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Thaumas P. Ehr, Landscape Architect

Clean Up Toxic Problems in Your Client's Homes

Everyone wants a safe, comfortable environment in their homes for themselves and their families. But some toxic conditions may need cleaning up, particularly in older homes. Here are some possible hazards that may be in your client’s house.

Lead paint - Most homes built before 1978 probably have some lead-based paint in them, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Although you may see do-it-yourself instructions online for repairing or renovating a home that has lead-based paint in it, that’s too risky.

For one thing, in the process of remodeling, you can contaminate the air you breathe.

First, have a certified lead inspection test done in your home and also have the inspector assess the risks in your house.Then hire a certified lead-safe renovation firm to do the work -- preferably not someone connected with the lead inspector. Properly trained workers will seal the area where repairs are done and will wrap up all debris and carry it away. They will also thoroughly vacuum your property afterward. This is likely to be an expensive process, of course, because of all the steps involved. But the work must be done carefully.

Asbestos - Asbestos-containing materials that are intact and not damaged, like popcorn ceilings, are unlikely to be a health risk, according to the EPA. But if your ceiling, for example, is torn or crumbling or if you’re planning a major remodel in a room where asbestos-containing materials are found, you need to take action. Just as with lead, have testing done first and then hire professionally accredited asbestos-repair technicians to remove the hazardous material or do renovations.

Sometimes asbestos can be safely covered up or encapsulated. For example, pipes insulated with asbestos can have a protective wrap put on over them to contain any possible hazard. Or a false ceiling can be installed just below the asbestos-containing popcorn.

But if you decide to remove the asbestos, the process will be involved in order to prevent asbestos dust from invading your entire home. For example, workers apply a wetting agent to the asbestos material with a hand sprayer before removal. The work area has to be sealed off from other rooms. The heating and air conditioning have to be shut down. When the job is done, an inspector has to test the air in a home to be sure asbestos fibers are not floating around.

Mold – Besides being unsightly and downright disgusting, molds can cause allergies and asthma. And mold spores can spread via the air to other likely spots. Spores can also invade drywall or insulation due after a roof leak.

Usually, you see the mold, but sometimes you can even smell it. Then you might have your air tested to find out what’s going on. Your first step in fighting mold is to stop the leak causing the problem. Often mold grows in areas that get wet, dry out and then get wet again.

Once the moisture problem is solved, you can clean up the mold yourself if the spot is no more than 10 square feet in area and is on a hard surface, according to the EPA. Scrub the affected spot with detergent and water; then thoroughly dry it. Don’t paint over mold until the area has been cleaned and dried. If the mold is on a porous surface like carpet or dry wall, you may have to remove damaged materials and replace them.

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