A mineral fiber commonly used in building materials. EPA and Consumer Products Safety Commission have banned the use and manufacturers have voluntarily limited the use of asbestos. Surface use was banned in 1978. However, manufacturers were allowed to sell existing stocks of products.
Surface uses include fire proofing coat sprayed on steel beams in buildings, acoustic ‘cottage cheese’ ceilings, plaster, spackling and joint compound, ceiling texturing material, steam pipe and boiler jacketing, building wrap, heating duct joint tape, pot holders, hot gloves, gas fireplace glow coals (banned in 1974).
Asbestos can also be found in floor tiles, floor covering backing, electrical insulation, brake shoes, clutch plates, fire liners, V-belts, gaskets, roofing, and mastics. These uses were eliminated at later dates with the last in the early 1990’s.
The presence of asbestos containing materials cannot be detected without microscopic examination. Asbestos becomes airborne by sanding, cutting, removal and other remodeling activities and in the case of pipe insulation and duct tape by mechanical damage and deterioration with age.
If your home was built before or near 1978, and if you will have materials that will be disturbed by construction or remodeling, test for asbestos before starting work. If you have steam heating system older than 1978, you most likely have asbestos.
Health Effects: The most dangerous fibers are too small to be visible. They pass through standard vacuum cleaner bags. The primary hazard comes from inhalation or ingestion. Asbestos causes cancer of the lungs, chest and abdominal linings. Symptoms do not show up until many years after exposure.
Identification and Abatement: Proper removal and handling is a must. Once your home is contaminated, clean up will be expensive and your family’s health could be irreparably damaged. Improper, unlicensed disposal is a criminal offense.
Only licensed specialists may identify, remove and dispose of asbestos containing materials. Look in the yellow pages under Asbestos Consulting & Testing and Asbestos Abatement & Removal Service. Do not use the same firm for identification and abatement. Make sure the contract covers post abatement testing to assure the cleanup job was done right.
Biological contaminants include fungi (mold, mildew), bacteria, virus, animal dander, cat saliva, cockroach parts and feces, pollens, dust mites parts and their feces. The natural environment contains all of these materials.
There are numerous sources for these contaminants. For example, pollens originate from plants, and trees. Viruses are transmitted by people and animals. Bacteria cohabitate with people, animals and plants both inside and outside their bodies. Household pets and pests are a source of dander and saliva. Protein in rat and mice urine becomes a potent airborne allergen when it dries. Wet building materials and contaminated air conditioning systems can become breeding grounds for bacterial and fungi.
Health Effects: People having excessive exposures to these contaminates or having weakened immune systems may have reactions to any of these biological materials. Some contaminants cause allergic reactions including hypersensitivity pneumonitis, allergic rhinitis and asthma. Other contaminants transmit infectious diseases like influenza, measles and chickenpox. Some biologicals like certain fungi produce toxins (mycotoxins) as a by-product of living.
Reactions can include: sneezing, watery eyes, coughing, shortness of breath, dizziness, lethargy, fever, digestive problems, joint problems, lung damage.
Some allergic reactions occur immediately after exposure. Other times reactions are the result of previous exposure so the person can not easily connect the cause with the effect. Some people experience a sensitizing event that leaves them highly reactive to contaminants they had no reaction to before. Frequently after the event these people are reactive to a range of contaminants which may not have bothered them before.
Children, the elderly and people with breathing problems or lung disease are particularly susceptible to these contaminants.
Identification and Abatement: Find and eliminate the cause of damp conditions. Clean and sanitize the affected areas. Fungi are normally microscopic. If you can see the growth the infestation is advanced. Use appropriate protective equipment (respirator, disposable coveralls, gloves) before handling or, cleaning up infestations.
Sanitize infected areas with I cup bleach to a gallon of water or use 35 volume beautician grade hydrogen peroxide mixed with water. Use eye goggles and rubber gloves. Products with a residual prevention effect are available see the resource sheet.
Lead is found in older, oil based paints, glazes on dinnerware, bullets and fishing sinkers, soldered cans, printing inks, plumbing fixtures, stained glass, and cosmetics. Lead was in gasoline for many years resulting in contamination of the soil. This soil tracked into the home ends up in carpeting and will be stirred into the air by foot traffic. Lead in water is addressed in the water section.
Two thirds of homes built before 1940, one third of homes built from 1940 to 1960 and an unknown number built from 1960 to 1978 contain paint with lead. Lead in paint was banned by the EPA in 1978.
