Before the 1980s, carcinogenic materials such as asbestos, vermiculite, and lead were regularly used in the construction of buildings. Now, these substances are recognized as toxic to human health. Asbestos is deadly for respiratory health when inhaled. Likewise, vermiculite releases asbestos when burned, and requires professional demolition. As an experienced leader among industrial demolition contractors, we’d like to provide Portland-area homeowners a few tips on safely removing these noxious materials in renovation and demolition.
Portland’s Older Homes: Safe Demolition and Renovation
Identify Asbestos Before Removal. Asbestos can linger in the air as a fine dust for hours, or even days. When inhaled, asbestos particles can cause lung cancer, often many years down the road. Don’t just take a sledgehammer to your walls willy-nilly. Identify the location of toxic substances and then hire a professional to do the job for you. Those who are trained in safe demolition of asbestos must wear protective clothing and respirator masks to protect their own lungs from this dangerous building material. Here are a few of the many places where Asbestos can often be found:
- Attic/wall insulation that’s blown-in, such as vermiculite.
- Exterior work, such as board siding and undersheeting. These are common locations for asbestos cement.
- Backing behind recessed lighting.
- Artificial fireplace logs & ashes.
- Roof gutters, which are sometimes made of asbestos cement.
- Deck undersheeting.
- Pipe insulation, electrical wire insulation
- Textured ceilings
- Acoustic tiles. Asbestos was well-known for its ability to dampen sound.
- Fuse box. In some systems, each fuse wire has its own asbestos flash guard.
Avoid Disturbing Lead Paint. Lead paint is found in many homes that are older than 1960. Indeed, the EPA requires certification for any company that will be removing pre-1978 paint. Lead is a broad-spectrum poison, meaning that it is poisonous to many different parts of the human body, including the digestive, respiratory, skeletal, and nervous systems. From brain damage to depression, lead exposure causes many different negative symptoms. It is especially dangerous for children, whose brains are still developing and who tend to have a higher exposure to dirt. The EPA advises against trying to remove leaded paint yourself. Scraping and sanding lead paint releases deadly lead particles into the surrounding air. Hire an EPA-certified contractor to remove lead paint for you. Children and pregnant women should leave the home during paint removal.
Other dangerous substances found in homes include silica, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), formaldehyde, and Polychlorinated Biphenls (PCBs). Formaldehyde can be found in particleboard, pressed wood, plywood, and most fiberglass insulation. Banned in paint in 1977, PCBs are in caulk, some plastic products, and electrical equipment. At room temperature, VOCs emit out of paint strippers, adhesives, and paint. Even in very small amounts, they can cause cardiovascular and respiratory problems. And silica (sand or quartz) is found in concrete, brick, and many other building materials. It can cause lung cancer and tuberculosis, among other diseases.
As you renovate or demolish that old Portland home, make sure you partner with an EPA-certified demolition company, such as Elder Demolition. Our managers have earned their 40-hour HAZWOPER certification. As a leading West coast industrial demolition company, we require annual lead awareness training for all workers. We are an EPA-certified Northwest demolition company, so you can trust us to exceed safety standards for the demolition of cancer-causing substances.
[photo by: Qole Pejorian on Flickr, via CC License]