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Anthony J. Grieco, Licensed & Registered Architect

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Environmental Concerns

The bottom line question is- 
"Will this house adversely affect the health of my family?"


From a recent survey, What buyers' want to know about their dream home?, the second most important question expresses concerns regarding environment issues.

Some of the concerns are as follows:


Radon

Radon gas is a by-product from the natural breakdown of uranium (radioactive) material in soil, rock, and water.  Radioactive materials are naturally occurring and deposits are found in every State.  The gas is odorless, colorless, and tasteless. The only method to detect radon is to test for it. 

In general The EPA and the Surgeon General recommend testing all homes below the third floor for radon, fix your home if your radon level is 4 picoCuries per liter (pCi/L) or higher, and radon levels less
than 4 pCi/L still pose a risk, and in many cases may be reduced. 
 

.The E.P.A. publication:

A Citizen`s Guide to Radon: The Guide to Protecting Yourself 
and Your Family From Radon


The Radon Zone maps are for general information only.  The EPA states that the maps are not intended to be used for determining if a home in a given zone should be tested for radon. Homes with elevated levels of radon have been found in all three zones


Asbestos  Containing  Material

Asbestos is known to case health related problems.  Typically materials containing asbestos are not solid asbestos and is know as asbestos containing material.  The percent of asbestos in the material 
and it state-friable or not-will determine it risk factor.  Asbestos containing material is hazardous when it is inhaled.

Asbestos was commonly used as pipe and heating unit insulations, and sprayed on as fire protection, and as decorative and acoustical coatings.

Friable and unstable asbestos containing material pose the greatest danger and need to be corrected prior to purchasing the home.

see the Photo Gallery for some typical examples


Underground oil storage tanks or leaking tanks

The concern with underground oil storage tanks is the potential hazard caused by oil leaks.  Although various localities  may have different environmental laws controlling these tanks, that is the capacity, type of tank, and age of tank, typically tanks that are older than 30 years need to be replaced and all tanks regardless of age need to be tested.  Ideally the new tank should be located in an above ground location.  

For details see the EPA publication regarding underground storage tanks.

see the Photo Gallery for some typical examples


Lead Paint

In 1978 lead-based paint for housing was banned by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission.   The concern was lead poisoning caused by inhaling and/or ingesting lead-based paint dust and particles caused by normal paint ageing, rubbing lead-paint surfaces,  peeling and chipping paint, and other sources.

In homes painted prior to 1978 lead-based paint can be found on: window frames, walls, the outside of houses, or other painted surfaces.  Lead-based paint surfaces in good condition are not usually a problem, except in places where painted surfaces rub against each other and create dust. For example, when you open a window or a door, the painted surfaces rub against each other thereby contributing to household dust. That ordinary dust may contain lead, and that dust could find its way to children's toys, where that dust can then be ingested by young children. 

However, peeling, chipping, chalking, or cracking lead-base paint is a hazard and needs immediate attention. 

Just because a house was painted prior to 1978 does not tell you that the paint is hazardous. Testing is the only sure way of determine the hazard level.  

For details see Consumer Product safety Commission's documents titled:

Protect Your Family from Lead in Your Home 

US EPA  Lead in Paint, Dust and Soil

EPA Requirements ---  Common renovation activities like sanding, cutting, and demolition can create hazardous lead dust and chips by disturbing lead-based paint, which can be harmful to adults and children.

To protect against this risk, on April 22, 2008, EPA issued a rule requiring the use of lead-safe practices and other actions aimed at preventing lead poisoning. Under the rule, beginning April 22, 2010, contractors performing renovation, repair and painting projects that disturb lead-based paint in homes, child care facilities, and schools built before 1978 must be certified and must follow specific work practices to prevent lead contamination.

 

see the Photo Gallery for some typical examples


Lead Solder that was used to join copper water pipes

For details see the EPA publication 
  Lead In Your Drinking Water 

see the Photo Gallery for some typical examples


Electromagnetic Field (EMF)

Wherever electricity is generated, transmitted or used, electric fields and magnetic fields are created. These fields are a direct consequence of the presence and/or motion of electric charges. Research into potential health effects caused by the ELF-EMF resulting from indirect exposure to electrical energy has been underway for several decades. 

The NIEHS concludes that ELF-EMF exposure cannot be recognized as entirely safe because of weak scientific evidence that exposure may pose a leukemia hazard. In our opinion (NIEHS), this finding is insufficient to warrant aggressive regulatory concern. However, because virtually everyone in the United States uses electricity and therefore is routinely exposed to ELF-EMF, passive regulatory action is warranted such as a continued emphasis on educating both the public and the regulated community on means aimed at reducing exposures. This is described in greater detail in the section, Recommended Actions. The NIEHS does not believe that other cancers or non-cancer health outcomes provide sufficient evidence of a risk to currently warrant concern.

For additional details see 
Electric and Magnetic Fields (EMF) Radiation from Power Lines

see the Photo Gallery for some typical examples


UFFI

UFFI stands for "urea formaldehyde foam insulation".  This material was used to insulate older homes in the 1970s and early part of 1980s.  The material was injected into exterior wall cavities where it expanded and dried to form a rigid insulation.

The concern with this type of insulation was the period of time needed to off-gassing the formaldehyde that was used in the foam mixture.  Off-gassing required several years, depending on the climatic conditions to evaporate/dry the insulation. 

Since UFFI has not been used since the 1980s the UFFI installed has off-gassed and is not considered to be hazardous.  

However the present of UFFI in a home needs to be determined.  Typically the foam is observed in the basement in the area between the foundation wall and upper wall studs. UFFI  looks like a soft foam that breaks down to a fine powder when touched.

see the Photo Gallery for some typical examples


Pesticide and/or chemical contamination that affect
 soil and/or drinking wate
r.

see the Photo Gallery for some typical examples


The list keeps growing.

As research continues, the list of potential and/or hazardous material keeps growing.  A nearly endless list of laboratory tests can be perform to identify area of concern.  However the cost of performing these tests can excess the cost of the home.  Thus it is important to identify common environmental problems associated with the area and age of house and limit your investigation to the critical items.  Be sure that your pre-purchase inspection includes an environment scan of the premises.  Although an environment scan is a overview and does not include testing, the inspector may recommend testing based on visual signs of concerns.

ADDITIONAL US EPA Brochures and Posters

Select  a Registered Architect or Professional Engineer  
to perform a pre-purchase inspection and what to expect?"

 

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