Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas found in soil, rock, and water throughout the U.S. Radon can cause lung cancer and other health issues. It tends to collect in homes, sometimes to dangerously high concentrations.
Almost all risk from radon comes from breathing air that has been contaminated with radon and its decay products. Radon decay products are known to cause lung cancer.
There is no safe level of radon – any exposure poses some risk of cancer. In two 1999 reports, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) concluded after an exhaustive review that radon in indoor air is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S. (the first being cigarette smoke). The NAS estimated that 15,000-22,000 Americans die every year from radon-related lung cancer.
You cannot see, feel, smell, or taste radon. Testing your home is the only way to know if you and your family are at risk for radon poisoning. The EPA and Surgeon General recommend testing for radon in all rooms below the third floor.
Radon testing is inexpensive and easy. Purchase a do-it-yourself test kit or contact RBS&K to hire a trained professional.
The first step is to test your home for radon. If radon is present at or above the EPA’s Action Level of 4 picocuries per liter (pCi/L), it should be mitigated. To be safe, you may want to take action if the levels are in the range of 2-4 pCi/L. Radon levels can usually be brought down to 2 pCi/L or lower fairly simply.
The best method for reducing radon depends on the design of your home and how radon is entering your home. Radon management may be as simple as sealing cracks in floors and walls or it may require installing a system to remove and effectively stop radon from entering through a crawl space, a concrete floor or a basement slab. These systems are simple and don’t involve major home modifications. Other radon mitigation methods may be necessary.
If you have a private well, the well water should be tested to ensure that radon levels meet the EPA’s newly proposed standard.
Asbestos is a mineral fiber. In the past, asbestos was added to a variety of products to strengthen them and to provide heat insulation and fire resistance.
Studies have proven that breathing high levels of asbestos fibers can lead to an increased risk of lung cancer.
Most people exposed to small amounts of asbestos, as we all are in our daily lives, do not develop health problems. However, if disturbed, asbestos material may release asbestos fibers, which can be inhaled into the lungs. The fibers can remain there for a long time, increasing the risk of disease.
Asbestos material that would crumble easily if handled, or that has been sawed, scraped or sanded into a powder is more likely to create a health hazard.
Most products made today do not contain asbestos. The few products that are currently made with asbestos that could be inhaled are required to be labeled with a warning. However, until the 1970s, many types of building products and insulation materials containing asbestos were used in homes. If your home was built in the ‘70s or earlier, asbestos may still be present.
Common products that may contain asbestos include: insulation, soundproofing, decorative material sprayed on walls and ceilings, hot water and steam pipes, and furnace ducts.
If you think asbestos may be in your home, don’t panic! If the asbestos material is in good condition, it will not release the harmful fibers into the air and it is usually best to leave it alone.
However, if the asbestos material is more than slightly damaged or if you are going to make changes in your home that might disturb it, repair or removal by a professional is imperative.
Asbestos professionals are trained to handle asbestos material safely. Ask asbestos professionals for documented proof of the federal or state-approved training they have completed. Each person performing work in your home should provide proof of training and licensing in asbestos work, such as completion of EPA-approved training. State and local health departments or EPA regional offices may have listings of licensed professionals in your area.
Lead is a highly toxic metal that was used for many years in products found in and around our homes. In general, the older the home, the more likely it is to contain lead.
The most common sources of household lead are:
- Paint – The federal government banned lead-based paint from housing in 1978, but homes built before this time may contain lead paint.
- Dust – Household dust can be contaminated with lead from paint, as can the soil around a house whose exterior was painted with lead paint.
- Drinking water – Your home’s plumbing might contain lead or lead solder.
If not detected early, children with high levels of lead in their bodies can suffer from damage to the brain and nervous system, behavior and learning problems, slowed growth, hearing problems and headaches.
Lead is also harmful to adults. Adults can suffer from difficulties during pregnancy, high blood pressure, digestive problems, nerve disorders, memory and concentration problems, and muscle and joint pain.
You can temporarily reduce lead hazards by taking actions such as repairing damaged painted surfaces and planting grass to cover soil with high lead levels. These actions are not permanent solutions and will require ongoing attention.
To permanently remove lead hazards, you must hire a certified lead abatement contractor. Abatement methods include removing, sealing, or enclosing lead-based paint with special materials.
Always hire a person with special training for correcting lead problems – someone who knows how to do this work safely and has the proper equipment to clean up thoroughly. Certified contractors will employ qualified workers and follow strict safety rules set by their state or the federal government. Contact the National Lead Information Center for help with locating certified contractors in your area and to see if financial assistance is available.
Molds are part of the natural environment. Outdoors, molds play a part in nature by breaking down dead organic matter such as fallen leaves and dead trees, but indoors, mold growth should be avoided. Molds reproduce by means of tiny spores. The spores are invisible to the naked eye and float through outdoor and indoor air. Mold may begin growing indoors when mold spores land on surfaces that are wet. There are many types of mold and none of them will grow without water or moisture.
Molds are usually not a problem indoors, but if mold spores land on a wet or damp spot and begin growing, they do have the potential to cause health problems. Molds produce allergens, irritants, and in some cases, potentially toxic substances.
Allergic reactions to mold are common and include hay fever-type symptoms, such as sneezing, runny nose, red eyes, and skin rash. Molds can also cause asthma attacks in people with asthma who are allergic to mold.
It is impossible to get rid of all molds and mold spores indoors, but indoor mold growth can be managed by controlling indoor moisture. If there is mold growth in your home, it must be removed, but in order to prevent the problem from returning, the water source must also be eliminated.
If the moldy area is less than 10 square feet, you can probably handle the job yourself.
However, if there has been a lot of water damage, and/or mold growth covers more than 10 square feet, consult the EPA’s Mold Remediation in Schools and Commercial Buildings. Although focused on schools and commercial buildings, this document is applicable for other building types.
If you choose to hire a contractor (or other professional service provider) to do the cleanup, make sure the contractor has experience cleaning up mold. Check references and ask the contractor to follow the recommendations in the EPA’s Mold Remediation in Schools and Commercial Buildings or the guidelines of the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists.
If you suspect that the heating/ventilation/air conditioning (HVAC) system may be contaminated with mold, consult the EPA before taking further action. Do not run the HVAC system if you know or suspect that it is contaminated with mold – it could spread mold throughout your home.
If the water and/or mold damage was caused by sewage or other contaminated water, you should hire a professional who has experience cleaning and fixing buildings damaged by contaminated water.
If you have health concerns, consult a health professional before starting cleanup.
A typical homeowner’s insurance policy does not cover destruction caused by termites, even though they cause over 1 billion dollars in damage to homes throughout the United States each year. It’s important that homeowners understand the threat of termites, and take the necessary steps to protect their homes.
Subterranean termites are extremely destructive. First they build tunnels to wooden structures. Then, they burrow into those structures to obtain food. Any wood or cellulose-containing material is food for termites. Given time to do so, they’ll eat until nothing is left but a shell. Termites avoid light and air, so they build their colonies where you’re not likely to stumble upon them.
On the off chance you do see them, remember that it’s easy to confuse termites with ants. Fortunately, there are features that set the two apart.
- narrow waists
- bent antennae
- two sets of wings (one wing is longer than the other)
- thick waists
- straight antennae
- two sets of wings (same size)