Lead paint was primarily used for interior trim and for exterior painting because of superior durability. Lead paint becomes hazardous when it chips, peels or is sanded since it may then be ingested or inhaled. Window sashes painted with lead paint generate lead dust when opened and closed. This accumulates on the sills. Lead from exterior siding washed into the soil surrounding older homes and can be found there at high levels.
Lead in pottery and dinnerware glazing is still prevalent.
Health Effects: Lead is toxic even at low levels. The body normally contains no lead. Today lead level in many people is already significant. Lead can cause serious damage to brain, kidneys, peripheral nervous system. The effects of lead include delays in physical and mental development, lower IQ, shortened attention span and increased behavior problems.
Fetuses, infants, and children are most at risk. The effect of a given amount of lead is more serious for children because of lower body weight. Children have higher exposures because they get lead dust on their hands or eat lead chips that taste sweet. A hair analysis or blood test can identify exposure.
Structural Identification and Abatement: This work can be done only by certified lead specialists. Check your yellow pages under Lead Testing and Consulting. Never use the same firm for both identification and remediation. This is a conflict of interest. Check under Lead Removal & Abatement for help in containing or removing the lead.
Naturally occurring radioactivity is found in greater quantity in some areas of the country than others. We account for this by taking radiation readings both outdoors and indoors and calculating the percentage change. Indoor readings are normally his/her due to the unknowing use of radioactive building materials such as gypsum board, granite, slate, and concrete products containing such materials. Some increase in radioactivity is permissible.
Artists have unknowingly used radioactive glazes on ceramic items. Shower tiles have been discovered with radioactive glazes. Strange as it may seem companies have been granted permission to make smoke detectors and compact (energy efficient) fluorescent lights using small amounts of potent radioactive waste. Safe alternatives to these products are available.
Please note: Radioactive products are hazardous waste and must be disposed of properly at a household hazardous waste facility.
Radon gas, which produces radioactive substances, is covered in a separate section.
Health Effects: A great deal of research exists detailing the numerous detrimental health effects of excess radiation exposure. The form radio activity takes is that of high energy particles or rays. This energy is released when the particle or ray strikes a living cell. The energy can cause damage to the cell’s machinery. Sometimes this damage is manifest as leukemia or other cancers.
A naturally occurring colorless, odorless gas that comes out of the ground, seeps elements, and moves upstairs. It can be found in soils and rocks containing uranium, graphite, granite, shale, phosphate, and pitchblende.
Radon decays into a radioactive elements known as radon daughters. Daughters float around in the air attached to dust particles. When breathed in the particles find their way into the bronchial air passages and stick to the surface. There they stay to irradiate the surrounding cells.
In parts of the country. The house next door may not have it. Fixing this is typically $200-$1500.00.
Health Effects: Radon is second only to smoking as a cause of lung cancer. Breathing in 4 picoCuries/L (pCi/L) of radon is equated to smoking half a pack of cigarettes per day. In other words two people in a community of 100 would be expected to die at this level of inhalation. The EPA says that radon is responsible for 16,000 deaths per year in the US. The effect of radon exposure is longer term as it does not normally make people feel poorly on a day to day basis.
Interpreting Test Results: An inexpensive test for radon is available at your option. It requires 2 to 4 days. Follow the directions and mail the container to a lab and the results will be mailed back to you.
Outdoor levels are in the range of 0.3 – 0.7 pCi/L The EPA limit for radon is 4(pCi/L). This means that action should be taken to remove the radon. The average home level is 1.5 pCi/L. However, no level of radon is considered safe. Removal systems typically achieve a level in the range of 0.3 to 0.7pCi/L.
When building a new home action should always be taken to prevent radon from entering the basement by putting a rubber seal between the slab and the block walls. Underlay the slab with a plastic sheet. Place six inches of gravel below the plastic sheet. A sub-slab mechanical ventilation system can be added at low cost and gives much better assurance that no radon will ever enter the basement. This is an asset at resale.
Natural gas, propane gas, and sewer (methane) gas, formaldehyde and other volatile organic compounds (VOC) and gases from combustion are some of the common toxic gas exposures. The source of fuel gas is leaking pipe fittings, gas valves and defective control equipment. Sewer gas can be emitted from unused drains when the water in the drain elbow has evaporated and no longer blocks the fumes as intended. Formaldehyde gas is given off by a wide variety of building products such as plywood, chip board, particle board, drywall, sealants, calking, carpet padding and paint, as well as treated fabrics. This gas can be pervasive in homes up to 10 years old. Other materials can emit dozens of different VOCS. Examples are: paints, solvents, dry cleaning, pesticides, sealants, glues, mastics, carpets, household cleaning products. Combustion gases, created when fuel (gas, wood, kerosene, coal) is burned can back up from the stack venturi due to poor air flow up the exhaust stack or back drafts from winds.
