The Hidden Health Hazards Of Urban Renewal


WASHINGTON, D.C. – May 19, 2015 – (RealEstateRama) — Everything old is new again. In real estate, this means that old warehouse and factory buildings are gaining new life as residential properties. With the rising popularity of walkable urban places, these old buildings offer the square footage necessary to combine upscale residences alongside trendy businesses like restaurants, bars, and entertainment venues.

Unfortunately, repurposing many of those old buildings also means encountering old dangers like asbestos and lead paint.

Asbestos and Lead Paint in Construction

We know today that lead and asbestos are both very dangerous and that exposure can cause long-term health problems. However, there was a time when both were used freely in construction – especially in old factories and warehouses.

Asbestos is essentially fireproof so it seemed like the ideal material for insulating furnaces and large, hot pipes and machinery. It was also used as a building material in wall plaster, ceiling tiles, floor tiles, roofing shingles, and even some decorative elements – like popcorn ceilings. It was pretty much used in any parts of a building that needed protection from heat and fire, which was essentially all parts of the building.

Lead was added to paints as part of the pigmentation, but also to make it more durable and water resistant. Paint with lead in it was tougher, lasted longer, and was less prone to cracks, so it seemed like the ideal thing to use in both residential and commercial settings. Lead paint was also used on furniture, and even children’s toys until the 1950s. However, it took even longer to limit the use of lead paint as a building material, and you can find buildings from the 1960s and even the 1970s that still have lead paint.

The Dangers of Asbestos and Lead Paint

Exposure to asbestos can cause several serious and life threatening conditions, including malignant mesothelioma and asbestosis. Worse yet, it can take several years after exposure for the symptoms to manifest, and even longer still to get a diagnosis. Many people with asbestos related diseases don’t get diagnosed until they are in the later stages, when treatment is far less successful. Steve Baron, asbestos attorney at Baron and Budd, has represented thousands of such individuals in lawsuits against the asbestos industry.

Lead is a heavy-duty neurotoxin. Breathing in the fumes from heated paint, or ingesting the lead through paint chips can lead to neurological and systemic problems in adults and children, as well as developmental delays in children who have been exposed to it. Because lead builds up in the body, the longer someone is exposed, the worse the effects. The federal government, through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is working on ways to reduce and prevent lead paint exposure in children.

Protecting Yourself and Your Clients

Although the use of lead paint and asbestos has been limited in the United States, it has not been banned entirely. In fact, you can still find both materials used in some commercial and military applications. Additionally, even though those materials aren’t used as much in residential settings, older buildings might still contain them.

This is because both lead paint and asbestos are only considered dangerous if the materials that contain them have been damaged. Lead paint that is intact should not release toxic fumes or dust that can be ingested. Asbestos is only considered dangerous if the fibers become airborne. Additionally, if you are dealing with a building that has been abandoned, an owner might be less likely to spend the money to remove dangerous materials if the building is standing empty.

People planning to rehab these buildings need to test for asbestos and lead paint before they begin the demolition process, to protect the people who will be working in the building, as well as their future tenants, and themselves. If asbestos and lead are found, you might need to hire people specially trained in removal, and you should also test to make sure that all of the contaminated materials have been properly removed.

Doing so will not only ensure that the construction site is free of these harmful materials, but also that none is in existence when families and businesses move into the finished spaces.

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