Health Hazards of Home Demolitions and Renovations
Health Hazards of Home Demolitions and Renovations
Thinking about pulling out the sledge hammer and bashing away? If so, It is extremely important to be aware of the many health hazards involved in doing a home demolition project as well as simple home renovations. This is because a great many toxic materials were used in home building. Even something as common as dust presents a serious health hazard.*
I think of all the times I have stripped wood, scraped paint, been in homes being gutted, and never paid attention to all the dust.
How could dust be a hazard? Dust may be considered merely a nuisance, but that dust could have asbestos - a demolition hazard that is known to be extremely toxic. Older homes were commonly built with materials that we know today to be hazardous to our health. In addition to asbestos, this includes lead, mercury and much more.
Below is a list of some of the hazards to be found in a demolition or renovation project.
1- Asbestos, a mineral fiber, has insulation and fire-retardant properties and was regularly used in a multitude of building projects including flooring, ceiling tiles and roofing shingles. Microscopic fibers from asbestos can become airborne and inhaled into the lungs. Asbestos is now known to cause mesothelioma -- which is a cancer of the lining of the abdominal cavity and chest, as well as asbestosis -- which is a scarring of the lungs.
Warning: If there is any possibility at all that asbestos is in your home, demolition should only be done by an expert. Consult with a licensed asbestos abatement contractor who will explain how the asbestos removal will be done, as well as the necessary steps that will be taken to seal off the rest of your home.
2 - Formaldehyde - is a known carcinogen, but is still widely used as an industrial chemical. In the home, formaldehyde is found in particleboard or the type of pressed wood product used in cabinetry. It is also found in plywood paneling and most types of fiberglass insulation. Very low levels of formaldehyde can cause nausea, difficulty in breathing, watery eyes and a burning sensation in the eyes and throat.
3 - Lead - was used in many painting projects and has long been known to be a harmful pollutant. During a demolition project, the lead found in dust, fumes or vapor, often from paint stripping, will become airborne and get into the lungs. High amounts of lead are known to cause headaches, weight loss, anemia, fatigue, irritability, constipation, stomach pains and nausea.
4 - Polychlorinated Biphenyls are also known as PCBs. PCBs we now know can cause a wide range of health problems. Commonly used in the home in paint, as well as caulking and plastics, you will also find PCBs in older electrical equipment used prior to the year 1977 -- this is the year PCBs were banned in paint. The chemical can cause cancer and also non-cancer conditions in animals - which includes disorders of the reproductive system, nervous system, immune system and the endocrine system.
5 - Volatile Organic Compounds also known as VOCs - VOCs are emitted through paints, paint strippers, pesticides, adhesives, cleaning products, furniture and building materials. VOCs are volatile due to the fact that they evaporate at room temperature, thereby creating a polluted indoor environment that can have a concentration that is 10x higher indoors than outdoors. Breathing VOCs during a demolition, even a small quantity, can damage both the cardiovascular and respiratory systems. (See link to safer paints to use indoors)
6 - Mercury - is found in surprising places. Mercury is in old thermostats, switches, regulators and heating systems. Just one drop of mercury can contaminate tens of thousands of gallons of water. Health hazards from mercury poisoning are liver and kidney damage, mental retardation, life-long learning disabilities, and it can also be fatal.
*General Warning About Dust:
Dust can get everywhere - all through the house, in your clothes, hair, lungs, even outside during a demolition. Because it is unknown what may be in the dust, you must always assume dust is hazardous. Silica, in the form of crystalline silica, is in concrete as well as other rock types of material. If your demolition project includes breaking up, grinding or crushing concrete, the dust can enter the body and cause silicosis - which is known to damage the lungs, cause breathing difficulties and the risk of a lung infection.
For some healthy home suggestions, see links below:
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