Erin Doman on September 21, 2015 1 Comment The news is full of reports on the chemicals in food, household cleaners, children’s toys and the environment, but what about the chemicals lurking in the paint, lumber, insulation and other materials in the average home? A major home construction project can pose dangers most people would never expect. You’ve probably heard of some of the chemicals listed below, but did you know that they existed in the building materials of your own home? 1. Formaldehyde Formaldehyde is not just for preserving creatures in the biology classroom. Some insulations, composite wood products and adhesives used in construction projects contain Formaldehyde as a preservative and fixative. Urea-Formaldehyde (UF) resins are in the adhesives used in particle board and hardwood plywood paneling. Also called Urea-Methanal, this chemical is known to be carcinogenic. Other suspected health concerns from Formaldehyde exposure include the following: Gastrointestinal or Liver Toxicant Immunotoxicant Reproductive Toxicant Respiratory Toxicant Skin Toxicant Common sources of Urea-Formaldehyde in homes include laminate flooring, walls, cabinets and carpets. Exposure comes from breathing it and skin absorption. A safer choice is products containing phenol based formaldehyde or, better yet, products that contain no added Urea-Formaldehyde and zero VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds). 2. Lead Lead is no longer allowed in paint or in gasoline because of documented health concerns, but lead is still permitted in some building and construction products such as sheet metal flashing, roofing and electrical cable jacketing. The most common cause of lead exposure is peeling paint and dust produced when remodeling older homes. If you’re doing major construction in a home built before 1978, lead exposure is a legitimate concern as it is a known carcinogen, developmental toxicant and reproductive toxicant. Other suspected health concerns of lead exposure are: Cardiovascular or blood toxicant Endocrine toxicant Liver toxicant Kidney toxicant Respiratory toxicant Skin toxicant Neurotoxin You can avoid lead poisoning by using home dust testing kits before beginning a major remodel. Kits should be sent to an LPAT approved laboratory for analysis. Testing can also be arranged through county and state health departments. Remember that, according to the CDC, there is no safe blood lead level for children, so proper testing and removal of lead based paints in older homes is vital. 3. Mercury Prior to 1991, phenylmercuric acetate (PMA) was used as a fungicide in interior and exterior latex paints to limit the growth of bacteria and to repel insect activity. When remodeling and repainting homes built prior to 1991, the same precautions should be taken as with lead based paints to avoid mercury exposure. Mercury is known to be a developmental toxin and suspected to have the following health risks as well: Immunotoxicant Neurotoxin Kidney Toxicant Respiratory toxicant Reproductive toxicant Another current source of mercury in most households is compact florescent light bulbs (CFLs). A small amount of mercury is released into the atmosphere when these energy efficient light bulbs are broken. When preparing for a remodel, avoid breaking or crushing any florescent bulbs in the remodeling process and properly dispose of these bulbs to prevent contamination. 4. Arsenic Chromated copper arsenic (CCA) was used in pressure treated lumber until 2004 when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) phased it out for residential use. CCA treatment was used to prevent rotting in lumber used outdoors. Decks, porches and even wooden playsets for kids were built with CCA lumber. If your porch or deck was built prior to 2004, there’s a high probability that it’s constructed with CCA treated boards. CCA contains chromium, copper and arsenic all of which can pose serious health risks to you and your family. Arsenic and chromium in particular are known carcinogens, and CCA is suspected of the following as well: Lung cancer Bladder cancer Skin cancer Kidney cancer Prostate cancer Nasal passage cancer Nerve damage Children are at the highest risk of exposure because of normal hand to mouth behaviors. If your current deck or porch is made of CCA wood, don’t consume food or drink on it and make sure to wash hands thoroughly with soap and water after contact with the wood surface. Hand washing is especially important for children after contact with CCA treated playsets. Should you decide to replace CCA treated structures with safer lumber, do not burn, mulch or compost the old CCA treated wood. Instead, contact the EPA for information on proper disposal of CCA treated lumber. 5. Phthalates Phthalates are a group of chemicals used as plasticizers in flexible PVC products. These chemicals are found in a startling number of materials in our homes including carpet backing, resilient flooring, roofing membranes, waterproofing membranes and wall coverings. The EPA currently lists 8 chemicals in their Phthalate Action Plan: dibutyl phthalate (DBP) diisobutyl phthalate (DIBP) butyl benzyl phthalate (BBP) di-n-pentyl phthalate (DnPP) di (2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) di-n-octyl phthalate (DnOP) diisononyl phthalate (DINP) diisodecyl phthalate (DIDP) Certain phthalates are known to be carcinogenic as well as developmental and reproductive toxicants. Other health concerns related to these chemicals include the following: Endocrine toxicant Liver toxicant Gastrointestinal toxicant Respiratory toxicant Because there are so many phthalates being investigated and varying health concerns related to each, it is important to research well before purchasing and replacing any product containing these chemicals. Keep in mind that the EPA is continuing to study the effects of phthalates, so it’s better to be safe than sorry when choosing building materials and wall and floor coverings. Chemicals such as mercury, lead, arsenic and formaldehyde are generally familiar to people in high school science classes or those who read related news reports. What you may not have known is how prevalent these and other chemicals are in the products used to build, remodel and decorate homes. Remember that most chemical exposure comes from inhalation and skin absorption. When remodeling, be sure to check with your local waste pickup services and recycling centers or search the EPA website for proper disposal methods. The best way to protect yourself and your family is to read the labels and do the research. When purchasing new materials, be sure to look for labels that advertise low or no VOC’s and reduced toxicity or non-toxic materials, and remember, the word “natural” has no meaning in terms of chemical content.