Whether you make your home in the heart of a city or in a big suburb, there are certain dangers that have nothing to do with crime rates, economics, or the latest disease (read: Zika). Sometimes the most dangerous threats to our well-being are not obvious. Such is the case with things like lead paint, mold, asbestos, carbon monoxide, and formaldehyde can be harmless under normal circumstances, but become dangerous when they are exposed, or when they accumulate in a residential setting.
Not all buildings have these problems. And hopefully, your own co-op or condo board is aware of the risks and how to mitigate them. If not, you may want to have your unit inspected.
Leading the list of environmental hazards is lead paint. Used mainly in older buildings, it was banned in the late ‘70s when lead paint chips were linked to developmental delays, behavioral issues, and other serious health problems for babies and young children.
“In its heyday, lead paint was promoted as the wonder paint,” says Lee Wasserman, president of the LEW Corporation, an environmental consulting firm based in Mountainside, New Jersey. “It had good durability, it would kill fungi. Homes that were built before 1950 have a 69 percent probability of having lead somewhere inside them. Those that were built between 1950 and ‘60s, it’s 30 percent, and from 1960 to ’70, it dramatically drops off.”
James Stump, the owner of Seagull Environmental Training in Fort Lauderdale, adds that “lead-based paint has been basically illegal for residential purposes since 1978, but as much as 51% of our housing in the United States is pre-’78. The older the dwelling is, the more likely the paint is to have lead and the concentrations of lead will be higher the further you go back.”
Another common residential toxin is Asbestos. Asbestos was widely used as a fire retardant until the late 1970s, although reports that it caused illness were issued as early as the 1920s. To this day, you can find older wooden houses with asbestos shingles. “Asbestos was banned in maybe 3 or 4 materials, two of them in the 70’s and one in 1989, and as far as the rest of building products coming into this country there’s no law saying they cannot contain asbestos,” says Scott Russell, the president of Environmental Safety Consultants, Inc., which has offices in Bradenton and Clearwater.
For most of the time, asbestos was used as insulation and is under the surface. But when renovation or construction work exposes the asbestos, it becomes a serious problem.