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How To Recognize Lead and Asbestos In Your Home

Last modified: 2020-02-21 | Approximate reading time 4 mins

Amanda Harvey

It is impossible for a human being to detect asbestos or lead in plain sight, as neither can be seen or smelt by the human alone. However, both are incredibly dangerous for the health when ingested, and actions must be taken immediately if there is any suspicion of either material. 

In most homes, the existence of lead and asbestos is hidden, so as a homeowner, is it important that you recognize the signs and take the steps to remove either material safely and correctly. is here to offer ways to recognize if your humble abode may be contaminated by lead or asbestos!

What is asbestos and how was it used in home renovations?

Asbestos was commonly used in the construction of homes between 1940-1970. However, it was later learned that prolonged exposure to this naturally occurring mineral fibre, which is not identifiable without a microscope and can be easily inhaled, causes lung disease as well as lung cancer. In homes built before 1975, asbestos can be found in several household spaces and materials, including but not limited to: thermal insulation, attic insulation, vinyl floor tiles, some forms of linoleum, window caulking and glazing, plaster, fiber cement siding, roofing materials, some forms of textured paint as well as products designed for resistance to intense heat.

Unfortunately, there is no way to tell if a product contains asbestos just by looking at it. Products containing asbestos that are not deteriorating may not be releasing fibres. However, if the material is showing signs of damage, tears, cracks or water damage, it is important to talk to a professional. Also, avoid touching the product as you may unintentionally release fibres into the air.

How to Directly Deal with Asbestos

If you are going forward with any form of home renovation or remodel, it is important to make sure that there is no presence of asbestos in your home. The only way to be sure of this is to have a sample of the material tested by a laboratory in your city. Following the confirmation that asbestos has been found, you should not attempt to remove the material yourself. 

Instead, consult and hire a qualified removal specialist to discard of it. Check with provincial and territorial workplace safety authorities to find out the specific qualifications or certifications required for your area. In many areas, the removal procedure regulations are very strict, and any individual removing asbestos from your home should be properly trained and qualified to do so.

What is lead and how was it used in home renovations?

Peeling lead paint

source: Flickr, wolfy138

Lead is commonly found in the paint of homes that were painted before 1978, as it was added to paint to speed up drying, increase durability and longevity. Although lead paint is not harmful while still attached to a wall, when the paint is removed or scraped off, as is common in home renovation projects, it becomes hazardous and can be easily inhaled.

Lead is extremely toxic, causing a range of health problems if ingested. It is especially dangerous for pregnant women and young children, as it can cause neurological damage and hinder the development of young brains and organs.

In 2010, the United States EPA created the Renovation, Repair and Painting (RRP) rule to protect individuals against the health hazards that accompany lead dust. The RRP rule lowers the risk of lead contamination from home reno activities. Unfortunately, Canada does not have any similar rules or legislation, though regulations were first enacted under the Hazardous Products Act in 1976, and were updated in 2005, limiting lead to its background level for interior and exterior paints.

How to Directly Deal with Lead 

If your home was built prior to the mid-1970's, you should have paint samples analyzed for lead as soon as possible. Further, if you have copper plumbing that was installed before 1987, your water should also be tested for lead. Testing for lead should be completed by a professional, as careless removal of the paint or pipes can increase the risk of contamination for both your home and family.

If the paint or water in your home tests positive, it is important to have a blood-lead-level test completed on yourself and members of your family or home. If the water turns out to be the source of lead, it is important to replace the lead-soldered lines for non-lead solders or a plastic plumbing system. The risks involved in this installation are minute compared to dealing with lead-based paint.

If the paint in your home is lead-based, practice caution and do not strip or sand the paint with heat or other chemicals. The lead dust particles are very fine, and therefore, the only method of removal is a high-efficiency particle filter, as a vacuum will only throw dust into the air.

Removal procedures are dependant on the situation, but techniques and equipment for the job go beyond the amateur. It is important to hire a qualified lead-abatement contractor to deal with the removal of lead-based paint from your interior or exterior surfaces.

Author: Amanda Harvey

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