Author Topic: Asbestos, Radon and other scarry things . . .  (Read 622 times)

JustJayMusic

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Asbestos, Radon and other scarry things . . .
« on: June 11, 2018, 08:38:06 AM »
Hello,

Maybe I'm opening myself to being judge for a character flaw or just being plain stupid, but hear me out.

We are embarking on a renovation of a small 1920's house, I have done similar renovations, most before the recent craze of radon and asbestos warnings.

Wife is deeply concerned with the possibility of asbestos in 2x4 drop ceiling tiles and plaster. She's been reading about old house renovation and the problems with asbestos being in some building materials. Our radon test came back really low (1.8(pCi/L), but she still wants us to put a vacuum pump in the basement.

I'm trying to be sensitive to her concerns, we have an 11 year old son and I don't want to jeopardize his health. So I am sending materials out for testing and will pay to have "experts" take away contaminated material properly.

But the skeptic in me is saying that home based asbestos and radon levels are a bit over-blown by lawyers and class action judgments. I'm not saying workers who worked with the stuff their entire work lives didn't get life threating exposure, but really this stuff is everywhere in older homes. My wife was in tears when I discussed my feelings on this (she is a very passionate person) and the debating of my point fell on deaf ears and much emotion, so I back down.

By reading some of the stuff she sent me online, I'm already a dead man, from my work, and other home projects in the past.

Please let me know you opinions, I am really anxious at how much this is going to cost and the time involved.

Jay "the skeptic"



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merula

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Re: Asbestos, Radon and other scarry things . . .
« Reply #1 on: June 11, 2018, 09:07:45 AM »
I can't really speak to radon, but I will try to speak to asbestos, from the perspective of someone who works at an insurance company that has spent billions on mesothelioma claims.

As a bit of a history lesson, for about 70 years, asbestos was a miracle mineral. It's flexible and fireproof, what's not to love? It was used in EVERYTHING. As an additive to plaster walls, as a wrapper for hot water pipes, in ceiling tiles, in children's pajamas. If you have ever entered a building built before 1970, you have encountered asbestos.

But mesothelioma (or asbestosis) is still relatively rare in the general population. How can that be, if this miracle mineral is a terrible carcinogen and also ubiquitous? It's because the poison is in the dose, and the dose (with asbestos) is in the dust.

So, if you want to be moderately safe with asbestos, don't get a job working with it daily. If you want to be pretty safe, avoid creating dust with asbestos materials (if you're taking down ceiling tiles, try not to break them, etc.). If you want to be extremely safe, leave the asbestos as it is (undisturbed asbestos presents basically no risk) or hire an asbestos abatement contractor who uses negative pressure containment.

Really, if you're going to worry about something with old houses, the place to focus your worry is lead. Obviously an 11 year old is past the "eating paint chips because they were around" stage, but corroded lead pipes can present dangerous levels of lead virtually undetected and enough lead paint dust can cause cognitive issues even in adults. (Granted, that is a very high level of lead paint dust and it hasn't stopped me from scraping paint off my walls.)

With lead, to be moderately safe, test your water and clean up well when you're working with a painting project. To be very safe, use chemical-based paint remover. To be extremely safe, replace lead pipes with copper or PEX and hire a lead-certified contractor for any painting jobs.

The general public is terrible at assessing risk, because humans have a much stronger reaction to rare events than typical ones. What's safer: sedentary job with a car commute or a utility line job with a bike commute? You're more likely to die in some catastrophic accident with the latter, but the cumulative impacts of a sedentary lifestyle will kill you just as dead.

Gilly

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Re: Asbestos, Radon and other scarry things . . .
« Reply #2 on: June 11, 2018, 10:05:36 AM »
I can speak to radon; I've had to take certified radon mitigation training. 1.8 is well below the threshold of 4 set by the EPA. That 4 is even controversial, because the modeling used is a linear model where the fit is questionable at low levels. The 4 pico curries/L has been shown to potentially increase risk of lung cancer only in smokers. For non-smokers it has not been shown to increase risk. Risk to non-smokers only becomes evident ~8 pCi/L. If there is still a concern sealing cracks in the slab, any utility penetrations, and doing your best to reduce the stack effect can possibly reduce the levels. For the record, not a single entity recommends that anything be done for levels 1.3 pCI/L or less, and 2.6 pCi/L is the lowest threshold anywhere for installing a system, and that is only a suggestion.
In terms of your radon test, was it in a living space? A bedroom specific one may give your wife a greater peace of mind. Basements typically have the highest levels in the house, so if you are testing to assuage her fear, test where you/your wife/child spends the most time.

