There are a number of materials that were commonly used in the home that at one time were considered safe, but are now known to cause health problems. And although some of these materials have been discontinued in residential buildings years after production and use, some can be found in older homes. However, there are other materials that are of concern that are still used in building and furnishing materials.
Lead was used as a residential paint additive for many years to enhance the paints’ properties; it was thought to increase paint durability and speed up drying. Since the acknowledgement that lead has deleterious effects on the nervous system, especially in developing children; there was a push to “get the lead out” of paint and other consumer products. Lead paint was subsequently discontinued and banned in 1978 from residential paints. Today, there are numerous disclosures about the possibility of lead paint existing in homes that were built prior to 1978; homebuyers are provided the opportunity to conduct a risk assessment to determine lead levels in homes where lead paint may exist. Lead certified contractors must be used when making repairs and renovations to homes built prior to 1978 (epa.gov).
Before it was acknowledged that asbestos is linked to a number of serious health issues, including mesothelioma; asbestos was used for thousands of years. The ancients mined and found many uses for asbestos. Considered to be a “miracle mineral,” construction use of asbestos mushroomed in the late nineteenth century. Although there were government bans on asbestos products during the 1970’s and 1980’s, asbestos is still used in some commercial applications (asbestos.com).
There has been a longstanding grassroots concern about vinyl and PVC materials because of the linked health issues thought to be from the off gassing and leaching of phthalates (phthalates are a group of chemicals used in the production of plastics). Vinyl and plastic building materials have also been widely used in homes for decades: vinyl flooring has been used in bathrooms and kitchens; vinyl has been used in laminate flooring; and PVC piping has been used for plumbing. The EPA has been and continues to study the production, use and effects of phthalates (epa.gov).
Imported drywall is a more recent issue that was reported to cause severe respiratory ailments; oxidized jewelry and corroded pipes were also highlighted. Although the bulk of the reports of problems associated with the imported drywall emanated from Florida, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has collected hundreds of reports from eighteen states and the District of Columbia. A majority of the complaints reported that affected homes were built in 2006 and 2007; which coincided with a time when building materials were in high demand due to a considerable increase in construction and the rebuilding of hurricane-damaged states (cpsc.gov).
As a result of the increasing awareness of toxins in and out of the home, the “green building” movement has become popular. Besides helping maintain a healthy environment, a key feature of green building is to also maintain air quality in the home; green building uses natural materials to avoid off gassing of toxins. For example, formaldehyde based materials, which are can be found in some “manufactured” woods and some carpets are avoided.
More information about green building, air quality and safety of building materials can be found at the EPA and CPSC websites.
Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. This article was originally published the week of December 30, 2013 (Montgomery County Sentinel). Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws. Copyright © Dan Krell.