Testing for specific VOCs is quite expensive and is not recommended unless there is evidence of a problem. Blood and urine tests can detect exposure to many of these organic compounds.
Health Effects: Blurred vision, headaches, nausea, dizziness, coughing, burning eyes, sinus irritation, skin rashes, respiratory illness, light-headedness, concentration problems, depression, and in extreme cases loss of consciousness, and suffocation.
Unbag dry cleaning and air out in the garage for a day.
Check household cleaning products for phrase “use in well ventilated area” then replace with safe products. (See Resources Sheet).
Use no VOC paint from Benjamin-Moore or Kelly-Moore. Other companies have low VOC-emitting paints.
Avoid vinyl products like shower curtains, wall paper and floor coverings.
Choose carpet and padding that have a low smell level. Have the carpet aired out before installing. (See Resource for HD padding).
Run water occasionally into seldom used sinks and floor drains to keep gas trap filled.
The EPA ranks drinking water pollution as one of the top five environmental threats to health.
Public water from surface run off does contain hazards to health such as heavy metals (like lead), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), pesticides, nitrates (from fertilizer run off), bacteria, viruses and parasites (cysts). Fluoride and chlorine are intentionally added, but have negative health effects. Chlorine reacts with organic matter to produce dangerous by- products. Asbestos fibers are introduced by 200,000 miles of asbestos pipes.
42 million people in the US consume water with unsafe levels of lead and copper. The EPA considers lead and copper in water to be a primary health threat. EPA testing done in 1992 showed many public water systems exceeded the 5 ppb maximum for lead. Lead levels as small as 5 ppb have been shown to cause health problems in children. Lead is leached from older lead distribution pipes and from lead solder in fittings in your plumbing system. So lead can be added to the water before and after the water gets to your house. Lead solder was banned in 1978.
Studies in Canada show people are less sick when they drink correctly purified water. Reports of illness from parasites and virus in public water are on the increase.
Well water can be contaminated with some of the above and can contain radon too.
Heavy metals (arsenic, cadmium, mercury, lead,) are associated with increased disease susceptibility, birth defects, nerve damage, mental retardation, certain cancers. Chlorine and pesticides are meant to kill biological organisms and as a biological organism ourselves, these aren without effect. THMS and chlorine by-products are carcinogenic. Fluoridation has been stopped in Europe because of negative health consequences. See the webpage on fluoride.
Recommendations: All drinking and cooking water should be purified to remove the six contamination (groups. Bathing water should be filtered to remove chlorine and its by-products, fluoride, and VOCs since the skin, the body’s largest organ, is permeable to these volatile chemicals.
A private water supply should be tested annually. Well water also should be checked for radon. Spring water sources that are vented to the atmosphere do not need to be tested for radon.
Plumbing was installed before 1988 may have lead solder. It was banned after this time.
Low Frequency Electromagnetic Fields
Electricity produces both magnetic and electric fields. These together are termed EMF. Magnetic fields are present when current flows to power appliances and lights. Electric fields are present at all times and are produced by the wiring in the walls, floors and ceilings and wires to appliances, etc. EMF cannot be sensed by most people, hence measurements must be made to find and reduce the fields.
Health Effects:AC Magnetic field exposure causes longer term health problems. A 1992 Swedish epidemiological study of 436,000 people reported children exposed to fields more than one milligauss had twice the risk of leukemia than did children with exposure less than one milligauss. For fields more than two milligauss the risk was three times; and over three milligauss four times the risk.(1) Adults exposed to fields over two milligauss showed a 70% increased risk of developing leukemia compared to adults exposed to less than one milligauss. A Swedish occupational study in 1992 confirm this linkage for adults. (1)
Electric field exposure effects are based on 10 years of work in Germany and over 4000 home inspections. These fields cause stress to the body particularly at night when resting that can be manifested as insomnia, fitful sleep, night sweats, strains, pulled muscles, heart flutters, waking up tired, constipation, irritability, and bed wetting in children.(2) People react differently to electric fields and to field intensities, so there is no specific ‘electric’ malady.
Electricity has made life better in many ways so we cannot just turn it off. We will have to develop a new respect for its bad side and exercise prudent avoidance. Prudent avoidance means people recognize that there are risks inherent in many things, and that we must use our personal judgement to decide when and where we will avoid certain risk factors.
