Looking at the buildings constructed in the past few centuries, you will realize that the materials commonly used in construction were durable and organically sourced. Since technology had not progressed, the materials being used could not be tested for their adverse effects on human health. People used what was easily available and would last long based on their limited knowledge.
Besides natural materials, many synthetic building materials also threaten human health and are still being used in construction. Fortunately, with the advancements in technology, it is now easy to know which materials are harmful and which are not, so you can make an informed decision about whether to use them.
Following are some materials that you need to be cautious about at a construction site:
Asbestos is found naturally in almost all continents and has been used as a building material for centuries. Because of its fire-resistant and insulation properties, asbestos became essential to industries like construction and automobile. However, in the mid-20th century, researchers found that asbestos was responsible for some deadly human diseases. People were exposed to asbestos through their jobs or by just staying at home. They were breathing in its fibers, which was causing scarring of the lungs. Later, scientists discovered that mesothelioma, a form of cancer, was also linked to asbestos exposure.
In light of this, several Australian construction businesses stopped using the material in the 1980s while its sale, import and use were officially banned in 2003. Before this, asbestos was used in over 3000 products, including vehicles and construction materials. Many buildings built or renovated before the ban still contain asbestos.
Your house probably contains asbestos if it was renovated or constructed before 2003. To keep yourself and your family safe, you’ll have to get it removed. Many businesses offer asbestos removal services for homes and commercial buildings. You will need an asbestos inspection which will help the company give you a procedure outline for its safe removal. This way, you can ensure the safety of your loved ones.
Until the mid-20th century, lead was used heavily in the construction industry. Not only is it malleable and durable, but it also has corrosion-resistant properties. Some uses of lead included roof flashing, plumbing, painting and electrical conduits. As a result, in the first half of the 20th century, lead became a leading cause of death for many laborers who used it without taking protective measures.
Later, scientists discovered that inhaling lead could cause physical and neurological impediments. Because of these fatal effects, lead was eventually banned from being used in construction materials to protect the lives of many. Although it is still used in paints, the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia has limited its usage in paint to 0.5% for domestic use.
Formaldehyde is a by-product of the combustion of many organic materials and is widely used to manufacture construction materials like plywood, particleboard and pressed wood products. The reason for its frequent use lies in its durability. It gives a stronger and more durable finished product than the usage of wood alone.
Contact with formaldehyde irritates the eyes, nose and throat. It also causes primary dermatitis, olfactory fatigue, and neurological dysfunction. There is no ban on the use of formaldehyde in the country, but it is regulated for safety.
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
Volatile organic compounds are the synthetic compounds used in the products needed to build and maintain homes, like paints and composite wood products. The group of VOCs contains various chemicals, some of which cause short or long-term unfavorable health effects in humans.
These chemicals can easily vaporize at average room temperature, releasing organic compounds that make indoor air quality harmful for inhalation. Some of the many negative effects of VOCs include liver, kidney and neurological system damage, dyspnea, and cancer. To avoid this, the Australian government recommends a limited amount of usage of these materials to protect people’s health and homes.
Fiberglass is a product consisting of extremely fine glass fibers used for insulation in homes and buildings. It was initially introduced as a replacement for asbestos as it possesses the properties of a natural insulator. However, the primary reason for its use was that it could be easily molded into different shapes and thus was very convenient to use in the insulation of buildings.
People working with fiberglass insulation sheets can inhale glass fibers which can cause breathing problems for them and the inhabitants of the building. It can also irritate the skin, eyes, throat, and nose. Therefore, careful handling of this material is recommended, especially while installing or removing it.
Chromated Copper Arsenate
Chromated copper arsenate (CCA) is a chemical preservative that protects wood from pests and fungi. It is a chemical compound containing different proportions of chromium, copper and arsenic. It is commonly used in industrial and commercial settings.
The hazardous impact of chromated copper arsenate is mainly related to its arsenic compound. Arsenic has leaching properties that can affect the environment and human health. Research has also found a connection between arsenic and many different forms of cancer, including skin, bladder, and lung cancer.
Today, CCA can be used only for industries and agricultural purposes, and its use in residential areas is prohibited.
Although some of these construction materials are banned in Australia, many contractors might still use them due to ignorance. Therefore, awareness regarding these materials is crucial to protect your and your loved ones’ lives. If you are a supervisor at a construction site, you can either find replacements for these materials or use precautions. By doing so, you can ensure the safety of everyone involved in the construction process and the inhabitants of the building.