Home renovation and hazardous waste

Photo: iStockphoto.com/Starkblast
Get informed about the health concerns associated with DIY projects

Every year, thousands of homeowners self-renovate their homes in hopes of improving the value without spending a lot of money. Unfortunately, people who attempt the “do-it-yourself” method often find themselves exposed to hazardous chemicals associated with basic home repair. Upon being disturbed by renovation, these hazardous chemicals are transmitted into the air and breathed into the lungs. Once in the lungs, these chemicals induce a host of medical conditions ranging from simple allergies to fatal cancers. It is important to be well informed about some common chemical hazards associated with home renovation before beginning a major project.

Lead-based paint

In 1978, American Congress passed a law that illegalized lead-based paints from residential use. Similarly, in Canada in 1976, the amount of lead that could be intentionally added to interior paints was limited by federal law. In 2010, the lead limit was further reduced and Canadian manufacturers of both interior and exterior consumer paints can no longer intentionally add lead to their paint. Lead is a metal proper, and it was historically used for many household structures including pipes, shades, and paints. If a home was built before those laws were passed, then it more than likely contains lead-based paint. Over-exposure to lead can harm the cardiac system, the nervous system, the reproductive systems and the lymphatic system. Lead exposure is particularly threatening to a child, whose neural development can be delayed by lead interference, leading to behavioral disorders and learning disabilities. Even pets can be poisoned by lead. The lead is typically transmitted as aerial dust.

When remodeling an old house, family members and pets should not dwell in renovation rooms or areas. This rule especially applies to young children who are more susceptible to lead poisoning. The workers should enter and exit the house using an alternative pathway, which should be unused by the family. The furniture of a room being renovated should be removed from the room. Turn off all air conditioning systems that could blow around lead-containing dust particles. Finally, clean dust thoroughly using a protective facemask to prevent inhalation.


Asbestos is a silicate-based fiber incorporated into many building structures. Its original purpose involved preventing the spread of a fire, and so it can be found in older homes in pipes, insulation, roof shingles, ducts, tile floors, cement and elsewhere. Asbestos exposure can lead to mesothelioma, which is a serious cancer that is almost exclusively caused by asbestos exposure. This disease proves deadly and, despite modern medicine’s best efforts, the majority of diagnosed individuals cannot overcome the disease.

Avoiding the exposure to asbestos includes practices similar to avoiding lead, because both are primarily transmitted by the dust in the air. Masks should be worn, working areas should remain clean (dust-free), and family members should avoid areas of remodeling. In addition, seeking professional assessment and advice is always a wise decision.


Mold is another term for the fungus that grows in the dark, cold and wet places in a house. Molds can grow on or inside of walls, pipes and other structures in old houses. Mold growth presents a sizeable health concern because it can cause allergy problems like mucous drainage, nasal discharge, irritated eyes and headaches. Some scientists have asserted that long-term exposure to toxic fungus could potentially engender dangerous, neurological conditions, too. For these reasons, you should wear a facemask to protect against mold inhalation. Keep on the lookout for wet, decolourized places where mold could be growing. Clean any potential mold reservoir then ensure that all areas in the home are dry. Remember that the most common cause of mold is moisture. Seeking a professional to assess the health risk is another option.


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