Keep clocks, radios, cassette players 3 feet away from sleeping areas, and
Keep wires and lamp cords away from the sleeping area or most effective or
Turn off the circuits identified in the sleeping place evaluation. (Remote control equipment is available for turning the circuits on and off from the bedroom)
Keep 3 feet away from a computer video display terminal.
Fix any abnormally high magnetic fields identified in the study or avoid using the area.
High-Frequency Electromagnetic Fields:
This kind of field comes from radio, TV, police, fire, and military communications, microwave, radar, and cellular phones. The energy level is billions of times stronger than the natural high-frequency energies from the cosmos that existed during our biological development. Today these energies are all-pervasive and can be measured everywhere on the earth. The wireless age is increasing the density of such energies at an unprecedented rate.
Research shows eye cataracts, blood composition changes, hormone alterations, and chromosomal abnormalities are induced by high-frequency energies. The power levels involved were one-hundredth of the standard now set by the US government. An Air Force study on rats in the early ’80s showed a stress-induced reduction in immune system response and cancers of the pituitary, thyroid, and adrenal glands at a low (0.5m watts/cm) energy level. (1) Research on pulsed digital wireless communications signals that are close to the head suggests that they increase nonmalignant tumors of the auditory nerve, increased brain cancer, cause chromosome damage, and DNA breaks in brain tissue.
Building biologists have clients whose health and ability to heal are negatively affected by high-frequency energy. These people live near broadcast towers, cell phone towers, and/or are near the transmission paths of the numerous microwave installation that now replace telephone wires in so many places.
The work that has been done suggests prudent avoidance.
General Avoidance Recommendations:
Avoid living or working near broadcast towers and cell towers. Suburbs and the country is normally better because the sources of these signals are usually in urban areas. Watch out for microwave repeater stations located at high points between large urban centers. The rapid increase in cell phone towers placements has the potential to affect many, many people.
Metal acts as a concentrator of high-frequency energy. Keeping metal away from the sleeping area is prudent. The metal springs in your bed act as an energy concentrator.
High-frequency radiation can be reduced through the use of shielding materials.
Stand away from microwave ovens when they are operating.
DC Magnetic Fields
These should not be confused with AC magnetic fields or with high-frequency fields. This kind of field is produced by the earth and by man-made permanent magnets.
Our bodies developed biologically in the uniform DC magnetic field of the Earth. Deviations in the earth’s natural magnetic field either in strength or direction, are cause for concern and prudent avoidance.
More than 60% of all innerspring mattresses and box springs tested show non-uniform magnetic hot spots along, the length of the bed. These hot spots cause a shift in the location of true north so far as the body is concerned, but only for the parts of the body lying on the hot spots. (See also the High-Frequency EMF section for comments on other effects from bed springs.) Other objects around the bed may be non-uniformly and strongly magnetized. For example the bed frame, steel furnishings, steel objects stored under or around the bed.
Studies in Europe indicate disturbed DC magnetic fields in the sleeping place confuses the body and can cause insomnia, chronic fatigue, and other sleep-related problems. DC fields have been shown to influence enzyme activity, oxygen usage, and the growth rate of cancer cells. Some people wearing glasses with magnetized frames have been reported to have strong headaches. Some types of stereo headphones use magnets for the speaker and also have caused headaches. Studies show sleeping with your head to the north optimizes red blood cell production and yields optimal deepness of sleep.
It is best to sleep with no steel in or around the bed. This can be accomplished using a futon or a natural latex rubber mattress. A waterbed could be satisfactory, but the water heater subjects the body to high EMF. Insulating blankets are available that makes heater use unnecessary. The vinyl container for the water gives off plasticizer fumes that will add more unwanted stress to the sleeping place.
Use a bed frame made of wood.
Orient your bed so your head points north,
Check new mattresses before purchase for magnetic variation using a liquid-filled compass. The needle deviation should be no more than 2 degrees to be ideal no more than 10 to be weak.
Use magnetic health products cautiously.
Air Ionization, Electrostatic Fields and Materials:
Fresh, rural outdoor air contains 1000-3000 small charged gas particles per square centimeter. They are called small ions. There normally are 5 positive to 4 negative ions.
Ions live for 3 to 15 minutes and are constantly being made by sun radiation, earth radiations, and turbulent water.
