Health Hazards During Home Remodeling

Many of the homes built prior to 1978 have asbestos and paint with lead in it. Lead-containing paint, dust, and chips may present significant health risks if not handled correctly. A federal law from 1996 forces disclosure to anyone buying, renting, or remodeling this type of housing. The seller must disclose any information regarding the use of lead paint prior to selling the property.

People can be exposed to lead in a number of ways. Statistics show that about one out of ten American children have unhealthy levels of lead in their bodies. Lead can enter the body when people place their hands over their mouths, if they have lead dust on them. It can also enter if anyone eats soil or paint chips that have lead in them, or inhales lead dust while renovating a home.

Children face more danger from lead exposure because their growing bodies are absorbing more lead. Their nervous system and brain are also not fully developed, and are more subject to the toxic hazards of lead. Children exposed to lead may suffer damage to their brains and nervous system, headaches, hearing problems, learning problems, and behavior problems.

Adults can also suffer damage from lead exposure. Pregnant women may be endangered by lead exposure. Adults can also have digestive problems, memory and concentration problems, high blood pressure, and joint and muscle pain.

Lead is especially a danger for people who are renovating older homes. It can be released as dust in the air when lead-painted surfaces are disturbed.

Some precautions include having your home tested for lead paint. Do not use anything that will create a large amount of dust, for example, dry scrapers, propane torches, heat guns, or belt sanders. The dust generated can linger in your home for a good time.

You could also move your family from the home temporarily until the work is completed. This is a particularly good idea if you have children or pregnant women in your household. At a minimum, be sure to seal off the area being remodeled to prevent possible exposure to lead dust.

Another possible source of lead exposure is pipes that have lead soldering. If you suspect that is the case in your home, you can have it tested. Lead is odorless and tasteless. If you suspect lead in your plumbing, use only cold water until you can have it tested.

Asbestos is another potential hazard when remodeling your home. Asbestos is a material that was used in insulation and other building materials in the past. Inhaling asbestos fibers can cause diseases and certain cancers, such as mesothelioma.

Asbestos is typically not used in new construction these days, but is a concern with older homes and old materials containing the substance. There is no way to detect it as a layperson, so contact a professional for testing if you suspect it is in your home. Disturbing it during your renovations can cause asbestos fibers to go airborne and be inhaled.

-Brian Turner, Toxic Substance Safety Advocate,