Robert Zahn

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Lead based paint and asbestos

April 20th, 2019

Often when looking at houses, the subject of lead and asbestos components come up for discussion. Maybe the house has asbestos or “cementicious” siding, and was built in say, the 1940's.

What are the safety issues here?

Let's start with the age of the property. Prior to the 1978, lead was a major component in household paint. Lead was the reason it held up so well. However, as with many other substances, lead was discovered to be really unhealthy. Children eating sweet paint chips in urban areas were shown to become seriously poisoned and intellectually disabled. In reaction to this discovery, lead was no longer allowed in paint. In order to make people aware of possible paint hazards, a notice became required in all real estate transactions through the Residential Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction Act in 1992.

This law requires sellers to disclose the existence of any known lead-based paint in pre-1978 residential properties, and to disclose the results of any previous testing for lead-based paint. 

Now, to remediate the threat, the paint needs to be either removed completely or sealed in with another layer of paint. However, when dealing with a house predating 1978, or even 1980, let's just assume there is lead present. What does that mean? There is likely lead under the drip line of your eaves, and you really don't want to grow vegetables there, unless you are using containers full of soil imported from elsewhere. And really, assume there is lead in any soil on the island in a residential area. Flaking paint from wear falls into the soil. The neighborhood gardens in town are built on land which previously had housing before becoming gardens. As expensive as is, the soil in which the gardens are grown is replacement soil from elsewhere. It's not just sand and oyster shells and lead. Part of the seller's disclose on lead-based paint includes noting that the buyer has received a booklet, “Protecting Your Family From Lead In Your Home.” Testing for the presence of lead may be a good idea, but generally, if you follow simple rules, if it is contained or encapsulated and not ingested or inhaled, the lead isn't going to hurt you

And then there is asbestos. Asbestos has been used all over the SE Texas Gulf Coast Area area to fireproof surfaces, as insulation or as siding and roofing. It is without a doubt, fireproof. It also is the source of great concern. Pipes insulated with asbestos were common in industrial situations, and due to exposure to the fine fibers by inhalation, there have been numerous lawsuits for asbestosis and mesothelioma. I'm often surprised to see that class action lawsuits related to asbestos exposure are still common. I've had many conversations with buyers worried about a house with asbestos siding or roofing being dangerous to health. Yes, one does not want to powder and inhale asbestos, but as with lead paint, if it is contained effectively it is rather non threatening.

With both substances, there are very strict rules about removal. If a painter scrapes and preps an exterior surface, the scrapings must be caught in a tarp or plastic sheeting, and properly disposed of. If a homeowner removes asbestos tile, they may dispose of it in the city landfill, as long as it is not friable, or easily crumbled. If a contractor removes it, full hazardous materials rules must be followed; masks, suits and other protection.

While there are known health hazards in both asbestos and lead-based paint, there’s rarely a need for panic. Lead paint and asbestos won’t leap out and get you, but prolonged exposure and/or ingestion of the dust and chips from either can have serious consequences. Both of these elements can be contained or removed--with containment typically being the lower cost option. Make sure that your contractor is certified in remediation prior to beginning the job.

Only the buyer can determine their tolerance for risk. Read the materials provided by your Galveston Realtor, talk to your contractors and make informed decisions. Also don’t eat paint.

Disclaimer : The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Houston Association of REALTORS®

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