This is the environment that our bodies evolved. Our body likes the air this way. When the number of ions decreases or the ratio of + to – is altered our body will feel it. Think about how people feel just prior to a thunderstorm breaking. People feel nervous, irritable, and ill-at-ease. When the storm breaks everyone feels great. Just before the storm, the air has excess positive ions. After the storm breaks the air ionization is restored to its natural ratio. Similarly when the hot, dry Santa Anna winds blow in Southern California or the Froehn blows in Germany people feel the same way, and violent behavior increases. These winds blow an abundance of positive ions.
Electrostatic fields or static electricity is stored in non-conducting materials. This is evident when you walk across a carpet and touch a metal object. The snap you hear and the zap you feel is the electricity discharging For a spark to jump from your finger to the metal, your body has to build up thousands of volts.
Aside from the discomfort of being zapped, static electricity has unseen consequences particularly with synthetic materials. Most synthetic materials build up a positive charge that drains away very slowly. (Most natural materials build up a negative charge that drains away more quickly.) This positive charge on the surface of synthetic carpets, fabrics, and wall coverings & the TV or computer screen will generate a surplus of positive ions in the air. Homes and offices have this condition when the air is dry. This can be in winter and in summer. The indoor air is just like outdoor air just before a thunderstorm except it never gets any better.
The number of ions in room air is depleted by the AC electric field, by the forced air heating/cooling system, and by tobacco smoke.
The only way to replenish ions indoors is to let in outside air or to make them electronically. If this is not done positive ions go to surplus and the number of ions falls.
Symptoms are reported in thousands of studies of low air ionization and high positive ionization dating back to the 1930s. They are migraine, nervousness, tension, anxiety, irritability, breathing difficulties, worsening of asthma, elevated heart rate, insomnia, disturbed digestion, and nausea. If you sleep in such an environment you will be under stress all night and you can wake up feeling poorly. Children sleeping with a heavily charged stuffed toy have had sinus problems until the toy was removed or neutralized. 25% of people have severe symptoms, 25% seems unaffected, and 50% have some form of milder symptoms.
Installation of a Sleep Shield:
A sleep shield is a polyethylene plastic film filled with graphite or blue fabric with graphite strands. Its purpose is to attract and/or block the AC electric fields before they get to your body. The shield must be between the body and the sources of the fields, and the shield must be grounded to the earth.
For Cloth Shield Material:
In most cases the f&brL@, the material is placed under the mattress pad. The width of this material is limited to 60 inches by any length. This is suitable for single, double, and queen-sized beds. For king-size beds, two sheets are recommended. Place an alligator clip at the overlap between the sheets clamping the layers together. Use an alligator clip from Radio Shack (See below).
For Plastic Shield Material:
The gig@tic shield material is inserted between the box spring and mattress. Overlap widths of the Velostst film by about 1.5 inches and tape in place with packaging tape to keep them from moving. Leave an untaped length about 1 inch long at the head of the bed. Place an alligator clip at this untaped area, clamping the layers together. Use an alligator clip from Radio Shack (See below). If you have more than one overlap, repeat the above procedure.
Connection To Earth:
Use brown or white lamp cord and tear apart the two conductors. You can also use heavier 14 gauge, stranded electrical wire with black or white covering depending on woodwork color. This wire is stiffer and not as easy to work with. Attach a suitable length of wire to an alligator clip using the connection screw on the clip. [If you use 14 gauge stranded wire, clip off about half the strands before attempting to attach the wire to the alligator clip.]
Roll up one inch of fabric or film at a convenient corner and attach an alligator clip. Route the wire outdoors to the earthing rod.
The easiest way to get the wire outside is through a window. If a neater job is desired drill a hole through the baseboard (but not within a foot on either side of an electric outlet) to the outside. If you want the wire invisible, often, the wire can be hidden behind a downspout and held in place with nylon wire-straps. If so, drill the hole near a downspout. You can purchase a 10 or 12″ long, 1/4 inch drill bit from Home Depot. Route the wire along the downspout to the earthing rod.
Earthing rod. Drive rod into the earth at a convenient location. This rod can be a 3 ft. length of 1/2 inch heavy gauge copper water pipe. Do not use a steel pipe or rod. This will rust and result in poor ground. Flatten one end of the pipe with a hammer. Obtain a 1/2 inch brass ground rod clamp from the Home Depot electrical department. You will have to reverse the back part of the clamp to get a tight fit. Coat pipe with Vaseline and fasten clamp to the top of the pipe. Strip one inch of insulation from the wire, bend the bare wire over on itself, coat bare wire with Vaseline, and connect the wire to the clamp. [Alternative: Buy an earthing (grounding) rod kit from Radio Shack.]