Tips for maintaining a healthy home: look out for asbestos and lead

We’re big fans of the health and environmental benefits of green cleaning, and today’s article from Emily at the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance expands on that to encourage you to look out for a few other danger areas in your home.

Maintaining a clean and healthy home is important to your family. One way to ensure unnecessary fumes and chemicals stay out of your home is to use natural cleaning products, but there are products and items already in your home that can be hazardous while cleaning. Environmental toxins can be present in older homes — asbestos and lead were used for decades in a variety of construction materials. These materials can be damaged during routine cleaning and potentially cause a range of health hazards.

Where might these dangers be lurking?

Well, basically everywhere there is drywall or paint made with asbestos or lead. Any home built prior to 1980 could contain either substance. Asbestos was used in construction materials like drywall, insulation, and popcorn ceilings while lead was most commonly used in paint and plumbing items.

It’s almost impossible to detect these materials just by looking, but here are some things to look out for:

  • Wrapped exposed pipe insulation or 9×9 tiles, which almost always contained asbestos
  • Paint and plumbing items, especially from peeling or chipping paint.
  • Any previous renovations or construction projects you know about may have damaged these materials.

Sometimes we can actually increase the risk of exposure to these substances when we’re cleaning our homes. Be careful when you scrub and scrape your baseboards, windows, floors and ceilings. Cleaning can disturb any existing dust that could contain asbestos or lead, spreading it throughout the space. Bigger projects like cleaning out older spaces or preparing them for renovation can also cause damage to encased asbestos and lead, potentially releasing the toxins into the air.

While not dangerous when left undisturbed and intact, asbestos and lead-containing materials can potentially lead to serious health issues when inhaled or ingested. Scrubbing or dusting an area can disturb these materials or spread an existing threat. Lead can be present as an invisible dust from paint and paint chips, so scrubbing and disturbing paint or vacuuming around lead dust should be avoided while cleaning to decrease the potential for harmful exposure.

The health risks from exposure to these toxins vary. Asbestos is a known cause of mesothelioma, a rare and aggressive cancer, and can also cause chronic lung disease, asbestosis, and asbestos related lung cancer. Asbestos is particularly harmful since it’s an invisible fiber that can take anywhere from 10-50 years to cause issues and develop into illnesses. Lead exposure can lead to a range of health issues, from headaches, stomach issues, cognitive impairment and even seizures in extreme cases. Lead exposure is particularly harmful to children under six, so homes with families and small children should take extra care while cleaning.

To avoid these toxins, have a licensed professional perform testing and repair of at-risk areas. Learning the common areas and materials that could potentially contain these toxins is the first step in ensuring your home and family are protected while cleaning. Before taking on any large-scale cleaning plan or renovation in a home or space built prior to 1980, it’s a good idea to call in a professional to inspect for possible asbestos and lead.

Stay healthy!

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