Below are just a few of the real questions that NCHH has received over the last several years from real consumers across the United States. The topics include lead-based paint, wiring, mold, Chinese drywall, and more. NCHH will update this page with new questions and answers when possible.
We live next to a Brownfield site. How can I keep my family safe?
Not all brownfield sites necessarily contain dangerous chemicals. It’s best to contact your state’s department of environmental health to determine if the site has been investigated, to find out which chemicals are actually present, and what the likelihood of exposure is.
If I have carpeting in my home, what should I do to make it healthier for my family?
If you steam clean carpet, be sure to dry it thoroughly to avoid lingering moisture that can attract pests or lead to mold. If possible, replace carpeting when it is worn or heavily soiled, and be sure to clean second-hand rugs before using them.
Should I avoid installing wall-to-wall carpet?
You should avoid wall-to-wall carpet in bathrooms, kitchens, laundry rooms, basements, or other areas of a home where moisture is a potential problem. Instead, use hard flooring with nonskid features. Small area rugs, such as bath mats, may be used in these rooms to help protect against slips and falls and for comfort, but they should be washed frequently. Choose water-resistant floors in basements and other rooms that are directly above the ground.
If I decide to remove carpeting, what flooring option should I replace it with?
Consider replacing carpeting with a smooth, nonabsorbent, nonskid surface. Hard flooring options to consider include wood, ceramic, linoleum, rubber, marmoleum (a natural floor covering manufactured with linseed oil, wood, flour, resin, jute, and finely crushed limestone and mineral pigments), and wood laminate. There is emerging evidence that some hard flooring (such as vinyl flooring) containing phthalates (a type of plasticizer) may contribute to asthma. These types of floors should be avoided, or at a minimum they should be cleaned regularly with a damp mop to reduce dust. You should also use care when removing carpet to ensure that contaminated dust or allergens in the carpeting are not made accessible to occupants.
If I want to install carpet in my home, are there certain types of carpeting that are better for my family?
If you install carpeting, allow the carpeting to air out thoroughly before using the area. Consider buying a carpet that has a Green Label or Green Label Plus from the Carpet and Rug Institute to reduce exposure to harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can be used in carpeting or adhesive. Also consider installing low-pile carpet, which is easier to clean than high-pile carpet.
This information was excerpted from a fact sheet created by NCHH that summarizes the research regarding carpets and healthy homes.
I recently had my home remodeled, and I am afraid the contractor may have used Chinese drywall. What are the problems associated with Chinese drywall, and how can I tell if it’s present in my home?
The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reports that Chinese drywall can have deleterious affects on your health and the health of your home. If you are suffering from the health symptoms described as common to the reports of exposure to problem drywall (irritated and itchy eyes and skin, difficulty in breathing, persistent cough, bloody noses, runny noses, recurrent headaches, sinus infection, and asthma attacks), please consult your physician as soon as possible.
Additionally, if you experience any of the electrical or fire safety concerns described as common to the reports of exposure to problem drywall, please consult your local gas or electric supplier and a licensed electrician or building inspector as soon as possible. The most commonly reported problems are blackened and corroded metal in homes. Particularly, consumers have reported premature failures of central air conditioning evaporator coils located indoors as part of the central air conditioning unit air handler; and intermittent operation or failure of appliances, such as refrigerators and dishwashers, and electronic devices, such as televisions and video game systems. Click here to learn more.
Is the dust and debris from gypsum wall board dangerous to my health?
It depends on what is in the dust and how much of it one is exposed to. Gypsum board may contain mold, fiberglass, and other substances that if inhaled in sufficient quantities can cause respiratory irritation and other health problems. Even if none of these substances are present, gypsum board contains silica that can cause serious lung problems if inhaled.
I noticed my clothes dryer gets super hot and gives off a burnt smell. Does that mean it’s time to buy a new one?
Not necessarily—it just may be time to clean your dryer vent. Lint balls are extremely flammable. Have you seen the Farmers Insurance commercial on dryer fires? The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that lint-filled dryer vents cause over 15,000 fires per year. Clothes dryer fires also account for approximately 20 fatalities, 400 injuries, and over $100 million in property damage annually. The leading cause of these clothes dryer fires is a “failure to clean” them. If you have an electric clothes dryer, the chance of fire is 250% greater than if you have a gas dryer.
The good news is that these fires are totally preventable. Learn how to prevent clothes dryer fires in your home.
Should I replace my aluminum wiring with copper?
Aluminum wiring is no longer used in housing electrical systems, because it has been linked to fires. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), an estimated two million homes in the United States were built or renovated using electrical circuits with aluminum wiring. In particular, some homes built or renovated between 1965 and 1973 may have had aluminum wiring installed to feed branch circuits that run from the main electrical panel to the outlets and lighting fixtures.
The best way to determine whether a home has aluminum wiring is to hire a professional. A homeowner may be able to identify an aluminum-wired system by looking at the cables that run through the basement or attic to see if the cable is labeled “AL” or Aluminum.
