 homes in the United States is estimated to have an elevated radon level (4 pCi/L or more).
EPA and the Surgeon General Recommend all Homes should be tested
Testing is the only way to know if you and your family are at risk from radon. EPA and the Surgeon General recommend testing all homes below the third floor for radon.
If you are thinking of buying a home, you may decide to accept an earlier test result from the seller, or ask the seller for a new test to be conducted by a qualified radon tester. Before you accept the seller's test, you should determine:
- The results of previous testing;
- Who conducted the previous test: the homeowner, a radon professional, or some other person;
- Where in the home the previous test was taken, especially if you may plan to live in a lower level of the home. For example, the test may have been taken on the first floor. However, if you want to use the basement as living space, test there; and
- What, if any, structural changes, alterations, or changes in the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system have been made to the house since the test was done. Such changes may affect radon levels.
If you decide that a new test is needed, discuss it with the seller as soon as possible. If you decide to use a qualified radon tester, you may contact the EPA office serving Kansas and Missouri to obtain a copy of their approved list of radon testing companies.
Radiation, Asbestos, Lead, and Indoor Programs Branch (ARTD/RALI)
901 North 5th Avenue
Kansas City, KS 66101
Radon Contact: Greg Crable (913) 551-7391