Angie's List | 3 hidden toxins in the home

Consumers may not realize but there are potential dangers in your home. The common toxins we hear about are mold, radon and asbestos.

Mold, Asbestos and Radon can all be harmful to the health of your family if not taken care of right away and correctly. Some mold issues can be taken care of by the homeowner, but if you are not sure call a Mold Remediation company. If your home has high levels of Radon you will need to consult with a Radon Detection & Reduction contractor and to handle asbestos contact an asbestos removal company.

Identifying these toxins can be hard so if you have any suspicions of them in your home you should call someone to test right away. When hiring, be sure to use an independent lab to test the results so there is no conflict of interest.

"There is a minimal level of mold in every house and a lot of times you might find it in your bathroom or your basement, but the key here is keeping it at a minimal level and if you find that you have more mold you want to have it taken care of right away. One member even said that she found mold underneath her couch. First thing you want to do is have your house tested by an independent tester who sends it to a lab to have the results analyzed." advises Angie Hicks.

Mike Honan a Mold/Asbestos Abatement Contractor says, "Generally there are two ways that a homeowner notices mold, either through visual or smell. Generally, mold puts off an odor so you will smell it. Visually, obviously if you are walking throughout your home and you see it. Everyone knows what mold looks like so it's pretty typical that those are the two ways."

Laboratory Manager Betsie Trammell gives us this advice about how to test for mold, "The easiest way is a tape-lift and that is something were we can send you a specific type of material and then you would press it directly on that mold and send that back to us. It's 35 dollars and it's called a tape lift sample and that's if you see some mold visable."

"Typically, there are options where they can actually remove the mold themselves. It depends on the situation, but the majority of the time they should seek some help because once you disturb the mold then the spores tend to spread so we are trying to control that environment. The homeowner in small situations, if the mold is not too prevalent, then they can do the clean-up themselves," Mike Honan explains.

Homeowner Rebecca Shopp visited with us about her experience with mold in her home. Rebecca recalls, "When it first happened I was not as concerned because it was such a small area that got moldy, but then when I had it patched and a few months later found mushrooms in the carpet is when I realized it was a much larger area and it got to the point where it was growing mushrooms then I was more concerned. I had a company come out test and they went into the crawlspace,- I had not gone into the crawlspace and I don't want to go into the crawlspace, that's when they found a lot more mold than I was expecting. Once I knew how much there was then I was really concerned."

Rebecca continues, "They found that it was into the wall and I had not anticipated that. I knew that the floor was affected because I could tell that and that is where the mold was growing. I didn't realize until they did some kind of water level test where they can point and click a special tool and they can tell how much moisture content is in the wall. That is when they found that it had gone up and affected the insulation. I didn't realize there was mold in there."

After the mold was remediated Rebecca says, "The advice that they gave me to prevent mold from occurring is really check the foundation from the outside visually inspect it every year. Check the roof line and make sure that all the shingles are in place. They also recommended that I encapsulate the crawl space."

Radon is an odorless, colorless gas that is caused by the breakdown of uranium in the earth and it can actually seep into your home so it's important to have your home tested for radon and if it reads too high you need to have a mitigation system because if you don't it can lead to health problems. In particular, radon is the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers.

The best method to collect a sample is a short-term test. It is the quickest, cheapest and most reliable way to test and that is going to give you a snap shot  of the radon in your home. It's going to give you a base line for whether your level was low or high. With those results you can do further testing or do mitigation as needed.

"Radon testing can cost anywhere from 20-25 dollars and that includes everything and also we will give you some information about what your results mean," says laboratory manager Betsie Trammell.

Asbestos is a harmful toxin and it was most often used in insulation and construction materials prior to the 1980's. So if your house is built before 1980 your home might be at risk and the only way to discover whether your home has asbestos is to have your home tested.

As a homeowner, you have the opportunity to have your home inspected for asbestos. It is recommended that you utilize a local consultant, home inspector that can actual take samples of suspect materials. You are not able to look at materials and understand if it contains asbestos or not.

"As long as the material is in good condition it can usually stay in place. Generally, we don't recommend removal unless there is 1) a renovation occurring or 2) the material is delaminating or falling apart. In that situation you would call in the professionals, but if the material is in good condition we recommend just to leave it," recommends Abatement Contractor Mike Honan.

