When buying, renovating, and maintaining property, there are common environmental risks to be aware of. Most of the time, good maintenance and upkeep minimize the risk to environmental hazard exposure, but risks are sometimes hidden behind walls or under carpeting and can create health concerns for those utilizing that space. Knowing how to spot these hazards and how to address them, is critical to ensuring that your property gets the care and attention it needs.
Take a closer look at some of the most common environmental hazards found throughout properties.
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There may be no bigger and more common risk factor in buildings than the presence of mold. Where dampness and moisture are present, mold is likely. It does not require standing water to form. Rather, even a high humidity level in a property can increase the risk of mold proliferation and damage. Mold is a type of fungus that can cause health concerns including rash, respiratory distress, allergic reaction and exacerbated allergies. There are a few hundred mold species found in structures, but just a handful of these are likely to cause health risks.
“Mold is easy to spot on walls and ceilings,” says a representative from BluSky Restoration Contractors, “but it is much more difficult to locate when it is under flooring or behind drain pipes in a sink. It is not possible to tell the difference between a toxic mold and a harmless variety unless a person has ample training and expertise. If there is mold present and visible, you should have it inspected and properly cleaned by trained professionals.”
Asbestos material is primarily present in older properties. This is a naturally occurring substance that has very small fibrous crystals. In the early 1900s, it was commonly used as a type of insulation in walls and ceilings, including around heat ducts and ceiling tiles. It can sometimes be found in flooring material as well. In the 1930s, the dangers of asbestos were discovered and revealed.
As a building material, asbestos creates an immediate and severe health risk to those who come in close contact. It is possible for people to breathe in small particles just by being near the substance. However, those particles are tiny and hard to see. They can embed deep into lung tissue, where they remain for years, and sometimes decades, before causing the development of illness and cancers.
Asbestos material is no longer used in these products in the U.S., but it can be found in some building walls, specifically in insulation. When renovating or otherwise demolishing any type of structural component in a building that was built prior to 1975, an asbestos inspection is often necessary.
Another environmental hazard found in many buildings is lead paint. Any property built prior to 1978 may have lead-based paint on walls, ceilings, or floors. If the paint is in good condition without any cracks or peeling, it typically poses little to no health risk. If there is damage, that can create a higher level of lead present in the property, which can then lead to health risks.
Breathing in lead dust or ingesting lead paint—such as with children who chew on paint chips—could pose a high risk for illness, including cognitive impairment. If there are any areas where paint is peeling, then it is critical that the lead paint be properly and thoroughly removed. If a property is built prior to 1978, it should be assumed that any chipping paint is lead based and proper precautions should be taken.
Another key concern that may be present in some properties is radon. A type of radioactive gas that is typically found in the ground, radon is more common in some areas of the country than others but should always be taken seriously. The gas can permeate through the small cracks in the ground and enter a structure through those small openings. This often happens at the ground level of the property.
Today, many structures are very airtight, which means there is not a lot of flow of fresh air through the building. Instead, the HVAC system typically recycles the same air over and over again. If radon is seeping into the basement of a property, that often means high accumulations of it are present throughout the building. Radon can accumulate over time, and eventually, it can spread through other areas.
Radon’s biggest risk factor is radioactivity. This level of radioactivity can cause lung cancer and other health problems for many people if it is breathed in. There are radon kits available that may help property owners to determine if there is any risk present.
Carbon monoxide is a highly dangerous, odorless, and colorless gas that can occur when there is any type of flame in a space that does not have enough oxygen flow. The highest risks come from gas, oil, and even wood furnaces and fireplaces. If there is poor ventilation present, this can cause a significant risk of this gas building up and can cause death in some people. Often, the only symptoms a person has before this occurs are headaches and feeling ill or tired.
Spotting any of these environmental hazards means taking action if necessary. Overlooking the signs and symptoms of these risks can lead to serious health complications. Regular maintenance and vigilance in property upkeep are essential to a sound structure and healthy occupants.