If a home does have aluminum wiring, the CPSC recommends two actions.
- Complete replacement of the system. This may be too expensive for many homeowners, as it can cost $8,000 or more.
- Replace every connection in every outlet, switch and junction box with a copper pigtail using a special Copalum connection — a short piece of copper wire is bonded to the aluminum wire using a tool designed specifically for the task. The copper wire makes the connection. It may be difficult to find an electrician to make a Copalum repair. Information about certified contractors is available through Tyco at 800.522.6752.
CPSC Aluminum Wiring Fact Sheet
Additional Fire Prevention Resources
Courtesy of our friends at the Public Health Corps, here are several addition fire prevention resources. While not all of them deal directly with house fires, other non-house fires can ultimately affect living spaces. Therefore, we’ve chosen to include these other resources as well.
Ms. Patricia Sarmiento works for the Public Health Corps and kindly contributed a blog recommending some excellent fire prevention tips. Read her blog post here.
Steps to Safety: How to Protect Your Family from a Fire
I have no children, and children do not visit my house. Should I worry about lead-based paint?
While children are more susceptible to lead poisoning, adults who sand, dry-scrape, or otherwise disturb lead-based paint can also be poisoned by lead. In addition, the lead may be a problem for children who occupy such housing in the future. Any time lead painted surfaces are being disturbed, lead-safe work practices should be followed. More information is available from these sources:
- Protect Your Family from Lead in Your Home [pdf; EPA/CPSC/HUD, 2013; black and white | color]
- The Lead-Safe Certified Guide to Renovate Right [pdf; EPA, 2011; black and white | color]
I’m concerned that the EPA rule is not being enforced in my community. How can I help?
Anyone can help enforce the EPA rule by being eyes and ears and documenting violations of the rule. NCHH has developed an enforcement checklist that can be used by community organizations, agencies, consumers, or even certified renovators who are aware of other contractors that are flagrantly disregarding the rule. Click here for the enforcement checklist. EPA has a duty to investigate tips and complaints, but cannot do so unless the agency receives some specific details.
I was told that my child’s blood lead level was “negative” the last time that I had him/her tested. Should I have him/her re-tested?
Ask your physician for the specific result of the last blood test. If the number was higher than five micrograms per deciliter (5 µg/dL), testing should be repeated to confirm. Having blood drawn from your child’s vein is more accurate than a finger-stick test. Make sure other children under six years of age, developmentally delayed children, and pregnant women get tested as well.
For more information regarding understanding your child’s blood lead level, click here.
What can I do to prevent my child’s exposure to lead?
Take these steps to reduce your child’s exposure to lead in your home/environment:
- Keep your child away from painting and repair work that disturbs paint, and make sure no paint chips or dust remain in the work area before your child enters.
- Pay attention to peeling paint: report it to your landlord if you’re a tenant so that repairs will get made (and call code enforcement or legal aid if there’s no response); and repair it safely if you’re a homeowner.
- Wash your child’s hands, toys, bottles, pacifiers, and any other items your child often puts in his or her mouth.
- Regularly clean floors, windowsills, and dusty places with wet mops or wet cloths to pick up any dust.
- Use only cold tap water for making baby formula, drinking, and cooking. Let the water run for a few minutes first.
- Avoid using products from other countries such as health remedies, eye cosmetics (i.e., kohl, kajal, surma), candies, spices, snack foods, clay pots and dishes, painted toys, and children’s jewelry. These items may contain high levels of lead.
- Remove shoes before entering your home.
- Any household member who does construction work or other work that may involve lead should remove work clothes before entering; wash them separately.
For more information regarding understanding your child’s blood lead level, click here.
For more information regarding lead in toys, click here.
What exactly is radon, and how I can take action to mitigate it?
Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that is released from rocks and soil. It is an invisible, odorless, tasteless gas that seeps up through the ground and into the air in homes. Radon can enter homes through cracks in floors, walls, or foundations. Scientists agree that radon causes lung cancer in humans. After smoking, it is the second leading cause of lung cancer. Roughly 1 in 15 homes – about 8 million – have levels of radon that exceed EPA’s action level. Unfortunately, the radon problem could be worsening as homes get more energy efficient but are built without the right technology to remove this gas.
Testing is the only way to know if a home has elevated radon levels. NCHH recommends that everyone conduct a home radon test. It is simple and inexpensive. Do-it-yourself tests can be purchased from a local hardware store ($15-$20). Short-term detectors measure radon levels for about three days. At the end of the three days simply send the detector to the lab and results will be mailed or in some cases, e-mailed. Long-term tests can also be performed. They determine the average concentration for more than 90 days. Radon mitigation (removing radon from a home that tests high) is similar to putting a straw through the house. It goes through the basement floor on one end and out the roof or the side of the home on the other end. The idea is to pull the gas from around the home up through the straw and out of the house where it can’t harm you.