For some a good home inspection report and walking through a home and breathing in that "just been cleaned" smell is enough to satisfy their concerns.
However, for many of us, the hidden dangers in a homes air and furnishings can be dangerous.
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
VOC's are emitted as gases from certain solids or liquids. VOCs include a variety of chemicals, some of which may have short- and long-term adverse health effects. Concentrations of many VOCs are consistently higher indoors (up to ten times higher) than outdoors. VOCs are emitted by a wide array of products numbering in the thousands.
Organic chemicals are widely used as ingredients in household products. Paints, varnishes and wax all contain organic solvents, as do many cleaning, disinfecting, cosmetic, degreasing and hobby products. Fuels are made up of organic chemicals. All of these products can release organic compounds while you are using them, and, to some degree, when they are stored.
The EPA's Office of Research and Development's "Total Exposure Assessment Methodology (TEAM) Study" (Volumes I through IV, completed in 1985) found levels of about a dozen common organic pollutants to be 2 to 5 times higher inside homes than outside, regardless of whether the homes were located in rural or highly industrial areas. TEAM studies indicated that while people are using products containing organic chemicals, they can expose themselves and others to very high pollutant levels, and elevated concentrations can persist in the air long after the activity is completed.
Microbial Volatile Organic Compounds
(MVOCs) are gases produced by mold. The musty odor which you might smell from mold is caused by MVOCs. These odors are actually chemicals which are produced my molds during some parts of the mold's growth cycle.
Laboratory experiments have identified over 200 compounds as MVOCs. They are commonly made up of strong chemicals such as aldehydes, benzenes, tulolenes and many more.
Some molds produce different MVOCs depending on conditions such as how much moisture is available and what material the mold is growing on. However MVOCs are only produced when mold is actively growing (which depends on certain conditions such as humidity, temperature, air pressure and light.
MVOCs can cause symptoms like headaches, nausea, dizziness and fatigue. MVOCs may also irritate the eyes and the mucus membranes of the nose and throat.
Undetected growing mold can cause both health and structural problems. In addition to the presence of health problems from inhalation of mold, serious structural damage can occur if mold is present. Leaky pipes, poorly working or dirty air conditioning and heating systems, and ground water penetration in basements and other damp areas are all potential sources of actively growing mold. Often this mold goes undetected because it’s growing behind drywall or underneath flooring.
Major Health Effects of Formaldehyde Exposure
Health effects vary depending on the individual. Common symptoms of acute exposure include irritation of the throat, nose, eyes, and skin; this irritation can potentially exacerbate asthma symptoms and other respiratory illnesses. Long term, or chronic, exposure may also cause chronic runny nose, chronic bronchitis, and obstructive lung disease. In 2004, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) reclassified formaldehyde from "probably carcinogenic to humans" to "carcinogenic to humans" related to nasopharyngeal cancer. Since many factors are involved in the development of cancer, no definitive "safe level" of exposure has been established. The best way to reduce the risk of cancer is to limit exposure.
There are many possible sources for formaldehyde in a home.
Building products typically make up a large proportion of the concentration. Any recent renovation or new materials brought into the home is likely to increase the formaldehyde levels. The concentration will decrease over time as the materials off gas, so increasing the ventilation as much as possible is typically the best way to quickly decrease the formaldehyde in your home after recent renovation or installation of new materials.
Tobacco Residue Dangers
In 2010, information about a multi-institutional study that was led by researchers from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory was released. The research looked into health dangers associated with third-hand smoke. Third-hand smoke refers to the residues left behind on most surfaces and objects after second-hand smoke has cleared.
The study found that nicotine can remain on the surface of carpets, furniture, floors, walls and other materials for up to months after it was deposited. The study also found that nicotine residues could react with ambient nitrous acid and form carcinogenic tobacco-specific nitrosamines (TSNAs).
According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), “Nicotine is a naturally occurring toxic chemical found in tobacco plants. It has a fishy odor when warm. Cigarettes, cigars, other tobacco products, and tobacco smoke contain nicotine. Worker exposure may occur during processing and extraction of tobacco. At one time, nicotine was used in the United States as an insecticide and fumigant; however, it is no longer produced or used in this country for this purpose. Nicotine affects the nervous system and the heart.”
Radon Gas Level Testing
Radon is a gas that you cannot smell, taste or see. Radon forms naturally when uranium, thorium, or radium, (radioactive metals) breaks down in rocks, soil and groundwater. People can be exposed to radon primarily from breathing radon in air that comes through cracks and gaps in buildings and homes. Because radon comes naturally from the earth, people are always exposed to it.
When you breathe in radon, radioactive particles from radon gas can get trapped in your lungs. Over time, these radioactive particles increase the risk of lung cancer. It may take years before health problems appear.
Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer after cigarette smoking. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Surgeon General’s office estimate radon is responsible for more than 20,000 lung cancer deaths each year in the U.S.
People who smoke and are exposed to radon are at a greater risk of developing lung cancer. EPA recommends taking action to reduce radon in homes that have a radon level at or above 4 picocuries per liter (pCi/L) of air (a “picocurie” is a common unit for measuring the amount of radioactivity).
The chances of getting lung cancer are higher if your home has elevated radon levels and you smoke or burn fuels that increase indoor particles.
Sometimes you just can't assume it's ok. Our Ultimate Home Health Awareness Inspection package includes testing for:
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