Older homes are cute and can often be cheaper than new builds. But these older homes can come with big risks. From asbestos to lead, older homes often need remediation before they are safe. These risks have been around for a while, and we are still developing ways to deal with them.
The first step to solving the problem is knowing that the risk is there. Here are three new ways of detecting environmental hazards in our homes.
New, Simpler Ways to Predict Lead Exposure Risk
While we know that any home built before 1978 likely has some lead-based paint, it can still be hard to calculate the risk for individual homes. In a study published in 2022, researchers at Indiana University have been working on developing a simple, accurate predictor of lead risk.
Using a database of completed surveys about home conditions combined with household dust samples, Dietrich et al. created a simple logistic regression model. This model considers various predictor variables, like the year the home was built, peeling interior paint, or recent home renovations. All of these variables can increase the risk of lead exposure.
The model was most accurate at predicting risk using the two variables: the year the home was built and peeling interior paint. The model gives a prediction of low or high risk with a 75% accuracy.
Using this information, the researchers created an app. Their hope is that the app will put the power in the homeowners’ hands and give them tools to make remediation decisions about their homes. They also predict the app could be expanded to other contaminants such as arsenic and radon.
Mapping Radon Risk Using Rock Formations
Radon, the second leading cause of lung cancer, is a big problem in some areas. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 1 in 15 homes has higher than normal radon levels.
Because radon is naturally forming, this isn’t a problem that just goes away. If the radon hasn’t been properly mitigated, any home – new or old – could have high radon.
Researchers with the University of Kentucky have developed a radon potential map for the state of Kentucky based on bedrock geologic maps. They collected 71,930 short-term home radon tests and combined these results with the geological maps.
They found that homes on siltstones, sandstones, and surficial deposits had lower indoor radon levels. Homes on limestone, dolostone, and some shales are typically higher risk. Caves and sinkholes appear to also increase the concentration of radon.
They hope that the new map will encourage homeowners in high risk areas to test for and mitigate radon.
Detecting Asbestos by Painting
Asbestos is a huge risk at disaster sites. When cleaning up damaged buildings, workers need to know that they might be at risk of exposure.
Currently, a total asbestos analysis by pulverization is run to detect asbestos. A quicker and cheaper method is needed, as this can take up to a month and is expensive.
Asbestos is mostly found on the surface of building materials. Knowing this, a team at Saga University in Japan has developed a new method of detecting asbestos. First, they stain the surface of the building materials in question with methylene blue or red 3. Then, they can look for specific colors and shapes under a microscope to detect asbestos.
This test can be done on site and completed in minutes. It is simple and requires very little training – making it perfect for disaster clean-up sites.