Buildings contain many different types of materials and associated chemicals. Unless managed and handled properly some of these can potentially affect the health of people doing renovations, their families, neighbours and the environment.
Hazards posed by some materials, such as lead and asbestos, are fairly well known. However, dust and fumes from apparently 'safe' materials such as timber products, manufactured timber (eg. MDF) paint or cement can also potentially affect people's health and the environment.
Being aware of the hazards and risks involved will help renovators to minimise or eliminate their potential impact. This booklet provides information on how proper planning, safe work practices and a thorough clean up will help to reduce the risk from dust and fumes created by hazardous materials during renovations.
Materials such as lead paint or asbestos that are in good condition, not peeling or creating dust, or are sealed behind non-hazardous materials (eg. new paint) are relatively safe. If the material is in good condition LEAVE IT ALONE. Disturbing or removing it unsafely can create a greater hazard.
What they can do to you
Exposure to some materials and associated chemicals can potentially cause a variety of health impacts ranging from short-term problems including lethargy, headaches, nausea and skin rashes to more serious conditions such as respiratory problems, nerve damage, allergies, severe poisoning and possibly cancer.
Pregnant women, babies and young children may be more susceptible to the effects of hazardous materials at lower levels of exposure. Animals can be affected too.
Chemicals enter the body through three main pathways:
- Inhalation: where dust or fumes are breathed in and absorbed into the lung tissue and blood;
- Ingestion: where dust contaminates hands, food, eating utensils and cigarettes and is accidentally eaten;
- Absorption: where chemicals are absorbed through the skin into tissues and circulated around the body in the blood.
Safe renovations aim to avoid creating hazards in the first place and managing any that are created.