Hidden dangers of toxic building materials in the home
By Stephanie Hoenig Feb 27, 2012, 3:06 GMT
Berlin - Homes built or extensively renovated between 1960 and 1990 could contain toxic substances likely to be released in significant quantities when being refurbished.
Gone are the days when asbestos, certain products for preserving wood or adhesives based on carbolineum were widely used, but they remain impregnated in many homes and can be released when work is done.
A thorough check needs to be carried out before renovation, says Eva Reinhold-Postina, who works for an association of private construction companies in Berlin. Particular care should be taken with buildings built or renovated during the 1970s and 1980s, she says.
Hans Ulrich-Raithel of the Environment Institute in Munich says this advice should be extended to cover the 1960s as well, particularly in the case of homes containing a lot of wood. He points to products containing DDT, Lindane and PCP that were widely used and have since been taken off the market.
'Harmful substances in home interiors cannot always be smelt or seen,' Ulrich-Raithel says, noting that wood preservation toxins tend to have a long half-life. His advice is to enquire carefully from the construction company involved and when in doubt to have an analysis done.
In the event of renovation, the panelling and beams need to be removed as far as possible, and where not possible to be painted with a protective coating. This prevents the toxins from being released into the interior.
Old parquet floors may be a source of so-called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) or polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). These toxic substances found widespread use from around 1900 up to the early 1970s and even longer in some countries.
'Whether or not parquet with toxic adhesive needs to be ripped up depends on the state of the parquet,' says Dirk Petersen of a consumer watchdog in Germany. If the floor has been properly sealed there are few grounds for concern.
But if there are gaps in the flooring, tiny particles of glue containing the toxins could come to the surface, and in this case removal should be considered. Analysis of house dust or of remnants of the adhesive will show whether PAHs or PCBs are present.
Older PVC flooring could contain asbestos fibres. If the flooring is intact and stuck down to the surface beneath, a new floor covering can simply be fitted over the top.
The old flooring should under no circumstances be worked with machinery, as this results in fine dust containing asbestos fibres, Ulrich-Raithel says. Only specialist firms are allowed to remove floors of this kind.
Floors made of flexible PVC tiles laid between the 1940s and 1960s present a similar problem and need to be covered, if still in good condition, or be removed by specialists for disposal.
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