Environmental facts

The information below is provided as a public service by the Environmental Protection Agency for educational purposes.

ASBESTOS

LEAD

MOLD

RADON

TERMITE

ASBESTOS

Asbestos is the name given to a number of naturally occurring, fibrous silicate minerals mined for their useful properties such as thermal insulation, chemical and thermal stability, and high tensile strength. Asbestos is commonly used as an acoustic insulator, thermal insulation, fire proofing and in other building materials. Many products are in use today that contain asbestos.

Asbestos is made up of microscopic bundles of fibers that may become airborne when asbestos-containing materials are damaged or disturbed. When these fibers get into the air they may be inhaled into the lungs, where they can cause significant health problems.

What are past and present uses of asbestos?

Cement pipes, laboratory hoods/table tops, elevator brake shoes, cement wallboard, laboratory gloves, HVAC duct insulation, cement siding, fire blankets, boiler insulation, asphalt floor tile, fire curtains, breaching insulation, vinyl floor tile, ductwork, flexible fabric connections, vinyl sheet flooring, caulking, putties, cooling towers, floor backing adhesives, pipe insulation, construction mastics, wallboard heating and electrical ducts, plaster
spackling compounds, gaskets, textured paints & coatings, roofing shingles, roofing felt, ceiling tiles and panels, base flashing, thermal paper products, spray applied insulation, fire doors, electrical cloth, blown in insulation, electrical panel partitions, fireproofing materials, taping compounds, packing materials, electric wiring insulation,
and chalkboards.


What are the health effects of asbestos exposure?

Exposure to airborne friable asbestos may result in a potential health risk because persons breathing the air may breathe in asbestos fibers. Continued exposure can increase the amount of fibers that remain in the lung. Fibers embedded in lung tissue over time may cause serious lung diseases including: asbestosis, lung cancer, or mesothelioma.

Asbestosis – Asbestosis is a serious, progressive, long-term non-cancer disease of the lungs. It is caused by inhaling asbestos fibers that irritate lung tissues and cause the tissues to scar. The scarring makes it hard for oxygen to get into the blood. Symptoms of asbestosis include shortness of breath and a dry, crackling sound in the lungs while inhaling. There is no effective treatment for asbestosis.

Lung Cancer – Lung cancer causes the largest number of deaths related to asbestos exposure. People who work in the mining, milling, manufacturing of asbestos, and those who use asbestos and its products are more likely to develop lung cancer than the general population. The most common symptoms of lung cancer are coughing and a change in breathing. Other symptoms include shortness of breath, persistent chest pains, hoarseness, and anemia. People who have been exposed to asbestos and also are exposed to some other cancer-causing product, such as cigarette smoke, have a greater risk of developing lung cancer than people who have only been exposed to asbestos.

Mesothelioma – Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that is found in the thin lining (membrane) of the lung, chest, abdomen, and heart and almost all cases are linked to exposure to asbestos. This disease may not show up until many years after asbestos exposure. This is why great efforts are being made to prevent school children from being exposed.

If you feel you may have been exposed to airborne asbestos fibers, you should consider consulting a physician with expertise in pulmonary abnormalities.

The above information is provided as a public service by the Environmental Protection Agency for educational purposes.

LEAD

Lead is a highly toxic metal that was used for many years in products found in and around our homes. Lead may cause a range of health effects, from behavioral problems and learning disabilities, to seizures and death. Children 6 years old and under are most at risk, because their bodies are growing quickly.

Research suggests that the primary sources of lead exposure for most children are:
- deteriorating lead-based paint,
- lead contaminated dust, and
- lead contaminated residential soil.

EPA is playing a major role in addressing these residential lead hazards. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 1978 there were 13.5 million children in the United States with elevated blood lead levels (i.e., 10µg/dl). By 2002, that number had dropped to 310,000 kids. While we still have a significant challenge, EPA is very proud of how federal, state, tribal, and private sector partners have coordinated efforts with the public to better protect our children.

Since the 1980's, EPA and its federal partners have phased out lead in gasoline, reduced lead in drinking water, reduced lead in industrial air pollution, and banned or limited lead used in consumer products, including residential paint. States and municipalities have set up programs to identify and treat lead poisoned children and to rehabilitate deteriorated housing. Parents, too, have greatly helped to reduce lead exposures to their children by cleaning and maintaining homes, having their children's blood lead levels checked, and promoting proper nutrition. The Agency's Lead Awareness Program continues to work to protect human health and the environment against the dangers of lead by developing regulations, conducting research, and designing educational outreach efforts and materials.

This site provides information about lead, lead hazards, and provides some simple steps to protect your family. For more specific information, and to search for and download documents use the links on the left. You can speak to an information specialist by contacting The National Lead Information Center (NLIC) at 1-800-424-LEAD (5323).

The above information is provided as a public service by the Environmental Protection Agency for educational purposes.

 

MOLD

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Introduction to Molds

Molds produce tiny spores to reproduce. Mold spores waft through the indoor and outdoor air continually. When mold spores land on a damp spot indoors, they may begin growing and digesting whatever they are growing on in order to survive. There are molds that can grow on wood, paper, carpet, and foods.  When excessive moisture or water accumulates indoors, mold growth will often occur, particularly if the moisture problem remains undiscovered or un-addressed. There is no practical way to eliminate all mold and mold spores in the indoor environment; the way to control indoor mold growth is to control moisture.

Molds can be found almost anywhere; they can grow on virtually any organic substance, as long as moisture and oxygen are present. There are molds that can grow on wood, paper, carpet, foods, and insulation. When excessive moisture accumulates in buildings or on building materials, mold growth will often occur, particularly if the moisture problem remains undiscovered or unaddressed. It is impossible to eliminate all mold and mold spores in the indoor environment. However, mold growth can be controlled indoors by controlling moisture indoors.

