Health Hazards to Watch for When Working on Your Home

As discussed on the Pete and Brenda radio show, 04/28/10, 12:40pm and 9:40pm PST.  Stream from your computer

Apparently not only do we need to watch out for toxic leather sofas coming from China*, but also drywall!   With the popularity of HGTV and many people getting inspired to be “do-it-yourselfers” ,  it’s important to know the health hazards involved.  We’ve all heard about the hazards of lead in paint, but there are other health hazards that we scarcely hear about.  This is a bit of a grim subject but also very important for people who plan to work on their homes.  This blog includes some areas to look out for when working on your home.  

Asbestos in Old Wallpaper:  According to “If you have vinyl wallpaper in your home that was made before 1980, chances are that it contains asbestos and you and your family could be at risk for Mesothelioma and other asbestos diseases.”  Article

PCBs in Caulking used in homes constructed or renovated between 1950 and 1978.   According to an article I read from This Old House, “The highest levels will, of course, be found around the most-caulked areas: around window and door frames, between masonry columns, etc. Exposure to these chemicals, according to the EPA, can affect the immune system, reproductive system, nervous system and endocrine system and are potentially cancer-causing if they build up in the body over long periods of time.”:  article 

Asbestos in Home Construction Materials:  Used extensively in home construction from the early 1940s through the 1970s.  We now know that prolonged exposure to asbestos fibers can lead to lung disease. When disturbed, tiny abrasive asbestos fibers are easily inhaled, which damages lung tissue and can cause cancer.  This article contains information on how to identify it and also get rid of it: article

Hazardous Chinese Drywall:  According to the Los Angeles Times, 4/02/10, “Consumers should remove all ‘possible problem drywall’ and replace their electrical wiring, sprinkler systems, smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms, according to new guidelines issued by the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.”  Yikes!  

Authorities began investigating problem drywall in 2008.  They found “the problematic drywall” emits hydrogen sulfide at rates 100 times the rates of non-Chinese samples.  …Some homeowners complained of health problems, including coughing, nosebleeds, sinus infections and other throat, nose and lung irritation.”   New guidelines were issued in April 2010 to help consumers identify whether their homes contained problem drywall.  “Homeowners who had new drywall installed between 2001 and 2008 were instructed to look for blackened copper electrical wiring or air conditioner coils. Inspectors would then test the corrosive conditions in the homes and the drywall.  Now, the same homeowners are being told that the best step is to remove the drywall, which amounts to gutting homes or additions where the cheap, imported building material was used.  It’s still unclear who will pay for this process. Thousands of homeowners have filed suit against the Chinese manufacturers who made the drywall and the U.S. companies that sold it.”  Article

New EPA Lead Paint Laws Effect Remodeling Projects:  4/22/2010 a new lead paint law took affect.  The new lead paint laws require any renovation work performed on houses built before 1978 to be performed by a certified contractor.  The new lead paint laws that goes into affect on April 22 involves training and certification of remodelers, safe work-site practices, verification and record keeping. It’s very important to understand that the new law pertains to projects on any house built before 1978 with a few exceptions.  Consequently, if you hire a contractor to do a renovation in your home that was built prior to 1978 be sure you hire a certified contractor.  

             A Review of the Health Risks of lead paint:    

I found this information on the Online Health Library, Catholic Health Website:  According to the EPA, one of every eleven children in this country may have elevated levels of lead in their bloodstream. Lead poisoning affects virtually every system in the body, and often occurs with no distinctive symptoms. According to the National Center for Environmental Health (NCEH), lead can damage a child’s: 

– central nervous system

– kidneys

– reproductive system

At higher levels, lead can cause coma, convulsions, and death. Even low levels of lead are harmful and are associated with:  

– decreased intelligence

–  impaired neurobehavioral development

– decreased stature and growth

– impaired hearing ability

Good news however– recent studies show a dramatic drop in blood lead levels from 2 decades ago.


* Toxic leather sofas coming from China:   “Toxic sofas” manufactured in China, have caused “serious burns”.   According to the Evening Times, Scotland, 4/27/10, claimants in the UK who just won a lawsuit “suffered painful medical complaints due to the “highly sensitising” chemical DMF – dimethyl fumarate – in leather sofas manufactured by Chinese companies Linkwise and Eurosofa.  They were said to have suffered severe skin or eye complaints, breathing difficulties or other medical complications after exposure to DMF.”  

However according to Leather International Magazine,  it’s important to note that it wasn’t the leather that was toxic, but “the mis-use of an extremely powerful fungicide which has caused the problem. The fungicide in question – dimethyl fumarate, was contained in sachets that were either placed in the structure of the sofas or in the separate cushions. The fungicide, a well documented sensitizer, was not an additive to the leather.  According to Wikipedia, ‘dimethyl fumarate has been found to be a sensitizer at very low concentrations, producing extensive, pronounced eczema that is difficult to treat.” ”  Scotland Times Article, 4/21/10, Leather International article, 5/20/08.

3 Responses to “Health Hazards to Watch for When Working on Your Home”
  1. Anonymous says:

    Nice information for me. Thank you very much.

  2. dgreatblog says:

    This article was extremely interesting, especially since I was searching for thoughts on this subject last week.
    thanks & regards – mesothelioma resource

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