Home Buyers Alert:  What May Be in the Home You Are Buying?
Known Environmental Hazards. Home buyers have become aware of asbestos, radon and lead paint as potential hazards when they buy a home.  Asbestos is visible and well published.  Look at pipes and older floor tile to determine if its presence is suspected.  Lead paint disclosure requirements by EPA and many states now require the distribution of a brochure prior to sale to alert you to this hazard.  Homes older than 1978 most likely have lead paint.  Radon has been well publicized with radon levels listed for geographical areas on EPA maps of the USA.  These common environmental hazards should be on your checklist when you buy a home and should be discussed prior to buying the home.

Unseen Environmental Hazards.
The most common, unseen, hidden poisons are pesticides used for termite control (before and after construction) or interior pest control, and herbicides/pesticides used in gardens or on lawns (contaminated soil can be tracked into the home).  Many termiticides could have been used a decade or more earlier.  Frequently a new crack in a foundation, recent water damage, a recent termite infestation, or a termite inspection with a retreatment, can cause a release of a termite pesticide from the soil or drill holes into the indoor environment of the home.  There may have been a misapplication of the pesticide (too much, spills, etc). A family may move into such a treated house without any information or records provided by the seller, the bank or the real estate agent or attorney. Remember that termite applications are not required by law, but by banks and financial institutions to “protect” their claim on the property.

What are the Common Chemicals and How Do They Contaminate?
Chlordane was used in the 1950s until 1988 to treat about 50 million homes for termites. Dursban, containing chlorpyrifos, was the recommended alternative when chlordane was banned in 1988.   Chlordane residues last forever and cannot be cleaned up.  Heptachlor, a component of chlordane, may last for several years in air and for 10 years in soil after application.   Similar chlorinated pesticides like aldrin and dieldrin were also used and last for the lifetime of the home.   Chlorpyrifos, also chlorinated, residues remain 5-10 years after use.  Diazinon, chlorpyrifos and other pesticides are frequently used on lawns and have been sprayed onto carpets for flea control.  Atrazine and other herbicides are contained in weed & feed and weed control products.  When released or tracked into the home these chemicals can contaminate carpets and enter the HVAC system causing circulation throughout the home onto surfaces, clothing, furniture and even the structural components of the home.  Many other pesticides and herbicides used residentially may migrate inside of homes or contaminate well water.

What Happens When These Pesticides Remain, Even in Low Amounts. Pesticides and herbicides have been reported as a leading cause of sinusitis, bronchitis, migraines, immune system dysfunction, general malaise, loss of energy, gastrointestinal upset and even memory dysfunction, even at low, chronic levels.  Target organs such as the liver, kidney, blood system, could be affected. Frequently new homeowners can move into a home and live for several years before they become aware that pesticides may be the cause of these health problems.

 Homeowner Pesticide Checklist.  The buyer should ask these questions.

What Tests Should You Order?
Air samples are frequently recommended, but if run alone without other tests they provide poor assessment of contamination since air levels depend on temperature, humidity, air currents and home activity and can change daily. The easiest, best way to screen the home for pesticides is to test a furnace or air conditioning filter that has been used for a season, or at least 1-2 months.  A dirty looking filter should contain no pesticides.  If the filter does contain pesticides there may be a pesticide problem in the home and further testing may be required. Soil taken from several areas of the lawn and/or garden can be tested for herbicides and pesticides.  If a filter is not available common household items such as curtains, draperies or pot holders may serve as substitute samples.

How Do You Order A Test?
Our laboratory has conducted thousands of tests on filters, soil, air, water and other environmental samples for pesticides and herbicides.

  • Filter Test.  Wrap the filter in aluminum foil and ship it to us.
  • Soil Test. Collect 3-4 surface samples of soil from the yard/garden and combine them into one clean glass bottle (bottles are available from the lab).
  • Pesticide Screen.
    For $ 150 our lab will run a pesticide screen for common pesticides aldrin, chlorpyrifos, chlordane, dieldrin and heptachlor.  Other pesticides found in the screen will be reported for an additional $ 25 per pesticide.
    Herbicide Screen.
    For $ 150 our lab will run a herbicide screen for common herbicides.
    Testing for well water, asbestos, lead, radon, bacteria also available.

    Samples should be shipped to:
    Environmental & Toxicology International
    11244 Waples Mill Road, H2
    Fairfax, VA 22030

    email at toxint@erols.com. web at www.toxint.com
    R. K. Simon, Ph.D. RPIH, CEC, DABB, Laboratory Director.

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