Mold gradually destroys the things they grow on. Prevent damage to building materials and furnishings, save money, and avoid potential health risks by controlling moisture and eliminating mold growth

mold
Extensive mold contamination
of ceiling and walls.


Molds reproduce by making spores that usually cannot be seen without magnification. Mold spores waft through the indoor and outdoor air continually. When mold spores land on a damp spot indoors, they may begin growing and digesting whatever they are growing on in order to survive. Molds gradually destroy the things they grow on.
Many types of molds exist. All molds have the potential to cause health effects. Molds can produce allergens that can trigger allergic reactions or even asthma attacks in people allergic to mold. Others are known to produce potent toxins and/or irritants. Potential health concerns are an important reason to prevent mold growth and to remediate/clean up any existing indoor mold growth.

Since mold requires water to grow, it is important to prevent moisture problems in buildings. Moisture problems can have many causes, including uncontrolled humidity. Some moisture problems in buildings have been linked to changes in building construction practices during the 1970s, 80s, and 90s. Some of these changes have resulted in buildings that are tightly sealed, but may lack adequate ventilation, potentially leading to moisture buildup. Building materials, such as drywall, may not allow moisture to escape easily. Moisture problems may include roof leaks, landscaping or gutters that direct water into or under the building, and unvented combustion appliances. Delayed maintenance or insufficient maintenance is also associated with moisture problems in large buildings. Moisture problems in portable classrooms and other temporary structures have frequently been associated with mold problems.

When mold growth occurs in buildings, adverse health problems may be reported by some building occupants, particularly those with allergies or respiratory problems. Remediators should avoid exposing themselves and others to mold-laden dusts as they conduct their cleanup activities. Caution should be used to prevent mold and mold spores from being dispersed throughout the air where they can be inhaled by building occupants.

Basic Mold Cleanup


The key to mold control is moisture control. It is important to dry water damaged areas and items within 24-48 hours to prevent mold growth. If mold is a problem in your home, clean up the mold and get rid of the excess water or moisture. Fix leaky plumbing or other sources of water. Wash mold off hard surfaces with detergent and water, and dry completely. Absorbent materials (such as ceiling tiles & carpet) that become moldy may have to be replaced.

Moisture Control
Water in your home can come from many sources. Water can enter your home by leaking or by seeping through basement floors. Showers or even cooking can add moisture to the air in your home. The amount of moisture that the air in your home can hold depends on the temperature of the air. As the temperature goes down, the air is able to hold less moisture. This is why, in cold weather, moisture condenses on cold surfaces (for example, drops of water form on the inside of a window). This moisture can encourage biological pollutants to grow.

Moisture problems and their solutions differ from one climate to another. The Northeast is cold and wet; the Southwest is hot and dry; the South is hot and wet; and the Western Mountain states are cold and dry. All of these regions can have moisture problems. For example, evaporative coolers used in the Southwest can encourage the growth of biological pollutants. In other hot regions, the use of air conditioners which cool the air too quickly may prevent the air conditioners from running long enough to remove excess moisture from the air. The types of construction and weatherization for the different climates can lead to different problems and solutions.

For more information, read the EPA's A Brief Guide to Mold, Moisture, and Your Home.

The above information is provided as a public service by the Environmental Protection Agency for educational purposes.

 

RADON

Radon:  The Hazard with a Simple Solution
Radon is a cancer-causing natural radioactive gas that you can’t see, smell or taste. Its presence in your home can pose a danger to your family's health. Radon is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in America and claims about 20,000 lives annually.  Learn how you can protect your family.

Heed The Warning:  EPA's New Media Campaign

EPA has released a new Public Service media campaign for radon. The campaign features the U.S. Surgeon General's warning that radon causes lung cancer and that you should test your home. These TV, radio and print PSA materials are available in English and Spanish.

Test Your Home for Radon - It's Easy and Inexpensive
The U.S. Surgeon General and EPA recommend that all homes be tested.   Fix your home if you have a radon level of 4 pCi/L or more [En Español].  Discounted radon test kits are available from the National Safety Council (or call 1-800-SOS-RADON).  Some home improvement stores sell test kits.  To find a qualified testing or mitigation contractor, contact your state radon office (see our list of state contacts) or either of the private radon proficiency programs.

Read "A Citizen's Guide To Radon"
Also read the: "Home Buyer's and Seller's Guide to Radon" [En Español]


TERMITE

In general a homeowner's insurance policy does not cover destruction caused by termites. It’s important that homeowners realize the damage that can be caused and take precautions by getting a specific pest inspection and regular check ups.

Subterranean termites are by far the most common type of termite and have been estimated to cause over 90% of all termite damage in the U.S. in excess of 1.5 billion dollars annually.  This variety of termite is found throughout the U.S. and is commonly found in the southern and pacific coastal areas.  While subterranean termites are often found in homes they actually live in the soil and use the home for a food source.  Because they burrow into the wooden structures to obtain food they are not easily detected and damage often goes unnoticed. Any wood or cellulose-containing material constitutes termite food, and eventually, they’ll eat until nothing is left. Termites avoid light and air and build their colonies elsewhere.

Below are the features that distinguish termites from ants which can look similar.

Subterranean Termites

termites
Subterranean Termite Colony

termite colony

Ants have narrow waists with bent antennae and two pair of wings that differ in size. Termites have thicker waists, straight antennae, and two pair of wings that are the same size.

 

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