JustJayMusic

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Re: Asbestos, Radon and other scarry things . . .
« Reply #3 on: June 11, 2018, 10:43:44 AM »
In terms of your radon test, was it in a living space? A bedroom specific one may give your wife a greater peace of mind. Basements typically have the highest levels in the house, so if you are testing to assuage her fear, test where you/your wife/child spends the most time.

Hi Gilly, The reading was in the basement. Thank you for responding!
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Gilly

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Re: Asbestos, Radon and other scarry things . . .
« Reply #4 on: June 11, 2018, 11:57:46 AM »
Ok, so I want to reiterate what I already said, and you read in literature, that 1.8 is low. You don't need to be concerned. I don't know if your basement is finished or unfinished or how much time you spend in there, but again a test where your family spends the most time, such as an upstairs bedroom could be valuable peace of mind information.

However: to reduce levels potential actions that would not be expensive would be:
Air tight sump cover if you have a sump.
Finding utility penetrations and sealing those.
If you have visible cracks in the slab, seal those. Make sure they aren't designed expansion joints though.
If you frequently open windows in your upstairs, balance it by opening windows in the basement if you can. This reduces the stack effect which draws more air from the soil vapor.
If you sleep in the basement have a window open and have a fan blowing air into the room not out of; outdoor air typically has less radon than indoor.

If you do all of these, take another radon measurement, and your wife is still not comfortable the following are relatively cheap (hundreds, not thousands) and easily DIY:
If you have dirt a crawl space putting down a vapor barrier; this is more expensive, but in terms of hundreds of dollars, not thousand.
Also if your slab is accessible something like https://www.radonseal.com/radonseal-mitigation.htm?gclid=EAIaIQobChMI0NvwjpXM2wIVBtbACh0qwgPKEAQYASABEgJ8S_D_BwE
could be used.

Again, if this were my house, I would take no action, but that top list is something that can be easily implemented for peace of mind.
The other thing is check with your county or state health department. They can provide you with literature or discuss the health risks. Some cases they even provide radon testing kits.

Sibley

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Re: Asbestos, Radon and other scarry things . . .
« Reply #5 on: June 14, 2018, 10:08:51 AM »
I do find it ironic that we collectively freaked out about lead poisoning and got rid of the lead in paint. Except, the lead actually inhibited mold growth, so now we've got a LOT more mold. Lead is dangerous for certain groups. Mold is dangerous for everyone, and we're still figuring out how bad it is. I suspect that when all the dust settles, we'll be wishing that we still had the lead in the paint.

Asbestos is dangerous if you're breathing it in, a lot, for a long period of time. Which means construction workers. Even if you make a big dusty mess for a week or month, that isn't going to cause cancer. Wearing masks to help filter the dust is wise, but I do that when I'm mowing the lawn. Dust + breathing = unhappy lungs, regardless of the type of dust.

Lead is dangerous if you're growing a lot. Babies, little kids, pregnant women. The paint on the wall isn't really a huge concern, it's the lead in the pipes. And if the water main has lead, it doesn't matter what's going on in your house, you're getting lead. Eat a healthy balanced diet that includes lots of green leafy things, that will help. Clean up/contain the dust and debris if you're working on something, and wear a mask because dust + breathing....  If you sand and refinish the floors, go overboard on containing the dust (it makes a mess, and the finish often contained lead, so quantity concerns)

Radon is dangerous if it builds up. Anyone notice that radon wasn't really a concern until recent decades? It's because houses have become more and more airtight, trapping the radon in the house. If your house was built in the 20s, my guess is it's not airtight. You've probably got enough natural air movement to take care of it. If you shut down that airflow, you need to replicate it somehow because you'll destroy your house with mold and mildew, which will make you sick long before any radon will.

