Monday, September 29, 2014

Home Improvement: Asbestos in Your Home Cause for Caution, not Alarm

By: Leonard Wright

Editor's Note: This is the sixth of a series of posts—during the month of September—focused on simple home improvement tips to help improve your quality of life and the environment. 

Back in the early 80’s, my favorite tennis player was John McEnroe. I loved his brashness and was entertained by his over-the-top antics. During one Wimbledon match, the color commentator, Bud Collins, said, “John McEnroe was the kid with the asbestos hands.” The way he was able to take the fire out of the ball on hard-hit shots, he was a master with the racket. Collins meant this statement as a compliment—and in its glory days, asbestos was a sign of superior quality and excellence. Long considered a miracle material for its excellent fire and heat-resistant properties, it made products stronger and longer lasting.

This durability also meant that thin asbestos fibers that enter the lungs stay there a long time. We eventually learned that asbestos caused cancer, and that prolonged exposure could lead to serious health problems:
  • Lung cancer
  • Mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer that is found in the thin lining of the lungs
  • Asbestosis, a serious, progressive non-cancer lung disease

Now that we know more about the health risks of asbestos, we know to take appropriate precautions to minimize or eliminate exposure for workers, home owners, and commercial builders.

Do you have asbestos in your home?

Asbestos was once used in many building products, from roofing to flooring and everything in between. We still find asbestos-containing materials in many older homes. It can be found in sprayed-on “popcorn” ceilings, linoleum tiles, boiler and duct wrap, even sheet rock.

Image credit: WorkSafeBC

Because you can’t tell if a material contains asbestos simply by looking at it, we require inspections by state-certified asbestos inspectors before renovation and demolition projects move forward—unless you choose to do the work yourself. If you use a contractor to remodel your home, materials found to contain asbestos must be removed by a certified asbestos-removal contractor before being disturbed.

What can you do if you think you have asbestos in your home?

Don’t panic. Asbestos does not pose a threat unless the fibers become airborne, and materials that are in good condition should not release fibers. You can submit a small sample of suspected asbestos-containing materials to several Utah laboratories that will provide you with quick results at a reasonable cost. You can use a certified asbestos removal contractor to obtain a sample or you can do it yourself using precautions provided on our website.

What should you do if you find asbestos in your home?

If the inspection and laboratory results confirm the presence of asbestos, your best bet is to leave it alone. If asbestos-containing material is in good condition and isn’t disturbed by cutting, drilling—or a 10-year-old knocking sparkles off the ceiling—it should be perfectly safe.

Image Credit:

If you plan to renovate or otherwise disturb the material, or if the asbestos material is in bad shape—breaking apart, crumbling, unraveling, or frayed—it may be time to have it removed or repaired. We have many reputable firms in Utah. Get several bids and ask the professionals what options they recommend. It is often a good idea to hire one contractor to remove the asbestos and another to take samples, ensure the contractor removing the material is following proper procedures, and monitor the air quality after the removal is completed.

Remember, asbestos can be a problem, but overreaction to it can create an even bigger problem. Educate yourself and evaluate your exposure. The more you are exposed to asbestos, the greater your chance of developing adverse health effects. You can’t change past exposure, but you can minimize it in the future and limit its impact on you and your family.

Got more questions? Check out our website or visit the Environmental Protection Agency’s asbestos web pages to find out how more about how you can protect your family, hire an asbestos professional, and find answers to EPA’s Top 20 Asbestos Questions about asbestos in your home, your car, or your child’s school. If you choose to remove the asbestos yourself, be sure to read our removal procedures for home owners to reduce your risk of exposure or contamination.

I am a graduate of Weber State University. I began working at the DEQ in February, 2014. I enjoy spending my free time with my wife, Ashley, and our three boys, ages 15, 12, and 10. We all love baseball, so we spend our time traveling to games and enjoying the crack/ping of the bat.


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Home Improvement: Low-VOC Paint Helps You Breathe Easier

By: Joel Karmazyn

Editor's Note: This is the fifth of a series of posts—during the month of September—focused on simple home improvement tips to help improve your quality of life and the environment.

Did you notice the “new paint smell” the last time you painted your home? That smell comes from the volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, that are added to paint to make it spread easily and dry quickly. VOCs may help your paint dry, but they also cause health and air quality problems. Low-level exposure to VOCs can cause headaches, nausea, and dizziness; higher-level exposures can have more serious health consequences. VOCs also contribute to the creation of summertime ozone and react with other precursor gases to form the fine particulates that cause our winter haze.

Image Credit: How Stuff Works (
Paint is typically made up of three components:
  • Pigment (color)
  • Binder (medium that helps the pigment stick to a surface)
  • Solvent (typically VOCs)

The solvents in paint evaporate as it dries, leaving behind the binder and the pigment. Trouble is, when those VOCs evaporate they get into the air inside and outside your house, causing indoor and outdoor air pollution. Your newly painted room can continue to emit vapors long after the paint dries even if there is no detectable odor. According to Green Seal, less than 50 percent of the VOCs in water-based paint are emitted during the first year after application.

