Environmental Testing

Mold, Lead, Asbestos, Vermiculite, Water

Warning! This house could be hazardous to your health!

It seems that we hear a lot about environmental concerns these days. And for good reason. Much of it is simply the result of a greater awareness than in the past. And even though there isn’t anything to be concerned with in most homes, there are still a number of potential home environmental issues that buyers should be aware of.

Water quality is probably the most common concern and the one most often tested for. Typically, a basic water quality test will check pH, water hardness, the presence of fluoride, sodium, iron, and manganese, plus bacteria such as E-coli. Additionally, water may be tested for the presence of lead or arsenic.

  • Water test:
    • Bacteria only – comprehensive environmental scans: Generally, if your house has public water supply this is one you might want to skip. However, there are more and more negative reports about our public water supply so keep this in mind. I do recommend a basic test when you get in the house to see where you stand with items that may affect your water using the equipment.

However, if you are purchasing a house with an onsite well you are susceptible to more undesirable items being in your water. It is important to keep in mind that a water test is a very time specific. One of the disadvantages of an onsite well is that you can have good water one day and not the next

  • Mold: All you need for mold to start growing is moisture and food for mold. Mold is everywhere. Every house has some type and some amount of mold. The question is “is it the type and amount that will affect your genetic makeup?” Usually, it isn’t, but if members of your family have health concerns, the presence of mold should be considered. Mold is not part of the general home inspection but I do point out conditions that are conducive to mold and report visible mold, and if you want to test, I can provide it.

In homes built before 1978, lead-based paint may be present. Generally, if the lead-based paint is in good condition, not cracking or peeling, it is not a hazard. If the condition is hazardous, the paint will either need to be removed or sealed in such a manner as to eliminate the hazard.

You’d be hard-pressed to sell a home with such a label attached to it. And yet, many older homes in the United States might qualify. You see, prior to 1978, paints and other products containing lead were widely used in homes and offices. Chipping and peeling paint can expose occupants to this hazardous material. In addition, many older plumbing systems utilized lead-based solder to join pipes. This lead can leach into the water, especially when running hot water. In certain areas, high concentrations of lead can even be found in the ground soil.

  • Lead and asbestos were commonly used in older houses. I keep an eye out for any environmental concern and if the conditions warrant it I mention it I the report. However specific testing is not part of the general home inspection. I can take samples and send them to a certified lab for results.

Unknown in years past, it is now clear that lead causes a number of health-related problems. In children, this can include growth and learning disabilities, headaches and even brain damage. Adults are not immune either. High levels of lead have been tied to problem pregnancies, high-blood pressure, and digestive problems.

Before you buy or sell an older home, you need to know what hazards may exist. If selling, federal law stipulates that you must disclose any lead-based paint in the home. If you’re buying, you want to know what hazards may be lurking in the walls, as well as in the pipes, before you put up your earnest money. If you suspect that a house contains high levels of lead, you should contact a qualified professional to do an inspection. These tradesmen use a range of tools from the well-trained eye to complex, specialized equipment to detect lead levels and recommend appropriate solutions. The National Lead Information Center (http://www.epa.gov/lead/nlic.htm) can help you find a resource.

Many solutions exist for cleaning up lead concentrations. Depending on your situation, you may find one of these an adequate solution. Removing lead-based paint, for example, may be as much trouble as it is worth. First, just the act of stripping the paint from the walls is likely to create dust and debris which is more likely to be ingested. Given these hazards, you should consult a certified contractor to complete this kind of work. Short of removing the paint, you may be able to get by with covering the old, lead-based paint with a coat of sealant specifically designed for this purpose. Once again, a certified contractor will be able to recommend an appropriate solution. Financial assistance is even available in certain circumstances.

So even though a house may not carry a warning label from the EPA, a little common sense and a sharp eye should keep your family safe.

Another common environmental concern with the home is radon. Radon is a radioactive gas that comes from the natural decay of uranium in the soil. Pretty much all homes have some radon present, tests can determine if the level present is higher than what is considered safe. If the level is too high, a radon reduction system will need to be installed.

In older homes built more than 30 years ago, asbestos was used in many types of insulation and other building materials. If the asbestos is releasing fibers into the air, it needs to be removed or repaired by a professional contractor specializing in the asbestos cleanup. But, if the asbestos material is in good repair, and not releasing fibers, it poses no hazard and can be left alone.