OP, yes everyone freaks out. In most cases, it's silly. It sounds like you guys are new to older houses. Honestly, I'd be more concerned about tetanus. Go get a booster.

If your wife isn't comfortable, then you've really got 2 options:
    1. Get her evaluated and treated for anxiety. Because these worries seem excessive to me. You're not talking about high risk conditions.
    2. Don't buy an old house. What you're talking about comes with the territory, and if you can't handle this then you have no business in this particular house. Of course, you might be worse off with a new house based on some of what I've heard.

Sibley

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Re: Asbestos, Radon and other scarry things . . .
« Reply #6 on: June 14, 2018, 10:26:58 AM »
Asbestos info:
https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/substances/asbestos/asbestos-fact-sheet#q4

Basically, if you're in one of the industries known to have used asbestos, and the right age, you're already exposed/screwed.

Radon info:
https://www.epa.gov/radon/health-risk-radon

Basically, don't smoke and make sure you've got adequate ventilation.

Lead:
http://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/lead-poisoning-and-health

Take a look at the Sources of Lead section, the 2 bullet points. Biggest practical risk for you, assuming an office job? Lead in the water pipes.


Another example:
Radiation can kill you! OMG, you can get radiation poisoning and your body will melt and you'll die!!! There's no cure!!!! The only thing you can do is to PREVENT being exposed to radiation. How do your do that? No xrays, ct scans, exposure to sunlight, no microwaves, smoke detectors, plane trips, or generally being alive because radiation is literally everywhere.

It's the quantity and type of exposure that really matters. Given the right circumstances, water can kill you. You and your wife are getting stuck on the OMG BADDDDD piece, and not actually looking at the details to figure out HOW bad it is for you, given your particular situation.

Gilly

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Re: Asbestos, Radon and other scarry things . . .
« Reply #7 on: June 16, 2018, 10:19:48 AM »
Sibley,
You have mostly valid points in this. And I agree that most of the fears are easily mitigated with sensible precautions but there are a couple of inaccuracies I want to correct.
Single time exposure to large quantities of asbestos particles can be enough to cause lung cancer. There are ongoing studies based on data from 9/11 first responder exposures. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4686342/
The articles are upsetting, not only because of an increase in cancer cases, which there is, but because it was preventable! The after actions for the 9/11 response highlight the inadequate breathing protection provided to the responders during this tragedy. It is important to use the proper filter for asbestos even if you have not in the past.
Second equating radon to other sources of radiation is inaccurate. I don't know if you were just using radiation as an example of things people can be alarmist about, but there was an implication that all radiation exposure is the same and I want to make sure everybody knows that it is not, and radon should be treated differently that sun exposure/x-rays/airplane trips etc. The reason radon is a concern is the breakdown products of it, specifically the ones that emit alpha particle and have a short half life (polonium 214 and 218). It is because radon is breathed in and the decay products damage the lungs that radon is dangerous. Other sources of radiation that you sited, such as x-rays, are not ubiquitous in your home environment and the specific mechanisms for causing cancer are different. Limiting your exposure to other radiation sources (which don't have the same cancer causing mechanism as radon) will not reduce your risk from radon.

MDM

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Re: Asbestos, Radon and other scarry things . . .
« Reply #8 on: June 16, 2018, 10:51:48 AM »
Single time exposure to large quantities of asbestos particles can be enough to cause lung cancer. There are ongoing studies based on data from 9/11 first responder exposures. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4686342/
That article seems to say asbestos is not the cause of the 9/11 illnesses.  E.g.,
"The numerous health effects in these people were not those associated with the monitored PM2.5 toxicants, which were present at low concentrations, that is, asbestos fibers, transition and heavy metals, polyaromatic hydrocarbons or PAHs, and dioxins."

