Keeping your home safe is not limited to locking the doors and installing a home security system. There are a number of toxic substances like mold, asbestos, and lead that can pose health risks if they’re not mitigated. Fortunately, there are measures homeowners can employ to make their houses safer.
Amelia Yates, revival grants manager for the Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans, said mold, lead and asbestos are the biggest issues for local homeowners. She said lead is extremely common, especially in houses that have not been maintained. If you’re buying a fixer-upper, this is something to keep a close eye on.
“If it’s sealed and hidden under paint, it’s not a problem,” Yates said.
What are warning signs you can look out for? Peeling paint is a giveaway. Young children and pets can sometimes chew paint chips. Also, if you’re sanding your siding, it can cause lead particles to enter the air. Therefore, scraping is better than sanding. But even then, if you’re doing it yourself, wear protective equipment (or better yet, hire a professional to deal with it).
Yates added that if exterior work is being done on your house, make sure a tarp is on the house to contain the dust. Why would lead particles be an issue in this scenario? If it gets in the soil, it could contaminate anything grown in the yard. You can also used raised beds for your plants to protect against any possible issues with the soil. Yates said raised beds became popular in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina when homeowners became worried about soil contamination due to the flooding.
The next big toxin New Orleanians should worry about is mold.
“Mold is present everywhere in New Orleans,” Yates said. “Anywhere where moisture is present can be home to mold.”
The best way to protect against mold is proper sealing to keep water from coming into the walls. Unfortunately, Yates said many old homes are leaky and there’s only so much that can be done to seal them. She said some homeowners over-compensate and seal it too tightly, then crank their A/C constantly during the summer. But the hot, moist air can still come under the house, and when it meets indoor surfaces cooled by the A/C, it can lead to condensation and then mold.
“Sometimes it’s best to let these old houses breathe and have a higher utility bill,” Yates said.
Lastly, Yates said the presence of mold can also indicate other problems.
“Where there’s mold, there’s also possible rot which can cause structural damage,” Yates said.
Asbestos is seen mainly in roofs, siding, and in attics under furnaces in homes built before the 1980s. It is an extremely durable material that was formerly used as a heat shield before people learned exposure to it can cause cancer. The mere presence of asbestos in your home is not necessarily cause for worry, but you should be aware of its presence because its potential harmfulness depends on the location.
“If it’s somewhere where you’ll be active, you either need to remove it or encapsulate it,” Yates said.
Yates added that if asbestos is buried in a corner of your attic that you never go near, then it’s probably OK to leave it. If you do come across asbestos in your home, do not touch it.
While asbestos is durable, if it starts to break apart, then it can become a problem because the particles will float into the air for people to inhale. If there are cracks or signs of deterioration in the material, call a professional. Asbestos removal is not for amateurs.
The good news, according to asbestos.com, is it generally takes a lot of exposure to cause health issues. Most people who develop asbestos-related diseases were exposed to asbestos at work for years. But it’s still important to exercise caution in your home regarding any material that might contain asbestos.