Sue Rossi: Reducing toxic chemicals while renovating

House renovations can lead to lots of dust that can be harmful to the lungs.

  • Jan. 11, 2012 5:00 p.m.

Exposure to toxic chemicals can occur during all stages of renovations, from demolition to rebuilding. Extreme care is necessary to prevent hazards for children and pregnant or nursing women.

Demolition activities can result in lots of dust, including tiny particles that can go deep into the lungs. The dust can also contain very high levels of lead and even asbestos fibres. Dangerous solvents such as paint strippers may also be used.

During re-building activities, more and different chemical exposures are possible. Dust will continue to contain fine particles, metals and chemicals. Hazardous chemicals are in the dust created by cutting or sanding green-tinged pressure-treated wood. Hazardous solvents are in many different glues, sealants, varnishes and paints. Even new furniture, flooring or carpeting can “off-gas” chemicals when it is installed, during the first weeks and even longer. Work done outside can track chemicals indoors.

Many of these exposures can be at dangerously high levels. Lead, asbestos and solvents are of special concern. Lead and solvents can damage brain development in the womb and in young children. Many other health concerns are linked to dust or chemicals from renovations including risks of asthma and cancer.

n Avoid renovating in the winter when airing out the house is difficult.

n Keep the clothes and shoes you use during renovations in an isolated spot (e.g., in a separate hamper or in a tool shed or garage). Wash them separately from other laundry. Change your clothes and shower before going into rooms where children spend their time.

All information in this article was extracted from Playing it Safe: Safe Renovations — Introduction, Safe Home Renovations series.

Sue Rossi is project leader for the Child Health and Environment Project, funded by the North Okanagan Early Childhood Development Committee and hosted through the First Nations Friendship Centre.