Gilly

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Re: Asbestos, Radon and other scarry things . . .
« Reply #9 on: June 16, 2018, 11:48:49 AM »
ack! yuck. I stand caught on poorly sourcing. Asbestos isn't my area of more than a nodding acquaintance. I will point out your quote is there weren't health effects at low levels of exposure. And then see if I can source where I got that single time high level exposure of asbestos is a risk.
Probably from msha training that I no longer need to be current on. I withdraw that can site the sources on single exposure of large amounts of asbestos can be hazardous, but will redirect to OSHA has standards which are useful if you are doing work you feel will expose you to asbestos.

pecunia

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Re: Asbestos, Radon and other scarry things . . .
« Reply #10 on: June 16, 2018, 12:20:31 PM »
I was trained on asbestos abatement a few years back.  They taught that once a fiber is lodged in your lung, it never goes away.  So, wear a mask and clean out the dust before you take it off.

Radon - Well I also spent some time in Nuke plants and guys there said it was greatly overblown.  If you live in Denver, you pick up more radiation dose due to the elevation.  It is probably a higher dose than you would get from the Radon in your basement.  I was told Cancer rates are not higher in Denver.  At least not higher than a normal statistical variation.

Sibley:
Quote
OP, yes everyone freaks out. In most cases, it's silly. It sounds like you guys are new to older houses. Honestly, I'd be more concerned about tetanus. Go get a booster.

I think Sibley is right.  Some of this stuff comes from lawsuits and people being extra careful to CYA.

aasdfadsf

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Re: Asbestos, Radon and other scarry things . . .
« Reply #11 on: June 16, 2018, 10:38:28 PM »
Gilly already said most of what I would have said about radon. 1.8 is less than half what the EPA recommends taking action on. Low levels of radon like that are completely harmless. And unless radon levels are really high, they cause very little harm unless you're a smoker. The carcinogens in cigarette smoke and radon have a synergistic effect that significantly enhances your chances of getting lung cancer. If that's the case, the first action you should take is to stop smoking.

On top of the expense of installing a radon mitigation system, it's going to cause a hit to your utility bills. For every liter of air you pump outside, a liter of unconditioned air from outside has to come in to replace it. There is no reason whatsoever why you should do this with the levels that you have.

aasdfadsf

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Re: Asbestos, Radon and other scarry things . . .
« Reply #12 on: June 17, 2018, 12:28:51 AM »
I suspect that when all the dust settles, we'll be wishing that we still had the lead in the paint.

I think it's safe to say that this will definitely not happen. Leaded paint (and gasoline) were among the stupidest things that humans have ever done. Kids eating lead paint chips (which happen to taste sweet) caused serious neurological damage, which led to significantly lower IQs and increased criminality, resulting in economic losses that spanned decades. Even if it mitigated mold -- which I have never heard of -- there is no way that could make up for the damage caused by the lead. And it's not as if there aren't better ways to stop mold.
« Last Edit: June 17, 2018, 12:31:50 AM by aasdfadsf »

JustJayMusic

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Re: Asbestos, Radon and other scarry things . . .
« Reply #13 on: June 18, 2018, 08:25:01 AM »
Thanks all for contributing, some really good points and further reading.

I'm in agreement that all of this is overblown, again not discounting high exposures some people received from work. I'm doing my due-diligence and getting some materials tested for asbestos since I will be ripping out all the drop ceilings and relocating a cellar entry.

I have had an older house before, in fact this will be my second 1920's era house I'm rehabbing and hope that the only additive to the plaster is horse hair (lol) funny things they used back in the day.

I'm working on my wife for the radon remediation and letting her read the information at hand to settle her fears.

I may have painted my wife as some stressed out lunatic with anxiety issues (she is not and is a wonderful mother and a joy of a person). She's just turn into a more passionate person since giving birth to our son and is ultra sensitive to his health and welfare. If anything I'm the one of the family that could use counseling! But as they say opinions are like assholes . . .  The topic is asbestos and radon, I didn't ask opinions on if I should buy and old house or have my wife evaluated for stress.

Jay






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Mgmny

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Re: Asbestos, Radon and other scarry things . . .
« Reply #14 on: June 21, 2018, 10:47:08 AM »
There is no reason whatsoever why you should do this with the levels that you have.

Radon risk is WAY overblown. As other have stated, even the recommended levels are really only moderately a concern IF you smoke. And if you are old