Environmental Hazards and Senior Safety

adapted from article by Erik Listou

Environmental hazards are a serious matter for everyone. However, it is especially important to check for these in any home where a senior is living.

Here are some of the main hazards potentially present in a home:

  • Radon Gas

  • Asbestos

  • Contaminated Water

  • Mold

  • Lead

  • VOCs

The last blog covered radon gas. Let's address the other hazards here.


Some homes, especially older homes, may contain asbestos.

Where is asbestos often found?

  • Wall plaster – little white fibers

  • Vermiculite insulation in attics and walls

  • Floor tiles and sheet goods, including the adhesives

  • Wallpaper

  • Roofing and siding

  • Textured paint and patching compounds used on walls and ceilings

  • Walls and floors around wood-burning stoves protected with asbestos paper, millboard, or cement sheets

  • Hot water and steam pipes coated with asbestos insulation

  • Oil and coal furnaces and door gaskets

  • Heat-resistant fabrics

What Illnesses Can Asbestos Cause?


  • Ovarian

  • Laryngeal

  • Asbestosis

  • Benign Pleural Diseases - Mesothelioma

Asbestos – What to Do

1. Testing - Hire a licensed professional. Ask for referrals


2. Follow their recommendations

  • Cover

  • Remove



  • Naturally occurring, very soft, dense, and ductile (moldable) metal

  • Still used in some commercial products made or imported into the United States

  • Very stable and accumulates in the environment

  • Resistant to corrosion, although acidic water may leach lead outof pipes, fittings, and solder (metal joints)

Where is lead often found?

If your home was built before 1978, it probably has items that were coated or made with lead. If the finishes still look good, they probably contain lead.

Common items with lead include:

  • Paint

  • Tile glazing

  • Cabinet finishes

  • Floor finishes

Lead and Illness

In children, even mild lead poisoning can have a permanent impact on

attention and IQ. People who survive toxic lead levels may have

some permanent brain damage. Children are more vulnerable to serious

long-term problems. A complete recovery from chronic lead

poisoning may take months to years. (Jan 31, 2017

Lead poisoning: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia)

Lead stays in the body for different periods of time, depending on where

it is. Half of the lead in the blood will be excreted in 25 days (this is

called the "half-life"). In soft tissues, it takes 40 days for half of the lead

to be excreted. In bones and teeth, it takes much longer, up to 10

years or longer. (May 26, 2001 OSH Basics - The Health Hazards of Lead - Osh.Net


Lead - What to Do?

As a non-professional, it is very risky to remove lead. Surfaces could be damaged which could expose more lead and in general the risk of exposure is too great.

Hire a professional to avoid exposure and damage. In addition, a professional can accurately remove all the asbestos and create a professional report.


There are over 100,000 types of mold. Most are harmless to humans.

The following twelve are some of the more harmful:

1. Acremonium

  • Toxigenic mold whose appearance evolves over time.

  • Typically grows in humidifers, cooling coils, drain pans and window sealants

2. Alternaria

  • Most common form of allergenic mold

  • Typically grows wherever dampness occurs (bathtubs, showers, below leaking sinks, and behind walls or cabinets where a leak has occurred

3. Aspergillus

  • Common mold found in American households

  • There are over 185 species appearing in many different colors

4. Aureobasidium

  • An allergenic mold

  • Can sometimes be found growing behind wallpaper or on painted or wooden surfaces

5. Chaetomium

  • Commonly found in water-damaged homes and buildings

  • Has a cotton-like texture and usually changes color over time

6. Cladosporium

  • Can grow in both warm and cold conditions

  • Often found thriving in indoor materials such as fabrics, upholsteries, carpets

7. Fusarium

  • Capable of growing and spreading at cold temperatures

  • An allergenic and toxigenic type of mold that grows in homes with water damage

8. Mucor

  • Allergenic form of mold that usually grows in thick patches

  • Grows near air conditioning, HVAC systems and ducting due to moisture from condensation

9. Penicillin

  • Allergenic form of mold that is easily recognizable by its blue or green colored surface with velvety texture

  • Often found in water damaged buildings

10. Stachybotrys

  • Also known as nefarious black mold

  • Toxigenic type of mold that can also cause allergic reactions

  • Thrives in damp, wet areas with high humidity levels

11. Trichoderma

  • Allergenic mold that is generally white in color with green patches

  • Commonly grows in the home on wet surfaces and moist areas

12. Ulocladium

  • Thrives in wetness and water and is usually black in color

  • Can be found in kitchens, bathrooms, basements, and around windows with high condensation levels

Mold - What to Do?

Clean It with Bleach? Not!!

  • OSHA and the EPA have specifically advised against the use of bleach for mold remediation.

  • Caustic and extremely harmful to wood and many other surfaces. If bleach is used on wood, it will weaken the wood by breaking down its fibers. This can create further problems with the structural integrity of the home.

  • When mixed with ammonia it creates a deadly gas! *Remember, urine contains ammonia! Using bleach in the toilet could also create a toxic gas.

  • Considered a toxic chemical and is classified the same as gasoline.

  • In its gaseous form (room temperature) chlorine releases Dioxins, a known cancer causing compound.

  • Highly corrosive to skin. Exposure to bare skin creates a hydrolysis reaction. This means the “oily” feeling is actually the top layer of your skin beginning to dissolve!

Hire a Professional! Hawkeye Home Inspections performs mold testing.

Volatile Organic Compounds

  • Emitted as gases from certain solids or liquids

  • Include a variety of chemicals, some of which may have short- and long-term adverse health effects

  • Concentrations of many VOCs are consistently higher indoors (up to ten times higher) than outdoors

  • VOCs are emitted by a wide array of products - numbering in the thousands.

Where are VOCs often found?

  • Furniture and building materials

  • Paints, varnishes and waxes

  • Many cleaning, disinfecting, cosmetic, degreasing and hobby products

  • Fuels

  • Cooking food

VOCs - What To Do?

  • Check your home

  • Do-it-yourself tests up to $500

  • Professionals – National average $404

  • Indoor Air Quality Association -  http://www.iaqa.org/

  • Specify low VOC products

  • Clean the air

  • Cooking equipment exhaust fans

  • Household plants

  • Air changes

  • HVAC systems

  • Open windows

  • Exhaust fans bathrooms, laundry, etc.

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