Homeowner Alert: Avoid Asbestos Exposure When Renovating Older Houses
High energy prices and tax breaks on energy-efficient building materials have inspired many owners of older homes or buildings to undergo renovations. But a March 2011 report says the dangers of releasing toxins during those renovations, including deadly asbestos fibers, often is overlooked.
Renovation and remodeling projects can disturb asbestos insulation and lead-based paint, throwing toxic dust into the air. Inhaling the microscopic asbestos fibers can cause mesothelioma, a form of lung cancer.
A recently released report by the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA) says many homeowners in older houses are unaware of the hazards to their health caused by substances such as asbestos fibers.
“Unless care is taken to avoid the release of toxic chemicals and ensure proper ventilation … renovations can create serious health risks, especially for children,” CELA Executive Director Theresa McClenaghan said.
The dangers of asbestos and lead-based paint have been known for years and the materials are no longer used in new construction, but their hazardous potential still exists in older buildings. People working on a renovation project or living or working in a building being renovated may breath in the toxic fibers and dust. Asbestos fibers can cause mesothelioma decades after the initial exposure.
In the report, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) describes several ways in which asbestos can be released during a renovation:
- Disturbing loose-fill insulation;
- Removing siding or roof shingles;
- Disturbing roofing felt;
- Ripping away asbestos insulation from a hot water tank;
- Sanding or scraping asbestos floor tiles;
- Breaking apart acoustical ceiling tiles;
- Sanding plaster or coatings such as roofing compounds, sealants, paint, caulking or drywall containing asbestos.
The report calls for tougher government standards for renovations of older buildings. The United States and France are cited as the only countries with those kinds of regulations in place. Last year the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency instituted regulations on contractors working on homes built before 1978.