Our 100+ years of hazmat experience has taught us a few things about safe homes. We have compiled this list of the most threatening hazardous materials that may be present in your home – the top 10 most common and an additional 5 dangerous substances. Your family’s safety starts with education.
10 Most Common Household Hazardous Materials
Asbestos is rarely used today in home building materials. However in homes built prior to 1990, it may be found in plaster, insulation, boilers, vinyl floor tile, glazing compound, pipe covers, caulking compounds, roofing materials, drywall board and taping compounds, flooring, many adhesives, fireproofing insulation, and exterior siding materials. To conduct your own visual inspection for asbestos, download our inspection diagram. Learn more about asbestos in the home from British Columbia’s Vermiculite Asbestos Insulation Experts.
2. Lead, Mercury and other Heavy Metals
Lead is most commonly found in paint, in the flashings and fasteners used for roofing, in plumbing pipes, connectors and solder. These materials have been declining in use over the past few decades and are most commonly found these days in public buildings older than 40 years of age.
3. Mold / Microbial
Growth Damp indoor environments caused by water leaks, floods or high humidity can lead to the growth of mold and other microbial organisms. Uncontrolled mold and microbial growth and exposure to building dampness can be associated with complicating respiratory symptoms.
4. Crystalline Silica
Silica is a natural substance found in all kinds of stone, released by drilling, sanding or otherwise demolishing. In home buildings, silica is present in any stone or to a lesser extent earth, and bricks, concrete, ceramic tile, even sand.
5. Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB’s)
While slightly less common of a hazard, polychlorinated biphenyls (or PCB’s) are synthetic organic chemical compounds, that were commonly used before the 1990’s in electrical equipment like transformers, light fixture ballasts, and more. They are toxins which can accumulate over time and cause damage and disease to your skin, liver, and other organs.
6. Glass Fiber
You’ll find glass fiber in insulation, and often as reinforcement in plastics. When it’s made or handled carelessly, ‘continuous filament glass fibres’ may be released into the air, which can reach the lower lungs and cause damage when breathing in – irritation in the short run, and even lung disease in the long run.
7. Mineral Wool
Very similar to glass fiber, mineral wool is found in insulation and is often used as reinforcement to vinyl composition floor tiles. It is an irritant to the eyes, skin and lungs and in some cases, can possibly contain silica and even asbestos.
A very common silver-white metal used as a rust inhibitor and in paints. It’s often alloyed with copper and other metals for fire protection systems, solders and electrical cables. It’s in many pigments for plastics, glasses and ceramics and as protective plating on steel. Cadmium can lead to all sorts of soreness and irritation to your eyes, nose, throat and lungs. Prolonged exposure can even cause serious lung damage and in extreme cases even cancer.
9. Asphalt (in specific uses)
When asphalt is used in adhesives, as a sealant, or in roofing materials, AND is heated, the fumes are as dangerous as with cadmium, with similar symptoms and health risk implications.
10. Radioactive Isotopes & Radon
The most obscure hazard on this list, radioactive isotopes can be found in ionization-type smoke detectors and fluorescent lamps. They emit the threatening radioactive particles as they decay, and prolonged exposure can lead to cancer, radiation poisoning and other illnesses. Floor tiles and some forms of granite building materials sometimes contain radioactive materials and can be released under certain conditions. Radon gas is a by-product of radioactive decay of certain naturally occurring radioactive materials. It is typically found in soil, hard rocks and other naturally occurring materials. Routes of entry include open basements, unsealed sumps and cracks in structure foundations.
5 Less Common Household Hazardous Substances
1. Hantavirus via Rodents
Humans may become infected with Hantaviruses through contact with vermin urine, saliva, or droppings. Some strains of Hantaviruses cause potentially fatal diseases in humans, while others have not been associated with known human disease. Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS) is a rare respiratory illness associated with the inhalation of aerosolized rodent excreta (urine, saliva and feces) contaminated by Hantavirus particles. Symptoms include illness with fever, headache, myalgia’s, and often-prominent GI symptoms.
2. Urea Formaldehyde Foam Insulation
A type of insulation that was widely used in the 1970’s for insulating and retrofitting industrial, commercial and older residential buildings. Urea Formaldehyde Foam Insulation (UFFI) is a low-density foam that has the appearance and consistency of shaving cream, and becomes stiff and self supporting when it dries or cures/hardens. The insulation is typically made on-site where the urea formaldehyde-based resin is mixed with a catalyst and water and foamed in place in walls or used for block fill. The foam can be forced through small openings and delivered to the entire area of any cavity before it cures. UFFI has been prohibited from advertising, sale or importation into Canada under item 34, Part I of Schedule I to the Hazardous Products Act since December 1980. The prohibition includes all urea formaldehyde-based thermal insulation, foamed in place, used to insulate buildings. This includes melamine urea and other urea formaldehyde resins.
Primarily used arsenic in insecticides such as ant killers and animal dips, there has been no domestic production of arsenic since 1985. Prior to that, arsenic was commonly used in algaecides, desiccants used in mechanical cotton harvesting, glass manufacturing, herbicides (such as weed killers for telephone and railroad posts), and nonferrous alloys.
4. Ozone Depleting Substances (ODS/CFC’s)
Compounds that contain only chlorine, fluorine and carbon are called chlorofluorocarbons (CFC’s) and form materials that are used in refrigeration systems and in fire suppression systems. While the regulations allow the continued use of halocarbon refrigerants, they strictly prohibit any person from releasing into the environment any halocarbon. In the case of demolition, these materials will require proper recovery and disposal by a licensed professional.
5. Above Ground Tanks
Above ground tanks are commonly used for storing heating fuel such as propane. As the tanks age, they possess an increased risk of failure and contamination to the ground below. This contamination may find its way into water supply or other organic substances in the area.