Once these VOCs are emitted into the air, they can combine with nitrogen oxides (NOx) to form fine particulates or NOx and sunlight to form ozone. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and a number of states agencies have enacted regulations on paint and coatings to reduce VOC emissions. For example, federal VOC limits for paints are set at 250 grams per liter (g/l) for flat paints and 380 g/l for others.

Utah has gone one step further. Starting January 1, 2015, Utah rules will limit flat coatings to a VOC level of 50 g/l, and non-flat coatings to 100 g/l. Specialty and industrial grade paints are also regulated and will have to meet low VOC limits as well. These limits apply to paints sold and used in the seven northern Utah counties where wintertime inversions have caused us to exceed national ambient air quality standard (NAAQS) for fine particulates.

Low- and zero-VOC paints have been available in California for some time. The large California consumer market place drives manufacturers to produce universal products, so there is sometimes “spill-over” to Utah. That appears to be the case with some paint products. I recently took a casual stroll down the paint aisle at one of our local big-box stores and noted that nearly every major manufacturer is already meeting the 50 g/l limit for flat paints. In a few cases, I noted that some manufacturers even offer paints lower than 50 g/l. That’s good for our indoor and outdoor air quality!

Planning to paint your home soon? Be sure to check the labels on the paint cans for the VOC content. Some stores even have calculators that let you see how many POUNDS of VOCs you can avoid by using a zero-VOC paint. High-quality, eco-friendly paint options will help you protect your indoor air quality and the air that we all breathe.

I am an environmental scientist at the Utah Division of Air Quality, where I am responsible for policy and planning of minor emission sources. I enjoy traveling, hiking with my dog, and working in my vegetable garden.


Monday, September 22, 2014

Home Improvement: Getting the Lead Out

By: Michelle Bethune

Editor's Note: This is the fourth in a series of posts—during the month of September—focused on simple home improvement tips to help improve your quality of life and the environment.

A few years ago, I bought an amazing 1918 Craftsman-style home in Seattle. I didn’t think about lead paint, asbestos, or old wiring. My inspector said, “You may or may not have lead. You need a certified inspector to figure that out.” That was the end of it. None of the paint was chipping. My kids would not eat paint chips or chew on the windows, so I was satisfied.

Well, I decided to let my friend move in—a former friend now. Unfortunately, my friend was pretty messy. When the family left, the interior looked like someone took an abrasive sponge to the walls, and paint was chipping and peeling everywhere.

When I moved to Alaska, I decided to sell my home. STOP. RED FLAG! I was told that my house tested positive for lead-based paint, and that I could be held accountable if my friend’s child got lead poisoning from her time living in my house. UGH!

So, I started to do some research. What in the world was the big deal about lead-based paint, anyway? But what I found shocked me. Turns out, the human body cannot tell the difference between lead and calcium, so lead gets distributed throughout the body just like “good” minerals—iron, calcium and zinc. And just like calcium, lead eventually gets stored in the bones.

Lead is a poison for adults and children. It can cause the following health problems in adults:
  • High blood pressure
  • Fertility problems
  • Nerve disorders
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Irritability
  • Memory or concentration problems

The health impacts to children are even more serious. The Utah Department of Health recommends blood screening for children between one to two years of age, particularly if they live in a home is located in a zip code that has 27 percent pre-1950’s housing.

Exposure to even a small amount of lead can result in the following health issues for children:
  • Learning disabilities
  • Reduced IQ
  • Attention deficit disorder
  • Behavioral problems
  • Slowed growth
  • Impaired hearing

Not sure if you have lead paint in your house? Hire a certified professional to evaluate your home. DAQ’s Lead-Based Paint Program web page offers a wide array of downloadable pamphlets on lead-safe home renovation, and how you can protect yourself and your family from lead in your home. We also have a list of certified lead-based paint firms that can help you safely remove lead paint from your home.

Lead is still a HUGE deal in this country. We need to make sure we protect our families when we renovate our homes. This is why I love my job. I am doing my part to keep homes—and families—healthy in Utah.

Live in Salt Lake County and need to remove lead-based paint in your home? You may be eligible for a grant through the Lead Safe Salt Lake Housing Program. The program, administered by Salt Lake County and funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), provides grants to qualifying families to help them address lead hazards in homes built before 1978.

I work for the Division of Air Quality as an environmental scientist. I run the Lead-Based Paint Program and have been with DEQ since April 2014. I have a Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science from Mesa State College in Grand Junction, Colorado. I moved to Utah three years ago from Alaska. I worked for an environmental consulting firm where I got to ride in helicopters to remote villages to supervise drilling operations in proposed gold mines. I LOVE to fish, ride roller coasters, hike and dream about laying on a beach somewhere warm and sunny!