The only way to be sure whether a material contains asbestos is to have it tested by a qualified laboratory. EPA only recommends testing suspect materials if they are damaged (fraying, crumbling) or if you are planning a renovation that would disturb the suspect material. Samples should be taken by a properly trained and accredited asbestos professional (inspector).
Asbestos that is in good condition and left undisturbed is unlikely to present a health risk. The risks from asbestos occur when it is damaged or disturbed where asbestos fibers become airborne and can be inhaled. Managing asbestos in place and maintaining it in good repair is often the best approach.
If you have vermiculite insulation in your home, you should assume this material may be contaminated with asbestos and be aware of steps you can take to protect yourself and your family from exposure to asbestos. The EPA recommends that vermiculite insulation be left undisturbed. Airborne asbestos fibers present a health risk through inhalation, so the first step is to not disturb the material, which could release fibers into the air. If you disturb the insulation, you may inhale some asbestos fibers. The degree of health risk depends on how much and how often this occurred. If you choose to remove the vermiculite insulation, this work should be done by a trained and accredited asbestos abatement contractor that is separate and independent from the company that performed the assessment of the vermiculite insulation to avoid any conflict of interest.
It’s not possible for you to tell whether a material in your home contains asbestos simply by looking at it. If you suspect a material within your home might contain asbestos (for example floor tile, ceiling tile or old pipe wrap) and the material is damaged (fraying or falling apart) or if you are planning on performing a renovation that would disturb the material, the EPA recommends that you have it sampled by a properly trained and accredited asbestos professional (inspector). The professional then should use a qualified laboratory to perform the asbestos analysis.
Many homes built before 1978 have lead-based paint. In general, the older your home, the more likely it has lead-based paint. Soil around a home can contain lead from sources like deteriorated exterior paint, past use of leaded gas in cars, or from past renovation activities. Household dust can pick up lead from deteriorating lead-based paint, from past renovation projects, or from soil tracked into a home. If you work with lead, you could bring it home on your hands or clothes. It is important to shower and change clothes before going home. Launder your work clothes separately from the rest of your family’s clothes.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) National Survey of Lead and Allergens in Housing estimated that 38 million permanently occupied housing units (40% of all housing units) in the United States contain some lead-based paint that was applied before the residential use of lead-based paint was banned in 1978. “Housing units” include single-family homes, manufactured housing, and multi-unit dwellings like apartments. Vacant housing, group quarters (e.g., prisons, hospitals, and dormitories), hotels, motels, and other short-term housing, military bases, and housing where children are not permitted to live (e.g., housing designated exclusively for the elderly and those with zero-bedroom units) are not included in this number. More information on these statistics is available from HUD.
Lead is known to cause a range of health effects, from behavioral problems and learning disabilities, to seizures and death. Children six years old and under are most at risk from exposure lead-based paint because they crawl on the floor and they put their hands and other items which can have lead-based paint dust on them into their mouths. Because their bodies are still growing, children tend to absorb more lead than adults.
Children exposed to lead can suffer from:
- Lowered IQ
- Damage to the brain and nervous system
- Learning and behavioral difficulties
- Slowed growth
- Hearing problems
Adults can suffer from:
- Reproductive problems (in both men and women)
- High blood pressure and hypertension
- Nerve disorders
- Memory and concentration problems
- Muscle and joint pain
A blood test is the only way to find out whether you or a family member already has lead poisoning. Call your doctor or local health department to arrange for a blood test. You can protect your family every day by:
- Regularly cleaning floors, window sills, and other surfaces.
- Washing children’s hands, bottles, pacifiers, and toys often.
- Making sure children eat a healthy, nutritious diet consistent with the USDA’s dietary guidelines.
- Wiping off shoes before entering the house.
- Using an EPA-certified firm for renovations, or if you are doing the renovation yourself, using lead-safe work practices
Many houses and apartments built before 1978 have some lead-based paint. Lead from paint chips, and dust can pose serious health hazards if not taken care of properly. Federal law requires that individuals receive certain information before renting or buying pre-1978 housing. Sellers and landlords must:
- Disclose information on known lead-based paint and lead-based paint hazards in the housing being sold or rented;
- Provide buyers and renters with any available records or reports pertaining to lead-based paint or lead-based paint hazards in the housing.
The first thing you should do if you suspect mold in your home or business is to call a professional. They will first give a visual of the area, then possibly recommend to take air samples or tape lift samples.
If you smell mold, you are inhaling mold spores and mycotoxins, both of which are dangerous and can cause a wide range of medical issues. Mold is everywhere though, including the air you breathe outside daily. You can not be sure the mold is the dangerous type without taking mold samples.
The common symptoms of mold exposure include a runny nose, itchy eyes, cough, headaches, congestion, and asthma like symptoms. Longer exposure can result in pneumonia, skin rashes, depression, joint pain, chronic fatigue and other life-threatening complications.
You can not say for certain whether it is safe to stay in a home until you know what type of mold you are dealing with. If you fear that you are breathing in the poisonous mold or having side effects from breathing mold, it is best to leave the area until is has been tested by a professional.
Home test kits are not as reliable as professional testing. Most homeowners will use test kits inaccurately, which will cause the results to be unreliable. Although professional testing is more expensive, when your family’s health is at stake it is important to get accurate results.
Is it safe for me to remove the mold myself?
It is always better to hire a qualified professional. Most of the time bleach and water is used to clean up mold, which is fine, but it is only a temporary fix. Professionals use mold killing chemicals that will keep mold away. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, you should call a professional if:
- The moldy area is more than 10 square feet.
- You suspect mold is in your HVAC system.
- The mold/water damage was caused by contaminated water such as sewage.
- You have any health concerns. Speak to your physician before starting any mold cleanup.