- The Washington Times - Friday, May 24, 2002

Before you get your britches in a wad about indoor mold and the detrimental health effects you may face with this latest invasion, let me add to your anxiety or at least your list of things to do around the house.

Mold, though providing really big payoffs to infected consumers right now (as well as lining some aggressive attorneys' pockets but that's another column) is not the only environmental hazard you may be facing in your home. Long before mold became the buzzword in real estate circles, homeowners had environmental concerns.

Real estate professionals are attending training sessions in droves to find out what they need to know about in-home mold. In a nutshell, the mold problem is really a moisture problem. Without moisture, there is no mold. You can find plenty of information on the Web about mold and ways to take care of it. Below I have listed other hazards that always have been with us but that I fear may get less attention because they haven't created big headlines about really large monetary awards from lawsuits. Nevertheless, many of them can cause as much of a health risk and even death.

Radon: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency blames this invisible gas for thousands of deaths each year from lung cancer. The gas radiates from concentrations of uranium in the soil. The average indoor radon level is 1.3 picocuries per liter (pcl) in the United States. A house has a radon problem if the measurement reaches above 4 pcl.

Lead: Houses and apartments built before 1978 more than likely have high levels of lead because of the lead-based paint used then. Chips and paint dust with lead can harm children, the elderly and pregnant women if precautions are not taken.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development requires that individuals receive certain information before renting, buying or renovating pre-1978 housing. For the federally mandated brochure warning about lead, visit www.hud.gov.

Asbestos: Again, homes built before 1978 may have asbestos present in various forms. The American Lung Association says the mineral fiber can be positively identified only with a special type of microscope. The fiber was added to a variety of products years ago to strengthen them and provide heat insulation and fire resistance. Visit the organization on the Web for guidelines on what to do if asbestos is present in your home (www.lungusa.org/air/air00_aesbestos.html).

Water quality: One area that carries a lot of pollutants that most homeowners don't think about very much is drinking water. The Environmental Protection Agency has a great site about water (www.epa.gov/OGWDW/).

Although the United States has the safest water supply in the world, it still can become polluted in a variety of ways industrial and agricultural runoff, naturally occurring pollutants and even byproducts from chemicals used to disinfect water.

Carbon monoxide: Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless and poisonous gas that results from the incomplete combustion of fuels such as natural or liquefied petroleum (LP) gas, oil, wood, coal and other fuels. If you use natural gas as a heating source or to operate appliances, it would be wise to have CO detectors in your home. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has plenty of information about these devices. See its Web site (www.cpsc.gov) for more information.

A good home inspector is the first place to start for testing for many of these hazards. If an inspector doesn't conduct some of the tests for these environmental hazards, he or she may have referrals for environmental testing organizations in your area.

M. Anthony Carr, director of communications for the Northern Virginia Association of Realtors, has written about real estate for more than 12 years. Reach him by e-mail ([email protected]).

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