Specifics on the 3 common household toxins:

1.      Mold – Mold is everywhere, and left unchecked, it can destroy your home. Health effects can range from general congestions and eye irritation to shortness of breath and serious mold infections of the lungs. Mold removal can present other dangers from improper ventilation to the mixing of toxic chemicals.

·         Mold comes in a variety of colors including white, brown, orange, green and black. Mold often has a furry look or resembles a stringy slime, but certain molds can also have a powdery-look. Black mold is considered to be the most dangerous type of mold found in homes.

·         Mold can grow at an extremely fast pace. A mold colony can form in as little as 48 hours from the initial contact a mold spore makes with a surface.

·         Test your home's air for mold after the remediation is done, sample both inside and outside your home at the same time.

·         Mold is a moisture problem and in order to rid your house of mold you need to find out what is causing it and fix that problem to prevent any future mold problems.

·         Not all mold damage is covered by your homeowner's insurance policy. Check your policy because coverage and limitations vary.

·         Tackle clean up yourself if you have less than 10 square feet of mold damage.


2.      Radon – This radioactive, colorless, odorless gas is second-leading cause of lung cancer, and accounts for 21,000 deaths in the U.S. each year. Radon results from the breakdown of uranium inside the earth. It enters the home through cracks in floors and walls and becomes trapped inside, building up over time.

·         Common entry points for radon include:

o   Foundation cracks

o   Construction joints

o   Gaps found in suspended flooring

o   Unsealed spaces around service pipes

o   Wall cracks

o   Cavity holes inside of walls

o   Water supply sources

·         The Environmental Protection Agency estimates 1 in 15 homes in the United States are affected by high levels of radon.

·         Radon is measured in "picocuries" per liter of air (pCi/L).  A picocurie is one-trillionth of a "curie," which is the radioactivity of one gram of radon.  According to the EPA, the typical home has a radon reading of 1.3 pCi/L, while levels above 4 pCi/L are considered dangerous.

·         Radon detection kits are sold at your local hardware store for about $25.

·         Radon control systems normally take one day to install. Cost generally ranges from $700-$1,500.


3.      Asbestos – Exposure to asbestos can cause different forms of cancer and scarring of the lungs. It was commonly used in buildings prior to the 1970s because of its fire resistant qualities. Proper removal of deteriorating asbestos is tricky and expensive.

·         Asbestos in good condition should be left alone; it's most dangerous when particles become airborne.

·         Homeowners should note that older appliances opened up for repair may release asbestos fibers. Even recently made barbecue mitts, protective aprons and gloves may contain asbestos. These items should be discarded when damaged.

·         The Environmental Protection Agency advises homeowners to avoid hiring a tester and correction contractor from the same company to avoid conflict of interest.

·         When work is being done in an area containing asbestos, the affected area is sealed off from the rest of the home with duct tape and plastic sheeting, and the air conditioning and heating systems are turned off. Home residents and pets are kept from the area until the project is complete.

·         The few products still made that contain asbestos must be labeled. They include:

o   Insulation

o   Roofing and siding shingles

o   Textured paint and in patching compounds

o   Artificial ashes and embers sold for use in gas-fired fireplaces

o   Stove-top pads and walls and flooring materials used around woodburning stoves

o   Vinyl floor tiles and the backing on vinyl sheet flooring and adhesives; and

o   Insulation around hot water and steam pipes, and oil and coal furnaces and   door gaskets

If you are concerned your home has one of these toxins the first step is to actually have your home tested. The key here is to have someone test it who is an independent and the test is going to be sent off to a lab to be analyzed. You don't want the same person test it be the person who is actually going to fix the problem. Second is to find a licensed professional to handle the mitigation.

Angie's six steps to hiring reliable help for any toxic removal:

  1. Determine if your state requires contractors to be licensed for the work you need done.
  2. Hire only contractors who are licensed and/or certified to handle household toxins, and can prove their qualifications for your specific need.
  3. Determine what steps your contractor will use to ensure the work won't further spread the problem.
  4. If your contractor doesn't talk to you about the concerns the toxin poses, doesn't have a containment plan or isn't aware of the dangers the work can create, hire someone else.
  5. Get more than one estimate for the work; require follow-up and a guarantee for the work.
  6. Get and check references, using people who've worked with the professional before, and check Angie's List for even more insight.



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