• Environmental 101 for Homeowners – Part 2

  • In my last blog I discussed some of the environmental issues a homeowner should consider when purchasing a home, including potential off-site environmental impacts and concerns related to heating oil use and storage. Over the next few blogs I will address some of the hidden dangers that could be encountered during maintenance or construction. These comments are provided for general information only; you should always follow all applicable regulations and safety protocols, and if you are in doubt or have concerns please consult a qualified expert.

    Home renovations conducted without consideration for these environmental concerns could lead to exposure to harmful, even deadly contaminants, and care should be taken to protect the workers and occupants. We have all seen reality television shows where people complete DIY renovations and flip old houses for profit. I cringe every time I see a perky young couple conducting interior demolition of their 1950’s house without a single item of safety equipment, and with no consideration of the dangerous materials they may be ingesting or inhaling.

    Asbestos-Containing Materials (ACM)
    The term asbestos is applied to a group of naturally occurring fibrous hydrated silicates. The use of asbestos for commercial and industrial applications became commonplace in the late 1800s. Because of its versatility (incombustibility, heat/chemical resistance, and reinforcing properties), asbestos has been used in many building products. Older residential buildings (pre 1990) can contain asbestos in thermal insulation, fireproofing, floor tiles, ceiling tiles, cement piping, corrugated pipe insulating wrap, roofing materials, plaster, stucco, and other products. Health concerns can arise when asbestos (a known carcinogen) is, or becomes friable (i.e. it is or can be easily crushed or pulverized by hand pressure). This can result in ACM becoming airborne and then inhaled. The barbed nature of the microscopic fibres can cause them to become embedded in lung tissue, possibly leading to cancers like asbestosis and mesothelioma decades after ingestion. This can be a significant concern when renovation, demolition or construction activities cause ACM to become damaged and/or friable. Confirmation of the presence and type of asbestos requires sampling and lab analyses by qualified professionals. Many jurisdictions require building owners to investigate the presence of asbestos and to notify workers when such materials are confirmed. Proper and safe Asbestos removal or abatement should be left to the professionals, and in many cases this is a legal requirement.

    Lead-Based Paint (LBP)
    Lead is a heavy metal which has been used in many industrial applications. The three forms of lead typically encountered are: metallic Lead - used to make pipes, electrical batteries, lead solder, and electric cable sheaths; inorganic compounds - usually occurring as constituents of products such as pigments, paints, insecticides, and glass; and, organic Lead compounds - the most common of which are tetramethyl lead and tetraethyl lead, which are used as antiknock additives in gasoline. Depending on the age of construction, lead-based paints and/or lead-containing plumbing solder could be present in a building. Before you start stripping paint, sanding or sandblasting, you should have samples of the paint (including any underlying layers of original paint) tested for lead content; and if lead is present at hazardous levels take appropriate precautions, including respiratory protection, enclosure/ventilation of the work area and proper management and disposal of waste materials.

    Urea Formaldehyde Foam Insulation (UFFI)
    Urea Formaldehyde Foam Insulation (UFFI) is low-density foam prepared from a mixture of urea formaldehyde resin, an acid hardening agent solution and a propellant, and was used primarily to insulate cavities in a retrofit of older homes. The use of UFFI was banned in 1980 by the Federal Hazardous Products Act (RF 1985). Government grants were often available to promote the use of UFFI, and in some cases, the same contractors who installed the UFFI, also received grants to remove UFFI once health concerns were identified and the product was banned. Most homes with UFFI have been dealt with when the UFFI was removed or abated, and the presence of UFFI will often be documented in a purchase or sale agreement. Generally speaking, most of the concerns related to UFFI (e.g. off-gassing during the curing process) have already occurred, and the major issue these days relates to possible stigma and lowered value of the home.

    Next month we’ll look at other environmental concerns that could be lurking in your home.

    Bill Leedham, P. Geo., CESA

    Bill is the Head Instructor and Course Developer for the Associated Environmental Site Assessors of Canada (www.aesac.ca); and the founder and President of Down 2 Earth Environmental Services Inc. You can contact Bill at info@down2earthenvironmental.ca