Frequently Asked Questions

The following questions and answers are provided solely as a courtesy for informational purposes. If you believe you are dealing with a potentially toxic building material, mold, meth, or other contaminant please contact a certified professional or your local Health Department before disturbing the material.

The information contained here should in no way be considered comprehensive or authoritative.

Asbestos Questions:

What is Asbestos?

Asbestos is the name given to a group of six different fibrous minerals that occur naturally in the environment. Asbestos fibers are too small to be seen by the naked eye. They do not dissolve in water or evaporate. They are resistant to heat, fire, and chemical or biological degradation.

Asbestos is also used in many commercial products, including insulation, brake linings, and roofing shingles.

What are the types of asbestos?

The two general types of asbestos are chrysotile (serpentine) and amosite (amphibole). Chrysotile asbestos has long flexible fibers. This type of asbestos is most commonly used in commercial products. Amphibole fibers are brittle, have a rod or needle shape, and are common in industrial products. Exposure to both types of asbestos increases the likelihood of developing asbestos-related diseases. They also are thought to increase the likelihood of illness, especially mesothelioma, to a greater extent than chrysotile asbestos.

What is asbestos exposure?

Asbestos exposure results from breathing asbestos fibers. If rocks, soil, or products containing asbestos are disturbed, they can release asbestos fibers into the air. When fibers are inhaled into your lungs they remain there for a lifetime.

What household building materials contain asbestos?

In residential and commercial buildings, asbestos-containing products included drywall and plaster wall finishes; spray-on finishes including textures, stucco, popcorn ceiling, and fireproofing; linoleum and vinyl floor tile finishes; mastics, glues, and caulks; asphalt shingles, roofing, and tarpaper products; and thermal insulation on boilers, water and steam piping, and heating ducts.

At the bottom of ACM's Asbestos Page a table showing many of the materials in which asbestos was used is listed. This list is not comprehensive but should provide a guideline for materials suspected of containing asbestos.

Lead Questions:

What is lead?

Lead is a toxic metal that was used for many years in products found in and around our homes. Lead also can be emitted into the air from motor vehicles and industrial sources and lead can enter drinking water from plumbing materials. Lead-based paint is present in many homes built before 1978. The federal government banned the use of lead-based paint in consumer products in 1978. To learn more about lead, visit www.epa.gov/lead.

Where is lead found?

Many homes built before 1978 have lead-based paint. In general, the older your home, the more likely it has lead-based paint. Soil around a home can contain lead from sources like deteriorated exterior paint, past use of leaded gas in cars, or from past renovation activities. Household dust can pick up lead from deteriorating lead-based paint, from past renovation projects, or from soil tracked into a home. If you work with lead, you could bring it home on your hands or clothes. It is important to shower and change clothes before going home. Launder your work clothes separately from the rest of your family's clothes.

I thought lead-based paint had been phased out. How many homes still contain lead-based paint?

HUD’s National Survey of Lead and Allergens in Housing estimated that 38 million permanently occupied housing units (40% of all housing units) in the United States contain some lead-based paint that was applied before the residential use of lead-based paint was banned in 1978. “Housing units” include single-family homes, manufactured housing, and multi-unit dwellings like apartments. Vacant housing, group quarters (e.g., prisons, hospitals, and dormitories), hotels, motels, and other short-term housing, military bases, and housing where children are not permitted to live (e.g., housing designated exclusively for the elderly and those with zero-bedroom units) are not included in this number. More information on these statistics is available from HUD.

What are some of the health effects of lead?

Lead is known to cause a range of health effects from behavioral problems and learning disabilities to seizures and death. Children six years old and under are most at risk from exposure lead-based paint because they crawl on the floor and they put their hands and other items which can have lead-based paint dust on them into their mouths. Because their bodies are still growing, children tend to absorb more lead than adults.

Children exposed to lead can suffer from:

  • Lowered IQ
  • Damage to the brain and nervous system
  • Learning and behavioral difficulties
  • Slowed growth
  • Hearing problems
  • Headaches

Adults can suffer from:
  • Reproductive problems (in both men and women)
  • High blood pressure and hypertension
  • Nerve disorders
  • Memory and concentration problems
  • Muscle and joint pain

To learn more about health effects of lead, visit http://www.epa.gov/lead/pubs/leadinfo.htm#health

Mold Questions:

How can mold affect me?

Health effects associated with airborne mold exposure are allergic reactions, eye and respiratory irritation, infection, and toxicity. About 10% of the population is allergic to one or more types of mold. Many of these people will be affected by outdoor as well as indoor exposures to mold.

Respiratory mold infection (growth in the lungs) can occur, but is rare. Occurrence is limited almost exclusively to immune-compromised patients, including those with transplants, chemotherapy, AIDS, neonates, etc. Toxicity is related to the ability of some molds to produce mycotoxins. There is not sufficient evidence to link health effects to indoor exposure to airborne mycotoxins, although ingestion of moldy food with mycotoxins has resulted in illness. Anyone suspecting they are ill from mold exposure should seek treatment and advice from a medical doctor. It should also be noted that other factors can influence indoor air quality such as other organisms, chemicals such as solvents and pesticides, or gases such as carbon monoxide. Such factors may warrant consideration in some cases. If you experience health symptoms you should see a physician.

When is mold considered toxic?

The term "toxic mold" is misleading. Molds may produce substances called mycotoxins that modify their environment. Some of these substances are useful as antibiotics; but others are potentially harmful, especially if eaten. However, there is little evidence that breathing mycotoxins in mold-contaminated buildings represents a health hazard. The American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine states: "Current scientific evidence does not support the proposition that human health has been adversely affected by inhaled mycotoxins in the home, school, or office environment." One mold, Stachybotrys, is frequently singled out. Initially thought related to cases of a lung disease called idiopathic pulmonary hemosiderosis among infants, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control has stated: "In a further review of our first investigation, CDC reviewers and an external panel of experts determined that there was insufficient evidence of any association between exposure to S. atra or other toxic fungi and idiopathic pulmonary hemosiderosis in infants." Current guidance of federal and professional organizations is that mold growth should be controlled in an appropriate manner, regardless of the type of mold.

Can mold affect people with asthma?

A person with asthma who is sensitive to molds could have an asthma attack triggered by either indoor or outdoor exposures. With respect to allergy, the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM) states, "While indoor molds are well-recognized allergens, outdoor molds are more generally important." A physician should be consulted if mold exposure may be a concern.

For people with asthma, a common health strategy is to avoid exposure by minimizing the amount of dust in the home. Humidity control is also very important. ACOEM supports indoor moisture control and the broad array of indoor respiratory challenges it affects. Moisture control is also strongly supported by the National Academy of Sciences as outlined in its report Damp Indoor Spaces and Health.

How can I respond to a mold problem?

The first step is to identify and repair the moisture problem. Mold will not grow unless sufficient moisture is present. Small amounts of mold growing on visible surfaces can usually be easily cleaned by the homeowner. Care must be taken to control dust related to the cleaning and repair efforts. Larger amounts of mold may require more extensive evaluation, repair or replacement, and dust control. Professional assistance may also be necessary.

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