Updated: Sep 14, 2022
Now more than ever, we find ourselves spending most of our time at home, becoming an increasingly important place of security and solitude. The home is an escape from the demands of daily life, and a place you would never want to be unhealthy for you or your family.
For some, this has sparked a question: How safe is my home environment from toxins?
It’s important to consider that danger could be lurking in the home—harming you and your loved ones. It’s equally as important to be informed about dangers such as airborne toxins, and learn to identify ones that could potentially impact your family.
Although you may not be able to mitigate these risks yourself, you will know when to call a professional for help.
Importance of Indoor Air Quality
Indoor air quality is a silent and often an invisible way in which one’s health could be compromised in your own home. Many toxins that go undetected in homes such as radon, mold, and even formaldehyde can cause serious health effects from extended exposure.
Possibly one of the most dangerous toxins still found in homes today is asbestos. Asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) still remain in basements, attics, roofs, and the sides of homes, following decades of use in hundreds of building materials. Asbestos can cause mesothelioma, asbestosis and lung cancer.
Asbestos is the name of a collection of silicate minerals used in many products throughout the 20th century. Everything from cement to shingles was made with asbestos because of its strength and resistance to heat.
ACMs were used in residential and commercial settings for decades, even after the carcinogenic effects of this fiber became apparent in humans. It wasn’t until the 1980s that asbestos was partially banned from being used in the United States in new building materials. However, some products are still permitted to use small amounts of asbestos and, as we’ve recently seen with products containing talcum powder, asbestos still contaminates consumer products.
When asbestos is left undisturbed it does not pose a health risk. If asbestos pipe insulation, for example, is intact and has not deteriorated, it’s likely not affecting indoor air quality. If that pipe insulation were falling apart and the fibers became friable and airborne, this creates a dangerous situation.
An example could be that the hot water pipes heading to the kitchen from the hot water heater are wrapped in asbestos pipe insulation. Halfway down the pipe is your furnace and the cold air intake has a break in the ductwork. As friable asbestos breaks off from the old pipe wrap, it can be sucked into your home’s HVAC system. When released into your home, airborne asbestos can be inhaled or ingested.
Once in the body, the fibers can become trapped in the abdomen where tumors can form. Often, these tumors are diagnosed as mesothelioma after a biopsy. This rare and aggressive cancer’s only known cause is asbestos exposure.
Asbestos can also cause lung cancer, asbestosis, and could certainly cause other respiratory problems. If asbestos is circulating in the home, it could be affecting those with asthma or COPD, as well as posing a serious threat to your health later in life.
Modern Design Meets Dated Materials
Today, houses are extremely well insulated and sealed. This increases the efficiency of the home’s cooling and heating systems. It also increases the reliance on recirculated air throughout your home.
By not drawing outside air into the building, the heating or cooling system only has to work to cool the ambient air in the house that’s gone up or dropped just a few degrees. Sealing and insulating the house is integral to this method working effectively and saving energy from being wasted.
Those with older homes know they often need to be sealed and insulated to meet our modern standards. This is a great idea to improve efficiency while updating a historic home or renovating an older home for cost savings.
One concern is trapping toxins in the home and recirculating them. Before renovating a building one should always investigate pipes, old insulation, and any other potential ACMs. It’s important to contact an abatement professional to determine the safest way to contain any asbestos. This will ensure that your updated home is safe and won’t be putting you or your family at risk.
Playing It Safe
No one should have to worry about being poisoned by inhaling dangerous carcinogens in their own home. In a world where air quality and airborne dangers in public places have become increasingly apparent, it’s prudent to remember that air quality in one’s own home is important to understand, too.
If you are buying an older home or plan to renovate and are not sure how to identify asbestos-containing materials, hire a professional to help.
Editor’s Note: Interested in learning more about asbestos and abrasive blasting requirements in Allegheny County? Take a look here. Interested in learning more about improving indoor air quality? Our friends at ROCIS can help. You can learn more by visiting its website.